Laura Clark is a registered dietitian and sports nutritionist at LEC Nutrition who writes monthly here at Honest Mum, sharing her wisdom and experience so we can all benefit.
Over to Laura:
Are you shelving all thoughts of healthier habits until January 1st?
If I was to have one dietetic Christmas wish, it would be that no one embark on a fad diet – they set you up to fail and have longer lasting effects on body composition and self- esteem. Please let 2018 be the year we design things differently – and here’s why…
One phrase that often comes up when we think about how to manage our weight more successfully is willpower. Our work colleague seems to have bags of it, they’re always at the sodding gym and eating grass for lunch. Why do they have loads of willpower and I have none?
Willpower is a really negative phrase. It’s associated with failure and big over- arching goals that we swear we could achieve if only our willpower didn’t let us down. When it eludes us we beat ourselves up, our confidence in our abilities to succeed plummets and we give up.
There are many reasons why willpower will not determine our success. Not least because we make around 226 food related decisions a day and 95% of those are taken over by the subconscious. This part of our brain is often referred to as the ‘monkey’ – it controls familiar routines and habits and acts on emotion, often seeking out immediate pleasure.
In busy, often stressful times our brain’s way of coping is to field off habitual behaviours to the subconscious allowing space for rationale and logical thoughts which require active thinking.
And let’s face it, we’re often busy so the food choices we make most of the time might not be the best ones if the ‘monkey’ is in charge. I am against any ‘diet’ that forces you to sweep under the carpet your usual eating behaviours whilst you ‘follow the programme’. It is these very behaviours that make up the fabric of your real life and these which need to be addressed if we are to achieve a happy healthy relationship with food in the long term.
When we consider aspects of our lives that are going well – that project at work, or the home renovations for example, here we design things to improve their chances of success – and yet with lifestyle changes we still tend to rely on willpower alone.
So instead of beating ourselves up, let’s apply some logic and science.
Fact: Data from eye tracking studies shows tastiness is processed faster in the brain than healthfulness and obese individuals will subconsciously be drawn to a greater number of unhealthy cues.
There are also many genetic factors that influence our chances of gaining weight, for example hunger hormones, our bacterial colonies or our ability to use one fuel over another.
What can we do differently? For some the gene may ‘load the gun’ but the environment pulls the trigger. It will be playing a massive part in talking to your subconscious and ultimately influencing the choices you make. Changing this is set to have the biggest impact on your chances of success.
Fact: Habit formation takes an average of 66 days.
What can we do differently? How many of you commence a new habit but give up after a couple of weeks? Hang in there. Pick a habit that is easy to do – and don’t pick too many all at once. Stick at it for 66 days and it will become stranger not to do it than to do it. The more you do it, the easier it becomes too.
Fact: Our thoughts, not our actions is what lets us down.
What can we do differently? We are separate from our thoughts and in that sense they do not have to control what we do. The decision to start a habit or break one is down to the dialogue in our heads. If we register that this dialogue isn’t very helpful we can begin to challenge it and apply a different tack. When we’ve embarked on a new diet or exercise regime using only will power, it doesn’t take long for these unhelpful thoughts to creep in.
Fact: When we achieve small things, we are compelled by a desire to behave consistently.
What can we do differently? Forget the rule book and focus on daily habits – what would be more healthful and what can you do to design your environment to make it more likely to happen? Fruit bowl by the front door? Trainers on the door mat? Time etched out in your diary to do the online shop (when you’re not hungry and tired)?
Fact: We rub off on each other.
How can we use this to our advantage? Share you planned new habits with anyone who will listen and you’ll be more likely to follow them through. If you frequently hang out with people who don’t have very healthful behaviours – consider if you can find some good influencers! If they have a biscuit, so will you. If they have a second, most likely so will you – you get my drift. If however you sit next to the girl who always has fruit for a snack then you’re onto a winner!
Happy Christmas everyone!