Do you find yourself being inundated with lots of ‘simple advice and easy fixes that will answer all your problems? From books, magazines, social media influencers and even your trusted nutrition practitioners, they always have some handy, easy-to-follow advice to keep you healthy. “Just 5 minutes face yoga per day prevents wrinkles”, “get a flat tummy in just 10 minutes a day” or “a simple 30-minute walk at dawn ensures better sleep at night” … That’s 45 minutes before you have even started looking after the rest of your life or even cooked a meal. If you’re not a celebrity and cannot afford a chef, a personal trainer, and a housekeeper, it can be difficult to find the time.
There’s also some bigger things and advice around restricting foods such as “you must avoid all carbs”, “never have sugar”, “don’t snack”, “avoid alcohol”, “count calories”. These can all often seem like an easy thing to say but a harder thing to do, and will they actually even help?
Being healthy can often seem like an impossible task.
But does it really have to be all or nothing? Is there a sort of balance you can find somewhere in the middle.
Of course, the more effort you put into your health, the better the result. And yes, you will always find an example of someone who lived to 100 although they drank, smoked, lived on pizza and chips, and the only movement they did was picking up the remote.
At the same time you see other people who seem to be doing everything right and have the perfect diet, exercise, get daily fresh air, floss, have no stress, yet they end up getting struck down by a heart attack at 54.
We are not talking about these people from either group, as we all have examples like this in our lives, but they are the exceptions and not the general picture for the majority of people.
We mostly know what is and isn’t good for us, and having a healthy, real food diet, cooking from scratch, putting in some regular exercise, getting out into fresh air, taking time for meditation or other relaxation, scheduling me-time does increase your chances of living a long and healthy life.
Having said that, that can feel like a long way off for a lot of people and so the good news is you can also benefit from even small dietary and lifestyle changes, and here’s why:
The 80/20 Rule
This principle, also known as the Pareto principle states that for many outcomes, roughly 80% of consequences or outputs come from 20% of the causes or the inputs. It was named after the Italian economist who saw that in 1896, 80% of Italy’s wealth belonged to only 20% of the population. Surprisingly, it turned out that this principle can be applied to so many other areas of life too. Other examples include:
- 80% of goods come from 20% of the workers
- 80% of revenue in a business comes from 20% of the customers
- 80% of computer problems come from 20% of bugs
- 80% of the clothes we wear all the time come from 20% of our wardrobe
If we apply this to health then this could mean that 20% of your lifestyle choices are responsible for 80% of your health benefits. Soo this means that even small changes, or sometimes only one can have a big impact on our health
So if we look at some big health benefits that can come from just one change:
Smoking: If you’re a smoker and did nothing else to your health but gave up smoking you would see health benefits such as improving your breathing, stamina, sense of smell and reduce the impact on long term health conditions your sense of smell, and your physical stamina, not to mention your finances.
Alcohol: There’s a lot of people that drink alcohol most days and often drink too much on a number of those days. If you were able to give up or at least cut back, you would see a difference in your weight, your sleep and preventing how likely you are to suffer from long term chronic diseases such as cancer, liver disease, heart disease, or even dementia.
Sugar: Are you someone that can’t get through the day without sugar? If so you’re not alone. But if you are, cutting down or taking out sugar can have benefits on your health that include having more energy, reduced cravings, better mood, concentration, less inflammation and pain and can help prevent diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, dementia and anxiety and depression.
Now I’m definitely not saying that making any of these changes is easy but it doesn’t have to be about making changes to your whole life. You don’t have to change everything to be healthier in the future than you are now.
So, chose the one thing that is bothering you most about your current health, the thing that you feel could make the biggest difference to your current and future health and tackle that one first. Starting somewhere is still starting. Then once you have got on top of that issue, if you wanted to, you could then move on to the next thing. IT doesn’t have to be all or nothing all at once, it can be one step at a time.
I’ve always liked the saying “the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second best time is now”. So what are you waiting for? Pick that one thing and let’s start today.
How To Be Successful At Making Changes Last
Don’t Compare Yourself To Others
We’ve all been told by friends or family what we should do, what worked for them or one of their friends, but we’re all different.
Some people take up running and will tell you that it’s amazing and there’s no better feeling, while others swear by getting up at 5am to meditate and do a workout before anyone else in the house gets up.
But you need to think if these things really are for you, if the thought of doing something fills your with dread and fear then it’s probably not the best place to start. You need to enjoy what you do for you to be able to carry on doing it. If you don’t like it, you won’t do it, it’s pretty simple really.
If it’s exercise you’re looking to do then find a type of exercise that you want to do and enjoy, perhaps it’s swimming, cycling, a group class, trampolining, hula hooping, dance or walking. Keep trying different things until you find the one that works for you, and you enjoy. Remembering what you enjoyed as a child can be a good place to start, and also fun!
I mentioned walking, and that can be a great place to start. A study in 2013 found that moderate walking can have similar effects to running when it comes to reducing the risk of chronic health conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and to some extent coronary heart disease. The recommendation is to do at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week which works out at 20 minutes a day of 30 minutes a day 5 days a week.
Don’t forget doing things like the housework or gardening can also count as it’s anything that raises your heart rate.
To make activities more fun try getting a friend to join you too or if you are on your own walking then listen to music, an audiobook or podcast.
If it’s something you’re trying to give up such as smoking or sugary foods this can also be hard. Some people are able to make the decision to stop and from that day on they will not touch it again. That may be good will power but also, some people know that if they have one biscuit, that 1 will lead to 2 and then 3 and then half a packet or more.
Others know that going ‘cold turkey’ isn’t the route for them and actually cutting down or weaning off foods is easier. For example limiting the number of biscuits in one go to 2 or having sugary treats such as chocolate every other day to start with so they know they’ve still got it to look forward to, and then moving that to once every 3 days and then once a week.
The important thing is to work out what type of person you are, and then when you know that you can plan your approach and strategy.
Set Yourself Clear Goals
It is well known that people that have clear goals are far more likely to succeed than those that don’t. If you’re wondering what a clear goal is then there is a technique to creating them called SMART which is used in everything from businesses to personal lives. If you have a goal you want to achieve than make it SMART:
Specific – be really clear on what it is you want to do and achieve. For example, “I will go for a 20 minute walk every day.”
Measurable – Make sure you’re able to track and measure what you do. Try creating a tracker to tick off how many times a week you do what you set out to so for the example above you can tick off every day you go for your walk
Achievable – Make your goal achievable. So if you currently do no exercise at all don’t say you’re going to run 5km 3 times a week.
Relevant – Is this the right goal for you? Will it help you achieve your overall aims and targets.
Time-Bound – When do you want to achieve your goal. Have a target date.
If you think you have lots of goals, then write them all down using the SMART framework and then if it feels a bit overwhelming pick one or two to start with and keep the others to start when you’ve achieved the first ones.
Turn the activities from your goals into habits
We all know making decisions can be hard, and we have so many decisions we need to make throughout the day from what to eat, what to wear, what to watch on TV, what to eat plus many, many more. In fact it’s estimated we make around 35,000 conscious decisions a day, with around 221 of these being about food!
So if we then have to add in more decisions such as should I go for a walk today? If so, how far or how long should I go for? Where should I go? Our day can become quite tiring, just from decision making. We also know that the more decisions we consciously give ourselves the more chances we have to say no to things and give ourselves reasons why not to do an activity such as going for a walk or cooking a meal from scratch.
This is why we want our activities to become habits. We don’t question whether or not to clean our teeth each day or put our seatbelt on in a car, because these are habits, we don’t have to think about them at all.
Creating new habits is thought to take around 66 days on average, but is anywhere between 18 and 254 days according to research. The difference depends on the type of person you are, but whether it’s 18 or 254 for you the key to the action becoming a habit is consistency. If you do the thing you want to do everyday it will become much easier to become a habit and stick for life.
Step By Step
I mentioned earlier that you might not be able to do everything all at once. If you don’t walk now, you’re not going to be able to run 5km tomorrow.
You need to think about seeing your progress in stages. So for example, if your goal is to walk 20 minutes every day, but at the moment you get out of breath doing 10 minutes then think about where you can start that is a stretch from where you are now but not too far. So why not start with a goal of walking 10 minutes a day, then when that becomes easier you can build it up, and quite often once you’re outside and it’s getting easier you’ll find yourself naturally doing a little bit more and going a little bit further.
Just remember that any step, even small baby steps, are still steps and they will get you going in the direction you want towards better health. You just have to take that first step.
An Extra 80/20 Rule
Another great piece of advice I often share with people is that of the 80/20 rule to eating healthy. The other way you can think of it is as the 6 out of 7 day rule. It simply means that if you eat healthily 80% of the time, the other 20% you don’t need to worry so much.
Although you are making changes to your diet to eat more healthily, it is not the same as being on a diet. It’s learning to eat in a different way that is sustainable and a new way of eating for life. No crazy fad diets that don’t work and don’t nourish you.
The 80% rule here means that you don’t have to go to a party and think you can’t have a slice of cake, or have ever have a pizza again. Have a little of something we enjoy every now and then isn’t going to kill you, you only have one life, so you want to be able to enjoy it.
If you have a day of ‘indulging’ a little more it doesn’t mean you’ve fallen off any wagon, it means you’ve probably had a lovely time with friends or family but tomorrow you’ll carry on with your healthier plan rather than thinking, “forget it, I’ve blown it now so I might as well give up.”
Once you’ve been eating in your healthier way for a while and you’re seeing the benefits from it you’ll find it easier to stick to and say no to certain foods when you don’t need or want them. Also, after a while you will often find your tastebuds change and you may not even like the old junk foods as much as you did before.
Very few people are able to make lasting changes on their own. It’s often a lot easier if we do it with other people, or at least tell other people what we’re doing as it not only gives us support but can give us accountability too.
Most people do need help to implement changes, but sometimes you don’t want that help or support from friends or family, people can often feel embarrassed or feel they’ve said these things before and not followed through so no one believes them. For these people, and maybe that’s you, support from a professional outside of their close circle is what really helps. That’s where a Nutritionist can help.
Not only can a nutritionist give you the accountability and moral support to follow through with your goals and health ambitions but they can give you all the advice in the first place about the right changes to make for you, where to start and how to get the results you’re looking for.
As a qualified Nutritional Therapist this is the role I play with all of my clients and I would love to do that for you too. So if you want to find out more about how I can help you achieve your health goals then contact me at Helen Jane Nutrition and I look forward to working with you soon.