Want to eat healthier? You better believe it! That’s the conclusion of a new Australian study that analyzed the diet, exercise, and personality types of more than 7,000 people. Researchers found that those who believe in "faith" or "luck" are more likely to live an unhealthy life. But those who believe they can change their lives through their own actions tend to eat healthier, exercise more, smoke less, and avoid binge drinking.
The study is in line with what I see in my one-on-one work with clients. Those who have doubts about their ability to change or worry that changes won’t be effective are more likely to fall of track or may even self-sabotage, often subconsciously. On the flip side, a client who feels confident that she’s in the driver’s seat tends to stick with changes long enough to create what I call a "new normal." Self-confident clients also tend to put setbacks in perspective rather than letting a bad day or bad meal derail their efforts.
The study confirmed something else I see in my practice: Women are more open to focusing on the everyday benefits of living a healthier lifestyle rather than just physical results, like pounds and inches. The rewards may include more energy, a boost in mood and sleep quality, less bloating and improved digestive health, and feeling more confident. In my experience, this is key because these quality-of-life advantages are what tend to keep my clients on track and help them maintain healthy behaviors long-term.
If you struggle with a "can-do" attitude, take these four steps:
- List something you accomplished that was difficult, but you were able to complete. It may be earning a degree, completing job training, giving a speech, learning to play a musical instrument, or sticking to a budget. When you remind yourself of your past success stories, it can help you feel more confident about your ability to change your eating habits or lifestyle.
- Make another list of all the reasons you want to change that have nothing to do with weight or size. What does living a healthier lifestyle give you that’s important to you in your everyday life? Write down the top three to five benefits and keep it handy. In fact, read it every day. And if you’re a visual person, choose a symbol or object that represents the benefits as a reminder. My clients have selected things like a soaring bird or a blooming tree to help them stay connected to the rewards of changing.
- Identify your biggest obstacles and create action plans to avoid or overcome them. For example, if you tend to fall off the wagon due to stress, build simple stress management techniques into each day, such as calling a friend, deep breathing, listening to music, etc. Or if you get derailed by social eating situations, start spending time with friends in ways that do not revolve around eating and drinking.
- Finally, find support. Whether it be a friend, co-worker, or even an online community, having people to lean on can help you make it through a rough day, stay motivated, and remember that the effort is worth the rewards.
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.