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Muffin-top woes? Chew on this

Changing your eating habits slowly is key for lasting good health
January 7, 2013
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By Wendy Helfenbaum

In his 17 years as a health promotion specialist at Concordia University Health Services, Owen Moran has seen a lot of healthy eating resolutions come and go.

“Although people have great intentions, change is not easy,” says Moran. “People talk about being motivated, but I don’t like that term, because motivation and willpower can wax and wane. What really helps people be successful at any kind of behaviour change is dedication and commitment.

When you’re committed to a change, and you come across a barrier, such as indulging in sweets, chips and pizza during exam time, commitment will take you over that barrier.”

When students ask Moran to help them make lasting lifestyle changes, he guides them through a four-step process, laid out in a Concordia University Health Services workbook called How to Effectively Set, Achieve and Maintain Health Goals, which is available on the department’s web page.

The first step is to set a S.M.A.R.T. goal – Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic and Time-bound – and the next step is to build commitment to that goal, explains Moran. “Research shows that people need to think the goal is important, and they have to believe they can do it,” he says.

Healthful eating has both short- and long-term effects. It can help you achieve life goals, such as learning and doing well in school. “You’re much better able to achieve those goals if you eat a healthy diet, because you’re sick less often and have more energy,” he adds.

To those who think that drastically changing their diet on January 1 will kick-start their new plan, Moran cautions that setting intermediate goals is more achievable.

“Making small changes can be very helpful for people, especially when their ultimate goal seems too far away,” he says. “Someone who’s not exercising at all right now can’t say, ‘I’m going to run a marathon,’ but how about just going out for 10 minutes this week, then 15 minutes after that? The same thing can be done for nutrition: making small changes here and there will add up.”

One barrier to healthful eating is that students don’t always look far into the future, adds Moran.

“We believe we are invincible when we’re young; we can’t see that what we’re eating now can contribute to health problems later. Students might not even be aware of how they might perform better if they ate better.”

Monitoring your progress helps you identify if you are on track with your goal, says Moran. “People who write things down are more successful than people who don’t.”
 
Moran suggests picking up a new booklet titled Healthy Eating: A Practical Guide, available at various locations around campus as well as in the Health Services offices. The publication highlights the benefits of healthful eating, offers ways to adapt the Canada Food Guide to your needs, has a monitoring sheet to keep track of your goals and much more.

Tips to eating well:
• A healthy diet is plant-based. Commit to eating an extra serving of fruit or vegetables every day.
• Be sure to eat regularly throughout the day, instead of letting yourself become ravenous.
• Reduce your consumption of soda and other sugary beverages.
• Avoid snacking on highly processed carbohydrates that quickly raise your blood sugar, and then cause it to crash, leaving you with less energy. Instead, nibble on such protein-packed items as nuts, or on foods made with whole grains.

Related links:
•   How to Effectively Set, Achieve and Maintain Health Goals
•   Healthy Eating: A practical guide 
•   Concordia University Health Services
 



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