How can letters help your health? You would be surprised! Think about all of symbols and abbreviations in your life. Sometimes seeing them brings more feelings and emotions than a page of words. Why do you think emojis are so popular? One little face puts an entire emotional spin on your word(s). So how does “N” change your life? It is the key to tearing down bad habits (or building good habits!).

One of my goals this year was to complete my Level 2 Certification with Precision Nutrition. This is a year-long commitment to becoming what they call a “supercoach”. I can’t speak more highly about Precision Nutrition and the program has been a fantastic journey so far. What has been interesting though, is that, even if we spend an entire week on a topic, it may not hit you until later what it really means to you.

That was my experience with “N&N” (Notice and Naming). We have worked with N&N from the very beginning, but it wasn’t until this week that I discovered the impact. You can apply it to almost any habit that you want to change. As an example, let’s assume that you have an issue with overeating or eating large quantities of unhealthy food. Many people want to stop, but, somehow, they just “can’t”. It is actually very common because the hormones and emotions associated with that habit are very strong and the associated post-binge guilt is even worse. I speak from personal experience here, just in case you don’t think I can walk in your shoes. This is where N&N comes in.

Notice. There may only be a split second between I am going to “be good” and diving into a gallon of ice cream, but make the most of it. Try to scan your body for emotions, stress or any other body feelings. Over time, you can stretch that split second and start recognizing what it is that is driving you. Then just give it a Name (the second N). Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is there something that I have done that always triggers a binge? For example, endurance exercise can seriously increase your appetite. If you always have out of control eating after your long run, maybe you need to find a way to adjust your training or have available healthy, lower calorie/higher volume foods for that time. Maybe you have been having a lot of personal stress while still maintaining your super intensity workouts. Maybe swapping out a walk on the beach or a yoga session for some junk miles would lower your appetite.
  • What has my diet been like in the last 24 hours? Maybe there is a food that triggers your appetite. If you have been eating a lot of processed foods, maybe there is a chemical that is creating havoc with your hormones.
  • Are you worried about something? Who hasn’t heard of stress eating? If you eat that gallon of ice cream, is it really going to make the problem go away and won’t you have the additional guilt? This is a really tough one, but if you can stop yourself at that point by understanding what is going on, quickly replace it with something that works for you to relax. Here are some things that work for me:
    • A few minutes of conscious breathing. I breathe in quickly and completely for a count of 4, hold for a count of 16 and exhale slowly over a count of 8. I repeat this a few times and it calms me down immediately.
    • Listen to music. I love music and sometimes I might even dance!
    • Aromatherapy. Keep a bottle of lavender essential oil (or one that works for you) and smell it any time you are stressed. My dear husband gave me a bottle of the cologne that I used to buy for my dad. Any time I sniff the bottle, I feel like I am getting a warm hug from my dad.
    • Visualize. Daydream for a quick minute about a person or place that makes you feel happy.
    • Be creative here…the key is finding what works for you.
    • Most importantly, remember that 95% of what you worry about never happens. Try to reframe your worry into a brainstorming session! Instead of just worrying, be proactive and start planning how to manage if the worst things happen. At least you will be prepared and you can take action to minimize any risk.
  • Are you tired? This is a HUGE one for some people. When you are tired, it is just too hard to put up the fight. Again, recognize that you are tired, not hungry, and come up with a few ideas for quick energy:
    • Forget about caffeine! With caffeine comes the inevitable crash and you are right back where you started from. A better alternative would be to drink water. If you are dehydrated, your blood is moving sluggishly and it can really zap your energy.
    • Try the breathing here as well. When your blood does not have enough oxygen, again, you will feel tired or low on energy.
    • Pay attention to your diet. Notice if foods give you energy or make you sleepy. For me, eating more raw foods gives me more energy than you can imagine. That is great, except when I have salad at dinner and I can’t go to sleep. Starchy carbs tend to make me sleepy, so I usually have a lower carb breakfast and save the starches for dinner when I want a good night’s rest.
    • Make sure you are not overtraining and you are scheduling in enough rest and sleep. Check your bedtime routine to make sure you are getting quality sleep.

I have just presented a few ideas, but everyone is different. Play with the ideas and create your own. The key to creating the healthy lifestyle habit is making it easy and making it easy if finding what is easy for you.

The last missing piece is compassion. First you notice, then you notice and name and finally notice, name and create a strategy. Through this whole process, it is critical that you treat yourself with compassion. The guilt just adds another layer of stress that fuels the endless cycle. When you notice why you are overeating, that is the first step, but it is already an improvement. Praise yourself for any improvements, no matter how small, because it is still a step towards your goal. Praise yourself for your setbacks because you have still learned. Stop the vicious cycle and start N&N with compassion.