NIH-funded scientists are learning more about how we can make healthy changes and, even more important, how we can sustain them.
“Change is always possible,” says Dr. Linda Nebeling, an expert in behavioral change and nutrition at NIH. You’re never too out-of-shape, too overweight or too old to make healthy changes.
- Set realistic goals. Goals set are often unrealistic, driving people to become frustrated and giving up real quick. Always think baby steps; instead of thinking of the 20 kg you want to lose, start with smaller goals: 3 kg per month for 6 months. This would seem easier and more achievable and know that even small improvements have great health benefits.
- Develop an action plan. Make a solid plan and write down the steps that will help you achieve them. You may decide to increase your physical activity, to stop buying vending machine food, keep track of your total intake. Be specific.
- Plan for obstacles. Study the challenges that you are most probable to face and figure out how to overcome them. Don’t give up just because you’ve slipped. Think of 2 things that push you to reach your goal: how important is it for you and what its benefits are. And as mentioned before, even the smallest progress will have great impact on your life. For example, overweight and obese people who lost only 7 % decreased their risk of diabetes by 60 %.
- Track your progress. A journal or diary is one of the best tools for helping you stay focused and recover from slip-ups. You don’t have to panic or feel guilty if you slip, it happens. Just have the will and determination to get over it and start fresh. If you slipped with one meal, know that it’s just a meal and start healthy all over again. No need to go back to your old habits and give up on the change you want just because of a small set back. “Self-monitoring or tracking seems to be critical for almost every sort of behavior change,” says Hunter. That includes jotting down the foods you eat, keeping an exercise diary or making a record of your sleeping patterns.
- Get help. Ask friends and family for support. Consider enrolling in a class or program. Setting up a supportive environment around will help you stay on track. So if your resolution is to quit smoking, throw away ashtrays and lighters. Or if you want to exercise more, buy appropriate clothing and get yourself a sports-buddy.
- Reward yourself. Give yourself a healthy treat when you’ve achieved a small goal or milestone, You can take a vacation, go for a road trip or just do anything you find enjoyable and rewarding.
- Add variety. Keep things interesting by adding new activities or expanding your goals to make them more challenging. If you want to make your lifestyle healthier, start by increasing your physical activity then by fixing your diet: decrease the times you eat junk food per week. Then increase your intake of fruits and vegetables, change your carbohydrates to whole, etc.