Building Healthy Habits – Decide to Stop Deciding

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The main aim of this blog is to share with you all my journey of becoming healthier by losing weight sensibly. A big part of this journey has been building healthier habits into my day-to-day life. One of the things that has helped me most with this aspect of my journey is a book called ‘<a href="http://<iframe style="width:120px;height:240px;" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" scrolling="no" frameborder="0" src="//ws-eu.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=GB&source=ac&ref=tf_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=fatfightingfo-21&marketplace=amazon&region=GB&placement=1444769014&asins=1444769014&linkId=1c6d618cb61639ef446759d6dd055e1d&show_border=false&link_opens_in_new_window=false&price_color=333333&title_color=0066C0&bg_color=FFFFFF"> Better Than Before’ by Gretchen Rubin. I came across this book when listening to Rubin’s podcast Happier and thought it sounded like just the thing I needed to help me to build the healthy habits that I have struggled to get to grips with so far.

In the book, Rubin shares 21 strategies to use for building good habits. Not all of them are applicable to everyone – after all different things work for different people – but I thought I’d share with you some of the strategies that I’ve found work best for me, starting with…

Deciding not to decide

When people are struggling to build a new habit, they often talk about lacking willpower or self-control. Rubin refers to studies showing that when we try to use willpower to resist temptation, we are only successful about 50% of the time. She argues that instead of relying on willpower to help us form new habits, we should instead rely on decision making. Habits don’t require us to make decisions; we just ‘do’ them. For example, we don’t decide to brush our teeth each morning or wear a seatbelt every time we are in a car, we just do those things out of habit. So we should decide that we will adopt a healthy habit, and then stop making decisions about that habit: we’ve already decided we’re going to do it, so we no longer need to keep thinking about whether or not we are going to do it or trying to resist the temptation of not doing it, which requires a lot of willpower.

I’ve used this to good effect in helping me to drop a couple of bad habits and establish a good habit over the last few months. At the school where I work, we’re lucky enough to have a plentiful supply of biscuits and bread and butter for toast in the staffroom. In the past, I have over-indulged in these items or found myself eating them even when I’m not hungry – I find them hard to resist, especially if I’m having a hard day. So, when I went back to school in September, I made the decision that I don’t eat biscuits or toast at work. I’ve found this to be really liberating. No longer am I doing daily battle with my self-control in resisting the temptation to indulge because I’ve already made the decision that I don’t eat those things in that setting.

The habit which this strategy has made the most difference with so far, is exercising regularly. I’ve never been that active. I’ve had many fits and starts of exercising but I’ve always found it difficult to maintain a regular exercise routine for a sustained period. At the beginning of the summer though, I decided that I wanted to give it another go as regular exercise is so important for good health. So I decided that I was going to exercise 3 times a week. End of story. No further decision making required. As with the formation of many habits, at the beginning I was really motivated to keep up with it. As time has progressed though, there have been occasions when I’ve not really fancied going, for a variety of reasons, but when this has happened, rather than getting into an internal dialogue with myself about why I should or should not go, I’ve just reminded myself “You’ve already made the decision: You go to the gym 3 times each week”. No will-power battle required. I’m now 17 weeks in and I haven’t missed a single session. Not even when I’ve been on holiday or away for the weekend. I’m still often surprised that I’ve managed to establish this habit so securely and that it has felt so easy to do so compared to my previous attempts.

There are several other strategies I’ve employed as well to help me form these healthier habits, including the strategies of scheduling, accountability and convenience, but I’ll talk more about these in future posts.

Are you trying to form any healthier habits? How could you use the strategy of deciding not to decide to help you on your way?

Be Kind to Your Future Self

One of the things I’ve previously struggled with when trying to create and, more importantly, maintain, new habits, it to keep the motivation going over the long term. I’ve often found that I’m good at getting motivated to begin a new habit, but once the initial wave of optimism fades, I find it becomes trickier to balance the demands of keeping the new habit going with the routines and unexpected happenings of daily life.

Recently, however, I’ve come across a new mantra courtesy of Gretchen Rubin and Liz Craft’s Happier podcast. In one of the episodes I listened to this summer (apologies, I can’t remember which one – note to self: jot things down in future!), Gretchen and Elizabeth talked about the idea of being kind to your future self. In short, there may be things you don’t really feel like doing in the moment but which, if you do do them, your future self will thank you for. For example, you might feel too tired after dinner to wash the dishes but if you leave them, when you wake up in the morning, you’ll wish you had just done them at the time. Therefore, thinking of your future self at the time you don’t feel like doing something can help to encourage you to do it.

I’ve been using this to my advantage in helping to stick to my healthy eating and exercise habits. There have been (several)times when I haven’t felt like preparing a healthy lunch or going to the gym, but I’ve stopped and thought about how grateful my future self will be that I did make the lunch or go to the gym. Similarly, I’ve employed this strategy when trying to avoid certain behaviours such as binge-eating or when tempted to indulge in more sweet treats than ar good for me. I’ve also found that picturing how that future self will look and feel – strong, lean, healthy and confident – when she’s thanking me for my actions has helped to boost the motivation to stick with my healthy habits.

 What are you going to do this week that your future self will thank you for? Let me know in the comments section.

Thanks for reading,

FFF

Progress Report – 24.9.19

Weigh In Result: STS

As I wrote about last week, I knew that this week was going to present the biggest struggle so far in terms of sticking to my exercise goals because it was a busy week involving several changes to my normal weekly routine. I had a governor’s meeting on one of my normal ‘gym nights’; my PT is on holiday; my mum came to visit from Wales and we went to the cinema; I had to work on Saturday morning; we went out for a meal on Saturday evening; and I’d made arrangements to meet up with friends for coffee on Sunday.

Fortunately, I’d taken the time to think about how I was going to deal with each of these situations and so I was well-prepared for them when they rolled around.

Exercise – Due to the meeting, I’d changed my gym night to Friday. Not how I’d ideally have liked to start my weekend but it was the only other week-night option due to my mum visiting on the Wednesday and attending my WW meeting on Mondays. I also had to rearrange an essential appointment (getting my nails done!) which I’d booked for the Saturday morning before I knew I was going to have to work. The only time I could reschedule for was straight after work on Friday. This made me even less inclined to go the gym on Friday night. I asked myself “Would it really matter if I miss just one session?” I decided that no, missing one wouldn’t hurt, but I didn’t want to miss one. So I got myself to the gym, completed my program and went home feeling rather smug!

Cinema – In days gone by, a trip to the cinema would be an excuse to eat a ton of junk – a hot dog, ice-cream and popcorn would be pretty much standard. But I made the decision to rein myself in this time. I cooked an easy but tasty meal for us to eat before we went and I took some skinny popcorn with us to share. My mum also brought some chocolate to share which I hadn’t planned on. I took a smaller portion than I would have normally and savoured every mouthful.

Saturday working – When we have to work on a Saturday morning, we always get sausage or bacon butties and hash browns along with cakes and donuts to eat during the break time. In the past, I’ve also had a standard breakfast (usually a bagel or porridge) before leaving home too as I get up early and would be ravenous by the time we got to eating the butties. This time around, I considered not having a butty at all, but reasoned that this was the one positive aspect of having to work on a Saturday. So I decided to have some melon and quark before leaving home then to enjoy the butty and hash brown but avoid the cakes and doughnuts as I’m never usually hungry by the time they come out anyway – I only eat them ‘because they’re there’.

Dinner Out – We went out for dinner for the first time since getting back on track with my healthier eating goals (we used to eat out at least once a week but usually, more like two or three times). I decided that just because I was eating out didn’t mean I had to consume a day’s worth of calories in one meal. After all, it’s definitely not going to be the last time I ever eat out. Instead, I planned ahead and made some small changes to enable me to enjoy the evening but stay in control of my food choices.

Coffee with friends – I’d arranged to meet up with some friends for coffee on Sunday. We met at this fabulous book farm that has a café where they serve the most amazing array of cakes. I knew that with both of my friends would be ordering some and I’d most definitely feel I was missing out if I didn’t indulge in a slice. But I had a couple of strategies for working it into my healthier eating plan: as we were meeting at 2pm, I decided to class the piece of cake as my lunch. With this in mind, I had a 3-egg omelette for breakfast which I knew would keep me feeling full and planned a simple Sunday roast for my evening meal with only a small amount of potato and plenty of veg. You’ll be pleased to know, I’m sure, that my cake was delicious and I actually couldn’t finish it all! I may have only left one mouthful, but this is progress indeed!

I’ve got to be honest, I’ve found it difficult to stay focused this week, especially with completing my gym sessions, but I think this was simply down to the fact that it was a busy week with several schedule changes. Now I’ve gotten to the end of it though, I’m really pleased that I’ve managed to get all of my exercise sessions in as I’m not likely to get a week much busier than this one has been. I’ve shown myself that it is possible to juggle my schedule and prioritise my healthy lifestyle goals even when life gets busy.

What has been a great motivator this week is that two people commented on the fact that they can see I’ve lost weight which made me feel great and determined to stick with it.

Thanks for reading,

FFF

Make Small Changes

When embarking on a new ‘diet’ or healthy living program, lots of people steam in and try to change everything all in one go. They tell themselves that they are not going to eat any ‘unhealthy’ food, they’re going to stop eating out and are going to go to the gym 5 days a week.

I think that these views are often fuelled by TV shows such as the biggest loser where we watch in admiration as people spend hours each day with a personal trainer and eat only healthful, nutritionally balanced meals and the weight of course falls off. But is this realistic for those of us who are not being paid to be on such a show? We have to remember that these participants are basically being paid to lose weight – it’s their job to do so.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m not being paid to live healthily and lose weight. I have to go out to work every day. And I haven’t got a team of chefs planning and preparing my meals.

When we try to change everything about our lifestyle in one go, it can often lead to overwhelm and can become unsustainable. So it’s often recommended that instead of overhauling every aspect of our lives, when trying to create new habits, we choose a few key areas in which to make small changes.

For me, this time around, that’s what I’ve been focusing on. I made the decision at the start of the summer to change just three things – I was going to start tracking my food, start exercising 3 times a week and stop eating out so often. Then I went on holiday and I decided that I was going to make a couple of small changes to how I would usually behave on holiday: I decided to continue going to the gym 3 times a week; to make the most of the healthy food options that were available and prepared for me rather than always choosing the most indulgent options; and to avoid drinking alcohol during the day.

I’m pleased to say that I’ve been sticking to these changes and have been seeing weight loss on the scales, reductions in my measurments and improvements in my fitness.

This weekend, I went out for dinner with friends for the first time since refocusing on my weightloss and health improvement goals. We went to a local steak house and again, I made some small changes to how I would normally approach a meal out: I decided I was only to going to have one glass of wine; we didn’t have starters although, if we were going to, I’d decided to order the salad option; I ordered the ‘lighter option’ version of steak accompaniments which saw my steak served with a delicious mixed salad instead of fries and fried onion loaf; then for dessert, I chose to order a peppermint tea with a mini-pud.

I left the restaurant feeling satisfied having enjoyed a delicous meal and great company, but I still felt in control. I also didn’t feel so stuffed that I spent the rest of the night feeling uncomfortable.

So, if you’re thinking about making big changes to your habits or lifestyle, maybe think again and just think about a couple of small changes you could make to get you started.

Have you decided to make any small changes to your habits or lifestyle? Let me know in the comments section.

Thanks for reading,

FFF

Progress Report – 17.9.19

Weigh In Result: -2.5lb

Last week’s STS weigh-in was the first real test of thelatest attempt to shift my excess weight. I’d been ‘good’ all week, sticking to my food and exercise plan, and seeing no movement on the scales did leave me feeling a bit deflated. I could almost hear a tiny voice telling me that I might as well just forget any ideas of being slim and dive headfirst into a large bar of chocolate!

But I soon had a word with myself and reminded myself of a few things:

  • staying the same is better than gaining weight
  • I’m continuing to exercise which is good for my physical and mental health
  • I’m continuing to eat more healthily which is good for my physical and – I’m coming to realise – mental health
  • I’m in it for the long haul – the weight didn’t go on overnight so it’s unrealistic to expect it to come off overnight

So this week I’ve dug in and carried on making the choices that are going to have the compound effect of helping me move towards a healthier, slimmer body.

This was my first full week back at work following the summer holidays and I knew that the marking and lesson preparation would start to build up. In the past, I’ve used this as an excuse not to exercise. But this week I just told myself that going to gym twice after work was a non-negotiable.

Even after a incident involving some superglue and two of my fingers (we’ll say no more about it. Other than it was actually two fingers and two thumbs) which made me half an hour late and put me in a pretty foul mood, I still hauled my backside to the gym, telling myself that I’d just do half an hour. Well it turns out that once I got there, I realised that being half an hour late for my own schedule was not going to cause the world to end and ended up doing my full program. And I’m so glad that I made myself go because my mood was much improved once I’d finished my workout. And I’ve thrown the superglue away.

I’m continuing to make steady progress with my exercise program too. I’ve increased my plank time and started to do side planks; I’ve begun to walk-jog-sprint on the treadmill rather than just walk-sprint; I’ve increased my speed on the rower, reps on my lunges and weight on the lateral pull down.

Next week’s test is going to be two-pronged: I’ve got a governor’s meeting which clashes with the  day I’d normally go to the gym and my PT is away on holiday. But I’ve got a plan to deal with both situations: I’ve timetabled my gym session for another night and I’m focusing on being able to say to my trainer the next time I see him that I’ve still completed three workouts each week – after all, he’s the one on holiday, not me!

Thanks for reading,

FFF

Change Your Story

We like to think we know ourselves pretty well. We know what our favourite food is, what kind of music we like to listen to and the things we like to do in our spare time.

But sometimes, what we think we ‘know’ about ourselves, is no more than a belief we hold based on the stories we tell ourselves. Understanding this can help us to break old, unhelpful habits and foster new ones that will help us to achieve our goals.

For example, I’d always thought of myself as someone who was not very good at art. I’d never attempt to do anything arty and if faced with a situation as a teacher when I had to, I’d break out into a cold sweat. I always told people “I can’t draw a straight line with a ruler!”. But a couple of years ago, I decided that I was going to try new things and booked myself onto a painting workshop. I loved it and was really pleased with the painting I created and even started to recreate the techniques I’d been taught at home.  I started to tell myself that I could paint and I was keen and eager to practise and go to more workshops to learn more skills.

But how can this help with weight loss and adopting a healthier lifestyle? What stories do we tell ourselves?

Personally, for years I’ve told myself the following stories:

  • I love to eat big meals
  • I always finish everything on my plate
  • I’m addicted to chocolate
  • I don’t like exercise
  • I don’t have time to exercise
  • I can’t run
  • I don’t run

Well, that’s a whole load of convincing myself that I’m an ‘unhealthy’ person! But, as any of you who’ve read my recent post about completing the C25K program know, it turns out I can run if I put the time and effort in. So it looks like “the only time I would contemplate running is if I’d just come out of the hairdresser’s and it was raining,” story had to be changed.

This got me thinking about what other stories I tell myself I ought to work on changing.

“I love to eat big meals and always finish everything on my plate” – Well, actually, whilst I do love to eat tasty food, I don’t like that uncomfortable feeling of being stuffed to the gills as it spoils the meal. So I focus on enjoying the flavours and textures and only eat until I’m satisfied.

“I’m addicted to chocolate” – No I’m not. I really enjoy chocolate but it is not healthy for me to eat one (or more!) bars every day. So I only enjoy good chocolate in moderation.

“I don’t like exercise” – Exercise is important for my physical and mental health and well being and I enjoy the way I feel after I’ve exercised.

“I don’t have time to exercise” – I’ve got the same amount of time as everyone else has and lots of those people manage to exercise. I make exercise a priority because it is important for my health.

Now, I’m not saying I’m consistently telling myself only the new stories without the old stories creeping in sometimes, but I’m trying. And the more I tell myself these new stories, the more I believe them.

What stories, helpful or unhelpful, do you tell yourself? Let me know in the comments section.

Thanks for reading,

FFF

Progress Report – 10.9.19

This week’s progress report will cover the last two weeks (I’ve been trying to organise an actual timetable for my posts and changed my mind about the best time to schedule updates). Ordinarily, they’ll be a recap of how I’ve been getting on over the last week. But anyway, here’s what’s been happening over the last couple of weeks.

Week 1: 1.5lb loss

This was was first week ‘post cruise’ (for more about my recent cruise, click here) and the last week of my long summer holiday before going back to school.

Ordinarily, I would’ve used the ‘just back from holiday’ excuse to avoid exercising and continue eating rubbish until I’d been for my first weigh in. But this year was different. Before I went away, I booked an appointment with my PT for my usual timeslot on the day I got back to help me stay in the habit of exercising.

Because I’d exercised, I also didn’t feel like eating rubbish so I called into the supermarket on my way home from the gym to pick up some stir fry for my dinner and some eggs for breakfast. I then took time in the evening to plan my meals for the following week and shopped for them the next day.

The last week of the school holidays usually sees me making the most of the last opportunity for a while spend my days sitting and reading whilst eating chocolate and biscuits. I still took the time to do some reading and watch some of the new series of OITNB on Netflix, but I made sure I still went to the gym and rather than buying a big bar of chocolate and kidding myself I’d make it last for the week, I bought a small bar of chocolate to eat at the end of the week.

I also spent some time doing some decluttering and tidying of the house which helped to keep me a bit more active than usual and distracted me from craving the aforementioned chocolate and biscuits.

Week 2: STS

This week saw my return to school following a lovely, long summer holiday. I used the weekend before going back to school to plan and shop for my meals for the week ahead so I was good to go on the food front.

My challenges this week were sticking to healthier eating at school and changing my exercise schedule to fit around work.

On the first couple of days back at school, we always have sauage or bacon batches and pastries for breakfast. I always (over)indulge and this can be enough of a trigger to get me thinking that I can’t resist the temptation to eat unhealthily at work. But this year, I had a little word with myself. Although I enjoy bacon butties and breakfast pastries, it was more important to me to break the habit cycle of eating unhealthily at work. So I had a really filling, healthy breakfast before I left home and rather than having a bacon butty and a hashbrown when I got to school, followed by whatever was still left at breaktime, I just had one hashbrown and I tracked it. I used the same approach with the pastries. Rather than helping myself everytime I went into the staffroom until they were gone, I chose one, tracked it and enjoyed it guilt free.

One of my other stumbling blocks at school is indulging in dessert every day. Lunch is provided on training days and there is always some kind of hot dessert with custard. Up until now, my philosophy has always been to never refuse free food. This time around, I made the decision in advance to refuse the free pudding and instead take advantage of the free fruit. When we went for lunch on the first day back, the new caterers had not provided a hot pudding – only fruit. Bizarely, even though I’d decided not to have it anyway, I was really annoyed that it hadn’t been provided! My friend suggested that I was actually annoyed that I hadn’t had the chance to not have it. I felt much better the next day when it was offered and I was then able to refuse it so she was probably right.

I’m very pleased that I still went to the gym twice this week. During the holidays, I’ve been going first thing in the morning to get it out of the way and this is definitely my preferred time to exercise. However, as I’m not willing to get up any earlier than I already do to enable me to train before work, I’m now having to go in the evenings after work. I made both of my timetabled sessions this week even though I’d had to stay at school a bit later than I was hoping to on both evenings. I’m just hoping that I’ll be able to keep this commitment up when things start to get busier as we get into the swing of the term…

What are your top tips for fitting exercise around your work schedule? Let me know in the comments section.

Thanks for reading,

FFF