I had a moment of sadness this weekend: too many of my pants are too tight. My arthritic knees are becoming symptomatic again (i.e. my knees feel like they are 80). Despite cool temperatures I had my worst run in forever on Sunday. I started feeling just "blah" even though I've been really active. While I love the freedom of not relying on the scale for validity, I've also been developing some unhealthy eating patterns that regardless of weight can lead to negative health consequences down the road. My knees tell me that right away. Down the road it can lead to increased risk for diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. So while still trying to maintain a relationship with food that doesn't involve guilt, punishment, or deprivation I also need to make some habit changes.
Do I try to completely revamp my life with one major holy grail master plan? Or do I take the snails pace and make one or two small changes at a time? This question has been tickling my brain for the last several days so I spent some time today geeking out over research on how to make lasting habit change. I by no means exhausted the current research, but I will share my thoughts with you based on the research and my own past experience.
So which is better? Major overhaul or small changes? Answer: depends. The why of the change plays a major role. For example, if NOT making a certain change will lead to immediate or certain harm there is much motivation to make the change permanent. If you suddenly develop a nut allergy it would behoove you to immediately rid your house of any possible dispensers of anaphylaxis...or stock up on epi-pens. But if your why is more vague or non-life threatening (i.e. my pants no longer fit) you will get more long term traction if you make small, incremental changes and then build on them. If healthy living was just about knowledge we'd all be a lot healthier. We generally KNOW we should eat fewer oreos and more broccoli, but it's our behavior patterns that are non-compliant. If you make one change and are successful it increases your belief that you can make more positive changes. Sometimes when we try to make a huge healthy life overhaul we get discouraged within days. Even trying to make "15 small changes" at once means a big lifestyle change. And often that is completely overwhelming.
The other problem we run into when trying to make major changes is we get bogged down in trying to find THE PLAN. What rules are right? Should I be eating paleo? Vegan? Vegetarian? Mediterranean? Hostess diet? Should I be running or walking? Is interval training or long duration better? And suddenly there are so many choices and we are unable to actually make a decision on what to try. We get bogged down in the details. I've caught myself several times spending hours and hours researching which exercises I should be doing, when in truth if I was just doing anything for that same amount of time I'd be healthier.
So this week I decided to start taking the turtle's approach. In the past when I've realized my eating and exercise habits were out of whack I'd make major crazy changes. I'd clear out the pantry of anything "unhealthy". And the minute I'd start banning so many foods I'd crave them all the more. I can drive by McD's everyday and never give it a second look until I decide to never eat fast food, then the the golden arches become a beacon of light. I'd create a workout plan that is more appropriate for a college athlete trying to increase performance than a mom trying to be healthy. And within two days my arthritic knees are unable to let me sit in a chair without major pain...which overall makes me more sedentary than if I just try to add movement throughout my day.
Back to the turtle's approach: Start One. Start One healthy habit a week. One. That's it. Not one AND another and another and another. That's been my approach in the past: "I'll drink 10 glasses of water a day...AND I'll cut out sweets...AND I'll get up at 5 am and exercise for an hour...AND..." By noon on Monday I'm tired, hungry, and heading to the bathroom every 5 minutes. The change will last maybe until Tuesday. Maybe. So I'll start with one.
And if I'm successful with my healthy habit, and it feels like I'm going to maintain that habit with ease I'll Start One more habit. If I struggled I'll give myself another week or two.
My Start One habit for this week: no eating sweet treats (meaning candy bars, cookies, cake, ice cream, etc.). I'm not eliminating all sugar, just those things I was snacking on waaay too often and they were becoming part of my everyday (every hour??) menu instead of the occasional treat.
What about you? I'd love to hear your approach to habit change.