Some of the most challenging clients I have are the ones who have a lot of weight to lose, who need a complete diet and lifestyle overhaul…and who take me to task on every suggestion I make. Pack a lunch instead of going to the drive through once a week? “Can’t – no time in the morning”. Get up a half hour earlier to take a walk? “Nope – too tired”. Get rid of the ice cream in the freezer? “No can do – I keep it there for the kids”. Mind you, I’m not asking them to make all these changes all at once, but some people really resist even the smallest change. Sometimes they’re afraid to fail, or they feel the sacrifice is too much. Sometimes, the rewards aren’t readily apparent. So when someone has a lot of bad habits that need to be broken, the best thing I can do is to try to help them prioritize – and work on the easiest things first.
There are those people who can tackle a lot of changes at once and be successful – but they’re the exception. Most people need to take things in a stepwise fashion – and sometimes those steps are very, very tiny ones. I worked with one stubborn patient for weeks, who would agree to nothing – until I suggested he simply switch from whole milk to low fat for a week. While not enough of a change to make much of a dent in his weight loss, he did manage to do it – and he kept on doing it – which turned his thinking around from “there’s no way” to “maybe I can”.
Whether you have a number of bad habits to change or only one or two, there are some basic principles when it comes to navigating your way through the behavior change process. So here are some tips for smoother sailing:
• Set your behavior goals and make them reasonable. And be specific. “I want to get physically fit” or “I will eat better” is too vague. Instead, set a goal of “I will walk 30 minutes a day” or “I will pack my own lunch twice a week”.
• Start with the easiest changes first. Once you tackle those and feel successful, you’ll feel empowered to take on more challenges. As each small change becomes permanent, they’ll start to add up – which can add up to big health benefits, too.
• Don’t think ‘forever’. Try just getting through a weekend without overdoing it, or take things a day at a time – or even a meal at a time if you have to.
• Keep track, so you know how well you’re doing. If you’ve been trying to boost activity, keep a log of your minutes or miles. If you’re trying to cut back on sweets, set a limit for the week and keep track. And for each small success, give yourself a pat on the back.
• Try to anticipate what might derail you and plan accordingly. If parties are your undoing, plan to have a snack before you go, and decide ahead of time how many drinks you’ll have. If you know you’ll hit the snooze button instead of exercising in the morning, put the alarm clock across the room – right next to your workout clothes.
• Practice the art of distraction. When you get the urge to eat something you shouldn’t, tell yourself that you’ll wait 15 minutes before you give in. Chances are, you’ll get busy doing something else and forget about it.
• Notice what triggers your bad habits and break the chain. If the vending machine at work tempts you every time you walk by, find another route so you’ll avoid it, or don’t carry any money with you. To stop nighttime noshing, head into the bathroom to brush your teeth, instead of into the kitchen to raid the refrigerator.
Written by Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD. Susan is a paid consultant for Herbalife.