Lasting Habits, Lasting Health

For a long time now, I’ve been trying to get healthy and lose weight. I’ve struggled with my weight on and off since middle school, and no matter how many diets and exercise plans I try, I can never get them to stick. I’m guilty of trying fad diets, sure, but I’ve also tried some really straightforward ones that involve calorie-counting and basic stuff like that. But, still, nothing works! Experts, can you help me? How can I get good at eating right and exercising – and not just relapse after a short time?

It’s that frustrating time of year, when many new year’s resolutions are beginning to fail – all too early, of course, in the eyes of those who made them. Why is it so hard to stick to our resolutions?

Experts suggest it’s that we don’t craft resolutions as habits. Some of them may sound like habits – “I’m going to eat right every day,” “I’m going to run every other day,” and so on – but, in reality, they’re either too vague or too tough to stick to.

Studies suggest that forming a habit can take anywhere from 21 to 66 days to form a habit – with the latter, larger figure enjoying more recent scientific backing. If that sounds like a long time to follow your diet, then you’re already in trouble. The fact is, we shouldn’t use diets to lose weight and then return to our normal habits. The better idea is to find a diet that we can stick with indefinitely. Sure, you may need to watch calories a bit more closely in the early days of the diet if you want to lose weight at a reasonable rate, but your long-term diet should look a lot like your short-term one if you want your weight loss to be anything but temporary. Studies suggest that the all-or-nothing attitude of dieters leads to failure, which is likely why most people regain weight lost when dieting – and then add some more.

The same goes for exercise. Running 5 miles a day for a month is not as good as running 2 miles a day forever! Your best bet is create habits and real lifestyle changes. That means manageable, sustainable goals, not all-out blitzes and short-term sprints. Don’t be one of the 67% percent of people with gym memberships who don’t use them!

How can you do this? Well, you need to find lifestyle changes that appeal to you – or are at least tolerable enough to turn into habits. Running will get easier with time, but if you target too much mileage, you’ll wear out before you hit that point. Don’t go too easy on yourself, but be conservative. Consider targeting low-impact exercises, like swimming, or fun activities that double as exercise – dance lessons, for instance, are a great way to blend hobbies in health, say the Naperville, Illinois dance teachers at Arthur Murray Dance Centers.

The same rules apply to diet. In general, your diet should consist of a lot of “whole” foods – the sort of unprocessed meats and, especially, vegetables that you find around the edges of your grocery store, say the organic grocers at Grants Pass, Oregon’s Cartwright’s Market. You can find all sorts of information on nutrient-dense foods online, and the same is true of healthy recipes. But as some experts say, the best vegetable is the one you actually eat! Don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good, and instead try to focus on permanent changes you can make to your diet.

There’s always room for improvement, and as time goes by you can certainly try to perfect your diet and exercise plan. And none of this should serve as an excuse to continue most of your bad habits under the guise of “incremental change.” But you should absolutely make sensible goals and target sustainable habits that will allow you to reap the benefits of a healthy lifestyle for many years to come.

“Healthy citizens are the greatest asset any country can have.” – Winston S. Churchill

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