How do you make healthy lifestyle changes that really last? All too often we read or hear about doing something – like cutting out wheat or dairy or drinking more water or exercising 3 times a week. It makes sense and we know it’s a good idea, so we jump in with both feel so to speak! If it’s cutting out wheat, for example, we may decide, “I’m never eating another piece of bread again!” We all know how that goes! The best laid plans…..
I realize some people are the “all or nothing” type. They are the ones who can quit smoking or eating sugar cold turkey and never look back. But that doesn’t work well for most of us. It especially doesn’t work well if you are trying to make changes that affect your whole family, including children.
For example, if you and your family eat a pretty standard American diet right now and you decide to go totally Paleo immediately, you are setting yourself up for failure, plain and simple.
What I have found is that transitioning gradually into healthier habits works best. Before I share my 5 most effective steps to successful transition, let me say that the minute you decide to make a specific change, it may seem like the entire universe is conspiring against you! You will experience temptations on every side. There needs to be an adjustment period and you have to accept the fact that you won’t do it perfectly out of the gate. There will be setbacks and just those days when you slip off the bandwagon. It doesn’t have to derail all your efforts. So be aware and prepared that when you do slip up, as long as you cut yourself (or your family) some slack and then get back with the program quickly, there’s no harm done.
So here are my 5 steps to successful transition:
1. Make a quality decision. How important is it to make this change? If it’s just interesting, you won’t have the commitment and desire to follow through when things get challenging – and make no mistake, there will definitely be times that challenge your commitment. So have a compelling reason you can remind yourself of which underlies this decision.
2. Prepare, prepare, prepare! Take a few weeks or however long it takes for you to get yourself and your family prepared for the new routine. It’s not a race, so speed isn’t the issue. First and foremost, you have to prepare your mind. Once you are clear as to why you want to do this, it will be much easier when you start offering yourself excuses as to why you should just forget about it and go back to your default behavior. If it means eliminating certain foods in order to remove temptation, do it before you begin. Prepare your environment for success. If it’s a new way of eating, compile 10-12 new recipes you can begin experimenting with that you feel you and your family will enjoy trying.
3. Plan, plan, plan! Take those new recipes, make sure you have all the ingredients you need on hand, and then plan to try one new recipe a week. If, for example, you are transitioning to a more Paleo diet, replace one meal a week with the new way of eating. If you want to eliminate a particular food, sugar or wheat products, for example, commit to reducing your intake gradually over the course of a month. Again, doing it faster isn’t the point. You (and your family) may have been eating this way for years, so making these changes is going to also take some time.
4. Adopt principles and adapt. Don’t be too rigid about the changes. If, for example, you are going from eating even healthy carbs to eliminating all grains, or you are going from an omnivore diet to vegetarian, adopt that principle. What I mean is focus on what you are adding. If it’s transitioning to a vegetarian diet, the principle is to eat more plant foods. Great! Now just adapt that to what you are already doing by increasing the veggies on your plate and decreasing the amount of animal protein – gradually over time. Also if you find yourself out or at someone’s house, just make the best choices available to you at the time and don’t stress over it.
5. Never say never! The minute you tell yourself (or your family) that you can never have cookies, bread, pasta, sugar, cereal, meat, ice cream or whatever again – you set yourself up for failure! You can eat whatever you want whenever you want to – the choice is always yours. If you made a quality decision, then you will be more consistent in making your new habits the new normal. So if you decide you just want a sandwich or a bowl of ice cream, you can just choose to have it and then go back to your new habits at the next meal. You are in control. Also realize that language is powerful. For example, if someone offers you one of the foods you’ve chosen to avoid, saying, “I don’t eat that” or “I choose not to eat that today” instead of “I can’t have that” is very empowering. Saying “I can’t” makes you a victim because something is being withheld from you. It’s subtle but you’ll be surprised at the difference it makes.
What are your best tips for making healthy changes?
About the author:
Ann Musico is a holistic health coach and wholeness advocate who works with women of all ages to empower them to exemplify lives of vibrant health and wholeness – spirit, soul and body – in a way that is simple and effective, in order to be a positive influence in their world. Her focus is on nutrition, detox and healthy, long term weight loss because she believes those areas are most often the root cause of so many other problems. And she addresses them not only from the physical but also the spirit and soul as well, which are often overlooked. Learn more at her website. And be sure to follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest for free exclusive giveaways as well as daily inspiration and motivation!