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Are your Healthy Habits Serving you......or Enslaving you?

Updated on July 13, 2017
HealthbyMartha profile image

I'm a Certified Health Coach who wants to help you create the best balance of spiritual, physical and mental health that is possible.

So You've created some really healthy habits and now you feel trapped!

I am a firm believer in establishing positive habits. We all know how easy it can be to fall into some very negative habits and behaviors and we also have probably experienced the joy of having created some healthy habits as well.

The rub comes when we don't know how to draw the line with our healthy habits and before we know it we are living in a rut of our habits instead of reaping all the benefits they have to offer us.

Let's look at what a Habit is. To refer to something as a "habit" means that the act of whatever it is has become habitual, or regular. These habits often are activities and behaviors that are so ingrained that we aren't even conscious of them but just do them without thought.

Some of the obvious negative habits that come to mind are: Smoking, excessive use of alcohol, emotional eating, and careless spending.

There are really no redeeming features in most of the aforementioned habits. We do need food to eat and we must spend money to live, but there is no need when it comes to cigarettes and alcohol. Still, in our modern society these are very common habits that plague many of us.

Kudo's to those of you who've been diligently working to rid yourself of any of the above habits, or any other behavior that found you being less than the person you wish to be.

It is a happy day indeed when we take the first step to rid ourselves of a habit that we have felt stifled or stuck by. I am sure most of you can relate to having quit smoking, or begun an exercise program, or freed yourself from debt.

What happens though when the very habit you created to work around something negative, itself becomes an obsession or starts to be a problem in it's own right?

I want to look at some common areas that we are drawn to make changes and develop healthy habits around and discuss ways in which to prevent our positive efforts from becoming negative.

Dietary Changes

Perhaps, like many people you have decided to lose weight or to simply change your diet to add in more healthy foods, or decrease unhealthy foods.

Let me first say Congratulations! It is a great choice to make to become more physically healthy. You have likely started creating some habits around your daily food choices to assist you in eating healthily on a regular basis.

One habit people who have decided to lose weight have is to weigh themselves regularly. I am a firm believer in being aware of your weight at the start of any program, and throughout the program and thereafter. But, I think it can become an obsession quite quickly to get on the scale more frequently than is needed and then to get caught up in the numbers on the scale over the results in your body!

It is human nature to look for that obvious proof of weight lost, so seeing the decreasing numbers on the scale is expected. What if though, your mood is easily affected by the numbers you see. Are you able to see a weight gain or a number that is the same as it was the last week without finding fault with yourself or having a melt down? If you are like me, a number on the scale that is not what I expected can get stuck in my head and lead to a miserable 24-48 hours to follow. I will see that number, feel that stigma attached to the number (that is of my own creation) and spiral into a funk where that number on the scale has now defined me entirely!

This can be the same experience in clothing sizes. We all know that no two manufacturers of clothing will have an identical size or fit. But we can find ourselves married to the number on the tag in the blouse we are buying. I can tell you that there have been times (in the past) when I would not buy something that required a size larger than I was used to because I could not reconcile that number with who I saw myself being! I am not proud to admit such a vain behavior but it is true. Just as the number on the scale has blown away my entire sense of self worth for a full day, so have the numbers on the clothing tags.

Let's consider for a moment what those numbers are telling you. Yes, if we started out weighing 200 pounds with an intention of ending up at 150 pounds, then we do need the numbers on the scale (and perhaps in our clothing) to quantify the lost pounds. But that is all those numbers are giving you. You are not a better person because your numbers are less than yesterday. You are not a worse person if they are higher! You are not just a number, but a person with unique and wonderful traits.

Let's not be so concerned with the numbers that we forget all the other ways in which we might validate our weight loss. I suspect that you feel better just losing 10 pounds! You may have found that you have more energy, or maybe you can touch your toes when before your tummy was in the way. Those are valid and tangible proofs of the lighter you and those can't be taken away by mere numbers.

I say that we should do our best and make an effort to check out our weight with some regularity; maybe once a week, but no more than once a day. And remember that your weight can fluctuate by the hour. It is never going to be an exact measure of whether you are fat or thin, but how much your body is affected by gravity!

Observe instead how much better you feel and that itself is a motivator to continue what it is that helps you feel good.

No Pain, no Gain??

I confess, I was an Exercise Bulemic for many years. I know this is not a scientific diagnosis, but it is as close to describing how I lived as I can come up with. I had accomplished this weight loss through exercise and decided that I would only eat as much as I could exercise off! Not a balanced approach to say the least and much like vomiting after a binge. I used to even say "I exercise so I can eat!"

At age 27 I reached the healthiest weight of my entire life. For the first time, I was not overweight and I felt amazing. I had joined a gym and was using weight equipment and doing aerobics. I lost about 30 pounds and had so much more energy. I felt great and got to buy a whole new wardrobe. It was so exciting after an entire life up to this point of being anywhere from modestly overweight to outright obese.

Now, flash forward to age 30. Now I have become a full on Exercise Addict. Oh, I would never have thought of myself in those terms, nor did I feel any shame or need to change.

But, I was obsessed and began writing on the calendar how much time I spent in exercise every day. By the peak of my exercise obsession I was working out 7-10 hours every week! Now, I was a full time nurse, with 2 young children and yet I managed to spend this much time at my health club or running on my lunch hours.

Oh, I was fit! I had stamina to spare and a nice firm, shapely body. Why should any of this be of concern?

Well, here's the reason why. I started to put exercise above all else in my life! I am ashamed to admit that once I had a friend visiting from out of town and I did not get together with her because it would conflict with my night at the Gym. I went every Monday, Wed, Friday and Saturday and just could not imagine that I would be OK missing a workout.

Now I look back at this and see how very unbalanced my approach to exercise was! I was mortified to see that I had made up in my mind that exercise for it's sake was more important than people!

I'd like to say that this began my recovery, but that came several years later. It did come though, and now I have good habits around exercise, but not obsession! I will gladly put time with my Granddaughter ahead of my planned Yoga workout any day or night of the week! I still make time to exercise on a regular basis; something every day even if walking the dog.

But, my life feels a lot more balanced being able to rationalize that one missed workout will not ruin all the good before it or set me back.

In the beginning we have to push ourselves a bit harder; maybe not accept every invitation that is during a planned workout. But, once those habits are a bit more entrenched one can step back a bit and not suffer any ill consequences.

Trust me, the people who love you are ever so much more important than having 10% body fat, or being able to run a marathon!

Work Ethic

Do you live to work, or do you work to live? A fair question in today's world.

I hope you answered that you work to live. If you did not, then this is for you!

I think work is as important as play. Maybe even more important (slightly) for being able to make it possible for some of your play.

But, what happens when work takes over your life? When you are working so much that you no longer have time to do other things that bring you pleasure?

Or maybe it's not that the quantity of work is too much, but that you over function in your working role?

I have been guilty of the over functioning in my job's. It is a destructive habit borne of a need to be appreciated and noted for what you are doing.

I had several positions as a nurse working for an HMO, over a span of many years. I would work as hard as I could and if there was still work to be done, I'd work even harder...or longer.

What I wasn't seeing was that I was becoming resentful for working harder than I was being noted for. I was making it up in my head that if only I did everything that 3 people were expected to do I would be seen as indispensable and valued as an exemplary employee!

Well, that is not how it went down; not even close. What happens is that we start being a doormat for our coworkers and even our Supervisor. When told that they are short staffed by one or two nurses they think "Oh, Martha will do it, she always get's it done!" and they just start assuming that because you are so willing to enslave yourself to them that you won't mind doing it on a regular basis.

You begin to feel demoralized and maybe you even start feeling taken advantage of. But, who started this? It is we who teach others how to treat us. We need to let our Supervisors know that we aren't slaves and that we can only do so much work in one day! They respect a person who works hard, but who also has boundaries.

Now, you may not have a Supervisor. Perhaps you work for yourself. But, you can become like a tyrannical boss if you expect the same kind of behavior from yourself. It then becomes essential that you treat yourself with respect and don't push yourself to over achieve.

Perhaps you are retired but you like to keep busy. Maybe you volunteer for a local organization, or perhaps you regularly provide day care for a family member's child. It starts out feeling like "this is going to be so fun", but can quickly derail into feeling put upon or taken advantage of if you don't maintain some balance.

Ask yourself how you ideally want to spend your hours and then offer up what you feel you can give. Sure, there are times when what you want to give is not as much as the other party would like. Now it is up to you to decide if you want to sway from your original offer to be accommodating or stick to your guns.

I think you can go either way here, but just be wary of giving up more than you want. If you do give, say 20 hours a week instead of your proffered 15 hours, be sure that you have the right to return to the former hours if you are finding that you aren't able to do all that you could before.

I know that when it comes to work and making a living, not everybody will feel that they have any power to draw a line in the sand. But, I think you always have enough power ad self worth to be fair to yourself.

Choose Habits that Support

I do think that Creating a Habit around something desirable is a wonderful thing to do! It has been said that to create a lasting habit it takes time. Some people say that it takes about 6 months of consistently practicing a new habit before it starts to become more routine.

For instance, I quit smoking about 18 months ago. It took a very long time for me to stop thinking about a cigarette throughout times of the day or evening that I normally would smoke. You former smokers know what I mean; that first cigarette in the morning, or having a smoke while driving or while having a drink.

When you quit, you find yourself thinking about smoking incessantly! I remember having these cravings that just felt insurmountable at times; especially when around other's who still continued to smoke.

What I have learned is that the cravings never last; it is said the average Nicotine craving lasts about ten minutes. After that, it's business as usual. So, if one can just not give in to the craving, then you have effectively interrupted the habit.

It is the same with creating a positive habit in your life. Perhaps in your quest to eat better and lose some weight you have decided to drink an 8 oz tumbler of lemon water upon rising and before each and every meal. At first, it will seem very pedantic and not natural to pour those glasses of water and make yourself drink them. Over time, our body will become accustomed to the satiety and the refreshment of the pre-meal water and start to anticipate it. Soon, you won't be able to skip your water without noticing that you miss it!

So, whether you want to rid yourself of a negative habit or take up a new habit, you have the stuff to do it! Just remember to use good judgment and a sense of balance in all things. This way you can take a day off from your healthy regimen without worry of weight gain; you might skip a workout in favor of having a meal with an old friend, and your body won't suffer in the least.

I know that I am a much happier person now that I eat well and exercise regularly but never at the cost of turning down an invitation to have some fun with friends or family. I have learned that I can always catch up later with my good habits, but I may never get a second chance with my friends or family. I have made it a Habit to put my friends and family first!


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    • profile image


      3 years ago

      You are right again. Habits can be anything. We need to control them, not them us.


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