Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A fresh start for forming healthier habits (Part 1)

For a few weeks now I've been thinking about habits. I'll admit I've been feeling pretty down about myself with regards to body image lately - its one of those months where I'm just not feeling too great. We all have these moments. I've been half-heartedly considering diet changes I've been trying to motivate myself to live an overall healthier lifestyle. But man, it is so hard to do sometimes! So lets talk about a topic I have strong love/hate feelings for:
Diet and Excercise! *
How many times have you heard or read about diet and exercise? I should ask how often you hear about these two things on a daily basis (Think diet food/beverage commercials and online ads in the corners of most websites).  It may seem repetitive and boring at this point to hear about, but these two sneaky little habits have been shown time and time again to influence major health conditions and overall health. Think about it: obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, constipation, colon cancer, depression, anxiety, osteoporosis, memory loss. These are just a hand full of conditions that can be aided by diet and exercise. 

I'm not the healthiest eater and I don't exercise regularly. I look healthier than I am, which you may think this is great, but it's really just a crutch to promote my bad habits. I'm at high risk for developing almost all of those conditions I listed above once I get older based on my genetic lottery and my poor health behavior, which means I need to change NOW. So how? Little by little. And with the help of a buddy: Howie. He motivates me on the exercise end (he runs so he's already in that routine) and I bug him about establishing better eating habits. So what do I do to start making healthier habits?
Disclaimer: this is not any formal, professional advice. This is what works for me when I'm in a slump to START getting me back on track. I start with one thing, and then once I'm back in a better routine with that, I add another little change.
Lets start with what I'm better at regulating: 
Long term goal: Better eating habits

With regards to lifestyle changes, my biggest suggestion is to start small with a task that is not overwhelming. So, yes we have one umbrella goal of better habits, but how do we get there? When I realize my sneaky bad habits have taken over, I start getting back on track with one of the following 3 options: 

Short term goal 1: 
Don't eat within 2.5 hours of going to bed for the night. If you go to be at 10:30pm, this means no more food after 8:00pm; very manageable. This is my favorite rule to start with. Over time, it even allows the flexibility of moving that stop time earlier depending on your schedule (this week I'm attempting no eating after 7:30pm). I also give myself the one allowable cheat: If I'm starving by bedtime to the point I won't be able to sleep I am allowed one healthy snack, such as a small carrot, a glass of milk, or a quarter of an apple. After even just a couple of days of getting in the mindset that I'm not going to eat after the designated time, I don't even consider the cheat anymore and I actually prefer going to bed being on the slightly hungrier side versus the slightly full side.

Short term goal 2: 
Revamp one meal. I usually start with breakfast. Lets say my bad habit is eating no breakfast or something not so healthy. My new small change is to eat a breakfast that contains protein and/or fiber while avoiding white carbs. Example: multi-grain english muffin (fiber) with an apple (fiber and the natural kind of sweet cheat) or yogurt (protein, dairy, calcium). Nothing extreme, a health freak could think this is nothing, but its what works for me and its a positive change from eggo waffles or bagels. Like I said, I start little by little and keep going until I get to a happy place; as long as you are making changes in a positive direction. Another alternative to the revamp rule that I like to do is make a rule to include a vegetable at every dinner (helps the boy be better, too). One of our biggest bad habits is to have a mostly carb with a little bit protein dinner, such as pizza or pasta, or chicken with mac & cheese (yum). By simply adding a vegetable, I automatically dish out less of the carb, but still get my fix. Over time, I find myself craving the balance of having more than 2 food groups represented in my big meals.

Short term goal 3:
Portion control by changing the size of your plates; instead of serving yourself on your huge dinner plate, use the small lunch plates from your set, regardless of what meal you are eating. The difference in portion size when you do this is astonishing. I find that if I put food on that big plate, I'm going to work to eat it all, (I'm not kidding when I say I love food). Whereas when I put food on the small plate, when I finish I usually find it was enough. And if I still think I'm hungry, it gives me the pause to really think about whether or not I really need seconds.

This method of starting slow and going little by little helps me stay on track, not feel overwhelmed, and I'm not tempted to jump off the wagon because the changes were too major for my body. Its no secret that the majority of people who jump into a crazy diet or exercise routine head-on easily fall off and end up right where they started. Remember, we are trying to change habits here, not go through a phase of good behavior only to fall back into our bad habits. Habits are routines established over long periods of time. They are deeply ingrained by the time you reach adulthood and they can't be changed overnight.

As an additional tidbit, a good friend of mine recently wrote on his own blog about keeping New Year's resolutions and staying motivated. His tips are excellent, but the best part is they don't just apply to New Year's resolutions, they apply to any goal or habit change you want to make. I'm always up for a good suggestion about staying on top of things! 

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