Getting Healthy One Habit at a Time
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle
A few months ago, I was teaching my students how to poach eggs. The water was taking awhile to boil but that didn’t stop them from pestering me every couple of minutes – can we go? Now? NOW? I finally turned to them and calmly explained that you can’t rush nature. It’s a matter of physics – the water will boil when it’s ready.
The same goes for our bodies. We want to instantly look like the chiseled woman or man advertising exercise equipment or diet pills. Yet, once again, we can’t rush nature. In order to poach eggs, create a delicious, nutritious meal from scratch or get into shape, there is only one way to go about it: time and effort.
I recently spoke with someone who offers therapy at a wellness company. She pointed out that long-term lifestyle changes aren’t just about working out and dieting. It’s also about changing our self-identification. Eventually, we need to shift the way we perceive ourselves – to go from identifying with being a fast-food eater to a person who likes taking long walks and roasted cauliflower. Clearly, this won’t happen overnight! But in order to get there, we often have to fake it ’til we make it.
There’s been an urban myth that it takes around 21-28 days to form a new habit. A new study revealed that it takes on average 66 days to create a new habit. The researchers found that:
“When we want to develop a relatively simple habit like eating a piece of fruit each day or taking a 10 minute walk, it could take us over two months of daily repetitions before the behaviour becomes a habit. And, while this research suggests that skipping single days isn’t detrimental in the long-term, it’s those early repetitions that give us the greatest boost in automaticity.”
Becoming fit takes time. Go easy on yourself and create one new healthy habit at a time:
Start with goals that are small and realistic. If your goal is to start dinner with a salad, make sure you are well stocked with lettuce, veggies, and your favorite dressing. Chop the vegetables on Sunday night. Do as much as possible to make the change a SUCCESSFUL one.
ADD something in instead of TAKING something out. When we try to avoid something, it just becomes more enticing. Instead of denying the body, feed it frequently with tasty, nutritious snacks and meals. The vending machine will have less power if you aren’t starving.
Work with your cravings. I love salty and crunchy foods, especially at night. Instead of trying to deny myself (impossible), I make fresh popcorn. If you have a sweet tooth, invest in dried mango or papaya or keep small bars of high-quality dark chocolate around. The trick is to shift to healthier versions of your favorite foods and eat them in small quantities – not to eliminate them altogether.
Create a calendar. It sounds silly but adults respond to positive reinforcement as much as kids do. Get a calendar dedicated to your new habits. Mark off the days that you accomplish them. When you hit 30 days in a row for a new habit, reward yourself with something other than food: a massage, a pedicure, or a new work-out outfit. Or, instead, you can start putting money in your New Habits jar and save up for a vacation. The key is to make the process fun and rewarding.
Find support through friends or online. One writer is documenting her goal of “eating like an adult” at Slate.com. Or, perhaps the website, SparkPeople.com is more your style. Whatever helps you make the shift – as long as it’s a site that promotes slow changes and healthful eating habits (and not extreme dieting or other unhealthy strategies).
New habits are uncomfortable at first but after awhile, they will begin to feel “normal.” Try adding a delicious protein-packed smoothie to your morning routine. By balancing your blood sugar in the morning, you won’t be as hungry throughout the day and will make better food choices. Make it the night before and store it in a to-go cup if you’re always in a rush!
Very Berry & Creamsicle Smoothies
2 cups vanilla yogurt
¾ cup orange juice
2 medium bananas, peeled and broken into large pieces
1 cup frozen strawberries OR ¾ cup frozen blueberries
For Creamsicle Smoothies: use 1 cup of ice instead of frozen berries
Optional: ground flax seed, protein powder, bee pollen, leafy greens
Add all the ingredients to a blender and purée until very smooth. Serve
immediately or store in the refrigerator for up to two days.
-You can use fresh berries when they are in season. Just make sure that you add a frozen ingredient such as ice or a frozen banana, so that the smoothie will become frothy like a milkshake.
-Replace the orange juice with pineapple juice for a tropical version.
-It’s best to avoid non-fat yogurts since they often contain added sugars. Instead, use low-fat or whole milk yogurt for this recipe.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Total time: 5 minutes
Recipes from Easy Meals to Cook with Kids by Julie Negrin © 2010
“Habit is habit, and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time.” – Mark Twain