It’s no secret that relationships can impact our waistlines. Now a new study finds that women who get divorced or separated after age 50 tend to shed pounds and get more physical activity post breakup. Though the research shows a link between adopting healthier habits and divorce in older women, it doesn’t reveal why this might be so.
“A key question that’s not addressed is whether the divorced women were the ones initiating the divorce, or were “left” by their husbands,” says Marion Jacobs, PhD, a spokesperson for the American Psychologist Association. “For initiators, they may finally feel free to do things their own way, including eating the way they want. For others, they may feel depressed, and at least initially lose weight as a result of a loss of appetite linked to feelings of loss,” she speculates.
Regardless, life transitions often provide the opportunity to make changes to your daily routine. No matter your relationship status, in order to make a health (or any) change stick, Dr. Jacobs recommends following these four steps.
Step 1: Expect resistance. “Whether we’re talking about making health changes or any other changes, in order to be successful you have to engage in some new behavior that’s different from what you did before, and it will feel hard,” says Dr. Jacobs. “Resistance is a normal part of the process.” That’s because we’re creatures of habit and you will likely resist anything that is out-of-the-ordinary from what you typically do.
For example, your inner critic may try to sabotage your new workout routine by telling you that you are too old, too out of shape, too busy, too fill-in-the-blank to start exercising now. “One of the things you need to learn about making a change is just because you believe something or feel that something is true, doesn’t necessarily make it so,” says Dr. Jacobs. While you may have convinced yourself that finding time to exercise would be impossible given your current jam-packed schedule, in reality you might be able to watch your regular morning news program while doing jumping jacks and pushups to fit in even 20 minutes of activity without having to cross anything else off of your schedule.
Step 2: Have a plan. “Ask yourself, ‘What are the specific steps I need to take in order to go from where I am now to the change I want to make?” says Dr. Jacobs. “Making the change seems more doable when you have a clear set of actions and break it down into small steps.”
Let’s say you want to lose a pound a week, so you first map out exactly how many extra calories you must burn or cut from your diet in order to reach your goal. Next, you can write out each and every step for how you will account for those calories exactly by cutting back on, say, your ritual after-dinner treat and, at the same time, starting a morning walking routine.
Step 3: Identify your obstacles. “Think about anything that will get in the way of you making the change, whether it is coming from you or something external,” says Dr. Jacobs. Your obstacles to losing that pound a week might be your afternoon sugar cravings or lack of willpower.
Step 4: Brainstorm solutions. “Once you’ve pinpointed your obstacles in advance, ask yourself, ‘What’s my plan for dealing with this?’ and come up with specific strategies,” says Dr. Jacobs. Social support is usually an important part of this, so think about how you might meet a neighbor to start your morning walking routine to help hold yourself accountable if you know you’re the type to hit the snooze button. Successfully making a change is all about finding a way around whatever has held you back in the past.
-- By Holly Corbett