Self-Compassion as a Stepping Stone to Health Behavior Change

Self-compassion, as it turns out, demands that we go beyond our comfort zones. While compassion may seem like the complete opposite of courage, I soon learned that courage and self-compassion actually came hand-in-hand.  Research shows that self-awareness plays a huge part in developing health behavior change, but if the awareness of ourselves is generally unpleasant, then we may look to food or other concrete aspects (like cigarettes, alcohol, etc) of life instead of long-term health goals (Adams & Leary, 2007).  Through better understanding of the self, however, my research has shown that self-compassion can help us acknowledge visible flaws that we might be willing to act upon. 

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Health Behavior: The transtheoretical model of behavior change

Working in wellness is tricky because there is no one way to teach health and raise awareness. There are models that we use to help guide us, and every day is a constant challenge for us to figure out how we can influence behavior. In health psychology, particularly, there are various models that we make use of. Today I’d like to introduce you to the transtheoretical model of behavior change. The model attempts to explain health behavior through a process wherein change is not seen as a single event. 

The process includes five (5) stages – (1) pre-contemplation, (2) contemplation, (3) preparation, (4) action, and (5) maintenance. Essentially, this is what it could also look like:

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When trying to influence and change behavior, everything begins before the individual even considers thinking about it. This is what we call the pre-contemplation stage - an individual may be aware of this particular need but has no intention to act on it for the next 6 months. In this stage we think about all kinds of marketing material, witty lines, and scare tactics that will help them even consider our proposition. 

Contemplation is where the individual may begin to consider changes and eases her/his way into preparation where some small changes in behavior have already taken place. Basically, this stage tells you that all your promo material and tactics worked because they’re now curious. It i important, however, to continue educating your market as well as helping them become aware for proper preparation. 

Finally, the action stage takes place when a behavior has finally been adopted and continued for about 6 months and carries into the stage of maintenance, wherein the goal is to continue newly acquired behaviors. Only after a habit has been formed can it be said to be a lasting lifestyle change. This model proposes that for any real change to happen, the individual needs to have been on their program for at least 6 months. 

What are some lifestyle changes you’ve been wanting to make in your life? And what has influenced you to do so? What stage of the process do you think you are in right now? And what will it take for you to achieve your goal?

3 Weight Management Secrets

Since the 2008 figures from the National Statistics Coordination Board Survey, I have learned that 27 out of 100 Filipinos are obese. My research has taught me that obesity,which may be caused by heredity and / or environmental and behavioral factors, can create high risks for several morbidities such as coronary heart disease,diabetes, and cancer (Ogden, 2007). Those who may be experiencing obesity may also face liver and kidney failure and have trouble moving and breathing due to the regional distribution of adipose tissue which may collect in areas that restrict blood flow (Wing and Phelan, 2012).

In my years of experience, I have learned to pay attention to the smaller things that have affected weight management. I noticed that clients who are struggling to keep their weight down tend to neglect these three very important things. 

Here are 3 secrets that can help facilitate your process: 

1. Keep record of your WINS. There is an exercise in positive psychology on gratitude that has you write down the things you are grateful for each day. This is kind of like it, only you’re recording your daily WINS (no matter how big or small). There is research that tells us that feelings of pride born out of accomplishment produce the urge to achieve more. By keeping track of our daily wins, we cultivate the positive feelings of pride and pay tribute to our self-esteem. 

2. Acknowledge every craving and surf it. There is research that shows that when you can “surf the urge”, you are better able to enhance your own will power. Therefore, surfing the urge begins with acknowledging the craving and riding the wave of feelings that accompany it. Scientists have proven that when you can hold out a little longer, then it eventually just goes away. 

3. Get 8 hours of sleep. This is no mental exercise but it takes discipline to even get 8 hours of sleep. But why is sleep so important? 

When you get the right amount of sleep, your body is able to better reconstruct itself. Your growth hormones are activated when you sleep and your body rebuilds itself. When you lack sleep, your body releases more cortisol (a stress hormone) that signals your body to conserve energy; it does this by storing fat when it goes into survival mode. 

Next time you even consider staying up late, ask yourself if you will be able to get 8 hours of sleep. And if you know you won’t be, go home and make sure that you do. 

These tips are simple, but the discipline in cultivating positive emotions, getting enough rest, and learning how to surf the urge, build the appropriate resources you will need to achieve your goal. At the end of the day, health management is all about your decisions and what you do to make it right. ;)