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Healthy Living: First a Habit, Next a Lifestyle

It takes 21 days to create a habit and 90 days to create a lifestyle. 

People often say they want to take steps toward becoming healthy, so they often jump in full force, saying they are going to work out 5 days/week and go on a diet of fruits & vegetables and nothing else.

That does not usually work.

Instead, picking one healthy change at a time and focusing on that, is what helps people stick to a program.

It can be as simple as drinking the recommended amount of water each day. Work on doing just that for 21 days to create a habit. Then pick the next habit you want to adopt and work on it for 21 days. A habit can be emotional, physical or food-driven and should be something that you want to get control of.

Listen in to this segment with Laura Ching, Fitness Instructor for Aspirus.
Healthy Living: First a Habit, Next a Lifestyle
Featured Speaker:
Laura Ching, Aspirus Fitness Instructor
Laura has been a certified fitness instructor for Aspirus since 2006. She is certified as a Piyo, TurboKick and an Insanity Instructor. She is skilled in evaluating individuals’ abilities, physical conditions and developing suitable training programs to meet any special requirements.

Melanie Cole (Host): Taking little steps toward becoming healthy is not always as easy as it sounds so people often jump in full force, saying they're going to work out five days a week, or go on a diet of just fruits and vegetables, and then they find they can't stick to it or it's really not working. My guest today is Laura Ching. She's a fitness instructor for Aspirus Fitness and Therapy Center. Welcome to the show, Laura. So, what advice do you tell people when they say, "Okay, it's time. I want to make these changes. I want to start and exercise program. I want to look at eating healthy, but I'm not sure even where to begin and what to do"?

Laura Ching (Guest): Well, first of all, I've been an instructor for over 25 years and I've heard every story. I've heard everything from, "I'm not going to start a diet program with you guys until I lose 10 pounds," or "I don't want to come and start an exercise program with a group until I get better in shape." Well, that's such a silly thing to say and, really, there's so much help out there for people like myself that we're here to help you. We'll help you get healthier and one of the things, first of all, I'll tell them is, "You need to first of all figure out what is a habit you have, form a habit, whether it's a good or a bad habit you have, and then it'll become part of your lifestyle." So, in other words, if there's something you want to change, whether it's you're eating something constantly that you know is not good for you and you want to get that out of your daily intake of food, you don't just stop eating it. We help you figure out a way to take it out of your daily lifestyle by forming a habit with it, and eventually it becomes a lifestyle that you don't even think about it anymore.

Melanie: So, if you had to pick some things that people do or if you had someone come to you, what do you see as some of the most common things that you want people to change in their lifestyle changes-- whether it's food, or exercise, or other lifestyles? What do you start with?

Laura: Well, one of the most common is going to be diet. People will come and they'll say, first of all, they come with expectations that, “I want to lose 20 pounds and I need it off in six weeks or eight weeks for a wedding.” Well, that's not being realistic and you may lose the 20 pounds, but you're not going to lose it healthy, you're not going to maintain that weight that you get to once you've lost the 20 pounds, and it is so bad for your body. People will come and "I need to get more water into my system," or "I need to quit drinking soda." That's a huge one I hear all the time. "I need to exercise more” and stress. "I need to get some of the stress out of my life.” We'll talk about what is the situation they have. If they're drinking pop all the time, soda pop, and they want to try to get that out of their diet because they know how bad it is for them, I don't tell them, “You're going to stop cold turkey today and you're never going to drink it again.” It doesn't work, because when you do that to yourself, you just want it more. So, I sit down and set up a plan with them that, "You're going to be honest per week and tell me really how much are you drinking," because when they have to write it down and really look at it, what they're drinking, it becomes more aware to them how bad it is for them. All the sugar they're maybe taking in or they may think they're drinking a 12 pack a week and they're really drinking three 12 packs a week. Then, we sit down and figure out how we can do a lifestyle change or a change of habit, to get them to get healthier with not drinking the amount of soda that they're drinking. There's always a saying that it says 21 days to form a habit, 90 days to change a lifestyle, and that's the format that I go with.

Melanie: And, how do you help people set smart goals that are attainable, and timely and, you know, goals that are realistic for them?

Laura: One of the tools that I really use, and I've used this in my life is, I use a calendar. I just spoke with a woman yesterday, gave her a calendar and said, “Go home and put this on your refrigerator or somewhere where you have to see it every day, and be visual, responsible for what you are doing, and what you are recording on this piece of paper.” And her thing was she wants to quit drinking diet soda and I told her, I said, "What you're going to do is every day we're going to set the habit what is it you want to change, and where do you want to be, say, in 21 days or in a month, and every day that you do that goal that you set for yourself, you can put a smiley face on that day. You can put a big 'x' on it or whatever. Each day as you see those 'x's' going on those calendars, or that smiley face being on there, you start feeling better about yourself because you can see, I can do this. And, if you have a day that you miss, why did you miss it? What was the reason behind it?" And, again, I would tell them, “Truly in life to form a good habit or to change a habit, it does take, on average, they say 21 days. So, I'll tell them, like in her situation, she was drinking real large McDonald's type sodas every day when she'd go to work. I told her from now on, for the next 21 days, you're going to a medium size. Then, the next 21 days, we're going to set that you're going to go to a small size. The next 21 days, we're going to bring that goal down and I said, “You're not going to do this overnight. It's probably going to take six months to a year, but I promise you by Christmas, if you're honest, you'll no longer be drinking soda.” It's small changes, not big changes.

Melanie: So, as food changes start to happen, now they want to incorporate activity and get up off the couch and really start getting some exercise but sometimes people jump into it just a little too much, maybe they get injured, or they're sore, and then they don't tend to stick with it. So, what do you tell them about beginning an exercise program and what you want them to include to make it well-rounded?

Laura: Sure. Every time I have a member come in and want to join, say, one of my exercise classes, or wants to join the gym facility that I work at, first of all, I'll sit down with them and I check, are there any medical things that they might have that's going to limit what they can do? Have they had injuries maybe to their bodies that are going to limit what they can do? And, at that point, I sit down and I'll tell them, okay, this is what kind of exercise program we're going to do. There isn't anybody out there that cannot exercise and it's an excuse to say “I can't do it because I had a knee replaced, or I had some issue that--I have asthma.” That doesn't mean that you can't exercise, you just need to modify or we need to find an exercise program that will work for you. The other thing is I'll have somebody come to me and they're going to join, say, a fitness center, and they're going to come five days a week. First of all, to form that habit, eventually you can make it become a habit, a part of your life, and you do. Just like brushing your teeth, you go to the gym. It's part of your life but that doesn't happen overnight. Too many times, a mistake that's made, people will say I'm going to exercise and they'll go full force every day. They do it for one to three hours, they are just devoted to do it. It lasts two weeks, maybe three weeks. They start getting really sore; they are exhausted; they never rest their bodies. They are stressed out because they're trying to make this exercise program such an important part of their life that they're not making it realistic. And, I always tell them, you know what? We're going to set this to make it to the gym two times a week. Two times a week, don't let anybody give you an excuse, look at your calendar, figure out what are the two days. If it's Tuesday/Thursday, whatever, that are going to work for you in your life, not anybody else's life, just you, you set the time that you're going to come, and you never let anybody change that for you. Somebody wants you to come to dinner, I can come when I'm done at the gym. Somebody wants to you know you to be at a softball game for the child friends, I can come when I'm done. Don't let somebody change it for you. Eventually, it becomes a habit, it's part of your life, and you just know. You get up in the morning, you go to work. When you're done with work, those are the days you go to the gym, and you come home. The other days you don't. Say you get to get another night off during the week and you have the time to come, that's a bonus. All of a sudden, you start looking at yourself and you're like, "Hey, I am so proud of myself. I got there three times this week and I really only had to be there twice." Instead of setting yourself up for failure by saying, “I'm going to be there five times” and you only make it four, you feel like you've failed. If you set it up for two and you get in for three, you're very proud of yourself because you did more than you had to.

Melanie: So, we only have a few minutes but I would like to see what you think about journaling as a way to keep that accountability and weighing yourself. What do you tell people about those two things, journaling both your exercise and your food, and being truly accountable, but just to yourself, and weighing yourself to see how it's going?

Laura: Yes, there are two different kind of myths, I guess, with that. I look at it two different ways. I think if you are looking at, say, a weight loss program, and you want to lose weight, don't always go by a scale number because that scale can fluctuate so differently different times of the day, different times of the week, different times of the month. It can be so fluctuating and if you are they type of person that you're looking for these negative numbers all the time, you can be up two pounds in the morning and weigh yourself again at night and you can have those two pounds gone. It's just the body will do that. I suggest to people, if you want to do this on your own, take this paper, take your weight, write it down, measure your body in numerous different places. You can go online, Google body measurements or BMI's and it will give you ideas of where you can measure yourself and maybe have a friend measure yourself if you want to be real specific on what the measurements are. Write them down, put them away in the cupboard somewhere. In a month from now, go back and weigh yourself, measure yourself, see where your progress came. Again, every day weighing yourself, sometimes it can really make you discouraged. You get frustrated because that scale can fluctuate just by the salt you might have taken in on food. The same comes with exercise. Yes, it's very important to write down. I think exercise is one of the more--write down, say, you were doing, again, put that calendar on your refrigerator and what did you do that day? “I walked this many steps. I did a 30-minute cycling class.” Put it down; write it down someplace where you can see and you will see your progress. You know, you did five pushups, and all of a sudden at the end of the month, you're doing 15 of them. All of a sudden, that positive that you're seeing in front of you, the positivity of that is just enough to keep you motivated. Then, I would say to commit to something in a public way. It doesn't mean that you have to tell everyone on Facebook that you're on a diet, or everybody that you work with, just put it somewhere that you have to be accountable for looking at it because you're the only person you're doing it for. If you're doing it for everybody else, you're not doing it for the right reason. So, just be accountable for yourself and develop positive thinking about yourself. Say something good about yourself every day and you will see that progress on that calendar.

Melanie: Great information, Laura. Thank you so much for being with us today. You're listening to Aspirus Health Talk and for more information, you can go to That's This is Melanie Cole. Thanks so much for listening.