Introduction to Lifestyle and Behavior Change

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Talk of lifestyle and behavior change is scary for a lot of people.

There may come a time when the realization hits that the only way to feel better is to become aware of your health behavior and move toward changing your lifestyle.

That’s what happened to me when I developed fibromyalgia. I’d been caught on a merry-go-round of prescription medications and physical therapy that would work for a while and then have no effect at all.

After about four years of this, I said “ENOUGH!” and decided to undertake some research and create my own treatment plan.

Fortunately at that time, a new physician’s assistant arrived at my clinic and I was just able to get in as the last of his quota of patients. He was the first practitioner I’d met who believed in natural healing and he supported my do-it-yourself wellness plan.

The more I learned and practiced, the better I began to feel. After awhile, it was wonderful to start feeling “normal” again that I wanted to keep it going.

Starting a lifestyle and behavior change plan can be hard but it does get easier with every success you achieve.

In this section, I’ll explain what I’ve learned about lifestyle and behavior change. It’s not as scary as it seems and surprisingly easier than you might think.

Making Lifestyle Change Easier

Discussions of lifestyle and behavior change can sound complicated, but these topics are so important to the entire DIY Healthy Lifestyles program that this is the first of the “5 Essentials for Healthy Lifestyles.”

Nothing else can happen until you understand lifestyle and behavior change.

My goal for this section is to try to explain behavioral psychology in a way that everyone can understand.

By the way, if there’s ever anything you have a question about in this section or any of the others, click this link to Raise Your Hand and ask. Don’t be afraid because “the only stupid questions are the ones you don’t ask.” That quote was posted by a Facebook friend who said a high school teacher of hers used to say it. I thought it was cool so I stole it to use here.

Health Behavior Explained

Health Behavior is defined as “the actions we take to keep ourselves healthy” like eating right and exercising. It can also refer to negative actions that harm our health, such as smoking cigarettes or eating too many high-calorie foods on a regular basis.

Our health behavior is formed by beliefs, values, motives, personality traits, behavior patterns, and habits as they relate to health. Here’s a very simplified explanation of how health behavior is formed:

It begins as children when we’re told that fruit and vegetables are good for us and that candy is bad for us. But, as children will, we decided that most vegetables didn’t taste so good and that candy did.

As we grew older, that belief may have stayed with us and it turned into the idea that anything that we were told was good for us tasted awful and whatever was bad tasted great.

That’s why as adults, we often balk at trying out health foods. We’ve prepared our minds from childhood to believe that healthy food tastes bad and junk food is great.  

Do you see how that works? As children, we form the beliefs that drive our health behavior for years to come. The behavior we formed from the belief that junk food tastes better is what lies behind our troubles today with overweight, fatigue, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and other ailments. Many people are reluctant to change their diets because of the popular belief that “all health food tastes like cardboard”. This is a very common complaint that I hear whenever I talk about lifestyle change.  

I agree–there is a lot of cardboard out there, and styrofoam too (think rice cakes).

When I started venturing into a whole foods diet, I tasted a lot of very bad stuff. My belief is that food manufacturers tried to jump on the “health food” bandwagon without really knowing much about whole food nutrition.

They figured they could just make the same stuff the way they’d always made it but remove the fat, salt and sugar. And not replace it with a healthy alternative that would still make it taste good. Fortunately, health food manufacturing has advanced and now there are some great products out there.

In future lessons, you’ll learn the secrets of great-tasting health food. We’ll look at reviews of really good-tasting, pre-packaged foods you can find in almost any grocery store, plus recipes for making your own healthy foods at home.

You won’t believe you’re actually eating stuff that’s good for you! You’ll even learn not to miss sugar or salt–two of the biggest contributors to obesity, chronic pain and cardiovascular disease.

Behavior Change Models

Health behavior theories have been laid out in concise models, or simplified illustrations that show us how the theory works.

The DIY Health Lifestyles program taps into five behavior change models. (There’s that ‘five’ number again!) We’ll look into those models in detail in future sections. The discussion today is to make the term “behavior change” sound less scary and complicated.

I’m going to assume that if you’re reading this, you’re interested in making lifestyle changes. I’m also going to assume that you’ve read books and articles, watched videos or tried different programs but they were too hard to understand, too complicated to follow, or they just didn’t seem to work. That’s what most of the people who join the Center say when asked what they’ve done before.

The reason why so many wellness plans and programs don’t seem to work is that many don’t address health behavior or health beliefs.

They don’t ask about your personal reasons for wanting to change or the beliefs you have about your ability to make changes. They just tell you that you have to do this and eat that without helping you find out why you balk at doing what they want.

Learning a little about health behavior helps you discover why something doesn’t work for you or what you can do to make it work.

It can help you see where your beliefs and feelings about what is or isn’t good for you come from. It can help you learn how you can change beliefs that have been working against your health.

An understanding of health behavior and behavior change models goes a very, very long way toward helping you overcome past “failures” and succeed in finally making lasting changes.  


Personal Responsibility & Choice

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In my studies of health and wellness management, a professor made an interesting statement in a lecture about taking personal responsibility for our own wellness:

“To talk about health only as a matter of individual choices and personal responsibility assumes that we are always aware of the choices we’re making and that we are always free to make them. The truth is that not everyone is in the same position, and there are differences in how we live and the context in which we make our decisions.”

I had to think about this. In this world of information-overload, how can we possibly be unaware of choices?  In this land of the free, how can we not be free to make those choices?  How does this affect our personal responsibility?

First, how can we be unaware of choices? Here are a few reasons:

  1. Lack of facilities, businesses or services that offer health information or healthy choices in small or rural communities
  2. Limited access to health information for low-literacy and non-English speaking populations
  3. Limited computer or Internet access to find online health and wellness information
  4. Belief that natural wellness products and services are very expensive and only available to wealthy people
  5. Confusing information about the safety and trustworthiness of wellness information and products
  6. Medical professional bias that encourages patients to discredit natural health and healing as fake or ‘just a fad’.

From the above list, we can see choices are limited by a lack of quality information in formats and places where people can easily find it. You’re not free to choose if you don’t know you have choices.

Second, what could limit the freedom to make those choices? Here are some things that can limit the freedom to make healthy choices:

  1. Health conditions that prevent eating certain foods, such as trouble digesting vegetables, fruits, legumes, or grains, or mobility conditions that limit movement
  2. The over-availability and convenience of processed packaged foods, junk foods, and ready-to-eat microwave meals that encourage convenience over healthy nutrition
  3. A steady diet of convenience foods that contain chemical additives that may promote carbohydrate addiction, or strong cravings for sugary and starchy foods, which are often mixed with unhealthy fats and oils. This addiction may cause an inability to choose healthy foods because of the strong physical cravings.
  4. Influence from family or friends who believe  natural healing is “bogus” and discourage talk about it, practicing it, or using natural products or treatments.
  5. Lack of sources for quality information and ‘how-to’ instruction.

These examples serve to show that “not everyone is in the same position, and there are differences in how we live and the context in which we make our decisions.”

Take some time to think about whether any of the things I listed affect you, your family or your friends. If you have any of these limitations, think about ways you can overcome them.

If you live in a choice-limited community, get together with others and brainstorm ideas for getting more natural health information and services. You may find ways to create some do-it-yourself healthy choices that can empower you toward taking personal responsibility for your health and wellness.

If you’re stumped for ideas or things to do, the DIY Healthy Lifestyles Journal can help you and your groups to discover ways to get around the limitations that keep you from exploring natural health.

Please use the comments box below if you have questions, comments, or would like more information.

Make 2018 Your Best Year EVER

JackCanfieldWithin the last couple of months, Jack Canfield has become my favorite motivational “guru”.
One of the greatest things about Jack is that he fits the DIY Healthy Lifestyles criteria of ‘simple’ and ‘frugal’ by sharing his coaching free via YouTube and downloadable guides and workbooks.
The best part is that his freebies are usable and helpful. You don’t get teasers full of hints, unusable information, hype about the program  and links to “learn more now in the full program–yours for only $500+.” Jack gives you complete information and workbooks you can really use and will help you transform your wishes into workable goals.
 I’m inviting everyone to join me this year in working with Jack by following his YouTube page and getting on his email list so you can access his wisdom, webinars, workbooks and guides.

Old New Year’s Resolutions

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Welcome to Procrastinator’s Anonymous!

Deciding vs. Doing

Believe it or not, living a healthy lifestyle does not mean just deciding to eat more fruits and vegetables and exercise more. There’s a catch. It’s that gap between deciding to do something and actually doing it.

Raise your hand: How many of you have a series of “New Year’s Resolutions” that involve just changing the goal date from last year’s resolutions to this year’s?

I’m going to estimate that nearly 80% of you have your hands up now–either physically or mentally. Of course, I can’t see you but if you’ll click the link below to actually ‘raise your hand’, we’ll find out if I’m close or not.

Click here to ‘Raise Your Hand’

If I am close, then we could make this a ‘Procrastinator’s Anonymous’ group. I guess there aren’t any because no one’s gotten around to putting one together yet. 😉

Ongoing motivation is a Challenge, with a capital C.

We want to do it. We have the knowledge and at least some of the skills. We’ve maybe even invested money, certain that if we spend that much on a weight loss program or piece of fitness equipment, we’ll really do it!

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. If it were, we would know many more healthy and fit people than we do. Behavior change isn’t as easy as buying a product and hoping it does the trick, or like Nike says, “Just Do It”.

Behavior change involves changing your mind. That doesn’t mean deciding to do or not do something. It means changing the way you think about and interpret things. That takes a little time and effort but it can be done.

The way to begin is to take the focus away from the bad habit. It’s common to tell ourselves “I have to stop/quit/get rid of this habit.” Instead you turn that thought into, “I enjoy being/having/doing this (good thing) because it’s helping me achieve (goal).”

For a procrastinator, this could be: “I enjoy the satisfied feeling of getting things done.”

The experts in behavior change say that we should phrase our goal statements–the things we want to do, have or achieve–in the present tense. Saying “I am/have/do” rather than “I will” sets our brain to acting as if we are already doing that.

When your brain believes you are/have/are doing something, your body naturally follows. This is also one of the principles behind the Law of Attraction or “what you think about becomes real”, which we’ll be examining in future lessons.

Switching Gears

Thinking in ‘present tense’ helps shift the brain’s gears away from what we don’t want toward what we do want. When you find yourself beginning to do your bad habit (reaching for another cookie or putting off a task), stop and remember your “I enjoy being/having/doing (this)” statement. You’ll find it difficult to carry out the old habit while thinking of the good one.

Sit down and write out a list of positive things you can do instead of the bad habit. Phrase them in the positive, present tense:  “I am enjoying walking outside in the fresh air instead of inhaling cancer-causing smoke”, or “I love eating fresh fruit more than I do sweets “. Follow that thought with a mental review of the benefits, visualizing how good you’ll feel making the healthy choice over the bad one.

You can learn to change your thoughts through techniques such as visualization, meditation, cognitive therapy and mindfulness practice, all of which we’ll learn about in future lessons.

Getting Started on “Just Doing It”

Just remember to make the effort to follow up the thought with action. Another trick that behavior change experts suggest is called “Do It For 2-Minutes” (or 3 or 5 or 10, it varies between experts).

The way it works is that you choose a number of minutes from 2 to 10, set a timer, then you do the task on your list for the set number of minutes. When the timer goes off, you can choose to stop the task and go to the next one.

You can also decide to do another few minutes on any task later on or the next day. Often, however, once you’ve started, you may become absorbed in the task and want to keep going. You can reset the timer for another round and repeat it until you want to stop. Or you may choose to set the next round for a half hour, an hour, or even two.

Remember, putting things off does not make them it go away.  Focusing instead on the feeling of already being/having/doing the thing you want and then working on it for at least two minutes each day will move you toward achieving your goal--this year instead of three years from now.