7 Techniques for Creating Healthy Habits

Making meal plans and telling people what to eat is actually only a very small part of what I do as a nutritionist. Most people have a sense of what they “should” be doing, but that’s only half the battle. Breaking old habits and creating new ones is freaking hard, and I think I spend most of my time with clients giving them tools and techniques to make changes that stick.

The other thing I’ve learned is that when it comes to creating healthy habits and breaking bad ones, everyone responds differently to this process. What helps one person get to the gym might not motivate someone else.  

If you’re having trouble implementing change, try out some of these techniques. As I stated above, everyone needs a different flavor, so try them out and find which ones help you stick to your good habits.

7 Techniques for making change:

  1. Understand the “Why”: Knowing the motivation behind your goals is really important. Most people who successfully lose weight or improve their health have a strong driving factor behind it all, and it usually goes beyond the vanity of wanting to look good naked (although there’s nothing wrong with that!).  For some it’s the ability to keep up with their kids on the playground. For others, it’s a serious health condition such as diabetes or heart disease that serves as a wake-up call. Dig deep, way beyond the “what” of your goal, and find out WHY it’s so important to you. Write it down and keep it nearby for those days when motivation is running low.
  2. Create accountability: I guarantee you will get better results with accountability than if you do it on your own. How do I know this? Because you’re human. Whether it’s a coach who regularly checks your food/exercise logs, or a workout buddy who won’t let you bail on morning runs, find accountability for the steps you are taking toward your goals.  
  3. Record and measure: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it” (Peter Drucker). Keeping meticulous logs can be a pain in the ass, but if you’re serious about making change this is a must. No matter what my clients' goals are- weight loss, improved sleep, better mood- I have them find a way to track their progress for two reasons: 
    1. It provides an extra element of accountability, especially if you know someone else will be reviewing your logs.
    2. Your logs will show you if you’re making progress or not. That way you know when to make changes if something isn’t working or to continue on with the program you’re on. 
  4. Habit Pairing: Habit pairing is a method of strengthening good habits by pairing them with an enjoyable activity. For example, if regular exercise is something you struggle with, find a podcast, audiobook, or playlist that you love and only allow yourself to listen to it while you’re exercising.  Another popular habit pair is to watch your favorite movie or TV show while you do your weekly meal prep.
  5. Take small steps at a time (success begets more success):  If you try to change too much too fast, you’ll likely fail. Failure is demotivating and can discourage you from trying again. On the other hand, if you choose one or two small steps to work on at a time, you’re more likely to succeed. Success is rewarding and will motivate you to keep going.
  6. Reward yourself: Offering yourself a reward for meeting your goals can add an extra push to get it done. This is especially valuable if you have a long term goal that may take several months or even years to accomplish. Giving yourself some rewards along the way can help keep you in it for the long haul. For example, if your goal is to eat correctly portioned meals for one week and you succeed, treat yourself to a non-food reward such as a massage, new item of clothing, or a date to the movies.
  7. Get away from the all or nothing mindset: Almost everyone I’ve worked with has admitted to me that they tend to be all or nothing with exercise and eating right. This is one of the most detrimental attitudes to making healthy changes. You can’t always be in “all” mode, and if you're taking a black or white approach, you have only one other option: “nothing”.  Just because you can’t do ALL the right things ALL the time doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from something small.  Okay, so you ate cake for breakfast. You didn’t flush your whole week or even your day down the shitter by doing so. Don’t beat yourself up or try to compensate for the mistake, just move on and do the next right thing.