How many times do you hear people say, “I need to eat healthier” or, “I would eat better but . . . (insert excuse or justification here, such as schedule, demands, kids, being tired, etc.)? You can have the best intentions in the world, but in the end, the only way to actually get results and make a difference in health, fitness or weight is by taking action.
Taking action can be challenging; it usually means leaving your comfort zone and making a change to your current habits. So before taking action on any new change: a new role at work, going back to school, working out more or eating better, there are three important questions you should ask yourself to know if you are headed down the right path:
1. Why do I want to take action and make these changes? Eating healthier, whether it be eating more fruits and vegetables or eating less fried food or soda, is a commitment you make to yourself. And the changes you make must be sustained in order to get results and have a real impact on your life. But after a long, stressful day of work, what’s going to be the inspiration that makes you choose a yogurt and a piece of fruit instead of a brownie or bag of chips? What’s going to keep you from having that extra drink when you’re out with friends? Whatever answers those questions is your motivation to change. Consider why you want to make these changes, and what you are changing for. Is it to have more self-confidence in the way you look? Is it to serve as a role model for your kids? These are big motivators that keep you focused when times are tough. Figure out your true motivations for change and taking action will become inevitable!
2. What kinds of changes can I make? The changes you make to your eating habits don’t have to be big, just consistent. Sometimes we get overwhelmed by so many options (where to eat, what to cook, what to avoid, etc.) that we end up making none. Take three minutes and write down every single way you could improve your eating habits, no matter how big or small. You could cook at home one more night per week. You could replace your regular lunch with a healthy salad twice a week. You could have one less drink per week. You could replace dessert one night per week with fresh fruit.
3. How can I most effectively take action given my time, schedule, commitments, preferences, etc? After deciding why you want to make healthy adjustments to your eating habits and what changes you want to make, your attention should shift to determining which changes will give you the best chance of success. The changes you choose to focus on do not necessarily have to be dramatic; consistent, small adjustments can yield big results. 50 calories saved each day (equal to about 3 teaspoons of sugar or half a tablespoon of butter) saves you about five pounds a year. Beyond that, small successes build our confidence to take on more and potentially greater challenges. Consider your current schedule, commitments and preferences when choosing the best option. Imagine whether or not each change could fit easily into your life. For example, if you intend to have an extra fruit or vegetable every day, at what meal would you have it? Or would you have it as a snack? Where would you get it from? Would you prepare it at home or just buy it on the run at a local grocery store? Once you choose what change to work on, create a plan to execute it by answering these types of questions. By answering these questions up front, you will be giving yourself a step-by-step guide to taking action on your idea.
Tell Us: What healthy eating habit do you intend to start doing, why do you want to do it and how are you going to do it? Then comment again with an update once you’ve started doing it!
Jason Machowsky, MS, RD, CSCS is a registered dietitian, certified personal trainer, author of Savor Fitness & Nutrition wellness blog and avid proponent of MyBodyTutor, a health coaching website dedicated to helping people stay consistent with their healthy eating and exercise goals.