Saturday, June 9, 2012

Making Healthy Changes That Stick: Part I

Exercise, diet, stress management, and taking meds as prescribed are all really good and important things to do, but how many of us stick to them religiously? If any of these comments sound like something you’ve said or think, this post and next weeks are for you:
“I’ll go to the gym tomorrow.”
“My diet starts after the first of the year.”
“It’s my son’s (substitute friend, Mom, co-worker) birthday, so it would be bad form not to eat a slice of their cake.”
“They can’t possibly believe that people will take these medications everyday.”
“It’s just one drink.”

So what’s the secret to making changes, like modifying your diet and sticking to it?” Truth is, if there was one sure fired way, we would all be modelicious.

Different strategies work for different people and at different times in their life. When I was in college, every gal I knew seemed to be on a diet of one sort or another. It was the “in-thing” to be on the low, no carb diet. Since we like to “fit in,” were looking to find a mate, and we walked quite a few miles a day just to get to all the different buildings for class, it was no problem keeping a trim figure. Three kids later, the advent of computers, work and a slower metabolism, not so much with the trim and slim bode these days. Yes, many people I know are on the low carb diet, but since we’re in a very different mind set at this stage of life, the results aren’t quite the same. In short, what worked at one time doesn’t necessarily work later on down the road.

Is it harder to make the change or sustain it? The short answer is that it depends on the person and the situation. For someone with a drug addiction, getting clean may be the hardest thing they’ve ever done. I’ve known more than one person that has said it was so hard getting clean they wouldn’t dare do anything to jeopardize their sobriety. However, for others, such as weight loss, the problem wasn’t the taking it off, it was the keeping it off.

Take heart though, change, and sticking to it, is possible. Consider the following:

• If you feel deprived you wont stick to a change for too long. Figuring out ways to reward yourself to stay with the change is one way. I know two friends that have lost considerable weight recently by building in a reward for themselves every day. Both adore chocolate, so they have built in a daily reward of low carbohydrate very dark chocolate. As it turns out dark chocolate in the amounts they are eating is actually good for their health.

• For long term sustained change, work on implementing a behavior that you find as satisfying or better than the one you are giving (gave) up. If you are stopping smoking, replacing a different activity during the times you normally smoked will help increase the likelihood you’ll stay smoke free. For example, one person found eating pretzel rods (reminded them of holding a cigarette and they loved licking the salt off of them) helped.

• The change has to be one you believe in. You know that exercise is something you need to do, so you decide to go swimming three times a week after work. However, not being all that wild about swimming, let alone hating the “wet hair,” is pretty much a guarantee that this behavior change wont last much beyond a week or two. Instead, consider options that fit with your schedule and that you enjoy. For example, thirty minutes of exercise spread throughout the day is as good as getting it done all at once. Parking 10 minutes away from your office gives you 20 minutes of exercise right off the bat as you need to walk to and from each day.

• Living in the present can help you make and sustain change. Thinking that you have a life time ahead taking insulin or another medication can be way too much. Reminding yourself that you only can live in the present moment, and that’s all that required, can help to break things down to manageable and achievable levels.

• Letting key family and friends know that you are trying to make a change can be helpful if they are willing to support you in the changes you are making. However, if you suspect they may try to sabotage the effort, or make fun of you if you slip up, they don’t need to know.

• Use the buddy system. Someone that you can go to the gym with, report your weight to or call when you want a drink can go a long way to keep you on the path to making changes and sustaining them. What’s great about the buddy system is they are helping you while you are helping them.

• Watch out for triggers. A morning cup of coffee can be a trigger for having a cigarette. Stopping at a particular store to purchase a book, can be cause to buy your favorite candy bar. Changing patterns surrounding the habit you are trying to change can be very helpful.

Next Saturday’s post will deal with tailored strategies for different habits you may wish to change and keep.

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