This pandemic has been wreaking havoc on our collective mental health – mine included!
I was fortunate to receive a COVID vaccine and escaped cold and snowy New York to visit my mother and sister in sunny Florida. There is something genuinely life-affirming about warm weather – the sun, the sand, and the ocean. Being there made it that much easier to want to live an active and healthy lifestyle.
Speaking of active and healthy lifestyles, this is now March, National Nutrition Month®. This annual campaign, created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, invites us to learn about making informed food choices and developing healthy eating and physical activity habits this month. As an anti-diet dietitian and intuitive eating counselor, I promote the tenets of Health at Every Size® and intuitive eating. This lesson will focus on building these healthy habits while letting go of diets and embracing intuitive eating.
One thing I have learned the past few years, is that often women who have started on the path of Intuitive Eating and Ditching Diets still miss tracking and planning. They are looking for some element of planning and structure. And there are a couple ways to do this, starting with goals and setting goals.
Setting Goals Can Help Provide Structure
I recommend goal setting to clients who are learning about the weight-neutral approach to health and well-being. Traditional diets emphasize weight loss as the sole objective in goal setting (and we know how that doesn’t work!). On the other hand, I encourage my clients to set specific health-oriented action steps to achieve their goals. Then I encourage them to write those action steps down as a way of staying accountable to themselves for any of these recent changes.
But what goals are you going to set for yourself? How do you know what working on healthy habits means?
National Nutrition Month® recommendations include small, actionable changes to consider each week, such as: eat a variety of nutrient-dense foods each day, stay hydrated, avoid distractions while eating, and take time to enjoy our foods. These are certainly worthy goals to consider, but please recognize that these health goals may not be the right goals for YOU.
If you are recovering from disordered eating, you might not be ready to focus on the gentle nutrition principle of eating various nutrient-dense foods each day yet! Perhaps thinking about taking time to enjoy your food is a worthy goal! Satisfaction is a crucial principle of Intuitive eating.
Make Your Health Goals as Unique as You Are!
Let’s say you’re sitting in front of your computer all day and notice how stiff your joints feel. A reasonable health goal might be to get up from your desk once an hour, stretch, and move to feel better. Notice this goal has nothing to do with intentional weight loss. Here is one of my personal health goals; I don’t drink enough water during the day. I am committing to tracking my water intake and increasing it slowly.
Consider SMART goals:
Specific: Vague goals don’t generally get accomplished. Instead, aim to make your goals specific, clear, and detailed. For example, “wanting to get up from your desk more often during the day” is a vague goal. Instead, “I will take a 20-minute walk, five days a week, and put the appointment down in my planner.
Measurable: How will you evaluate or measure your progress? What metrics or data will you use? Continuing with the getting up from your desk example, “I will use a Habit Tracker to check off each time I walk and see if I meet my goal each week” is measurable.
Achievable: Choose goals that are reasonable with your current circumstances in life. They need to be realistic, or it will just feel frustrating! Is it within the realm of possibility to get up from your desk and walk for 20 minutes? If it is too cold or snowy, what will you do instead?
Relevant: Is your goal relevant to your life right now? Will it better your life in some way? “Moving more will be a healthier choice for my mind and my body!”
Time-bound: Is your chosen goal suitable to the specific time frame you have chosen?
When setting goals, consider recording and tracking them in a journal!
Whether you are brand new to goal setting and intuitive eating, or a veteran looking for more tools, a journal can be helpful in this process. Have you ever noticed how much easier it is to get things done when you’ve written them down somewhere? This part of the process also makes sure that you are completely accountable to yourself for keeping up with your commitment.
So, if you’ve really decided that this is a process that you want to follow, then you will want to make sure that you carve out a section of time, preferably early in the morning, so that you can spend some time writing your goals. It only takes 15-20 minutes to do all the things that have been discussed so far. Each day this gives you a chance to seriously think about your goals and how you’re going to reach them.