The average New Year’s Resolution lasts 10 days. That’s right, research has shown that most people ditch their resolutions by January 12th. However, we have all heard that it takes 21 days to form a habit, and those are the floss-every-night kind of habits. The simple, straight-forward habits. Large behavior change takes commitment, motivation, and preparation. Change takes planning and really sitting down to determine what you are going to do and how you are going to do it. March is Nutrition Month, and don’t we all have goals to better our eating habits? Continue reading for a few tips on how to change your nutrition behavior.
First, you need to determine your reason for wanting to change your behavior. There will be intrinsic or internal (more energy, better digestion, decrease risk of disease) and extrinsic or external (fit into old jeans, lose inches off your waist) motivators. These motivators are your “why.” It is important for motivators to be positive. Research has shown that warnings and fear, such as getting diabetes or premature death, actually cause inaction. However, focusing on what you can gain will cause action.
Next, you need to determine how you are going to change your behavior. This is your battle plan. It is very important to make a battle plan that is positive and realistic, meaning creating actions that you can reasonably achieve, stick with, and that are encouraging. Statements such as, “I can’t eat that anymore” or “I’m hungry, but I can’t eat right now” are negative and have an opposite effect on behavior change. Instead, it is important to have healthy snacks around that you can eat when those negative thoughts creep in. Your battle also needs to be realistic. Determine what simple changes you can start with, and then keep progressing. A key here is preparation. Create a meal plan and grocery list at the beginning of every week. Meal prep lunches to take to work with you, and always have healthy snacks and water on hand. It also may help to eat on a schedule, so your body can get used to the changes. This also helps us feel like we have a sense of control, and our brain is always striving for control and regularity.
Then, you need to determine how you are going to monitor your behavior change. Monitoring progress is a very motivating tool for changing behaviors. Think back to step one, how can you monitor your motivators? If your motivation is to have more energy, maybe you create a scale from 1-20 and circle where you are each day. If your motivation is to lose inches off your waist, maybe you measure yourself once a week and record those numbers. No matter what, you must determine a way to monitor your progress. Positive progress is very encouraging and negative or no progress can show you that you need to take a few more steps to see the change you want to see.
Lastly, you need to maintain your new behaviors and reward yourself. A habit can be formed in 21 days, but a large, lifestyle change can take longer. That is why it is so important to formulate a battle plan that you can incorporate long term (preferably forever). We also need to incorporate a reward system for ourselves. Rewards can include: getting a massage, going to a movie, buying a new pair of shoes, saving for a vacation, having a spa day, and so much more. It is important to not incorporate food as a reward, as that is counter-intuitive to your behavior change goal. Rewards are encouraging and can help to maintain adherence to your new behavior.
Behavior change is difficult. It takes effort and commitment. You also need to remember that these steps are cyclical. Keep reminding yourself of your “why,” and it may change as you start to see and experience results. Keep cycling through and making small changes to your plan. Over time, I am confident your behavior changes will become routine, and you will be so glad you started when you did. You can do it!