5 Strategies for Healthy Lifestyle Choices
Why is it hard to do the things we know are healthy?
I’ll bet most people have at least one area where they struggle with some lifestyle choice, knowing that there is a better option, but not being able to get themselves to consistently choose that better option.
I’ve heard people time and again blame themselves for being lazy, but most people I know aren’t lazy (and I seriously doubt that you are either).
Here are my top 5 reasons why I think it’s hard to switch from what we’re doing now, to doing the things we know are healthy.
We don’t actually know that these things are healthy.
We might think we “know”, but we don’t really know. Maybe we heard some things about how eating vegetables is healthy, but it’s vague. We might not have the really significant details, for instance knowing that for every consistent, daily serving of vegetables eaten, you increase your life expectancy by 3 years.
Or conversely we may not actually know the consequences of taking an action that’s less ideal. For instance some people still believe that dietary cholesterol is something you can work off, like extra calories, and not realize that every gram of LDL cholesterol you ingest will be lining your arteries for the rest of your life. With that kind of information an Oreo looks a lot less like a tasty treat, and a lot more like a deadly poison.
There is enough information out there on trans fats, high fructose corn syrup and the like to obliterate anybody’s willingness to ingest these substances. If you’re struggling with a Snickers habit then looking up the ingredients at credible sources could be life changing. Google Scholar tends to have quality information.
Those new, healthy habits are not normal.
Whatever our lifestyle is and whoever we’re currently hanging out with is probably supporting us in being whoever we’ve been up to this point. There is often real inertia from our environment to keep on doing the same things. That can be good, at least there’s inertia against our starting a heroin habit. If we did start one, we’d probably shift the people and places that we spend our time around.
It helps to try and find new environments, or change your existing one, so that it supports the new habit.
It takes guts, willpower, strategy and in the beginning, work to change anything.
It’s that whole inertia thing again. When we’re learning something new it takes extra energy. A lot of us don’t feel we have that kind of energy to devote to a new project, or we don’t realize how much of that kind of energy it’s going to take and don’t allow the extra time to be successful. It has to be a pretty compelling project to get it to the top of your priority list, which is where it needs to be to get the amount of energy it takes to learn, strategize and change.
It helps to give yourself plenty of time and plenty of credit for how difficult it is to change your lifestyle, and how deeply it reaches into all the facets of life.
We don’t set ourselves up for success.
This is much like the last item, but it’s specific to strategy. If we can’t resist eating ice cream in the evening then we would need to not keep ice cream in the house. Unless you live across the street from an ice cream shop or minimart this should be a pretty effective way to not eat ice cream at a time when you’re most susceptible. If you don’t bring it home from the store in the first place then you can’t pull it out of the freezer later.
It’s also a lot easier to not buy snacks and sweets at the store if you shop after you’ve just eaten a satisfying meal.
Make supportive decisions when you’re at your strongest, so you don’t have a choice when you’re in a weak moment. The reward is that you’ll discover a new option.
We all need to be comforted, and we’re all comforted by what is familiar.
This reminds me of a woman I know who was supporting her family in eating a progressively more healthy diet. I commented that I didn’t really like xyz, maybe it was millet or something, and I asked if they liked it. She said, “we just eat something until we like it.” On the one hand that might sound brutal, but on the other hand it’s full of wisdom, because a lot of the foods we “like” are comforting in their familiarity.
Since a lot of healthy foods are unusual to us they aren’t steeped in emotional responses. We have to eat them enough times so that they can become familiar and we can build up a suite of associations for these foods, “oh that’s the kale dish we were having when…we were enjoying that great bottle of wine and it started snowing outside.”
Likewise the body’s response to exercise can feel disturbing at first, but as we give ourselves time to get used to shifting from a resting heart rate to an elevated one, and changing our body temperature and respiratory rhythm it gets to feel less objectionable and our resistance to the process goes away.
That’s my list. It’s based on strategy, giving yourself more credit, practicing and learning, and being willing to be surprised.