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Little Ways to Make Big Changes

If you find yourself hopping on and off the health train, just know that you are not alone. As a dietitian I often get asked, “What’s the secret?”. Whether it’s the secret to losing weight, exercising regularly, or simply leading a healthier lifestyle, consistency is always my answer. And if we’re being honest, this is usually the hardest habit to harness.

In my experience, building sustainable and manageable habits that lead to long term results is the absolute backbone of consistency. I’m sure many of you are thinking that’s easier said than done, so what’s the secret to the secret?

If you want my advice, stop setting big goals that require overwhelming changes in hopes of gaining instant gratification.

Instead, try setting small goals that require manageable changes and celebrate each little victory you get. Trust me when I say that every small win will leave you feeling accomplished, motivated, and determined to stay on track long term in pursuit of that bigger goal.

Set S.M.A.R.T Goals for Yourself:

Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely…

So, you say you want to lose weight. That’s great! Now how are you going to get there?

When we set general and maybe even arbitrary goals for ourselves, it can feel overwhelming, daunting, and eventually unimportant. But when we set short-term, specific, and manageable goals, we create a window of opportunity that can leave us feeling hopeful and motivated.

If losing 20 pounds is your end goal, your short-term goal might be to cook dinner 4 nights a week to avoid ordering takeout for the next two weeks.

Now you have a clear pathway to help you get to your end goal which creates healthier habits along the way. If you’re having a hard time figuring out your SMART goal for the week or the month, first ask yourself, “What am I willing and able to do?” If exercising an hour each day isn’t in your wheelhouse, start with a 15-minute walk 3 times a week.

Something is always better than nothing.

Find Your Accountability:

It may come as no surprise that answering to someone other than yourself is a great way to stay on track. That could be paying for a workout class upfront, walking with a co-worker over your lunch break, or sharing your food log with a friend who has like-minded goals. The great thing about 2023 is there are endless apps that allow us to track and share our progress with others. My Fitness Pal, Strava, Nike Run Club, HabitShare, and FitBit are just a few. Each extra level of accountability makes it that much harder to give up, because let’s face it, committing to others is often easier than committing to ourselves.

Plan Ahead:

To all the non-planners out there… DON’T STOP READING.

I know not everyone is a planner. You may prefer to fly by the seat of your pants and look at your calendar only when absolutely necessary (the type A in me could use some of that). However, implementing at least some small form of a plan is one of the most powerful tools you can use to set and achieve your goals. You may find it stressful to plan for a week or a month at a time, and that’s okay! But what if you start with just a few days or even one day in advance. You would be surprised at how much easier it can be to prioritize and stick with small goals.

If grocery shopping and planning meals for the week seems too overwhelming, start by taking inventory of your food every few days instead.

Do you have enough groceries in the house for the next few days, or do you need to place an online delivery for the basics? (Amazon Fresh has saved my life!)

Do you have enough Performance Meal Prep meals left for the week, or do you need to place a Tuesday night order?

If all else fails, take a minute to think about just one meal at a time. Maybe you can grab a few healthy snacks at Wawa with your morning coffee on the way to work, or stop at Sweetgreen for lunch instead of grabbing a slice of pizza.

No time to get to the gym today? How about a quick walk in between your afternoon meetings instead. Every little change counts.

And you know what they say… when we fail to plan, we plan to fail.

Set an Intention:

Bringing awareness to our goals more regularly makes it easier to prioritize them consistently. If we go into our day or our week with the intent of doing something as part of a bigger picture, we have a higher probability of success. Each morning, try asking yourself what your mind or body might need, not want. If your brain is telling you it needs a break, set aside some time to do yoga for 10 minutes or a quick meditation at the end of your day. Your body might be telling you it hasn’t eaten a vegetable in a few days, or maybe you haven’t had anything to drink besides coffee in a while. Now you can go into your day with the intent of eating vegetables with at least one meal or drinking a glass of water before your morning coffee. Your intent may be different from day to day or week to week, and you may not always achieve it, but the more awareness you have around your goals the easier they are to stick with long term.

If you’re looking to make a change, whether it’s health-related or not, don’t set your standards too high, don’t beat yourself up if you fail, and always focus on the small wins. The beauty in setting new goals is that they are solely our own, and we can get to them in whichever way we choose. If you find yourself in a rut and not sure why you started in the first place, it’s okay to step away for bit and come back again when you have found your “WHY”. Once you have found that, you have found the key to consistency.

- Chelsea Hoover, MS, RD, LDN


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