You have the best intentions when it comes to building healthy habits – so why is it so hard to make them stick? Here are a few biological reasons why – plus some tips for success…
We all know how important it is to eat right and exercise regularly – in fact, our health and longevity depend on it! So why is it so hard to make healthy habits stick? And what can you do to succeed at making positive lifestyle changes permanent?
The problem is that as a species, humans are resistant to change by nature. Because of that resistance, it takes us a while to break a bad habit or implement a new one – up to as long as a month or more according to most studies. During this transition period, it is easy to fall back into our old ways, unless we consciously keep ourselves on track until our new change has taken hold as a habit.
In the case of healthy habits, not only can they increase your resistance to disease and illness right now, but they can also improve your life further down the road. That means taking fewer prescription drugs in the future, maintaining independent living longer and living longer in general. But the road to change can be bumpy if not done correctly.
Here are a few reasons why you may struggle with implementing healthy habits – and how to do so successfully:
1.) Healthy Eating
Do you like food that is not good for you? Food that is high in calories and fat? If you do, you are not alone… and it is not your fault!
We are genetically engineered to gravitate toward certain kinds of foods from our ancestral days. Hunting, gathering and exploring the surrounding area looking for food took a lot of energy, and food was often scarce – so food with a lot of calories and fat provided the necessary energy and sustenance to keep humans alive until they could find the next food source.
But the food today is different than it was eons ago. Today, processed foods high in fat and sugar are everywhere, and fast food restaurants lurk around every corner, inviting you to come on in and “super-size it!” But that isn’t the end of the story. These kinds of foods are also addictive – especially sugar. So, if you succumb to eating a lot of processed and fast food, that is what your body becomes accustomed to eating, what it prefers, and in fact, what it craves.
However, the opposite side of the coin is also true. If you start eating healthy foods that are good for your body, in time, those will become what your body craves. The trick is to make small incremental changes over time and not try to change your entire diet all at once. Over time, your body will slowly change and adapt to your new way of eating. What gets people into trouble and causes them to fail is when they try to make too great of a change in too short a time. Don’t quit eating bad food cold turkey – just slowly start eating less of the bad foods and more good foods over several weeks.
Enjoy healthy fats, high-quality protein, and complex carbs such as fruits and vegetables, and gradually swap out the highly processed and junk foods for healthier options. In time, you will find you are automatically eating healthier – and craving healthy foods instead of the bad ones!
2.) Healthy Fitness
The same rationale of gradual change also applies to exercising. At the start of each New Year, many people make all-or-nothing commitments in the form of resolutions. They plan to exercise five days a week, run a marathon in a month, etc. But after the first couple of intense workouts, they are so sore they can hardly move. They take a few days to heal up and never return to the gym again – at least, until the next New Year!
Instead, if you start slowly by doing some short easy workouts a day or two the first week and gradually increase the frequency, workout time and type of workout over the course of the first month, you are much more likely to stick with your fitness program. It’s great to set goals (such as running a marathon, lifting a certain amount of weight, etc.), but start with baby steps and work up towards your long-term goals over months, not weeks.
Building healthy habits is a process of setting an attainable and realistic end goal with several milestones or mini-goals along the way. Be sure to reward yourself in a positive way after reaching each milestone as it provides you with the mental encouragement and motivation to continue forging ahead to the next one.