What does it take to incorporate a new healthy habit?

What does it take to incorporate a new healthy habit?​

Generally speaking, change goes through many stages from pre-contemplation to continued commitment. Everyone has different motivations for change. Making a small change, rather than a drastic one can be easier for many people. There is even some evidence to back up this theory. The National Institute of Health’s “Changing Your Habits for Better Health” handout has some terrific ways to start those healthy habits. 

A four step system to create the motivation for change:

An example of this process for increased blood sugar control and weight loss might look like imagining yourself joining a local CSA (community supported agriculture) delivery service or attending the local farmers market for increased access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Next, you might have the CSA delivered or take a trip to the farmers market. When your box arrives or you get back, you might continue your journey by putting your plan in motion using those fruits and vegetables in your daily cooking. Finding new recipes and ways to utilize the produce would keep it interesting to stay motivated.

Consider looking at the the pros and cons of changing your lifestyle when you are contemplating change. What are lifestyle changes that you can add to improve your life and what are the consequences if you continue on the same path? Ask yourself some questions regarding the changes you might make. Will this lead to better health? Will I have more energy? What are the financial costs? Imagining a healthier you can create the framework for change.

Psychologists suggest using small steps in order to lead to big successes when making lifestyle changes. For example, if someone wants to lose weight, they may start by making healthier food choices. These small changes can be as simple as adding that fresh fruit or vegetable to your breakfast. Once that change has been implemented you can set your goal higher to incorporate five fruits or vegetables in your daily routine. This habit might help you swap unhealthy foods for healthy ones. When we make these small changes the mere repetition of action forms a new habit. If that habit gets positive results, we are more likely to continue with it and even add new habits.

In the time of COVID-19 it can be difficult to follow the plan that may have worked for you prior to this trying time. One way to stay on track is to make a weekly meal plan and grocery list. This can be something that all family members add to throughout the week, so when the trip to the store happens, everybody has a say in the meals. Meals don’t have to be a big production…did somebody say,breakfast for dinner? (See below for a link to my “Easy Breezy Frittata” recipe)

The most important thing to remember is that small changes add up to big results, so take a minute to think of one small thing you can incorporate daily that will lead to a healthier you. Maybe it’s a longer walk with the dog or choosing the salad instead of the fries. Every little change can lead to a sustained improvement, especially when you see the results.

Think of the song in that children’s classic Christmas movie, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, “Put One Foot in Front of the Other” and soon you’ll be walking out the door. Transformation doesn’t have to be a painful process. With a little planning and some small easy to accomplish changes, you can achieve even the most seemingly impossible goals.

  • By Jennifer Smith, MS, RDN

References:  Benjamin Gardner, P. L. (2012). Making health habitual: the psychology of ‘habit- formation’ and general practice. Royal College of General Practitioners, 62 (605): 664-666.

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