Improve Your Diet and Physical Fitness Level One Month at a Time

Stick to workout scheduleI was overweight since I was a teenager.  And every year since I was a teenager, I set strict New Year’s resolutions with myself.  They were crazy resolutions like, this year I’ll never eat dessert.  This year I’ll lose 30 pounds by April.  This year I’ll exercise every single day.

Of course, the resolutions always failed (usually by the second week of January), and come the next new year, I was usually heavier than I was the year before.  If I was lucky, I stayed the same weight.

If you want to lose weight and get fit, realize that it doesn’t magically happen overnight simply because the calendar moves from December 31 to January 1 of a new year.

Shape Your Behavior Bit by Bit, Month by Month

In the last 14 months, I’ve lost 70 pounds, and I am finally at a weight I’m happy with, but it took me 3 years to get here.  First, I gave up dairy 3 years ago because I was dairy intolerant.  (I loved ice cream, cheese, and yogurt and ate a lot of it, so just going off dairy improved my health.)  Then, 18 months ago I gave up some other foods I was intolerant to like gluten.  Then, 14 months ago I stopped eating emotionally, and finally, the weight came off.

This year my resolution is to exercise at least three days a week because I don’t exercise enough.  (Read, not at all!)

Do you want to eat healthier and get fit this year?

If so, the best way to do it may be incrementally, month by month.

We’re creatures of habit, and to try to change all of our unhealthy behaviors at once is just too overwhelming and sets us up for defeat.  Instead, why not try to change one behavior at a time, month by month, or improve one behavior every month.

For instance, since I want to exercise more, I might set my January goal as walk for 20 minutes 3 days a week.  I haven’t made my goal overwhelming; it’s completely manageable.

Then, in February, perhaps I change to 20 minutes 4 days a week.  Again, this is a manageable goal.

Finally, in March, I may move my goal to 30 minutes 4 days a week.

After that, I could increase to 5 days a week in April.

Within a 4 month period, I’ve made it a habit to walk 5 days a week for 30 minutes.  I’ve stuck to my goals because they were small and manageable.

The National Lung, Heart and Blood Institute calls this process shaping, which is a “behavioral technique in which you select a series of short-term goals that get closer and closer to the ultimate goal” and “is based on the concept that nothing succeeds like success.”  It works because “consecutive goals that move you ahead in small steps are the best way to reach a distant point.”

Don’t Forget to Reward Yourself

Another important component of shaping is to reward yourself in a non-food way when you achieve each month’s goals.  So, if I exercise for 20 minutes 3 days a week all month in January, maybe I’ll reward myself with a new workout outfit or with a trip to the hair stylist to get a new haircut.

Then, at the beginning of February, I plan a new reward for myself if I met my February goals.

Be Gentle on Yourself

When you set your monthly goals for the new year, be gentle on yourself.  Many of us tend to be our own worst critics.  This upcoming year, instead of being hard on yourself, imagine you’re coaching your friend to get healthy.  If she missed a day of exercise, you wouldn’t say, “You’re a miserable failure.  You’ll never get in shape.”  Right?

Why say that to yourself?  Instead, talk to yourself as you’d talk to a friend.  “You missed one day of exercise.  It happens to everyone.  Just make sure tomorrow you’re at it again, and you’ll succeed.”

You’ve changed your internal recording, which will set you up for success.

Have you tried changing your habit month by month?  If so, were you successful?


Improve Your Diet and Physical Fitness Level One Month at a Time — 7 Comments

  1. I’ve changed my diet slowly over the past few years and it’s now much healthier. I became a vegetarian in 2012 and I cut out all animal products on the 1st of this year. I feel so much better and healthier than before.

  2. Taking it slowly, paticularly with exercise, is very important. Apart from the habit building tricks involved (shaping) one van get hurt (or simply hurt) of they are not ready for the amount of exercise they do. This year I’ll need to pay attention to my healthy eating as well. One secret of long distance running is ‘ditch the sugar’ and I am yet to do that.

  3. I am sure you are right in that most people need to shape their behavior a little at a time (i.e., small steps). I am a little different in that I thrive when challenged with something really difficult. One year, I think it was back in college, I made a New Year’s resolution to not eat anything that had the word “sugar” in its ingredients. Do you know how many processed foods have sugar in them? I strictly adhered to that resolution for at least 28 years. I allowed sugar back into my life when I was diagnosed with cancer and had to take a lot of nasty drugs (still do). A little sugar really does help the medicine go down.

  4. Bryce–28 years without sugar! That’s impressive. I bet after awhile it wasn’t even tempting for you. Sorry to hear about the cancer. I hope you can bring the same determination to fighting it.

  5. We are indeed creatures of habit. Some aspects of my health I need to drastically improve. I’m having a blood test soon that will probably reveal I’m also gluten intolerant, hopefully nothing more severe than that.
    Slowly shaping and changing your behaviours sounds a good way to go. Bite sized chunks as they say, though more so to nibble one’s way to fitness and happiness.

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