Expert-Backed Tips for Changing Lifelong Habits
As we welcome in a brand new year, Dr Wendy Denning, Jo Gamble & Carolyn Nicholas share their thoughts on habit change
The start of a brand new year is traditionally associated with making resolutions; to eat healthier, to exercise more, to join a gym (and actually go), to drink less, and many more besides. Unfortunately, new year’s resolutions are also typically associated with a low success rate. The truth is that making positive diet and lifestyle changes isn’t easy, especially when you’re trying to change long-standing habits of a lifetime.
As healthcare practitioners, we help our clients to make changes every day, not just at the start of the year. In fact, helping clients to actually put recommended changes into practice can be one of the most challenging aspects of the role.
In this, our first article of the brand new year, we wanted to delve a bit deeper into the nuts and bolts of habit change and share with you some clinical wisdom from three experienced practitioners who have helped many clients to put difficult changes into practice.
We are thrilled to share with you, insights from Dr Wendy Denning - one of the UKs best known private GPs who successfully integrates traditional and complementary medicine in her healthcare clinic in London, Jo Gamble – the UKs first Functional Medicine Certified Practitioner who runs her own busy clinic in Coventry and Carolyn Nicholas – Natural Chef and Functional Medicine Certified Health Coach (Candidate) based at The Perrymount Clinic in West Sussex.
Thank you Wendy, Jo and Carolyn for sharing your invaluable insights with us.
Dr Wendy Denning – Private GP and founder of The Health Doctors clinic
“When making a change, it is important to bring the habit that you want to change up to your conscious mind.
So for instance if you want to stop smoking - instead of me telling the patient that they must stop smoking - I ask them to make sure that every cigarette they smoke - they focus on, they give it their full intention, and they most importantly enjoy it. If they are not enjoying it, they must stop.
The purpose of approaching it in this way is that many of our habits are unconscious, associated with and filled with guilt and shame.
Change happens when we feel good about ourselves, not when we are guilt and shame ridden.
As people connect with every cigarette, they see what the cues are and how often they are not really enjoying the cigarette, but rather lighting and puffing away unconsciously.
As they engage with this, they often substantially reduce the amount they smoke on their own.”
About Dr Wendy Denning MBBS, MRCGP, DRCOG, CCFP, DCMAc
Dr Wendy Denning is a GP with over 25 years’ experience. For 3 years in a row she was named in Tatler’s top 150 private doctors and co-presented the successful TV series ‘The Diet Doctors, Inside and Out’. She is passionate about and a strong advocate for The Integration of Traditional and Complementary Medicine, serving for 2 years on the GP Steering Group for the Prince of Wales Foundation for Integrated Health and then the Committee for an Integrated Approach to Obstetrics and Gynaecology afterwards. In 2007 she created her own clinic, The Health Doctors, which combines the best of traditional medicine with complementary medicine. For more information on Dr Wendy Denning and her clinic: www.thehealthdoctors.co.uk
Jo Gamble – Nutritional Therapist & Functional Medicine Practitioner
“Supporting clients with habit change is such an important part of what we do as functional medicine practitioners and I’m grateful that my background as a behavioural therapist really comes into play with this aspect of my work.
My focus when helping clients to change diet and lifestyle habits, is very much on thinking about how to create habit-stacking. I always start by picking out the behaviours that a client wants to change and then help them to break these behaviours down to address them in smaller, more achievable steps. So rather than saying, “let’s change everything” which isn’t realistic, I will say, “let’s focus on just a couple of behaviours that we want to change”, and these then become achievable goals.”
For example, a client might say, “I want to lose 5 stones in weight” which isn’t an immediately achievable goal; so we work together to decide what is achievable? Maybe we end up with, “I’m going to cut out my afternoon snack” – that’s an achievable goal. Another example might be, rather than saying, “I won’t drink alcohol at all”, you could say “I won’t drink alcohol on Mon, Tues & Weds”...”
And there needs to be as much emphasis placed on why you’re changing the behaviour as what the behaviour actually is. So I ask my clients to think about how a new behaviour is serving them? They might say, “I drink less alcohol because it makes me feel better” or “I’ve added a 10 minute daily mindfulness practise because it gives me a better sense of self-worth”. This connection to why you are changing something is really important.”
About Jo Gamble BA (HONS) DIP CNM cFMP ABAAHP fellow ICT
Jo graduated from the prestigious Institute for Functional Medicine in 2013 as part of their first cohort of certified practitioners. Jo runs a busy functional medicine clinic where she specialises in complex cases and enjoys taking her clients on a journey to dig deep into their symptoms.
Jo furthered her career with a fellowship in Integrative Cancer from the American Board of Anti-Aging Practitioners. Jo has been lecturing at an under and post graduate level for the last 10 years where she shares her passion to inspire practitioners to further develop their own knowledge and confidence and to bring alive her skills and experience to empower others. For more information on Jo Gamble and her clinic: www.embracingnutrition.co.uk
Carolyn Nicholas - Natural Chef & Functional Medicine Certified Health Coach (Candidate)
It has been estimated that 40-50% of patients that leave the practitioner’s office don’t actually follow through with their prescriptions (non-adherence) for chronic conditions such as diabetes or hypertension.1 According to the World Health Organisation, it is also estimated that 42% of total global deaths can be attributed to risk factors for preventable chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.2
Why? Well we are only human, and as humans, we have existing habits and lifestyles (our normalcy) which need to be taken into consideration. After all, habits do not change overnight, and what exactly does it take to change a habit or a lifestyle? This is where Functional Medicine Certified Health Coaches can help, to bridge the gap between practitioner and patient.
I was drawn to the Functional Medicine Coaching Academy because of its affiliation with The Institute for Functional Medicine. In addition to the functional medicine model, we are trained in the IFM’s 5 pillars of health; sleep, eating, stress management, exercise & movement, and social connections & relationships. We also become experts in behavioural change techniques such as positive psychology, mind-body medicine, and finding the patient’s intrinsic motivation. Why does this approach work? It is a client-centred approach which enables us to find out what the client’s specific situation is and the obstacles that are in their way.
How does this achieve patient compliance?
Because we focus on what’s right with the patient, not what’s wrong. This is where adherence comes into play as we allow the patient to come up with their next steps.
Here are some simple strategies to try:
• Take 5 minutes at the beginning of the appointment to build rapport with your patient. Who are they? What do they like to do? What support do they have in terms of family, friends and social support?
• Ask your patient, “What does your ideal vision of health look like?”. Dig a bit deeper into why that is important to them. Intrinsic motivation can really help a patient to pull towards that vision.
• Refer your patient to a functional medicine health coach for weekly or bi-weekly support in making any prescribed changes. This can help the patient to achieve their vision of health in less time with sustainable changes.
About Carolyn Nicholas
Carolyn is a Functional Medicine Certified Health Coach and qualified Natural Chef based at The Perrymount Clinic in West Sussex. Carolyn saw the need for health coaching after her mother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s a few years ago and how lifestyle support was non-existent. She has a real passion for functional medicine and helping to guide, assist, and support patients to reach their ideal vision of health. With a natural chef background, she is able to help patients engage in cooking and eating for their overall health and wellness. Carolyn coaches patients at The Perrymount on a 1 to 1 basis, within groups and through corporate wellness programs. For more information on Carolyn and The Perrymount Clinic: www.theperrymount.com
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