How can you stay on track with a healthy lifestyle without losing consistency and progress? Our health guru says it all comes down to planning and offers five helpful tips.
Chances are you probably start off each week with every intention of eating healthy. The idea of preparing meals and tracking them, in the midst of our busy lives, can seem intimidating to many individuals motivated to living a healthier life. It’s not a matter of simply grabbing a food scale and a recipe book, and expecting results. Not to discount those efforts though! They’re foundational in the process of achieving permanent and sustainable health habits. However, just when everything begins to click and momentum is established, an obstacle arises. Life happens. Whether it’s work, an unexpected social event, a quick trip, or everyday stress – how can we stay on track with a healthy lifestyle without losing consistency and progress?
Having worked irregular 12-hour shifts in the hospital, sometimes with no breaks, it’s quite a challenge to stay focused. Frankly, it’s a challenge no matter what to follow through on health goals. It’s not fancy to say the process takes time, patience, and practice, but for permanent results we must acknowledge our thoughts and actions have to be congruent with our goals. In my journey of losing 100+ pounds, I have picked up tools and tricks to stay on track with my nutrition, while still enjoying myself, no matter the environment or obstacle. It just takes diligence, preparation, and mindfulness. Here’s my advice to you to maintain your goals whatever the situation:
1. Set Your Goals
Your nutritional needs are the foundation of your meal plan, so before you start implementing action steps, do a quick assessment of your personal goals. What are they? What do you wish to achieve? Why is now the time to take action? What would it mean to you to be free of this problem? What has worked well in the past, and what didn’t? What can you take from that experience and better execute this time? What foods are a must, and what are some that need to be reduced? Simply ask yourself: “My goal is to _______ by ___insert date___. I plan to accomplish this by doing __________.” Write down your goals, commit to them, and remind yourself of them everyday.
My main piece of advice for someone starting his or her journey is to set goals following the SMART principle. A goal needs to be specified, measurable, attainable, realistic, and with a timeframe. When a goal is outlined, it becomes very clear of what steps are needed to take.
2. Make a Master Plan
Once the goals are established and written down, it’s time to create an execution plan with specified action steps. Take each goal and simplify it so each day is manageable; break down your day and see what you can prepare and anticipate. If your goal is to eat a meal/snack every couple hours, set an alarm on your phone to remind yourself. You can also do the same if the goal is to increase water intake. If the goal is to increase your amount of sleep, remind yourself to stop whatever activity at a certain time with no exceptions. Make the commitment, be consistent, and then evaluate the process. Was it successful? What could I improve? Don’t be afraid to be curious in the process and step outside your comfort zone. More importantly though, be mindful of your thoughts and actions. Plan ahead when possible, which is discussed next. Good intentions will falter, motivation waxes and wanes, but we persevere because of the meaning behind the goal. That’s the difference between commitment and motivation. Roll with the punches of life, pause and reflect on the situation, and proceed accordingly to the outcome you desire.
3. Plan Ahead
So now that goals are created and a plan is outlined with steps, how can we stay on top of everything? We plan ahead; we control what we can and set up the environment for success. Use whatever organizational method for you, but what has helped me greatly is logging my nutrition. Being mindful of your nutrition intake, through the use of tracking or journaling, is a success characteristic for long-term weight loss and maintainers. With so many nutrition apps available, there’s no reason why we can’t take the incentive and prep ahead. Calculate your meals in advance, cook in bulk to last a few days, and store for when you need them. For the more advanced, looking up nutrition facts ahead of time when dining out and then accounting for it allows for both structure and flexibility. There’s no reason to give up your favorites as long as mindfulness is practiced and actions align with the goal.
4. Don’t Sabotage Yourself
Once you’ve planned and prepped, the hard work is done, right? Now all you have to do is avoid those usual stumbling blocks. Nothing in life with value comes easy. While there are many potential setbacks we can encounter, a common one is trying to eat foods you don’t really like. Learning how to eat healthily and flexibly based on your body’s needs is a critical skill for long-term success. Eat the foods you love while having it fit your caloric and macronutrient (protein, carbs, and fat) figures. Much like a financial budget, allocate your calories for more whole foods, yet permit yourself to have something relaxed.
5. Enjoy Yourself!
To expand on the previous tip, granting yourself something enjoyable everyday takes away the urge for big, unplanned indulgences because you’re not depriving yourself, or self-imposing faulty assumptions on food items. Food is not dichotomous (good or bad). We must challenge our thoughts (what’s the intention?) and realize that’s not a healthy relationship with food (bring it to attention). All foods are fair game as long as it’s logged (taking action), and you remain mindful of the decision (reflecting). That’s the beauty of “flexible dieting.” That’s The Diet Doc lifestyle!