Create easy and healthy habits every day
For those of you with children, do you ever wonder how you can raise two children exactly the same way, but get two very different results?
I have one who is cautious and one who is a risk-taker, one that's sensible and one that runs around with pants on her head (that's English pants, not trousers).
Oddly, it's the cautious one who thinks it's funny to wear her underwear as a hat, which doesn't seem to make sense. Of course the interplay between nature (genes) and nurture (environment) means that even if things feel consistent, they rarely are.
So all of us, even when we feel that influences are level, are actually unique.
That's a good thing of course, but it's stressful when we compare ourselves with each other as if we should be the same. Nothing provides a better example than willpower.
In our crazy food environment, where we're surrounded by candy and blue drinks and deep-fried junk, some people are thriving while others struggle. When we compare two people, one of whom is overweight and one of whom is right on target, it's easy to assume that one simply has more willpower than the other one.
The slim one must be mentally stronger and more determined, isn't that right?
Now imagine this. Let's say one person has a thing for cookies and another person has a thing for champagne. Those are their weak areas. They are things that they love, things that they find it hard to say no to. The person who loves cookies is more likely to have a harder time.
Cookies are everywhere. They're at the gas station checkout, left over at a play date, in the office at meetings or brought in for birthdays. You have cookies in the “children' cupboard” at home or have to make them for a bake sale, they are made for you as a treat and they're on the counter when you line up to pay for your lunch. They. Are. Everywhere.
Then there's the person who loves Champagne. That's a bit easier because it's easier to avoid more of the scenarios where you drink champagne.
It's not at the checkout, you're not packing it in a lunch box, it's unlikely you're drinking it at your 9am strategy meeting.
Cookies are cheap, easily accessible and socially acceptable in any situation, but champagne is expensive, exclusive and not in your swell bottle on the school run (….or is it? ha ha).
I know alcohol is addictive but so is sugar. There are certainly more sugar addicts than alcoholics in Bermuda, and because of its link to diabetes (and other diseases) as well as obesity, sugar is ultimately a bigger killer too, but I'm veering off topic (as usual).
The upshot is that it's easy to label people with apparently less willpower as greedy or lazy or both, but that's neither fair nor accurate.
Outside of varying dietary patterns, nutrient deficiencies or genetic factors that influence cravings, it's true that some people simply seem to have more self-control than others, and there is a clear explanation.
I got a great reminder from natural health advocate Chris Kresser in my inbox the other day. He made the point that those with more self-control have two things working in their favour. They have better habits and they have reduced the need for willpower within their environment. Both those make exercising self-control more manageable.
When it comes to habits, Kresser gives a great example with brushing your teeth.
If you think about it, you don't have to use willpower to brush your teeth, do you? You do it because it's habit, a lifelong routine. There comes a point where, if you make eating a healthy breakfast a habit too, then it becomes a lifelong routine as well. The trick is to get into the habit and that usually takes about three weeks of being consistent.
When it comes to your environment, take a good look at the influences around you — at what helps you succeed or fail when it comes to being healthy.
For example, if you don't have ice cream in the freezer, then you simply can't eat it. If you have friends that you work out with, it's easier to stay fit. I'm not saying you have to ditch the friends that you bake with or drink with, but try scheduling some workouts or walks together too.
Next week, we're launching season 11 of Beat the Couch.
What started as a one-off experiment has become a popular fixture in Bermuda's fitness calendar and the factors of habit and environment have been key to our success.
Beat the Couch requires a commitment of three training sessions a week, but we have ten to choose from.
This means that most people are able to find a routine that works for them, but when life throws a curveball and you miss your class, there's always another you can go to.
Even if you travel, we have podcast support for training and accountability via our Facebook group.
In terms of support, people often sign up in teams for either the Corporate or Friends & Family Cups.
That provides an extra layer of accountability, whereby you have people in your immediate environment relying on you, but even as an individual, each season we see our training groups forming bonds and providing camaraderie and motivation.
Last season, we had 90 out of 105 people complete the ten-week programme and run their 5K.
That's a pretty great record over that period of time! So if you need help with your “willpower”, by which I mean if you need help establishing a new habit and a supportive environment in which to do it, then come and join us. All the details are online at www.natural.bm.
• The advice given in this article is not intended to replace medical advice, but to complement it. Always consult your GP if you have any health concerns. Catherine Burns is a fully qualified nutritional therapist trained by the Institute for Optimum Nutrition in the UK. Please note that she is not a registered dietitian. For details: www.natural.bm, 236-7511 or, Facebook, Natural Nutrition Bermuda