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Wednesday, 10 February 2016

5 Tips to Help You Make Lifestyle Changes That Stick

We're well into February and the New Year might seem like a distant memory.  Chances are you made some resolutions back in January, and I'd be willing to bet that one of them was to get healthy.  Anyone can change their habits temporarily, but for long-lasting results you need to make a lifestyle change that sticks, so here are 5 tips that will help you make healthier lifestyle choices for good.


1.  Ease into it.


One of the things that people do when they've decided to make a change is to make sweeping changes to their diet or lifestyle all at once.  I think that is a recipe for disaster.  It's likely that you've been eating and living in a particular way for years, so it's unrealistic to think that you can simply make huge changes and carry on as normal.  It's best to ease into it and make changes gradually so that you have time to adapt and form new habits.

I'm trying to significantly reduce my meat and dairy intake but rather than throw out every meat and dairy-related item all at once, I've been making small changes and cutting down gradually so that it's less of a shock to the system, and so far it's working.

If your issue is over-eating, start off by reducing the amount of food that you prepare, gradually over the course of several weeks.  A little less for a few days, then less again for a few days and so on, until you eventually reduce your portion size to a level that is healthy but still comfortable for you.  This will give your body time to adjust to your new eating regime, reduce the hunger pangs and minimise the likelihood of falling off the wagon in a major way.  


2.  Get your head right.



The success or failure of any change in habits is largely determined by your mindset.  If your head isn't right then your chances of succeeding are drastically reduced.  When making lifestyle changes, particularly if they're fairly major changes, it's important to identify and understand why you are making those changes and how important they are to you.  Why am I doing this?  What is it that I want to achieve?  What am I prepared to change and what am I not prepared to change?  Be honest, with yourself and also be realistic.  Set realistic timescales, or don't set any timescales; just keep on making small changes until you reach a point that you're happy with.  It all depends on what sort of person you are and what conditions you respond best to. You know yourself better than anyone so make a plan that will work for you.


3.  Make healthy substitutions.


I'm a grazer.  Given a choice I'd prefer to eat small amounts throughout the day than three big meals.  I used to graze on sweet biscuits, cakes and chocolate, but now I choose savoury crackers, fruit and nuts (Deliciously Ella has some great tips for healthy snacking on the go).  The funny thing is, that the more I apply these small changes to my diet, the less I naturally want to eat anyway.

When you're out shopping, think about whether there are healthier alternatives for what you are buying.  For example, wholemeal or half-and-half bread instead of white, plain cereal instead of the sugar-coated kind, semi-skimmed instead of whole milk, non-dairy instead of dairy and so on.  Also, if you can, try to move away from pre-prepared foods and cook more meals from scratch.  Try to allocate a day or two to particular goals, for example meat-free Monday.  In our house we have teetotal Tuesday.

This can apply to other areas of your life, not just eating.  If your only source of exercise is the school run, take a more circuitous route, or pick up the pace, or even try wearing light weights.  If you catch a bus, try walking one bus stop further than you normally would.  Make the most of the time that you have.


4.  Review your achievements.


I've been making changes to my lifestyle for a little over a year.  At first I lost a lot of weight, but for a long while now I've been at the same weight.  I noticed that I was getting really hung up about that, but then I looked at how far I have come and it helped me to shift my perspective.  I'm eating much less and much better food, I'm SO much stronger and fitter than I was this time last year, I'm sleeping better, my digestion is better and I think that my mood is better too.  That's a lot of progress, but I was in danger of overlooking it all because of some arbitrary number.

It's so easy not to notice the small, incremental differences, or to notice what hasn't changed and what you haven't achieved and to forget about how far you've come, so every now and again it's worth taking the time to think about what has changed and what you have achieved; and I don't mean stepping on the scales every day! Instead think about how your eating habits have improved, how much stronger or fitter you are and how other aspects of your life have changed for the better as a result of the steps that you have taken.  Focus on the positives.


5.  Don't beat yourself up.


Falling off the wagon to some extent is very likely, especially at the start and when you're trying to make big changes.  If it happens, it happens.  It doesn't make you a bad person or a failure and it doesn't mean that you can't carry on with your new lifestyle.  Try to look at the situation objectively - were there any particular reasons or circumstances that contributed to your lapse?  Were you feeling particularly stressed, or happy or were you around a particular person/people?  If you can identify the trigger for your lapse then you can make a plan to deal with it differently if it comes up again.  Acknowledge it, learn from it and move on!

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What little steps have you taken to change to a healthier lifestyle?  I'd love to hear your stories and suggestions.

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