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Can't help myself...bad habits

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Posted by: Nick Nation

Old habits die hard…
especially the unhealthy ones

We’ve all been there, great intentions with big changes works for a while however, in the long term, our old habits start to creep back in and our goals become a little further out of reach.

There are those among us that can make changes and keep them going long term but, unless unhealthy habits around food and drink consumption and general well-being are addressed, the chances of being able to sustain changes over the long-term are pretty slim.

It depends on the extent to which our habits have become ingrained. As Horace Mann, the great educator once said, “habits are like a cable; we weave a thread of it each day, and at last we cannot break it”. I don’t necessarily agree with the last part as I’ve seen plenty of unhealthy habits over the years bringing some great benefits. Not to say this has been easy for those involved. 

Far too often, people take shortcuts, opting for quick fixes that usually involve focusing on the symptoms and not the cause.If you are trying to reduce your intake of sugar, you may decide to go cold turkey, bypassing the very habits you have formed around their regular consumption. You may have some success for a while until something happens in your life that causes you to re-adjust your focus and commitment (e.g. work, family etc.).

Unforseen bumps in the road often see us fall back into old habits, like eating too many sugary foods, because the habits that led to consuming these foods in the first place haven’t really been addressed ie regularly buying a bar of chocolate in the weekly shop.

So what are some of your unhealthy habits?

Being more aware of your unhealthy habits is the first step in changing them.

All of your habits, whether good or bad, have been formed for a reason, they give you some benefit.  However, sometimes the benefit doesn't outweigh the negative.

Eating chocolate at 3 pm everyday at work gives you the sugar rush that makes you feel great (benefit), at least for a while (30 minutes)... but then you often come crashing down after the initial high, feeling more tired than before you’d eaten the chocolate.

Unfortunately we don’t have an endless supply of willpower. The best way to break an unhealthy habit is to replace it with a new habit that provides a similar benefit.

For example, you wake up, have a shower, and head to the kitchen for a high sugary breakfast every morning before work. You may be in the habit of having a high sugar breakfast cereal each morning as it’s easy to prepare, helps you to get out of the house for work in the morning and beat the traffic.  To change this behaviour, you need to appreciate the benefit of an alternative.

The benefit isn’t actually eating the short sugar-high post breakfast. In this case it’s about saving time.  So…we need to replace the sugary breakfast with a quick and nutritious one.

How about a quick nutritious smoothie full of nuts, seeds and fruit, a minimally processed muesli with Greek yoghurt, or even a piece of fruit dipped in 100% nut butter? It may take preparation but it is minimal.  The benefit of the change needs to stay in focus as the habit starts to change.   It is all about digging deep to determine the actual benefit of an unhealthy habit, hijacking the habit, whilst maintaining similar benefit.

“The Power of Less”
There’s probably a stack of habits you want to work on to achieve your health and wellbeing goals. Nobody’s perfect right? Stack the odds in your favour by working on one habit at a time. Like anything, if you try to take on too much at once, you increase your chances of failure. Leo Babauta describes in his book, “The Power of Less”, that the key to success is to work on one habit at a time. Once you have formed one healthy habit, move onto the next and so on.

Where to now?

1.  Select one habit you wish to work on to move you closer to your main goal. Choose something measureable.
Some examples include getting 30 minutes of physical activity or getting rid of sugar in your morning tea.

2.  Dissect the unhealthy habit loop, for example, what is the trigger, routine and the benefit of this unhealthy habit? 
Can’t seem to find the time for 30 minutes of physical activity, are there steps involved (getting changed, squeezing into work hours/family time) that are making it too hard?

3.  Plan – write this down. Which aspect of the specific unhealthy habit loop do you plan to hijack? Include the how, when, where, why? 
3 nights a week – Monday, Wednesday, Friday - I’ll come home, change into sneakers, grab the kids and the dog and walk around the block.

4. Report to someone daily, weekly etc. Identify somebody to help hold you accountable.
I’ll let the kids know what I want to do and why that way they can make sure I’m doing it – hold me accountable! Otherwise my fitbit will let me know when my steps are low.

5. Stay positive, expect setbacks, and move on.
Missed my walk, no worries, I’ll pack my shoes and take a quick walk during lunch tomorrow.

Unhealthy habits jeopardize your health — both mentally and physically, wasting your valuable time and energy. Confront these habits head-on by isolating them one at a time and give yourself the best chance of achieving your health goals

Right…what habit are you breaking first?

 Nick

Nick Nation

About Nick Nation

Nick Nation, amongst other things, is the Heart Foundation of WA’s Manager of Public Health Nutrition. Nick is a dietitian with more than 10 years of professional speaking experience. He is regularly invited by corporate and community groups to speak on a variety of nutrition topics and designs his sessions to inform, motivate and entertain.

View all posts by Nick Nation

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