You've been considering "getting healthier" because the last time you walked up the stairs, you were huffing and out of breath by the top. And everyone else passed you by in the meantime.
But now, it's midnight and you've been cramming to get that last report done for the big presentation tomorrow. You're not really hungry, but you deserve a reward for working so hard. So...you grab a bag of chocolate chip cookies and a glass of milk. After the fourth or fifth cookie, the guilt starts to set in. Not again!
As with any change of habit, getting started with - and maintaining - a healthy lifestyle proves really challenging for many people. It’s understandable if you find it exceptionally difficult to cut ice cream treats to only twice a month if you’ve been indulging in it almost every day.
One key thing to remember is to work on improvements gradually. The best and most significant changes you can make will take time. Don’t rush yourself – neither your doctor nor your body expects you to do so. Aim for slow, sustainable changes not just in your diet but in your general perspective and behavior towards food and movement. Healthy, after all, is a lifestyle.
Here are some key points to review before you get started on your health journey.
No weight loss or dietary program is truly “one size fits all.” You shouldn’t jump on any specific diet bandwagon just because your friend lost pounds while on it. It’s very important to consult a health professional who will help you determine which healthy eating plan will work best for you, and support you in sticking to it.
Just like in any long-term project, you must establish attainable and realistic health goals for yourself. In weight loss, expecting dramatic weight loss within an inadequate amount of time without the proper physiologic support will cause you to put more pressure on yourself than necessary. Such cases are most likely to backfire (think binge-eating) or fail. There are some studies which found that people who try to lose more weight than recommended while on a weight loss program tend to drop out within six to twelve months. So take it easy, and let your body adjust at its own pace.
The challenges that come with starting on a healthy diet and exercise program become less daunting when faced with a partner. Share your goals with your spouse, family, and closest friends so they can offer their support, if not join you. Your fitness journey will become less difficult and you are more likely to succeed when you have someone with whom you can be accountable.
Out of sight, out of mind. Remember the cookies in our example above. Keep unhealthy foods and snacks out of your home by sticking to your grocery list and encouraging your family to do the same. Fighting the urge to have a scoop of your favorite, ultra-fattening rocky road ice cream becomes more bearable when you know that you’d have to get up and drive to the grocery store to get a tub because you don’t have it in your refrigerator. While starting on a diet, remember that you’re less likely to succeed if temptation (read: unhealthy foods) is always within your reach.
Wait until you’re sure that you are truly hungry and your body already needs nourishment before you grab something to eat. And when you finally decide to eat, remember to choose foods that will actually give you nourishment rather than simply fill your stomach. Bring healthy snacks with you if you tend to become busy with work, so you won’t be stuck with fast food and other unhealthy options.
A health journal can be very helpful in following this step. You may also find health tools such as a pedometer and exercise or diet smartphone apps useful. A weighing scale is, of course, a basic necessity; many of us would be surprised at what 4 ounces of protein or an ounce of nuts really looks like.
Record your progress; celebrate what you have achieved for that particular day or week, the challenges you faced and how you overcame them, and your next action plan. Looking over how far you’ve come in your health journey will give you a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment and will renew your motivation to keep pushing forward.
One person’s success cannot, and should not, be used to measure another person’s progress. Don’t fret if you are losing fewer pounds than your fitness buddy does within the same time frame. Remember that your body has its own pace and you must follow that. Focus on what ultimately motivates you to live healthier, review your journal often, and honor every bit of progress you make. You may be surprised to find that you’ve already reached your ideal weight while you were enjoying every step of the way.
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Don't get stuck in analysis paralysis. Use this Power Wheel tool to know exactly where you need to start your journey to your unique center of health.