Positive PCOS

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Making Lifestyle Changes: Are You Ready?

Posted by Allie on 14th October 2015

Are you ready to start making lifestyle changes?
Photo: Pixabay.com

Chances are that if you're reading this article on the Positive PCOS Blog, you've read up on the huge benefits of lifestyle changes on PCOS symptoms and your general health. Sometimes though it's easier said than done to make and maintain changes. If it was as easy as reading that something's good for you to completely overhaul your diet and keep up that gym routine, we'd all be doing it!

What can help to make changes in your own life?

There are different models in health psychology that try to explain behaviour change and one of these is called the Transtheoretical model (TTM) (1). Research studies supporting the use of TTM have mainly involved drug and alcohol abuse, and smoking cessation. However, it's also being used to change a range of health behaviours including diet and exercise.

Health professionals may use the TTM to support people to make certain behaviour changes. However, anyone keen to make a change can use the TTM to consider their own situation and ways to move closer to personal goals. For example, you could be trying to adopt a more healthy diet, thinking of exercising more or want to do something about the symptoms you've been experiencing. If you feel you need additional support with making changes you can discuss support options with your medical or healthcare provider.

Which stage do you think best describes you?

According to the TTM, people can be at different stages of change. The idea is that you work towards making a health behaviour change by moving from the stage you're currently at to the next one.

Pre-contemplation: At this stage you have no intention of changing. It may be you don't realise that there is an issue or don't have sufficient information, "I'm overweight because I have PCOS and I'll never be able to lose weight", or you may have failed at previous attempts to make a change, "I've tried every diet out there and they never work". You may avoid thinking or learning more about the behaviour.

What can you do to move beyond this stage?

You need to have an awareness of your unhealthy behaviour to move beyond this stage. The fact you have come to Positive PCOS and are reading this article indicates you are ready to look into ways to help yourself.

Contemplation: You acknowledge that a change needs to happen but are a bit ambivalent and haven't made a commitment to do it. You may be weighing up the pros and cons at this stage, "I could exercise more because it will benefit my health but I don't have the time or money to start now".

What can you do to move beyond this stage?

It can be helpful to write down a list of the pros and cons of the change needed. Then look at the cons and think of positive, realistic ways to overcome them. For example, if you want to start exercising it may be that waking up early and exercising first thing works best for you or maybe 2/3 exercise sessions a week for 30 minutes suits you better. Positive PCOS is full of tips in the various articles under the 'Managing Symptoms' tab and lots of women have also shared their own here for inspiration.

Preparation: At this stage you are committed to making a change, usually in the next month, and have started to make plans. For example, if you're wanting to try out a low GI diet you may have read up about it and bought yourself a recipe book. This is an important stage because it's about researching and accepting options to make lifelong changes. Some people skip this stage and aren't able to maintain the change because they haven't fully considered what's needed to make it.

What can you do to move beyond this stage?

Think about potential obstacles that may come up and ways to overcome them. For example, it may be that you're more likely to reach out for unhealthy snacks at certain times and will need to make sure you stock up on healthier ones at work and home. You could also try setting small, realistic and specific goals for yourself. If you want to get more exercise it may be you get off the bus two stops early on your way to work 5 days a week or park 10 minutes away from your office every day and walk the rest.

Action: You have made the change! You are actively taking steps to change the behaviour using, for example, goals and rewards, seeking support from others and getting any help needed. It takes willpower and this is the stage that you are at the greatest risk of going back to old ways. This stage can last about 6 months but it can be shorter and hopefully leads to the next stage.

What can you do to move beyond this stage?

It's important to remember why you are making the change and to remind yourself of it often. You could also practice positive affirmations to motivate yourself and make you feel good. Try to get support from your friends, family and partner so they all know that you're making a change.

Maintenance: This is all about maintaining the change in the long term. You are able to anticipate situations where you could revert to an old behaviour and are patient with practising new habits until they become second nature.

It's important to remember that going back a stage, referred to as a relapse, is perfectly normal. It may be you revert back to a previous stage or a few stages, even when you're at maintenance. It can be disheartening to find yourself back at an earlier stage but try not to give yourself a hard time - it's possible to go through different stages in the space of one day! You can learn a lot from a relapse. Try to use what you've learnt to help you work through changing the health behaviour and give it another try.

References & Bibliography

1: Prochaska, J.O. et al. (1992) In search of how people change: applications to addictive behaviors. American Psychologist. 47: 1102-1114

Davies, N. (2011) Healthier lifestyles: behaviour change. Nursing Times. 107: 23, 20-23

Harvard Health Publications. Why it’s hard to change unhealthy behavior and why you should keep trying. Accessed on 30/05/15 at http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/why-its-hard-to-change-unhealthy-behavior

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