Have you recently decided to eat better, exercise more, and (with any luck) lose weight, but find yourself slipping into old, comfortable ruts as the puppet strings of life once again start tugging? If you are already struggling to get to the gym once a week (let alone your intended six days), you might consider: Did I bite off more than I can chew here? Was my goal of swapping out all candy for kale a bit too ambitious? Was attempting to lose weight even though I’m barely keeping afloat in other areas of my life just setting myself up for failure? If your boat of health is losing steam more quickly than you had hoped, you are not alone—research shows some 36% of us don’t maintain healthy changes beyond the first month.
So now what? Why is it so difficult to change our eating and exercise habits? And how can we ever be successful with lifestyle change? Let me share with you three common circumstances I often encounter as a dietitian that may shed some light on the difficulty of change and help you finally make changes that will last.
1. Enthusiasm or a sense of obligation is masquerading as readiness. It is easy to get caught up in the excitement and possibility of a new way of eating or exercise program, but we need to be honest with ourselves—are we truly ready to begin altering our daily routines or are we just caught up in the newness of it all? Weight loss takes time, focus, and hard work. Another crucial component that will dictate our ultimate success or failure with change is lesser known: it is an often imperceptible and complex decision we make—an inherent resolve that switches on like a light in a dark room. It is that moment in which we decide: “I can’t live this way any longer, and I’m ready to do whatever it takes to change.” Have you reached this point? If so, you'll know it. Haven’t got there just yet? Then identifying motivators for wanting to live a happier, longer life can help nudge you closer to the threshold. Did your doctor recently tell you have high cholesterol and does that knowledge and all it corresponds with gnaw at you? Having a compromised health status can be a huge motivator for lifelong change. Or maybe you can't stand how you feel anymore and just want to be comfortable in your own skin again. Whatever your motivation, tap it and remember this driving force when times get tough.
2. Success is at the mercy of the ever-elusive “willpower.” If you have been waiting for a bolt of lightning to strike you and jumpstart your willpower, you will likely be waiting a long time. “Willpower,” or lack thereof, is all too often the most convenient thing to blame when we fail to follow through on our health or weight loss goals. To make things happen, continual, conscious efforts, usually in the form of baby steps, must be made to eventually reach an improved state of health and well-being. This might mean devising an alternate route home from work so you aren’t lured into the fast-food drive-thru lane. Or, it might mean talking with a dietitian to learn which foods will help keep you feeling full and which foods aren't as helpful for satiety. Only by gaining knowledge, planning, goal-setting, and practicing will the necessary skills be cultivated. Once these strategies become second nature, long-term success will be yours.
3. The bigger picture needs evaluating. If there are just too many seemingly impossible obstacles standing in the way of your good intentions to improve your diet and be more physically active, take pause. It is worth it to ask yourself “What is and isn’t working in my life right now?” Often, other large-scale changes need to be made before health and nutrition can be considered your top priority. Wanting to improve your eating habits and lose weight is terrific, but if the other two-thirds of your life is lacking or unfulfilling, you will fall short of your objectives again and again. What to do? Start by assessing the current state of your being: you may need to quit an unsatisfying job, learn how to say no to the demands of family and friends, seek help for depression or low self-esteem, or try to fix a relationship that has been strained for too long. Whatever may be necessary, don’t compromise—this is your one and only life, after all! Start removing these roadblocks first. After making progress and regaining confidence in other areas of your life, you might find that fitting in a workout most days of the week is remarkably simple and even enjoyable.
Anyone even considering taking on the challenge of living healthier deserves commendation; changing ingrained lifestyle-related health habits is one of life’s most difficult tasks to undertake. So, assess your readiness, learn, plan, and practice, and make sure it really is the right time in the larger scheme of your life, then go for your goals! The end results truly justify the means.