Well hello there! And welcome back everyone. How was your Christmas break? Are you fired up and ready for the new year? Maybe you’ve sworn that you WILL be healthier this year, but not really sure how to make that happen? We all know that most new year resolutions get broken year after year, so if you want to make changes the last well into the year beyond, today I have a Q & A with Leonie Wright – life and nutrition coach and founder of Eat Wright – who is going to help us create and keep healthy habits for this year! So let’s get started…
How can we create healthy habits that are actually realistic?
The first step to changing your behaviour is to be aware of what you do regularly. Look for patterns in your behaviour and what triggers the unhealthy habits you want to change. Maybe you eat too much while watching television, or when you walk past that coffee shop on your way to work you just have to get that pastry. There are ways to disrupt these patterns and create new ones. For example, turn the television off when you have your meal or set yourself a different route to work.
Set yourself small, reasonable goals and take specific actions that will help you to move towards them. If you know that by walking past the vending machine at work you will be buying rubbish food, walk another way and bring your own healthy snacks so that you’re not getting peckish. Make healthy choices easy for yourself.
What questions should we be asking ourselves to create healthy habits that will last?
We need to ask ourselves what we want to achieve and how much we want to create healthy habits. So it’s time to be honest with yourself; do you really want to make changes in your habits? Are you willing to do whatever it takes, try out new things, and be open to new ideas?
Consider what you think you’ll need to be successful. How can you change things around you to support your goals? You might need to stock up on healthy foods, remove temptations, or find a special spot to relax. Get friends and loved ones involved. Research shows that people’s health behaviours tend to mirror those of their family and friends. Invite them to join you, support you, and to help you stay on track.
It’s also important to plan for obstacles. Think about what might derail your best efforts to live healthier. How can you still make healthy choices during unexpected situations, in stressful times, or when tempted by old habits.
Let’s talk about the dreaded D word – why should people avoid going on a diet in the new year?
Diets must be avoided at all times. 95% of diets fail in the long term. But we must be clear about what the word diet really means. For most, it conjures up thoughts of the measures people take to lose weight. It’s also a term used by food manufactures to indicate that something is supposedly healthy or has less of some seemingly undesirable ingredient – usually fat, sugar, or total calories. But the word diet itself simply refers to what you eat. We always hear people say they’re “going on” diets but, in reality, your diet is what you eat day-to-day.
The problem is that most people think of a diet as a temporary plan undertaken to lose weight. Many times, these diets will have a certain gimmick or theme. Some have certain percentages of macronutrients (fat, protein, and carbohydrates) that you should consume, some assign points to specific foods, some eliminate certain foods and several drastically limit or eliminate entire food groups altogether. Some diets can even be dangerous – such as “cleanses” or any diets that are extremely low in calories or essential nutrients.
Rather than thinking about temporarily going on some new diet we should be thinking about making achievable, realistic changes that we can sustain for a lifetime. We need to ditch the diet mindset. Focus on your health, look at what you are eating and at your activity pattern and make gradual changes. Find the balance between what you eat, the exercise you do and what you drink.
What are the biggest roadblocks to starting and maintaining heathy habits?
The biggest obstacles to starting and maintaining healthy habits are:
- When we start to make changes to our habits we decide which foods we want to eat and which ones to avoid. We then assume that the willpower will be there to keep us on track. I am afraid it doesn’t work like that. Willpower is often strong at the start of making changes but it can ebb and flow with the state of our health and the pressures and triggers of day-to-day life.
- You need to think about how you will manage in ‘difficult’ situations like going out for dinner, going to a party, attending a function, etc. How will you cope under peer pressure? We hope that our willpower will hold up and might punish ourselves if it doesn’t. Willpower is hard to maintain for extended periods of time, so don’t make your habit changes too strict. Be aware of resting on your laurels – after a bit of progress we become less inclined to stick to the new healthy habits. We need to commit to long-term changes in habits.
- We underestimate the power of 3 food ingredients. They are fat, sugar, and salt. They are highly addictive and are in many of the foods we eat. Most people will crave foods that are not in their original, out-of-the-ground form. Odds are they crave foods that are highly processed, foods that are edible food-like substances. Foods that in their whole, non-processed state interact with the brain and body in the way nature intended. In contrast, foods made out of, for example, flour and sugar release an unnatural flood of dopamine that hijack the pleasure centres in the brain and cause cravings.
- We allow ourselves exceptions. We think it will be easier to stick to the habits we are changing if we give ourselves permission to go off them once in a while. The irony is that factoring in exceptions doesn’t work. It’s supposed to make it easier but for most people it makes it harder. It keeps your taste buds from learning to prefer real, wholesome food and it keeps your brain from making the changes required for a sustainable shift in behaviour.
How can we make time to actually honour the healthy habits we want to create?
The very first thing is to give yourself time to make the changes. I know that we are all busy and making changes will take a little more time to start off with, but the long-term benefits will be worth it. Once you are in a routine and have created these habits you will not need to think about it anymore. It won’t take any more effort than simply brushing your teeth daily.
So here is what you can do:
- Plan what you are going to eat for the week and make a shopping list accordingly. Keep this shopping list as your master copy and vary the items on it according to next weeks’ planned meals.
- Cook meals in advance and in batches. Keep them in the fridge or freezer for those times you are busy and have no time. This means you always have meals to fall back onto.
- Choose recipes that are quick and easy to prepare and that you and your loved ones like. Don’t make it difficult for yourself. No need to eat fancy and complicated dishes.
Sometimes creating healthy habits can feel costly – is this always the case? How can we make room in our budgets to support them?
Creating healthy habits can feel costly but it doesn’t need to be. The best thing to do is to make all foods from scratch. Ready-made foods are full of ingredients that you want to reduce or even avoid completely: sugar, fat, and salt. Buy ingredients and food that is produced locally. Visit farmers markets where good deals can often be found.
If you want to improve the amount of exercise you do there is no need to join a gym or register for classes. Instead, go for walks in the park and find places where there are open air exercise facilities.
Do you have any tips and tricks to share on creating and honouring healthy habits?
Here are my tips for a change in lifestyle:
1) Eat Well
- Avoid eating processed convenience foods as they are high in sugar, fat, and salt;
- Never skip breakfast;
- Eat at least 5 (preferably 8-10) vegetables and fruits a day in a variety of colours;
- Increase the consumption of good fats found in fatty fish, nuts, seeds, flaxseed, chia seeds, olive oil and avocados;
- Avoid fruit juices and alcohol where you can, as they are high in sugar;
- Cook from scratch with the best ingredients you can afford, preferably organic;
- Eat lean protein with every eating moment to curb cravings; e.g. chicken, lean mince, fish, low fat natural yoghurt or cottage cheese, beef, soya milk/yoghurt etc. but NO PORK;
- Choose wholemeal bread, crackers, rice, pasta, barley or quinoa to increase fibre;
- Divide your plate into 3 sections. 1/4 protein, 1/2 vegetables and 1/4 carbohydrates (potatoes, pasta and rice) – preferably more vegetables than carbohydrates.
2) Drink Water
Drink plenty of pure water or herbal tea every day. Our body is 70% water and it is important to keep it hydrated as it helps to improve your skin and bones, remove toxins, aid digestion, and improve concentration, to mention just a few of the benefits.
Build exercise into your life every day to keep you healthy. A minimum of 30 minutes brisk walking a day would be ideal. Get gardening, clean your house, run up the stairs a few times, take your bike out, go for a swim or join a fitness club. Let it become a habit, so that exercise is not something you dread, but simply work into your routine.
Do not take your worries to bed! Aim to be in bed by 10pm – the hours before 12 midnight give you the best quality of rest. Avoid all screens at least one hour before bedtime and sleep in the dark.
Never ever try to make too many changes at the same time as that can be overwhelming and you will be setting yourself up for failure. Start step-by-step. Pick one or two things you want to change and implement them gradually.
If you had to give a pep talk to my readers who want to create and stick to healthy habits this year it would be:
Rome was not built in a day. Be kind to yourself and pick one or two habits that you are currently not happy with and that you want to change. Go slow and take your time. You will get there. Think about how much better you will feel when you have achieved your goals and how your family will benefit from the changes you have made.
Keeping a record can help. You can use a paper journal, computer program, or mobile app to note things like your diet, exercise, stress levels, or sleep patterns. Tracking these things will show you just how much progress you have made. And when you think you’re about to ‘fall off the wagon,’ hold on. Continue to track your behaviour. Sometimes when you feel like you’re failing, you can learn the most.
Focusing on how a change might heal your body and enhance your life can help. When you stop smoking, your risk of a heart attack drops within 24 hours. Reducing stress can lead to better relationships. Even small improvements in your nutrition and physical activity can reduce your health risks and lengthen your life.
So like with everything else in life, it’s a case of mindset. Making changes and creating healthy habits does take willpower and effort, but as I know first hand…it can be done, and with Leonie’s wise words to spirit you on, so can you!
Do you want to create healthy habits for the new year? What do you think of the above tips? Do share in a comment below.
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About Leonie Wright
Leonie Wright of Eatwright is a nutrition coach, speaker and author of CookWright, a no added sugar recipe book. In 2010 she changed her life style through food and exercise, she reversed her high blood pressure and cholesterol and got rid of her migraines. She is passionate about informing, motivating and encouraging people to eat the right foods so that they can reach an optimum in their health, fitness and waist line.