Make health changes that last with Dr Natalie HoggSo, Mums, this is a great weekend to be thinking a little bit more about you and a little bit less about everyone else. Dr Natalie Hogg, a clinical psychologist in private practice.  She has been kind enough to share her ideas below on making health changes that last.

Natalie is a clinical psychologist in private practice. She has a special interest in fitness, health and wellness. She works with individuals who are trying to improve their health and well-being, and also with those coming to terms with physical illness and injury. Her are her thoughts on making health changes that last…


So how do we make health changes that last?

We have all heard it before, if you want to lose weight, or get fitter or be healthier you need a positive attitude, a kick in the pants, a good dose of suck it up, a smidgen of obsession and a whole lot of depriving yourself. Some of us have even got there, we’ve said no to dessert, we’ve stayed away from those boozy dinners and we’ve hit our target. When we get there though, we are tired, our motivation is all drained up, and so often we start to slip back.

So how do we make health changes that last?

Psychological approaches to change are starting to tell a different story about what success involves. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, in particular, is leading the way with an approach that shows good evidence for helping people to make changes that last.*

Five ways to get your mind ready to make health changes that last

Here are five ways in which you can get your mind in gear in order to make healthy changes without any of the boot camp:

Be nice

We don’t need tough on ourselves to make changes for the better. Stop and think, do you seriously go easy on yourself about the changes you need to make? Or do you beat yourself up about the fact that you still haven’t lost weight, or run that 5k, or drank 8 glasses of water a day. If a self-inflicted ass-kicking was all it took, most of us would be running the country, never mind eating 5+ fruit and veg a day. It doesn’t work!

By being kind and compassionate toward ourselves we allow for an opportunity to see what we need to do without wasting time beating ourselves up about what we haven’t done. It allows us to accept our failures when we don’t meet our goals, and to give ourselves another chance to do it right. Being at peace with our minds and our bodies also means less time telling ourselves that we are useless or lazy, and more time making choices that are right for us.

Focus on what is important

Making changes to your health behaviours in order to lose weight, or to be more attractive, is a dangerous game. Was 59.7865 kgs really going to make us happy or was it actually 57? Making lasting change is about the pursuit of bigger values. It is about finding values that really matter. By all means be healthy. Health contributes to our energy levels and allows us to actively participate in life. It helps us to think, and to love, and to stay well. For example if you hold values about being an engaged and active parent then being able to run after your kids at the playground will contribute to that value.

The beauty of values is that they are always there and we can’t fail at them. We may set goals and fail to succeed, but if we remain kind to ourselves we can return to those values and select a new easier or more achievable goal.

Don’t let the thoughts and feelings hold you back

How many times have you thought, I’ll make this change when I’m less stressed, when I’m in a more positive frame of mind, when I have less to deal with? The reality is, our mind is always working away planning, worrying, remembering, analysing, and the harder we try to chase it down and get “focused” and “positive” for what we need to do, the more our mind runs amok. Even if we could beat our mind into submission, it wouldn’t stay that way for long.

We need to accept our thoughts and feelings the way they are, notice them, let them come and go without trying to fix them, and make choices in line with our values regardless. We need to pick up these thoughts and feelings and bring them along for the ride rather than run away from them while they chase us down in hot pursuit.

Why? Because they always find us.

Mindfulness strategies can help with this. Mindfulness is a form of meditation which allows us to remain focused in the present moment while still experiencing all the feelings and thoughts that run constantly through our minds. Without being mindful we can miss what is happening moment to moment because we are focused elsewhere on worries or plans or memories.

There is a wealth of information available about this type of strategy but perhaps the most accessible and practical book is Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World by Mark Williams and Danny Penman.

Make lots of little choices not one big one

There doesn’t need to be any big announcements, deadline dates and threatening messages on the fridge. Every day you get hundreds of choices to move in the direction of your values or to move away from them. Each little choice is an opportunity for change.

For example “Should I eat this piece of cake? Is that going to bring me closer to living my value of being a positive role model for my children or further away?” Sometimes we’ll really want that cake and that is ok (be nice!) it doesn’t mean we have to abandon our mission and start again in another six months. What is important to do is to calm your critical mind and just see if you are willing to make a different choice the next time.

Regularly making the little choices that move us towards our values helps us to develop habits. …good ones. The more we keep our eye on the prize of living up to our values, the more little choices we make in the right direction.

Be willing

Willingness is key to behaviour change, willingness to try something new, willingness to accept our thoughts and not fight them, willingness to be kinder to ourselves.

The key question to ask when faced with the choice to do something different is “Am I willing…”. “Am I willing to feel these stressed out busy feelings and go to the gym anyway?”, “Am I willing to cope with the embarrassment of being seen dragging myself round the running track in public and do it anyway?”, “Am I willing to try and achieve this goal even if I might fail?” or “If I do fail, am I willing to try a different goal?”.

The answer to your willingness questions might not always be yes, and the answer doesn’t have to be yes. The key then is to ask “Am I willing to ask a different question or make a different choice that leads me to my values.”

 A little bit more about Dr Nat!

Dr Natalie Hogg is a clinical psychologist in private practice. She has a special interest in fitness, health and wellness. She works with individuals who are trying to improve their health and well-being, and also with those coming to terms with physical illness and injury.

Natalie is also a mother of twin toddlers and a keen endurance runner when time allows.

Natalie can be contacted on 021 1453531 or by email or check out her website

Natalie uses a variety of scientifically supported models to help her clients to find solutions to their problems and to make positive changes. The ideas described above come from an Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) framework.

*The ideas here are also discussed in “The Weight Escape” by authors Russ Harris, Joseph Caciorri and Ann Bailey. The book is particularly useful and informative book when it comes to using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy to lose weight.



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