All too often it takes a health scare like a heart attack or cancer diagnosis to light a fire under us to make changes. I worked with a client whose blood work indicated his blood glucose level was elevated. I recommended very specific dietary changes, targeted nutritional supplements and made exercise suggestions. I knew if he followed through he would be able to reverse this before it became full blown diabetes. He chose to ignore everything but the supplementation suggestions. Three months later his level has improved slightly but not nearly as much as it would have had he incorporated all the recommendations.
One year later he was panicking because he was beginning to experience numbness and tingling in his feet and toes, which indicates diabetic neuropathy. He was frightened then – but he had wasted a year that he could’ve made great improvements. He ended up on diabetes medication.
So, clearly, fear alone isn’t enough! All too many people have a heart attack and yet a year later are still smoking. Or someone is diagnosed with cancer yet doesn’t make any changes to their diet or lifestyle, even though the benefits of doing so are well-documented. For example, only 5–10% of all cancer cases can be attributed to genetic defects, whereas the remaining 90–95% are attributed to lifestyle factors.
In fact, fewer than 20% of people previously diagnosed with cancer were consuming five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, less than 50% were engaging in regular physical activity and only 1 out of every 20 survivors was following all three of these healthy living principles. Why is that??
Even very determined, motivated people who know they need to adopt more healthful habits find it difficult to do and even more difficult to maintain long term. I believe many people don’t make changes because they don’t know how or become overwhelmed thinking they have to change everything! We’ve evolved into such an “instant gratification” society that if a change doesn’t happen immediately, most people give up and return to default behavior.
According to WebMD News from Healthday: “The general thinking is that people won’t change, Spring added. She found that’s not always true — and that the change made a difference.
“What’s important here is, if you have reached adulthood and you have an unhealthy lifestyle, you are not doomed to have heart disease,” Spring said. “If you make healthy changes, you can reduce your risk.”
That is good news! But how do you make those changes that will translate into long-term better health? Well here are my 5 best recommendations:
1. The first thing I recommend is to evaluate your present lifestyle and habits (or have a health professional do so) and create a short list – no more than 5 things you know you need to change and are ready and motivated to change. In most cases these are deeply entrenched habits and those are not easy to change. However by acknowledging them honestly, you will take the first step toward changing them. As Dr. Phil is famous for saying, you can’t change what you don’t acknowledge.
2. Find your deeply emotional and motivating “why.” Why do you want to stop smoking or lose 50 pounds or begin exercising regularly? Are you the one who wants to make this change or is someone else asking you to? Guilt rarely works. I have found that most people will not be successful making changes unless they have a very strong, personal reason. As I mentioned above, fear is not usually enough to sustain a real change. Having a deeply personal vision of who you truly want to be and how you want to live your life is a great starting point.
3. I suggest you begin with the biggest change that needs to be made. For instance, if you smoke, quitting would be the place to focus first. Granted this is not usually a simple or quick change, but putting in the effort is well worth it as you reduce your risk of not only heart disease but cancer and devastating lung diseases like COPD as well. And don’t overlook finding help with this. There are some excellent programs that can help even if you’ve been smoking for years. Your biggest change could be exercising regularly or cutting out junk food or sodas. Whatever is big for you – begin there.
4. When you do find yourself engaging in one of the unhealthy habits on your list, stop as quickly as possible and try to identify the trigger for that habit. Ask yourself: “Why am I choosing to do this right now?” Clarify the underlying emotion. Are you nervous, agitated, bored, hungry, tired, sad? Then brainstorm with your coach or other health professional a more effective and healthier way to deal with that emotion. If you can change the response to the emotion, the behavior will begin to be transformed. The best way to truly uproot a deeply ingrained habit is to attack it at the root, like a weed in your garden.
5. Work on making one change at a time. I suggested you make your list relatively short – no more than 5 changes you want to make. However, make them the behaviors that will have the most impact on improving your health. Once you feel you have truly changed one behavior and that change is now your new normal, consider moving on to number two. Speed isn’t the issue, it is commitment and consistency. True transformation takes time.
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 http://www.threedimensionalvitality.com And be sure to follow her on Facebook and Twitter for free exclusive giveaways as well as daily inspiration and motivation!