Improving your health is quite boring actually. It’s not rocket science. I know exactly how to improve my health, and it’s likely the same thing you need to do to improve your health: Exercise more than I watch TV, consume only the number of calories I will burn in a day, eat more fruits and veggies and less junk food, drink more water and less alcohol, get more sleep at night. Blah blah blah. The list drones on and on and your eyes roll back in your head. Enough with the health talk already!
Why is it so hard to be healthy? Why are healthy goals always at the top of the list of New Years resolutions? And why are healthy goals also at the top of the list New Years resolutions people think they will not be able to keep?
Most of us are working professionals. We are successful at work because we know how to assess a situation, define the high-level objective, create a list of tasks with due dates, track the project to completion, and move on to the next thing. So why is it so difficult to translate that success from our professional lives into success with our health? I have many theories on that. But here I will just focus on what I have done this year to break my own personal patterns and begin to improve my health.
Looking back to the beginning of the year, I can honestly say that I didn’t start the year with a specific plan to improve my health. But I have. In retrospect I can see what I’ve done and how I’ve done it. If neurons that fire together wire together, then the good news is that I think I’m finally starting to wire some of those neurons together.
The biggest thing I’ve done to improve my health is to keep an open mind, and allow myself to be inspired and motivated by small things and in small ways as they occur. I have made many small changes on the path to improve my health. I didn’t start the year by creating an elaborate plan, so the good news is that I haven’t discarded that elaborate plan! Yay! Success!
I should also point out that I haven’t always made great strides. But I am very pleased to be able to look back at the baby steps I have made towards improving my health. And I can honestly say that I think I am healthier today than I was on January 1. I have successfully nibbled at the elephant’s trunk and legs and tail, even though I haven’t successfully eaten the whole elephant.
So, here’s the short list of 6 things I have done this year to improve my health, and that I hope to keep doing. And I hope you can find some inner motivation and inspiration to spark your own journey towards improving your health.
- I joined a weight loss contest. This is what started it all for me this year. A friend was starting up a weight loss contest with some co-workers. The most quantifiable health goal I can make is to lose some weight. So, I decided to join. It just so happened that my husband joined a similar contest at his work. It was slow going at first. For both of us. But we both got serious and both ended up winning our respective contests. The two biggest factors to our success were an external motivator and support at home. It wasn’t hard for me to enjoy a delicious grilled chicken breast with chipotle cherry rub and grilled garlic zucchini when everyone else at the table was eating the same thing. And when my husband said, “I’ll clean the kitchen and put the kids to bed so you can go work out”… It’s amazing how fast I tricky trotted off to the treadmill! Bottom line is that that early success fostered a mindset that I could make positive changes in my life and my health.
- I read Eat This Not That. At the beginning of the contest, my husband brought home a couple of Eat This Not That books by David Zinczenko. Those books were the start of my taking advantage of mini-inspirations. Using some of the ideas from the books and my own common sense, I took a good look in our pantry. I had thought we were eating pretty healthy, but I found several areas where we could improve the quality of our food and improve our health overall. So, through little changes in the brand or type of food I was buying, I estimated that I cut out about 300 calories a day, increased our fiber intake to recommended daily amounts, and cut fat significantly. For example, we found that we like the organic 1% milk just as much as the non-organic 2% milk. Or, with a different brand of English muffins, we cut calories by about 50 per muffin while also increasing fiber by about 3g per muffin. After almost a year, we’ve found some great brands that we like and are a bit healthier, and I have developed the habit of quickly skimming the nutritional panel. John Myer also has some good tips in his article, Tips for Shopping Healthy. And I feel much better about having overall improved our health by making smart, more nutritional choices at the grocery store.
- I found some cool gadgets to help document my success. For example, I love the Livestrong app on my iPhone, provided by Livestrong.com. I can track my calorie budget by tracking calories burned vs. calories consumed. Some calorie trackers don’t have very extensive databases of food, but I have found just about everything I am looking for so that I don’t have to guess. I can also record my weight every day, so I can see that nice little graph that is overall trending downward. In general we’ve cut down on eating out, which certainly helps. But when we do eat out, I can find foods from most restaurants. And that helps me make smarter choices. I don’t have to deprive myself by eating salad without dressing. Instead, I am empowered to make a smart choice, pick something I like to eat, and save 500 calories. In this case, I am working to improve my health, while still enjoying things that I love!
- I planned for every day, not just for a specific event. I read an article a few months ago that really stuck with me. I wish I could remember the magazine to properly source it. But the gist is that the article was talking about some well-known entertainment figures who have had ongoing and public battles with dieting and weight loss yo-yos. The author hypothesized that the problem was not the lack of planning or discipline to lose weight and be healthy. But rather, the problem was that there wasn’t a plan for after achieving the goal of lose weight and be healthy. For example, a basic plan to lose weight is actually quite simple: Eat 1200 calories a day and exercise 30 minutes a day. But once you’ve lost your weight goal, how to change that plan to “be healthy”. It’s a little more nebulous. But you do need a plan so you don’t slip back into old habits. For example, the plan might be to eat 1400 calories and exercise 30 minutes 3 times a week, weigh weekly, and go back to Lose Weight plan if the scale goes up by more than 2 lbs.
- I included my family. My children are influenced by their genetics and our environment, and I have a very strong desire for them to be overall more healthy and active.It has been a motivator for me, but I haven’t known quite what to do.I read an advertisement-article in a magazine in a doctor’s office that had interviews with a variety of women about how they stay healthy and how they help their family to stay healthy. I was struck that every one of these women incorporated exercise and health into their lives. They made it a no-compromise priority for themselves. Their children knew it was a priority, and followed the example. What a great inspiration!
- I wrote down my short but specific plan. This is my latest inspiration-if I don’t figure out what my plan is, I won’t know if I’m on track. For example, I have a few more pounds I want to lose, and I’ve been struggling. I have plenty of excuses-pressures at work, things to do around the house… I finally realized that I had this general goal-lose a few more pounds. But that was the extent of it. Except that every week for the last month I’ve been beating myself up about it not happening. I just this weekend realized that I need to identify specifically how I’m going to achieve my goal. And then after a few weeks, if I haven’t begun to lose the weight, then I will know specifically what is or isn’t working. So, I got an old whiteboard from the garage and wrote on it 4 things I could do every day-only two cups of coffee per day, no eating at the café at my office complex, small plate and one portion for dinner, 120 minutes on the treadmill per week. I just started with this plan this week, so maybe I’ll check back and let you know if it’s been successful at helping me to improve my health!