Changing Your Health Behaviors

Food for thought (no pun intended):

I just read something from RUHBC (Research Unit in Health & Behavioral Change), that I think you might find interesting. The evidence from people who have changed their health behavior suggests that there are certain minimum conditions required for that change to take place:

1. The change must be self-initiated: Some people react adversely or wish to contain any attempt to look at their ‘food use’ (by a doctor, therapist, diet coach, etc). To some people, their behavior may not seem unhealthy at all but may constitute as a clear source of well being, its benefits far outweighing its risks. There is a clear message here – people will only change if they want to or feel they need to.

People are more likely to welcome change if it’s something they initiate, not something they’re told they have to, or should, do.

2. The behavior must become salient (noticeable, outstanding): Most health-related behaviors including smoking, alcohol use, eating and exercise are habitual, and built into the flow of everyday life such that the individual does not give them much thought.

For change to occur, that behavior or habit must be called into question by some other activity or event so that the behavior becomes salient (noticeable, outstanding, prominent).

3. The salience of the behavior must appear over a period of time: The habitual behavior needs to become difficult to maintain. The new behavior must, in turn, become part of everyday life. For example, one reason why people on diets often resume their previous eating patterns is because they are made constantly aware of the diet and it is never allowed to become a habit.

Similarly, exercise is often not maintained because it requires effort, hence the advice to reluctant couch potatoes to build physical activity into their daily life by walking to work or running upstairs rather than going out to exercise at a pool or gym. The new behavior must be made as easy as possible.

4. The behavior is not part of the individual’s coping strategies: People have various sources of comfort and solace and will resist change to these behaviors.

For example, some people may use food as a way to escape and not realize they’re using food as a coping strategy. It would be helpful then for the person who wants to initiate change to learn how to identify alternative coping strategies.

5. The individual’s life should not be challenging or uncertain: There is a limit to a person’s capacity to adapt and change. Having to make changes in their health behavior may be too much to expect for people whose lives are already challenging.

6. Social support is important: The presence and interest of other people provides reinforcement, accountability and keeps the behavior salient. Changing one’s behavior can be stressful and individuals need support.

The ability to communicate with others who are struggling with change in their life is critical to success.  Please join our network of support here at Thinking Thin Lifestyle and tell us how YOU are making changes (big and small) with your health behaviors!

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