Living a healthy lifestyle requires making smart choices about what to eat, what to do for activity, not smoking, and getting enough sleep. The simple answer for why some people can do this so well is willpower—they have the power to say no to unhealthy options no matter how tempting they may be.
This isn’t to say that poor willpower is to blame for poor health. Making healthy decisions is difficult under the best circumstances, but in an environment that encourages poor choices, it is even more difficult. But having the mindset to take control and say no when necessary is essential for adopting healthy habits.
Because of the personal, emotional, and social factors surrounding food, eating, activity, and sleep, making lasting health improvements is challenging, to say the least. Ultimately, you are responsible for what you eat and how much you exercise. Taking control of these factors is difficult—it requires saying “no” a lot—but essential for your success.
When you are trying to lose weight or just eat healthier, the right diet can help. Some foods, typically those with sugar and refined carbohydrates, can leave you feeling hungry soon after you eat. Other foods that contain fiber, protein, and fat can help you feel full longer. But choosing healthier foods instead of unhealthy options means that you need to make difficult choices, even when hunger or convenience are an issue.
Support from other people can help you make better eating and activity choices. You are more likely to stick to an exercise program if you do it with others, either people you know or in a group exercise setting. Many people find that weight loss programs which include group support and being accountable to others improves their adherence and success. And having support at home helps with everything from preparing healthy meals to going to bed earlier to get more sleep.
On the other hand, people in your life can interfere with your success. Spouses, friends, and acquaintances can knowingly or unknowingly make comments or decisions that can sabotage your best efforts. A friend who knows you are on a diet but bakes brownies for you anyway or a family member who serves large portions or second helpings at dinner can make sticking to your diet more difficult. A co-worker who schedules a meeting during lunch when you take time to exercise can get in the way of your activity goals. Managing these situations requires you to stand up for yourself and say no sometimes.
Saying no isn’t easy and requires practice to be more comfortable doing it. Your own personal belief about your ability to do this, called self-efficacy, is critical to your success. The degree of your self-confidence is based on your own past experience as well as your thoughts and feelings about the behavior you wish to change. Chances are that if you have tried and failed to do something new the past, you may feel less hopeful about your success this time. Think about it this way: your past experiences, have taught you what doesn’t work and what not to try this time around. This information can help guide you to an approach that will work for you. Once you believe that this time is different, you have a better chance for success.
Even with the perfect diet, the best exercise program, and a supportive environment, being successful requires making difficult choices sometimes. And more often than not, that means saying no!