Week 1 — What tools do I need to change my lifestyle?

Tell me if this sounds familiar: You’re always tired, don’t have the energy you used to, the dryer seems to be shrinking all of your clothes (or your favorite jeans have joined the “goal clothes” section of your closet…maybe a few of your favorite shirts too), you don’t concentrate or remember things as well as you used to, or your overly honest kids have let you know that your tummy looks like the beach ball they drew in school yesterday.

It’s not a secret that as we get older, have kids, and otherwise let the demands on our time get overwhelming, that health, fitness, and good eating habits tend to be the first things to go out the window. This four week series is going to give you the tools you need to take back your health (and the “goal pants” section of your closet) without having to turn your life completely upside down.

How do we accomplish this? There are a couple of strategies that I recommend to get you prepared to change your lifestyle.

Have a clearly defined goal

What is it that you want? “Lose some weight”, “be healthier”, or other generic goals will NOT work. Be specific!
SMART goals work the best — Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound.

For example — “I want to run a marathon by the end of the year.” Or “In the next 30 days I want to lose 5 pounds and fit into my favorite jeans again.”

Have a plan.

How are you going to reach your goal? If you want to lose weight this month, what will you do to get there?

Process goals are very effective for making a plan to achieve your SMART goals. A process goal outlines something you want to do, rather than the result you want to achieve.

For example — “In the next 30 days I want to eat 1/2 cup of green veggies at every meal, including breakfast.” “For the next 30 days I will attend a workout class at the gym for one hour every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.” If you set the right process goals, they will help you achieve your SMART goal.

Start small.

Start with just one or two habits to focus on each week. Adding green veggies to every meal is a great one, because it’s a simple addition without having to eliminate any foods you like or make time for exercise. A move goal every day is great to start with also, because playing with your kids, walking your dogs, or even yard work can count towards that goal, and you have to do those things anyway!

Find a good support system!

This one can be difficult if your family finds your new habits annoying, because when it gets hard to stick to your plan (and it will at some point, I promise you) you’ll have no one there to push you to make a choice that will take you towards your goals instead of away from them other than yourself. Cleaning up your diet is often something your kids and husband won’t appreciate (because most kids prefer pizza to broccoli), so find someone who understands. A mom’s group focused on good health, a similar online group, a friend, a workout partner, or a family member can all be the support you need. Someone who has similar goals and is going through the same struggles can be particularly helpful to be around right now.

Where are you getting fitness and nutrition advice?

How do you know what you should be doing in the gym, or what you should be eating?

This can be tricky, because the advice out there varies WIDELY, and a good deal of it isn’t based on current science. We’ll talk about the specifics of how to choose a diet next week, but generally speaking, if it came in a box, you should minimize or even eliminate it. Meats, eggs, fish, veggies, nuts/seeds, and a little fruit should make up the majority of your diet. Stop the focus on calories, and start to focus on the quality of your food. The less processed food you eat, the better you’ll feel — and bonus, you’ll start to be able to feel your body’s natural satiety and hunger signals again!

Exercise can be just as tricky, and we’ll discuss different types more in depth in two weeks. Now is a good time to decide whether you want to workout at home or at a gym; whether you need a trainer to design a program, and what your fitness specific goals are. While it’s true that tons of workouts are available on the internet, it helps to have some basic knowledge of exercise science to know how to combine different movements and different kinds of workouts so that they’re not only effective, but safe. For now, try to make sure you’re moving at least 30 minutes every day, even if that’s just walking your dog or messing around with your kids on the monkey bars.

Assess potential roadblocks NOW — don’t wait!

You’re going to have bumps in the road, it’s inevitable. But you know your life, your strengths, and your weaknesses better than I ever could. So be honest with yourself — what is going to trip you up? Is it the girl scout going door to door selling cookies for the next few weeks? The desire to watch Netflix instead of going for a walk? Ordering a pizza when you’ve had a rough day instead of throwing something in the crockpot?

You already know what your biggest weaknesses are, so prepare for them! If you work long days and hate to cook, meal prep and freezer meals are going to be your best friend. Always have something easy ready to throw in the microwave or defrost in a skillet really fast. If you hate leaving the house once you’re home, put a gym bag in your car and hit the gym right after work. Or, if you’re a stay at home mom, get your gym clothes on an hour before your husband gets home, and DON’T sit down once he’s home — just leave. If you prefer to workout at home, schedule it on your calendar, and treat it like a mandatory work appointment. Get up before the kids and knock out a 30 or 60 minute workout — put your gym clothes next to the bed (or sleep in them), put a glass of water next to the bed the night before, and once your alarm rings you know it’s time to have a drink, get dressed, and move.
Be flexible, because as you progress towards a healthier lifestyle, your biggest challenges will probably change.

Most of all, remember you can do this!

Improving your fitness routine and eating habits are proven to have a positive effect on your mental health, and you can push those benefits from the start by trying to maintain a positive attitude. When it’s hard, remember why that’s a good thing — you’re challenging your mind and body so they get better.

Find a way to help stay in a positive mindset. I love having a gratitude journal — each morning, find a few things that you’re grateful for to write down, and a few more every night. This will actually retrain your brain to see the good in every situation, and will help you stay positive when things get tough. If journaling isn’t your thing, find a book that keeps you positive, a playlist you can blast when you feel yourself getting stressed or discouraged, or come up with something different that suits your personality.

Next week we’ll talk about how to choose what you eat and why, based on your goals. What questions do you have for next week’s post?