Abandoning the idea of “going on a diet” is one of the most difficult and important adjustments to make when you are trying to lose weight and improve your health. To achieve and maintain your fitness goals, learning to think in the long-term instead of the short-term is a necessity.
We’ve been conditioned to think about our health as a temporary endeavor. When we find ourselves getting a bit out of shape we assume we need to start a new diet plan and maybe join a gym or cardio class.
“But, you know, things are busy right now and I’ll get to it in a couple weeks when I have more time.”
Even if we do start the plan and lose some weight, how long will it be before we slip back into our old routine and the pounds creep back on?
If you learn only one thing from Summer Tomato I hope it’s that diets don’t work. Calorie restriction in any form can induce temporary weight loss, but the vast majority of people emerge worse off than before they subjected themselves to the difficult and demoralizing task of losing weight and inevitably gaining it (plus a little extra) back.
The science is painfully clear that only long-term and consistent healthy lifestyle choices result in permanent weight loss and improved health.
To really win this war you need to shift your focus from short-term diets and weight loss goals to lifelong habits that promote good nutrition and a healthy metabolism–changes that, in my opinion, should be welcome and enjoyable.
It is never too late (or too early) to get started on your upgrade.
But once you’ve made the commitment to a better healthstyle, how do you know you are making progress without the specific goals and endpoints you get from a temporary diet plan?
This is an excellent question and something worth taking a minute to think about. The answer will be different for everyone and depend substantially on where you start and how you define success.
An example of a fantastic healthstyle goal would be getting off cholesterol, blood pressure or diabetes medication, something attainable by the majority of people taking them. For others the goal may be avoiding meds in the first place by reaching a healthy body mass index (BMI). Health goals like these are obviously a first priority for anyone facing them.
But healthstyle is not just for people with serious health problems. After all, the “normal” BMI range is pretty lenient and you may still have the goal of fitting back into a certain pant size or reaching a specific body fat percentage. These are certainly reasonable goals, especially when you are not approaching them from an all-or-none, feast or famine mentality.
But in my experience, specific number-oriented goals have little stay power when health is your top priority.
When you focus on eating delicious, healthy foods and getting regular exercise (in any form), as the months and years pass goals like reaching a certain body weight or jeans size start to feel a bit contrived. This isn’t because physical appearance or achievements aren’t important, but as your metabolism changes and your body gets healthier it becomes clear that you can feel and look a lot better than you ever really imagined.
What exactly defines the perfect weight or size anyway?
I am not trying to trivialize specific fitness goals nor the effort required to attain them. If you’ve read my diet history you know that I am not immune to aspirations like these. But over time feeling good becomes a more meaningful and satisfying goal than fitting into your jeans. And in my experience, the more energy I put into being healthy and living well, the smaller my jeans get anyway.
For awhile now my healthstyle goals have had little to do with body weight. Instead I choose to focus on habits I can develop that will improve my life and health overall. These include cultivating my cooking skills, learning to eat mindfully and figuring out the best lunch for an awesome afternoon workout.
Here are some of my recent healthstyle goals, which are changing constantly.
This article was originally published Oct 26, 2009, and I have left the original goals intact. However I have added my new list of 2010 goals below so you can see how my healthstyle has evolved. I’m happy to see that I’ve made progress on many of my goals from last year, and most of my new goals reflect bigger life changes that have occurred in the past year.
Healthstyle Goals 2009
- Experiment with new vegetables
- Recreate favorite restaurant dishes at home
- Get enough sleep
- Try new spices
- Eat slowly and mindfully
- Find great foodie resources in my neighborhood
- Get away from my computer at least twice per day
- Make friends with farmers
- Seek new challenges at the gym
- Take the stairs even when I don’t feel like it
- Learn new cooking techniques
- Get new pans
- Discover fabulous restaurants
- Recognize and avoid overeating cues
- Take advantage of seasonal produce
- Eat more legumes
- Prevent food cravings with good nutrition
- Eat more fish
- Take more walks
- Use usual ingredients in unusual ways
- Eat better when out of town
- Cook more ethnic cuisines
- Get more sun
- Develop a taste for my least favorite foods
- Make more soup
- Cook more for friends
- Eat out less than twice per week
Healthstyle Goals 2010
- Adjust to more frequent dining out
- Cook more at home (this is harder these days)
- Improve at cooking for two
- Buy more cookbooks
- Drink less alcohol
- Get better sleep
- Explore tea
- Cook more soup
- Eat slowly, even when very hungry
- Optimize food storage
- Practice meditation
- Cook more for friends
- Eat well and exercise while traveling
- Share great food discoveries
- Make friends with more farmers