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April 18, 2022

Sustainable Habits for Better Mental & Physical Health

by Julia Christy, MSW, LCSW

With the start of warmer weather and summer on the way, many of us are waking up from our winter doldrums and feeling ready to re-enter the world with gusto. This is also the time of year that we tend to be bombarded with ads for gyms, diets, and weight loss programs encouraging us to prepare our “summer bodies.” What do we miss out on when we focus our efforts solely on weight loss and aesthetics, and how might we find healthier avenues to channel our energy this year? The goal is to focus on sustainable habits for better mental and physical health.


While viewing our physical appearance as a personal project and setting weight loss goals for the season may be tempting, this approach has serious drawbacks and tends to be unsustainable over time. Research tells us that while individuals who diet tend to lose weight in the short term, long-term weight loss is most often not maintained, leading to major fluctuations in weight over time, also known as weight cycling.

Weight cycling is associated with physical health risks including fluctuations in metabolic function, blood pressure, and heart rate that can lead to increased stress on the heart. Weight cycling can also contribute to unhealthy mental and emotional cycles that include guilt, shame, increased likelihood of binging and restricting food, and perpetuate body image issues.


Rather than signing up for another ride on the roller coaster that is fad diets and weight-loss plans this year, what if we tried a different approach? The key here is thinking about small behavioral and lifestyle changes for better mental and physical health that will be sustainable over time—think tortoise versus hare here. When we are looking to jumpstart new habits, it can be tempting to approach things enthusiastically with an all-or-nothing approach. This often looks like telling ourselves that we need to start working out five days a week and follow a strict diet with lots of restrictions to attain the quick results we want, but even with the best of intentions, we set ourselves up for failure with this swift change in expectations.

While most fad diets and weight-loss plans are focused on taking things away, it can be helpful for us to instead consider what behaviors we can add to our everyday routines. We can focus on setting attainable goals for ourselves and increasing frequency over time rather than all at once; for example, try committing to walking for 30 minutes for two days this week, then three next week, etc. Remember what healthy habits look like for one person can be totally different for another person, and try to approach your search for what will work for you openly with curiosity.


The good news: the possibilities for healthy behaviors to incorporate are virtually limitless! If, like so many of us, you suffer from analysis paralysis and finding a starting place feels hard, here are some ideas:

  • Go for a walk with a friend—aerobic exercise releases endorphins, our brains’ “feel-good” neurotransmitters, and has been proven to reduce severity of stress, anxiety, and depressive symptoms. As an added bonus, you get to catch up with a friend, and that social interaction is good for mental health, too!
  • Take a yoga class with a teacher who encourages inclusivity for bodies of all shapes and sizes, like this 30-minute class on YouTube for beginners with Jessamyn Stanley.
  • Start a garden— spending time in nature and connecting with the earth can be an immediate mood-booster, and the physical activity involved in gardening can provide great exercise.
  • Have a one-person dance party— music can have major effects on mood and moving around to your favorite songs will get those endorphins going and boost your energy.
  • Incorporate some extra vegetables into your next meal— instead of thinking of what you can’t eat, adding some nutrient-rich foods like broccoli, carrots, and spinach to the foods you already eat is a great way to jumpstart healthy habits. Sign up for an appointment with Avance Nutrition Services to connect with a professional who can help you reach your goals in a sustainable way.
  • Do a self-guided mental health check— ask yourself how your mood, sleep, appetite, and energy levels are recently.

Are you dealing with stressors that feel like too much for you to handle on your own?  Is there anything that you feel is holding you back that you’d like to start working through as this new season of growth begins? If any of these things feel like a struggle, or if you’d just like to get some extra support to work on coping skills to deal with the inevitable ups and downs of daily life, consider scheduling an appointment with one of our Avance Care Behavioral Health therapists at our North Durham location!



  1. Drillenger, M. (2020, April 3).  Most Diets Don’t Work for Weight Loss After a Year: Here’s Why. Healthline.
  2. MD, R. H. S. (2020, May 25). When dieting doesn’t work. Harvard Health Blog.
  3. Sharma, A., Madaan, V., & Petty, F. D. (2006). Exercise for mental health. Primary care companion to the Journal of clinical psychiatry, 8(2), 106.
  4. Weir, K. (2020, April 1). Nurtured by nature.


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