self prescribing

Changing Bad Habits

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Approximately 45% of what we do each day is habit. All habits were once conscious decisions we made which we continued with until it became an automatic behaviour.

Why are habits so difficult to change?

Habits are strongly influenced by all of our previous life experiences, plus, people generally prefer an immediate reward over more significant, delayed ones. This is known as delayed discounting and was the subject of a cute experiment with children which you’ve probably seen on tv. Children were told they could either have a marshmallow now, or if they waited 15 minutes then they could have 2. Many found that 1 marshmallow too irresistible and were not able to adjust their behaviour in order to wait 15 minutes and alter their outcome.

Willpower

But changing habits also requires a certain amount of willpower. Willpower is like a muscle in that it can fatigue with use. Our willpower is stronger in the morning and once we have used it 3-4 times in a day, it generally starts to decline. How many times have you woken in the morning with the intention of eating well and exercising but then found yourself on the couch that evening with a glass of wine saying, I’ll start tomorrow? This is why it is easier to change a morning habit than one later in the day.

The Cue

There are 3 components to every habit: a cue, the behavior itself and the reward. One key to establishing good habits is to manipulate the cue. For example, if your plan is to go for a run after work on Monday nights, then before you leave the house that morning, lay out your running gear and bottle of water where you will see it as soon as you walk in the door. Then you don’t have to think too much. Just change into the gear, pick up the bottle and off you go. Remove as many distractions, road blocks and reasons to make excuses as possible.

The Reward

If the reward of feeling good after the run isn’t enough to sustain the new behaviour until it becomes a habit, maybe use the reward of a small piece of chocolate straight after the run as incentive to establish the behavior.

Goal-setting and self monitoring

It has been found that one of the most effective behavioural change techniques is the use of goal-setting and self-monitoring. Be accountable to yourself and track or chart your results. Couple that with some short term dedicated willpower and you are in the best position for creating a new habit. See attached my Exercise Diary which you can use or adapt to track your progress in the behaviour you want to change or implement.

Substitution

When it comes to eliminating bad habits, substitute that bad behavior with a better behaviour. For example, if sitting down in front of the tv on a week night is your cue to pour yourself a glass of wine, try substituting the glass of wine for a herbal tea or some other healthy drink. The cue of sitting on the couch at night will eventually no longer be associated with wine. Whats more, I can assure you that when you do allow yourself that glass of wine on the Saturday night, you will enjoy it so much more!

 

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Self Prescribing from the internet – What could go wrong?

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There is so much information available on the internet right now, as well as plenty of opportunities to purchase “miracle cures”.  Many people self prescribe according to “Dr Google” but this can be very dangerous.  For example:

  • Desiccated thyroid extract purchased from international sites for hypothyroidism. Without taking the correct dosage and constantly measuring thyroid hormone levels, a person can easily throw their body into an opposite, and extreme hyperthyroid state. This can lead to side effects such as crippling anxiety, paranoia and mood swings, not to mention hair loss, excessive sweating and insomnia.
  • Even more common is the self administration of iron when people feel tired. Many other things can cause tiredness, plus there are types of anaemia not related to iron levels. Taking iron when you already have good levels is dangerous and can directly damage the liver and nerves and increase the risk of heart attack.
  • Some magic bullets for depression and mood disorders can throw out your balance of neurotransmitters making your situation dangerously worse, or adding other problems such as anxiety, aggression or phobias.
  • Even seemingly innocent vitamin supplements can be dangerous if not correctly assessed for the amounts present and accounting for amounts that may already be obtained from other supplements. For example vitamin A in excess of 700mcg retinol equivalents per day may lead to birth defects in pregnant women and excessive amounts of the trace mineral selenium can be toxic.
  • Cheap, bulk purchase fish oils usually are partially oxidized meaning the quality and quantity of EPA and DHA is significantly lower and the capsules are probably causing more damage than good. They are also usually high in contaminants such as mercury.

One problem with supplements bought on the internet is that they are not approved by the TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration) which is a department set up by the Australian Government to ensure that health products manufactured, prescribed and sold in Australia are registered, regulated and meet safety standards.

Quite often, herbs purchased on the internet don’t contain the correct species of herb in the correct quantities or even from the correct part of the plant. They may also contain dangerous, undisclosed excipients such as heavy metals and other contaminants. In Australia we are very lucky to have a number of manufacturers of safe, Practitioner Only products which have been TGA approved and have passed potentially hundreds of quality control steps.

When you see a qualified naturopath, you can be sure you are being correctly prescribed TGA approved, practitioner quality brands of herbs and supplements. They will work with you to discover why your body is not functioning correctly, what is causing your tiredness or why your iron levels may be low, and will give carefully considered dosages of natural herbs and supplements to help your body heal itself. They will know what herbs/drugs/nutrients may interact and should not be taken together and what supplements will be contraindicated in pregnancy, with high blood pressure or any other conditions in which you should be aware of possible interactions.

Picture of pillsNote: Always check that your naturopath is qualified and that they have been accepted as a member of an industry association. There is currently nothing stopping unqualified people calling themselves Naturopaths. This makes them potentially very dangerous, giving qualified naturopaths who have studied for at least 3 years, a bad name.

Image courtesy of tungphoto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net