The average health kick lasts less than 12 days, a study has found.
Despite starting with good intentions of eating healthier food, exercising more often and cutting back on alcohol and smoking, the average adult will be back to their usual ways before two weeks has passed.
And more than half admit they have embarked on a health kick but given up within 24 hours.
But people’s yo-yo health habit pattern is repeated four times a year, with the average adult trying a new regime every three months.
That amounts to the equivalent of eight years of a lifetime spent trying to stick with 252 different health kicks.
Feeling tired is the most common reason for quitting a health kick, followed by a stressful day at work and chocolate is the ultimate food we all fall off the wagon for.
The average adult tries a new health regime every three months – but tends to give up in weeks
Rob Hobson, Healthspan Head of Nutrition, said: ‘It’s great to see that we are a nation interested in taking better care of our health, but a shame that so many of us are finding it difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle.’
The study of 2,000 adults found two-thirds will often start a health kick with good intentions of eating well and exercising more but find it hard to stick with it for too long.
Two in five even admitting they feel they spend more time stopping and starting health kicks than they do sticking to them.
More than a quarter also said they always feel like they are on some kind of health kick because they are constantly stopping and starting them.
More than one in 10 will always have a go at the latest fad diet or healthy regime, with nearly one quarter constantly yo-yo-ing between one health kick or another.
The study, carried out on OnePoll.com, also found 87 percent reckon they have a good idea of what they need to do and eat to be healthy, yet six in 10 will often say they will do one thing but end up doing another.
Dr Meg Arroll, a psychologist specializing in health on behalf of Healthspan, said few of us make a mental plan for how to stay motivated.
‘People find it difficult to make change particularly when the health goals are vague and overarching – wanting to be a bit fitter or healthier is hard to achieve as it’s these things are difficult to track and measure,’ Dr Arroll explained.
‘But it is important to decide which aspect of health you want to change – focus on one health change then work on the goal.’
ASK YOURSELF THESE 3 QUESTIONS
1. How are the changes you are looking to make going to fit in with your lifestyle?
There is not point thinking you are going to cook everything from fresh every day and take your lunch to work with you if you don’t have the time or skills to cook, always in a mad dash to get out of the house every morning and like to meet your mates after work. Be realistic about what you can manage and achieve.
2. Do you need to give something up completely or just cut back?
Many people go to the extreme when they embark on a health kick and cut out almost everything they enjoy eating. This can not only have you hankering for foods but leave you feeling like a complete failure if you ending up binging one day, which often means ‘game over’. Be more realistic and think about cutting back on certain foods. Serve them in smaller portion sizes or eat them less frequently.
3. What is your end goal?
If you don’t have a target then there is usually little motivation to continue on your health kick and you end up saying a lot more about what you are planning to do than actually doing. You can’t win the marathon if you don’t run the race so set your goal and stick to it. Just saying you want to be more healthy is probably not going to cut the mustard. If it’s weight loss then pick a number. If it’s to eat more fruit and vegetables then set yourself a daily target. If it is to eat less meat then choose the number of days you go veggie each week.
LAY THE GROUNDWORK: 3 TIPS TO GET OFF TO A GOOD START
1. DO NOT DITCH YOUR FAVORITE FOODS
Start by making changes to the foods that you like to eat rather than forcing yourself to eat something you really don’t like the taste of.
If you like to eat a burger and fries then try making your own burger with meat and chopped pulses, skip the bun and opt for sweet potato wedges.
Compromises: If you love burgers, stick with them – just cut out the bread and add wedges
2. REMOVE TEMPTATIONS
Ditch the junk! No matter how motivated you are we all have those moments of weakness (usually at night), when we raid the cupboards. Remove the temptation and maybe think about stocking up on more healthy snacks such as yogurts or fruit.
3. PLAN AHEAD
Stock up on the good stuff! Plan what you are going to eat during the week and get the food in so everything is planned and ready. Coming home after work to and bare fridge means you are more likely to hit the shops on an empty stomach (never a good idea) or reach for the take-out menu.
BE AWARE OF YOUR TRIGGERS: 10 THINGS THAT THROW YOU OFF YOUR HEALTH KICK – AND HOW TO AVOID THEM
1. FEELING TIRED
Choosing foods that help to balance out your blood glucose and provide you with a drip-feed of energy between meals is a good way to keep energy levels up.
Whole grains such as oats or brown rice are a good way to do this and will help to prevent snacking between meals, cravings and hunger pangs.
Keeping topped up on B vitamins and magnesium is also essential as these nutrients are required by the body to convert the food you eat into energy used by cells.
Women are more at risk of low iron levels than men. A diet lacking in this mineral can leave you feeling wiped out and tired.
2. A STRESSFUL DAY AT WORK
Managing stress or not starting a new health kick when life is stressful plus ensuring you eat three regular meals each day and avoid sugary foods and other stimulants is key to managing stress through the diet.
Stress can easily send our good intentions off-track as we seek out quick fix foods for immediate energy or comfort.
Stimulants and fast released carbohydrates foods can heighten your stress levels and hormones including adrenalin and cortisol.
Tryptophan is an amino acid found in foods such as bananas, turkey and soy protein. This amino acid is used to make tryptophan that has a relaxing affect that may also help with sleep. Team tryptophan-rich foods with a carbohydrate to maximize the uptake of this amino acid to the brain.
Magnesium is a muscle relaxant found in nuts and seed and has been shown to be useful when dealing with anxiety and low intakes has been associated with depression.
Stress can throw our intentions off-track as we seek quick fix foods for energy or comfort
There is often very little that will hot the spot for a chocoholic so one of the best suggestion is to start buying your bars in smaller sizes rather than the 100g variety or ‘snack’ size bags we tend to have become accustomed to buying. Opening and eating a small individually wrapped bar is often psychologically easier to do than take a few chunks off a bigger bar. You could also try satisfying your sweet tooth with a low calorie chocolate drink, which helps some satisfy their chocolate fix. When you do eat chocolate, take your time to savor the flavor and texture. Don’t just open the pack and wolf it down. If it a treat in your health kick then finish the bar with enjoyment and not wanting more.
Idle hands make for the devils work and the same is true when it comes to eating. Boredom usually occurs in the evening, which is when people start hunting around for food. Try making meals times last rather than wolfing down your food. Make eating an occasion and a time to chat about the days events with your family or friends. Don’t settle in for the night too early. Maybe go for a walk after dinner to keep you busy. You can also try taking up other hobbies to keep you occupied in the evening rather than slumping in from of the TV.
5. A TRIP AWAY
Some people find going on holiday quite stressful and changes in diet can lead to making certain food choices. Do some research before you go and don’t make food the center of your holiday. Plus drinking plenty of water helps and helps quench those feelings of hunger. Keep active and beware of alcohol intake.
6. A NIGHT OUT
Plan ahead and allow yourself room to have something you don’t normally have. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment especially if you drink also letting friends know you are on a health kick provides moral support.
This is many people’s Achilles heel, especially when you still want to go out with your mates and alcohol is part of the festivities. Lots of people try and kick the booze completely but often fail. However, there is still room for a little alcohol in a healthy diet if that is easier to manage. Try watering your booze down with sparkling water or more mixer than alcohol to keep a check on what your drinking and stick within your limits. Cutting down on the alcohol is one of those things that is often easier to do when you get your other half or mates involved.
8. BAD OR COLD WEATHER
Cold weather it seems makes us pile on the pounds and on average we pile on 2lbs alone in September. We are more disciplined in the summer revealing ourselves in bikinis and lighter clothese plus the temptation to eat certain foods as autumn draws means we want to eat a high carbohydrate diet.
9. TAKE-OUT FOOD
There is always a way of making any take-away healthy. Most people view take-away food as a treat and there is nothing wrong with that, but if you are trying to keep your health kick on track then try ordering lean grilled meats with vegetable dishes. Indian is great for this. Tandoori skewered chicken can be teamed with a lentil dhal, spinach and potato (saag aloo) and spicy cauliflower dishes (gobi). If you can’t resist the Naan bread then try swapping for a chapatti, which are smaller.
When you want cake, you want cake! Don’t buy large cakes and keep them in fridge and not think that you won’t be going back and forth the fridge with a fork. If cake is your treat on your health kick then pick something delicious and in a single serving and create a moment out of it. Serve it on a nice plate with a cup of tea and sit down to eat it slowly enjoying every mouthful. You could also switch your iced or cream cakes for something less calorific. Fruit scones, buns or teacakes may be a better offer but you still need to keep it in to a minimum as part of your health kick.
Control your treats: If you love cake that is ok – but don’t overdo it. If cake is your treat on your health kick then pick something delicious and in a single serving and create a moment out of it
BE SMART: HOW TO STAY MOTIVATED, ACCORDING TO A PSYCHOLOGIST
Dr Meg Arroll, a psychologist on behalf of Healthspan, advises that the key to making new health habits is to focus on one health change then work on the goal.
To do this, she says, you need to be SMART:
Specific – ‘I will go for a brisk walk 3 times a week, lasting at least 20 minutes on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 7pm’ is much more specific that generally thinking about being fitter.
Measurable – the above goal can easier be measured by simply noting down each walk and how long it lasted.
Achievable – make sure that the goal is realistic for you and your circumstances as unmet goals can negatively impact motivation. Smaller, bite size and achievable goals help to increase motivation and confidence. Once some small goals are met, bigger ones can be set but it’s always useful to start with things that are doable.
Relevant – ask yourself if the goal is definitely relevant to you. Changing behavior simply to please others is very difficult to maintain long term.
Timely – check with yourself that the time is right to embark on a behavior change, then give yourself a time frame. The example of walking three times a week can be evaluated in a week. If this is achieved then celebrate! You’ve met your goal and can start the process again. Be careful though not to step-up goals too much as each one still must be achievable.