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by Gael Myers, Accredited Practising Dietitian

Bulls eye

You know the drill to get healthy – ditch the junk food and move your body more, but this is often easier said than done. The first few weeks are fine, you’re eating salad for lunch, going to the gym every day and staying clear of the biscuit jar.  But slowly you find your resolve fading, you’re back to grabbing a muffin for breakfast on the way to work and the most activity associated with your gym membership is the monthly debit. So how do you go about sticking to your healthy eating and exercise goals in the long term?

Start small

Overhauling diet and exercise habits that have been with you for a lifetime can be extremely daunting. But it doesn’t have to be an all or nothing approach. Start with a small goal – something you know you can achieve without too much struggle. These smaller ‘wins’ can help build your confidence, and can help you progress to tackling the bigger goals.  

Keep in mind that even small changes can benefit your health if you are able to sustain them. Losing just 5-10% of your body weight (or 4-8 kg for someone who is 80 kg) can significantly improve your metabolic health, decreasing your risk of developing diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and some cancers.

Be S.M.A.R.T. about your goals

Make goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely. Go for a goal like ‘have a maximum of one sugary drink per week’ rather than ‘don’t have too many sugary drinks.’ S.M.A.R.T. goals give you a plan of action, a time frame for completion, and give you something to check your progress against. Check out the LiveLighter factsheet on goal setting for more tips and a worksheet to help you lay it all out.

Write it down

Writing your goals on paper and putting them in a prominent spot (or setting it as a regular reminder in your phone) can help keep you on track after the first wave of enthusiasm has disappeared. Better still, also jot down the reason you decided to make the goal. Whether you want to run a marathon or just have more energy to run around with the kids, it’s good to keep in mind your motivations for change when the going gets tough. 

Make it social

You've just got home from work and feel yourself moving in autopilot towards the couch. You set yourself the goal last week to go for a walk after work each day but your motivation is beginning to wane. Then you remember that you and your friend decided to do this together, and you can't let them down by not showing up. Making an exercise or healthy eating goal with a friend means you're more likely to stick to your commitment and stay on track.  

Change your environment

Whether your downfall is the stash of crisps in the pantry, party pies at the office morning tea, or churros and chocolate dipping sauce on a girl’s night out, sticking to your goals can be really difficult if your environment doesn’t support you to make a healthy change. Think about the environmental factors that get between you and your goals and find ways to address these, for example:

  • Avoid keeping junk food like crisps and chocolate biscuits in the house
  • Bring in a plate of seasonal fruit or vegie sticks and dip to share around for morning tea at work
  • Catch up with friends for a walk or fitness class rather than a coffee and cake

Be kind to yourself

Changing habits is often a case of two step forwards, one step back. Habits of a lifetime aren't changed in a week!  If you find yourself drawn off the path, acknowledge the setback, forgive yourself, and move forward with a recommitment to your goals. 

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