How to go about Lifestyle changes?
Today we know that the only way to promote health and prevent disease in the long run, are systematic and sustainable lifestyle changes.
In theory, people know what they should be doing, but common knowledge only seldom translates in common practice.
People naturally resist change and prefer the route of least resistance. Change requires effort, willpower and action and an adjustment of mindset. When it comes to nutrition, change often includes to reduce the foods we like the most (the food industry designed with the purpose to trigger our pleasure nerves and keep us coming back) and increase the foods that our overstimulated taste buds find bland.
Let’s look at a couple of research-based actions that can help you to make lifestyle changes:
Set realistic expectations and take small steps
Start with a small circle and try to implement one manageable change per week. Only a small change in your diet or lifestyle habits can make a measurable difference. Half the amount of sugar you use in your coffee, take the stairs in the office instead of the elevator, walk for 15min extra every day, add a side salad to every meal or make sure you drink at least 2.5lt of plain mineral water per day. Start with changing a habit that comes easily to you. As easier you can sustain a small change as more motivated you are to continue and as easier it will be to change a second habit.
Study your mood and food
Stress, depression, anger, poor coping skills, using food as a reward, and seeking comfort in food can derail a person’s commitment to eating more healthfully. Addressing underlying psychological influences and learning how to manage them better can be essential to your success. Write a mood log. Note how many hours you sleep per day, how you feel when you get up, in between the day and after work. Are you energized during the day, do you feel happy relaxed and have a smile on your face most of the time or do you feel grumpy, exhausted and annoyed with most people around you? Note next to your mood what you did eat during the day and see if you find a pattern between your mood and your eating habits.
Put the oxygen mask on yourself first
Attention to the needs of family members and pressures from our social environment can sometimes hinder us in putting ourselves first and spend time on our self-care. It can sound like a cliché, but it’s a fact. If you’re not taking good care of yourself, you can’t take good care of others. When we’re taking the time to prepare healthier meals or get some exercise, it doesn’t just benefit you, but every person you care about and your ability to do your job, whatever it is.
Even though you have a moderate budget
The lack of budget and sufficient knowledge about nutrition and physical activity seem to be some of the issues people cite for lack of healthier lifestyle habits. Many believe that eating healthy costs a lot of money, or that we need expensive equipment or a gym membership to exercise. Education and experimentation with seasonal fresh, frozen, or even canned produce, as well as a home exercise plan, can help dispel those myths. Produce in the refrigerator aisle is mostly flash-frozen at the peak of freshness, and can be less expensive. Seasonal and local fresh fruits and vegetables are often less expensive than their imported counterparts and additionally benefit the environment with a lower carbon footprint. Workouts like running, walking, hiking as well as body weight exercises at home can be enjoyed for free.
Willpower alone does seldom work
Lifestyle changes including diet and exercise need willpower and self-control. Studies show these strengths are limited resources and deplete with increased usage. What makes lifestyle changes doubled as difficult. You need more energy while being more active as well as you need action energy to sustain your self-control, which can lead to you feeling worse before you feel better. This is one of the reasons people tend to give up early, claiming the changes don’t work for them. The good news is, with eating more nutrient dense and increasing physical activity, you also fuel your energy levels and the added energy will outweigh the loss of energy after the first couple of days.
To limit the energy needed to sustain your habit change, you have to limit the energy you need to make decisions. You can do so with implementing more positive default options into your life and environment. What does that mean? For example, if you plan to exercise early in the morning, make sure you prepare the clothes you want to wear, the water bottle and towel etc. right next to your bed. This makes it easy for you to get dressed and be ready to go to the gym or exercise at home without making any further decisions, in the morning.
If you want to reduce a certain food item in your diet, don’t buy it or buy it in a smaller package or dosage, to make the choice to eat them more difficult. Store foods you want to reduce in places that are difficult to reach and out of your sight while placing the foods you want to eat in front of the fridge or on the middle of the table, easy to see and reach.
Research has shown that if we need just 20 seconds more time to make a decision, walk longer, wait longer or search longer for a certain outcome, there is a good chance that we choose the choice of least resistance instead. So if you walk into the kitchen and it takes you 20 second or more to find the chocolate in the fridge, but it takes you no time at all to reach for an apple on the table next to you, the chance is good that you reach for the apple.
The same goes for children. If you have a plate of ready to eat cut fruits or veggies waiting on the table when your children come home from school, they likely will eat them first before searching the kitchen for other snacks.