You've decided enough is enough. Your health and wellness have taken a backseat for too long, and now it's time to make your well-being a priority. You know that goal-setting is the way to go, so you've made a plan to set yourself up for success.|
Everything gets off to a great start, but you quickly hit a few bumps in the road. Within a few weeks, things are totally off-track and you're right back where you started. What initially seemed like a great plan with solid goals somehow went wrong. Could it have been that your health goals, despite starting with good intentions, weren't actually that healthy after all?
It's important to choose goals that are motivating, realistic and appropriate for your current health and fitness level. Although they might sound good in your head, if your goals aren't the best fit for your lifestyle and capabilities, they could actually be doing more harm than good.
Health Goals That Hurt
1. "I'm signing up to do a marathon."
Extreme fitness goals, such as running a marathon, training for a full Tough Mudder or joining a Ragnar relay team, are no small feat. While these types of events can be motivational to help you get in shape and work toward a specific goal, they are not beginner activities. If you're new to exercise or just trying to get back into a consistent exercise routine, signing up for an extreme event is a good way to burn yourself out and risk potential injury. It's difficult to go from zero to 100 overnight, even if your best friend is begging you to be their training partner. If you want to set a fitness goal to help keep you focused, consider starting smaller by training for a 5K or another beginner-level activity to get your feet wet and help you slowly ease into a regular routine.
2. "I must lose 20 pounds in the next 10 weeks."
There's nothing wrong with a weight loss goal, but what happens if you don't reach the goal by your target date? Does that mean you're a failure? Should you just give up? Setting a firm deadline creates the expectation that if you don't meet it, you're not a success. On the other hand, setting a goal to lose 20 pounds and measuring that progress by how well you've stuck to your diet and exercise plan means you can be successful regardless of what the scale says. If you stick to the plan, eventually the weight will come off. Make it a point to celebrate your daily accomplishments along the journey instead of just whether or not you saw the magic number on the scale on one specific day.
3. "I'm going to exercise every day."
Consistency is great, and in some cases, daily exercise isn't a bad thing. If you're trying to establish a routine, setting a goal for 10 minutes each day can be a positive tool to get you moving. The problem lies in feeling like you have to do longer, more intense workouts every day in order to be successful. When first starting out (or even if you're a seasoned exerciser), a better plan is to schedule at least one or two rest days each week. "Rest" doesn't mean you have to be a total couch potato—go for an easy walk or check out a gentle yoga class. Give your body a break now and then, and you'll find it benefits you both physically and mentally overall.
4. "I'm cutting all of the 'bad' foods completely out of my diet."
Have you ever noticed that when you tell yourself to stop doing something, it's the one thing you want to do? Such as when you tell yourself you'll never eat another brownie again, now suddenly it's the only thing you want to eat? There's nothing wrong with enjoying the foods you love now and then, it's just important to practice moderation. Keep in mind that any changes you make to your diet should be things you feel like you can live with forever. If you can't control yourself by scooping out just a small bowl of ice cream, try something totally different like a small bowl of frozen grapes. Simple swaps allow you to satisfy your most persistent craving without going completely overboard. In reality, there are no "bad" foods, just certain foods you should eat less of than others; the sooner you learn that lesson, the better off you'll be in life.
5. "I'm going to achieve six-pack abs and a thigh gap."
There's nothing wrong with pushing yourself to new limits, but sometimes extreme physique goals can be damaging. Let's face it: Most of the world will never have a booty like Kim Kardashian or arms like Michelle Obama no matter how hard they try. Genetics play a big role in the feasibility of this type of goal. Six-pack abs require extremely low body fat, which is difficult for men and almost impossible for women without an incredibly strict diet and exercise routine. And the elusive thigh gap? Forget about it. That's due to a certain bone structure, not a certain weight. Healthy and strong is a better look any day. Instead of comparing yourself to fitness standards set by others, set individual goals to improve your cardio endurance, strength or flexibility. Become the best version of yourself, imperfections and all.
6. "I'm going to push it to the max in all of my workouts."
Although it might seem like a faster way to get fit and lose weight, a balanced exercise program mixes a variety of high- and low-intensity days. No one can go "all out" every day without a break and, long-term, performance likely suffers because your body needs time to recover. Although they might seem easier, lower-intensity workouts are a good opportunity to focus on improving endurance since you're able to sustain them for a longer period of time. Look at it as not only time to recover, but also a way to become more well-rounded in your fitness routine.
7. "I'm going to win the office weight-loss contest."
Whether between friends, family or co-workers, weight-loss contests might seem like a great motivation to lose weight. Who wouldn't want to lose weight and get paid, too? The problem with contests like this (or shows like "The Biggest Loser") is that people do whatever it takes to hit that specific number on the scale. With the goal being to lose as quickly as possible (or by a specific date), participants are often willing to resort to extreme measures to lose the weight. That mindset shift is when it becomes a temporary fix and not a permanent lifestyle change. The best way to lose weight and keep it off for good is to establish habits you can live with forever. That might mean the weight comes off slower, but isn't that a better alternative if it means this is the last time you have to lose it and the yo-yo cycle ends for good?
8. "I'm going to start regular cleanses."
All that junk food and inactivity isn't great for the body, but do you really need to detox? While it might sound like a healthy idea, cleanses can actually do more harm than good when they upset the balance of healthy bacteria in your system, making you sick. Your body is already very effective at removing toxins, so it doesn't need the extra help. The best thing you can do to "detox" is to eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly.
9. "I don't have time for weekday workouts, so I'm going to be a weekend warrior."
Kudos for being creative with your exercise routine! However, it's a much better idea to spread your workouts over the week instead of trying to pack all of your activity into just the weekend. By taking four or five days off in a row, you're losing some of those fitness gains (like endurance and strength) you've been working so hard to achieve. It's not possible to exercise at the same level of intensity for an extended period of time, and you risk physical and mental burnout by trying to do too much in one day. Remember that even the busiest people find time to squeeze in a workout. Try breaking your weekday workouts into 10-minute segments if a longer workout isn't an option.
Take the time to do your homework and create healthy living goals that are realistic, motivating and a good fit for you. Remember that changing behaviors takes time and hard work. There are no shortcuts, but the time and effort you put into it will come back to you in the form of sustainable healthy habits that will last a lifetime.