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Preparing to make a health change for the New Year

Are You Ready?

Are you considering changing a health behavior in 2009? A change may be in nutrition, exercise, substance use, etc... While making behavior changes is a good goal and decision to improve health, many steps need to be taken to make sure this time you are prepared to be successful.

First of all, are you ready to make a change? Many stages of change exist: Pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance and relapse. Pre-contemplation is when a person has never tried to change a behavior and has no intention of changing, even if advised by a health care provider. A person moves into Contemplation when they realize that the behavior they exhibit is not good for their health. They may consider a change in the next 6 months; therefore they seek out resources that would be helpful. The first two steps show a change is someone's thought process about a specific health behavior in their life.

The next two stages of change are when a person begins to take the steps necessary to make a permanent change. Preparation is the third stage of change which involves creating a plan. When a person understands the reason they use the behavior, they can prepare to focus on that aspect. The change or focus may not only be the behavior, but also the underlying cause of the behavior. An example might be eating a large amount of less healthy carbohydrates at night to deal with stress at home. The behavior that is not healthy is when and how they are eating as a coping mechanism because they feel overwhelmed or unappreciated. Preparing for a change in health behaviors requires someone to create new healthier coping skills to put into place as well as seek knowledge about the underlying cause. A support group or health professional can serve as that resource. A plan that includes alternative coping skills, along with resources to reach out to, is essential before one can initiate the Action phase of change. Once the plan is established, the action phase begins, which may be immediate or gradual in relation to how and when the change will take place. Someone may toggle back and forth between these two stages related to using the old behavior versus new coping skills. Breaking a human pattern is difficult and is mastered through practice. Revisit the Preparation stage, develop additional new coping skills, and solicit help from family and friends who have been successful at the same behavior change in which you are struggling. Revise your plan and put it into action.

Maintenance and Relapse are the final stages of change. By incorporating a new behavior into one's regular routine for several weeks, the person enters the maintenance phase. The person's self image and image to friends and family members begin to change. The last stage of change is Relapse. No one wants to think about this stage, but set-backs happen. Cycling back to Preparation is appropriate. What was not prepared for, create a new plan and put it into action. Relapse prevention is enhanced through support groups, and family and friends that love you.

It is important to know the stages of readiness to change. It may take time to realize a change needs to happen. Always seek advice from your physician regarding mental or physical health decisions and be aware of other healthcare providers, like registered dietitians (RD), RN health educations and licensed counselors that can assist you in your journey of change to reach your optimal health.

Article provided by Dana Breeding, RN Health Educator with Community Outreach.