In my practice I have seen that people generally make lifestyle changes in one of two ways. Neither is right or better. However, it is valuable to know what group you fall into so that you can plot the best course for making changes. Proactively planning for a healthier lifestyle will help you mitigate frustration and reach your goals.
The first type of "changer" is a person who begins a lifestyle change and never looks back. I don't think that the majority of people fall into this group, but it definitely exists. I've found these individuals are usually pretty ill when their doctor recommends a change. They felt so much better, so quickly, that they were motivated to stay on track to avoid the previous pain.
This describes me to a tee. Surprisingly (especially since I'm a physician), I was very ill before I sought help. My physical complaints were extensive: jittery hands (I'm a surgeon, so this was a huge problem), brain fog, asthma, heart palpitations, acne, thin hair, infertility, heavy and painful periods, stomach issues, aching joints, anemia, sleeping disorders and anxiety. Is the list long enough yet? Though I had full-blown celiac disease, my issues developed so slowly that I was used to having them. They were also all pretty common so I thought the only thing to do was take a lot of medicine. I didn't want to do that, so I consulted with a local functional medicine physician.
The doctor who diagnosed me said, "Wendie, you're not going to like the results." He then told me that I had celiac disease and would have to give up the following grains: wheat, barley, malt and rye (among others), because they contain the gluten protein that I'm allergic to.
I immediately went gluten-free. Within two weeks, many of my symptoms were completely gone. When I reflect back on that time, I realize that I was barely functioning prior to my diagnosis and was hanging on mostly through sheer grit and stubbornness.
I felt so much better that I never looked back and, six years later, I remain very grateful to that doctor. For me, things were definitely "bad enough" that once I felt better, I was motivated to stay on track. I have had times when I accidentally ate gluten and it wasn't pretty. Due to the severity of my allergy, I'm motivated to continue on this plan and avoid pain. I will admit that the smell of freshly baked bread is still tantalizing.
It is important to note that most people aren't as severely ill as I was when they begin to make changes. Often you just want to have more energy, sex drive or mental clarity. This brings me to the other type of person who wants to make lifestyle changes: an individual who makes a change, feels better and then "falls off the wagon." In my next blog post, I'll share more thoughts on the differences between the two types of people. In the meantime, I invite you to think about what category you fall into.