By Lindsey Joe, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

Let's face it. Sometimes it feels like the whole world is against us when we're trying to make healthier habits—the ease of the drive-thru for breakfast, the candy dish within arm's reach at work, or the cancellation of our favorite group exercise class because the instructor got sick.

While it can feel like a battle to avoid the endless temptation of making the "unhealthier" choice, there are a few strategies revolving around your "triggers" that will help you get in control. Triggers are the catalysts that cause us to react to scenarios in the way we do. 

Recognizing our responses

First, we must recognize that the way we respond to a situation is often a habit. Whether we realize it or not, certain scenarios trigger us to react in ways that influence our eating and physical activity. (Sometimes for the better, often times for the worse.) For example: buying popcorn on impulse at the movie theater. The enticing smell could be the trigger that leads to the unplanned purchase. If this is something that commonly happens to you at the theater, you've built a hard-to-break habit. 

Changing a behavior always starts with awareness of our triggers. Next time a situation doesn't quite go as planned, take a moment to reflect on the chain of events and what really happened that caused you make the choice you did. In our movie popcorn example, maybe you arrived starving and popcorn was your quick fix to satisfy your hunger.

After you’ve identified your triggers, what can you do about them? Set yourself up for success by making a plan of action. Relying on willpower alone will almost always disappoint you.

Here are 3 tips to get on the right track:

  1. Stay away from your trigger. The old saying of "out of sight, out of mind" really can work for us when it comes to building healthier habits. For some people, this looks like taking an alternate route home that doesn't go by their favorite doughnut shop. For others, it's not turning on the TV after 9 p.m. because they will be too tired to work out the next morning. Sometimes the wisest choice is to rid yourself of unnecessary temptations instead of trying to "beat" them. Just stay away!

  2. React to your trigger in a different way. If staying away from your trigger isn't realistic, brainstorm all of the options of how to deal with it. What will help you take a small step in the right direction? In our movie popcorn example, maybe it's to opt for a soft pretzel instead or just go for a kid-sized popcorn. Progress!

  3. Build a new, healthy habit. It's always good practice to get ahead of the curve and avoid sticky situations. In our movie popcorn example, you might pack a healthy snack to enjoy while at the theater or choose a different movie time to avoid missing a meal. Don't quit an unhealthy habit without building a new, healthier one. The loss of a bad habit will leave a gap—so fill it with something positive! 

You always have a choice. Just remember that it takes time to practice those new, healthier habits. (Those bad ones didn't pop up overnight!) Change is hard, but it’s worth it.

Establish healthy habits with the Y

Ready for healthier living? Join the YMCA today, and enjoy access to our wellness services our 14 Middle Tennessee YMCA branches.