Healthy Habits Blog: The First Step

Hi. I’m Erin, Lamprey Health Care’s Registered Dietician. I’m also a working mom, which means making healthy living work in a busy house. A healthy lifestyle doesn’t have to be hard.


Welcome to my Healthy Habits Corner.


Erin Campbell hiking in the snow


One of the best parts of my job is when I am working with someone and they have that “ah-ha” moment. I see this often with diabetic patients. There is a lot to learn about how dietary choices impacts blood sugar. Many times patients will thank me, saying no one has taken the time to explain how to make changes in their lives.

You don’t have to be struggling with a chronic condition to face these same challenges. Like most people, you probably want to improve your diet and exercise more. A recent CNN survey found that 8 out of 10 people were unsure what counted as a healthy food choice. And why wouldn’t there be confusion? Showered daily with marketing messages on food, diet, exercise, plus countless success stories and before and after images; the idea of making a change can feel overwhelming. Quick fixes are appealing, but will they help you achieve your long-term goals?


Climb the Ladder

If you have been struggling with understanding and establishing healthy habits know that you are not alone. It is hard. Remember that CNN study? There are seven other people right there with you! If there’s one thing I want people to know, is there is always room for improvement. Start with a small change. So often people come to me with plans for total lifestyle overhauls. Very few people find success with this approach. It is just too hard to pull off in the real world where you are juggling a job, school and family. Start with one thing and stick with that until you see success. Let that success be the first rung on the ladder to reaching your goal.


The Hardest Part

Starting is always the hardest part. Let me help you! Remember you don’t want to be stuck trying to do too much. Below are some ideas for getting started.

Add 5 minutes of physical activity to your day 3 times a week.

Does 3 times seem like too much? Try starting with one day a week.

Add an additional serving of fruits or vegetables to one meal each day.

Are you already eating fruits and veggies at one meal? Add them to a second meal.

Once a week swap out a high fat protein such as beef with a lean protein such as chicken or fish.

Set aside 15 minutes once a week for a relaxing activity such as meditating or stretching.


Pace Yourself

Remember; don’t try to do everything. Pick one or two that work for you. If meditation isn’t your thing, but gardening makes all your stress melt away, go for it. Be sure to give yourself enough time for your goal to transform into a habit for your healthy lifestyle. It turns out that developing new habits depends on a number of factors:

Difficulty of the new habit.

Frequency (3X per day vs. 1X per week).

Ease of the habit.

How happy this activity makes you.

Don’t focus on a specific period. When evaluating if a habit has “stuck” ask yourself if it feels automatic. How often are you achieving this goal without a reminder? Do you have to talk yourself into it? Focus on consistent, steady progress and you make your goal part of your life. Once you have successfully climbed that first rung you will be ready to tackle the next one.


Map Your Path

START: Pick a healthy habit! Choose something meaningful AND attainable for your lifestyle. Setting a goal of eating more vegetables is more attainable than becoming an overnight vegetarian.

PLAN & PREPARE: Think about your daily schedule. What can you do to make it more likely that you can achieve your goal? Build reminders into your existing routine. Identify barriers and preempt them. If you want to eat more veggies, cut them up in advance on a day you have more time and pre-package them in snack size bags to grab on the go.

REWARD YOURSELF: Reinforce your healthy habit by rewarding yourself along the way. There’s a catch to this one; your reward shouldn’t counteract the healthy habit you are trying to establish. If you are trying to eat healthy, your reward shouldn’t be a candy bar. This will undermine your efforts. Plan for your reward just as you prepared to build a routine.

EVALUATE: Check in with yourself. Have you been able to achieve your new habit as frequently as you would like? If not adjust your plan and preparation. Are you finding your new habit overwhelming? Maybe you started too aggressively. It’s ok to rethink your starting point.

For previously posted recipes, head on over to the Healthy Habits Corner.

Next month: Reconstruct Bad Habits