Sticking with Your Health Goals in the New Year
Health is a simple concept, but that doesn’t mean living a healthy life is easy! At every turn, there are temptations luring us away from our goal. Some of these temptations are intentional. Food companies use science to create delicious junk food intended to hijack our brains; the food they make is addictive on a biochemical and a psychological level. TV commercials flood our brains, and fast food greets us on every street corner. Leading a healthy life requires an arsenal of tools to avoid the common pitfalls that get in the way. Here are eight ways to help you stick to your health goals:
1. Plan. Plan. Plan.
The problem: The modern world excels at rewarding poor planning with unhealthy choices, which are often fast and convenient. No time to make dinner? Grab a happy meal. In the grocery line with your meat and produce? Hey, check out this king-size candy bar; bet you could finish half of it on the drive home.
The solution: Every week, plan your meals. (Pinterest is great for this.) Go shopping, get what you need, and have things ready to go for the week. If you have time, prep your food over the weekend so you can quickly cook dinner during the busy work week. Keep a clean kitchen. That way you can launch into cooking without fretting over dirty pots and dishes.
2. Look at Your ‘Before’ Photo
The problem: Sometimes you get on a roll only to slip back into old patterns.
The solution: You started healthy habits for a reason. If you’ve seen benefits—lost body fat, improved body composition, a stronger and fitter body—go back and look at those old photos to remind yourself of your progress. Remember how you felt before you started getting healthy. Realize those feelings will resurface if you go back to your old ways.
3. There’s No Such Thing as Perfect
The problem: Some may think healthy living is a life sentence of sacrifice and suffering. That’s a big misconception.
The solution: Know that healthy choices exist on a spectrum. It doesn’t have to be “all or nothing.” Some people adopt a lifestyle that others think is extreme. Others modify their lifestyle to accommodate health choices. Regardless of where your lifestyle is on the spectrum, occasionally eating something unhealthy won’t derail the whole train, or skipping a week of exercise now and then won’t dissolve your gains. Over time, it is the rhythm of the right choices that determines your health.
It’s not about perfection. It’s about making the guidelines work for you to push your health and happiness forward.
4. Remember the 80/20 Rule
The problem: Sometimes knowing there is no such thing as perfect is not enough to ward off guilt or discouragement.
The solution: One trick to counter these negative feelings is to use the “80/20 rule.” The 80/20 rule is a formal acknowledgement that if you do the right (healthy) thing 80 percent of the time, you’ll garner most of the benefits of living healthy. As long as your healthy choices outnumber the choices that do not add to your health bank, you are still living a healthy lifestyle overall. What’s 80/20 look like?
It means it’s OK to have that piece of pizza at your friend’s birthday party after a week of home-cooked healthy meals. Or maybe you skip a trip to the gym to meet up with an old friend. As long as your healthy choices dominate, that’s OK. When you are living a healthy life, your body will give you credit for that 80 percent.
5. Join a Gym
The problem: Exercise can be hard on your own, and many think they don’t like going to a gym.
The solution: If you think you hate the gym, you probably haven’t been in a while. There are many options that did not exist before, such as new alternative classes. Cross-X, parkour, kick boxing, spin or Pilates classes are available at most gyms. There are also personal trainers who can help and encourage you. Feel free to interview the owners and trainers. Find a person or a class that meshes with your personality and goals. Another benefit: When you pay money for a membership, you put skin in the game. More motivation to stick with it!
6. Pick One Thing and Start There
The problem: Getting your entire lifestyle back on track is daunting. What? You expect to overhaul right away how you eat, move, consume electronics at night, interact with the sun, supplement, and sleep? Some people can do that with no problem, but many people find it an intimidating prospect.
The solution: Start with just one thing. Do it well. And see the dominos start to fall in other areas. You might start with your diet; purge your pantry of those items that do not align with your goals. Or maybe start with exercise by taking a walk every day. Or work on going to sleep at the same time every night. When you introduce healthy habits to one part of your life, it gives you the energy to spread good habits to other aspects of your life. Starting all those things at the same time would be great, but sometimes creating momentum in one area strategically works best.
7. Find a Buddy
The problem: Being healthy on your own can be hard.
The solution: Having a friend or family member join you can help make the good habits you are building stick. Having a partner means that neither of you wants to let the other person down. When your motivation flags and the trips and tricks above seem to not be enough, a friend’s support and commitment might help you find your footing again.
8. Work with a Health Coach
The problem: Maybe you can’t find a buddy. Or maybe having a buddy is not enough.
The solution: Find a health coach. Health coaches are trained to help you hit your goals, work through the toughest moments, solve problems, and motivate you. This is literally their job. They combine motivational power with a strong knowledge base, so whether you have a motivation problem or a knowledge problem, they can help. And like paying for a gym, using a health coach gives you that skin-in-the-game effect. Knowing you must answer to a coach can help you to stay on track even when temptation creeps in.
By no means is this an exhaustive list of ways to get yourself back on track. These are just some of my favorite tried-and-true strategies.
What are your favorite ways to stick with living healthy?