The bad habits that are hurting your health – and how to turn them around

Jun 05, 2021
Here's how to turn an unhealthy habit into a healthy one. Source: Getty

Whether you enjoy tucking into a piece of cake with your afternoon cuppa, sipping on a glass of wine while cooking dinner, or sitting in front of the television hours on end, we’re all guilty of having at least one unhealthy habit.

And anyone who’s ever tried to break a bad habit knows how difficult it can be. It’s not impossible, though, if you have a few handy tips up your sleeve, so Starts at 60 spoke to leading dietician Gemma Williams from the CSIRO to find out how to turn an unhealthy habit into a healthy one.

When it comes to making a lasting change, Williams says you need to start all the way at the beginning. She recommends doing a stocktake of your usual health-related habits, and asking yourself questions like, ‘How much incidental movement am I doing?’, ‘Do I have regular healthy meals?’, ‘Is my alcohol consumption creeping up?’, ‘Am I having regular health checks with my local doctor?’ and ‘Do I have regular social interactions?’.

She then suggests self-monitoring any unhealthy habits. “The very nature of habits are that they’re automatic – they happen without us really noticing,” she says. Williams says keeping a record of how often and when a bad habit occurs could help you pump the brakes before you overindulge.

“Consider the habit of brushing your teeth,” she explains. “This is something you might do daily after breakfast and before bed. You’re probably inclined to do it every morning and evening, even when you feel tired, busy or distracted. Compare teeth brushing to being active. Is that habit as strong? Would you go for a walk no matter the weather, your schedule or mood?”

Williams also suggests finding a way to reduce triggers or environments that may reinforce your unhealthy habit. If sugary foods are your guilty pleasure, leave them off your shopping list to eliminate the temptation at home.

She also recommends taking time to think about how you could prevent potential bad habits from forming. For example, if you feel like you’re slowing down a bit as you age, or are worried you won’t be as active in retirement as you are now, consider taking up a new hobby like golf or walking. Not sure where to start? Organisations like the Heart Foundation provide free walking groups across Australia. Find a local walking group near you here. Not to mention, walking is a great way to improve or maintain your overall health, and you only need 30 minutes of it per day to reap its full benefits!

Williams says another great way to kick a bad habit to the curb is by replacing it with a new, healthy one. “For example, [the next time] someone says, bring a platter, bring a plate of fruit instead of cake or a cheese platter,” she says, adding it’s also helpful to link a new habit to an existing one.

“For example, if you want to include meditation as a daily habit, do it just after brushing your teeth.”

And while why you may slip up from time to time, especially when life gets a bit chaotic, William says not to worry.

“Setbacks are normal,” she says. “Perfection is not. Forgive yourself when these happen and keep at it. The more you perform a healthy behaviour, the more likely it will become a long-term habit that no longer takes conscious effort.”

‘The CSIRO Women’s Health & Nutrition Guide’ is now on sale here.

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

Do you have any unhealthy habits you'd like to put a stop to?

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