As we say goodbye to summer fun/chaos and welcome fresh fall routines, I hear friends and clients talking about getting back into exercising regularly and eating better. Having been a dietitian for ten years now, primarily supporting people who’ve just survived a heart attack, I’ve heard these kind of best intentions many times and learned a few things about what works and what doesn’t.
Here are nine steps you can take to boost your chances of getting those healthier habits firmly established:
- Focus on one change. Resist the urge to tackle it all at once. If you can prioritize and really focus on one behaviour, at least for the first couple of weeks, you’ll be much more likely to do it well. That doesn’t mean you can’t do some of those other great things, but for now, apply the rest of these steps to just the one. You can always add another new habit once you gain confidence from mastering the first.
- Make it specific. “Eat better” doesn’t quite cut it. “Eat more fruits and vegetables” is getting closer. “Snack on raw vegetables and hummus at the office in the afternoon” is really good.
- Choose something actionable. “Lose 10 pounds,” isn’t an action. Neither is “Stop snacking in the evenings.” Instead, focus on what you are going to do. “I’m going to give away the tempting treats in my pantry” or “My neighbour and I are going walking Tuesday through Friday evenings.“
- Make a plan. Really think through (and ideally write down) the actions you’re going to take. Think about:
- How will you prepare? “I’m going to need to pick up some reusable containers.”
- When exactly will it happen? “I’ll add raw veggies and hummus to my Saturday morning shopping list and on Sunday mornings I’ll prep and pack veggies into containers.”
- What might get in the way, and how will you respond? “For the days I have to work offsite, I’ll pick up some small bags of nuts to keep in the car, and use those for my snack instead.”
- Make your plan realistic. “I’ll never eat sugar again” doesn’t pass the reality test for most of us. “I’ll finish my meal with a mint instead of dessert at least 5 nights a week, and plan to enjoy dessert on Saturday night,” is more likely to happen.
- Enlist support. Your likelihood of success goes up if you have the support of the people you live with, but other family, friends, coworkers, or even a support group can help. (For a free supportive online community, check out dietitian Casey Berglund’s fantastic 21-day Mindful Eating Challenge, which starts September 8). You can also enlist professional support, such as a dietitian or a behavioural health consultant (ask your doctor – many offices have one of them, at least in Alberta.)
- Keep track of your progress. Keep track of which days you followed through on your plan, whether that means hitting the gym, packing your lunch, or choosing that mint over dessert. You can make a chart, write it on a calendar, or use a smartphone app like Way of Life. Just make sure it’s visible, so you won’t forget about it.
- Revisit your plan every week or two. This is where it helps to have a partner and/or coach. Having a date to review your progress can do wonders for keeping you focused. Ask yourself:
- Is it working? If so, do you want to recommit, or perhaps even add another new habit?
- If not, why not? This can lead to some valuable insights about what works for you and what doesn’t.
- Can you tweak your plan, or is something else more important right now?
- Do you anticipate any challenges down the road? For example, will you be having houseguests? Is there a trip or holiday coming up? If so, how can you stay on track?
- Plan a (non-food) reward. Did you meet your goal? How about treating yourself to a pedicure or a tea date with a friend? Even if you didn’t meet your goal exactly, but you tracked your progress diligently and moved in the right direction, you deserve to celebrate.
See how much goes into successfully making one small change? Now you know why we suggest focusing on one thing at a time!
Now we’ve got three months before the madness of the holidays will be upon us. What are you going to accomplish?
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