Healthy Habits: Making them Stick
The rate of obesity within the U.S is gradually increasing. In fact, according to the Center for Disease Control, the prevalence of obesity increased from 30.5% to 42.4% between the years 1999-2000 and 2017-2018.  Current programs and initiatives aimed at weight loss exist, but do not seem to be successful long term. Why? One theory is that they focus on weight loss only rather than promoting small changes, or habits, that prevent further weight gain.  Psychology defines a habit as the process by which context prompts automatic action. In other words, it is any regularly repeated behavior that is learned and requires little or no thought. A habit is developed through reinforcement and repetition and can be part of any activity, ranging from eating and sleeping to thinking and reacting.
If habits are automatic, then why do we struggle so much to make and maintain changes? The short answer is that it is a process. A habit is formed in three phases; initiation phase, where a new behavior is selected, learning phase where the behavior is repeated, and stability phase, at which time the behavior is formed.  How can we, then, successfully make and maintain a new healthy habit?
Steps for making and maintaining a new healthy habit.
- Decide on one health goal you would like to achieve.
- Identify a simple action that occurs daily that will move you towards that goal.
- Plan when and where you will complete the action each day. Be specific and consistent. For example, each day at lunch I will go for a 10-minute walk.
- Complete the action every time you encounter that time and place.
- Remember it is a process and will take time. Generally speaking, you should start to do the action automatically in 10 weeks.
- Congratulations: you have a new habit!
Habits are created and maintained by what you do daily and can lead to good health. A goal of improving health or avoiding weight gain is attained by breaking it into small manageable steps. This helps to create a recipe for success and a higher quality of life. Remember, motivation is what gets you started, a habit is what keeps you going.
Written by Angelika Keene, Edited by Gayle Whitworth
 “Adult Obesity Facts.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 11 Feb. 2021, www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html.
[2,5] Gardner, Benjamin, et al. “Making Health Habitual: the Psychology of ‘Habit-Formation’ and General Practice.” The British Journal of General Practice : the Journal of the Royal College of General Practitioners, Royal College of General Practitioners, Dec. 2012, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3505409/.
[3,4,6] Gardner, Benjamin, and Amanda L. Rebar. “Habit Formation and Behavior Change.” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Psychology, 26 Apr. 2019, oxfordre.com/psychology/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780190236557.001.0001/acrefore-9780190236557-e-129.