The first step in this process, says Diane Randall, a lifestyle coach and consultant who works to help people find a healthy balance between their work and their “real lives,” is to understand what’s important to you. “Then determine the choices and decisions that represent where you want to be,” she said. “Maybe you want to start a new career, lose weight, stop smoking, or start exercising. Whatever the change is, be sure you understand why you want to make the change.” Randall explained that your “level of readiness” will determine your success and how long it will take for you to get there. “Once you make the decision to change, you must practice that new behavior one day at a time until it becomes a habit,” she said, “A lasting change.” Of course, that’s much easier said than done. So, use the following tips to find out how to truly build healthy habits that will last for life.
Developing long-term healthy habits doesn’t mean you have to give up all of the ‘bad’ stuff entirely and forever. Rene Ficek, a Registered Dietitian and the Lead Nutrition Expert at Seattle Sutton's Healthy Eating explains it terms of adopting healthy eating habits: “Healthy eating doesn't require you to cut out your favorite foods once and for all,” she said. “In fact, telling yourself that you will never have a certain food ever again increases the likeliness of bingeing on that food. It is human nature to want what we are not supposed to have. It is necessary to understand that a healthy diet includes all foods.” She warned against taking diet habits to extremes in hopes of “fast results” and instead suggests working towards goals that fit into a realistic time frame. This same idea applies to all areas of creating a healthier, sustainable lifestyle. Avoid extremes and remember that every small effort is a step in the right direction.
“Exercise is like sex, if you aren't having fun, you aren't doing it right,” says Jeanette DePatie a plus-sized certified fitness trainer who works to help people of all ages, shapes, sizes, and abilities learn to love exercise. “If you hate it, you won't do it. The right kind of exercise is the one you look forward to doing.”
“Whether its weight management, exercising, biking, or the one I am focused on, blood pressure monitoring, recording is the one thing every person can do that is easy to establish as a habit and has huge impact on behavior change,” says Tony DeYoung, a certified personal trainer and behavioral psychologist who works with Hello Heart, a health app focused on helping people establish habits around recording and managing heart health. He says this is why popular health and fitness apps have come to help so many people. “They use the iPhone to let people easily record and track their important numbers, and they provide reminders to keep them recording,” DeYoung said, noting that visualizing trends and spotting triggers are two extremely helpful benefits associated with keeping track of your efforts.
Pilates teacher and dance instructor Samira Shuruk says that it’s important of foresee future obstacles so that you can plan ahead to overcome them. For example, when it comes to working out, for many often the hardest part is getting started. “We know that if we don't get our workout clothes on, or bring them with us to work, we likely won't go,” she said “So, morning exercisers should get workout clothes on before doing anything else. Post-work exercisers should re-pack their workout clothes in a bag after their previous workout, so it's already done.” In other words set yourself up for success ahead of time. Always be prepared.
“We all know there are rewards of exercise, but often we forget how many there are,” Shuruk explains. “Don't limit yourself to focusing on fitting into those jeans, or looking great for that cruise. There are stronger motivators than looks. Exercise makes you feel stronger. It makes doing your everyday things easier. Stretching eases joint pain. Cardio makes our heart stronger. Exercise is a stress reliever, mood-enhancer, and sleep-improver. Find what benefits you enjoy the most and focus on them. Keeping your eye on those meaningful prizes will help you keep going and improving.”
This advice differs from the notion of setting a timetable for your goals, which is important when you’re setting out to achieve a measurable aim like losing a certain percentage of your body fat or increasing the distance you’re able to run. “If you are seeking to make changes to your body by reaching a certain goal, there is the notion that the behaviors that support those changes have an expiration date,” says Julie Stubblefield, a fat loss coach and founder of Fit Mom Revolution. “It's human nature to abandon many of the great habits we've developed simply when that goal weight, jeans size, or fitness level is reached. Unfortunately, this leads to rebound weight gain, and the cycle repeats itself.” Instead, she says, focus on the health benefits gained as a result of maintaining your healthy habits, like lower cholesterol levels and improved heart health. “None of those benefits come with a deadline or expiration date,” she said.
Stubblefield warns against what could be described as “plunging in head first” when it comes to taking on new habits. Like, completely banning sugar from your diet or aiming to exercise every single day, for example. She says this typically leads to frustration and ultimately, resorting back to old patterns and habits. “Instead, slowly integrate changes into your life,” she said. “If you aren't eating many vegetables each day, aiming for an insane amount is an uphill battle. Start with three servings daily. When that is effortless, increase to five, and so forth. The same can be applied to exercise—maybe the notion of hitting the gym five days a week seems daunting. Start, instead, with just two days a week until it feels good on your schedule and your body. Increase when it's no longer a challenge.”
This can even involve a KitKat bar if you really want. Basically, don’t expect to be perfect; take breaks from exercise, allow a little bit of leeway in your diet. “Due to the accountability trends of fitness with wearable trackers, social media support groups, and post-workout selfies, we feel compelled to be working on our bodies every single day,” Stubblefield explained. “This can seriously contribute to wellness fatigue.” She says these things can sometimes serve as a healthy form of internal pressure to keep working hard, but that it’s important to disengage when tracking, counting, and reporting starts to become mentally tiring. “Yes, it is truly okay to take a week or two here and there to not stress about what's going in your mouth or if you nailed your workouts,” Stubblefield said. “That time away from accountability is a mental and physical relief. Additionally, those brief breaks won't set you back or cause you to gain all that you've lost. If anything, they can bring fresh insight, remind you that your body feels better when you are eating well and moving, and allow you to appreciate how far you've already come.”
“A habit starts with a trigger—or a cue—that tells your brain to automatically pursue a certain behavior,” says Laila Zemrani, co-founder and CEO of Fitnescity, a marketplace that connects customers with carefully-vetted personal trainers in their city. “For instance, for some people, boredom triggers behaviors such as nail biting or snacking when you are already full. The trigger and the behavior are then followed by a reward, which can be either emotional or physical. These three elements, when repeated several times, form a loop that results into a lasting habit.” She offered the following tips that can help create a habit loop for healthy behaviors: First, be specific about the behavior you want to transform (e.g. "I will go for a run at 7 a.m. three times a week" rather than “I will be more active”). Second, establish triggers that will remind you to take action, like calendar reminders or leaving your running shoes near the door. Third, keep it fun and simple—this part involves the reward. “In order to increase your chances of repeating the behavior multiple times, there has to be a reward,” says Zemrani. “This can be physical like, feeling energized after your workout, or emotional, like enjoying your dance-fitness class.” And finally, learn to break your bad habits. “Become aware of what triggers your bad habits,” Zemrani added. “This will enable you to pursue a different behavior, as soon as the trigger presents itself.”