Keeping up a behavior can be hard, “the motivation must come from within.” For the past 23 days I have been striving to change and succeed, by the 22nd of October, in two specific nutritional behavior goals. One of them was to intake at least 30 grams of fiber on weekdays and at least 25 grams on weekends. The other was to reduce my sodium intake by a quarter, on weekdays, of what it was per day and reduce it by an eighth on weekends. This preparation all started about a week before my 23 days of transformation. In the three beginning days I tracked my diet and found that my low fiber and high sodium consumptions were eye-opening problems. My average fiber intake per day rested at 21.18g, which was significantly lower than my goal of 38g per day. As this issue arose so did my awareness that multiple aspects of my health were at risk. For example, my low fiber intake could place me in danger of developing heart disease.
Fiber nutrients reduce the chance of disease like heart disease, diabetes, and many other frightful illnesses. In addition, foods that consist of fiber provide a feeling of fullness without additional calories being added to a diet. As for my Sodium intake, I was recommended a target of 1500mg a day but I was actually devouring a skyrocketing 3959.4mg a day. Without thinking twice I knew I had to make significant behavior changes. Concerning my towering sodium intake, I found that high sodium consumption makes the body preserve more water, which can raise the blood volume and, in turn, increase blood pressure. Considering my high blood pressure it would be essential and crucial to lower my sodium intake. Fortunately, the data collected demonstrated that the amount of sodium I have been taking in each day has been playing a role in my elevated blood pressure. After reviewing this data and conducting research on these two nutrients I felt very serious about changing my dieting behaviors.
In which case, relative to the Stages of Change/Transtheoretical Model of behavior change, at the start of this project I was most certainly in the preparation stage. I began with a determined attitude that would help me change my current behaviors within a month. To change my behavior I made goals to reach by the 22nd and used strategies that would help me to complete my SMART goals. For example, I made sure that I controlled my environment by buying fruit and other healthy snacks instead of unhealthy snack foods. I also had peer support from my roommate who reminded me when I was snacking unhealthily to instead snack on a banana or apple. My excellent preparation skills granted me success in my dietary behavior goals.
Overall I feel confident that I have succeeded in changing my behaviors. Everyday I have been conscious of my fiber and sodium goals. Rarely did I go eat off campus. I consistently ate lunch at the Hanwell dinning hall, except for 1 day when I was sick and in bed, and I always ate dinner at Smith dinning hall. Hanwell and Smith provide a great selection of fruit and mixed greens, so everyday I could eat my essential bowl of fruit for lunch and required dinner salad. I didn’t eat a salad or a bowl of fruit on solely one day, however, I felt very ill that day. Also, since I only had Gatorade, juice and water with my meals, my sodium level decreased substantially.
My typical day consisted of eating microwavable breakfasts with juice in the dorm, lunch at Hanwell and dinner at Smith. My achievement in changing my supporting behaviors was due to keeping up with my tracking sheet. In turn, I increased my fiber intake to 34.34g on weekdays and 26.61g on weekends. This data exceeded my goal of fiber intake on both weekdays (30g or more) and weekends (25g or more). My sodium intake also exceeded the par; weekdays I consumed 2841.32mg a day and 3303.9mg a day on weekends.
With dedication comes success and in order for me to stay dedicated I needed to construct thought out strategies. A strategy that contributed the most to my accomplished goals was to eat off campus only two times a week. Usually I saved eating out for the weekends but eating on campus made it easy to make healthy choices. For instance, when I ate off campus for lunch on the 9th my sodium intake was 1324.22mg for that single meal and when I ate lunch on campus on the 29th, a weekday, my sodium was less than half the sodium of the off campus meal I ate on the 9th. Another strategy that helped my success was my use of environment control. I stopped buying junk food and ended up snaking on fruit, particularly bananas, and occasionally canned beans. In turn, I increased my fiber above my weekday and weekend intake goal. These two strategies acted as a spine to my success in my goals.
Even though I was very successful in my goals, I faced two major barriers in the process. Finding a way to eat healthy on weekends was a huge barrier with my busy soccer schedule. Breakfast is easy to make but lunch and dinner is very difficult to attend due to afternoon practices and night games. The weekends on average boosted up my sodium about 600mg higher than the weekdays; nevertheless, I still fulfilled my sodium intake goal. I knew weekends would create a problem even before I started the project because it’s been an ongoing issue since school started. Furthermore, time was also a complicated barrier to work around. Time is a common barrier when trying to eat healthy, be more active or simply going about a routine.
When I was in a rush to class or hurrying around campus taking care of things, I would sometimes compromise for quick microwavable products, which I learned contain more sodium than the normal. Out of the barriers I faced there was one that I did not predict, my ADHD medicine. This medication minimized my hunger, sometimes to the point where I did not want to eat. When this happened I force-fed myself but with smaller portions. I tended to eat more salad greens instead of the heavy, filling food. Despite these obstacles, after one week I made only one change to my behavior. I developed better shopping skills that helped me obtain superior quality microwavable foods and I started to keep fruit in my bag in case I felt crunched for time. This change helped me to complete my activities and thrive in my goals.
During this project three major issues emerged regarding my nutrition. One was that some foods that I thought were healthy aren’t. For example, I always ate flavored instant oatmeal thinking it was very healthy and nutritious, however, oatmeal that has flavoring in it, I learned, usually has more than 12 grams of sugar in it per serving. As I learned more about this product I found that this oatmeal was not whole oats which are far more healthier and can be just as quick to make as instant oatmeal. Choosing an alternative for this food was important to decrease my intake of sugar. Another major issue that emerged was what food I took in when traveling with the soccer team. It had nothing to do with the organization. It was my personal choice of snacks that I decided to bring on the bus rides; like popcorn or as surprising as it sounds, yogurt. Yogurt is healthy as long as its kept simple, however, my yogurts were loaded with flavoring and coloring that boosts up the sugar content. In result I made alternative choices (apples, bananas) that would improve my game and boost my energy healthily.
Lastly, I experienced a major issue with my roommate. As much as he helped me to make healthy decisions, hypocritically, he seemed unable to make healthy decisions for himself. He usually always has a bag of chips and an immense amount of candy laying around which didn’t help in contribution to my goals; my sodium intake goal. Although I learned that in order to get in a habit of eating better and more healthy, I spent less time in the room. Now I am pretty good about saying “NO” when fatty junk food in in my presence. Overall I learned many things about changing a health behavior. I learned that changing a behavior takes time and effort in order to succeed. Most of all, changing a health behavior takes determination because without that it is impossible to change.
After completing this project I am proud to say I have moved form the preparation stage at the beginning of the project, to the action stage in the Transtheoretical model. This came with the help of my commitment, in accepting the responsibility of change, goals, to keep me motivated, rewards, when I completed my goals I bought a redskins jersey I’ve been wanting, and lastly environment control, where I only bought healthy foods like fruit and vegetables. Currently I am successfully changing my negative behaviors and adopting new healthy behaviors in my quest to stage number 5, the maintenance stage.