I've been told that it takes six weeks to form a habit. I'm not sure exactly how long experts say it takes to break one. What I do know is that over the years, I've developed some terribly unhealthy habits and over the past few months, I've also gained some unhealthy weight.
I spent a detox weekend at Canyon Ranch Hotel & Spa Miami in hopes of kick-starting some better eating and exercising habits. I didn't expect much more than the longtime mantra that I have long known and not always adhered to — eat less, exercise more. But instead, I learned seven new habits that already have me looking and feeling better.
Here I am now, eight weeks later, and I still haven't touched a Splenda packet. I've only had sweets a handful of times and only after the four-week mark. I've only had alcohol on one occasion. I'm exercising regularly and all of my plates are very happy. I've started drinking green juice every day, too, as well as taking probiotics and a multivitamin. I've lost seven of the eight pounds I need to lose. I can already see new muscle definition and my digestive system is happier than it's been in years. The best part is that the results make me want to keep at it.
Instead of just "eat less and exercise more," I've learned how to eat better and move more. In other words, I can still have plenty of food. It just has to be the right food. And I don't have to go the gym. I just have get myself away from my desk more and activate my muscles.
I'm still learning. But the spot-on advice from my detox weekend gave me the kick in the backside that I really needed.
1. Give artificial sweeteners the boot.
According to my nutritionist at Canyon Ranch, Splenda creates holes in your digestive system. That means stomachaches and bloating as well as poor digestion and absorption. You get the idea.
So kick out the fakes and invite the real stuff in. And if you're looking to save calories, look to Stevia. I was a long-time hardcore Splenda user. I'm talking six packets in an iced tea. I'm now six weeks clean and the difference is remarkable. My stomach thanks me.
2. Take a hiatus from sweets, or whatever is enslaving you and not serving you.
I was a full-on sweets addict. I would eat candy nearly every day, especially in the evenings watching TV. Making chocolate-chip cookie dough and eating it before the dough made its way to the oven was one of my favorite ways to cheer myself up — even though it always made my stomach feel terrible. Worst of all, I used to crave sweets constantly. After six weeks, the desire has subsided even when sweets are sitting right in front of me.
3. Take your probiotics.
We need them. Between our crazy eating habits and the antibiotics we've likely all taken over the years, our digestive systems need a little assistance. Probiotics keep your insides happy. I can completely tell the difference between when I'm on then and when I'm not.
4. Create a happy plate.
I don't mean you have to eat every bite. I mean you have to build it responsibly. That means it should be half veggies, one-quarter starch, and one-quarter protein. That's about a cup of veggies or two cups of salad, four ounces of a lean protein, and a half a cup of starch.
If that doesn't look or sound like much, that's because we've grown so accustomed to overeating. But if you're still hungry after eating a happy plate, you can always have more veggies. Of course, the way you cook the food counts too. So stay away from frying (adds fat) and boiling (robs nutrients). And choose grilling and baking instead.
We need at least 30 minutes of cardio every day, and we need strength training of one kind or another every other day. Dance around your living room with your kids. Hike at a local park. Take an interval walk/run through your neighborhood. Get yourself one of those stretchy exercise bands and do two sets of 15 reps each with a 30-second rest in between. There are lots of strength training exercises to be found online, or you could ask for help at the gym. Focus on the big five for starts — biceps, triceps, glutes, abs, and quads.
6. Buy at least some organic produce.
You don't have to buy everything organic. But there are some foods that are more important than others on that front, because excessive pesticide residue is often found on them. Each year a new list is released. Here is this year's 12, sometimes called "The Dirty Dozen," to get you started on your organic shopping list:
To be extra safe, add kale and collard greens, as well as summer squash and zucchini, to your list.
7. Eat more cruciferous veggies.
That means broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, cress, bok choy, kale, collard greens, Brussels sprouts, rapini, daikon, and the like. They are packed with photochemicals, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Many health professionals agree that they lower your risk of cancer. And 100 calories worth of these babies gives you 25-40% of your daily recommended fiber, which is a pretty big bang for your nutritional buck. Your digestive tract will be forever grateful.