Consistency is paramount when working toward any health goal; abstaining from cake one time will not shed stubborn pounds.
To lose weight, help lower blood pressure, improve energy or decrease anxiety, you need to change your preferences -- your daily habits -- so that more often than not you are making healthy choices.
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You need to be consistently healthier. It sounds obvious, but consistency falls into the life category of "simple, but not easy."
The ability to be consistent is fostered by adopting the health goalposts of clarity and convenience.
By clarity I mean clarity of your goals and purpose. By convenience I mean orchestrating your life so that it is easy to make healthy choices and inconvenient to make unhealthy choices.
Make healthy habits convenient and unhealthy habits utterly inconvenient!
Establish clear (i.e., specific) goals and have a strong "why." Use metrics to help set clear goals; without metrics the parameters of your goals and choices are murky and hard to measure and stick with. Don't just say "I want to lose weight" or "I will work out." Specify how much weight you want to lose or when and how often you will work out.
Remind yourself of your 'why' when you want to deviate from your health goals.
Ensure your goals align with your values. If family togetherness is most important to you, don't aim to go to the gym five days a week at dinner time -- too often you will just end up ditching the gym to be with loved ones. Instead, harness and respect your value of family. Be active with them, work out at home after dinner or do body-weight exercises as you watch your kids play sports.
Decide on your "why." Have a clear reason why you are making a particular habit change -- maybe the ability to play with your grandkids or the fitness and dexterity to participate in a sport. Remind yourself of your "why" when you want to deviate from your health goals.
Healthy choices require energy, concentration and mindfulness. Maybe you can force yourself to train at lunch when you have energy, but after work -- especially if you go home before the gym -- mustering the motivation to train might feel next to impossible. Feeling hungry, exhausted, angry, sad or thirsty lowers resilience, which means it takes more energy and resolve to make a healthy choice.
Make bad habits as inconvenient as possible so you can't impulsively deviate from your health plan.
Instead of being surprised by your physiological needs and emotions -- we all get tired and hungry -- normalize this aspect of life and take the necessary preemptive steps.
Set yourself up for success by making healthy choices convenient.
Ensure your workout length, location and timing are realistic; the yoga studio around the corner might be conveniently located, but if you never make a class because they are too lengthy to be convenient, the benefits are moot.
Make completing your goals as easy as possible. Put your clothes out the night before you plan to train so an early workout is relatively easy, have a training bag at work so you can always duck out to train or set regular training dates with friends to create accountability.
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You also need to disassemble future roadblocks by making unhealthy habits utterly inconvenient.
Most of us can be objective about our health when temptation is low. At 3 p.m. today it might be easy to say you will get up at 5 a.m. tomorrow, but actually getting up at 5 a.m. is a whole other story. Instead of expecting your future self to be superhuman and have the ability to resist all temptations, set yourself up for success. Make bad habits as inconvenient as possible so you can't impulsively deviate from your health plan.
Recognize your natural biases and emotional food triggers. Create a plan that makes it next to impossible to fall into usual bad habits. For example, I love fudge bars. I can eat the whole box in one sitting. When I am at the grocery store, the devil on my shoulder says, "Kathleen, you have enough self-control to ration these out." My rational self knows that the future Kathleen -- the tired and bored Kathleen -- will not be able to resist. So, I don't keep the bars at home. If I want a fudge bar I have one at my mom's. That way I can enjoy one with her without consuming all six in a late-night binge.
Stop looking for excuses. Instead, start to look for solutions.
Decide in advance -- when you are level-headed -- what you will do when your future self wants to deviate from your health plan. Create "if ... then" statements in advance about how you will handle any "landmine" health situations. If I want to eat a treat at a party, then I will make myself wait 15 minutes before indulging. If I decide to indulge after 15 minutes, then I will restrict myself to a portion the size of my thumb. If I want to eat in front of the TV, then I will knit instead. If I book a dinner out, then I will look at the menu before I go and decide in advance what I will eat. When I arrive I will not look at the menu; I will just order my predetermined meal.
Set yourself up for success. Have clear goals and reasons why you are making a health change, then orchestrate your life so that healthy choices are "easy." Demand more of yourself. Don't beat yourself up when you fall off your health horse but commit to always learning why you made the unhealthy choice and figuring out what you can do differently next time. Stop looking for excuses. Instead, start to look for solutions. Commit to something realistic -- anything -- and do it!
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Fine, get back on that Dreamliner. Pull another string of all-nighters. But then, to avoid the subsequent week of jet-lagged, sleep-deprived misery, stop eating for 16 hours. Researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center found that the fastest way to put a mouse’s circadian rhythms on a new (or correct) time zone was to reset its “food-related master clock.” This requires a single cycle of starvation during the normal wake period, followed by a meal on the right schedule (Note: Although there have been no human trials, only anecdotal support, the researchers think this strategy may help people too.) Consult your doctor before fasting.
Run to catch the elevator. Shift your La-Z-Boy to the upright position and back again 25 times. Overweight volunteers who racked up just 30 minutes a day of short, sporadic activity -- one minute here, six there -- had significantly higher cardiorespiratory fitness levels than true couch potatoes, finds a study at Queens University in Ontario. The key is breaking up sedentary time: If you sit for more than two hours, your “good cholesterol” drops along with your metabolic rate. A study published in Diabetes Care found that just standing up for one minute every hour during, for instance, a 10-hour slug-a-thon leads to a healthier blood lipid profile and body mass than sitting all day and being active for 10 consecutive minutes at the end.
Use "detergent" or add "water" if you don’t brush after every meal, says Linda Niessen, DMD, Clinical Professor at Baylor College of Dentistry-Texas A&M University. "Detergents" are fibrous foods such as celery, apples and carrots, which scrub away debris as you chew, she says. "Water" is saliva, which neutralizes acids and washes away food particles—and you make more of it when chewing sugar-free gum. But don’t postpone brushing and flossing for too long. “Plaque must be thoroughly removed every 24 hours,” says Niessen. (To put in the requisite two minutes, she recommends the timer app Brush DJ.)
Identify the cue -- a mood or setting -- that makes you eat robotically, writes neuroscientist Darya Pino Rose, PhD, in her diet guide, Foodist. Then, "take a different action whenever you encounter the cue." For instance, if you usually eat in front of the TV, go ahead -- but try using your non-dominant hand this time (moviegoers who did so ate 30 percent less stale popcorn in a study at the University of Southern California). A mindfulness technique, this helps you slow down and actually pay attention to what you’re eating. Another option: Predict when or where you’ll be in auto-feed mode and eat something healthful (like frozen grapes).
Massage yourself through three cravings a day, as smokers did in a study at the University of Miami. Instead of reaching for a cigarette, they busied their hands in one of two ways: caressing their ear lobes or kneading the web of skin between their index finger and thumb for two minutes. It worked -- at least much of the time. Within a month, these self-massagers -- who said they felt less anxious -- smoked fewer cigarettes a day than the control group.
You know you're a nasal-decongestant-spray addict if your nose feels acid-burned, you can’t smell, and yet you still feel stuffed up and spray all day. The alternative: a nasal steroid spray, says Neil Bhattacharyya, MD, FACS, a professor of Otolaryngology at Harvard Medical School, who has seen exposed bone in abusers’ noses. Your doctor prescribes the steroid to break the habit while tackling the underlying problem, like polyps or a deviated septum. If your habit is light, wean yourself by spraying every other day for a week, Bhattacharyya says. (Claritin is another short-term option.)
Follow Kathleen Trotter on Twitter: www.twitter.com/KTrotterFitness