Monday, May 25, 2009

Sneaking Up on Change...

We humans are creatures of habit learning early in our childhoods a “right way” of brushing teeth, getting dressed, how to relate to the others in your household. One of the biggest habits is around food – not only what and when we eat, but how things are prepared. We eat the foods our families prepare and they become our comfort as much as our nourishment. Maybe you’ve experienced being somewhere people eat very different types of food and seasonings than what you’re used to – did you try the new stuff? Close your eyes and swallow or palm it to your napkin, or with a very polite “No thank you,” assure your hosts you are full? People can and do adapt their eating to new ways of eating – meat and potato Midwesterners can find that they love sushi! (Who knew?)

When we talk about healthy living, choosing foods or actions that serve us well often means that we are faced with making a life change that to give up a habit for a new choice or behavior. Do we go from smoking two packs a day to being a non-smoker just because we think we should? When faced with diabetes how many people do you know who walked easily away from eating sweets to follow the recommended diet? Granted, fear or iron self-discipline can serve people in making big changes, but most often humans go through a pretty predictable process. Maybe you’re like me in that when you have some understanding of WHY you may react as you do, it can make it easier to be kind to self and make different choices. Try this out.


Notice this is not a one time event or a single decision made, but a PROCESS which means as many times as is needed over time to make a true change in habit. Researchers call this Transtheoretical Model or Stages of Change.

Precontemplation // Unaware, Unwilling

PRECONTEMPLATION describes any of us prior to awareness that what we’re doing may not be a very good choice for us. Example: “I eat all my food fried –what’s the big deal about that? I like it that way and it’s how Mom fixed meals.”

Contemplation //Listen, consider, inform self

CONTEMPLATION comes when the fried food lover finds out his older brother has had a heart attack and almost died. He hears that eating fried foods can contribute to heart problems, but hey, it’s not HIM who had the heart trouble – it’s his brother. “ Couldn’t happen to me!” Stage two is when our fellow finds out his own cholesterol levels are sky high - a major risk factor for heart attack. NOW he’s more willing to listen to all this talk about diet…he’ll think about it. Can’t hurt to find out what he could do instead.

Preparation // Making a plan, letting go, grieving the changes

PREPARATION to change a habit includes things like wondering “CAN I change? Do I have what it takes to do something so challenging?” Or “Who can help me – take a cooking class or date that cute little gal who’s such a health freak! She’ll cook for me and show me how.” Selling the deep fryer, getting olive oil to replace the corn oil…grieving the changes, feeling mad that you ‘have to,’ realizing you’re kind of scared and don’t really want to die in your 40’s.

Action //Starting again, taking small experimental steps

ACTION – making behavior changes, repeated choices to enact the new behavior, wrestle with the longings for the habitual, “Hey! I like baked fish!”

Maintenance //Adjusting

MAINTENANCE includes staying with the new program to make better choices and can include “slips” when you backslide, ie eating Fish and Chips but not every meal. Slips always are followed by a choice to begin again or to give up, but hopefully there is internal motivation and outward support to keep going.


1. What is it you know in your heart that you do (or not do), right now, that is not good for you?

2. What do you like most about your unhealthy choice?

3. What do you like less well about it?

4. What stage listed above are you in if you were to consider making a change in behavior?

5. What’s one tiny little step you might be willing to take to turn around this habitual action or lack of action?


If you’re contemplating a change in your life style behaviors, you’ll notice that part of that phase is “making a plan.” Most human beings I know and love are fallible, ie they make mistakes, back-slide, and have slips in their new behaviors. Planning can help you to identify who in your world would be supportive of you in making a plan to change how you live. Consider someone from inside your family, friends who may be more objective, adults or “grandparent” types who will respect and nurture you as you tackle the hard stuff, and maybe even young people who have unfailing confidence in you. Getting a number of those folks alerted to become your “pit crew” can make a huge difference in succeeding with your plan for change. Trust me, none of us needs more failure!


Another suggestion is to connect with a health professional who can be your health coach during change process. Ask Nurse Deb! Leave me a comment here if you’d like to arrange for private conversation via phone or email, and see my web page for details of how this process can work for you.

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