From chocolate binges to drinking your troubles away, the majority of us have vices that we could certainly live without and what better time to make a positive change than the start of a New Year? The difficulties arise when we return to normality after the Christmas period and feel the need to lean on our dependencies as stress levels rise. The recurrent nature of these habits which has usually developed over an extended period of time makes them difficult to ditch. Difficult, but not impossible.
If you are looking to make a positive change this year, you should first take a look at your lifestyle and figure out what made you crave this fix in the first place. Whatever the reason behind your bad habit is, it needs to be addressed head on. This is the fundamental change which needs to be made and will allow you to break your bad habit much easier without needing to find an alternative fix. Keep in mind the reasons that you want to quit whether it is to improve your health, save money and/or improve relationships with those around you.
Below is a list of common bad habits and ways in which they can effectively be removed from your life for good.
The habit: Serious alcohol addiction is not something which can be given up at New Year’s with the click of your fingers. It takes a lot of professional help and support and is not something that I am qualified to address. Those of us who enjoy a glass or two of wine on an almost daily basis I can offer advice for. For many people, a glass of your favourite alcoholic beverage at the end of a long day is a quick fix remedy. If you have a bad day at work, argument with a loved one or an extremely on the go lifestyle, alcohol can make the world seem easier to handle and relax you. The stress-relieving qualities of alcohol work by intercepting communication between the central nervous system and brain. However, these feelings of blissful relaxation do not last indefinitely nor do they equip you to face those challenges more effectively the next day.
The health issues: Regular drinkers are at a higher risk of vitamin deficiencies as well as chronic diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and liver disease. Those who drink also increase their blood pressure and batter their immune system leaving them more susceptible to infectious disease. Pancreatitis, anaemia and depression are also commonly associated with regular alcohol consumption.
Beat it: If you have the determination to go T-total then good for you. However it is worth keeping in mind that the more alcohol you previously knocked back, the harder it will be to quit. It should also be noted that statistics are in favour of those who cut down gradually being more successful in ditching their alcohol dependency indefinitely. If you look forward to getting home and enjoying a drink, replace the alcohol with a stress reducing and health promoting herbal tea such as green tea or camomile tea. Otherwise, try to fill your evenings with fun activities such as going on dates or taking up a new hobby. Not only will you feel healthier and more fulfilled it will draw your focus away from having a drink. Ensuring you get adequate amounts of B vitamins and magnesium in your diet will help you to cope with withdrawal symptoms.
The habit: It’s 6am and you wish you could just go back to sleep. Unfortunately, you have to drag yourself out of bed and head off to work. It is this hardship which makes the majority of us head straight to the kettle/coffee machine first thing. Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant which helps us to feel more energetic, focussed and alert. Caffeine is mildly addictive due to the physiological affects it has on the nervous system and hormone levels, but a few cups here and there won’t do you any harm. If you require 4 or more cups of coffee each day to get you through to bedtime, you really should consider cutting back or breaking this habit altogether.
The health issues: Aside from being mildly addictive, the overuse of caffeine can cause headaches, anxiety, depression, mood swings and fatigue. It is these side effects which make you reach once more for that double espresso. Caffeine is a diuretic and too much can inhibit the absorption of essential nutrients and leave you dehydrated.
Beat it: In order to beat this bad habit, you need to feel energetic and content so that you don’t need an energy enhancement from caffeine. To avoid reaching for your morning cup of coffee, have a balanced low glycaemic breakfast. Aim for a meal which is high in fibre with a good source of protein to keep you satiated and which will release slow, sustainable energy. If you enjoy the comfort that a warm drink brings you try replacing your usual coffee with a much healthier herbal tea such as ginseng, which will provide a natural energy boost.
The habit: The most popular reasons for people smoking are either that they are stressed and it helps to relax them or the increasingly common ‘I don’t want to put on weight’. A surprising number of people use smoking as a way to reduce appetite and fear that the opposite will be true if they reduce their daily fix or get rid of it completely. Nicotine is highly addictive and smokers become reliant on smoking, often experiencing high levels of anxiety between cigarettes.
The health issues: While lighting up may make you feel calm, it has the opposite effect on your body. Blood pressure, heart rate and adrenaline all sky rocket post-cigarette. Smoking increases the risk of developing chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and emphysema. As lung capacity and cardiovascular health diminish with each cigarette so too does life span and quality of life.
Beat it: The reason why so many people believe that smoking keeps them slender is that nicotine is associated with stimulating brain cells that signal a ‘full’ feeling. In other words, it reduces appetite. When smokers quit, they often turn to food as a replacement. Like the majority of things associated with putting on weight, it is more often than not a matter of will power. Yes, your appetite may increase but that doesn’t mean you eat more. It just means you want to. Eat small meals throughout the day and allow yourself regular healthy snacks. Herbal remedies, hypnotherapy treatments and neuro-linguistic programmes are available to help those who wish to quit smoking.
The habit: If you joke about being a chocoholic or a sugar addict, then you should know that what you joke about could potentially be doing a lot of serious damage to your health. Just to clarify, I am talking about simple sugars and corn syrup, not natural sugars found in fruit. Fructose is digested and absorbed slowly to release a steady and sustainable energy. Last year over 30 scientific studies researched the addictiveness of added sugar in comparison with class A drugs and the findings were pretty astonishing. The signs and neuro-mechanisms associated with addiction are similar between sugar and drugs. Sugar cravings, binges and withdrawals are something that the majority of us have experienced, even from early childhood. Like many of the other bad habits on this list, sugar is a quick fix for energy and for those who have a ‘sweet tooth’ it is often too good to resist.
The problem arises not only from sweet and chocolate binges but from high levels of added sugar in foods which are unexpected. Bread, pasta, beans, soups, fruit juices and ‘fat-free’ yoghurts all contain added sugar and can add to your daily intake sending you soaring over the recommended daily amount.
The health issues: Sugar ‘addiction’ increases the need for sugary foods and over time, too much sugar can cause resistance to insulin which increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Weight gain, mood swings, headaches, dizziness and extreme fatigue are also associated with consuming large amounts of simple sugars.
Beat it: Swapping your sweet snack for a handful of almonds is not only a more nutritious option but almonds are also associated with lowering blood sugar levels which makes them a great food for those suffering from type 2 diabetes. If it is the sweet taste that you crave, snack on fruit and occasionally dry fruit or replace your sweet fixes with natural sweeteners such as stevia or xylitol. These sweeteners won’t spike blood glucose levels like simple sugars and will help you avoid the temptation of sugary snacks. Cinnamon is also a great addition to the diet as it helps to optimise sugar metabolism.
The habit: Whether you got into the habit of eating junk food because of the convenience or because it is your comfort food after a hectic day, this habit is very common. The odd fast food meal won’t kill you (although some research suggests that just one meal negatively affects health) but if you eat this kind of food every day, you will cause yourself serious harm. Many people now believe that because certain people can ‘live off’ of this food and not pile on the pounds that it can’t be that bad, but much of the damage is not externally visible.
The health issues: Even if you manage to keep the weight off it is unlikely that your body has optimal levels of vitamins, minerals or fatty acids and you will be lacking in energy because of this. It is this feeling which makes you reach for another meal combined with the fact that many fast food meals contain additives which spark addiction such as monosodium glutamate (MSG). Consuming regular junk meals increases the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, coronary artery disease, stroke and leaves you more susceptible to infection.
Beat it: Be prepared. Fast food will get you when you are busy, hungry and unprepared. Is the thought of eating a fast food meal appealing when you are full or working your butt off in the gym? No. So don’t let it get the better of you when your guard is down. Plan your meals for the week so that you have healthy snacks and nutritious meals to hand when you need them. Eat meals with complex carbohydrates, lean protein and healthy fats. If you love the taste of junk meals, create a meal which is the healthy version of what you enjoy. For example, if you enjoy a burger and chips, make yourself a nice beef steak with green lettuce and tomatoes and boiled potatoes or sweet mash. If you really can’t live without it, allow yourself one trip every 2 weeks. You may eventually find that you won’t even need or look forward to that trip. You can also try supplementing with tyrosine which is a precursor for dopamine which will put you in a positive mood and frame of mind, ridding you of that insatiable desire to eat.