Two a Healthy Life

One couple on a mission to become healthy


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Book Review: The Power of Habits

The Power of Habits

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg takes a fascinating look at why people behave the way they do and how these behaviors transform into habits that control most of the perceived decisions we make on a daily basis.  While analyzing ones habits can be applied to anything that you want to change, there is especially good information for people that are starting a new diet or exercise regime.

One of the main concepts of the book is what Duhigg refers to as a habit loop (which Alex has already mentioned in a previous blog).  Habit loops (much like the idea of a computer program loop) stem from some cue (visual, audible, etc) that triggers our brains to perform some type of routine (smoke cigarette, eat cake) that produces a reward (nicotine, sugar).  These habits run deep and even after we have broken a bad habit, years later a cue can still trigger a desire to perform these old tasks.

The book is very approachable and doesn’t use a lot of complicated jargon or delve too deep into the science behind the ideas, but rather uses concrete examples of individuals, companies, and organizations to illustrate key points.  I listened to the audio book and for those on the lookout for a great listen; the narrator has a voice suited to the material that will make you just want to sit a listen till it’s done.

The only issue I had with this book is that it is light at the end on ways to change bad habits.  However, from all the examples given, one can deduce effective ways to change or start new habits.  If you are trying to start a running regime, keep your shoes and workout clothes by the bed so they are there when you first get up, then after a couple weeks the routine will become habit.

Personally I am trying to get to the gym more.  I noticed that when I get home, I have little motivation to go all the way back out to the gym (though running is easy because I just change and I am off).  To fix this I have bought a bike lock and plan to stop at the gym on my way home, instead of going home first.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in changing their bad habits or creating better ones.  What I really took away from it was the hope that change is possible.  I remember being overweight (after another failed diet) and thinking “this is it, this is how much I am going to weigh”.  At that point I thought there was no way to change.  But there was!  I don’t know the exact changes that made it stick; however, I know that writing this blog and having someone to lose weight with has made a big difference.

Thank you for reading, now go out and get this book!

 

The link below goes to a great chart for how to go about anayzing and changing habits.

http://charlesduhigg.com/need-to-break-a-bad-habit/


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Habit Loops

Breakfast in Atrani Italy Summer 2009

Breakfast in Atrani Italy Summer 2009

To use vocabulary from The Power of Habit– I developed a habit loop.

I already drank Starbucks in High School but during my first three years of college I had a really long commute and nearly every morning I would go to starbucks, buy a drink and a pastry (full of carbs, sugar and fat) and eat it before class started.

I was easily putting down 700 calories before lunch and hungry before noon ever approached.

I’d get hungry when I didn’t eat a real breakfast, pick-up coffee and a pastry because I was in a hurry, indulge in delicious sugar that made my brain happy with all those awesome calories… rinse and repeat.

You couldn’t physically eat 7 apples for breakfast but that’s the caloric equivalent of what I was doing but without any vitamins or protein.

As I started traveling the habit loop was repeated everyday (although not at Starbucks). I’d wake up in the morning, roll out of my hostel bed and head out the door with my backpack. On the way to a museum or the train station I’d grab a cappuccino and pastry on the street corners of Rome, Barcelona, London or Paris.

Breakfast in New York City Spring 2010

Breakfast in New York City Spring 2010

Do that everyday for months at a time and the habit gets into your DNA. I would then spend all day on my feet so I actually lost weight but when I came back to college in the fall I continued the pattern minus the exercise.

Even after a year of TwoAHealthyLife I can’t go to Starbucks without eyeing the pastry case. I especially love the mini vanilla scones… So recently I’ve been avoiding my pastry-buying triggers.

I know what I am going to have for breakfast everyday M-F (yogurt). I have a piece of fruit at 11, lunch around 12:30 and more fruit at 3:00 pm and 5:00 pm.

In addition to my food plan I am trying to cultivate the habit of making tea before I go to work so that I won’t be put in a situation where I am in a line internally bargaining and arguing with myself about eating or not eating something that shouldn’t be considered food. Part of what I crave in the morning isn’t necessarily “coffee” but a hot beverage I like the taste of.

A side effect of this new habit is that I should save at least $500 a year NOT buying coffee before work.

Nathaniel found The Power of Habit and encouraged me to read it and I am really enjoying it so far. I encourage anyone trying to change his or her lifestyle (for whatever reason) to pick it up.

For us dieters this book can help you identify how to tackle key habits that you want to get rid of or avoid and come up with helpful strategies to reach your goals.


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Of good runs and bad

http://www.flickr.com/photos/kimolsonphoto/8358642701/sizes/z/in/photostream/

Photo by Kim Olson

On Wednesday I had a good run; I think the first good run of my marathon training and since coming off an injury late last year.  There are those runs, that from the beginning you just know you’re in the zone, your steps feel light, your breathing is synched, the whole act feels fluid.  Not all runs are like this, in fact, most aren’t.

I am not one of those people who would tell you “even the worst day of running is better then the best day of being a couch potato”.  There are some days that my runs don’t feel good, where I am tried and it is a struggle to keep going and not turn around (and sometimes I do).

There was a piece on NPR a few days ago (listen above) that was about how in the facebook generation we have turned into a society of braggers, where people only post the good news online and leave out the rest.  To some extent I feel I have been that way on this blog, putting down the successes and not admitting the failures.

Over the course of the several months were I was dealing with knee issues, I was depressed about not being able to run, and I let a lot of the habits I had built for myself go by the wayside.  I went from 155, back up to, at one point to 170 (this was also in the middle of the holidays, but no real excuse).  Now I am back down to 163, but it is still a struggle to get back down to where I was.

What I am really trying to get at is that, even though I may sound like I have it all together from my posts, there are still those days where all I want to do after work is come home, get in my PJs and watch TV while gorging on ice cream.  As Newton said, objects at rest tend to stay at rest unless acted upon by a force.

Not every run is going to be great, not every day of dieting is going to feel good.  By I can honestly say that since I have gotten back on track the last several weeks, I feel way better then I did when I started to slip and eat junk again.  Keep your eyes on the horizon, remember why your doing what your doing, the long term goal, and keep in mind those really great runs.

Onward!


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A habit breakthrough

Yesterday I had a breakthrough at work.

I was sitting at my desk after eating my lunch (I know you’re not supposed to eat lunch at your desk, and I often don’t as I try to walk at lunch) and I realized I was still hungry and wanted to go up the hill for something sweet from the grocery store.  The thing was, I knew that I wasn’t actually hungry anymore, I was bored.

I was bored because I was at work, and the internet is locked, and I was listening to an audio book that I had listened to before (Born to run, highly suggested) so I already knew what was going to happen.  I acknowledged to myself that I was bored and that I need something to do.

So I downloaded a new audio book and started to listen to it.  Instantly I was engrossed in the book, and as a little time went by I was not hungry anymore as I started to digest my lunch and my body knew it didn’t need anything more.  The breakthrough was controlling the urge to eat more and forming a new habit to actively analyzing why I thought I was still hungry.

I might not be able to do this all the time, but as we try to watch what we eat or stick to those resolution diets, we need to be vigilant for those queues that are telling us we are hungry, because most of the time you’re not hungry, you’re bored, or thirsty, or simply in a habit of eating.  Looking at these eating habits will aid you in your efforts to continue to be healthy.

Onward!