How long does it usually take to form new health habits?



Today's article comes from a recent Client Question:

"Gina, I am wondering how long it took you to make choosing healthy a daily habit? What is normal for a timeframe required to to form new healthy habits?"



Gina's Answer: Most people who know me know that I tell it like is it, so buckle up! For me, I achieved success with being healthier in my life in stages. My problem was not struggling to get enough exercise...but I did have a problem with getting too much! That took me a couple of years to fully get under control after I became aware of the issue!

Foodwise, I personally struggled to some degree for about over a decade as I worked on becoming healthier. I had always ate pretty healthy meals, but I also tended to binge on junk at times or eat too large portions. I gained a lot of weight, none of my clothes fit and I just didn't feel like myself. I ended up officially falling into the overweight category of the BMI. I also struggled with eating disorders throughout my younger years which added a layer of complexity to my problems. I knew I wasn't living at my best, but I lacked the ability to change it all right away.

So, the truth is it took me quite awhile to feel confident in how I was choosing to manage my health! When trying to use willpower alone didn't work, I had to dig deeper to figure out what was going on with me. During the years when I struggled most, I had a lot of emotional issues to work through that triggered me to binge. I had a lot of real scary stress in my life going on. Looking back, I realize I didn’t really have a chance to not be struggling with something given all that. Abusing my body via food and excessive exercise was my solution to my stress at that time. However, I am happy to say that I feel very confident and comfortable with my health and lifestyle choices today. I no longer have to battle with it, and that is a great feeling!!


So that's MY story, but in terms of clients, how long it takes clients to make healthy a daily habit varies. Commonly, when initiating a lifestyle change, a common pattern for many folks is having a couple of months during which they do...OK. Quite often though, after the newness has worn off, many temporarily regress with their habits (in other words, they go backwards).

You see, in the beginning most clients try to follow my advice to the "T." However, in the long run clients need to learn to communicate their feelings and needs with me so we can really start customizing the routine to best suit their individual and personal needs after we spend the early months testing things out. As clients learn to take on this ownership and feel that they are an equal member of the team with me, they start developing more self-direction of their plan moving forward.

Once this happens this is a really good step, because YOU are the only one who is with YOU 24/7! It's way easier for you to develop the ability to self-correct than to have to wait for our appointment to come around! At this stage of training, clients also get better at learning from their own mistakes and making a different choice next time on their own. Some of this has to occur organically; I can’t simply let people just skip this step of self-discovery as much as I would like to at times when everybody get frustrated. The changes stick a heck of a lot better when they feel more like they are your idea!



The bottom line is this: it's normal for a health program to not-be-going-great for kind of awhile. If all this stuff was easy, a trainer wouldn't be necessary! My rule is to just keep showing up and putting your best effort in and remember that each and every day is a new day to try again. Progress, not perfection is the goal!

Wondering what can be done to accelerate progress? Personal honesty and self-reflection on what is going on will help the process of learning to adopt healthier habits occur faster. Instead of staying in denial about your issues, use the time when you “mess up” to think about why it might have happened. At the same time, cherish the small victories, because they can be savored even when there is more work to be done :)

Know that there is always a reason when you mess up with your food/workout plan. Why is this true? Because it is natural to want to take care of your body in a kind way - the way it needs to be taken care of to be healthy - and if you continue to buck against that, well then it’s a sign that something is off in your world. Once you figure out what that something is and get to work on that, the behaviors you're looking to change will be much, much easier to pull off. The idea is to reduce the strength of the urge to make an unhealthy choice which then leaves you less likely to succumb to them when they do arise.

Yes, it’s natural to want to sit around eating junk food too at times, but more as a rare treat, not an everyday occurrence! Naturally thin people do not overeat on a regular basis, and if they do, they self-regulate throughout the day without much thought. They choose to move because it feels good, not as self-punishment or just for weight loss. This ability to naturally self-regulate for optimal health and wellness is the end-goal for everybody. 

Making healthier choices can also be as simple as forming a habit. When it becomes a habit, you almost forget that you ever reached for something else. It’s pretty fun to get there! One powerful tool to help with forming a habit is called habit pairing.


Pro Tip: How to Habit Pair

You can pair a habit you already have with a habit that you want to add into your life. For example: you can use brushing your teeth as a trigger to do a 10-minute yoga flow. Every time you brush your teeth you do it - no questions asked! Or you can pack your healthy lunch for the next day right after you have dinner. If it's a habit pair then you won’t forget.


Some people are really good at changing all their habits at once - but most people are better off picking one thing to work on and then slowly adding things over time.

I learned as I worked with more and more people over the years that falling off plan or struggling WILL occur and that no one needs to freak out. BUT it is our responsibility as a client-trainer team to take notes on what is going on to allow us to learn, change, and do better in the long run. 

And the positive side is that EVERY GOOD DECISION you make helps - and is totally worth it! This means, if you make just one good choice today, kudos! All the good choices are all building blocks to the end goal - and they all have value. Having a trainer by your side is useful because the trainer will know when it's time to serve you up your next challenge. All of us prefer to hang out in our comfort zone, and a trainer who gently nudges you beyond that point when it's appropriate is truly gold.

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