Katherine Webb, M.A., NBC-HWC
Do you go through bursts of smooth sailing with your health goals, only to find yourself capsized and frequently “starting over?”
I hear this often from people in my office, and I can relate myself! Maybe you’ve historically been “on” or “off” a diet plan for much of your adult life, or you’ve gone “all in” with exercise for a period of time, only to later throw in the proverbial towel.
Many of us have had the experience of making lifestyle changes, indeed even recognizing the benefits, yet despite our best intentions, we witness the return of old patterns of behavior. New behaviors must compete with established needs for energy, time, and resources. External demands, cultural and societal messages, and life events all may create threats to our ego’s strong yearning for the status quo. Or perhaps desired results may not have been enough or new behaviors left us unsatisfied; so, old behaviors called, and we responded.
There are a few primary reasons that you may be stuck in this pattern:
1. Your health goals are too rigorous.
They are simply not achievable given the demands of your daily life. Perhaps you haven’t identified one or two health behaviors you can maintain, even on your hardest/busiest day. For me and many patients I work with, that’s a protein-filled breakfast. Or it’s 70-100 oz. of water. Or 5,000 steps. Start small, with one or two behaviors. Researchers have identified that the failure rate increases when we tackle too many focus areas at one time.
2. You only consider it “success” when you’re nailing your diet, your exercise, your meditation, and your sleep schedule, for example.
It is better to be on track 80% of the time for six months, then 100% for just a few days. You’re switching methods too quickly. Perhaps you adopt a framework for nutrition but shift gears after only a week or two because you aren’t seeing results OR the far too common, because you read some conflicting advice online.
Conversely, can you identify factors or situations that consistently contribute to your derailment?
Here are a few examples:
1. Maybe it’s the biweekly dinners with friends whose health goals aren’t aligned with yours.
2. Maybe it’s enjoying alcohol too frequently, which often leads to increased snacking, worsened sleep quality, and increased visceral fat.
3. Maybe it’s cutting your calories too low in aim for perfection, which can lead to overeating or binging.
4. Maybe interpersonal relationships are creating stress, and in addressing your discomfort, you slip back to old habits.
5. Maybe your own internal conversation or self-criticisms undermine your belief that you can be successful.
What to do instead:
1. Spend time identifying your answers to the question: “What is Important, Meaningful and Valuable to me?” When we know our “why”, it becomes much easier to attend to behaviors that support our goals in life.
2. Get rid of the “on” or “off” mentality. Improving our health is something we are always working towards; there is no pause button. Cultivate and strengthen the vision you have for the healthiest version of yourself. Don’t “shelf” that vision on a Friday night or on a vacation in a way that will cause you to “start over” the next week.
3. Recognize that there is no such thing as perfection. There’s a spectrum, a continuum, of health enhancing behaviors. Performing at a 6-8 consistently is more effective than being oscillating between a 10 and a 2.
4. Start with 1-2 behaviors that would make the greatest impact. If you were an outsider stepping into your life today, what’s the first change you would make to improve your health?
Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes for long term health. We must adopt the belief that health is truly the accumulation of repetitive, small, sustained behaviors over time. The second key is to make those behaviors enjoyable. We will not sustain behaviors we don’t enjoy! If you’re aiming to include more healthful foods, do it with a partner or a friend, buy a new, colorful cookbook, or have themed cooking nights. If you’re wanting to increase movement, focus first on the movement (and the environment) that you enjoy most! If you want to discuss this further, my door is always open! Call our front desk to schedule a health coaching visit with me!