Every single thing you do in life is based on a set of beliefs. Some decisions are deep, important, and based on belief systems instilled in you at a young age maybe through parenting, religion, or early schooling. Some decisions are made on less significant belief systems that often dictate preferences and things formed by direct experience. From the moment you wake up to the moment you go to bed, you make hundreds of decisions a day. You wake up because you believe it’s important to get up and tend to your morning responsibilities. Maybe you believe it’s extremely important to be early. When you decide to eat breakfast, you probably have a belief about whether this is a healthy behavior or necessary. You also make decisions about what you should eat. These decisions are based on taste, how the food will make you feel, whether you believe it to be good/bad for you. This decision making process is fairly subconscious because we would be exhausted if we felt as though every tiny decision needed a huge weighing of the pros and cons. We have all met people like that, and most likely you were exhausted after an hour! In order to bypass this, our brain forms belief systems to help that decision-making process effortless and energy efficient.
When it comes to health, nutrition, and food, where did you get your belief system? It starts pretty early with taste preferences based on what your parents fed you. If you grew up in another country and only had exposure to ethnic foods, you would likely have preference for those. If you grew up on processed foods, you likely believe these foods to be what people eat. This is one reason why I encourage parents to keep whole, nutritious foods in the house. The more your kids expect to find these foods, the more they believe those foods are what they should eat.
You then get information from other homes based on what other parents feed you, babysitters, school, etc. In school, we take it one step further and teach you the basics in health class. Health class will often have some version of the food pyramid available for your viewing pleasure. This is when you go home telling your mom and dad about all the foods you should be eating on a daily basis.
In later years of school, you have peers that will influence your food decisions just like they influence everything else. Maybe someone makes fun of the food you eat at lunch and you then believe those foods are weird, not cool, or things no one else eats. Maybe you share foods at lunch, and develop beliefs about foods based on the people who bring them.
Then you graduate and go off on your own. Now you are making real decisions about what you will spend hard earned dollars on. Now there is input from media, commercials, billboards, celebrities, athletes, and so on. If your prior beliefs prioritized whole foods, you will likely continue to buy them and not think twice. If your beliefs up to this point were steeped in convenience, marketing, expense as ways to prioritize, you will likely follow the fast food frenzy with a side of packaged treats.
At some point you decide you aren’t invincible and maybe you should try to be healthier because you have gained weight or watched Dr. Oz. This is where confusion hits the fan because up to this point, you brain had no problem choosing foods it enjoyed, prioritized, and could afford. But now, you may be trying to force yourself to eat things that you don’t enjoy, think are too expensive, or are completely too much work. This contradiction in beliefs and behaviors will end in failure every single time. Most people will revert back to the same old habits because they haven’t changed their belief system.
My job, as a doctor, is to help recreate the belief system that accurately depicts the consequences of food choices, the knowledge around nutrient density, debunk the lies that have been fed to you over the years. Once someone truly learns what certain foods do to their body, what health consequences they see as a result, the truths revealed about why certain foods are so cheap and convenient, they no longer have the same belief system. They now believe eating packaged foods is going to result in sickness, possibly weight gain, toxicity in the body for generations to come, and is slowly hindering the functioning of every cell in the body. They understand where real nutrients come from, how important those nutrients are for healthy bodily functions, and how every penny spent on prevention saves hundreds in treatment. If you can change someone’s belief system, then you change their behavior by default. This is why every patient leaves appointments with me with HOMEWORK. The real work happens with the belief system.
One of my favorite questions to ask is “What is your favorite food? What if I were to serve you that food but I placed arsenic in it? They look at you like you’re crazy and say they would never eat it if you put arsenic in it. But let me ask you why because arsenic has no flavor, no texture, no smell. It won’t change the experience or enjoyment of eating your favorite food. All I did was change the perception of what that food would do to you. Boom. Instant change in belief system and you just said “No way, Jose “to your favorite food. I didn’t change that food. I didn’t take that food away or say you can’t have it. But I did change your belief system. Now you have a different perception from which you decide to make that choice. If you have tried to eat better, exercise more, and make healthier decisions in general and found yourself reverting right back to your old ways, it is because you didn’t change the belief system. You were working on willpower and that will only last for so long. Knowledge is power because it develops belief systems.