Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Creating New Habits, Not Excuses

The whole point of Who Needs a Gym is to encourage people to get healthy, live healthy and be healthy, but to keep it simple. My basic belief is that for a person to be healthy and fit they do not need to join a gym or try expensive diets and supplements to get to a healthy weight and to be fit. I have achieved fitness and a healthy weight by watching what I eat and through regular, home based exercise.

I recently read a great book called "The Power of Habit" by Charles Duhigg. The book is brilliant. What I especially liked was how he brought attention to the habit loop (cue-behavior-reward) and how, to make lasting change we need to believe that we can change. I especially like the one part of the book that I quote extensively below and that is related to the intention of this blog (emphasis are mine):

"...until about twenty years ago, conventional wisdom held that the best way for people to lose weight was to radically alter their lives. Doctors would give obese patients strict diets and tell them to join a gym, attend regular counselling sessions - sometimes as often as everyday - and shift their daily routines by walking up stairs, for instance, instead of taking the elevator. Only by completely shaking up someone's life, the thinking went, could their bad habits be reformed.

But when researches studied the effectiveness of these methods over prolonged periods, they discovered they were failures. Patients would use the stairs for a few weeks, but by the end of the month, it was too much hassle. They began diets and joined gyms, but after the initial burst of enthusiasm wore off, they slid into their old eating and TV-watching habits. Piling on so much change at once made it impossible for any of it to stick.

Then in 2009, a group of researches funded by the National Institute of Health published a study of a different approach to weight loss. They had assembled a group of sixteen hundred obese people and asked them to concentrate on writing down everything they ate for at least one day a week.

It was hard at first. The subjects forgot to carry their food journals, or would snack and not note it. Slowly, however, people started recording their meals once a week - and sometimes, more often. Many participants started keeping a daily food log. Eventually, it became a habit. Then, something unexpected happened.  The participants started looking at their entries and finding patterns they didn't know existed.  Some noticed they always seemed to snack at about 10 am, so they began keeping an apple or a banana on their desks for mid-morning munchies. Others started using their journals to plan future menus, and when dinner rolled around, they ate the healthy meal they had written down, rather than junk food from the fridge.

The researchers hadn't suggested any of these behaviors. They had simply asked everyone to write down what they ate once a week.  But this keystone habit - food journaling - created a structure that helped other habits flourished. Six months into the study, people who kept daily food records had lost twice as much weight as everyone else." - Duhigg, Charles; "The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do and how to change," 2013, Random House Books,  p 119 ~ p 121
When I look back to my own weight loss journey, I realize that I also only changed one small thing: I switched our french fries for fruit when I ate my daily lunch. I also started to snack on fruit rather than unhealthy fast food. Now I have become a very healthy eater. I hardly eat any unhealthy food and often choose vegetables and salads over fries.

Now what about YOU: What keystone habits are you going to try and change that may lead to positive, proactive long lasting, permanent change in your overall health and wellness. As highlighted in the quoted text above, it doesn't have to start with a massive lifestyle changes, you just need to do one small thing that may lead to other, healthy changes. Your challenge is to figure out what you are going to do to effect change in your life.

You can change, you can succeed, you can grow and you can become better at all you do. You have the power to change but you do not need to make a radical lifestyle change, just choose one small change that will guide you to a better life.

Create a new habit, not a new excuse. Good luck. 

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