Why Are the Simplest Health Habits so Hard?

Meryl Davids Landau

The other day my family hosted a neighborhood potluck, something we do every couple of months. (I recommend it highly: It’s a great way to keep in touch with the people who can refer you to that great plumber or lend you that proverbial egg in a pinch, not to mention it’s just plain fun. But I digress.) I live on a curving, suburban Florida street. About 10 families attended. As the adults sat around laughing and talking, most of the kids swam in our backyard pool. A few of the older boys wanted to play basketball on our driveway hoop. When I opened the front door to get them started, I was surprised by what I saw: cars were parked in front of our house. Apparently several of our neighbors had driven over.
I tell this story not to point fingers, because long ago I heard the adage that when you point at someone else, three fingers are always curled back at you. I know that’s certainly true when it comes to lazy health habits. While, as ex-urban dwellers, my husband and I wouldn’t have thought to drive somewhere close, I’ve got plenty of other sloppy routines. Seeing those cars reminded me of them. I know it’s the little things throughout the day that will ultimately lead to losing those post-pregnancy pounds that are still clinging on (even though my kids are teens!), but why are those little things so tough to do?

We’ve all read how we’re supposed to work exercise into our day: Park far from the store. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Get up and talk to someone rather than send an email or text. So how come every time I get groceries I circle around the parking lot like a robber casing a bank, until something close opens up? (Once, to get a spot, I even waited until a mom strapped her four kids into their car seats and then loaded all her packages, even though the far half of the parking lot was empty.) How come just yesterday I called an elevator to take me two flights down?
These little habits also apply with food. I know that sugar is a food our taste buds innately crave, which is why those not-too-stupid food companies even load up salty snacks with them. I also know sugar is bad for you. (And I knew it before writing the article in this month’s MORE about the toxic effects of sugar on things like wrinkles and my liver, although now I know it even more keenly.) Still, most evenings after dinner, there I am pawing through the pantry for that square of dark chocolate or that Entenmann’s chocolate chip cookie, even when a delicious peach is sitting on the counter (and I’m not even hungry, anyway)?           
So here’s what I’m committing to (yet again): Walking a few stairs. Parking no closer than halfway to the store. Staying out of the kitchen after dinner. Snacking on fruit before going to the grocery store. Pouring the cereal into a serving bowl instead of munching out of the box…. I certainly know that following these little health tidbits will do wonders for my waistline. But I also know that breaking my own longstanding bad habits—even if they don’t involve driving to a neighbor’s house—is hard.  

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