By Lizzie Waldo, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

The biggest reason my clients give for reluctance to change their current habits is fear of failure. No one likes the feeling of setting their mind on a goal and not being able to meet it. However, it is often the smallest of signs that may reveal your healthy habits are working.

Let’s take a look at five ways your mind and body may be showing you that change is happening. Use what you learn to keep going in your quest for the best you!

1. Your cravings are curbed.

Food cravings are one of the biggest complaints my clients have about making changes to their current diet. They aren’t alone. Multiple studies have revealed how the body will crave foods that it doesn't need.

Cravings are all about brain chemistry. Specific areas of the brain important for memory, reward mechanisms, and habit formation are the main culprits in developing an emotional connection between food and cravings. This is why a simple image or smell—say the smell of fresh-baked cookies or a picture of Thanksgiving dinner—can cause us to crave a certain food.

However, these same areas of the brain can be retrained or redirected.  Creating new habits—like eating healthier or making a commitment to work out—make new memories and connections in our brain. Over time, the cravings of your past disappear as you begin to incorporate a variety of foods in a balanced diet.

2. It doesn’t feel like a chore anymore.

Habits are powerful. Good habits can help us gain success and make progress towards goals, but bad habits have a tendency to hold us back. And as we all know, changing a habit is no easy task!

In simple terms, habits are products of behavior, occurring after many repeated instances. For example, you wake up one morning, drag yourself out of bed, and head to the gym to exercise before work. The next day, you do the same. After a few days of doing this, the action begins to stick and becomes routine. You slowly start to dread it less and begin to look forward to it more.

What helps really deepen a habit and make it second nature is connecting your brain to the action. For example, you may notice that when you exercise in the morning, you feel more energized and productive for the rest of the day. The emotional connection that is created becomes the key to consistency. Make sure to switch up your workouts and try new, healthy recipes to keep your habits moving forward!

3. You're catching more zzz’s.

What we eat and the activities we engage in during the day affect how we sleep at night. In fact, sleep and healthy eating go hand-in-hand.

Research has shown that those who don’t get enough sleep tend to have bigger appetites due to the release of a hormone called leptin. Leptin is a natural hormone in our bodies that regulates appetite. When sleep is inadequate, leptin levels fall, leading to excessive eating and weight gain. When you are eating healthier and meeting your sleep goals of 7-8 hours per night, you may feel less hungry and less focused on food throughout the day.

Food isn’t the only important factor in better sleep; exercise also plays a role. Regular exercise has been shown as a powerful stress-reliever and depression-fighter. When you work out, you let go of some of the stresses of the day and are able to release the mind at night. So, going to sleep and staying asleep become much easier. The more consistent your sleep cycle is, the better prepared you are to take on tasks the following day and keep performance levels high.

4. Your clothes fit differently.

This is one sign that I tell all of my clients to look for! As you begin to adopt healthier habits, the scale is not the best determinant of how your plan is going. Muscle takes up less space than fat in the body, which makes you look and feel slimmer, but it is also heavier.

When you exercise, you gain muscle, and the switch between fat and muscle in the body may make the number on the scale unreliable. So, keep a look out for any changes around the waist line of your pants, or bagginess of a shirt, and feel confident that you’re on the right track.

5. You feel an overall improvement in body, mind, and spirit.

Eating well and exercising do more than just fuel our bodies; they also power our lives. Everything we do—all the thoughts we think and the interactions we have throughout the day—are influenced by our healthy or not-so-healthy habits. When we fill our bodies with highly-processed foods full of added sugar, sodium, and unhealthy fats and lead a sedentary lifestyle, we, in many ways, influence who we are.

Daily activities such as going grocery shopping, cleaning the house, going to work or school, and caring for family members are all easier to complete (and enjoy!) when you develop healthy habits. Healthier eating and exercise habits also make you feel better about how you look and how you feel.

When you feel better about yourself, you have more confidence to go out and engage with others, with an overall greater capacity for enjoying life. So, if you notice a little more pep in your step, take it as a sign that your healthy living efforts are making a difference.

In conclusion, remind yourself that life is about balance. Developing healthy habits can be a difficult journey, with all kinds of mess-ups, do-overs, and well-dones! Praise yourself for the small accomplishments along the way. It is all of the little changes that lead to big changes, and patience and trust are key.

Establish healthy habits with the Y

Healthy habits happen one day at a time. Start by setting SMART goals. Tackle your biggest obstacles with these 5 steps, and don't forget to celebrate each success along the way. We love partnering with members on their healthy living journeys. Get more information on wellness support services and nutrition counseling offered at your center.