The Pleasure and Pain of Healthy Habits

The Pleasure and Pain of Healthy Habits
Healthy Habits

Snow-covered graveyard. Photo by Walter Hodgkinson c. 1880 – 1900, via State Library Victoria

My last Transplant Clinic appointment was less pleasant than I’d hoped, and now I’m back to contemplating the nature of choice and healthy habits.

And complacency.

It seems that after my last transplant biopsy, a small piece of vital information slipped through the cracks. Not that I can honestly say it would have changed much, but it would have given me a little more incentive to work harder to lose the weight. And a head start on today.

Because so much of what we do in terms of taking care of ourselves are healthy habits. Or maybe not so healthy.

How Habits Work

The Habit Cycle

Basically, habits are our own bits of computer programming.

According to Charles Duhigg, you perceive a cue that triggers a behaviour that results in a desirable reward.

In his case, between 3:00 and 3:30 in the afternoon, he’d go to his work cafeteria, buy a cookie and chat with his colleagues while he ate it.

Now, About Those Rewards

Did you notice I said “desireable” reward?

Sometimes a desirable reward will be something that seems pleasant, like the cookie. But other times, it will be the removal of unpleasantness (or pain) whether that’s mental or physical.

Like when you see a red light and apply the brake to bring your car to a halt before you die in a fiery car crash. 🙂

And other times, often more urgent times, something that was once pleasant becomes unpleasant. Like smoking. Or your cookie habit results in a diabetic diagnosis.

How to Change Habits

It’s hard, but possible to change habits.

“All” you have to do, is:

  1. Define the behaviour you want to change (eating the cookie)
  2. Identify the trigger (the time of day)
  3. Understand what the reward really is (socialising, not the actual cookie).

And make the appropriate changes.

But You Have to Want to Change the Habits

And you’re more likely to succeed if you really want to. So really, that you know exactly what it is you want to do. At least that’s what Rachel Grieve and Cathryne Lang say. Then break that down into the tiniest possible goals, and clear the decks of everything in your space that might get in your way. Like your cookie stash.

So I guess, that even though I have goals, I still haven’t got to the nub of what I get out of not being healthy, and haven’t worked out what needs to change.

Or maybe, I just haven’t hit rock bottom yet.

Healthy Habits

Almost everything we do, one way or another, becomes a health-based habit. We perceive a cue that triggers a behaviour that results in a desirable reward.

We notice the time and follow our bedtime routine. Do or don’t clean our teeth. Do or don’t take our phone to bed with us. Do or don’t read books or watch tv. Do or don’t wear blue light blocking glasses.

But according to Gina Cleo, if you want to lose weight and keep it off, making and reinforcing new habits works better than otherwise:

  1. Eat your meals to a schedule, which helps eliminate snacking.
  2. Choose healthy fats rather than junk food fats. e.g., avocado on toast instead of potato chips.
  3. Walk more; aim for 10,000 steps, incorporate more movement into the things you already do, and then add some more.
  4. Take healthy snacks with you when you go out so you don’t have to buy junk food.
  5. Always check food labels for salt, fat and sugar. I managed to find “healthy” potato chips with less than 100 mg salt per 100 g.
  6. Use smaller plates, so you eat less.
  7. Sit less, break your sitting time by standing and moving, e.g., walking while you’re on the phone.
  8. Choose clean fresh water for preference, and limit juices and carbonated beverages.
  9. Sit down to eat your meals (at a dining table, not your desk) and eat slowly. Pay attention to how the food feels and tastes.
  10. Get at least five serves of vegetables a day. They’re low-calorie snacks and the extra fibre’s a benefit at the other end.

And when it comes to staying in shape, Clare Collins and Lee Ashton recommend:

  • Knowing how many calories you need in a day.
  • Know how many are in the things you like to eat and drink.
  • Know how what you have to do for how long to burn those calories off.
  • Avoid fad diets and stick to a healthy eating plan.
  • Be aware of the things you do (like downing a couple of beers) that reduce your ability to effectively manage your weight.
  • Plan ahead to deal with upcoming issues, like having to work late, or going on dates.

Making a Change

I’ve been chatting with friends about developing productive and creative work routines. And one of the topics that came up was more or less cannibalising your existing habits.

So instead of being annoyed at your inability to quit checking your email in the morning, let yourself do it, but only for the time it takes you to make (or drink) one cup of coffee.

And this technique can be used for other kinds of habits. Maybe that coffee could be herbal tea. Or checking your email is something you do on your phone in the park after you’ve walked there.

So, if you want to change your habits, think a little more about how you can take what you already do, and do it differently.

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