Working on health goals is a lifelong project, not just something younger people should focus on. Busy professionals get caught up in work, social, or family-related responsibilities, which are not typically geared towards better nutrition and increased exercise, causing health to quickly fall by the wayside. However, it’s never too late to turn your health around, no matter what age you are.
With an abundance of processed packaged foods available to us, and little free time to make serious health changes as simple as healthier choices, it’s no wonder so many professionals struggle to set health goals. Just remember that creating new habits takes time, and with small, gradual changes you can reset your unhealthy habits, and create a new, healthier you.
If you struggle with setting health goals, try setting SMART goals.
SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. You might be familiar with setting SMART goals in a professional setting, but they’re applicable to health and wellness goals too. When you want to accomplish something in the workplace, you first set a plan with timelines, to fully prepare yourself before taking action. Set small SMART goals that you can gradually increase as your health improves. It’s not SMART to go from “never working out” to “running a marathon in a week”.
Specific – I will eat a serving of vegetables with lunch and dinner every day.
Measurable – I will keep track of all the food I eat in a daily food journal so I can track my progress.
Attainable – Yes, this is an attainable goal because I’ve made time in my schedule and learned how to shop for, and prepare my meals, ahead of time for guaranteed success.
Realistic – Yes, this is a realistic goal because I have the resources in place for success, and I have a great support system both at home and at work.
Timely – For the next month I will create a habit of eating vegetables with lunch and dinner, then increase to 3 or 4 servings per day.
Overcoming Your Obstacles is the First Step
Do you struggle with overcoming obstacles that prevent you from setting and sticking to health goals? Many of us do, but there are a few things we can keep in mind to help set attainable goals and actually stick to them. It takes 28 days to form new healthy habits, so stay positive with these tips in mind:
- Dream Big, Start Small – All too often we set lofty health goals that aren’t met when our willpower alone isn’t enough to stay motivated. This is why it’s difficult to go from not exercising to trying to run a marathon. However, starting with small goals such as running 2km 10 weeks from now, and slowly increasing to a 5km, 10km, half marathon, etc. is more effective, and motivating.
- Don’t Focus on Temporary Changes (e.g. diet). Focus on Lifestyle – Dieting is a temporary fix for losing weight. When your diet ends, the weight quickly returns as you may not have effectively set yourself up for ‘maintenance’. Altering your lifestyle instead of following a ‘quick-fix’ diet, to form healthier habits, can help you make small healthy changes that you can maintain. Don’t just cut out carbs for a month to fit into a dress for a special occasion, eat healthier carbs in smaller portions, fewer times a day, and make it a new healthy habit.
- Make healthy habits convenient, and find ways to hold yourself accountable – Unlike New Year’s resolutions (where only 46% of New Year’s resolutions made make it past the first 6 months), focus instead on lifestyle that is attainable and sustainable. If you create healthy habits such as planning to grocery shop in advance, and meal prep every Sunday for meals to last you the week, it suddenly becomes convenient to eat healthy meals throughout the workday. Accountability is also key to sticking to your health goals; ask coworkers or family to join you on your journey to a new healthy lifestyle, or sign up for group fitness classes at the gym so that you’re signed up to show up!
Lifestyle Changes are the Answer to Finally Setting and Sticking to Health Goals
Healthy eating isn’t always easy, but it is possible. Our taste buds have changed over time to crave processed foods, but fresh, whole foods are still better for us. It is possible to train your taste buds to be addicted to healthy foods – slowly. Start adding fresh, whole foods to 80% of your food, daily. You are every step closer to permanent healthy eating habits.
When you approach healthy eating with an all-or-nothing mindset, you’ll become demotivated, bored, and the restriction will likely see you bingeing instead on junk food. Instead, try tackling one unhealthy eating habit at a time. Start your day with a small meal if you typically do not eat breakfast, or swap your nightly dessert for a bowl of fruit. After you tackle one bad habit, move on to another, like introducing more vegetables into every meal. It’s also ok to enjoy sweets or pizza 20% of the time, but not as a large part of your daily eating habits.
If your health has suffered because of a busy schedule and professional life, it’s not too late to start feeling and looking your best. Only you can control your life by making smarter lifestyle changes so that in order to stick to your health goals. It might not seem easy at first, but it will be worth it. Not only will you be more productive at work, but your time outside of work will also be of quality when you’re no longer suffering from stress and unable to take part in active events with friends and families.