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Four Steps to Creating a Healthy Lifestyle

Thursday, July 23, 2015


That new diet you started, your new exercise routine, your pledge to start flossing daily — why are they so hard to maintain (or sometimes even to start)? You are doing everything right: scheduling your workouts on your calendar, replacing all of your junk food with healthier options, putting your floss right on the counter so you can’t miss it. Yet every day, you slip, skip or forget.

You fail.

You fail because you are weak. It’s that lack of willpower that is the problem. Surely, the people you witness running each morning as you sip your first cup of coffee just have more willpower than you. They are self-motivated, and you, well…

The key is punishment. Just forcing yourself to exercise each and every morning, and one day — they say after 12 weeks — one day it will just be easy. You’ll have a hard time functioning without your workout. You won’t be able to fall asleep if you haven’t flossed your teeth. You’ll just lay there feeling the plaque building up on your teeth. And the french fries that someone ordered for the group at the bar will magically no longer be appealing. 12 weeks. You can do that.

Wrong. Willpower is not the whole equation. Punishment is not the answer. You aren’t a failure.

Building a new habit is hard. You may have momentum in the beginning, whether it be the form of excitement, fear or vanity. But then you’ll hit a bump or a plateau or a real challenge, and you realize you may not have enough momentum to get you to your end goal. Willpower is the final piece in forming or changing a habit. First you have to lay the groundwork.

Here is how:

Shift Your Focus

Recently an article related to this topic was posted on Yahoo! about how to stick to daily exercise. The article revolved around a study from Iowa State University and King’s College London that showed that people who focused on internal cues that made them want to exercise were the ones who were most successful in forming the habit. The authors of the study suggest that once you recognize the benefits of exercise — a better mood, lower stress levels, and a less achy body — you can start to focus on the positives as a way to keep yourself moving.

For instance, let’s say exercise makes you much more able to manage your stress, and therefore your temper. Your temper has always bothered you, but on the days when you go running, you are a much more pleasant person. What you need to do to increase your chances of forming the habit of running is to recognize your temper flares, and instantly connect that in your brain with the need to run. It becomes a reminder and a motivator in a way that is more powerful than the external cue of the alarm on your phone. Plus you continually focus on the positive outcomes instead of the exercise itself. You run because you feel better. 

Define Your Goals 

Defining your goals doesn’t refer to losing 30 pounds or looking good for your high school reunion. The goal should mean something deeper. Why do you want to lose 30 pounds? Is it because you want to be able to have the freedom to hike and run around with your kids? Is it because you want to be healthy enough to conceive? What is the true end goal?

Focusing on your deeper goals is what will prevent you from giving up when the going gets tough. 

Be Realistic

If you want to start regularly exercising, and the reason you haven’t been working out is because you are so busy that you can’t find the time, you can’t start with your goal being daily 90-minute workouts. You start with something that is a stretch, but that is also attainable. Start with 20 minutes of exercise 3 times a week so that you can find time in your schedule for workouts. Starting with something achievable also gives you an incentive that can propel you to keep reaching higher. As you start meeting your marks regularly, you can increase your goals.

Know Your Weaknesses

When people want to quit smoking, they often need to stop hanging out with smokers. This most commonly plays out with people leaving the bar scene for the first month or so that they are quitting. Why put temptation in your way when you know you are at your weakest?

That also holds true for turning a new healthy lifestyle into a habit. If your goal is to eat a whole foods diet (free from processed foods) so that you can lose 30 pounds and prevent your joints from hurting, you must know that potato chips are your weakness. Don’t buy potato chips for your family to eat in front of you. Of course there will come tests, but you don’t need to punish yourself further, or set yourself up to fail by shoving temptation in your face.

You can also set yourself up to succeed by planning ahead of time for dodging known temptations. If you are going to a birthday party and your goal for the party is to skip the sweets, bring yourself a treat that you will enjoy and that won’t leave you feeling guilty. It sounds silly, and you won’t have to be so strict forever, but in the beginning of forming a new habit, removing every obstacle is plausible. 

Erin Brockmeyer, LAc, is owner and acupuncturist at Solstice Natural Health in downtown Portland.  She creates custom health plans for patients to help them tackle their most complicated health concerns, including infertility, prenatal care, fibromyalgia, thyroid conditions and chronic and acute pain conditions.  Visit her website for more information and to download her free e-book 5 Simple Ways to Improve Your Health Today.


Related Slideshow: The 7 Best Health and Fitness Apps

Here is a list of some of the most obsession worthy health apps.

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MapMyRun is the number one selling running app for a reason:  it is easy to use, offers community support if you want it, and tracks and stores your exact routes for you.  If you are training for a race or a serious runner, users say that the extra perks in the upgraded paid version are well worth it. 

Made for iPhone, Android and Blackberry 

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MyFitnessPal seems to be the clear favorite amongst everyone polled.  It is helpful not only for the fitness tracking aspect, but everyone polled mentioned how much they loved the food/diet aspect as well. From carb counting for diabetics to recipe ideas to complement your fitness goals, users love this app. 

Made for iPhone and Android

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JeFit is another fitness app that has rave reviews.  It not only tracks progress for you, but offers a huge database of workouts.  While many apps offer community support, JeFit allows you to sync workouts with friends who use the app, offering a (real) virtual buddy system.

Made for iPhone and Android

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Strava gets the highest mark of all the cycling apps.  While it is also great for runners, the cyclers seem particularly inclined towards the fierce competition that can be ignited by this app.  You can track all of your rides via GPS, then you can compare your efforts to those logged by others in the community on the same stretch of road.  You can also join ongoing challenges that can net you great prizes (in addition to bragging rights). 

Made for iPhone and Android

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YogaStudio gets the top vote for Yoga apps.  It has a lengthy collection of full class-length videos available at your fingertips.  Unlike many other apps, this one also allows you to customize your own video yoga class.  All of the poses are done by qualified yoga instructors, and you can find classes suitable for all levels of yogis.

Made for iPhone only

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SimplyBeing meditation app offers the best of both worlds.  You can choose to run this app as a background for your meditation with soothing music or natural sounds that run for a set amount of time.  Conversely, for those of you who have trouble focusing during meditation, you can choose a soothing voice-guided meditation. 

Made for iPhone and Android

Prev Next


Fooducate is an app all about educating people so that they make healthier food choices.  Although not perfect, this app is easy to use (you can even take pictures of bar codes to instantly find foods in their database).  It gives food a letter grade, tells you the pluses and minuses, and gives you better ranked alternatives.  You can also use it as a weight loss tool by tracking your daily calories. 

Made for iPhone and Android


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