A Modern Day Guide to Therapeutic Lifestyle Design and Healing Chronic Stress from the Inside Out!

Based in the San Francisco Bay Area

Christina Pandolfo, MS, OTR/L, NC


Q&A Therapeutic Thursday: Lifestyle Transitions

Q&A Therapeutic Thursday: Lifestyle Transitions

“Change” is a word that can invoke fear into many of us.  We know that change may seem uncertain and difficult.  Oftentimes we will resist change only because life feels easier when it is the same as it always has been. I know how that feels…I have been there many times!

However, sometimes through a health crisis, personal crisis, or through our personal vision we realize we must embrace change in order to lead healthier and more fulfilling lives.

The specific type of change I will be addressing is lifestyle transition.

Lifestyle transitions require more than intention – it also requires dedication and a high level of commitment to follow through with the lifestyle changes. Although we need a certain level of discipline, we must also be self-compassionate and self-forgiving, especially in the early stages of change.

Lifestyle transition and change is a multifaceted journey, and it doesn’t happen overnight. A relapse back to old habits can occur, but it is important to know that it is normal during the early stages of change. Successful lifestyle transitions balance discipline and commitment with self-compassion and self-care, which can seem like a challenging dance to do. However, when armed with your personal vision, a supportive network of friends and community, and the abundant resources that are available, lifestyle transition is more than attainable.

What are the three main reasons for lifestyle change?

In general, lifestyle change can happen in three different ways:

  • Lifestyle Change by Crisis
  • Lifestyle Change by Osmosis
  • Lifestyle Change by Vision

 Lifestyle Change by Crisis

 Change can easily occur when we have a crisis in our life – a crisis is often the impetus for change. I am familiar with this type of change, since finding out a severe intolerance to gluten was the cause of my health crisis.  This was the catalyst for a major lifestyle transition, leading me to live a gluten – free lifestyle.  A crisis can be big like cancer or a heart attack, or small such as not liking how you look in your bikini – but nevertheless it is something shocking that forces us to look at how we are currently living, and assess what can be done to make us healthier and feel good.

Lifestyle Change by Osmosis

Change by osmosis is a slow and gradual process of change. In change by osmosis we need time to accept and integrate into a new way of living.

An example of change by osmosis might be when you are hanging out with a really healthy friend, and gradually overtime adopt her lifestyle.  This type of transition happens at your own pace, through a period of time.

Lifestyle Change by Vision

To change by vision is to have the capacity to see what your life would look like if you lead a healthy lifestyle or changed unhealthy behaviors.  To change by vision requires a level of commitment because usually the results from this type of change are not immediate and take time to achieve.

An example of change by vision is when we want to lose weight.  If we see our vision of ourselves as who we would like to be, then we are more motivated to eat healthy and work out.  We are committed to the process in order to see the end result.  Our vision is meaningful to us.

How do we know we are ready to change? Lifestyle transition and change are usually done in these five stages:

Pre-contemplation: We are NOT at all ready for lifestyle transition.

Contemplation: We are starting to THINK about making a lifestyle transition.

Preparation: We are beginning to PREPARE for behavior change and lifestyle transition.

Action: We are making an ACTION plan for lifestyle transition, and taking action on our intentions and goals.

Maintenance: We are MAINTAINING and following through with the transition and our new behavior changes.

When thinking about making a lifestyle transition, it is important to know what stage we fall into.  Knowing what stage we fall in will help us to understand what type of support we need and our level of readiness for lifestyle transition and change.

Barriers to Lifestyle Transitions

There are many reasons, situations, and excuses where we can struggle with lifestyle transition and change, even though we know the change is beneficial to us.  We are busy, we work hard and long days; some people have families and juggle a variety of responsibilities.  We can get so caught up in the demands of everyday life; these demands (if allowed) can affect our commitment level to successful lifestyle change.  In addition to everyday demands, we can also feel overwhelmed on where to start.  There is so much information overload out there, it can take time to synthesize and find a lifestyle plan that resonates with us.  Having a history of repeated failure at lifestyle transition can weaken our confidence as well, and can become a barrier to our current attempt at lifestyle change.

Where Do I Start?

Before beginning to initiate a lifestyle change it is important to first determine WHY.

Knowing WHY we want to change our lifestyle behaviors (and learning how to do it) is the foundation of the lifestyle transition!

Questions for self-reflection:

  • Why do you want to change your lifestyle and unhealthy behaviors?
  • What will it mean to you?
  • What would it take for you to change your lifestyle and unhealthy behaviors?
  • What do you think will happen if you continue doing what you are doing, or if you do not make a lifestyle change?
  • What do you think your life would be like if you change your lifestyle and eliminate unhealthy behaviors?

Who Can Help Me?

Once you have identified what stage of readiness of change you are in and your main reason for lifestyle transition, there are many resources that can help you progress through a successful lifestyle transition.  There are countless books, web blogs (like The Therapeutic Foodie!) and communities that can help you to support healthy lifestyle changes.

Wellness Coaches, Nutritionists, and other Healthcare Professionals are also trained to provide guidance through the steps of change towards successful lifestyle transition, and can help support your ultimate vision towards wellness.  Wellness professionals are also trained to address the challenges and barriers to lifestyle change and can provide you with realistic steps towards transition.

Tips for Successful Lifestyle Transition

Take Baby Steps

Identify and accomplish small goals every week. Taking ‘baby steps’ is more realistic to most people than adhering to a complete overhaul overnight.  Identifying and accomplishing small goals helps to build confidence, and can lead to bigger goals and accomplishments over time. An example of taking baby steps would be a person aspiring to a vegetarian lifestyle and eliminating meat from their diets once or twice a week to begin with.

Know Your Motivation

People who have and develop internal motivation with lifestyle transition are more successful than those who rely on external motivators. An example: changing to please another person can result in anger and frustration. Make sure you are doing it for yourself, not to make someone else happy!

Keep a Journal

When transitioning to a new lifestyle, it is important to track your progress with your new diet and fitness regimen. Keeping a journal helps to hold you accountable for what you are eating and the activities you are doing; it also gives you a place to help you understand, correct and identify any unhealthy eating patterns. You can also keep a journal to write your emotions and how you are feeling with your lifestyle transition.

Plan Ahead

Menu plan for the week, and if you are away from home prepare healthy snacks that are easy to take on the road. For me, this is the most crucial piece of advice to adhere to my gluten – free lifestyle – because when I am hungry and my blood sugar crashes I want to eat everything in sight! Being prepared keeps me on track, and eating small meals throughout the day ensures that my blood sugar doesn’t dip.

Find a Support Network

Whether it is a wellness coach, or a web community, having a support network can help you stay on track and help you reach your goals.

Have an Open Mind

If part of your lifestyle transition requires food restriction due to an allergy or illness, it is important to focus on what you CAN eat vs. what you CANNOT eat. By focusing on the expansion into a new way of living, you make it a new adventure, and can have a lot of fun with it. Since becoming gluten – free in 2009, I have discovered many new types of food I have never tried before!

Make Time for Yourself

When you take good care of yourself, you can be your best self for other people. I was given the advice to pencil in my calendar my workouts and treat it like an appointment. Scheduling time for myself always helps to make me feel better, and helps me to achieve my lifestyle and fitness goals.


Resources for this post: The Transtheoretical Model of Change


If you have any questions you would like answered on Q & A Therapeutic Thursday (every 1st Thursday of the month) regarding holistic living, self-care, wellness, stress busters, recipes, and recipe adaptations, feel free to email me at: thetherapeuticfoodie@gmail.com. See you soon!

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