Healthy Habits

By Kristen Castillo

December 4, 2015 6 min read

"It's never too late for a new beginning," says Stephanie Merchant, who is the founder of The Nutrition Mom and calls herself a "former junk food junkie."

When she was 40, Merchant was 50 pounds overweight and taking antidepressants as well as heart medication.

"I knew my future did not look bright if I stayed on that same path, and I also realized that I was setting my children up for the same," she says. "That was my catalyst for change."

Merchant, who says habits are formed by "example, repetition and familiarity" focused on getting healthy and eating better. She lost the weight and doesn't need those medications anymore.

She encourages others to get healthy, too, and offers this reminder: "It's not a temporary path to a fast goal. Decide you want it and know why."

*Developing Healthy Habits

Consistent sleep, eating well and exercising daily are ideal goals.

"Starting and sticking to a healthy routine is a major mental challenge," says Chris Carr, a sports and performance psychologist at St. Vincent Sports Performance.

While there's no set timeline for each individual to successfully adapt and stick to a new routine, studies suggest meaningful change takes time.

Research based on cosmetic surgeon Dr. Maxwell Maltz's 1960s self-help book, "Psycho Cybernetics, a New Way to Get More Living Out of Life," indicated habits were formed after 21 days. The latest research indicates it takes about 66 days to stick with that new routine.

Even weight-loss programs are designed to yield consistent results for the long term. Jenny Craig, for example, promises participants will lose 10 pounds in eight weeks or they'll get back their first two months' worth of membership fees.

So how can you develop healthy habits?

*Set Goals

"Know what outcome you want to achieve, and the process to get there," says Carr. "Setting daily goals can help you achieve that. Each night, write down one to three goals you want to accomplish the next day."

Carr says goals should be what he calls SCRAM: "specific, challenging, realistic, adjustable and measurable." Examples include, "I want to run for one mile without stopping" or "I want to turn my phone off and go to bed by 10 p.m."

*Exercise Daily

"Put exercise in the hierarchy of must do's," says Melonie DeRose, co-founder of Fe Fit, a 90-day fitness package for women, who explains exercising is a good habit, just like brushing your teeth or eating.

Have a daily plan, but don't be too rigid or you won't follow through.

"Don't create a workout schedule with seven days of running or a meal plan with seven days of cauliflower if you've never enjoyed running or cauliflower," says DeRose. "Don't set yourself up for failure."

*Healthy Eating

"If you want to lose or maintain your weight, focus on eating meats, vegetables, eggs, cheeses and nuts," says Shane Allen, a certified weight loss specialist, personal trainer and sports nutritionist with Personal Trainer Food. "Avoid sugars and starchy carbs like bread, pasta, rice and gravies."

*Find a Partner

"Don't sweat or eat alone," says DeRose. "Chances are the people around you want to eat healthier, as well."

Share your health and fitness goals with a friend or family member. Being accountable to that person with regular visits, calls, texts and food and exercise logs can keep you on track and prevent you from giving up.

*Visualize Success

"It is important to visualize what to do," says Carr, who suggests visualizing doing an activity, such as walking. "Just like relaxation, the more you practice, the better your concentration and focus will become."

*Mix Things Up

"Routines are like relationships," says DeRose. "You need to spice it up every now and then."

For healthy success, you need to change up your routine. Add a new class, try a new fitness video or do 10 extra minutes of a core workout. That way, your mind and your body won't get bored.

After a few weeks of one routine, change things up. Mix up meals, too. DeRose suggests adding one or two new recipes a week to your healthy meal plan. "Keep things interesting around the dinner table," she says.

*Track Your Routine

Keeping track of your efforts to develop healthy habits can keep you focused. "Write down positive mental aspects of your day, and how you can repeat them," says Carr. "Also write down negative thoughts, and how you will do better the next day."

*Snooze

A regular sleep schedule is a great healthy habit too. Track your sleep patterns, including bedtimes, wake ups and restlessness.

"Go to bed and get out of bed at the same time as often as you can" even on weekends, says DeRose.

Whether you want to improve your diet, fitness, sleep or other areas, stay focused. With time, persistence and a plan, you can develop healthy habits.

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