by Marnie Record, workforce specialist, Lincoln Land Community College
It’s that time of year when crowds fill the gyms, diet books fly off the shelves, and athletic wear sales spike. Getting healthy tops New Year’s resolution lists year after year. Yet, research repeatedly shows anywhere from 55 to 92 percent of resolutions fail by February. While the odds may be stacked against you, increase your chance of success with a thoughtful plan.
I’m not a doctor, a psychologist, or an expert health coach, but my mom still feigns disbelief retelling the story of my expressed intention to live to be 100 at the experienced age of eight years young – a goal I attribute to four decades of avoiding prescriptions and doctor visits other than routine wellness exams. And the practice of continually setting and working toward goals in athletic programs from childhood through college helped me run a marathon four months after my longest run had been three miles.
The goal setting process isn’t easy to learn, but in time becomes second nature.
Five suggestions to start you on your path to better health:
Set purpose to your goal
If Aunt Mae wants you to lose 20 pounds or the latest research extolls the virtues of eating kale daily, but you’re not a fan of Aunt Mae or kale for that matter, you’re more likely to return to previous habits at the first sign of hardship. Pick a goal that has meaning and value, and comes from the heart to support you in sticking to your goal. The vision of where you want to be may come to mind as you are reaching for the bag of potato chips, the pint of ice cream, or the frozen pizza, and remind you of what matters most.
Know where you are starting
The first step to behavior change is knowing what we are changing. I firmly believe what we perceive as our behavior patterns are not always accurate. Without actual data, all we have are guesses. To know beyond a shadow of a doubt where you are starting, create a detailed spreadsheet of what aspects of your health you want to measure. I wouldn’t do anything different or make any changes during a month of time establishing a baseline. If you think you eat three desserts a week, but really it’s more like five or six, then you will see progress being made when you get down to three.
Decide on the indicators of health that relate to your personal goals. Maybe you are ready to tackle them all or you want to pick two or three to focus on first. You might include the number of meals eaten in a restaurant, amount of water consumed, hours of sleep received, minutes of exercise, and ratio of fresh versus processed foods. The fresh foods could be broken down into categories of fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, meats and milk. Processed food categories might include desserts, alcohol, sugar drinks and anything in a can, box, wrapper or bag. In thinking about all the ways to measure health, we remember the countless choices made every day, often without a pause, that affect how we feel.
Track your progress
Once you have a clear picture of your where you are starting, keep track of the information daily or regularly depending on the goal. For example, if the goal is to lose weight by eating more healthy foods, I might tally vegetable servings daily while monitoring weight monthly. The continual monitoring of progress keeps your mind and actions focused on the goal. You’ll also begin to see patterns of where you slip, and identify plateaus that will help you make adjustments along the way. Additionally, creating a visual picture that we have to face can provide the motivation needed to cook a meal rather than run through the drive-through.
Be gentle with yourself
As you graph your progress, chances are it will not follow a linear path. You will have ups and downs. In life some days are easier than others. Making lasting changes takes time.
When you hit pitfalls, keep going.
A stressful week at work, family emergency, travels away from home, and many more potential setbacks come our way. Instead of letting these events turn back the clock permanently, make a commitment to yourself to return to your resolution by reminding yourself of your purpose, reviewing the data you have collected, requesting support from a trusted friend or family member, and remembering it takes time to imprint new ways of being. Give yourself permission to take a day off, but don’t lose sight of taking care of yourself.
Regardless of the results achieved, you will learn more of what you can do and have successes to celebrate along the way.
I am leaving my position at Lincoln Land Community College to work on a farm to school project in Hawaii so this will be my last column. I’ve learned a lot from writing this monthly column and appreciate you reading. My parting wish is that you all keep discovering new ways to learn about and love good food.
Lincoln Land Community College offers credit programs in Value-Added Local Food, Culinary Arts, Hospitality Management, and Baking/Pastry, and non-credit cooking and food classes through our Community Learning Culinary Institute. For more information, visit our website at www.llcc.edu.