Each year, millions of people look forward to the New Year as it provides an opportunity to reflect on the past and determine what goals you want to achieve in the coming year. For many, these goals are centered around health and wellness. In fact in 2021, the top 3 New Year resolutions were: To exercise more and improve fitness, to lose weight and last but not least, to improve one's diet. While the idea of losing weight and exercise sounds easy and exciting, in reality 80-percent of resolutions will fail by the second week of February according to the U.S. News & World Report.
If you find yourself giving up on your health goals year after year, it may not be the resolution that’s the issue, but the way you are approaching your health goals. This year instead of setting unrealistic health goals, let's take a new approach, one that shifts your mindset to focus on ways to make you feel your best in 2022.
1. Break your long term goals into bite size pieces.
When it comes to goal setting one of the biggest mistakes people make is setting too high of standards that are unrealistic. We all want to accomplish things in life. But setting goals that are not specific enough makes them seem impossible to accomplish. It also makes it difficult to measure your progress. The best approach is to break your long-term goals into small pieces.
There are two types of goals- long and short term. Long-term goals are goals you want to accomplish in the future and really focus on. Long-term goals usually take six months to a year to complete. Think of long term goals as your final destination on this leg of your health journey. For example, “I want to improve my diet” is a great example of a long term goal.
On the other hand, short-term goals are tasks you want to achieve in a week or a couple of months. These types of goals should act as stepping stones and keep you moving on the right path so you can achieve your long term goal. When you set specific goals, it gives you the directions you need to get to your final destination. Using the long-term goal above, a specific short-term goal could be “ I will stop drinking regular soda.” You know, soda contains a lot of added sugar, which has been linked to cardiovascular disease and weight gain, so you decide it's time to break the soda habit.
By setting short-term goals that are challenging but attainable, you create small wins for yourself, which can make all the difference in the world when it comes to staying motivated and progressing towards your long-term goal of eating healthier.
2. Examine your goals to ensure they are measurable, attainable, realistic and timely.
Now that the long-term and short term goals are specific let's do some brainstorming to see how we can make them measurable, attainable, realistic and timely.
Measurable goals allow you to assess your progress and should include specifics on how the task can be tracked. It is also a good idea to determine your timeline. If there is nothing measurable to track or a timeframe to know when to start and stop a task, it's hard to define success and know you are making progress toward your goals.
Ensuring you are ready to make changes is also an important step a lot of people miss. Sometimes when you try to make changes earlier than when you’re supposed to or what your current circumstances allow, it makes it very difficult if not impossible to reach your health goals. Starting a new goal at the right time gives you the energy you need to stay focused making the goal more attainable.
Now that we have established it is the right time to start eating more healthily, and we know we would like to start with eating less sugar, it's time to complete our long term goal.“ I will eat more healthily by reducing my added sugar intake to less than 10% of total energy over the next 6 months.” Using another hypothetical scenario let's say you drink 3-12oz cans of regular soda every day. That seems like a pretty strong habit and while quitting cold turkey is an option, and may work for some people, it can be extremely difficult. So, to make the short-term goal of quitting drinking regular soda a more realistic goal. Instead of “I will stop drinking regular soda” try “I will reduce my intake of soda by cutting back to 1-12 oz cans of regular soda everyday for 3 weeks.” Both of the goals are now SMART goals.
3. Reevaluate your goals as needed.
Since you were successful and met your short-term goal it is time to reevaluate your it. Let's say you felt while reducing your soda intake was challenging, it was doable, and you decided to challenge yourself a little more and cut back to 1-12oz soda every other day to keep you moving towards your long-term goal.
Goals are not meant to be fixed, if a goal is reached too easily, make harder goals. If the goal was unachievable, set smaller simpler goals. In order to keep progressing, you have to reevaluate your goals to see if they are still relevant. Then, once you get to a place where you are happy with the goals you have achieved, it’s time to start the process over and create a new short-term goal to help you keep moving closer to your long-term goal.
4. Avoid the fad diets.
Have you ever seen an advertisement for a diet that sounds a little too good to be true? Or, one that requires you to eliminate entire food groups from your diet? If so, congratulations, you are familiar with fad diets. Unfortunately, there is no magic pill or green smoothie diet that will magically melt 10 pounds off you in a week or two. If you're not quite sure if a diet is a fad or not simply ask yourself this question.
Is this a way of eating that you can easily maintain throughout your entire life?
If you answered “no”, then the diet in question is likely unsustainable in the long term. While fad diets will help you shed pounds in the short term, once the diet is stopped, the lost weight is usually regained quickly and causes feelings of failure and even depression. The word diet literally means “the food and drink that you eat and drink regularly.” Therefore, a diet should be a lifestyle, not a short-term cycle.
This year try something new and give yourself permission to not be on a diet. Instead, focus on basic nutrition by minimizing your intake of ultra processed foods and by eating a variety of unprocessed or minimally processed foods with moderate portions to provide your body the fuel it needs to keep you energized throughout your day.
Remember the childhood story about the tortoise and the hare? And the saying “slow and steady wins the race.” This expression means although progress may be slow, that consistency pays off in the end. This story holds true when it comes to achieving your health goals. It may not happen overnight but with effort and consistency you can achieve your goals and be your best.
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