Harm Reduction and Nutrition

By Allison
Community Dietitian

A sedentary lifestyle, such as excessive TV watching, is a risky behavior.

How can we change our habits and create a more comfortable and healthy routine? According to a study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, it takes about 66 days for a new habit to become “automatic,” meaning that it becomes something that you no longer need to consciously remind yourself to do. New habits and routines are difficult to form and roadblocks are common. Some things may come very easily to certain individuals, while others struggle with the same task.

It is important for us to set goals and make positive changes in our lives to grow as individuals. But this can be difficult! If there is an ultimate goal you would like to achieve but are having a difficult time jumping in with both feet, harm reduction techniques may help.

Harm Reduction is defined as a set of practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing the negative consequences associated with risky behavior. It also serves as a movement for social justice built on a belief in, and respect for, the rights of people who engage in dangerous or risky behaviors. (HarmReduction.org)

In terms of nutrition and eating for wellness, harm reduction can come into play when attempting to change risky behaviors such as excessive calorie intake, living a sedentary lifestyle or engaging in drug or alcohol abuse.

While a complete change from these habits may be the end goal, some people are turned away from the idea of making an immediate change. The harm reduction model of treatment may be beneficial in these instances because it refrains from shaming people for their behavior. It allows people to be the drivers of their own journey, and long as the sight of the destination is never lost, one may move as quickly or slowly as needed.

For example, if an individual is diabetic and has an end goal of weight loss, controlling blood sugar levels through intake can be an ideal starting point. Decreasing this person’s sugar intake by 1 teaspoon per day may not seem like much, but it is a stepping stone in the right direction. Setting and accomplishing these short-term goals boosts the patient’s confidence and may lead them to incorporate other positive behaviors into their life.

Here are a few techniques inspired by the harm reduction method that everyone can incorporate into daily life.

Decreasing your soda consumption each day can reduce your intake of calories and sugar—which will improve your overall health.

Decrease soda consumption by 1 can or glass per day.

One 12 oz can of cola contains 41 grams of sugar and 150 calories. That means that if you are drinking four cans of soda per day, you are consuming an extra 600 calories! That is about ¼ of your daily recommended calorie intake. By decreasing your consumption by 1 can or glass each day, you can reduce your intake of calories and sugar—which will improve your overall health. To benefit your health even more, replace one can or glass with water.

Switching from sugar to a sugar substitute

If you consume a lot of sugar each day, replacing sugar with a sugar substitute will allow you to decrease your daily calorie intake. Try using Equal, Sweet ‘N Low, or Splenda in your cereal or coffee instead of sugar.

*Beware: Most sugar substitutes are sweeter than actual sugar; You probably need less! Additionally, sugar substitutes may cause digestive discomfort such as gassiness or bloating, so be sure to monitor your symptoms if you notice any changes.

Switching from regular to diet or sugar-free sodas and juices is an easy way to make this change without thinking much about it.

Purchase smaller snack food portions

Oftentimes, when we purchase a snack (think Cheetos, potato chips, gummy bears, etc.) we eat the entire thing in one sitting or throughout one day. One way to curb our craving while staying health-conscious is to purchase a smaller size. For example, instead of purchasing a king size candy bar, look for a snack or fun size.

Although your goals may require different steps, use these as a guideline for harm reduction success!

Harm Reduction Resources

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