Use a healthy approach to changing habits

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Many of us have already surrendered to the calorie-loaded treats and special holiday coffees and milkshakes. With the New Year just around the corner, we vow to get back to better habits. Maybe some of us are already making plans about what we will give up or cut out of our diets and considering joining a fitness center or program for motivation and accountability.

When deciding which approach to take, watch out for plans that do not seem sensible. It may seem easier to choose a 10-, 20- or 30-day program or just to avoid certain foods for a period of time. Keep in mind that programs that promote eating only one type of food all day or severely restricting calories actually slows down your metabolism and limits the amount of nutrients you are getting.

This short-term approach requires that you just temporarily change your habits to reach a certain goal before returning to your old habits. This doesn't work in the long run for lasting results. While you may temporarily lose weight this way, your body will actually be starving. The human body can survive on limited nutrients, but it cannot thrive.

The key is to create long-term healthy habits by changing your behavior patterns such as eating and exercising regularly. Sustainable lifestyle changes include setting realistic goals and adopting habits you can stick with for life, not quick fixes.

Start with one healthy habit by eating breakfast every day. Eating breakfast kick starts the metabolism. It can set the foundation from which all other healthy meals will follow. Let go of the extra calories you've been sipping by drinking more water. Many of us rely on mostly coffee, tea and sodas, not realizing that the body needs more water in order to boost metabolism.

If you are in a habit of going through the drive-thru on a regular basis, plan ahead and prepare your meals. It may be convenient, but studies showed that people who ate fast food more than twice a week gained 10 more pounds than those who had it less than once a week. If you can't limit your drive-thrus, at least order a colorful, healthy option.

Only about 20 percent of dieters actually maintain their results over the long term. Instead of yo-yo dieting, vow to make lifestyle changes that promote positive health. Avoid setting specific weight-loss goals. If you vow to lose 5 pounds in two weeks and you don't, you may give up. Instead, focus on the habits that will get you there, and set those as goals. Not only will you become healthier, but your body will also lose weight naturally at the rate it is intended to.

Missy Corrigan is executive of community health for Sumter Family YMCA. She can be reached at mcorrigan@ymcasumter.org or (803) 773-1404.