How to Stick with Healthy Lifestyle Changes

Scott Garrett, Division Corporate Responsibility Officer for the AdventHealth West Florida Division in the United States, had tried many times to lose weight and stay healthy. But like many others, he quickly stumbled along the way. Millions of people set new goals every year to prioritize a healthier lifestyle. But as Garrett found, once these goals are set, they can often be forgotten or pushed aside.

As the end of another year approaches, it’s not too late to start building lifelong positive habits. But there’s more to a healthier lifestyle than just eating fruits and vegetables or exercising every day. A lasting change in healthy lifestyle often requires a change in mindset as well.

Garrett recently experienced the benefits of this shift in mindset by using the tools he learned through AdventHealth’s Wondr Health program, a digital behavior change program that teaches weight management skills. Wondr Health is available free of charge to all members of the AdventHealth team. The program focuses on behavior change and mindful eating. With these important tools, Garrett learned to tell when he was hungry and when he was full. Practicing and maintaining his new habits resulted in a positive change in his weight and relationship with food.

“Things were on a bad path before and they’re under control now,” Garrett said. And he’s confident he can stay in control. “I feel great and the weight loss is great too.”

Garrett’s most significant weight loss occurred during his first three weeks on the program, when he avoided all added sugar. Over time, he successfully lost more than 50 pounds (22.5 kilograms). As the weight loss eventually slows, Garrett says he’s OK with it, and so are his doctors. After completing the six-month program, his blood pressure and blood sugar levels had also improved.

Through the Wondr health program, Garrett learned the importance of avoiding certain foods and he experienced a shift in his relationship with food. “You don’t crave sugar or lots of carbs that much. You’re learning to taste again, how to enjoy the taste of your food,” Garrett said. With these simple lifestyle changes and a change in his mindset, he was able to lose the weight and keep it off.

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A holistic approach to lifestyle change

Garrett’s story of the positive effects of mindset change, improved diet and exercise is just one example of many that AdventHealth physicians and specialists have witnessed. However, the specific factors that hinder positive lifestyle change can vary from person to person, and identifying these factors is critical to initiating the change.

“In my experience, there is almost always more than one factor that contributes to the patient’s inability to sustain a lifestyle change,” said Eric Shadle, Centura Health’s vice president of mission integration and a practicing physician for more than 20 years. “I have found that most of the time the patient is unaware of what these other factors are.”

Shadle often uses resources like CREATION Life, a belief-based wellness plan developed by AdventHealth, to help his patients identify the underlying factors that are impeding their ability to commit to change.

The plan is anchored in eight key principles: choice, rest, environment, activity, trust in God, interpersonal relationships, perspectives, and nutrition.

“The patient may struggle with beliefs or interpersonal relationships that impact the patient’s current behavior,” Shadle said. “Once we identify these factors, we can work toward lasting change. This form of mindfulness is extremely important. It gives you the tools and awareness to really think about what you’re feeling and how it’s affecting you.”

Set SMART goals

Once the factors are identified, it’s time to develop a plan and set realistic goals for lasting change. When helping patients create a plan, Lisa Markley, director of culinary medicine at the Whole Health Institute at AdventHealth Kansas City, recommends setting SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time-bound) goals.

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Specific: “Instead of saying, ‘I want to lose weight,’ we could say, ‘To lose weight, I need to eat more vegetables, especially lettuce three days a week.'”

Measurable: “We can write down when and how many days we eat lettuce.”

Accessible: “The patient may not be able to afford the most expensive vegetable we recommend, but we can help them find something they can get on a regular basis.”

Realistic: “We don’t recommend kale every day if you don’t like kale.”

time bound: “It can be about defining a start date. Then we plan to have the patient come back in four weeks to see how they are getting closer to their goals. For example, we might say, “Eat a salad three times a week for the next three weeks that contains vegetables that you like, can afford, and that are easy to prepare.”

dealing with setbacks

It is also important to plan for possible setbacks. Shelly Buehler, nutrition clinic coordinator for the AdventHealth Shawnee Mission Nutrition and Diabetes Education Center, emphasizes the importance of a support system.

“Family, friends, spouse, a health coach or a gym trainer,” Buehler said. “Anyone who will give you really good advice and support. Someone who won’t judge you.”

Buehler also recommends treating each meal as a new opportunity. “We all make mistakes and screw up. Walk away from it and say, “How could I do better next time? What are other things I could try?’ Look for opportunities to learn and grow from mistakes. It’s important to get back on track. I see people who are all or nothing. Don’t set the bar at 100 percent or you’ll get burned out. Nobody can be perfect.”

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measure success

While many focus on seeing a specific number on the weight scale, there are other ways that success can be measured. “You can measure the inch loss at the waist and hips,” Buehler said.

Biometric measurements can also provide a good insight into the success of your efforts. “We often look at biomarkers,” Markley said. “Are lab results for cholesterol and triglycerides improving? Do you have more energy? We look at motivation, mental clarity, inflammation like joint pain, and whether the individual is sleeping better. If you nourish the body well, you can improve many of these factors. For example, maybe someone isn’t losing weight, but they have less gas, they shed inches, they feel less nauseous, and they have more energy and better digestion.”

health for life

“Society puts so much pressure on people to look a certain way and weigh a certain amount, so we really need to change the way we think about eating healthy for life,” Buehler said. “This is the journey we have all been on since childhood. We all want to stay healthy.”

This long-term maintenance requires more than a number on the scale or a short-term victory. “I try to help patients think about their why,” Markley said. “What motivates you to make lasting changes? You might not care about your weight—bodies come in all shapes and sizes. But maybe your food choices are affecting your ability to play with your grandchildren. Perhaps your weight is putting stress on your joints. Or maybe you have other goals like training for a 5k run. Think about your why. Then, when you experience setbacks, you’ll feel more like refocusing and giving yourself some grace.”

That original version of this comment was published at the Mid-America Union Conference Outlook.

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