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A different way to kick bad habits
Dr. Roberto Garcia suggests starting with these small steps:
• Continue eating just as much as we're accustomed to but start drinking water instead of soda and sugary drinks. This will shave off tons of calories. Squirt lemon in your water or flavor it with just a little bit of orange juice.
• After three weeks, take the next step. Start eating more chicken and fish, limiting red meat to once a week. Red meat includes beef, pork and goat meat. Garcia notes that red meat has two to three times more calories than chicken and fish. The way meat is cooked also counts. If it's fried, the extra grease will add a lot of calories. The best ways to eat it? In soups, steamed and grilled.
• After three weeks, add more veggies to your diet. Don't just eat lettuce; variety is what counts. Try broccoli, nopales (prickly pear pads), kale, spinach, eggplant and “some of those vegetables we don't even know how to cook,” Garcia said, laughing.
• Three weeks later, start eating fresh fruits at every meal. Try both types of fruits, from the orchard and vineyard. Orchard include pears, peaches, apricots, apples, etc. Vineyard fruits are those that end with “-berries,” such as strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, etc. Fresh fruits provide natural vitamins that aren't in the vitamins sold at the pharmacy. “They are live vitamins and they cut down the incidence of cancer by 40 percent,” Garcia said.
• Three weeks later, start exercising. Again, start small and work your way up. Garcia suggests walking, bicycling and going to a gym. Buy a membership for yourself and a loved one. He also recommends getting two friends, not just one, to join you in your efforts to exercise, in case one can't go.
Why is it so hard to change? We know we should eat better, exercise more, stay away from too much alcohol and stop smoking, but many of us find it too hard to change.
Dr. Roberto Garcia, chairman of the Yuma Regional Medical Center Family Practice Department, believes that people are going about it the wrong way when trying to change bad habits.
Instead of focusing on what we shouldn't do, he advises his patients to focus on what they can do, to work on one thing at a time and don't be too hard on themselves.
Garcia says just three steps can set people on the road to better health: sleeping more, eating better and exercising more.
The most common resolution is “I want to lose weight,” but the first thing people will do is reduce their portions, leaving them hungry and irritable. All too soon, they'll go back to their normal eating habits.
Garcia proposes that instead of eating less, they should focus on starting a new habit to combat the old habit. But make no mistake about it — bad habits like overeating are what got us into trouble.
“Most people don't realize obesity is nothing more than negative habits,” Garcia said. “You go over to visit family and the way you make each other feel good is by eating, not walking together, not reading together, not working on ceramics together.”
As a result, the average weight across the United States has become so high that being overweight has become the norm.
And the weight gain is so subtle often people don't notice it until they after they reach age 35. That's when the problems begin, “problems like diabetes and high blood pressure,” Garcia noted.
“Even when people know they have a problem, they don't change. Then they hit age 50 and they start having heart attacks, strokes, infections, an abscess in the foot.”
Yet excess weight is just the tip of the iceberg. It's usually a sign that other things are wrong in our lives.
“We eat to feel good, so by definition that means people are feeling bad. Why? People are stressed out, they're not sleeping enough, they're overspending, they don't have healthy habits,” Garcia said.
Not enough winks
Lack of sleep is the root of many bad habits. “The impacts are immediate. People are sleeping less. They're worried, they're stressed, people complain that they can't sleep because they're overtired. So they eat a sandwich or they have a beer and they smoke.”
A lack of sleep makes people irritable, vulnerable and negative. “They become very sensitive to any comment anyone makes. We have less mental strength to say no to drinking, to smoking, to coming home early to rest,” Garcia said.
He believes that a well-rested person will have the mental strength to resist temptations.
And people often don't take advantage of opportunities to change. For example, if a father goes through a life-changing experience like a stroke, a son who shares his father's negative habits should realize that's where he's headed, he said.
“When something happens to a family member, as a family, it's a good time to say, ‘Why don't we change as a family?'”
One thing at a time
But forget about the bad habits. Garcia says the best way to turn our lives around is to start a new, good habit, such as walking more or eating more fruit, one at a time.
“What is a habit? It's something you do all the time because you feel good.”
But for a habit to take a hold, it needs two to three weeks. “That's the hardest part. Once you're get past that, it's easier,” Garcia noted.
That's why someone will diet for two weeks and on the third week give up or start bending the rules, which is one step to going back to old habits, he added.
His advice is to give enough time for a habit to take hold, be lenient and flexible at the start, begin with small steps and work your way up. And every two to three weeks, start a new, good habit. (For new habits to adopt, see Garcia's recommendations in the accompanying box.)
To kick the habits of smoking and alcohol overindulgence, Garcia again recommends starting new habits to combat the old. One good habit he suggests is getting enough sleep.
“(Smoking and drinking) are often habits at the expense of sleeping. They do it because they need the stimulation, because they are tired. They are pushing their bodies.”
He advocates learning yoga and meditation, which he believes will lessen the need for smoking or drinking.
“By increasing their mental concentration, it can enhance their chances of taking a nap, planning their day and being more organized.”
He also recommends joining a smoking cessation support group or asking for help from people who don't smoke.
Reading and engaging in projects and hobbies, versus sitting in front of the television of computer, can also help people kick bad habits, according to Garcia.
“Join a book club or something that will take you out of the TV and computer room. Try woodcarving, ceramics, painting, gardening.”
He notes that negatives habits, such as smoking and drinking, watching too much TV, overeating, are part of the same equation.
“You sit down to watch TV, you decide to eat something, then you want a smoke and a beer.”
Although people say they watch TV or surf on the computer for relaxation, Garcia points out that the effect is the opposite.
“What people don't realize is that these things don't relax you, they're a stimulant. And people tend to stay up to 2, 3 in the morning.”
To relax, he suggests reading. The side effect is that a person's social life will improve. “They'll have something to talk about,” he quipped.
Garcia is speaking to clubs, churches, organizations and business groups about how to improve the health of their members. He will help organizations form health committees and will answer medical questions, all free of charge.
“I will also teach them how to measure their success. People need something tangible that will give value to their project. When they don't see actual grading system, they lose interest over time.”
For more information or to reach Garcia, call his office at 782-4791.
Mara Knaub can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6856. Find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/YSMaraKnaub or on Twitter at @YSMaraKnaub.