I have a current client who is really struggling with exercising on her own and being committed to eating healthy. With tears in her eyes, she said, ” I don’t know what my problem is!” I can’t seem to get motivated! What about you? Can you relate to that same struggle? Truly, healthy living requires eating well, i.e., nutrient dense foods, and exercising, along with managing stress, etc. For the purposes of this article, I want to focus on nutrition and exercise.
Ever heard of the ‘Stages of Change’ model? It identifies five stages a person will typically go through on the journey to making a lifestyle change, whether it be to quit smoking, or to change eating and exercise habits. I’ll share them with you, then it will help you personally to identify the one you are in.
Precontemplation is the stage at which there is no intention to change behavior in the foreseeable future. Many individuals in this stage are unaware or underaware of their problems. Contemplation is the stage in which people are aware that a problem exists and are seriously thinking about overcoming it but have not yet made a commitment to take action. Preparation is a stage that combines intention and behavioral criteria. Individuals in this stage are intending to take action in the next month and have unsuccessfully taken action in the past year. Action is the stage in which individuals modify their behavior, experiences, or environment in order to overcome their problems. Action involves the most overt behavioral changes and requires considerable commitment of time and energy. Maintenance is the stage in which people work to prevent relapse and consolidate the gains attained during action. For addictive behaviors this stage extends from six months to an indeterminate period past the initial action.
Are you a pre contemplator? Do you tend to avoid reading, talking, or thinking about the unhealthy behavior, but your awareness and interest has been sparked by outside influences, such as public information campaigns, stories in the media, emotional experiences, illness, or a clinician’s or family member’s concern. To move past precontemplation, you must sense that the unhealthy behavior is at odds with important personal goals, for example, being healthy enough to travel or to enjoy your children or grandchildren. What is important to you? What has value in your life? How does good health pertain to what you say is of high value and importance to you?
Maybe you are past pre contemplation and are contemplating? In this stage, you are aware that the behavior is a problem and are considering doing something about it, but you still aren’t committed to taking any action. Ambivalence may lead you to weigh and re-weigh the benefits and costs: “If I start exercising, know I’ll feel better and less depressed, but it takes too much time”
or “I know eating more fruits and vegetables will ward off heart disease which is prevalent in my family, but geezz…they are kind of expensive!”
To help unstick yourself and move on to the next stage, try making a list of the pros and cons of making a change, then examine the barriers — the “cons” — and think about ways to overcome them. For example, many women find it difficult to get regular exercise because it’s inconvenient or they have too little time. If finding a 30-minute block of time to exercise is a barrier, how about two separate 15-minute sessions? Could someone else cook dinner so you can take a walk after work? If you feel too self-conscious to take an exercise class, how about buying an exercise tape to use at home?
Perhaps you are in preparation? You’ve joined a health club, or added a calorie-counting book to the kitchen shelf. At this stage, it’s important to anticipate potential obstacles. If you’re preparing to cut down on alcohol, for example, be aware of situations that provoke unhealthy drinking, and plan ways around them. If work stress triggers end-of-day drinking, plan to take a walk when you get home. If preparing dinner makes you want a drink, plan to have seltzer water instead of wine. If social situations are a problem, make a list of alternatives, such as going to the movies instead of having drinks or dinner with friends.
At the same time, create a realistic action plan with achievable goals. If you’ve been sedentary and want to exercise more, start by making it your goal to avoid using the elevator for two-, three-, or four-story trips. Or plan to walk 15 minutes every day. Get a pedometer and determine to get 10000 steps per day. This can help you work your way up to more ambitious goals.
Yay! You are in the action stage! At this stage, you’ve changed — exercising regularly and eating well — and you’ve begun to experience the challenges that come up when life changes. You’ll need to practice the alternatives you identified during the preparation stage. For example, if stress tempts you to eat, you can use healthy coping strategies such as yoga, deep breathing, or exercise. At this stage, it’s important to be clear about your motivation; if necessary, write down your reasons for making the change and read them every day. Engage in “self-talk” to bolster your resolve. I know that for me, being healthy and active with my grandchildren is a biggie! Get support. Let others know you’re making a change.
Well, way to go, you are maintaining! Once you’ve practiced the new behavior change for at least six months, you’re in the maintenance stage. Now you’re working to prevent relapse and integrate the change into your life. That may require other changes, especially avoiding situations or triggers associated with the old habit. It can be tough, especially if it means steering clear of certain activities or friends while you work to fully assimilate your new, healthier habit. Some clients have to deal with family even! I suggest you let family know that it’s important to you and your health, and ask that they please not take your new habits personally….it may mean turning away from all of Mom’s good fix ins at the dinner table!
I would love to walk alongside you and help you move toward permanent change. You CAN eat well and exercise! You can do it! www.cbfitnesstrainer.com