Skip to main content
Medicine LibreTexts

15.6: Start Your Sustainable Future Today

Skills to Develop

  • Discuss forms of activism in areas of food and nutrition.
  • List steps individuals can take to support sustainable agriculture.

As we near the end of our journey in the world of health and nutrition, let’s address how to adjust your lifestyle today to ensure better health and wellness tomorrow. Adopting sustainable practices can go a long way toward helping you achieve optimal health, while also helping to protect the health of our planet. Remember, that sustainability involves meeting present nutritional needs while preserving resources for the future. It includes agricultural practices and processes, along with the choices that consumers make when they shop for their food. Ideally, sustainable practices include methods that are healthy, conserve the environment, protect livestock, respect food industry workers, provide fair wages to farmers, and support farming communities. When a practice or a process is sustainable, it can be maintained for decades, or even centuries, to come.

Living a Sustainable Lifestyle

There are a number of steps you can take to live a more sustainable lifestyle. Utilizing an environmentally-friendly approach to good nutrition is a great way to remain and stay healthy. As an initial step, you might try to buy more whole foods rather than processed foods. You might also drink more water, rather than sodas and juices with added sugar. It is also a good idea to drink from a reusable water bottle to avoid adding more plastic to your local landfill, not to mention saving the fuel it takes to ship bottles of water. Here are some other suggestions to live a more sustainable lifestyle:

  • Learn more about food. Learn about your local food system, what is native to the area, what is imported or shipped in, how food moves from farms to processors to retail in your area, and what practices are used. Read labels to see where food comes from and what the growing and processing practices are. You might also try taking a cooking class to learn more about food in general.
  • Eat a plant-based diet. A plant-based diet is not necessarily vegetarian or vegan; it simply emphasizes whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes over meat and poultry. Plant-based foods are good sources of carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals. They also help to decrease your risk for cancer and other chronic conditions.
  • Support local farmers. Purchase more locally grown food to promote sustainability. This could involve going to a farmer’s market or a nearby farm. Locally grown food requires less fossil fuel because it does not have to travel great distances. Locally grown food also puts money back into your community and helps farmers in your area. Shopping at a farmer’s market or a local farm may also provide an opportunity to talk to the farmer who grew the food to learn more about what you put on your plate.
  • Join a community garden. You can’t get more local than food that is grown in your own backyard. Consider growing your own food, or trying a community garden if you do not have the space at your home. Produce from a local garden will not only be fresher, it will often taste better. In addition, it will provide an opportunity to get to know like-minded individuals in your community.
  • Help spread the word. Talk to friends and family members about food, nutrition, and living a sustainable lifestyle. Also, pay attention to food and nutrition policy at the federal, state, and local levels. Take a look at what foods are available in your community. Are there supermarkets or corner stores? What is available in the university dining hall? If healthy options are lacking, can you talk to someone to bring about changes?

Tools for Change

Another option to support local farmers is to sign up for a CSA (community-supported agriculture). Prior to a planting season, consumers who join a CSA purchase a produce share from a local farmer. When harvesting begins, farmers provide in-season, locally grown vegetables to shareholders at a local drop spot each week throughout the growing season. Some CSAs also include fruit, dairy products, meat, and more. CSA farmers often will allow you to visit the farm to learn more about the crops they grow or even volunteer to help with the harvest. Joining a CSA provides a direct connection between the local farming community and you.

Changing Your Behavior

Living a sustainable lifestyle and achieving optimal health is not easy. Taking steps to exercise more, eat healthier foods, and work harder to avoid food contamination may involve making major changes in your life. However, change is a process, and researchers have long studied the various stages of that process, as well as what helps or hinders it. While creating and implementing change is not easy, the more conscious you are of the process, and the more you prepare, the greater the chances are for success. Learning about the different stages of behavioral change can help you take a proactive approach to living a sustainable lifestyle.

The Transtheoretical Model of Behavioral Change

The Transtheoretical Model of Behavioral Change identifies the five stages of change, along with things that can help people move through these different stages. It also includes strategies which help people make, create, and continue behavioral change. Learning about these different stages and techniques helps you decide how to best approach making healthy changes in your life.

The five stages of the Transtheoretical Model of Behavioral Change are (Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\)):

  1. Precontemplation. At this stage, an individual has no plans to make any changes, and may not be aware that change is needed. For example, a person who has never thought of eating healthier or being more active is in the precontemplation stage. In this stage, a person often underestimates the pros of changing, and underestimates the cons of maintaining the status quo.
  2. Contemplation. An individual begins to see the importance of altering behavior, and plans to do so within the next six months. Someone who has realized that they need to add more physical activity to their life, but hasn’t made any concrete plans to start doing it, is in the contemplation stage. Although they may be more aware of the benefits of change, the individual may still exaggerate the negative aspects of change.
  3. Preparation. At this stage, an individual becomes serious about making a change, and plans to implement that change within thirty days. The person may have already started to alter behavior, or told friends about any plans or intentions. For example, someone who wants to eat better and has started gathering healthier recipes is in the preparation stage.
  4. Action. At this point, an individual is in the midst of change or has made a consistent change in behavior within the past six months. For example, someone in the action stage would have started eating better and exercising on a regular basis.
  5. Maintenance. At this final stage, an individual has successfully changed their behavior for six months or more and intends to maintain it in the future.

Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): This is a graphic representation of the "Stages of Change" in the Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change. Image used with permission from Philciaccio (via Wikipedia).

Adopting a healthier lifestyle requires changes not only in behavior, but also in attitude and perception. The Transtheoretical Model calls them decisional balance and self-efficacy. Decisional balance means a person has realized that the benefits of making healthy changes outweigh any risks. Self-efficacy means a person has self-belief and the confidence to make and maintain positive changes. Both decisional balance and self-efficacy help people progress through the different stages of change. The Theoretical Model of Behavioral Change also includes ten techniques and strategies for bringing about change:

  1. Consciousness-raising. Different methods that are used to raise awareness of healthier choices.
  2. Dramatic Relief. The use of emotions through testimonials, role-playing, and the media to support change.
  3. Environmental Reevaluation. Helping people become aware of how they affect others, and how a change on their part can also help those around them.
  4. Social Liberation. Helping individuals realize that society may be more welcoming if they change their behavior.
  5. Self-Liberation. Allowing people to believe in their ability to change, and make a commitment to it.
  6. Helping Relationships. Providing connections between people seeking positive change with others who support their efforts.
  7. Counterconditioning. Finding healthier substitutes for the unhealthy behavior.
  8. Reinforcement Management. Increasing rewards for healthy behavior and reducing those for negative behavior.
  9. Stimulus Control. Being aware of and eliminating cues for unhealthy behavior, and replacing them with cues for healthy choices.
  10. Self-reevaluation. Changing your self-image to fit with a newer, healthier lifestyle.

Prochaska and colleagues state that their research related to the transtheoretical model shows that interventions to change behavior are more effective if they are "stage-matched," that is, "matched to each individual's stage of change (Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\)).

Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): Processes of Change. Image used with permission from Wikipedia

Some of these processes of change are more effective at different points in the process. A person who is not even contemplating change could tune out emotional appeals or reinforcement management. However, combining knowledge of the change process with the effective use of strategies can help everyone turn their good intentions into healthier lifestyles.Center for Health Communications Research. “Transtheoretical Model (Stages of Change).” © 2009 The Regents of University of Michigan. Accessed December 21, 2011. http://chcr.umich.edu/how_we_do_it/health_theories/healththeories5/chcr_document_view.

Key Takeaways

Living a sustainable lifestyle can help you to work toward achieving optimal health. There are a number of steps you can take to promote sustainable practices, such as buying locally grown food, eating a plant-based diet, and becoming aware of food and nutrition issues in your community. The Transtheoretical Model of Behavioral Change outlines the different stages of the process of change, and provides tools and techniques to enable major changes.

Discussion Starter

  1. Think of a change you might want to make in your life to become healthier, and discuss ways you can use the transtheoretical model to make this change.