Monday, October 14, 2013

Easy Suggestions to Make Healthy Life Changes Finally Stick Around for Good


More and more I am finding people know what the right choice is. Work out or not, cookie or apple and so on and so on. The problem is putting this knowledge into practice.

We are all creatures of habit. Some more than others but in general the brain looks for the easiest choice or path of least resistance during the decision making process as an energy saving mechanism. Thank micro evolution for that one. This is where bad and good habits are created and cultivated. Whether it’s trying to turn breakfast into a routine, increasing your physical activity or incorporating healthy diet changes into day to day life…change takes a conscience effort.

 Stimulus Control

Take control of your behavior by shaping your environment to help you along the way. Cues throughout your environment can either help or hinder you to make healthy lifestyle changes.

Initially get rid of foods that aren’t part of your new healthy lifestyle. If you must have them in the house think “out of sight out of mind”.

Don’t just focus on the negative choices you can make…promote the positive. Have healthy items displayed in plain sight around your kitchen (a bowl of fresh produce or fruits stacked in a vase is so much more eye appealing than a box of Cheez-It or bag of Cool Ranch Doritos anyways) Hide the less then optimal choices and promote the positive choices in cabinets, the refrigerator and pantry. This also requires you to put forth more effort to try to get to the less than healthy choices. Also, giving you a moment to say…”is this really a good idea”.

Shaping

This is the principle of “monkey see monkey do”. Ever tried to go to a cocktail party or tailgate and promised yourself you’ll only have one small plate of the healthy foods there? And once you got there how well did it work? Especially once you saw the people around you munching away and filling their plates with seconds? It is so much easier to create and cultivate new habits when you see others doing the same.

Get your family or significant others on board. The more you see “good” around you the more likely you are to do it as well. The accountability of your other half or the people you love doesn’t hurt either.

Extinction

In order to kick a bad habit, like snacking on chips at your desk, it is best to find a positive behavior to replace it. This truly kicks the old habit to the curb for good. Think of it this way…it’s three o’clock you are losing steam maybe checking e-mails or fumbling around on the internet and you’re finding it harder to stay focused or motivated…boredom sets in or maybe stress (these are stimulus that initiate a behavior or response) you reach for a snack out of habit (probably not even being hungry and/or the snack is not normally one promoting a healthy lifestyle) you have an instant afternoon pick me up (the reward).  In order to kick this behavior seamlessly you have to replace it. You are no doubt going to find yourself again running into the same stimulus of three o’clock “slump” and if you just tell yourself “no” then you still have no reward or afternoon pick me up and that yearning lingers, but if you replace it with a positive action like walking around a bit, reaching out to a co-worker or choosing a healthy item (if you are hungry) then you still receive that reward. The old habit is a goner after a few times practicing the new habit.

Positive Reinforcement

The best way to make a habit stick is by rewarding it. We have encountered positive reinforcement starting with prizes given to us for behaving in kindergarden to the paycheck we receive on Fridays that keeps us coming back for more.  Side note-*Never reward or punish with food*

If you stick to your healthy shopping list at the grocery store…reward yourself with a magazine at checkout or a few hours at the driving range on that Saturday. If you make it to the gym  every morning for a week straight, go to the movies or to look at the puppies outside of Pet Smart one Saturday afternoon to reward yourself.

Behavior Contracts

A budget written out in black and white is normally a budget more strictly followed. These contracts create specific/measurable goals to focus on while keeping you accountable to yourself.

Write down your goals and place them somewhere they are noticeable. You could put them in your wallet next to your cash (also a reminder when you are tempted to use that cash at a vending machine or going through the drive thru) or on your bathroom counter. I keep my goals for the day next to my make-up mirror. You can get others involved with your contract. This makes the contract or promise not only written but verbalized to those around you adding to the accountability factor.

Goals and Self-Monitoring

To be successful it is important to set goal that have an end point and can account for your progress. Make the goals realistic, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Every healthy behavior started somewhere, I used to eat frosting out of a tub and not be able to run a mile. Years later I crave broccoli and love running. You’ve got to start somewhere and track your progress. Nothing is more rewarding than a job well done or a goal reached.

A visual representation of that is instantly gratifying. Keep a journal of positive changes you have made or put a check mark on the calendar for the days you ate healthy.  Now a days there are apps for that….track your diet using calorie counter or my fitness pal.

It is also important that once you conquer a goal or reach that end point…..keep going! Make a new one, trying something new to keep on keeping on…don’t get stuck in a rut.

Baby Steps

Ever heard slow and steady wins the race, it’s true especially of lifestyle changes.  If you run head first into a whole new daily routine or diet opposite what you are used to….you will get frustrated and give up. Take for example switching from whole milk to skim milk to decrease fat in your diet and help your cholesterol levels. Start with 2% mixed with whole for a few weeks (or until the last of the whole milk is gone), then just buy 2% and work your way down…or try alternatives like Almond or Soy to get similar flavors and textures without the wateriness of skim milk (the complaint I heard from most of my patients about switching to low fat dairy items).

Now that you have the information and tools to make these changes…grab the bull by the horns and do it!

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