Making changes to your lifestyle in order to improve your health can seem daunting, whether that means trying to move more or overhaul your “diet”. This is partly because we often try to do everything at once, which is one of the biggest mistakes you can make.
If you’ve ever tried going “cold turkey” on certain foods or jumping into a full-on exercise schedule having not exercised for a while, you will know that it’s pretty taxing physically and mentally, particularly as time goes on. It’s a lot to think about and implement, particularly if you are already busy with work and family life.
But it doesn’t have to be this difficult. The way to create sustainable change is to take it one step at a time, however small.
Below are some simple but significant habits to get into that will get the ball rolling, and make healthy eating and being active a lot easier. They may seem simplistic – we tend to think that making change should feel much harder than this – but they make a surprising difference. Any significant change in lifestyle is made up of lots of smaller changes in relevant behaviours and skills, which should be the first points of focus.
1. Plan your exercise for the week each Sunday
I ask my clients to sit down for 10 minutes every Sunday evening (or Saturday if Sunday evening is too hectic!) and write down exactly when, where and how they are going to exercise in the following week.
Why? Deciding exactly what you are going to do in advance removes the need for later decision-making, when such decisions may be affected by fatigue, stress, lack of time or mood. It also reduces the ambiguity, so there should be no procrastinating about whether you should exercise before or after dinner, or leave it until “another time”. This way, you can plan your exercise around other errands and vice versa.
2. Cook in batches
Whenever you cook a meal from scratch, make enough for a few batches to be frozen. Then when you next have one of those evenings where you don’t have the time or energy to cook, hey presto – you still have a good meal to eat that involves little effort!
Why? Having healthy options readily available reduces the likelihood that you’ll opt for less nutritious but highly convenient options, such as takeaways or snacks.
3. Record your progress
I’m thinking beyond standard measures such as weight here. Try noting down what you did each time you exercise, and how it felt.
Why? Recording your progress allows you to look back and see how your fitness has improved, but also to reflect upon how you have grown in your ability to motivate yourself and face challenges. These things will increase your self-efficacy – the confidence you have in your ability to get things done – and give you something to feel satisfied with yourself for!
4. Consider what a food will do for your body
When deciding what to eat, consider how the food will benefit your body. I don’t mean over-analyse – I mean just think about how a food can do you good. Fruit and vegetables are full of vitamins and minerals that are essential to healthy functioning and optimising energy levels. Protein helps you to recover and build muscle. Complex carbs provide energy and usually fibre, which aids digestion. These are just examples. Consider this before and after exercise too – what foods provide optimal nutrition for energy and recovery? If there isn’t much you can find that’s nutritious about a food, then it’s probably the sort of thing you want to eat in moderation.
Note: I do not believe in demonising any particular food. The negative effects of highly sugary/fatty food items are generally derived from the quantity you eat them in, not the food itself. If anything, chemicals are the most important thing to avoid. So please do not feel the need to over-analyse and feel guilty about eating treats! If you have a balanced diet containing plenty of nutrients, eating less nutritious but tasty foods in moderation is not a problem in the slightest.
Why? This will encourage you to pay more attention to what you eat and opt for nutrient-rich foods. A lot of the time, people aren’t eating a nutritious diet purely because they don’t think about it. When you take a second to think about how your body could benefit from certain foods, you will be more inclined to pick the wholesome ones.
5. Park at the wrong end of the car park
Whenever you have to park up somewhere and walk, park as far away as you can within reason. Or at least don’t try to park as close as possible.
Why? Making tiny extra efforts like this can make a surprising difference when added up over a week. If you get into the habit of walking just a little bit further each time you go shopping, you’ll soon get into the habit of doing it elsewhere, and even start looking for opportunities to be more active. It’s a dead easy way of burning a few more calories and stretching your legs.