It seems for so many of us that life gets reprioritized, and our health is rarely at the forefront of our to-do lists. By the time I meet with clients, they are usually at a point where they have tried four or five diets, hoping for a quick and motivating change. Unfortunately, they were looking for something that was fast and supposedly worked for the masses, without taking into consideration that they are very special individuals with individual needs and personal habits.

In the past, you might have decided, “OK, I’m going to go to the gym every day and have no sugar and only salads for dinner!” You’ve just jumped from a very long time of creating bad habits to completely wiping the slate clean and going to an extreme level, expecting to create several new habits overnight. This is a disaster waiting to happen because coupled with this extreme remodeling, you expect to lose weight immediately and get back what you had five years ago in thirty days.

To achieve your goals for life, we first need to understand what got us to where we are, dissolve those unhealthy habits, and create new, healthy ones. I mentioned above that I believe in taking small baby steps toward this thought process. If we try to leap, usually, we jump too far and fail, so be patient, and take only a couple of challenges at a time. I continually see that those who are dissatisfied with their health don’t exercise consistently, nor do they have healthy snacks available to them. During the next couple pages, I will be suggesting ways to create new habits one week at a time.

It takes twenty-one days to create a habit and three days to break it.

Let’s create a new habit by committing to exercise two times per week for thirty minutes during the first week you enter a program. Now you might be thinking that two times is not enough to meet your goals, but what it does do is create an easy, attainable habit that doesn’t feel overwhelming, and once two times a week is easy, then consider three times a week—but no rush!

Now that you’re on your way to feeling stronger, consider adding more antiaging foods into your diet. If you have a habit of having chips or a cookie with your lunch, change your habit and grab an apple or pear.

Last, drink three cups of water a day—again, not a huge amount, but if you are like many of the people I meet, water’s an afterthought, so commit to three a day!

Overview suggestion for your first week:

1. Exercise two times for thirty minutes.
2. Replace your mid-day potato chips, French fries, or cookie with fruit.
3. Drink three glasses of water each day.

Another must for each week is to keep a food journal of what you are eating and what time you are eating it. You can write in a nice, tidy journal or on a bunch of sticky notes—whatever works in your world! You don’t need to show this to anyone, but it will help you with your own accountability. This is so important; it’s a defining success with those who achieve their goals!

When you feel solid with your new habits, consider week 2.

Rolling Your New Habits into Week 2

It takes twenty-one days to create a habit and three days to break it.

In hopes that your first week’s challenge has been doable for you, remember that it’s all about your commitment! If you slipped, it’s OK, but don’t let the slippery slope go too far, or the habit’s nonexistent. Get right back on it until it becomes natural! Setting short-term and long-term goals is vital in any goal-worthy situation. I recommend you have an accountability partner or coach to help you determine and reach your goals. It’s also important to reward yourself (not necessarily with food in this case!) once you’ve achieved your goals. Some suggestions might be to get a special manicure if you can comfortably fit into an old pair of jeans, or take a half day off and spend time with friends if you’ve been able to consistently work out three times a week for forty-five days. Pat yourself on the back, and embrace this new lifestyle you are creating!

We want to roll week 1’s habits into week 2, so here’s your challenge for the next week:

1. Go shopping for healthy food to keep in your car, office, or home, and do this once a week.
2.Eliminate all foods (or most) that contain white flour and/or white sugar (very important with a weight loss program).
3. Do ten push-ups and twenty lunges every day, as long as they can be done safely.
4. Eat a high-fiber breakfast with a little protein.

Having healthy snacks available to you is one of the most important musts in any healthy eating plan! This will set you up for success in any situation and will keep you from ordering the not-so-healthy foods because you are famished by the time you finally eat!

Gaining Momentum Instead of Weight with Week 3

It takes twenty-one days to create a habit and three days to break it.

If you’ve been integrating weeks 1 and 2 toward creating new habits, you are on a roll now! You’re feeling great, building momentum, and probably expecting fast results! Here’s a reality check: it takes time and patience. Keep focused, however, because you will achieve your goals if you allow your body to adjust to a new healthy way of living. We still want to continue with the past two weeks’ goals, but now we have a few more to add or modify:

* Work out three times a week for thirty minutes (adding on a day now!).
* Have a vegetable two times a day.
* Have a fruit two times a day.
* Only choose nonfat versions of milk/soy in your coffee drinks if you have these (lots of hidden calories here!).

With this week, you are starting to add in nutrient-rich choices. These choices will also add fiber to your diet, helping you stay fuller longer, among many other health benefits.

You should be reaching one of your short-term goals by now. Keep the momentum moving, and have fun with these new foods!

Putting It All Together with Your Fourth Week

It takes twenty-one days to create a habit and three days to break it.

Congratulations! If you’ve been following the four-week plan, you are now well into your twenty-first day of new habits. Drinking more water is easier, working out is part of the day, and having a piece of fruit should be natural for you. I’m also hoping you’ve taken time to shop for your healthy foods once a week so you’re never running to McDonald’s because you are famished!

On this home stretch of creating new habits one week at a time, thank yourself for being not only motivated, but disciplined enough to create new choices for your health. This is a big deal and one you should be proud of!

I know you are still doing your food logs (if not, get back on it!), and now I suggest you write down one healthy choice you make every day in your journal as a reminder toward your goals. Be proud of your accomplishments!

* Increase your water to four glasses a day.
* Have fish two times a week in place of a fattier protein (i.e., red meat, pork, dark meat chicken).
* Eat every three to four hours, never being too hungry or too full.

This last week’s challenge is the beginning to creating health and wellness for life. Every one is different with his habits and goals, and all of the weeks are suggestions to the average, health-conscious person. I invite you to contact me if you are committed to a more individualized plan, but either way, stay committed, talk about your successes with your peers, inspire others by your determination, and always remember your bigger goal: living the ultimate quality of life with a healthy body!

Congratulations on creating a habit (or several) to make this diet the one that makes a difference!

** This article is one of 101 great articles that were published in 101 Great Ways to Improve Your Health. To get complete details on “101 Great Ways to Improve Your Health”, visit http://selfgrowth.com/healthbook3.html

Author's Bio: 

Tammy Parkinson, ACSM, CPT, NASM, is a fitness and nutrition expert and CEO of Body Firm Personal Training and Nutrition Consulting, Los Gatos, CA. For more information about fitness, wellness, and nutritional programs, please visit Tammy and the Body Firm team at http://www.mybodyfirm.com.