It’s over and behind us.  It started with preparations for a 3 day Rosh Hashanah and after a festive Simchat Torah. After the festivities, the Succah was taken down, but the scale is up! Year after year in the name of simcha—having joy during the holidays– we overdo it and can actually damage our health.

Every year after this period of time, the phone in my office begins ringing well above average.  Callers tell me about weight gain, feeling fatigued and lethargic, or clothing getting tight.  I remind my clients – the choice is yours! You can look back and keep thinking to yourself, “How did I let myself go—how could I have done this”, or you can start taking positive steps on the path to good health.

Wallowing in mistakes isn’t productive

Taking a look back to learn something from our mistakes is a good thing to do, if we can use this knowledge to move forward.  What is important for now, is taking the steps needed to turn around the situation and repair the damage.  But where do I start and how can I reach my goals? The immediate challenge ahead is changing the mindset and changing behaviors.  This is the hard part!

 

Cognitive Dissonance

We have conflicting thoughts, hence the dissonance.  We want to do the right thing in order to accomplish a change for better behaviors yet we go and do exactly the opposite! We go back to poor habits which sabotages our ability to attain our goals.

For example:

Person A wants to stop smoking. He knows all of the dangers of smoking, but smokes anyway.

Person B knows his BMI is above 30 and at his age, this presents a clear and present danger to health.  Person B resolves to lose weight, but as he walks up and down the aisles of the supermarket he sees his favorite ice cream. Person B buys and eats the ice cream.

Changing Habits

Every habit can be broken down into three parts:

  1. Cue – Cues trigger a behavior. A school bell ringing tells you the class is over. Cues can also be negative.  Depression or stress can trigger over-eating that container of ice cream.  Slight hunger, which could easily be overcome with a small snack, can induce over-eating or even binge eating.

 

  1. Behavior – The behavior is the actual habit. It is something learned over time and it occurs automatically.  We always tie the left shoe first or when we shower we might shampoo first and wash second.  The more of a habit the behavior becomes, the more ingrained it is in your brain.  According to research by Wood and Neal in 2007, it can be so ingrained that it won’t leave! But what makes these habits or behaviors stick?  It’s the reward that follows.

 

  1. Reward– Rewards teach the brain that the behavior in question promotes pleasure, making it easier for that behavior to recur in the future. A reward can be something really positive, like a good feeling after a productive exercise session.  Or it can be something that causes harm, like how good you feel right after smoking or eating unhealthy fast food.

 

Breaking bad habits

If you want to break a habit, then start by noticing the cue.  Let’s say your wife has prepared a wonderful looking and tasting dessert.  Rationally, you will say “no” to eating it because your doctor has told you to lose weight.  But your emotions get the better of you.  You know that if you eat it, you will enjoy the taste, compliment your wife and that puts her in a good mood, too.

So, what is your behavior?  To eat the dessert.  And now comes the rewards.  It tastes good and your wife is pleased that you are eating and enjoying what she worked hard to prepare.  Your brain is now getting more of the feel good hormones and this behavior is stored as positive.  This happens over and over again.

The key is to change the behavior without changing the cue or reward.  It’s time for dessert, and you remember all the pleasure that dessert brings.  Here is where you can overpower the habit.  What if you eat fruit salad and then go for a walk with your wife?  You have eaten together and enjoyed each other’s company with a nice walk. You end up with the same rewards—you’ve satisfied your palate, you have been able to compliment your wife on the dessert, and you have spent good quality time together.

Keeping all of this in mind, pick some things you would like to change this year that will bring your health and wellness to a better place.  Start by picking one item from the list of better eating habits and one from the list of better exercise and activity habits. to As you accomplish and internalized each one, move on to another.

Here are some examples of habits to choose from:

Eating and Nutrition

  • Don’t eat after 8 PM
  • Try to eat 5 servings of vegetables and 3 fruits daily
  • Cut your portion sizes by 10-15% (you still won’t be hungry)
  • Switch your carbohydrates to unrefined only
  • Drink 8-10 cups of water per day
  • Eat three meals starting with breakfast and 2 snacks every day
  • Write down what you eat on a food tracker every day
  • Cut down on processed foods that you buy off the shelf or from the freezer case
  • Include some lean protein at all meals
  • Brown bag it! Take your food to work or school and only eat out occasionally

Exercise and activity

 

  • Start walking from place to place instead of driving or using public transportation
  • Schedule a daily 30 minute brisk walk or two 15 minutes brisk walks
  • Get off public transportation a stop or 2 before your destination
  • Use stairs instead of elevators. If that is difficult, start with a few flights
  • Park your car a few blocks away from where you want to end up
  • Add a quick muscle building circuit 3 days a week. See what 6-7 minutes can do!
  • Sign up for a fun exercise class at your local gym-and actually go there!
  • Go on a family hike once a week

We are in the season of new beginnings.  It’s never too late to start taking care of your health.  You might even be able to stay out of the doctor’s office this winter!  Take the opportunity to make your well-being and health the priority it needs to be so that you can “add hours to your day, days to your year, and years to your life.”