Focus on mental health: 5 practical tips for changing habits

Published Mar 31, 2021

Making a change in any area of life can be a challenge. 

Yet focusing on establishing good habits instead of obsessing over bad choices is one of the keys to success when shifting from a life that’s barely manageable to a journey full of adventure and longevity. 

In our final segment of National Nutrition Month, we focus on the relationship between nutrition and mental health and how to successfully maneuver through the highs and lows of making a major lifestyle change. With guidance from Seida Hood, licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), CEO, and Clinical Director of From the Heart Counseling, we explore practical tips to move forward into a thriving life.

“There’s definitely a link between mental health and nutrition,” says Seida. “It’s not uncommon to fall into unhealthy habits of emotional eating, and it’s important that you give yourself credit for starting the process.”

Getting down into the trenches with her clients, Seida’s approach to managing change starts with setting expectations, being flexible, managing emotions, and establishing boundaries.

“First and foremost, offer yourself some grace because what you’re embarking on is often unknown (or uncomfortable) territory,” said Seida.

“We really underestimate how hard it is to start something new, especially when it comes to changing our relationship with food.”

Seida Hood LCSW, CEO, and Clinical Director of From the Heart Counseling (Photo courtesy of Seida Hood)

We hope these practical steps from Seida will help you on the journey to living a whole life – in body, soul, and mind.

Set healthy expectations and be flexible.

Change is a time to be flexible, and if one approach doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to try another. Seida also encourages clients to take into consideration their season of life (literally and figuratively).

“If you’ve decided running is your workout of choice, fantastic! Be willing and flexible to make changes during this endeavor if you jump into a routine smack dab in the middle of winter.”

For example: run outside on mild days and opt for gym/indoor treadmill workouts on dangerously cold days.

Expect to manage some emotions.

Appreciate where you are in the process. Remind yourself how far you’ve come, the importance of being willing to change, and how you’re talking to yourself.

“A lot of people, especially women, after they’ve had children, go through an element of self-loathing,” explains Seida. “Yet changing the narrative and recognizing how much your body has done for you over your lifetime can help you love your body at every step of the journey.” 

Emotions will inevitably come into play and vary, so coping skills must ebb and flow during the process of growth and change. 

“Breathe and remind yourself that every step you take is a valuable part of the process.”

Set boundaries in sharing.

With over 445 million posts tagged #fitness on Instagram, our world of social sharing and “documenting” a wellness journey can be intimidating and mentally self-sabotaging from the get-go.

“It’s okay to have boundaries when it comes to sharing,” explains Seida. “Either option (social sharing or keeping a lifestyle change private during the process) is acceptable and completely up to you.”

Seida suggests mapping out what you will share and what you will not with friends, family, acquaintances, and strangers.

“Ask yourself, “What am I willing to share?” and “What questions will I decline to answer?”

Defining boundaries and knowing when it’s too much can be established with a therapist or trusted friend who understands your intent and wishes. Simply mapping out a response to basic questions like “Why won’t you have an extra slice of cake? or “You’re working out again?” can help stave off potentially stressful interactions.

Reframe your definition of “failure”.

Did you know that plastic surgeon Maxwell Maltz coined the idea that it takes a person 28 days to develop a new habit?

Indeed, after observing amputees adjust to the loss of a limb, Maltz reasoned if the average time to come to terms with a considerable change in his patients (21 days in Maltz’s study) then the amount of time should ring true for any major shift in habits.

Yet, how can that random assessment apply to everyone?

This controversial theory has many questioning how planting that mindset helps or harms the success rate of people on a new journey to wellness. Thankfully, understanding the psychology of health is a rising specialty that examines the biological, social, and psychological ways our choices are made regarding our health. In a 2010 study from Research Associate in Health Psychology, Dr. Phillipa Lally suggests individuals can range from 18 to 245 days to form a new habit and stick to it.

Falling off the “health wagon”, especially during the first few months of change, is not uncommon. Seida urges her clients to reframe the way they see failure to avoid getting caught up in a pattern of perfectionism and perfect timing.

“So you tried it and it didn’t work out – but what didn’t work?” Seida reflects. “If you’ve messed up a bit, take a mental reset before trying again and be okay with not jumping back in right away so you can assess and evaluate the process.” 

Position yourself for success.

“If there’s one element that adds to success when going through major lifestyle change, it’s a squad of friends who understands you and will be in your corner when you need support,” says Seida of true connection with friends who help you regroup and provide a critical push when you doubt yourself.

“A collective group that listens with genuine encouragement can help you feel grounded, connected, and love the skin you’re in.”

To learn more about Seida Hood and her mission to help women recover from crisis, develop practical coping skills, and flourish in life, visit From the Heart Counseling and The Pink Emerald Collective

Disclaimer: Articles, interviews, and suggestions featured on the Gardyn website should never be used as a substitute for professional medical and/or mental health advice from a licensed doctor and/or clinician. Please contact your preferred health provider for personal care and treatment.

If you are experiencing suicidal or harmful thoughts toward yourself or others, please seek immediate emergency treatment.

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