It’s hard to imagine that anyone in this day and age doesn’t know what it takes to achieve health and wellness. We are flooded with health information and statistics and we all know how much better we feel when we start to make changes towards better health and fitness. But for some reason, many of us inevitably undermine our progress in a big way and do the opposite of what we know we need to do. We seem to push the self destruct button and guarantee our failure. Why are we such experts in our own failure? Why are we such experts in sabotaging our efforts towards better health? Let’s examine this phenomenon by taking a look at Sarah.
Sarah is 55 years old. Baruch Hashem, her health is relatively intact but she is now at an age where the excess weight she is carrying takes its toll. For most of her life, her blood pressure has been on the low side of normal but now it was creeping up. She had some minor exercise injuries that slowed her down and now her cholesterol is also starting to creep up a bit. Her weight has slowly crept up over the last few years and now she has about 9-10 kilos to lose to get back into a healthy weight range. After meeting with me, she got a food plan from our dietician and even did a follow up. But there seems to be a pattern here where every time things are going in the right direction, Sarah will reverse her health gains. She starts off really well. She follows her plan and does her exercise and homework. After losing some weight and looking and feeling better, Sarah gets a bit lax with her program and starts to put on the pounds and get discouraged. She lost 3-4 kilo and then returned to her bad habits, put on the 4 kilo again and became upset and depressed about her behavior. This happened over and over and over again. Why does Sarah do this when she knows she must being compliant with her program?
Changing behaviors is probably the most difficult thing to do in life, particularly later in life. The older you are, the more ingrained your habits or behaviors have become. We all start to make changes in many areas of life but fall short. Understanding which area of change you are in can help you succeed to the end. Stages of change were first identified by Prochaska and DiClemente in 1982 and since then hundreds of studies have validated their original findings. The stages of change are precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance and termination. It is useful to know which stage of change you are currently experiencing because you can then use specific, targeted strategies that will be effective in taking you to the next level in your ability to execute the change you want and need. If you don’t use the right strategy for your particular stage of change then your attempt at recovery can stall. This also helps to explain why rehabilitation sometimes fails. Here are each of the stages of change and how to approach each stage:
If you’re in the precontemplation stage of change, it means that you’re not yet ready to change because you haven’t acknowledged there is a problem and you’re in denial. Others, like friends and family members might have suggested to you that you should make a change in some area. At this stage you need factual information about the problematic behavior. It will help you understand real and actual consequences and you’ll be better equipped to make an informed decision about whether to quit the behavior.
At the contemplation stage of change, you’re thinking about the pros and cons of continuing the problematic behavior versus quitting, but you’re still undecided. You might talk to a professional about what you think would have to happen to lead to change. You can use that person to discuss the relative merits of continuing or consequences of quitting the behavior which will help you come to an informed decision. Your wellness coach, trainer, doctor or psychologist are well trained in getting you to think through these sorts of issues in a productive way while remaining nonjudgmental and accepting of who you are.
In this stage of change, you have decided to prepare yourself for taking action in your decision. Gather information on behavior change programs or therapists specializing in the kind of behavior change you wish to make so you can choose which one will best suit your needs.
In this stage of change, you are already changing. You will need support and encouragement along the way from people who can help facilitate your goals. Engage your family and friends in supporting change by inviting them to attend individual or groups sessions with you. Make sure to record your progress.
In this stage of change, you need to continue to reinforce, support and encourage the behavioral changes you have already made. It’s still early in your attempts to change your habits so temptations may still loom, although probably not with the same strength as they used to. Your new healthy behavior may not have taken root just yet and, like a young sapling, can be easily trampled underfoot.
Stressful life events such as moving, losing a job or a relationship break-up can easily undermine your progress. Just remember, you’re not out of the woods yet, so this is no time to be complacent. Telling yourself things like, “I’ve been so good, it won’t make any difference if I have just one,” is a surefire recipe for going right back to the precontemplation stage of change.
An interesting fact to bear in mind is that most people go through the cycle of change several times before successfully quitting the behavior. Think of smokers who try 10 or more times to quit before eventually succeeding! Consciously taking up other healthy behaviors at this time, like a new exercise routine or a healthier diet, may help encourage you to continue.
Congratulations, the behavior is no longer a problem for you!
In part 2 of this article, we will look at other reasons for non-compliance in health programs and check on Sarah’s progress.
When you find yourself about to push the self destruct button, push the restart button instead and reactivate the stages of change that will help you finally succeed and will “add hours to their days, days to their years, and years to their lives.”
Alan Freishtat is an A.C.E. CERTIFIED PERSONAL TRAINER and a LIFESTYLE FITNESS COACH with over 18 years of professional experience. He is the co-director of the Jerusalem-based weight loss and stress reduction center Lose It! along with Linda Holtz M.Sc. and is available for private consultations, assessments and personalized workout programs. Alan also lectures and gives seminars and workshops. He can be reached at 02-651-8502 or 050-555-7175, or by email at email@example.com Check out the Lose It! web site – www.loseit.co.il US Line: 516-568-5027