Many of us have heard that it takes 21 days to build or break a habit, but researchers have found that in actual fact, on average, it takes more than two months before a new behaviour becomes automatic — 66 days to be exact. How long it takes to form a new habit varies widely depending on the behaviour, the person, and the circumstances. In a study by Lally, it took anywhere from 18 days to 254 days for people to form a new habit. In other words, if you want to set your expectations realistically, the truth is that it will probably take you anywhere from 2-8 months to build a new behaviour into your life.
Interestingly, researchers also found that missing one opportunity to perform the behaviour did not significantly affect the habit formation process. In other words, it doesn’t matter if you mess up every now and then. Remember…building better habits is not an all-or-nothing process, it takes time and commitment!
So here are twenty of the most common bad habits, and how to change them:
- Skipping breakfast– this is one of the most common bad habits seen in most dieticians’ offices. By skipping breakfast you slow down your metabolism, reduce your energy, concentration and productivity levels and sees you overeating later on in the day (typically on the most refined, sweet carbs you can find!). Ensure you eat a low GI, protein containing breakfast. Not only do studies say that it will help speed up your metabolism, prevent you from overeating throughout the day and manage your weight; it will also help you live longer, feel better and ultimately help reduce your risk of developing diseases of the lifestyle.
- Avoiding food the entire day (due to time constraints or lack of resources) and overindulging at night- this predominantly slows down your metabolism and results in you overeating right before you go to bed, leading to weight gain. Try eating 5-6 small regular meals and snacks throughout the day, 2-3 hours apart. Foods such as fresh fruit, yoghurt, lean biltong, nuts and instant low GI meals are convenient foods that can be enjoyed on-the-run.
- Late night snacking– this normally comes from the fact that you ate too little at dinner or you’re bored. Eating directly before going to bed doesn’t give your body time to burn off all that energy so try sticking to eating a decent meal a little earlier and if the need arises, snack later on some fresh fruit or yoghurt.
- “I’ll start eating healthy on Monday” procrastination- healthy eating should be a lifestyle and it starts with the meal in front of you, not only on the first day of the week. Don’t give up the entire days’ healthy meals because you had a bad breakfast. Every meal is a fresh opportunity to affect your health and now is as good a time as any.
- Craving sweets– typically stemming from having a low blood sugar level, feeling hungry and needing a pick me up- regular eating and keeping healthy snacks on hand should assist here.
- Overindulging on chocolate– not all chocolate is created equal! While the milk and white variants have given the chocolate of today a bad reputation, there are benefits in a good quality dark chocolate. By providing phytochemicals (acting as antioxidants) dark chocolate can improve health (including heart health) and can possibly reduce the risk of Diabetes by improving insulin sensitivity
- Not drinking enough fluid throughout the day – Skimping on H2O can leaving you feeling drowsy and can contribute to headaches, difficulty in concentrating and a worsened mood. Keep fluid on hand to drink when thirsty. Take note that thirst can often be misinterpreted as hunger, so if you’re reaching in the fridge try first quenching your thirst.
- Poor choices when going out– restaurant and fast foods are typically much higher in sodium and fat, much lower in vitamins and minerals, served in much larger portions and are typically accompanied with many drinks when compared to your average healthy meal. Here are a few tips to make your outing healthier. Try eating something small before you go out to a restaurant so as to prevent you from overindulging, eat half your meal and remember the doggie bag, look for healthier options on the menu (those possibly with the Heart Mark and grilled), choose vegetable or salad side dishes instead of chips, vegetable based sauces instead of creamy options, avoid eat-as-much offers as well as meals that are super-sized and allow yourself dessert occasionally but rather choose fruit based treats.
- Poor portioning– You may not even realize how much you’re eating until it’s too late so portion with caution! Bulk buys may be lighter on your wallet but they’re definitely not lighter on your scale. Try decanting bulk buys into smaller single portions as soon as they are purchased, or alternatively purchase foods already proportioned. Your plate can also trick your eyes, choose a plate with a larger rim resulting in a lot less food being required to fill it up. When dishing up on a plate follow the simple guide of ½ plate non-starchy vegetables or salad, ¼ plate protein and ¼ plate starch.
- Entertaining at home– often a time we over cater as we would like to ‘treat’ our guests, but if they’re relying on you to feed them then you’re responsible for their health too. Provide vegetable side dishes to your main meals, hummus and crudité are great around the braai as snacks, choose lean cuts of meat and season responsibly. When offering drinks make sure water and lower calorie drink options are available.
- Salt– many of us are so automated to throw salt on our food that we do it without even tasting first. With the ever increasing rates of hypertension and strokes South Africans have been encouraged to watch their salt intake. Read labels, anything that says sodium on it should be monitored and one should start using herbs, lemon juice, pepper, olive oil and spices such as cumin, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, curry, etc to flavour their food , instead of the all too common mixed spices, stock cubes, packet soups and sauces and additional salt on the table. Processed meats and tinned foods are often also high in sodium, get fresh produce where possible.
- Hopping on the latest FAD diet bandwagon – not only do many of these slow down your metabolism, they are often unsustainable and require you to cut out a whole food group which could result in macro- as well as micronutrient deficiencies. The general rule: Eat everything in moderation; never avoid an entire food group; and keep your carbs complex, your proteins lean and your fats unsaturated.
- Exercising on an empty stomach – if you’re not providing your body with fuel it will start looking for alternative sources in your body, and while all of us hope that it’s the fat, very often our bodies are in actual fact breaking down muscle for energy through gluconeogenesis. Without glucose we don’t have energy to exercise at the desired intensity. Choose a low GI carbohydrate meal around 2 hours prior to exercise to ensure sufficient energy to fuel your workout.
- Poor recovery post-exercise– drinks with the boys after your 21km run on Saturday is not aiding in recovery and more often than not you can’t get in a meal within 30-60minutes after you’ve crossed the line. But the truth of the matter is that you need sufficient carbohydrates, protein, fluid and electrolytes for effective recovery. Try opting for a dairy based drink or shake that is easy to consume straight afterwards.
- Emotional eating – all of us do it in some form or another but this little habit could become dangerous for your health. Ask yourself, are you really hungry? Become aware as to what is spurring on this need to eat. If it’s because you’re stressed or bored try replacing food with an activity such as breathing exercises, sipping on some black tea or giving yourself a foot rub.
- Relying on a multivitamin – this isn’t an excuse to skip on your fruits or vegetables daily. Often foods will provide you with micronutrients that are much more readily absorbed by your body, plus they provide you with fibre and fluid that that little pill won’t give you.
- Opting for fruit juices – Although many people turn to fruit juices as a healthier alternative to your fizzy drinks, they are often loaded with sugar. Consider this, it takes around 4 squeezed oranges to provide you with 250ml of juice. That equates to close to 60g of carbohydrates (equivalent to 4 slices of bread) just in your drink! They may provide you with vitamins and minerals but fruit juice will never give you the fibre and feeling of fullness that fresh fruit could give you. Opt for fresh fruit and water; if you still want that fruit juice then try diluting it with a soda water or zero calorie drink.
- Grocery shopping on an empty stomach– when we’re hungry we want anything our eyes can see, and this isn’t good for our pockets or our waistline. Try eating an apple before going to the shops and make sure to write a list first.
- Frying foods – Fat is the most energy dense of all the macronutrients. Per gram of carbohydrates and protein you get 17kJ of energy, however per gram of fat you are provided with 38kJ of energy; so naturally we should be eating a lot less of it. When choosing fats we want to eat more Mono- and polyunsaturated fats and less saturated and trans fats; however take note that frying is never a good option. Even with your best virgin olive oil, the moment it reaches a very high temperature trans fats are formed, deterring from its’ well known benefits. So choose to grill, bake, boil or steam your food, choose tub margarines instead of block ones and add your healthy fats appropriately.
- Sleeping with a light on – studies have found that sleeping with some light exposure at night could lead to weight gain and influence hormone production. So ensure you get 6-8 hours of sleep per night and keep it as dark as possible for optimal health.
Quite a long list but a really good check-list to start you onto a healthier path!
This content was provided by FUTURELIFE®