07/31/2013 12:25 pm ET Updated Sep 30, 2013

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

We'll come back to breast cancer prevention next week! This week, I'd like to explore how long it really takes to change a habit. When I was discussing this topic with my friend, she told me about researchers who had found that it takes 21 days to form new neural pathways in the brain Another website said it was 45 days.

My experience? Well, funny you should ask!

For the past 2.5 months, I have been taking fat-soluble vitamin C on the recommendation of a fellow physician at Visions. I started this supplement because I heard it might help with irritable bowel syndrome, which is something I have had for years. As an aside, when I look back, I probably developed celiac disease 15-20 years prior to the time I was actually diagnosed. This is important because the genetic predisposition to celiac disease (which I have), combined with the stress of medical school, combined with the sleep deprivation of residency, added to marriage and childbearing all made for a bad combination.

Add to that the many years of gluten intake, the increased zonulin production, and the resulting disintegration of the tight junctions in the lining of my gut lead to an experience every day in which I felt... not so great, and it wasn't so great to be around me at times.

So, anyways, I started this product, and have been taking it faithfully for 2.5 months. I'm motivated to take it, because I noticed improvements in my symptoms within 48 hours of the first dose.

Now, interestingly, for the past three years, I've been drinking a medical grade protein shake for breakfast. Taking it is second nature, and I NEVER forget it. When we travel, I have it. When we go away for a few days, I have it. When we go and visit my in-laws, I make sure to bring it.

We've traveled to Cape Cod a few times over the past two months, and the first time we went, I completely forgot to bring the fat-soluble vitamin C along with me. And I had a return of my symptoms within 24 hours again. I swore I would NOT forget to bring this product along with me again, since the improvement in my irritable bowel was so amazing.

And, in point of fact, I didn't forget to bring the product along to the Cape the next time we went. I just forgot to take it!

Now, I'm a creature of habit, and I pride myself in doing the things I have made up my mind to do, I am not into excuses, and I definitely don't consider myself to be someone who forgets! Especially a product that has made such a difference for me!

So then I started thinking: How long does it really take to change a habit? I definitely don't think the 21 days my friend referenced is enough, and if my experience is any guide, the 45 days isn't long enough to really change a habit, either.

And is this good news, or bad news?

Personally, I think it's GREAT news. I know this sounds a little twisted, but think of how many times you've tried for a month or two, to change a habit (smoking, exercising, weight loss... what's your Achilles heel?) and then gone "back to your old ways"? Only to turn around and become frustrated at your inability to improve your habit? And been mad at yourself for being weak, or a failure or... whatever that little voice inside says?

But really, it's not that you're a failure, you just may have underestimated how long it takes to change the habit and make it stick!

When my patients enter our weight loss program, I always tell them: The supervised portion of the program is three months; however, I feel it takes two years to really get good at this program, so they shouldn't consider themselves "done" after three months. In fact, they're just starting!

Having cared for patients for over 10 years now, I've come to believe that lasting, sustainable lifestyle change takes somewhere between two and three years. I know that can be discouraging, because it can be hard to stick with things for that long. However, if you do, you'll find that after a few years, your "new" habit not only isn't new, it isn't a habit anymore either... it's just the way you live your life.

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