I work at an office where the employees are well-fed. Tuesday and Thursday bring fresh fruit and vegetables, Wednesday is doughnut and bagel day. I love that they provide us with healthy options at least two days of the week, though I could do without the carb overload that is Wednesday morning. Being the white flour and white sugar lover that I am, over the last few months, I have slipped into a habit of having one of the yummy caramel-frosted cinnamon rolls that always shows up on Wednesday.
In the beginning, I would start off with just a half, cutting the doughnut and leaving the rest for someone else. Now and then, I’d go back and have the other half, if it was still there when I walked by on my way to a meeting. As a few weeks went by, I started just taking the whole thing. It had gotten to be a habit I needed to break. Since I know these tasty treats are loaded with sugar and at least 500 calories, this particular habit wasn’t serving me well.
Last week, I got an idea. Before the doughnuts were laid out on the counter, I texted my husband...
I had told him I wasn’t having it and I didn’t. Since then, three more Wednesdays have gone by and I’ve officially broken my doughnut habit. Why was I able to do it this time, when in the past, I’d not been able to resist? Because I’d created accountability by sharing my temptation, along my commitment to overcome it, with my husband.
Why does accountability work? Because it’s easier for us to let ourselves down - by not sticking to our plan - than it is to let someone else down. (And besides, if nobody knows I ate it, did I really eat it? I can always start eating healthier tomorrow, right?)
Let’s dig into this a little deeper. Imagine you wanted to commit to taking a walk every day. Would you be more likely to get out of bed at 5:30am to do it if you knew your friend was waiting for you at the corner at 6am? What if you had a big energetic dog that needed a long walk every day to stay healthy and behave well? (What does dog whisperer Cesar Milan say? “A tired dog is a good dog.”)
There are so many ways you can create accountability for yourself in meeting your fitness and weight loss goals. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
A report in New Scientist Magazine demonstrated that people who took photographs of the food they ate every day, rather than keeping a written diary, found it to be a helpful tool for determining how much they were really eating. Food diaries are often filled out a few hours after the meal and are more likely to be inaccurate. Participants expressed that they felt that they gave more thought to what they were eating when there was photographic evidence.
A Duke University study shows that people who text their numbers (# of steps walked, food diaries, # of sugary drinks, etc.) to someone lose more weight than those who don’t. Can you imagine what would happen if you had committed to texting photos of everything you ate all day to somebody else? Most of us would give crazy serious consideration to what we were eating if we had to share the details with someone else.
A few years ago, before working became something I enjoyed, I made a commitment to myself to jump start my exercise program. I promised myself that if I got up at 5:30am every morning and exercised for a half hour, every day for thirty days, I’d buy myself a watch that had caught my eye the week before. (It wasn’t expensive, though I really liked it.) It gave me something to look forward to and I found myself wanting that watch more than I wanted to stay in bed. A lifetime habit of exercise was born as a result. (That was almost twenty years ago!)
According to WebMD.com, research has demonstrated the effectiveness of cash rewards, too. Who would have thought? Apparently, making a cash bet with a good friend is a good idea, after all. Just be sure that the goals you’re setting for yourself support a healthy lifestyle, not rapid weight loss. (We all know what happens when we lose weight quickly on a “diet,” right?)
Ask a close friend if you can call and chat with him or her when you feel an urge to indulge in an unhealthy habit. Even if you can’t reach them, you can leave a voicemail message, similar to the one I texted my husband last week. Perhaps something like “I am not going to eat a frosted brownie” or maybe “I am getting up and taking a walk, even though I don’t feel like it” would be enough to support you in making better choices.
Making a commitment to something and having accountability in place may be just the nudge you need to get moving in a healthier direction.
What about you? Have you ever created accountability to build a healthy new habit? Tell us about it!
Lori Jo Vest is an author, a social media copywriter, wife to the love of her life, and mom to an uber-smart teenage son. When she turned 50, she experienced the typical angst about the milestone, so she started a blog to explore losing 40 pounds and leaving her 40s behind at www.dropping40.com.
photo credit: JanneM via photopin cc