People who call on me have been thinking about making some changes in regards to their nutrition and well-being in general, and many are ready to make some significant lifestyle modifications. Whether one is wanting to lose weight, start exercising, or even quit smoking, all individuals go through what behavior experts call “The Stages of Readiness to Change”. New Year’s is not the only time people go through these stages…new seasons, a new job, a new baby, a new love can all bring about that feeling of wanting to “change” for the better…and I advise everyone who is thinking about changing their “wicked ways” for some healthy habits review the following stages and decide: “Where am I in this continuum?” And, “How can I get past Pre-contemplation and Contemplation and into Preparation and Action sooner than later?”
Pre-contemplation: You are not thinking about changing anything right now. Even though your MD may have referred you to a dietitian or suggested you join a gym, you have yet to make a move.
Contemplation: You are now thinking it’s time to make some changes, but have to weigh all the pros and cons. You say to yourself, “I know I should start eating breakfast, but I just don’t have the time.” The benefits of breakfast are compared with the investment of time.
Preparation: You have finally decided to change some aspect of your eating pattern or incorporate some regular physical activity into your week. You commit to small changes or baby steps. One or two practical goals should be set at this point. For example, you start snacking on fruit or raw veggies instead of chips or cookies, and you go for a walk at lunchtime. Keeping a food journal or exercise log would be helpful in this stage. Plan ahead and have healthy snacks on hand or ask a co-worker to be your walking buddy.
Action: You have accomplished these small goals and now you are ready to kick it up a notch. Think about other changes you can make, but remember to keep your goals reasonable. Plan for possible issues that might get you off track. For example, soccer season is about to start for your son, so you make the following commitments: “I will plan to run around the soccer field while my son is at practice” and, “I will plan to pack some healthy snacks and take them on game days.”
Maintenance: You are eating better and exercising regularly. Your new behaviors have become a steady habit. The danger here is boredom with routine, a vacation or holiday that interrupts the routine, or some unforeseen personal challenge that shifts your focus for a time from the routine. Know this: EVERYONE has setbacks or lapses in behavior. These should NEVER be considered a failure. Think of these episodes as learning experiences and move on. Seek help from a professional (a registered dietitian or a personal trainer) to guide you if you feel overwhelmed. Give yourself a break but DON’T GIVE UP!
It’s NEVER too late to change for the better, and any effort you make to improve your well-being will be worth it. Your health doesn’t just affect you, it affects your family, friends, even your community at large. Find the courage within yourself to turn thoughts into action. Make a healthy change today!