Psychologically, human beings are creatures of habit. Our brains work to govern basic processes such as breathing, eating and they even enable us to appreciate the finer points of Trevor Noah’s comedy.

We perform a number of actions per day which are habitual. When we perform these habitual tasks, we are not engaged in the task in the same way as when we are doing something that is not habitual. By performing a task over and over again it becomes easier and easier until you can do it in your sleep. When a task becomes habitual, you do it without even thinking about it. As humans, we each have hundreds, if not thousands, of habits whether we realise it or not. The problem is that we may not like all of the habits we have developed. Resolving to change a bad habit is not always easy. That is why the self-help industry is teaming with authors, therapists, and life coaches who all claim to have the answer.

According to a book published in 1960 called psycho-cybernetics was written by Maxwell Maltz, a habit can be broken in as little as 21 days. Whether Maxwell Maltz has it spot on or not has been long debated, but when it comes to forming and breaking habits, there is a popular belief that 21 days is all it takes.

The 21 Day Healthy Habit Challenge requires you to make one seemingly small change per day and to continue to do each change for a further 21 days thereafter in order to cement the habit. While each individual change is typically simple and small, when you take all 21 changes into account, they will make a huge impact on your physical well-being and quality of life.

Eat a healthy meal every 2 ½ to 3 hours.

By eating smaller healthy meals more frequently, you will be able to keep your blood sugar levels more stable throughout the day thereby limiting large spikes in insulin. Not only that, by eating more frequently you will prevent hunger cravings and eat healthier throughout the day.

Drink 2-3L of water.

Roughly 60% of the adult human body is made up of water. A loss of just 1-2% of body water

can result in impaired brain and muscle function. Not only will your work suffer but

so will your training. So, make sure to drink at least 2-3L of water per day.

Get at least 6 hours of sleep per night.

Sleep plays an extremely important role in the recovery of the body and in the recharging of the brain. People who do not get sufficient sleep tend to be more susceptible to illness and improper metabolic and hormone function. By ensuring adequate sleep you will be able to train harder, repair quicker and get the results you are after.

Cut out junk food.

We all know the negative effects of junk food. Not only do these empty calories lead to weight gain but they can also lead to the development of chronic diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular disease. In order to lose weight, ditching junk food is very necessary. So, get rid of the fried and other fast foods, sweets, cakes, fizzy drinks, sauces, and processed foods.

Increase your protein intake between 1-2g per kilogram of bodyweight.

By consuming more protein, you will be able to improve muscle mass, lose weight, promote healthy brain function and promote longevity. By building muscle mass and losing body fat, you will be able to improve your overall body composition and get that muscular, toned physique you are after.

People often regard carbohydrates as being the enemy when it comes to weight gain; however, it is the type of carbohydrate which makes the real difference. Fast-digesting high GI carbs create dramatic spikes in insulin, which over time can lead to weight gain. By swapping high GI carbs like pasta, white bread, and sugars out for lower GI carbs like brown rice, sweet potato and rolled oats, you will still receive the energy-boosting effects of carbohydrates but with a lesser insulin spike.

Meditate for at least 10 minutes.

With a busy modern life, people don’t often get a chance to sit and relax. These constantly busy lives can lead to increased stress levels. High-stress levels lead to elevated levels of cortisol. High levels of cortisol can have deleterious effects on weight, immune function, and chronic disease risk. By simply meditating for just 10 minutes a day, you can significantly reduce stress, improve mood and improve mental focus.

Remove all added sugars from your diet where possible.

While most sugars should have been eliminated when you kicked the junk food on day 4, there may still be some foods that you are consuming which contain added sugars. These foods are typically processed foods which you find on the supermarket shelf. Instead of shopping on the shelves, rather get most of your food from the fresh produce section and opt for natural whole foods where possible.

Stretch for at least 10 minutes.

Stretching has a plethora of benefits.

It increases blood circulation, decreases the risk of injury, improves performance, reduces soreness from training and fortifies posture. It is best to perform 5 minutes of dynamic stretches prior

to your workout (to improve performance and decrease the risk of injury) and 5 minutes of static stretches post-workout (to help reduce muscle soreness).

Limit your alcohol intake.

Life is all about balance and it is not necessary to completely cut out alcohol, but limiting your alcohol intake can have significant effects on improving both muscle gain and weight loss. From a health perspective, excessive alcohol can lead to a number of diseases including liver disease, high blood pressure, increased risk of having a stroke and heart-related diseases.

Eat 5-6 portions of vegetables.

Vegetables provide the body with a multitude of crucial vitamins and minerals which all play a role in the proper functioning of the body. The fibre in vegetables helps to keep you regular and reduce blood cholesterol levels. Vegetables are a very necessary food for weight loss and weight management.

Include at least 30 minutes of weight training to your day (3-5 times per week).

Besides helping to build muscle mass and increase strength, weight training can also help ramp up your metabolism, promote bone health and increase the strength of connective tissue and tendons. It also promotes the release of powerful anti-aging hormones like human growth hormone (HGH).

Replace sunflower oil and canola oil with coconut or avocado oil when cooking.

When common cooking oils like sunflower and canola oil are heated, they release carcinogenic compounds which are toxic and may cause cancer. These oils are not stable under high heats so when frying foods, it is always best to opt for oils like coconut or avocado as they have greater oxidative stability.

Prepare your food in advance.

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail. Most diets fail because the individual does not have healthy food on hand. By preparing your food in advance, you are less likely to cheat on whatever junk food is at hand.

Spend at least 15 minutes outdoors in the sun.

Vitamin D in produced in your skin as a response to sun exposure. Vitamin D most important function is to regulate the absorption of calcium and phosphorous and to facilitate normal immune system function. Spending a few minutes in the sun each day can help the body to fight disease, fight depression and even boost weight loss. So, make sure you get 15 to 20 minutes out in the sun each day.

Limit your time in front of the tv to 1-2 hours.

After a long day sitting immobile at your desk at the office, the last thing you should be doing is spending even more time sedentary on the couch. Yes, rest and relaxation are necessary, but spending more than 1-2 hours watching TV can leave you lethargic. Plus, it literally ‘numbs’ your mind as your brain switches off when you watch TV as it has no job to do. Rather spend the extra hours with your family and friends, reading a book or getting some exercise.

Consume adequate Omega 3 Fatty Acids.

In the typical South African diet, most individuals do not consume sufficient omega 3 fatty acids. These essential fats help to promote eye health, healthy hormone levels, brain health and even help to reduce the risk of heart disease. In order to consume adequate omega 3 fatty acids, you can increase your intake of fatty fish like salmon, or you can simply use a quality omega 3 supplement.

Go food shopping on an empty stomach.

If you think about it carefully, have you ever had a food craving after a meal? Chances are probably not. By making sure that you have eaten before you go food shopping, you will be able to fight cravings and avoid impulse snacking.

Include probiotics in your diet.

Probiotics are live microorganisms that reside in your gut and benefit the host, aka you. These organisms may improve digestion and help fight off the “bad” bacteria, improving immune function. Not only that, there is evidence that (at least in mice, but likely humans too) probiotics play a role in relieving anxiety and depression! Yogurt (unpasteurized) is probably the most convenient dietary source, but any fermented food contains probiotics.

Limit your caffeine intake.

While caffeine has a number of benefits like improved cognitive function, enhanced energy and even promoting weight loss, if you overindulge on this powerful stimulant, you may end up having increased anxiety and stress levels. Limit your caffeine to 1-2 cups of coffee per day. If you are taking a fat burner or pre-workout supplement, avoid having cups of coffee altogether.

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