It's easy to say, "Eat right and get more exercise." But successfully changing behavior -- your own or your children's -- takes planning, persistence, and patience. If it were easy, we'd all be fit, trim, never smoke, and rarely drink.
Yet it’s within your reach to build healthy habits to prevent or tackle adult and childhood obesity, especially if you understand how to get your mind engaged and set yourself up for success.
You already know the benefits of healthy eating, and you try to eat well. So what's keeping your family from eating high-quality foods -- a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean sources of protein? And how can you help them eat better?
Here, experts suggest how you can make healthy eating a habit. Plus, they offer tips on how to make it fun for preschoolers, grade-school kids, and teens.
Know why you're doing it. When you're ready to eat better or get fit, set yourself up for success by understanding why you're trying to make behavior change happen, suggests Eileen Stone, a child and adolescent psychologist at Sanford Health in Fargo, N.D. Do you want to have more energy to play with your kids? Do you dream of finishing a 5K walk or run? Do you simply want to breathe better? Identifying a meaningful, personal reason -- something of real value to you -- will help motivate you.
Know both the benefits and the costs of pursuing your new goal. Most people find it easy to identify the benefits of trying to reach a healthy goal. You may want to feel better and look better, for example. Research on decision-making shows some advantages to thinking about the costs of such efforts, as well. For example, it can cost both time and money to increase your fitness, as well as effort and sometimes pain and frustration. By reviewing these costs, you'll be better prepared when potential barriers pop up as you go after your goals. Being realistic and prepared will help you stay on track and "keep your eyes on the prize."
Plan it out. How will you do it? Map out your goals and then break them down into mini-goals that you can achieve. What steps will you take to reach them? "The more concrete the steps are, the more manageable your goals will be," Stone tells WebMD. Write down your goal and the answer to your "why" question on bright sticky notes, and post them in visible places around your house. Keep a journal or a spreadsheet to help you track your progress.
Think patience, not perfection. Most of us want to shed pounds now or feel better today. "We think we have to do it all right away, and we have to do it perfectly," says Shelly Hoefs, a certified health behavior coach at Sanford Health in Sioux Falls, S.D. But that mindset can undermine the best intentions. The habits and behaviors that got you where you are took shape over time. That means it'll take time to build healthier habits, too. When you get frustrated, remind yourself: It doesn't have to happen all at once. Even small changes can make a difference.
Build on other successes. What are you good at right now? Use those skills to mix healthy change into your life, Hoefs suggests. Are you organized? Use that characteristic to plan out healthy meals a week in advance. Or maybe you like routines? Try committing to a before-dinner walk with your neighbor at the same time, twice a week.
Don't dwell on failure. We all have bad days with our jobs, spouses, or kids. We get through them by looking at the big picture -- reminding ourselves that all days aren't bad and thinking of all of the good days that surround them. Do the same when you're trying to adopt healthy new habits. For example, if you've been doing great with walking and then you skip a few days, don't dwell on it. "Focus on all those other days of success," Stone says, "and let that motivate you to get back on track."
Recognize success. Behavior change isn't easy, so when you succeed, give yourself credit. The next time you go for that walk or skip that dessert, give yourself a pat on the back. Celebrate the small and large successes.
Evaluate your efforts weekly. If you are not willing to take honest and frequent looks at your efforts, setbacks and results, your efforts to change are doomed from the start. Don't give up for the day because you went to the breakfast buffet with your friends and overdid it. Make a healthier choice for lunch. The road to healthy habits is not straight. You will encounter bumps along the road, but keeping the big picture in mind and your goals in sight will help you drive right over them. Taking stock every week will allow you to make the adjustments that will help you succeed.