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.