Short-term goals have bigger gains with weight loss
Incorporating healthy habits, like exercise or a better diet, are great things to do. However, given the broad range of choices and advice on how best to exercise or what the best foods are to eat, it can seem overwhelming. Incorporating healthy habits into your everyday routine takes some planning and "pre-work" to be successful.
For most of us the habits and stressors that allowed us to get to where we are today formed over years, and changing takes time. Setting the bar too high can be a costly mistake and compromises the long-term goal. Make your goals specific, realistic and have an action plan for achieving them. For example,losing 20 pounds is a good long-term vision, but 20 pounds do not come off quickly. Some reasonable daily goals may be having one less soda per day, parking on the far end of the parking lot or taking the
stairs every day. Daily changes centered around how we function allow for success, better behavior, and an increase in physical activity that may ultimately lead to the bigger vision.
Building on small, daily achievements and identifying trouble spots will also help. If your usual routine is to buy a high calorie coffee drink on the way to work, how will you change that tomorrow to avoid this? Is there a substitute that may be healthier? Having to make last minute decisions about diet or exercise changes is not likely to work, so plan now to be successful.
Lastly, a strategy that relies only on what a person can cut out rather than what they can achieve rarely works. Calorie reduction may be an important part of a weight loss plan but the negative reinforcement of always seeming to deprive yourself without seeing a positive outcome short term will make this much harder. Set goals that focus on improvement in function, mood, and other aspects of life that have a more immediate, positive impact on your daily life.
Making change is difficult but achievable with careful planning and appropriate goal setting. The little victories (walking for 10 minutes three times per day, one less soda per day, smoking a few less cigarettes per day) are worth celebrating. Have a plan for not only what the action will be but also what to do when challenges arise, and don't let small set backs discourage you as success often requires several attempts. It is never too late be make a positive change in your health and planning can help assure achievement of your goals.
Dr. Robert W. Fields is the assistant medical director for primary care at Mission Medical Associates.