When you decide to start a healthy lifestyle, you may not know where to begin. On the surface it sounds simple, but the reality is that making a lifestyle change can be easier said than done. We’re defining what a lifestyle change involves and steps for making healthy lifestyle changes to support your health goals.
What is Lifestyle Change?
Your lifestyle includes the behaviors you have grown accustomed to over the course of your life such as your:
- Level of physical activity
- Eating habits
- Hydration habits
- Sleep routines
- Stress management methods
- and more
So, making a lifestyle change means that you are adjusting your habits, actions and patterns that align with a healthier life. You are changing the foods you eat to include more nutritious options. You are drinking more water each day. You are practicing healthier ways to deal with stress. And so on.
How to Start a Healthy Lifestyle
The biggest challenge for many of us isn’t whether or not we want to start changing some of our unhealthy lifestyle habits. The problem is being “stuck” or not knowing where to begin. So, we are perpetually thinking about making changes but not taking action.
The key to getting past this phase of “thinking about” making healthy lifestyle changes is to get specific. Start thinking on a small scale, rather than thinking big. Even small day-to-day behavior replacements can help build a healthier lifestyle. Getting started with a healthy lifestyle doesn’t have to be hard. Let’s look at simple ways to make it happen.
1. Know why you’re doing it.
Ask yourself why you want to make these changes in the first place. Even if your doctor has said that you need to lose weight, lower your blood pressure, or improve other areas of your health – s/he probably hasn’t given you a detailed plan of how to do this.
Also, only you know how improving your lifestyle will reflect in your life. By making healthy lifestyle changes will you be able to be more active, get off medications, or decrease symptoms such as headaches, sleep issues, or other areas of your health?
Lifestyle changes can not only improve your weight or lab results, they can also improve your overall quality of life.
2. Make the commitment.
Have you tried to make changes before without much success? As you start a healthy lifestyle, it’s important to know that this is not a diet or an extreme workout program. It’s a long-term commitment, and there will be ups and downs. But if you stick with your healthy habits, over time they will add up to big changes in your health. Sustainability is the ultimate goal.
3. Create a clear goal.
Even if you have big plans for making changes in your life, don’t be tempted to set a large, ambiguous goal such as “getting healthier” or “eating better.” These are empty statements and not goals.
Choose one area of your lifestyle to work on at a time. In addition, be specific with the behavior you want to change. Having a goal helps to give you clarity around what actions you need to take to start a healthy lifestyle. Be sure that the goal you are working on is measureable and attainable, and that you give yourself a time-frame for reaching this goal.
4. Identify your support system.
When you start a healthy lifestyle, it’s important to have support. While your family may not be actively participating in the healthy changes you’re making, communicating your goals with them is important.
When you have no support (or accountability), it can be quite challenging to stay on track while making healthy lifestyle changes. So, be open about what you’re doing and be sure to ask for the support you need.
5. Celebrate those intangible victories.
When you’re setting a goal that is directly tied to a number such as losing weight, you will be naturally inclined to measure your progress in concrete form such as your weight. But numbers are not the only measure of progress. Since these tangible results may take time to start showing up, we want to celebrate non-tangible victories as well. These might be feeling more energized, sleeping better, having a better mood, or simply following through with your action plan each day or week.
6. Replace, rather than remove.
You may think you need a complete overhaul of your habits and routines or you have to “give up” all of the items you love. A lifestyle change encourages you to look for healthy replacements that are enjoyable and fulfilling.
For instance, instead of sitting all day at work and then heading home to park yourself in front of the TV, why not get a workout while you’re watching your favorite show?
The goal can be making healthy replacements around food, too. Look for ways to satisfy cravings that don’t wreak havoc on your waistline or undermine your other health goals.
7. Brainstorm what can go wrong.
You will experience bumps in the road as you work on making a lifestyle change. These obstacles might include having limited time, low motivation, or lack of support. Or the challenge could be a lack of information or resources to help you execute your healthy lifestyle plan.
Set aside time to identify these obstacles; then brainstorm and troubleshoot around these potential obstacles. Look for ways to lift any barriers that may hinder you following through with your lifestyle changes.
An example of a challenge might be that you have a busy schedule and you would like to start exercising consistently. You might look at your daily and weekly schedules and make appointments with yourself to be active during those blocks of time. In addition, you can identify a list of workouts to do in shorter time-blocks rather than going to the gym, which may only discourage you from working out if you have to commute to get there. A few tweaks to your morning routine can also support a goal of being active.
Remember that with an internet connection and a few basic workout tools, you can exercise anywhere.
8. Replace negative self-talk with positivity.
There are many things that may derail your efforts to start a healthy lifestyle. And the number on offender is the voice in your head that may be doubting whether you can do this.
The internal messages we send ourselves can affect us both physically and mentally. They can help or hinder our motivation and self-confidence. If you find that negative thoughts are showing up often, take time to evaluate these thoughts and learn to replace them with positive self-talk. Approaching yourself from a loving and caring position is essential as you start healthy lifestyle changes. The change starts from within.
9. Redefine rewards.
It’s normal to reward ourselves for “good” behavior. We go to the gym consistently for a couple of weeks and lose, say 5 pounds, and it’s time to celebrate with some ice cream. You’ve been eating balanced meals and lowering your soda intake, so why not have a “cheat meal.”
Is the way that you reward your healthy behaviors sabotaging your goals? Think ahead to identify non-food ways you can reward yourself as you start a healthy lifestyle.
10. Evaluate and keep going.
Review your progress at regular intervals. Monitor how you’re doing as you work on your goals. You want to determine if your initial goal remains relevant. Also take note of any new obstacles that come up, recognize what’s working, and adjust your plans as needed to help you achieve your goals.
Alicia Hyatte is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Family Wellness Advocate, Health Educator, and a Diabetes Prevention Lifestyle Coach. She helps parents to build healthier habits and routines to better balance home and work life. Her website, WholeFamilyLiving.com, provides motivation and simple strategies for handling everyday challenges like managing stress, being active, eating healthier, losing weight, and more. Alicia is a beach lover and gardening geek in her spare time.