There are so many reasons you might fall off track with healthy habits like regular exercise, a consistent sleep schedule and cooking at home. The truth is, no one is 100 percent diligent all the time, and that's more than OK. We're all human, after all, and we can't control the curveballs life may throw our way.
The important thing is to recognize when your lifestyle has slipped into less-than-healthy territory and take steps to get back to where you'd like to be. That's where this kickstart plan comes in: Use it to get your wellness goals and healthy behaviors back on track, one day and one small step at a time.
Day 1: Forget Fad Diets
While trendy diets that promise quick-and-easy results may seem tempting, they're never a good choice, Carissa Galloway, RDN, registered dietitian and certified personal trainer, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
For starters, beware of any fad diets that eliminate entire food groups. This type of eating "can make it harder to reach your recommended intake of certain vitamins and minerals," Galloway says. In other words, you'll miss out on essential nutrients, which can have potentially negative consequences for your overall health.
What's more, restrictive meal programs may not provide you with enough daily calories, which can cause your body to switch into survival mode, slow your metabolism and sabotage your weight-loss efforts. This yo-yo dieting may lead to further frustration and maybe even weight gain down the line, Galloway says. Not to mention that it also fosters an unhealthy relationship with food.
Instead of looking for a quick fix, settle into a slow-and-steady mindset. Galloway recommends "focusing on building a manageable diet around whole foods and diet changes that you can maintain long-term so you'll have the tools to make better nutrition choices."
Get Started With a Sustainable Diet
Day 2: Move More
Let's face it: Many of us are spending more time at home these days, which isn't ideal for promoting physical activity.
"Your daily calorie expenditure is much less when you're at home all day versus going to the office (or going anywhere!)," Galloway says. And you might struggle to stick to a steady at-home workout schedule.
Make it your goal just to get off the couch and onto your feet.
"Moving throughout the day can help elevate your mood, increase focus and, if weight loss is your goal, it's key to keeping up your energy expenditure," Galloway explains.
3 Ways to Get Moving
- Ease back with gentle at-home workouts: Try a a low-impact Pilates routine or some mindful movement like yoga. Need inspiration or instruction? YouTube is a great resource for free workouts.
- Find ways to walk more: Dust off your step tracker and aim for 10,000 steps each day, Galloway recommends. You’ll be surprised how many steps you can sneak in with just a bit of strategizing. Walk for the same amount of time as your former daily commute, she says. “Feeling a snack craving? Take a five-minute stretch/walk break before taking the stroll to the pantry,” Galloway suggests.
- Consider the gym: If you're comfortable exercising in a gym or studio, research the options in your area. Group settings can often add some much-needed motivation to your workout. Plus, you'll gain access to far more equipment than you might have at home.
Day 3: Make Meal Prep a Priority
"Meal planning and prep is the number one strategy that I recommend for long-term weight loss and healthy eating success," says Galloway, who likens weight loss to training for a marathon. If you have a plan, you can get to the finish line quicker (and more safely), she says.
"Meal prep gives you the chance to take stress and 'hangry' emotions out of your food choices," Galloway says.
Essentially, if you have healthy alternatives accessible and available to you, you're less likely to reach for highly processed, sugary or fatty foods when you're hungry.
Try These Meal-Prep Strategies
- Put it on the calendar: Schedule one day each week — when you’re not hungry — to think through and organize your meals for the upcoming week, Galloway recommends.
- Prep the meals: Once you've planned out your weeknight dinners, “if you have more time to invest, then physically do meal prep,” Galloway says.
- Look for tasks you can complete in advance: Consider batch-cooking oatmeal for breakfast or chopping up some veggies in advance. You can also meal-prep breakfast, lunch or snacks.
Day 4: Strategize Sleep
With everyday worries cycling through our minds day and night, getting the recommended seven to nine hours of shut-eye can be a serious struggle. Indeed, a whopping third of working adults are logging fewer than six hours of slumber per night, according to an April 2020 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The problem is, poor sleep can launch a landslide of long-term negative effects on your health and may be sabotaging your weight loss in the present.
"Research continually shows that those who sleep less tend to weigh more, and a lack of sleep can actually make your body crave carbohydrates," Galloway says.
To make matters worse, insufficient sleep can make your sense of smell more sensitive to tantalizing food aromas, especially to those rich in calories and fat, per an October 2019 study in eLife.
So, if your scale won't budge, your sleep quality may, in part, be to blame.
"Aim to create a restful routine that allows you to wind down and tells your body it's time for bed," Galloway says.
Get Restful Zzzs
For better sleep, put these simple tips from Galloway into practice:
Day 5: Keep It Simple
Whether you're short on time or have a case of cooking fatigue, paring back to basics is the best way to limit stress in the kitchen.
"Social media can make you feel like creativity and 'new ideas' are needed to make mealtime a success, but I find having a rotation of 10 meals can really keep shopping, prep and planning much easier," Galloway says.
"We might not win any awards for exciting meals, but we have nutritious dishes that don't take long to prepare and are less stressful around dinnertime," she says.
Whatever repeatable recipes you rotate weekly, Galloway says to always fill half your plate with produce, one quarter with lean protein and the other quarter with healthy carbohydrates like brown rice or quinoa.
Simple, Nutritious Recipes to Add to Your Roster
Day 6: Jot It Down in a Journal
Whether it's a food journal or a gratitude journal, documenting your day-to-day journey can help you reach your goals. "Making the time to journal shows you're committed to looking inward and making progress," Galloway says. Journaling gives you a bird's eye view of the big picture, allowing you to track your successes (celebrate those!) and setbacks.
When it comes to food, journaling can help you highlight eating habits "that can derail your health and weight-loss goals," Galloway says.
For example, you may find you're hungriest mid-afternoon and chomp on chips each day. Sometimes just seeing a problematic pattern on paper can help you spring into action and find healthier solutions. In this instance, it might simply entail swapping your chips with a better-balanced snack — say, an apple and nut butter — to satisfy your hunger and hold you over until dinner.
And journaling doesn't have to be a major time investment. "Use an app or even just take photos of all your meals and snacks for a day and scroll through at night to review," Galloway says. "If you're using a notebook, keep it simple: Write down one or two health goals for the next day and three things you're grateful about from the present day."
Download a Food Diary
Day 7: Give Yourself a Break
Nobody's perfect. On your health journey, there will be good, bad and ugly days.
"As a mom of two, there are days I feel like a healthy superwoman and days where I'm like, 'Oh good, we survived,'" Galloway says. Take it all in stride. "Give yourself credit for the days when you do well, and give yourself a break for the days when getting through is enough," she says.
To simplify things, Galloway recommends separating areas of wellness into categories such as nutrition, fitness, sleep, family and mental health with the goal of "aim[ing] for a win in at least one area each day."
"For example, if you grabbed a less-than-healthy lunch but enjoyed an hour of quality time with your kids outside moving and connecting, then give yourself a 'W' in the family, fitness and mental columns and be proud of that," she says.
And don't dwell on unhealthy choices. Rather than beat yourself up and spiral into a shame cycle, "make nutrition [or fitness] a goal the next day and keep making positive progress," Galloway says.
Build Stress-Busting Habits
- eLife: “Olfactory connectivity mediates sleep-dependent food choices in humans.”
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “QuickStats: Percentage* of Currently Employed Adults Aged ≥18 Years Who Reported an Average of ≤6 Hours of Sleep† per 24-Hour Period, by Employment Category§ — National Health Interview Survey, United States, 2008–2009 and 2017–2018.”
- American Psychological Association: "Slightly More Than 6 in 10 U.S. Adults (61%) Report Undesired Weight Change Since Start of Pandemic"