The last few decades have been a battle between competing diet and nutrition concepts - each of them holding the promise they will be the answer to the obesity problem. Ten years ago it was low carb, now it is the plant based approach that is finding increasing appeal in society.
But how come, if these diets are supposed to solve weight problems, people are becoming bigger and statically only about 20 % succeed in keeping their weight off long term?
I certainly believe the problem doesn't lie in the lack of the diets' effectiveness, but in the fact that nutrionists and doctors often ignore the part other factors play when it comes to eating or in that case overeating. More directly said, knowledge about adequate and healthy nutrition is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for actually transferring this knowledge into our behaviour.
Thus, it is not simply the capacity that makes us successful in changing this behaviour, but also four more main factors that can be summed up. These are habit, opportunity, motivation and personality. To make it more understandable, I am going to elaborate each single one. Altogether they can be easily remembered as the C-H-O-M-P model (which has quite an obvious thematic parallel). It is important to note that all factors should not be considered as isolated, but more as a transactional process. For example, a lack in opportunity can be compensated by strong motivation.
Capacity includes all knowledge about eating methods that control or change our weight or have a positive overall influence on our health (depending on our goals). This could for example be the notion that by reducing the amount of energy that we put into our body we should experience weight reduction (most of us know that these can be measured in calories), or that eating more vegetables than meat or cakes has a positive influence on our health and wellbeing because it contains far more vitamins and antioxidants.
Knowledge about these things are important, however eating intuitively by what your body craves should usually turn you to foods and nutrients we are missing naturally if our eating pattern and behaviours are not disturbed. A certain broad knowledge can be effective to monitor and modifying our eating habits, though.
This influence is often overlooked and vastly underestimated but we have to acknowledge the fact that human beings are in so many of their behaviours controlled by the power of a formed habit subconsciously, not only in our eating habits.
Research and several studies repeatedly show how difficult it is to let go of an internalised habit that we have carried out for a long time, often over years.
So if for example somebody has grown up in a family that has used food as a reward, this person is used to overeating on cakes or other junk food in conjunction with an emotional attachment, which is nothing more than conditioning, a very effecting learning mechanism.
However, it is by any means possible to change and erase habits, but this will take a lot of time and effort to finally alter all relevant brain connections. This is most effective by simple replacing harmful behaviour with desirable behaviour.
The best and most accurate knowledge about healthy nutrition can be useless if your environment gives you little opportunity. Examples for external obstacles are when people in your household refuse to eat and cook healthily and you have a week support system, or if there are only fast food shops in your neighbourhood instead of farmers markets or health stores.
Motivation is considered as one of the crucial factors in this model, since it may maintain healthy habits despite adverse conditions. It is most benefitial if the type of motivation is intrinsic, which means it isn't driven from exteriour sources (such as attention and increased acceptance through slimmer appearance), but it comes from within and the behaviour itself becomes the incentive. It may happen that people start with extrinsic motivation , which gradually turns into intrinsic motivation, once the habit is formed and internalised.
This factor has compared to the other ones only subordinate influence, but it can be crucial when the person faces obstacles or has a relapse.
To illustrate this, imagine a person with an optimistic and flexible personality style. He or she attributes failure and negative experiences to sources that are outside their control. So if the person experiences a relapse of eating unhealthy foods for a week, he or she sees the reason in the fact that the diet was not suitable for their lifestyle.
The person will probably seek advise to change their diet and move on.
Imagine, on the contrary, a pessimistic person that will immediately feel accountable and blame himself thinking he or she is a failure and will never be able to lose weight. This person will probably give up dieting thinking he or she will never be able to lose weight and accept their 'fate'.
There are of course other factors that have an influence on what we eat or how we behave. It is never possible to narrow down such a complex process as a simple model. The point was to illustrate that we cannot simple become healthy and adopt a completely different lifestyle if we are just given a diet plan. It is important to examine and identify impairing factors that may keep the person from implementing new behaviours.
On the other hand, this technique gives the opportunity to discover resources (e.g. dedication or a health-conscious friend) that give the person potential and scope to develop and change.