How Pharmacists Can Help Change The Eating Habits of Patients

Can pharmacists play a role in changing the eating habits of their patients? Should they be doing that? And what resources can they rely on as a blueprint for how to make it happen?

Do pharmacists have a role to play in changing the eating habits of their patients?

Absolutley. The more useful question ought to be, should pharmacists be playing a more active role in helping patients change health behaviors and what blueprint can they follow do it? 

There are people (many of whom pharmacists) that think pharmacists are the drug experts. They believe it is the only thing they are capable of. Even worse, those same people believe that this is what pharmacists should continue to focus on.

After all, pharmacists didn’t go to school to become dietations, nutritionists or fitness trainers. They went to school to learn about drugs. This is the traditional pharmacy paradigm. This paradigm needs to be shifted.

It has become clear to me that pharmacists must do more than dispense drugs. This traditional pharmacy model is no longer working. It’s not working for the patients. It’s not working for the pharmacists. I believe this paradigm must be changed if we want to see patients and pharmacists who are happy and healthy.

The profession of pharmacy has become a profession associated with stress, anxiety, and burnout.

How are traditional pharmacists using their skills and knowledge to fight against the obesity and chronic diesease epidemic that is facing millions of Americans?

When will pharmacists understand that the epidemic of chronic diseases cannot be fixed with medications alone?

Pharmacists are uniquely positioned to help by offering non-medication related support, guidance and health coaching. Pharmacists need to start playing an active role in helping their patients develop proactive & preventative health behaviors. They need to help patients change their nutrition, exercise, sleep and other wellness habits so those patients can avoid chronic dieases.

Should pharmacists be working on changing the eating habits of their patients?

Yes. I don’t see an alternative solution. Suppose that you think pharmacists shouldn’t help in this area? How would that be helping patients? How would that be helping pharmacists?

There must be a shift in the paradigm of pharmacy. The focus can no longer be on only dispensing drugs and counseling. It hasn’t worked for so many patients. People are not getting healthier. They are more and more sick. Suffering with more chronic diseases than before. Battling with mental & physical health problems. Becoming more and more dependent on Big Pharma.

Worse yet, they are failing to develop disease preventing health habits. Many patients have been conditioned to seek drugs as their only solution. Many patients want an alternative option. They seek a different solution because they know something is missing.

They know they aren’t fully healthy. Patients want to learn how to eat better, how to develop better exercise habits, how to develop better sleeping habits, how to better deal with stress and anxiety, etc.

We live in the information age. Pharmacists are capable of possessing a wealth of knowledge about health & wellness strategies and techniques. Why should pharmacists continue to limit themselves to being only drug experts?

Not every pharamcist needs to become a health and fitness guru or have hundreds of followers on social media. But there must a shift in how pharmacists think about what they are capable of. Patients need help because the current pharmacy model and to a greater extent the current health care model has failed them.

Pharmacists, if properly positioned have an opportunity to help patients achieve a fuller level of health. And who knows maybe along the way pharmacists will fall back in love with the profession of pharmacy.

What resources can pharmacists follow for guidance on how to help in this area?

What resources do pharmacists have to help patients change their eating habits? This is only the start. It’s the first tiny habit of many other healthy habits that patients will need to learn how to cultivate, develop and maintain if they wish to have a healthier and happier life.

This brings me to Dr. Anne Thorndike. She is a primary care phsyciain at Massachusetts General Hosptial who helped to change the eating habits of thousands of hospital staff and visitors. This strategy she developed can also be used to help patients.

She believed that she can improve the eating habits of thousands of hospital staff and vistors without changing their willpower or motivation. She didn’t plan on talking to them at all. She and her colleagues created a six-month study to change the “choice architecture” of the hosptial cafeteria.

Here is what they did. They first changed how the drinks were arranged in the cafeteria room. The researchers added water as an option to the refergiators located next to the cash registers which were previously only filled with sodas.

The second thing they changed was to place baskets of bottled water next to the food stations throughout the cafeteria room. Soda stayed in the primary refrigerators but water had now become an option at all of the drink locations.

What were the results? Over the next three months the number of soda sales decreased by 11.4% while the sales of bottled water increased by 25.8%. They aslo made similar changes and saw similar results with the food choices in the cafteria.

What’s the take away?

When it comes to making nutrition related habit changes, more often than not motivation or willpower do very little when compared to environment. In other words, the environment that we are surrounded by plays an important role in shaping our behavior.

Atomic habits

This is what pharmacists need to know. More importantly, this is the sort of thing pharmacists need to coach their patients through.

What if this strategy of “choice architcure” was applied in retail pharmacies. What if sodas, cigarrettes, candy and other processed foods where replaced with healthier alternatives. Imagine the difference that this will make in shaping the bevhiors of those patients that vist such pharmacies?

For many patients knowledge is power. Information is power. As a pharmacist, having the ability to share wellness & health preventative strateiges & techniques can be valuable for your patients. It creates a new path for patients. It provides them with things they hadn’t thought about before. Things they weren’t told about before from their doctor, nurses or previous pharmacists.

It won’t be enough just to offer the information. Effective execution is the most important thing. As a pharmacist you want to guide patients through this process. You want to be there to support them as they begin making the changes to their kitchen enviornment for example.

You will need to be there to answer questions, reinforce their positive behavior and serve as their health coach throughout this journey. Helping them to set and achieve health related outcomes.

If we want to see patients achieve better health then we must help them to leave the traditional pharmacy paradigm. They must begin, with support from their pharmacists, to focus on achieving better physical, mental and emotional habits that will lead to fuller health.

The Five Things Triggering Your Unhealthy Habits


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