I enjoyed your column a couple of weeks ago that focused on “stages of change.” When it comes to healthy eating and increasing physical activity, how do you help move someone from the precontemplation to the contemplation stage?
Let’s first review which “stage” a person is in by identifying with one of the following statements. (It’s easy to change the words from “physically active” to any behavior you may want to focus on, such as “eat healthier” or “quit smoking.”)
• “I do not intend to become more physically active in the near future” (precontemplation).
• “I’m thinking about becoming more active in the near future” (contemplation).
• “I’m getting ready to become more physically active in the next 30 days” (preparation).
• “I’ve been exercising regularly less than six months” (action).
• “I’ve been exercising regularly longer than six months” (maintenance).
Now, as I shared in my column, there are two types of precontemplators: “I won’t” and “I can’t.” If the individual is in the “I won’t” state, they do not believe the behavior change is valid. If that’s the case, it’s important to focus on the pros (or benefits) of the change. If the individual is in the “I can’t” state, they believe the behavior is valid but impossible to accomplish. In that case, it’s important to focus on the cons (or obstacles) that are preventing them from changing.
“I won’t” — focus on the pros
• Provide accurate information and convincing or compelling evidence on why healthy eating and increasing physical activity are important.
• Help them to see and appreciate the benefits of adopting a healthful eating pattern or being more physically active rather than dwelling on the risks of consuming less healthy foods or not exercising. In other words, don’t use the “scare tactic” on them.
• Link the benefits of a healthier lifestyle to people’s highest priorities and values in life (e.g., relationship with family, personal faith, health or happiness).
• Emphasize the short-term benefits of being active (e.g., feeling invigorated, sleeping better, reducing stress, feeling better about oneself for being physically active) and how being active today can have relatively immediate effects.
“I can’t — focus on the cons
• Explore possible misconceptions about eating healthy or being regularly active and assist them in identifying ways to overcome them. For example, if someone insists that they do not have enough time to eat healthy, brainstorm some ways to choose foods and recipes that are not time-consuming to prepare.
• Help the individual understand how their current behavior affects them personally and others in their lives. Explain how and why a healthier lifestyle is relevant to them. For example, unhealthy eating often carries emotional and physical implications. These implications are often passed from parents to children and create a cycle of negative emotions concerning food and an increased risk of developing a chronic diet-related disease (diabetes, heart disease, etc.) Or, when it comes to physical activity, sedentary parents model this unhealthy lifestyle to their children; this may send their children the message that daily physical activity is not necessary and is not viewed as a priority in maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
• After identifying and listing the pros (benefits) or cons (obstacles) of the behavior change, it’s important to find out if they are interested in learning more or if they get upset when people mention it to them. If they feel agitated, they probably aren’t ready to think about changing at this current time.
• However, if they are willing to move ahead, help them picture how they would like to be living their life. What does it look like? How similar does it look to their current life?
Next week, I’ll continue to share information on how to help them progress on this wellness journey.
— Susan Krumm is an Extension agent in family and consumer sciences with K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County, 2110 Harper St. She can be reached at 843-7058.