Dedicated to Vincent who told me, “You should blog about that”, in reference to the 21 days. So I have, and here it is.
The New Year’s me is:
- happy & energised. Overflowing with ideas and inspiration;
- still a little rounder than I was on 24 December 2009 — I’m working on the fact that I loosely resemble a large bag of potatoes with pool-noodle arms & legs; and
- eating good food (mostly), yet still craving high calorie sugary and fatty goodness.
I am glad for the ‘happy & energised’ — and, because everything I think and feel is linked to my physical well-being, I know that this will be a shortlived high unless I revert to healthier routines. For a happy and energised (and healthy!) me, I know that I need regular exercise and willpower when it comes to food — and willpower links to my food habits.
As well as enabling me eat what I want when I want it, exercise gives me a mental boost. Exercise time is an opportunity to recharge, to clear my head, to feel strong and in control of my destiny.
What I do. I feel compelled to use my gym membership at least once per week because I hate to waste money and the Curves workout suits my body type. I also like to walk along the beach or river and practise yoga.
What I don’t do. Although I love cycling, my legs grow hulk-like if I go bike-riding regularly. And I used to run all the time, but didn’t like what that did for my body either.
My learnings. I think this is key: you will only maintain an exercise regime if it suits your lifestyle and your body. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it — within reason, of course. Starting anything new or stale can feel awkward, uncomfortable or downright unnatural at first. Look at what you want from your physical activity, talk to your doctor if you need to, and give yourself a reasonable chance [I suggest at least a month] to fall into the swing of a routine. If it’s not satisfying your needs, make a change.
Willpower: changing habits
Having the willpower to change habits is hard work. The biggest reason for this is the fact that your body and brain like to keep on doing what they’re already doing [see Newton’s Law of Inertia]. There is conflicting research available about how long it takes to form a new habit or break an old one, however a recent UCL study reports that the average time it takes to make a habit is 66 days — with an incredible range of 18-254 days for each study participant! — which is dependent on factors such as consistency and automaticity [yes, another real word, made up by someone else this time].
When it comes to diet, you have an advantage: your tastebuds have a 21-day memory. This means that new eating habits can be formed in 3 weeks, and I emphasise the word can because there are other factors involved.
You may not realise that tastebuds are wired as much for culture as physical taste. In addition, our tastebuds become less efficient at tasting as we get older, with an estimated 50% of tastebuds and 70% of olfaction (sense of smell) lost after the age of 40, which means that our food preferences as we get older are likely based as much on habit as taste [see Sam Graci’s 2007 article, “21 days to crack the code”, for more stunning facts].
In my 5 diet rules post, I mentioned my belief that your food will treat you well if you feel good about it. By extension, this means that you shouldn’t beat yourself up if your eating habits slide occasionally. You will grow to know your own limits. For me, I know it’s ok to have a few chocolates or an extra glass of wine but my proclivity for all things savoury means that I don’t keep potato crisps in the house; they are consumed by the 200g packetful.
I am thankful that my diet is ordinarily pretty healthy [except for the requisite morning caffeine hit and my penchants for chocolate and wine], so I know that I will be able to break my recent cycle of calorific eating. I am thinking it will take me a little longer to get rid of the extra Christmas kilos, however…
Of course, there is more to feeling good about yourself than just exercise and willpower
The main aspects of a healthy lifestyle can be encased in a simple acronym: NEWSTART, which stands for Nutrition-Exercise-Water-Sunshine-Temperance-Air-Rest-Trust. With the first two aspects kind of covered off [after all, nutrition is an ongoing treatise at a very foodly diary], here is the nutshell version of the other elements:
- water — excellent for revitalising, removing toxins and helping you look younger! My body needs at least 2 litres per day and I am not drinking enough at the moment;
- sunlight — sunshine helps our bodies to convert LDL cholesterol to vitamin D, which aids us to absorb calcium and phosphorus from our diet. It is therefore essential for muscle development & repair, and healthy bones & joints. If you’re like me, sunshine helps to keep you happy — and just walking around Perth in the shade gives me enough sun via reflection! I really don’t know how Londoners survive with so much grey;
- temperance — relates to willpower. Everything in moderation. Know your body’s limits;
- air — fresh, open air is revitalising and it also assists your body to build immunity;
- rest — I have never been very good at sleeping, yet it is so important for so many things including repair & renewal, immunity to disease, and good mental health. I have also noticed that my skin is clearer after a good night’s sleep;
- trust — my personal interpretation of trust is in relation to people and elements outside of yourself, not necessarily in a divine power; the health message behind the NEWSTART program has value past the religious motivation.
Will all this make you happy & energised?
Healthy? Almost certainly. Happy & energised? Maybe.
These three “keys” to happiness are often attributed to Kant:
- something to do;
- something to look forward to; and
- someone to love.
And Gregory Bern (cited by Gretchen Rubin) suggests challenge and novelty are also needed.
Happiness is a journey. Every day I discover new interests, build on my talents and hone my aspirations. I find it more enjoyable to face life’s challenges and follow my dreams with the postive influence of good friends, family, and a partner who is supportive and attuned to my wants and needs.
Looking back over this post, I am amazed at where the words “it takes 21 days for your tastebuds to change” uttered over a Beaufort Street Merchant breakfast have led; from happiness to habit and back again in a tad over 1,000 words. But these are just a few of my thoughts. What makes you feel happy, healthy and energised?