Pick­ing three healthy habits to stick with

I’ve had plenty of bad habits, which led to my orig­i­nal 5st weight gain – now I am pick­ing some good habits

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Health Fitness - Rachel Fla­herty – Rachel Fla­herty is writ­ing a reg­u­lar col­umn about get­ting fit­ter and health­ier. rfla­herty@irish­times.com

The count­down to Christ­mas has be­gun and it is over the jolly sea­son I know I will most overindulge in food and drink with fam­ily and friends, and I’m fine with that.

Well, to be hon­est, I’m try­ing to be. I have spent many years feel­ing guilty over eat­ing cer­tain foods and it has not done me any favours, so I’m mak­ing an ef­fort to change my mind­set.

In pre­vi­ous years at this time of the year I would be plan­ning a re­stric­tive detox diet to lose a large amount of weight that would take up all my think­ing and time, which I would ini­tially do great on but ul­ti­mately fail as it wasn’t sus­tain­able.

But this year will be dif­fer­ent.

I want to chal­lenge my­self to learn new habits be­fore fes­tive cel­e­bra­tions kick off that will help me with my weight loss and over­all well-be­ing per­ma­nently.

I’ve had to ask my­self: what are the best ways to im­prove my health, lose weight and feel bet­ter over the next four weeks?

Three health­ier habits

I want to choose three health­ier habits re­lated to food, ex­er­cise and rest that are sim­ple to do and are noth­ing too dra­matic but have made a dif­fer­ence to me feel­ing bet­ter over the past year.

I’ve no­ticed some of my be­hav­iours that have helped me lose weight have drifted in recent weeks, and Novem­ber is the per­fect time for a re­fresh be­fore the chaos of Christ­mas takes over.

I’ve learned a lot through suc­ceed­ing and fail­ing at dif­fer­ent things while los­ing 3½ stone, par­tic­u­larly that there is no mir­a­cle or magical so­lu­tion for me in los­ing weight, and that it feels em­pow­er­ing to be in charge of my own so­lu­tion if I give my mind and body time to adapt.

The words “mod­er­a­tion” and “slow and steady” nor­mally caused me to roll my eyes but switch­ing my fo­cus to step-by-step progress has worked for me. I’m ex­pect­ing my mo­ti­va­tion to come and go over these next few weeks, so I’m go­ing to vis­ually track my progress along the way so I can cel­e­brate small mea­sure­ments of progress and achieve­ments. I’m also go­ing to track (with short notes) if I feel any dif­fer­ent or not.

Habit is de­fined in the Cam­bridge dic­tionary as “some­thing that you do of­ten and reg­u­larly, some­times with­out know­ing that you are do­ing it”.

Weight gain

If I can do it with bad habits, of which I have had plenty that led to much of my orig­i­nal five-stone weight gain, then I can cer­tainly do it with good habits. My end goal is to make health­ier habits part of my nor­mal be­hav­iour but I’m not look­ing for per­fec­tion­ism as the “all or noth­ing ap­proach” has caused me to feel like a fail­ure be­fore and give up. So I’ll be happy with do­ing them 80 per cent of the time. The first habit I am com­mit­ting to fo­cus­ing on is con­sis­tent phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity. I am aim­ing to ex­er­cise for at least one hour a day three times a week, ide­ally four, but three as a min­i­mum. My goal adds up to three hours out of a 168-hour week. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but I’ve lacked con­sis­tency when it comes to ex­er­cise. I’m giv­ing my­self a wide range of op­tions from go­ing to a class to walk­ing – any­thing that works up a sweat I will give my­self a tick of “com­pleted” on the cal­en­dar. Ex­er­cise is the one thing that has helped change my mind­set and make me feel stronger phys­i­cally, but which I’ve also put to the side dur­ing busier times.

The sec­ond habit I’m keen to form is food-re­lated. I want to stop eat­ing at least two hours be­fore go­ing to bed. I’m in­ter­ested to see will this make any dif­fer­ence to my health or weight. I’ve read ar­gu­ments for and against this strat­egy. One side is adamant that eat­ing be­fore bed causes you to sleep worse as your body is cop­ing with di­gest­ing the food while you are sleep­ing. The other side ar­gues it makes no dif­fer­ence what time you eat, only the over­all calo­ries you eat for the day mat­ters. I’m hop­ing that stop­ping eat­ing be­fore go­ing to bed will en­cour­age me plan my meals bet­ter and eat more dur­ing the day.

Pri­ori­tise other things over sleep

The last, but not least, is sleep. I’m com­mit­ting to get­ting be­tween six to eight hours sleep a night, ide­ally seven. This will be a dif­fi­cult one to keep up as I of­ten pri­ori­tise other things over sleep. I’ve been read­ing ar­ti­cles from neu­ro­sci­en­tist and author Matthew Walker, who says sleep mat­ters as much as diet and ex­er­cise for our health. It has been a while since I have felt re­freshed af­ter be­ing wo­ken by the alarm clock. I’m not alone. Walker cites two-thirds of adults through­out all de­vel­oped na­tions fail to get the rec­om­mended eight hours’ sleep.

He says rou­tinely get­ting less than six or seven hours sleep de­mol­ishes your im­mune sys­tem, dis­rupts sugar lev­els and sets you on a path of car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease. He says sleep reg­u­lates your ap­petite, and it is the sin­gle most ef­fec­tive thing we can do to re­set our brain and body health each day. I’ve no­ticed I tend to eat more and feel less sat­is­fied with food when I’m very tired.

When it comes to sleep, rou­tine is rec­om­mended for get­ting up and go­ing to bed the same time ev­ery day, but this is mostly im­pos­si­ble for me, as it is for many other peo­ple with dif­fer­ent com­mit­ments. I work dif­fer­ent shift times so my plan is to set my alarm for when I need to go to bed, and I’m wear­ing an ac­tiv­ity tracker so my sleep pat­terns will be au­to­mat­i­cally tracked.

So that is my plan for form­ing new habits for the next four weeks. If you are think­ing of tak­ing on any new habits or goals over the next few weeks, I would love to know.

I’m giv­ing my­self a wide range of op­tions from go­ing to a class to walk­ing – any­thing that works up a sweat I will give my­self a tick of ‘com­pleted’ on the cal­en­dar

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