Camilla Nonterah, University of Richmond – Healthy Behavior Change

On University of Richmond Week: Attempting to switch to a healthy lifestyle isn’t easy.

Camilla Nonterah, professor of health psychology, explores the factors that affect behavior change.

Camilla Nonterah is a counseling psychologist by training whose research and clinical interests focus on behavioral medicine. Nonterah’s research focuses primarily on physical and mental health in underserved groups and minority populations. She has a particular interest in mental health associated with end-stage organ disease and solid organ transplantation. She also examines positive health behaviors from a positive psychology perspective, particularly within an African context and through cross-cultural comparisons.

Healthy Behavior Change


Often the quest to improve health behaviors, such as losing weight, increasing physical activity, or quitting tobacco is short-lived. The reasons vary.

It helps to start with a thorough understanding of why you want to change. Without that, it is hard to stay motivated, especially when barriers arise.

It’s also important to understand factors that affect behavior change.

Stress lowers our inhibitions, making it more difficult to achieve our goals. For example, the stress of the loss of a job would likely challenge a smoker’s ability to abstain from cigarettes.

Biological processes can also affect behavior change. One of the difficulties associated with weight loss is that we inherited traits from our ancestors that cause our bodies to store fat. This was good for our ancestors when food was scarce, but it is bad for our current well-being, given that food is easier to access.

The environment in which we live also influences behavior change. The majority of our foods are highly processed and contain high fats and sugars. Without the appropriate nutritional knowledge and with limited access to healthy foods, successful weight loss becomes challenging.

The good news is you can improve your odds of success. Start by making a change for the right reasons. Changes for a desire to improve one’s health or to be a better example for your family are more likely to motivate positive change. Set both short-term and long-term goals, and track and monitor your behavior. You can accomplish this by using free fitness apps, journaling and note-taking.

Finally, get help. In some cases, behavior change may be most successful with the help of a professional such as a licensed clinical health psychologist.

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This essay was excerpted by the author from a piece originally written for The Conversation

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