New Year Resolutions Worn Off? 5 Ways to Promote Healthy Habits
By Danielle Huntsman, MS CNS LDN
As we are well into the new year, goals and resolutions have either stayed strong or drifted aside. It can be challenging as a provider to support your patients when they have given up on their goals or focus and feel defeated. Research show that daily habits (whether good or bad) can influence long-term health and our overall quality of life. Habits are formed through repetition and the mental association of the recurring cues. Patients typically come into the office with lofty health goals but no real starting point; they may have tried but had little to no luck, leaving them feeling defeated. Here are five ways you can promote healthy habits in your patients that will help them accomplish their health goals:
- Determine their “why”: My first step with patients is having them determine their “why,” asking them why they want to improve their health. The answers vary, but when you continue to ask questions, the answer boils down to happiness. Circling back to their answer can help hold them accountable and remember their goals.
- Recommend a specific diet: It is no secret nutrition plays key role in health and vitality. Nutrition interventions can look different for each patient; several evidence-based diets can serve as guidance for you and your patient. While there may be modifications or adjustments, recommending a specific diet can be helpful for patients as they can find resources such as books, recipes, and online (or in-person) groups, all of which help with accountability and motivation. There is no “one size fits all” diet but pulling recommendations from whichever diet fits the patient profile can help guide patients.
- Handouts: Utilizing handouts can be a great way to help patients become educated on specific recommendations and how to follow said recommendations. These handouts can be created once and used numerous times for many different patient demographics. Having them readily available either printed out or in a PDF allows you to attach them with your post-appointment follow-up notes or have in the office for patients to take home.
- Schedule a follow-up: Most evidence suggests that making habits truly stick can take up to six months. Because of this, I recommend patients schedule follow-up visits before leaving the appointment. This serves as a checkpoint; follow-up visits can be short but helpful to hold patients accountable and allow you to make any necessary changes. Depending on how your practice is set up, utilizing a health coach can be beneficial for patients. Group visits (either in person or remotely) have been shown to promote a community among patients. Sending a follow-up note within the patient portal or email can help show your support for your patients.
- Prepare for change: Roadblocks are inevitable; different circumstances and events can be sure to affect our daily habits and routines. Remaining flexible and adaptable is key. An example of this can be adapting to high-stress situations such as frequent travel. Patients usually comment that it is nearly impossible to keep their routine while traveling. With this, I recommend focusing on an 80/20 philosophy: try to stay consistent with your habits and routine 80% of the time and do not worry about the other 20% of the time. Perfectionism only leads to further stress. I typically recommend patients pack a broad-spectrum digestive enzyme for times of travel or high stress.
Every follow-up appointment, I bring the conversation back to their “why” because I find it helps re-focus the narrative and continue on their path. Roadblocks are inevitable; being flexible and celebrating small wins are essential to long-term success.
 de Ridder DT, Lensvelt-Mulders G, Finkenauer C, Stok FM, Baumeister RF. Taking stock of self-control: a meta-analysis of how trait self-control relates to a wide range of behaviors. Pers Soc Psychol Rev. 2012 Feb;16(1):76-99.
 Wood W, Neal DT. A new look at habits and the habit-goal interface. Psychol Rev. 2007 Oct;114(4):843-63.