Motivation Articles

Achieve 5 Major Health Goals, 1 Step at a Time

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#GOALS. We all have them, especially at this time of year. Lose weight, eat healthy, exercise more, stop smoking, get organized, de-stress…sound familiar? Each is a noble ambition, but also very broad and too general, otherwise known as the formula for failure. When individuals set goals that are not targeted and specific, it’s easy to get overwhelmed trying to overhaul multiple aspects of life at once, which ultimately makes the goals easier to abandon than to accomplish.
 
The key to success, according to expert after expert, is setting SMART goals. In breaking down those grand, sweeping goals into smaller, bite-sized action items, you’re able to focus on progress and celebrate mini-victories rather than feeling discouraged that you haven’t managed to pull a 180-degree turn in just a week’s time. With consistency and dedication, those small steps will add up to big -- and sustainable -- results.
 

Long-Term Goal: Eat less added sugar.


  • Action #1: Identify the foods with added sugar that have little nutritional value. Go through your pantry, refrigerator and freezer and remove any offenders. In addition to things like cookies and cakes, this may include snacks that appear healthy but are mainly sugar, such as granola. No need to remove foods that contain natural sugar from dairy and fruit.
  • Action #2: Write down three snacks that contain little added sugar that you can eat, such as a half-cup of nonfat, plain Greek yogurt topped with banana and one teaspoon of agave nectar.
  • Action #3: Write down three desserts that contain more natural sugars from dairy and fruit as opposed to added sugar. Have the ingredients on hand for the times when your sweet tooth strikes.
  • Action #4: Write down three breakfasts that are lower in added sugar. Instead of topping waffles or pancakes with maple syrup, substitute a fruit-based or yogurt-based topping, for example.
  • Action #5: Avoid buying the worst offenders, like cookies or sugar-filled beverages. Keep your worst trigger foods out of the house completely, and stock up on the new choices you selected above.
Toby Amidor, MS, RD nutrition expert and author of "The Greek Yogurt Kitchen"

Long-Term Goal: Exercise at least three days a week.


  • Action #1: Make a list of three activities that you already enjoy. Next, make a list of three new activities you'd like to try.
  • Action #2: Create a weekly exercise calendar incorporating a mix of the two lists. Be as specific as possible, such as, "Monday: Walk for 30 minutes at noon. Tuesday: Go to 6:00 yoga class," and so on. Treat the exercise sessions like any other appointment or meeting.
  • Action #3: If you're new to exercise, consult your doctor to make sure you can safely begin the program you've mapped out.
  • Action #4: Consider finding an exercise buddy to help keep you motivated and accountable.
  • Action #5: Log your exercise every day. This will help you monitor your progress and keep the momentum going.

Long-Term Goal: Switch from eating processed foods to a whole-food diet 80 percent of the time.


  • Action #1: Move away from soda, juice and "dessert" coffee drinks. Start drinking a glass of water with a squeeze of lemon every morning when you wake up. Drink a glass of water before each meal and snack.
  • Action #2: Move away from simple carbs to complex ones. Aim to switch to entirely whole grains—this will keep your blood sugar more stable and help prevent cravings.
  • Action #3: Gradually decrease the amount of white rice, white pasta and potatoes on your plate. Add more high-fiber veggies, especially dark, leafy greens.
  • Action #4: Either alternate white carbs with whole grain ones (white rice and brown rice) or mix the two together, gradually increasing the proportion of whole to processed.
  • Action #5: Increase the amount of beans you eat compared to animal protein, especially highly processed sausages, deli meats, etc.
  • Action #6: Eat lots of sweet root veggies, such as sweet potatoes, carrots and beets. Over time, these can reduce your cravings for sugary sweets.
  • Action #7: Move away from takeout and eating out to cooking from scratch at home. Focus on preparing simple dishes, and learn how to meal plan so that you are never cooking for just one meal at a time. 
Liza Baker, health coach for Simply: Health Coaching and author of "Flip Your Kitchen"

Long-Term Goal: Get better at portion control.


  • Action #1: Before every meal or snack, drink 16 ounces of water so you start out with a full belly.
  • Action #2: Make veggies your largest food group. Try eating them first, before other foods. This tactic has been shown to be effective in getting kids to eat their veggies, so it's worth a shot!
  • Action #3: Enjoy pre-portioned packs of snacks. They may be a bit more expensive, but it's a small price to pay for feeling more confident and in control. Or, to save money, prepare your own by using measuring cups and Ziploc bags. 
Registered dietitian Ilana Muhlstein

Long-Term Goal: Stop smoking.


  • Action #1: Make a list of your specific reasons for quitting. Keep it in a prominent place where you will see it every day.
  • Action #2: Tell your friends, family and co-workers about your decision to quit, and ask them to help keep you accountable. Avoid spending time with smokers who may tempt you to regress.
  • Action #3: Identify your "trigger times" when you typically crave a cigarette, such as driving to work, finishing a meal or drinking coffee. Find an alternate activity for those scenarios, such as taking a different route to work or going on a quick walk after meals.
  • Action #4: Find a mantra (or several) that reinforces your decision to quit. Whenever you have a craving, repeat your mantras to yourself until it passes.
  • Action #5: For the first two weeks after you officially quit, keep yourself busy and distracted with work, exercise, cooking, meditation—any healthy, productive activity that keeps your mind off smoking.
  • Action #6: Celebrate every day without a cigarette. Remind yourself of the benefits you're experiencing by not smoking.

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About The Author

Melissa Rudy Melissa Rudy
A lifelong Cincinnatian, Melissa earned a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from University of Cincinnati before breaking into online writing in 2000. As a Digital Journalist for SparkPeople, she enjoys helping others meet their wellness goals by writing about all aspects of healthy living. An avid runner and group fitness addict, Melissa lives in Loveland with her guitarist husband and three feisty daughters.