How to Use Small Habits to Create Big Change

 

Every January, gym memberships increase and facilities are packed with well intentioned people who have made a New Year’s resolution. They want to start exercising and eating better to lose weight and get healthy. So why after just a month or two are some back to sitting on the couch at night watching television and eating junk food? Their enthusiasm has died, motivation has disappeared and they have fallen back into their old routines. Statistics show that eight out of ten times that you attempt a new habit, you will fall back into your old routine. Don’t lose heart though because there are strategies to use to be successful. In today’s article, we are going to discuss one such strategy for success in making habit change.

 

When a person is excited about starting a new habit they want to or feel that they must do everything at once plus we are very impatient by nature. If exercising three times a week is what is recommended by a fitness coach then exercising five times a week will be better. Along with exercise, they feel they have to quit drinking soda, eat more vegetables and get up earlier to make breakfast. They might maintain this momentum for a few weeks or maybe a couple of months but suddenly they are overwhelmed and give up. They made the common mistake of changing too much at once and it became too difficult. They focused on doing too many things perfectly and wound up not doing anything very well. What would have increased their chance of success would be to start by choosing one thing to work on and do it well. For example, get your exercise habit established and the food will follow. One small area of focus to start the change and then build on the success.

 

 In the book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg calls this a keystone habit. A keystone habit is a behavior or routine that naturally pulls the rest of your life in line. He explains that some habits matter more than others in transforming lives. A keystone habit influences how people work, eat, play, live, spend and communicate. They start a process that over time changes everything. Keystone habits are what begin the Domino Effect.  A better approach might be to start exercising one day a week and do this every week until it feels incredibly easy. Make it so simple that you can’t find an excuse to not be consistent. Once you experience success then build on it and add in another day and so forth. Before you know it, you will be exercising three times a week, eating and sleeping better plus have more confidence in yourself.

 

Research shows that the keystone habit of exercise spills over into other areas of life. People who exercise focus better, sleep better and eat better naturally. They also change their environment to foster success by being around like-minded people. To identify keystone habits, they must have three components:

 

  1. They give you small victories frequently. Making your bed daily is linked to increased productivity and better budgeting skills.

  2. They are the launching point from which other habits grow. Families who eat dinner together help children have better homework skills and do better in school.

  3. They are contagious and build confidence. A small success in one area helps build momentum and increase your desire to make changes in other areas.

 

 

These are just a few examples of keystone habits. They all seem very small but can have a major impact on other areas of life. Whatever change you desire to make, figure out the keystone habit and do it well. Be consistent, have patience and watch the ripple effect.

Why Humans are the Swiss Army Knives of Movement

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Movement is something that all living things do on a regular basis. Travel, in particular, is something all animals strive to be efficient at. What I mean by travel is simply starting at one point and ending up at another. No matter if it’s 1 mile or 100 miles, we want our travel to be as fast and efficient as possible.

 

In order to travel from point A to point B, we also have to expend energy. Depending on the speed at which we’re moving and the distance we have to travel, our energy expenditure will vary. The energy that is used up during travel can be thought of as Cost of Transport, the amount of energy it costs a body to move. In their book, Go Wild, John Ratey and Richard Manning explain this concept wonderfully.

 

Within this Cost of Transport, every species on the planet has a transport set point. A sweet spot. Imagine, if you will, a graph with speed on one axis and energy expended during motion on the other axis. For most species, this graph would show a “U” shaped curve, where the bottom of the “U” would be the “sweet spot”. This is where the animal is most efficient, where they are able to cover the most distance with the least energy. A car, for example, may be most fuel efficient at 55MPH, allowing you to travel the longest distance at this speed.

 

Homo Sapiens, humans, match this rule as well. Although, oddly enough, we only fit the “U” shaped curve when walking. Our efficient walking speed is about 6 feet per second. Running, however, does not allow us a cost effective speed. Our running curve would simply be a flat line. And this goes for any form of running. Whether you’re running uphill or downhill or backwards or sideways. All of these forms of running require different muscle groups and yet have no efficient speed at which to cover the greatest amount of distance for the homo sapiens species.

 

However, if, instead, you take the species and break it down into individuals, you have a different story. Homo sapiens as individuals have a cost of transport “sweet spot” for anything and everything. Some may be efficient at running long distance or short distance. Others may be efficient at tumbling and others efficient at climbing. Others, still, may be efficient at throwing a baseball while others are efficient at chopping wood.

 

There is no consistency for efficiency in movement across the human race. Our efficiencies are based on experience and conditioning. This cannot be said for any other species on the planet. You may say that some animals are “born to leap” or “born to gallop” or “born to run”. Are humans born to run? Sure. They’re also born to climb, crawl, roll, push, pull, throw, carry, chop, swing…you get the picture.

 

This is why training all of the basic human movements is important: push, pull, hinge, squat, carry and everything else. Throwing in some sprinting and climbing and swinging and throwing isn’t a bad idea either. This is unless you want to do something specific. For instance, if you want to lift heavy weights, then lift heavy weights most of the time, and do everything else periodically. If you want to be a runner, then run most of the time, and do everything else periodically. Note: these last two sentences DO NOT apply to anyone under the age of 18. If you fit the age range you should do everything, all the time, any time.

 

You want to be able to move when you’re 70, 80, 90 years old? These are the things you need to do. Be consistent with the basic human movements and do everything else variably. Movement = life afterall.

 

 

What’s the Difference Between Gluten Sensitivity and Intolerance?

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In last week’s article, we covered celiac disease and it’s linkage to gluten in our diet. This week we will spotlight gluten sensitivity or intolerance. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity, or NCGS for short, is fairly new on the medical horizon. The exact number of people affected by NCGS is not clear but some believe the ratio to be 6:1. While celiac disease is a more severe health problem, the symptoms of each can be quite similar. Those with NCGS do not appear to suffer the same intestinal damage and they do not test positive for the antibodies against gluten. Today, there is no definitive lab test to detect if you have NCGS. Research is ongoing to study the many ways our bodies react to the proteins found in today’s grains to help develop specific testing. This will assist physicians to adequately diagnose and treat those with gluten sensitivity.

Now for a little bit of the science. Man discovered wheat 10,000 years ago and implemented it into our diet. While we advanced, we developed wheat to improve its taste and ability to make lighter and tastier foods than the original. With better tasting products, the amount of wheat consumed in our diet has skyrocketed. On average, a person ingests 132 pounds of wheat products per year in the form of breads, pastas, cookies and other processed foods. To better understand how wheat has changed over time, let’s use this comparison.

Wheat has six sets of chromosomes while humans have two. Wheat contains approximately 95,000 genes while humans have about 20,000. Genes directly dictate how proteins are built therefore the more genes, the more different proteins that could potentially be made. One can see that there could be hundreds of different proteins present in modern wheat and any of them could be a trigger for illness. Sounds complicated right? How is a person to know if they might have NCGS?

If you have been experiencing unexplained symptoms such as a daily headache, stomach upset after eating, abdominal bloating or lack of energy, you may want to do a Gluten Free Challenge. This requires you to remove all gluten from your diet for thirty days and note if your symptoms improve. If so, add gluten back into your diet while monitoring for your symptoms to return. If the symptoms return with the gluten reintroduction, you most likely have NCGS. While corn, rice and oats do not directly contain gluten, they do contain proteins which are very similar to gluten and can trigger a reaction. It is best to eliminate them as well during your thirty-day challenge. If the gluten free challenge doesn’t help your symptoms, it could be any of the many other proteins in wheat or possibly some other food. We will be posting about these in future articles. Testing for gluten is a great starting point for many people.

As you can see, removing gluten can be the best thing a person can do to regain their health and vitality. It can be life changing for those with celiac disease or NCGS. It is NOT some magic trick for losing weight. Many gluten free items found on the store shelves today are still high in sugar and preservatives that play a much bigger role in obesity and chronic disease. If you have been diagnosed with celiac disease then definitely follow a gluten free diet. If you want to see if it can help with some nagging health issues then give it a try for thirty days. You really have nothing to lose and potentially a new level of energy and health to gain.

How to Develop a System that Works for You

Instant gratification is something that most of us seek on a regular basis. Whether it’s at home, at work or in the gym, we want to see our efforts payoff as quick as possible. As good as instant gratification may feel in the moment, many times (or most of the time) having that as your ultimate goal leads to long-term self-destruction.

In our last article, we talked about the Progress Principle. In short, the Progress Principle tells us that we get sustained happiness as we make progress towards a goal. Reaching the goal itself gives us happiness as well, sure. But focusing on the path is what keeps up truly motivated and happy over the 9long-run.

 

See, the problem is, most of us see reaching the goal as an end point. Now that we’ve reached our destination, we don’t have a clear path as to where we want to go next. Many Olympic medalist have been said to become depressed after their win. This is because, now that they’ve accomplished what they were shooting for, they don’t know what to do with themselves.

 

This, my friends, is why systems are important to have in our lives. Goals are great to have. We will continue to make New Year’s Resolutions until the end of time, I imagine. If you want to maintain that success or have a deeper understanding of what it took to get to your goal, you have to put a system in place to build it into your life.

 

By definition (thanks to our good friend Google) a system is a set of principles or procedures according to which something is done. Taking this literally, there is no question as to what we mean by putting a system in place to reach our goals. Although this may seem straight forward, it does take some time and effort to develop and maintain the system that works for you. To give you a hand at getting started in building long-term success, here is a quick guide to creating your system:

 

  1. Start with the Basics

 

You would think that starting with the basics would be a no brainer. Being the perfectionists that most of us are, we generally skip this step to move straight to the hardest, most advanced progressions we can find.

Take nutrition, for example. Many of us have body composition goals that we would like to achieve, be that losing fat, putting on muscle or increasing performance. When someone is trying to lose fat, it is not usual for them to ask “Should I be eating gluten?”. This is a quality concern and the answer may be yes. But first, if you’re drinking 6 soft drinks a day and having donuts for breakfast, gluten is the least of your worries.

Find the most basic thing you can implement TODAY and start with that. If we’re talking about nutrition, this may be as simple as drinking a glass of water in the morning. You want small victories to develop your confidence over time.

     2. Find a Pattern that Works for You

 

We are constantly looking for answers to our problems. If you’re stressed to the max, you are searching for any guru who can tell you how to calm yourself down (singing “I Feel Pretty” on a busy bridge in New York seems to do the trick for some).

And they’ll gladly share their input, for a nominal fee, of course. Where a lot of us get caught is finding a one-size-fits-all system and trying to fit it into our lives. It’s like the old square-peg-in-a-round-hole analogy.

Developing your own systems allows you to find a sequence that works for you. Square peg, square hole. Let’s look at nutrition again. Preparing your food may be one of the best ways to developing clean-eating habits. I prepare my food on Sunday. If I tell you that you need to prepare your food on Sunday, as well, but your Sunday is filled with Church, soccer games, grass cutting and family gatherings, then you don’t stand a chance. Maybe Wednesday will work for you, or Tuesday and Friday. Whatever it is, it has to work FOR YOU.

Remember, we want small victories, so don’t shoot for the stars just yet.

 

      3. BE CONSISTENT

 

I’ll keep this one short. Having systems is about being consistent with the system. Without consistency, it’s not a system, it’s simply something you do.

You’re allowed to make tweaks to your system. Just be sure that you measure the tweaks so that you know if it’s actually improving the process.

 

Remember to be patient during this process. All things that are worth doing, take time. If you allow yourself to develop a sustainable system to reach your goals, it will stay with you much longer and leave you happier in the end.

What is Gluten and How does it Impact Your Body?

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An estimated 30 percent of Americans today are following a gluten free diet. Just 10 years ago, it was difficult to locate gluten free items at the grocery store.  Today, we have many items available such as gluten free cake and cookie mixes. Many food labels now proclaim gluten free pledge but does gluten free equate to  healthy? Should you go gluten free? What is the difference between celiac disease and gluten sensitivity? In this series, we will take a closer look at gluten and clear up some of the confusion.

 

Gluten is defined as a substance present in cereal grains, most commonly wheat, that is responsible for the elastic texture of dough. It is a combination of the two proteins, gliadin and glutein. Gluten is found in wheat, barley, rye and most processed foods. When you mix flour with water, gluten is what makes dough sticky.  It is what causes baked goods to rise and have that light and fluffy texture. Sounds delicious right? So why would anyone want to avoid gluten?

 

Celiac is a hereditary autoimmune disease. Autoimmune diseases are those where your immune system produces antibodies that attack your healthy cells or tissues in an attempt to destroy them. In celiac disease, the slightest gluten exposure will cause this immune response to occur in the small intestines. This area is where we digest and absorb 90 percent of our nutrients. Symptoms can be as severe as malnutrition or anemia or as subtle as brain fog and ADHD. 

 

It is estimated that 1 in 100 Americans have celiac disease. It can appear in children as well as adults. Celiac is diagnosed by blood tests or by a procedure in which they directly biopsy the small intestine. These specific tests are directed only to a response to gliadin and glutein. The problem is that wheat has many other fractions of proteins and enzymes that can cause reactions leading to illness. In our next article, we will talk about what it means to be gluten sensitive and how it differs from celiac disease.

How the Progress Principle can Improve Your Results

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Many of us have goals, projects, events or games that we are working towards. Having the goal to lose 20lbs, for instance, or preparing for a big job interview. Our goals and aspirations are what drive us and keep us moving forward. Without them we would simply be creatures on a green planet with nothing to do. But achieving and accomplishing a goal doesn’t always lead to the euphoria that we hope for.

 

Maybe we’re focusing on the wrong aspect of attainment. Although the goal is what we’re hoping to achieve, maybe we shouldn’t expect the goal to be the thing that gives us the greatest happiness.

 

Shakespeare once said, “Things won are done. Joy’s soul lies in the doing”. If you break this down, it may look similar to other quotes you’ve seen, such as “Focus on the journey not the destination” or “The game is what counts, not the outcome”. Although these are great as motivational quotes, there is plenty of relative support to back them up.

 

Pre-goal attainment positive affect is the happiness that comes while progressing towards a goal. Think of this as the journey. While on the journey, your body receives shots of dopamine, a hormone that helps regulate the brain’s reward and pleasure center. Dopamine also helps us see and move towards a goal. So as we prepare for that big sales presentation, are bodies are constantly giving us shots of positive reinforcement to keep us moving forward.

 

Your body is built to reward you while you’re progressing and moving towards your goal. This is how the Progress Principle can help us. The Progress Principle says that we feel happy on days that we feel like we made progress on the work that means something to us. Moving towards something, or progressing towards it, gives us the pleasurable feelings that we seek when we complete our task.

 

This is why I’ve always been a big fan of systems. Although we have goals that give us something to shoot for, we should create and develop systems to ingrain the process of achieving the goal in our lives. Systems are truly a fundamental part of our lives, we just may not realize it.

 

Think of your morning routine, for instance. Maybe you get up and turn the coffee pot on, then go to the little girls room to unload your built up waste, head back to the kitchen to get some coffee and sit down and read the newspaper. This is your morning system. It makes your morning easy and predictable and is one less thing you have to think about.

 

Here’s another relative example. Many of us have the goal of losing weight. No matter if it’s 5lbs or 50lbs, we want to figure the fastest way to get it done, because we want to feel the joy of getting the weight off. Statistics show that, of the people that go on a “diet” to lose weight, 95% of them don’t achieve their weight-loss goals, and the majority of those go on to put their weight back on in 1-5 years.

 

Here’s the issue with “diet”. Diet is short-term. The word alone leads you to thinking quick results and having an end-point. Once you’ve reached that end-point, you can get off the “diet” and go back to eating the way you used to…the way that got you to where you were in the first place. So building a nutritional system that helps you move towards your weight-loss goal, AS WELL AS maintain your weight-loss once you’ve achieved it will lead to longer lasting results and therefore longer lasting happiness and pleasure.

 

Understanding that progress is what keeps us moving forward will not only help you achieve your goals, it will also help you develop sustainable systems in your life. Focusing on progress will lead you to be more efficient, more predictable with your results and more overall happiness with your life. Next time we’ll look at how to develop and maintain systems that will improve your life.

How One Habit Leads to Many Habits

The Domino Effect is defined as a situation in which one event causes a series of similar events to happen one after the other. Human behaviors are many times tied to one another. For example,sleep watching television in the evening can naturally lead to snacking and weight gain. Watching television is a common activity that most feel helps them unwind and relax. It is hard to not feel hungry though when every other commercial is food related. This means that if you watch 2 hours of television every night then you probably snack on junk food during those two hours. Overtime, you will find that you are less motivated to complete tasks, develop poor sleep habits and gain weight or have difficulty losing weight.

 

Now think about the flip side. You have been told you need to exercise for 30 minutes every day. You need it to be simple because you are busy. You commit to walk for 30 minutes every day. It will be best to do this right after dinner to make it easier for you to complete the task. You are committed and consistent over the next few weeks. You suddenly find you have more energy, feel less stressed, sleep better and have cut back on your evening snacking plus are losing weight. Your one small action, that became a habit, created the domino effect.

 

There are key points to keep in mind when you are trying to create a domino effect with habits.

 

  1. Start with an action or activity that you are motivated or excited to complete. Start small and do this consistently. Use the change ruler question–Ask yourself on a scale of 1-10 how confident you are that you can do the action or activity everyday for the next two weeks. If you can’t rate it an 8 or a 9 then pick something smaller but related. For example, don’t go for a 30 minute walk, start with 15 minutes. You just need to make one domino fall in the process.

 

  1. Once you have achieved one success, you will want to keep the momentum going. Choose another task right away that you are motivated to complete and repeat the steps. With each success, you will feel a sense of accomplishment and grow more confident in yourself.

 

  1. Keep things simple and small. Take on only one action at a time and keep moving forward. It is about progress not quick results.

 

 If an action or activity doesn’t lead to the next behavior, check that it is based on the three key components. By using the domino effect in building habits, you can make changes with minimal effort. You just need to focus on being consistent and patient.

How Protein Helps with Weight Loss

 

A macronutrient is defined as a type of food required in large amounts in the human diet. Protein, carbohydrates and fats are macronutrients. Proteins are amino acids held together by a chemical bond. Amino acids are called the “building blocks” of life and therefore are important in our diet. Our focus today will be how protein aids in weight loss.

 

Protein boosts and supports our metabolism. When we consume food, a portion of the food’s calories are lost in the digestion of the food. This is known as the thermic effect of food or TEF. Protein has the greatest TEF of the macronutrients. When you eat protein, you lose 20-30% of the calories to TEF.  For example- if you consume 100 calories of chicken you will only absorb around 70 of those 100 calories. This is one reason why a diet high in protein helps to boost our metabolism.protein

 

When losing weight, we also risk losing lean muscle along with fat plus our metabolic rate slows as our weight drops down. Lean muscle mass supports metabolism. Combining a high protein diet with a good strength-training program is the best way to maintain and build lean mass. You will look better overall after weight loss if you can preserve your lean mass and will be more apt to maintain the loss in the future. More muscle naturally burns calories even at rest.

 

Protein foods alone or combined with healthy fats are very satisfying. Protein plays a role in the balance of hunger hormones. It will increase levels of our satiety (appetite suppressing) hormone and reduce levels of our hunger hormone ghrelin. This combination keeps us full longer therefore naturally lowers our caloric intake. An easy tip to remember is build your plate around protein first and have it at every meal. Sufficient protein in your diet will help fight cravings and late night snacking. These are the two most common pitfalls to weight loss.

 

Some think that a high protein diet is taxing on your kidneys or can cause osteoporosis but there is no concrete scientific proof to support this idea. Kidney issues are more commonly associated with high blood pressure and diabetes both of which are caused by eating processed food. If you have healthy kidney function then balance your protein with plenty of vegetables and water for optimal health.

 

Lastly, what is lean protein and how much should you eat? Good sources are grass fed beef, wild caught seafood, pastured chicken and their eggs. It is also found in dairy, legumes, nuts and seeds but make sure you tolerate these well. The daily-recommended intake is 46 grams for women and 56 grams for men. Keep in mind this is ONLY to prevent a deficiency in your body as protein is constantly being turned over. Protein intake really varies between individuals based on size and activity level. A good rule of thumb to start is a palm size portion for women and 2 palms for men. This will keep it easy which helps you be successful. If you lead a very active lifestyle you may want to add a bit more.

 

Protein can be key in your weight loss journey. It helps balance hormones, keeps you full and satisfied, boosts metabolism and helps maintain lean mass. When planning your meals always ask, “Where is the protein”?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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