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Creating Healthy Habits

Return to Heath and Nutrition Agent Articles

The holidays are behind us. And for some, they are literally behind us, in front of us or resting on our hips. But try to think of those lovely fat pockets as friendly reminders that our diet may need some overhauling.

America's Health Culture

Overeating and poor eating habits are unfortunate cornerstones of American culture, which is why it is so difficult to make good daily diet decisions. Unfortunately, another trending cornerstone in American culture is our obsession with quick diet fixes: eliminate gluten, boost protein, eat like a caveman . . . . It’s no wonder that despite all our advances in nutrition and medical research, people are still confused about what it’s like to eat normally and nutritiously. And that’s a shame because eating healthfully is essential for living a healthy, balanced, happy life.

Guidelines for Incorporating Healthy Eating Habits

Here are some guidelines to help you get started:

  • Measure your BMI (Body Mass Index) at http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/assessing/bmi/index.html
    • Your BMI is your starting point. It tells you where you are at, and is useful for measuring progress.
    • Keep in mind that this tool offers a range of healthy weights. Many people will look at the lowest number in the range and feel immediately discouraged. But, our bodies come in different frame sizes and not all healthy weights fit all frames.
  • Find out how many calories you need
  • Try to eat nutritionally dense foods in their most natural state
    • Example: eat an apple instead of applesauce.
  • Eat foods from each of the five food groups every day.
    • Vegetables, fruits, grains, protein and dairy.
  • Strive to make half your plate vegetables and fruits.
    •  It’s the fiber in these foods that keeps you satiated and full, plus they have the added benefit of being highly nutritious and low in calories.
  • Shop for healthy ingredients and snacks at the grocery store.
  • Get rid of the junk in the pantry.
  • Don’t forget to move.
    • Being physically active:
      • increases the amount of calories you burn, so the more active you are, the more calories you’re likely to burn.
      • helps decrease your chances of becoming depressed,
      • improve sleep,
      • strengthen muscles and balance, and
      • boost energy.

But do you feel like you’ve heard all this information before? For many, this isn’t new stuff. So, then, what’s our problem? Why do we keep making these promises to ourselves, and more importantly, why do we fail?

The reason so many fail is because they don’t know how to be successful.

There are essentially two keys to success:

  1. Adjusting your attitude, and
  2. Adjusting your lifestyle.

But before you start working on those, you need to make a plan first.

A written plan helps achieve goals

Making a plan will give you the focus and direction you need to achieve your goals. It’s important to think about exactly what it is you want to achieve and then write it down.

Here are some things to include as you write out your success plan:

  • If you want to lose weight, write down how much weight you want to lose, making sure the amount of weight you want to lose is reasonable for your height and frame.
  • Set target dates for each goal, making sure you’ve given yourself a reasonable time to reach them.
  • Ask yourself why you think it is important for you to achieve these goals.
  • What do you think will happen when you reach your goals.
  • How will you maintain your success once you’ve reached your goals.

Attitude versus willpower

After drafting a plan, it’s time to tackle the attitude. But adjusting your attitude is easier said than done. This is especially true when it comes to exercising and changing eating habits. The choice to live healthier is more about changing attitude than changing habits.

There are some misconceptions when it comes to changing our attitudes about health. First, attitude is not willpower. Most believe that we need iron clad willpower to eat right and exercise. Not true.

Willpower is set up for short term success. Long term success requires planning, discipline and finding ways to motivate yourself every day. You need to ask yourself if the diet and exercise plan you’re going to adopt is something you can do on a regular, realistic basis when the euphoric energy of its newness evaporates.

Motivation versus commitment

Another misconception is the reliance on motivation. Too many people complain that they just can’t find the motivation to make the right choices. Having this attitude helps ensure failure.

In order to succeed, we must understand that motivation is not automatic. Motives change weekly, if not daily. But that’s okay. As long as we find something that motivates us towards getting fit and eating right, it doesn’t matter what it is:

  • a smaller dress size,
  • get off of medication,
  • have more energy to play with your kids or grandkids.

You have to reaffirm your goals with motivation techniques work for you. You will not always want to exercise and eat healthy. There will always be those days when we don’t feel like doing what we need to do. And we’re setting ourselves up for failure if we believe that once we get into exercise and diet routines we’ll magically and dramatically change our mind sets and will always want to do it.

The choice to live more healthfully is a commitment just like any other commitment we’ve made in life: marriage, career, parenthood, etc. It takes work. It’s not effortless. But just like the other commitments, most of the rewards for adopting a healthier lifestyle are more than worth the effort.

Lifestyle changes: Replace bad habits one at a time improves success

Adjusting your lifestyle is the next step to achieving your goals. You can’t achieve your health goals without changing your lifestyle.

The quickest step to adjusting your lifestyle is to figure out your bad habits. One way to do that is to keep a food journal, then you can see where you need to make adjustments in your diet.

Once you’ve compiled a list of habits you’d like to change, commit to working on only one bad habit at a time. This will improve your odds for success.

It’s also helpful to think of replacing bad habits instead of getting rid of them entirely. We tend to be creatures of habit. That’s why stopping things “cold turkey” usually doesn’t work. If all habits are replaced with healthier ones, there is a better chance for success. For instance, if you like to eat while you watch TV, maybe you could learn how to knit and do that instead. It’ll keep your hands too busy to eat.

Snack tips

Speaking of snacking at home, don’t buy unhealthy snacks. You won’t be able to consume an entire bag of potato chips if it isn’t there to begin with. Purchase healthy snacks for the home such as fruit, individual packets of nuts and small veggie trays.

If you’re having trouble controlling your cravings during the day, try not to carry cash. This will make those vending machine ventures impossible if you don’t have the money to support the habit. Instead, take a healthy snack with you to eat when you get the munchies. Also, when getting into the car, put your purse in the trunk. It’ll make going through that fast food drive thru more difficult than it’s worth.

Stop dieting

Remember that disciplining your diet and practicing self-control is not the same thing as being on a diet. Diets that eliminate certain food groups or demand skipping meals usually are not set up for long term results. So, stop wasting your time following someone else’s plan for you. Make your own plan based on realistic changes. If you can’t follow your chosen diet for the rest of your life, you’re wasting precious time. It’s similar to the fallibility of relying on willpower to get you to exercise. You need to find an eating and exercise plan that you can stick to on a daily basis

Simple steps that can help you change your lifestyle and improve your health:

  • Keep a food journal.
  • Figure out your bad habits and work on them one at a time.
  • Replace bad habits with healthier habits.
  • Don’t buy unhealthy snacks.
  • Don’t carry cash.
  • Put your purse in the trunk.
  • Enlist all family members to get involved in an exercise routine.
  • Get a friend to exercise with you.
  • Take time every week to schedule your exercise appointments.
  • Keep a workout bag packed so you don’t have to scramble for your gear.
  • Keep a fitness journal to track your workouts and progress.
  • Change your program every six weeks to avoid plateaus.
  • Revisit your goals every six months and gauge your progress
  • If you’re not reaching your goals, reevaluate your methods or adjust your expectations.

Contact Us

Crystal Futrell
Family and Consumer Sciences Agent
crystal.futrell@jocogov.org