‘What are the best ways to improve my health, lose weight and feel better?’

I've spent enough time feeling guilty about food now I want to form new habits

 

The countdown to Christmas has begun and it is over the jolly season I know I will most overindulge in food and drink with family and friends, and I’m fine with that.

Well, to be honest, I’m trying to be. I have spent many years feeling guilty over eating certain foods and it has not done me any favours, so I’m making an effort to change my mindset.

In previous years at this time of the year I would be planning a restrictive detox diet to lose a large amount of weight that would take up all my thinking and time, which I would initially do great on but ultimately fail as it wasn’t sustainable. But this year will be different.

I want to challenge myself to learn new habits before festive celebrations kick off that will help me with my weight loss and overall well-being permanently.

I’ve had to ask myself: what are the best ways to improve my health, lose weight and feel better over the next four weeks?

Three healthier habits

I want to choose three healthier habits related to food, exercise and rest that are simple to do and are nothing too dramatic but have made a difference to me feeling better over the past year. I’ve noticed some of my behaviours that have helped me lose weight have drifted in recent weeks, and November is the perfect time for a refresh before the chaos of Christmas takes over.

I’ve learned a lot through succeeding and failing at different things while losing 3½ stone, particularly that there is no miracle or magical solution for me in losing weight, and that it feels empowering to be in charge of my own solution if I give my mind and body time to adapt.

The words “moderation” and “slow and steady” normally caused me to roll my eyes but switching my focus to step-by-step progress has worked for me. I’m expecting my motivation to come and go over these next few weeks, so I’m going to visually track my progress along the way so I can celebrate small measurements of progress and achievements. I’m also going to track (with short notes) if I feel any different or not.

Habit is defined in the Cambridge dictionary as “something that you do often and regularly, sometimes without knowing that you are doing it”.

Weight gain

If I can do it with bad habits, of which I have had plenty that led to much of my original five-stone weight gain, then I can certainly do it with good habits.

My end goal is to make healthier habits part of my normal behaviour but I’m not looking for perfectionism as the “all or nothing approach” has caused me to feel like a failure before and give up. So I’ll be happy with doing them 80 per cent of the time.

The first habit I am committing to focusing on is consistent physical activity. I am aiming to exercise for at least one hour a day three times a week, ideally four, but three as a minimum. My goal adds up to three hours out of a 168-hour week. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but I’ve lacked consistency when it comes to exercise. I’m giving myself to wide range of options from going to a class to walking – anything that works up a sweat I will give myself a tick of “completed” on the calendar. Exercise is the one thing that has helped change my mindset and make me feel stronger physically, but which I’ve also put to the side during busier times.

Overall calories

The second habit I’m keen to form is food-related. I want to stop eating at least two hours before going to bed. I’m interested to see will this make any difference to my health or weight. I’ve read arguments for and against this strategy. One side is adamant that eating before bed causes you to sleep worse as your body is coping with digesting the food while you are sleeping. The other side argues it makes no difference what time you eat, only the overall calories you eat for the day matters. I’m hoping that stopping eating before going to bed will encourage me plan my meals better and eat more during the day.

The last, but not least, is sleep. I’m committing to getting between six to eight hours sleep a night, ideally seven. This will be a difficult one to keep up as I often prioritise other things over sleep. I’ve been reading articles from neuroscientist and author Matthew Walker, who says sleep matters as much as diet and exercise for our health. It has been a while since I have felt refreshed after being woken by the alarm clock. I’m not alone. Walker cites two-thirds of adults throughout all developed nations fail to get the recommended eight hours’ sleep.

Benefits of sleep

He says routinely getting less than six or seven hours sleep demolishes your immune system, disrupts sugar levels and sets you on a path of cardiovascular disease. He says sleep regulates your appetite, and it is the single most effective thing we can do to reset our brain and body health each day. I’ve noticed I tend to eat more and feel less satisfied with food when I’m very tired.

When it comes to sleep, routine is recommended for getting up and going to bed the same time every day, but this is mostly impossible for me, as it is for many other people with different commitments. I work different shift times so my plan is to set my alarm for when I need to go to bed, and I’m wearing an activity tracker so my sleep patterns will be automatically tracked.

So that is my plan for forming new habits for the next four weeks. If you are thinking of taking on any new habits or goals over the next few weeks I would love to know.

Rachel Flaherty is writing a regular column about getting fitter and healthier.
Contact Rachel on Twitter @rachelfl or email rflaherty@irishtimes.com


Part 1: I lost three stone and I'm stronger now
Part 2: I’m stuck in the weight loss plateau
Part 3: My friend called my fitness holiday a fat camp
Part 4: My plan is driving me up the walls
Part 5: It is slow and fluctuates but it has stayed off
Part 6: Why are we doing this? This is terrifying
Part 7: I want to form new habits

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