What woman can’t recite a list of healthy habits she wants to keep? Lifting weights, running more, drinking eight glasses of water a day, wearing SPF to protect skin, booking regular smears, and not forgetting planning in regular meditation to beat stress.
The habits themselves might change, but one thing tends to remain the same: sticking to them all is almost impossible.
Yep, come February, our New Year’s resolutions have usually fallen by the wayside. Bad habits, on the other hand, are a cinch to keep! Whether it’s forgetting about breakfast, grabbing that 3pm sugar fix to beat the afternoon slump or enjoying a de-stressing cigarette after a meeting, we’re all guilty of indulging in bad habits. Luckily, our experts are here to help you break the cycle and build good habits for life.
1. Find the fun
It’s hard to adopt a good habit if you see the change as a chore. ‘Choosing a workout you enjoy is the ideal way to change a “why bother” attitude as it doesn’t feel like hard work and is fun enough to take your mind of it,’ says Felicity Cole, personal trainer at Fitness First.
2. Visualise your goals
Bad habits are easy to keep because they are easy to do. After all, it’s much easier to lounge on the couch, than hit the gym, or to speed dial a takeaway than make a healthy meal. But explains Dr Sohere Roked, a nutritionist and naturopath (holistic-doctor.co.uk), you can begin to break bad habits by visualising the long-term effects. ‘Visualise how you want to feel and look,’ says Dr Roked. ‘Really feel it. Then think about how you will feel in one year if you are in the same position, and in five years and 10 years. This will help you to focus on why you are making the changes.’
3. Cook ahead
We all have those days when we just can’t be bothered to cook a healthy meal, and find ourselves reaching for the takeaway menu. But, says Holland & Barrett nutritionist Alex Thompson, preparing for those days in advance can stop you falling into the junk food trap. ‘Cooking large batches of meals such as soups, stews, tomato sauces and low-fat curries or chilli con carne and then freezing them is a great way to always have healthy evening meals ready to use,’ Alex says. ‘Preparing larger batches isn’t a lot more effort in terms of preparation and the cooking time will be very similar. This is the ideal way to avoid the temptation to eat commercially available sugar and fat-laden ready meals or takeaways when you’re tired.’
4. Zap cravings
We all know those 3pm sugar cravings are caused by a dip in blood sugar, but while you might not be able to resist the mid-afternoon vending machine run, you can help combat cravings by upping your protein intake. ‘This will slow the release of sugars to your system and combat cravings,’ says nutritionist Claire Harper from Ovivo Wellness. ‘If you must eat chocolate, make it choc Brazil nuts, or if you must eat a croissant, make it an almond version, as the protein in the nuts will keep you full for longer.’
5. Tune in
A study from Stanford University found that our unconscious mind is in the driving seat a whopping 95 per cent of the time, meaning that a lot of the time when we indulge in bad habits, we’re functioning on autopilot. But that’s no excuse! By improving our awareness we can cull negative behaviour, says Yvonne McMeel, resident nutritionist at Urban Retreat, Harrods. ‘The power to change occurs once you recognise what you are doing,’ says Yvonne. ‘Usually it’s a feeling that triggers a negative behaviour: you’re feeling stressed at work, you’re feeling a bit down, you’re bored, or you’re feeling sad. Food, alcohol, cigarettes or whatever you can then use as a replacement to fill that void, helps to ease the pain or it can distract from the problem. EFT (emotional freedom technique) is a relatively new tool that alleviates the emotional cause of the problem by using the body’s energy flow. When we have bad experiences or traumas, the energy flow is disrupted in the system. EFT is a technique that uses the body’s own meridian points and these points can be stimulated by tapping gently with your fingers, so you are tapping into your body’s own energy and healing power. It’s a simple and painless technique which can be learned by anyone and used to live a more healthy empowered life.’
6. Break the cycle
All the good intentions in the world can fall by the wayside when stress enters the picture, and you’re reaching for that chocolate bar faster than you can say ‘Arrgh’. A recent study presented at the Institute of Food Technologists Annual Meeting found that stressed people reach for foods out of habit – regardless of how healthy or unhealthy they are. But replacing the stress-eating habit with long, deep breaths will be much better for your sanity – and your waistline. ‘Our bodies are programmed to shut down digestion when we’re stressed, so anything you eat will sit in the stomach and intestine far too long and could cause problems,’ explains Claire. ‘It sounds simple, but getting away from the source of your stress (the phone, computer, room full of people) and taking a few deep breaths, will switch your nervous system into an optimal mode for digestion. Now you can eat!’
7. Don’t dread change
Part of the reason we get so sucked into bad habits is because we often view them as treats, whereas good habits are viewed as laborious and punishing. But if you switch up this mind-set to see the reward in good habits, you’ll be more inclined to keep them. ‘In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need alarm clocks and we would spring out of bed at 6am for a pre-work gym session without any trouble,’ says Felicity. ‘However, in the winter months, this can be particularly troublesome. Try going to bed early and finding ways to get inspired. Get excited about a tasty and healthy new breakfast idea you can enjoy post-workout, listen to new songs from your favourite artist or try doing a different running route or class.’ Anything to get you excited to get up and get out there will stop that snooze button habit in its tracks.