Why It’s Impossible to Fail at Making Healthy Changes

Why It's Impossible to Fail at Making Healthy ChangesFear of failure. We’ve all been there. We’ve all balked at intimidating undertakings because we’re concerned about failing.

What about making lifestyle changes to improve health?

Fear of failure is frequently cited as a reason for avoiding making changes. Those changes seem overwhelming and people claim to be concerned that they will not succeed.

 

Let me pose a hypothetical question: What if, instead of fear of failing, the real fear is that of finding greatness?

That probably sounds bit (or a lot) crazy, so let me explain.

As I said before, health-related lifestyle changes can seem extremely daunting. Most people are pretty comfortable in their current lives: eating in a comfortable way, exercising at a comfortable frequency and intensity. For some, that may mean giving limited thought or attention to food or exercise at all. Others may feel comfortable focusing greatly on their eating or exercise habits. No matter where a person is in their health journey, additional changes can feel like a step into the realm of discomfort.

Implementing positive changes is often challenging…at first. It is hard to limit the number of times eating out each week. It is hard to learn to cook more nutritious food. It is hard to wake up early to go to the gym, or take the dog for an extra-long walk in the evening when you’re used to spending that time on other activities. Those changes alter our routines and make us think more about what we’re doing.

Here is where I argue the fear of greatness comes in.

If making a positive change sounds uncomfortable now, the thought of being great at that change might sound like the discomfort will be prolonged – maybe forever. The thought of dining at restaurants fewer times per week for a member of a family that loves to go out to eat might seem like a plan that is bound to fail eventually, because greatness would result in a direct effect on that family time. For someone who likes to stay up later in the evenings, the thought of being great at exercising early in the morning before work might seem like more than they feel they can handle. My point is that the fear of greatness is related to reluctance to feel the initial discomfort over an extended time period.

Here’s the thing: It will get easier. It always does. It takes 21 days to make or break a habit. After those 21 days of implementing a change, it won’t necessarily be easy, but it will be easier (“-er” means more!). The discomfort won’t last forever. Not only will the new, healthy behavior become habit, a person’s life overall will likely change to accommodate their new changes. Maybe the person whose family goes out to eat frequently will start hosting healthy family dinners. Maybe the person who struggles to wake up early to exercise will begin falling asleep earlier (and sleep better, as a result of their increased physical activity), ultimately feeling more well-rested.

And what if the healthy changes don’t become part of the lifestyle? What if, after a few weeks, or longer, those changes just don’t work out?

That still is not failure. The positive effects of those changes exist. The time spent making those changes is time that less healthy behaviors were not taking place. That leads me to my second radical statement: You cannot fail at making healthy changes.

Habit is habit and not to be flug out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs one step at a time.
To keep a lamp burning, we have to keep putting oil in it.
Stopping the Bad Guys: How to Catch a Villain Diet

Stopping the Bad Guys: How to Catch a Villain Diet

In the world of nutrition and health, there are good guys who altruistically look out for your well-being, and there are bad guys who try to trick you and take advantage of you.

Stopping the Bad Guys: How to Catch a Villain Diet

As a soon-to-be-dietitian, I get several questions such as, “Is such-and-such a good diet for weight loss?” There are loads of fad diets and diet books out there claiming that they can help you lose weight, and it’s important to equip yourself to know which ones are worth your time.

In my opinion, there’s a simple answer and a complicated answer.

The simple answer: Don’t bother with anything labeled as “diet.” No one needs anything called a DIET to lose weight. What everyone needs is a healthy eating PATTERN.

The complicated answer:

There are a few (I repeat, a few) diets that are backed by research and recommended as heart healthy diets. These include the Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) Diet, the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Diet, and the Mediterranean Diet. These diets are intended to improve heart health and reduce cardiovascular disease risk, but as they represent overall healthy eating patterns, weight loss may be an additional benefit.

What about all those other diets? The ones that are advertised on TV and the ones that are described in books and the ones that claim to have you slimmed down in no time?

Here’s the skinny on which weight loss diets to say “no” to:

  1. Any diet that promotes a pill, drink, or other supplement to lose weight. It’s just not necessary and the company is just trying to make money.
  2. Any diet that calls for extremely restricted calories. While everyone is different and calorie needs should be determined by a professional on an individual basis, think twice before going on any diet that limits calories to less than 1,200 calories per day.
  3. Any diet that promises rapid weight loss. A weight loss rate of 1-2 pounds per week is recommended as safe and sustainable, as it is often achieved by genuine lifestyle changes rather than crash dieting behaviors.
  4. Any diet that cuts out entire food groups. Each food group provides an array of important nutrients, and your body can make best use of these nutrients when they come in different combinations from a variety of foods.
  5. Any diet that is masked by client testimonials. If the diet tries to sell itself mainly on rave reviews from clients instead of legitimate science, be wary. There are likely lots of other people out there who hated the diet and had a negative experience.

myplate_greenThe bottom line is, weight loss takes time, effort, and lifestyle changes. The process of ‘yo-yo dieting’ (losing weight on a crash diet, then gaining it back, just to attempt to lose it on another diet) is a harmful to your body and will cause higher body weight in the end. No weight loss diet system is going to do it for you. Rather, follow a healthy eating pattern including foods from all food groups in moderate portions, and incorporate some physical activity into your daily routine.

Spend your time with the good guys and your weight loss journey will be much healthier and more pleasant!

 

Sources:

Liebman M. Nutrition & Weight Control Course Manual. 2012. University of Wyoming.

Mahan LK, Escott-Stump S, Raymond JL. Krause’s Food and the Nutrition Care Process.

Hand B. 12 Ways to Spot a Fad Diet: Identifying Weight Loss Scams. SparkPeople. http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/nutrition_articles.asp?id=395. 2015. Accessed April 2015.

ChooseMyPlate. www.choosemyplate.gov/about. USDA. 2011. Accessed April 2015.

The Meaning of TRY

The Meaning of TRY

As Yoda said, “Do or do not. There is no try.”The Meaning of TRY

Far be it from me to disagree with the character of Yoda, but within the realm of health goals, I disagree with this particular piece of advice.

“All-or-nothing” thinking is a common problem among those who have health goals. It is the idea that if you’re going to eat healthy, you’ll have nothing unhealthy, and if you slip up and eat something less nutritious, you give up and stop eating healthy foods altogether. Another example is if you were to set a goal to go to the gym for an hour 5 days a week. If you only have time to work out for 30 minutes, you won’t go at all.

You can see where the all-or-nothing mindset is problematic. Often, you’ll find yourself worse off as a result of all-or-nothing thinking than if you had just allowed yourself a treat and continued on with your healthy behaviors.

From my perspective, Yoda is encouraging this all-or-nothing thinking. And while that may be sound guidance in other aspects of life or in a galaxy far, far away, it doesn’t have a place in health goals and behaviors. In this area, this IS ‘try.’

Try covers the middle ground between do or do not. Try is what you do when you don’t know what you’re capable of and you want to move forward. Try is how you accomplish the small steps to reach a bigger goal. Try is how you keep yourself on track even after slipping up, and try is how you avoid making yourself crazy by being super strict with yourself. Try is brave, because it’s an attempt in the face of possible failAs long as you are trying - honestly trying - it will get easier.ure.

Here’s the tricky part, though – how do you know that you’re trying? It’s important to make sure that you’re truly making an effort and actually taking real steps toward your goals, rather than just skating by on old habits instead of making the decisions to do better, wishing things were different, and labeling it as “trying.”

Try Check-in:

  1. Do you feel satisfied with your effort, or do you feel like you could easily have done better? If you’re at the end of a workout, feeling like you’re making no progress toward your goal to run a 5K, but you still have plenty of energy, maybe you could have run a little harder or a little longer.

  2. Are you using mini-goals as stepping stones to your big goals? If you are a chronic soda drinker and you quit it cold turkey, but find yourself picking up the habit again every time you slip up and drink one soda, it would probably be helpful to set mini-goals to cut out one soda a day each week.

  3. When you have a bad day or a slip-up, are you able to regroup and continue making progress? Health is a lifelong journey, and abandoning good habits because you ate too much cake at a birthday party or you ate out every day while on vacation will be detrimental. Cut yourself some slack and get back on track.

Do and do not certainly exist. But for all the times in between when you don’t know if you can make it from do not to do, there is try. Skip the all-or-nothing mindset. As long as you are trying – honestly trying – it will get easier.

How do you try to meet your health goals?

 

Sources:

Anderson D. Moderation in All Things: How to Avoid the Diet Blues. SparkPeople. http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/motivation_articles.asp?id=729&page=3. Published 2015. Accessed April 2015.

5 Ways to Make More Effective Health Decisions

How many decisions do you make in a day? I’m not talking just about the big, obvious decisions like whether to apply for a new job or where to go on vacation. I’m talking about the small, almost imperceptible, day-to-day decisions that affect your health:

Should I have a piece of candy from the bowl on my co-worker’s desk?

Should I increase the rate on the treadmill for the last 0.1 mile?

Should I have pickles on my sandwich?

I’m not here to tell you what choices to make in the face of decisions like these – either way you choose could be appropriate depending on what the rest of your day or the rest of your week has been like, and which choices will support your mental and social health, as well (check out my article on total well-being here).

I am here to provide you with encouragement. The constant decisions we all make on a daily basis take their toll. Research has indicated that the more decisions a person makes, the more likely they are to experience “decision fatigue” and find themselves giving in to temptation. You can use this information to your advantage.

  1. Recognize that the more decisions you make, the harder it will be to continue making good choices. If you are aware of the role decision fatigue may be playing in your health, you will be more able to counteract the effect when you see it popping up in your decisions.

  2. Turn off autopilot. Be mindful of each decision you make that affects your health. Be mentally present in each decision. “Going with the flow” may lead you to making a poor choice or continuing a behavior that you have been wanting or trying to change.

  3. Set yourself up for success. You can make good decisions easier for yourself by making adjustments to your environment. For example, pack a gym bag to take with you in the morning and go straight to the gym after work to pre-empt the decision whether to leave your house again after you get home. Try packing a healthy snack (great examples here) so that you have a better option available in that afternoon slump besides the vending machine at work.

  4. Flex your decision-making muscle. You’ll be making many of the same decisions repeatedly. When you buy bread at the store, you will have to decide between white and whole-grain bread every single time. The more you make the decisions to buy the whole-grain bread, the easier that decision becomes until it doesn’t really seem like a decision anymore, but more of a habit.

  5. Use a mantra. Come up with a mantra – a short, meaningful phrase – to coach yourself through those tough decisions and keep working toward your health goals. It doesn’t matter if come up with your own or borrow one – it just needs to be meaningful and motivational for you. My personal mantra is, “Getting better, getting stronger.” It helps me through both health decisions and tough workouts.

You have to make health decisions every single day. Even though it may become easier to make those decisions, you have to be mindful and make the best choice for your overall health that you can each time a decision comes up. One choice about one decision will not make or break your health, because health is a lifelong journey, not a moment in time.

 

Sources:

Tierney J. Do you suffer from decision fatigue? The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/21/magazine/do-you-suffer-from-decision-fatigue.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0. Published August 17, 2011. Accessed February 21, 2015.

Anderson J. Think yourself fit! SparkPeople. http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/motivation_articles.asp?id=1012. Accessed February 21, 2015.