One of the most important steps in developing new, healthy eating habits is to set goals for yourself. Goals keep us going when we don’t want to, and give us something to celebrate when our hard work and dedication has paid off. Reaching them also shows us that what we’re doing is working.
The Big Goal
The first goal you should set is the big one, the things that you hope to accomplish after all is said and done. This is different for everyone. Whatever your goal is, make it specific, and set a timeline. It should also be realistic – you’re not going to lose 10 pounds in 2 weeks, so don’t set yourself up for failure. Here are examples of some realistic long-term goals:
- I want to lose 15 pounds of fat in 10 weeks.
- I want to be able to go from a 10 minute mile to a 9 minute mile in 3 months.
- I want to recompose my body from 25% body fat to 18% body fat in 3 months.
- I want to gain 10 pounds of lean muscle in 10 weeks.
- I want to run a marathon in 6 months.
- I want to improve my overall health by lowering my blood pressure to <120/80, my cholesterol levels to <200 mg/dl, and/or a fasting glucose level to <99mg/dl over the next 3 months.
- I want to decrease my waist measurement from 37 inches to below 34 inches in 10 weeks.
When you are determining what goals you are hoping to reach, it is very important to look at the reasons behind your goals — why are you doing this? If your answer is something like “I don’t know” or “because my friends say I should”, your motivation is going to suffer. Think very carefully and try to find something that will inspire you – “I do not want to die of heart disease like my father”, “I want to have enough energy to play with my kids”, “I want to look my best for an upcoming wedding”.
Now that you have made this big goal, put it somewhere safe, but do not focus on it. Instead, you will focus on the steps to get you there – the action goals.
The Action Goals
Now that you know what you are working for, it’s time to create the steps to get you there. Do some research first to see what must be done – read books, search the internet, and don’t be afraid to ask others who have accomplished the same goals what behaviors they implemented to get there. These goals will be your map in the journey, and are completely under your control. You make the choice every day as to whether you will follow the plan or not. Here are some examples of these types of goals:
- I will decrease my calorie intake by 500 calories a day, for the next 10 weeks.
- I will eat lean protein with each meal and replace processed carbohydrates with whole ones, 90% of the week.
- I will exercise no less than 5 times a week for at least 40 minutes at a time.
- I will add a cup of vegetables to each meal every day for the next 10 weeks.
- I will increase the amount of miles I run by 1/4 mile each week for the next 12 weeks.
- I will decrease my soda intake by one per week.
- I will start bringing my own healthy food to work 5 days per week for 12 weeks.
Commit yourself to the set of action goals by writing them down and placing them in an area that you will see them every day – your refrigerator, your mirror, your desk, etc. You can even make yourself a chart to check off your accomplishments for the day. This way, if you are not finding yourself on track, you can look back and see how closely you have been adhering to your weekly goals and recommit yourself.
It is important when creating your action goals that you take into consideration the obstacles you wrote down last week. For example, if one of your obstacles is that you are always traveling for work, you could commit yourself to finding the closest grocery store to your hotel and stocking up on healthy snacks to keep in your room. Think outside the box, there is always an answer. If you’re stuck with how to get around an obstacle, ask for help from a healthy friend, a personal trainer or even a nutritionist.
Fast Progress vs. Long Term Change
It is now time to determine how you will proceed. Understand that if you make a total lifestyle overhaul and implement all of your action goals at once, you will see faster results. However, a big lifestyle overhaul is mentally taxing, and you are more likely to give up because you are trying to change too many aspects of your life at the same time.
Your mind will seek the comfort and security of your past behaviors. This may be a good plan if you have a big event to get ready for or if this type of “big” change suits your personality. However, I recommend changing just one or two habits at a time. Once you don’t have to think about them anymore, you can move on to your next action. Do this in baby steps, adopting small changes over a longer period of time, and the change is much more likely to stick.
The average person will want to jump right in because they want immediate results, but then become frustrated and give up. This is why you see so many people try a new diet, lose some pounds, then put it right back on plus a few extra. It’s hard to change an entire lifestyle and make it stick, but it’s easy to change one small habit. One day you will look up and realize that you HAVE changed all of your habits and your lifestyle, one little step at a time.
For this week: Write down your long term goals, research the actions that will help get you there, and write them down where you can refer to them regularly. Decide whether you will implement one or two habits a week and strive for long-term progress, or if you will adopt all of the actions at once and strive for fast progress that may be more difficult to sustain.
For next week: We will be taking a closer look at your kitchen and determining if it needs an overhaul.
This article is part of a blog series titled The Steps to Developing Healthy Eating Habits. Be sure to check out the rest of the series.