A new year brings new hopes and dreams and often, resolutions to change eating and exercise habits.  Going on a retreat at this time of year can help you make a start, but how can you make those changes last?  Here are 4 ways I made lasting health changes myself.

1)  Reduce excess calories the easy way

If you consistently eat just a little less every day, over months that will make a big difference.  I chose the meal I was least interested in (breakfast for me) and simply reduced that portion size a little.

2)  Make meals healthier by hardly changing them

 I’ve also used this well-known tip:  I looked at each plate of food and increased the ‘healthy’ items whilst reducing the others.  This means I still ate what I liked, but gradually influenced my habit and therefore my diet/health/weight.  As my tastes gradually changed, I was also able to substitute some of those less healthy items with healthier alternatives.

3)  Reduce the snack habit consciously

As an adult I had continued to feed the sweet tooth I’d had as a child.  However, there came a time when I decided to change this aspect of my diet.  This is how I did it with total success:

Snack count

For a few days, I noted down accurately what I was eating outside of my main meals.  I found it was 2-4 sweet snacks/desserts a day.  I considered what reduction I could manage and decided to aim for one serious treat per day.

Now or later?

So I was still allowed treats…but now when I fancied something, I’d have to ask ‘now or later?’   If I ate it now, I couldn’t have it later in the day.  Just by asking this question instead of reaching for a snack without thinking, some days by the end of the day I’d not even used my treat allowance at all!  In this way, my craving for sweet things reduced naturally and I completely changed my over-sweet diet.

Make it a good one!

I also made that one treat count.  Instead of a packet of plain biscuits that I was tempted to just keep eating my way through (as one was never enough!) I would keep a few special treats that would actually satisfy.  And I’d keep them together in one cupboard, rather than having various items all over the kitchen.

Appreciate it!

And I made time to enjoy it instead of doing something else at the same time. It was now an activity that I actually noticed and appreciated.

4)  Increase exercise naturally

I did no specific exercise until I was about 30.  However, ten years on, I was doing an average of two hours per day.  That wasn’t difficult because it just happened gradually.  It started with cycling.  Then I added badminton and a little later, yoga.  Running and long walks also featured as my body got used to moving more and naturally wanted to do exercise.

Overcoming laziness

Each time I thought I can’t be bothered – ‘oh no, it’s dark out there and raining’ or ‘I just feel like relaxing’ – I just put on my sports clothes anyway.  It was very unlikely I’d then go to the effort of changing back again without taking the next step to do that exercise!

Let exercise become part of your life

I chose things I liked and they gradually became habits.  How about a team sport, an exercise class, swimming, dancing, gym, yoga or a 10 minute walk, run or cycle?  As you keep doing it, you may well find that exercise naturally becomes integrated and extended into your life, as it did for me.

Do you have any great tips for making a lasting health change?

Orchard Air is a retreat venue with group accommodation for 14 people in Cornwall, UK.  It is available to hire by leaders of all types of activities:  www.orchardair.co.uk

Orchard Air