Changing health habits can be overwhelming. So much so, that most people give up before they even try. Thinking of all of the ways they want or need to change, from diet to lifestyle to exercise to stress reduction, creates an enormous and often unobtainable picture of “health” that is daunting to the average person. So what keeps people from starting to make a change? Here are few things I’ve heard over and over:
“I went on the internet to find information and everything I read was conflicting”
“I don’t know where to go to get good information”
“My family would never go for these dietary changes”
“I don’t have time to devote to yet another health fad”
“I don’t even know where to begin”
“I’m feeling pretty OK right now, I probably don’t need to make major changes unless my doctor tells me it will save my life”.
Here’s the pattern I usually see with these reasons: They’re almost always due to some external factor about why they can’t do these things. They hardly ever have a list of reasons about why they should, or give themselves credit for the things they already know. There’s an underlying feeling of helplessness that prevents them from beginning to make small changes, one step at a time. And for the people that really aren’t all that committed in the first place, these reasons are their excuse to stick with bad habits. Now I learned a while ago that I’m not ever going to twist anyones arm to start living a more mindful or healthier life. There always has to be a level of readiness to make changes in anything, and all health professionals can do is facilitate information. Taking action on them is up to the person.
So where to begin when you feel overwhelmed: I recommend starting small and branching out. Try setting a daily goal to eat 5 different colors a day. Or try 1 new vegetable every week. Or try just shopping around the perimeter of the grocery store for 2 weeks. Take your exercise goals one step at a time too. While you’re making these tangible changes, make a commitment to learn more about food to begin building your own education up around the concept of food. I recommend Michael Pollan’s books, or Eating on the Wild Side or Animal Vegetable Miracle. These are resources about different people’s experience with food, where food comes from, and not meant to scare you out of eating something. Quite often when you start exploring books like this, something will spark your interest further while you’re reading, and that will lead you to your next book, or next dietary change, or next lifestyle adjustment. It happens step by step, not all at once. Because there’s so much to know about food, food politics, preventative medicine, health and wellness… the list goes on and on.
Remember, you don’t have to obsess about health all the time. You don’t have to fret about always getting the highest quality food for every single meal. You don’t have to make your entire family change their habits just because you want to change some of yours. Focus on one goal at a time, and take your time getting there. Allow yourself a month even to implement one change and give yourself credit when you accomplish something new. Never beat yourself down for thinking “you could do better”. Turn that into a positive by making one small change, one step at a time.
Lindsay Kluge M.Sc, CNS, LDN | HealthCoach@EllwoodThompsons.com