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Perspective: Heavily Processed Foods and Stimulus Control

Bri obtained her Masters in Nutrition Education from American University.

Disclaimer

This is a perspective piece based on research.

Perspective

From my perspective as a nutrition educator, there are a number of reasons Americans rely on heavily processed foods. The first reason that always pops in my head however is how easy it is to eat these foods. Most heavily processed foods are very easy to get and are often less expensive. I feel many Americans enjoy the ease of access. We enjoy having something right at our fingertips the second we want it, and this goes for food behaviors as well. I also believe that relying on heavily processed foods has become more or less, a learned behavior. We learn how to eat from our parents when we are children and continue to learn into adolescence. We carry what we learn into our adult lives and even then our behaviors can still change. This comes into play when we are coaching a client. We first must understand where these eating behaviors come from. Does our client have access to foods that are not heavily processed? Is our client able to afford foods that aren’t heavily processed? To me, these are some of the first questions we should be asking.


Stimulus Control

A concept that stands out to me is the concept of stimulus control. This is ridding the environment of stimuli that evoke problem behavior. I think of this concept of controlling what you can control. For example, we can control the food that we purchase at the grocery store. We can control ingredients that go into the meals that we make. Something I would probably coach a client on is the concept of meal prepping. This would require the client to set aside time every week to cook meals and portion them into meals for the week. I enjoy meal prepping because it can be cost effective as well. I believe that our clients must also have the motivation to change. Continuing discussing meal-prepping, it can be difficult to set this time aside or even finding the desire to cook at times. It can be much easier to simply order takeout or delivery. As a nutrition educator, I want to ensure that my client has the motivation to change their food behaviors.


Factors

While I think there are many important factors that may intervene with eating behaviors, I believe that the mental aspect is very important. We know that socioeconomic and accessibility concerns are there, but we cannot change behavior that we do not want to change. I also want to consider the other side where a client may overthink the behavior change. The motivation to change is there and they are actively working on it but they limit themselves in terms of what they are allowed to eat. While we want all of our clients to eat the best they can, we must also understand that there are limits. We also want our clients to still enjoy themselves. For me, I want my future clients to not feel they are violating rules on days they may not follow their diet plan closely. I also want to strive to help patients understand that change does not happen overnight, it is a continuous cycle.

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