So, you want to be healthier? Was that one of your resolutions or goals as you contemplated how 2023 is going to be different for you than the habits you practiced in 2022?
Often I hear people- friends, colleagues or clients, lament how this is the year that they are going to change their diet, lose weight, stop eating all that sugar, processed foods etc.
And yet, too often by week 2 of January “fill in the blank year”, they are right back to all the old familiar habits when it comes to what goes down the hatch.
We are creatures of habit. It’s hard to change habits. If we tell ourselves we are going to make major changes in our diet, chances are the only major thing to happen will be a return to the status quo in a relatively short amount of time. Why is that?
1. We often don’t have a clear WHY this goal matters to us.
2. We don’t know how to make major changes that are sustainable.
3. We like familiarity and comfort and the foods we usually eat bring us just that.
4. It takes work to make radical changes to our diet- we have a brain that likes how things are now (even when we don’t get the desired result).
5. The people around us influence our habits and we are likely to do what they do- eat what they eat.
So why do we torture ourselves with making these lofty goals about how we are going to change our diet, eat better, lose weight year after year after year, when most years, our big ideas are followed mostly by guilt and a return to our familiar habits?
Why do we put ourselves through all that nonsense and misery? It’s a cycle that often just results in people feeling bad about themselves and their perceived “lack of willpower.”
How about a better way? Life’s too short to keep cycling through well, old cycles of behavior and patterns that just flat out don’t work, so let’s make a collective pact to opt out of all that and jump on board with something more realistic when it comes to making changes in our diet, losing weight and /or getting healthier.
First some truths to lay as your foundation:
- It’s not about willpower. You are not lazy, weak, or guilty because you have not been able to keep your promises and goals. The truth is we all have a brain that fights us to keep things the way they are. We have habits that we have practiced and as a result we have strong neural pathways that allow us to function without a lot of thought. Whatever habits we’ve practiced, we’ve programmed our brain, “that’s what we do.”
- Making major changes rarely works and is often not sustainable. That’s why we set ourselves up for a fall when we think we’re going to completely transform our diet. If we are used to a diet of fast food, soda and highly processed foods- it takes time to make different choices and to retrain our brain that this is what we’ll do differently.
- Your environment and the people in it matter. We live in a highly convenient fast food culture where often we are too busy to plan, shop, cook and provide healthy meals for ourselves and our family. We also live in an obesogenic environment- one that promotes unhealthy habits as a way of life. Cheap fast food is plentiful. We often have family and friends who support unhealthy habits as well.
TRY THESE TIPS INSTEAD:
1. SET ONE SPECIFIC GOAL AROUND YOUR DIET AND ENSURE IT’S DOABLE. For example, if you decide that you are eating way too much of a certain food like chocolate, sugar, or hamburgers, then look at what you will do to have a reasonable substitute for that one thing. Consider where you are, who you are with and often how you are feeling when you reach for that one thing… make a plan for what will be acceptable substitutions and ensure that you have the healthier options accessible so you don’t go to what is fast and familiar as your default.
2. IF YOUR FRIENDS/ FAMILY DON’T SUPPORT YOUR GOALS, FIND PEOPLE WHO WILL. While this may sound harsh, it just means be mindful of things like if you normally go get fast food with friends, offer instead to go take a walk, or go for coffee so you can eat a healthier lunch and not end up at a fast food restaurant. Find additional family or friends who support your goals and will encourage you.
3. WRITE DOWN A SPECIFIC HEALTH OR FOOD GOAL AND KEEP IT IN FRONT OF YOU.
The more you reinforce what your specific goal is, why it matters and how life will be different and better once you achieve this goal, the more your brain will start to climb on board- literally the more you practice the new choices and they become habits, you can rewire your brain and form new neural pathways which means over time your “default setting” is the new habit not the old.
When you realize that you can tweak some existing habits; that change does not have to mean a complete overhaul, then setting and achieving health goals including healthier eating habits becomes more attainable.
Learn to appreciate how your beautiful brain works, and then learn to work with it!
Bon Appetit and we wish you healthy (realistic) goals and habits in ’23.