By eMedical Urgent Care
Habits are hard to break, but well worth the effort because we are the result of our habits, both good and bad. Most of our behavior is not the product of well-considered decision making, but shaped by our habits, according to Charles Duhigg in The Power of Habit. I will focus this post primarily on physical and health habits, but this also is true for mental habits we might want to kick: procrastination, pessimism, losing our temper, gossiping, etc. Moving toward a healthier lifestyle is at the base of most New Year’s resolutions and I wholeheartedly agree that it is a most worthy goal.
In the beginning of the year, people make resolutions because they want another chance to improve something they feel they did not accomplish in the prior year. Any change we make is only effective long term if it is maintained long term. While the final goal is a healthier lifestyle, resolutions are important, as they constitute small steps in the right direction. Resolutions are to lifestyle changes what a sprint is to a marathon, but ideally they should ease us into the marathon.
A common reason resolutions might not be successful is that they are too vague. Things like losing weight or even losing one pound per week, fitting into a favorite dress, reducing salt intake or start exercising are goals, not resolutions. We should always start by deciding on a goal, but the resolution should state the action we plan to take to achieve the goal.
Here are some examples of some specific resolutions to develop a healthier lifestyle:
- Stop drinking your calories: drop the soda, juice, milk and sugar in your coffee or tea and stick to water.
- Replace a sandwich with a salad.
- Change your go-to lunch place to a healthier one; instead of pizza choose a salad bar or deli.
- Avoid carbohydrates for dinner (lean protein and vegetables are a great substitute).
- Eliminate fried foods.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator for a few flights.
- Park at the far end of the parking lot.
- Take a brisk walk every day.
- Go to the gym once a week.
- Introduce one healthy food each week: eat once a week the first week, twice a week the second week, etc.
- If you are not used to cooking, cook from scratch one meal a week, then increase.
- To start buying organic produce is not a specific enough resolution, but you might start with incorporating organic leafy greens the first week or month, vegetables the second, fruit the third, etc.
- Start flossing if you were not doing that before, is specific enough
Reduce salt intake for people with high blood pressure
- Eliminate pickles and deli meats.
- Avoid eating processed foods for dinner.
- Eating out less is not specific enough, but pack your own lunch is.
Better diabetic control
- Pair all high glycemic index foods with a high-fiber food: pasta with spinach, dried fruit with bran cereal (eliminating them will be the end goal).
- No refined carbs on an empty stomach (their fast absorption leads to a spike in blood sugar). If you must have juice or something sweet, have it at the end of a meal, not in the morning.
- Replace breakfast cereal with a high-protein food: eggs, protein shakes, yogurt.
Another reason a resolution fails is when it’s too drastic or hard to implement in one step. For instance, a two-pack-a-day smoker should not resolve to quit “cold turkey,” but to decrease smoking to one pack a day for a few weeks. Changing one’s mindset also is important.
Here are some ways to accomplish that:
- Don’t restrict yourself, or the craving might actually increase. Instead of saying “I can’t have cake, I am on a diet,” say “I’m trying to reduce carbs, so I am going to pass on this piece of cake now and have an apple instead, but in half an hour if I still want it, I will have a little piece.”
Focus on the things you like about the changes you made:
- Walking outside is enjoyable.
- The flavor of a dish comes through better without the sugar.
- It’s more fun to browse at the health store than the supermarket, etc.
Involve your loved ones. Sometimes we’ll go the extra mile for them when we wouldn’t do it for ourselves.
- Resolve to cook from scratch for the whole family once a week.
- Stop buying processed foods for the family; don’t just stop eating them yourself.
- We perform better when we feel better. Give yourself a little boost when you know the temptation to quit will be high.
- Play your favorite music when you exercise.
- Invite a friend to accompany you on that power walk.
- Drink seltzer with a spritz of lemon in a champagne flute or wine glass.
If changing an eating habit seems too hard to do, here are some things that are easier to change and will bring you closer to your goal of having a healthier lifestyle:
- Change what you buy: Replace canola oil with cold-pressed, extra-virgin olive oil; buy chicken or turkey and grill it instead of eating cold cuts; use aluminum-free deodorant; or dried fruit instead of fruit snacks.
- Change where you go: hang out at the bookstore instead of the mall; go to the YMCA instead of the town fair; take the kids to a juice bar instead of the ice cream place.
- Change who you socialize with: If choose one health-oriented acquaintance and become friends, his or her habits will brush off on you.
Change one thing: Make it small enough to feel easy, but big enough to count.
- Serve dinner in smaller plates for portion control.
- Avoid snacking after dinner.
- Eat a salad at least once a day.
Remember, building a healthier lifestyle doesn’t happen overnight. They take time, perseverance and patience. Bad days happen – but the choice to keep going is yours.
Have a happy and healthy new year!
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