Since last May, I’ve been on the Keto Diet. And it’s definitely working — even without workouts, I’ve lost two sizes. I’m wearing clothes I haven’t been able to fit into for months or even years, and am feeling much better about my appearance and energy level. Keto is a high fat, moderate protein, low carb regimen with occasional fasting. But I’m not discussing the Keto diet here specifically; instead, I’m covering how to stay motivated to sustain any healthy lifestyle changes over a long period of time.
This is the time of year when New Year’s Resolutions die. Gym memberships and weight loss programs skyrocket in January and February, and most people give up after about two months. That’s why companies charge for an entire year up front: they know you better than you know yourself. Changing your relationship with food and health is a marathon, not a sprint. Forming new habits doesn’t take very long — about three weeks — but breaking your inertia is a crucial first step. Then when your enthusiasm fades, staying motivated and focused for the long term is even more important.
Set a Goal
This isn’t just about squeezing into those skinny jeans again. Your ultimate goals should focus on feeling better about yourself, eating healthier, having more energy, and ultimately, being happier and liking who you see in the mirror. To start, begin a health journal and write down your goals on the first page. Include specific, measurable accomplishments and the steps you plan to take to achieve them.
Leaping in with both feet rarely works in the long run. Instead, start with baby steps. Choose one area in which you want to make changes, and as you reach your checkpoints and goals, add new ones. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Sleep More— A great place to start. Studies have proven that getting at least eight hours of quality sleep a night helps you lose weight and reduces stress. In many ways, getting plenty of good sleep is more important than diet or exercise.
- Start a Vegetable Garden— In addition to the exercise, fresh air, sunshine and microbial exposureyou’ll enjoy, you also get fresh organic veggies to supplement your new diet or health regimen.
- Drink More Water— Avoid carbonated and caffeinated drinks such as sugary sodas or expensive coffee concoctions, and keep some cold water in a re-usable bottlewith you at all times. Often when we think we feel hungry, in fact we actually feel thirsty. Stay hydrated for a feeling of fullness before reaching for a snack. Hate plain water? Try making infusions with natural flavors like lemon or lime, mint, cucumber, strawberries, watermelon, blueberries, etc.
- Get Outside for More Exercise— Can’t stand gyms? Take a brisk walk daily. You’ll be breaking your slothful routine, getting fresh air, sunshine and exercise. Or get a dog; it’s well known that their walks and playtime help keep you healthy and active physically, and pets are also grounding and emotionally rewarding.
- Reduce Stress— Try meditation, prayer or journaling. Treat yourself to an at-home spa day. Listen to soothing Tibetan gongs. Read a good book. Try deep breathing exercises. Get one of those adult coloring booksand spend at least ten minutes a day losing yourself in it.
- Eat Natural Food— A good rule of thumb is not to eat anything that your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. Avoid white sugar and processed foods.
Remember, baby steps. Taking one small action often will lead to motivation for another. If you try to do everything at once, you’re more likely to burn out and give up.
By eliminating sugar, I felt lighter and more energetic almost immediately, but it took about three months on my diet before I started seeing real weight loss. I stuck with it, though, and I’m so glad I gave my metabolism time to readjust. Dropping weight slowly is the best way to keep it off: unhealthy fad diets more often than not simply lead to gaining it all back. So, when you’re feeling so over it and you’ve been at this healthy lifestyle business foreverand you really just want to eat an entire loaf of bread washed down with lots of Coca-Cola, try a non-food-related reward instead:
- Go to the movies
- Treat yourself to the beauty salon
- Walk along the shore
- Explore a botanical garden
- Visit a museum
- Write an old-fashioned letter
- Take a day trip someplace you’ve never seen
- Take a class and learn something new
- Linger over lunch with an old friend
- Read a real book
- Take shelter dogs for walks
Use the Buddy System
If possible, make your health or lifestyle changes with a friend or spouse. Misery loves company, and you’ll keep each other honest and motivated along the way. Not going it alone helps to improve your long-term adherence to a plan. Can’t get anyone to join you? Try a health-tracking app. Interested in meal planning, fitness challenges, weight loss, lowering blood sugar, relaxing meditation, quitting smoking, tracking fertility or sleep patterns, or counting steps? There’s an app for that.
Keep the Faith
Most diets allow for “cheat days.” One key to staying motivated is not beating yourself up for those occasional cheats, whether they’re planned or accidental. Remember, living a healthier lifestyle is a marathon, not a sprint. For me, ordering a grilled cheese sandwich and a beer is now a major treat to be thoroughly savored instead of an everyday thing. Enjoy it and don’t feel guilty. Just don’t do it every day!