How to Form a Healthy Lifestyle in One Month

30 August 2020

Jordan Yaklin MS, CSCS

Most people who try to lose weight will go from living a sedentary lifestyle with poor eating habits to immediately dropping all of their poor habits and try to automatically adopt new ones. This most commonly includes crash dieting and exercising every day. This will almost always last 3 days until the person gets burned out and relapses into their old ways because “it’s too hard” or “I am way too sore to work out today.” You didn’t get this way overnight; you aren’t going to change your lifestyle overnight either. You will need to build up to developing healthy behaviors. This program will help you develop healthy habits in 4 weeks.

There is a theoretical model that helps break up developing healthy behaviors into stages. This model is called the Transtheoretical Model. There are six stages to this model:

  1. Precontemplation - In this stage, people do not intend to take action in the foreseeable future (defined as within the next 6 months). People are often unaware that their behavior is problematic or produces negative consequences. People in this stage often underestimate the pros of changing behavior and place too much emphasis on the cons of changing behavior.

  2. Contemplation - In this stage, people are intending to start the healthy behavior in the foreseeable future (defined as within the next 6 months). People recognize that their behavior may be problematic, and a more thoughtful and practical consideration of the pros and cons of changing the behavior takes place, with equal emphasis placed on both. Even with this recognition, people may still feel ambivalent toward changing their behavior.

  3. Preparation (Determination) - In this stage, people are ready to take action within the next 30 days. People start to take small steps toward the behavior change, and they believe changing their behavior can lead to a healthier life.

  4. Action - In this stage, people have recently changed their behavior (defined as within the last 6 months) and intend to keep moving forward with that behavior change. People may exhibit this by modifying their problem behavior or acquiring new healthy behaviors.

  5. Maintenance - In this stage, people have sustained their behavior change for a while (defined as more than 6 months) and intend to maintain the behavior change going forward. People in this stage work to prevent relapse to earlier stages.

  6. Termination - In this stage, people have no desire to return to their unhealthy behaviors and are sure they will not relapse. Since this is rarely reached, and people tend to stay in the maintenance stage, this stage is often not considered in health promotion programs.

        

I won’t go into any more detail than that but when people decide to crash diet and vigorously exercise, they go straight from the Contemplation stage to the Action stage, completely skipping the Preparation stage.

 This entire article is about the Preparation stage and why it is so important.

 

The Preparation stage is where you build a strong foundation for the healthy behaviors you will be building. You cannot build a house without a strong foundation. You cannot live a healthy life without building a strong base either.

A few things to consider for this program:

  • We will keep everything as simple as possible.

    • We will be practicing flexible dieting (more on that later).

  • We may not see much change in the scale at this time, this is not the main focus this month.

  • This is not a “get fit quick’ scheme.

 

The best way to stick with goals and to achieve results are by making goals simple and attainable. Meaning it should be to keep track of your calories as a whole, not to have your Macro ratio at 45:35:20. Goals like that are not to be used in the preparation stage and are beyond the scope of this article. Remember KISS? Keep it simple stupid.

 

The main focus of the next 4 weeks is not to get you to lose weight fast. But rather to allow you to develop a strong foundation that you will be able to build upon and allow you to have long lasting results with no rebounds or relapses. Most (if not all) scams will make claims like, “lose 10 pounds in your first week” or “drop 2 pant sizes in the first month.” These are all short-term results that are not sustainable. This is sustainable.

 

The problem with society today is they eat like garbage and don’t move enough. This article will focus on those two aspects of life. We will go under the assumption that you have not regularly exercised in the past 6 months and eat whatever you want, whenever you want. This falls under the precontemplation stage, unaware that your behavior is problematic or produces negative consequences. However, if you are reading this article you are already in the contemplation stage.

 

Earlier I spoke about ‘flexible dieting’ for us, this is simply just counting calories and letting everything else fall into place. This allows you to eat whatever you want, as long as it falls within your caloric allowance. I recommend downloading a free calorie tracker and using that every day. Tracking calories might seem like a lot of work, but it will help with sustainability in the long run. Also, tracking apps now make it simple and easy to track calories. This will just be a guideline and does not need to be perfect, just be consistent.

 

Exercise will be the easier one of the two to set goals for. You will do this very slowly. I would recommend one day a week starting off. Gym memberships can get costly but going to Planet Fitness for $10 a month will not break the bank and gives you access to a gym facility. If a gym membership is not an option, however, there are countless ways to exercise without having to pay for a membership. This is beyond the scope of this article, but I suggest looking up bodyweight exercises or just going for a run/walk.

 

Creating SMART Goals.

The first real step to this program is setting SMART goals for yourself. SMART stands for:

  • Specific

  • Measurable

  • Attainable

  • Realistic

  • Timely

 

Set your goals in this fashion. The biggest goal for most people is to lose ‘weight’ so we will use this goal as an example. Betty is 5’3” and weighs 160lbs and is currently 35% body fat. She wants to lose 40lbs. This is specific and measurable. It is attainable and realistic at her current weight. Is it timely? This depends on when she wants to lose 40lbs. If she wants to lose the weight by the time of her daughter’s wedding in 5 weeks, that will not be timely. The safe and sustainable rate to lose weight is no more than 2lbs per week. Anything more than that will risk a heavy rebound and more weight regain. A safe timeline to lose 40lbs is 20 weeks at the fastest. 

 

Creating Behavior Goals.

 The SMART goals are your finish line. Now you need to take baby steps to reach the finish line. Behavior goals will be the baby steps. These will be the majority of this 4-week program. These will include goals that are a little less tangible but directly affect your lifestyle. Six common examples we will use are: drink less pop, eat a breakfast consisting of whole foods, eat 3 meals a day consisting of whole foods, workout 1 day a week, workout 2 days a week, workout 3 days a week. Notice, these are baby steps so you cannot go from sedentary to working out 3 days a week. Create these goals in baby step format. Instead of going from sedentary to 3 days a week, make your goals like they are above. These are three separate goals that will go in three separate categories that will be mentioned below.

 

Separate your behavior goals into three categories: easy, moderate, and hard. Below shows how the above examples will be separated.

Easy

  • Drink less pop

  • Workout once a week

Moderate

  • Eat a breakfast consisting of whole foods

  • Workout twice a week

Hard

  • Eat 3 meals a day consisting of whole foods

  • Workout 3 times a week

These goals will be introduced periodically throughout this program.

 

The Program.

Why 4 weeks and not 3? People say it takes 21 days to form a habit, so why not just have a 3-week program? The problem with just going straight into your path to your goal “point B” is that most people underestimate where they really are currently “point A.” If their A is farther from their B than they realize, it will be much more difficult to create appropriate goals. This will most likely happen in the form of too heavy of a caloric cut or overestimating their current workout capacity.

 

Most people underestimate their daily caloric intake by about 500 calories. That’s 1lb. a week. If Betty is used to eating 2,600 calories a day and assumes she eats 2,100, the 1,600-calorie goal will look a lot more achievable than it actually is. Same goes for exercise. Some people will say “When I last looked good, I used to workout 5 days a week, so I will just pick up where I left off.” When they last looked good, they were in much better shape. If we use the above examples, Betty is now putting herself in a 1,000-calorie deficit per day along with adding 5 days of exercise literally overnight. This is exactly what happens to most people and results in the burn out that was described in the first paragraph of this article. That is why we spend a full week assessing where your point A is.

 

The first week of this program will be slightly different than the last three. The first week requires very little work, but it lays the groundwork for the entire month. I want you to do a total of 3 things: track your calories, track your activity, create your goals. I do NOT want you to change your habits, or even attempt to change your habits, this week. This week is very important in assessing your starting point.

 

Calories can be tracked via a calorie tracking app, on the computer, or if you’re old school, on paper. Activity can be tracked by apps as well, but there are some cheap step counters/pedometers out on the market. You do not need to go buy the most expensive fitness tracking watch. It will not make you more fit.

 

Throughout this week, I also want you to come up with SMART and behavior goals. You should already have a decent idea of what SMART goals you want to create, but this assessment week will help you come up with some behavioral goals. Also, at the end of this week you should calculate what your calories needs to be to fit your weekly goal. I recommend keeping your weight loss goal to 1-2lbs a week. Start of slow with 1-1.5lbs and then progress up to 2lbs if desired. Betty’s example is below:

 

Week 1 Example

Average caloric intake: 2,600 cals/day

Average daily steps: 4,000 steps

SMART Goals:

  • Lose 40lbs in 20 weeks (requires 1,600 cals/day)

  • Run 2 miles in 10 weeks

Behavior Goals:

  • Easy: Drink less pop and workout once a week

  • Moderate: Eat a breakfast consisting of whole foods and workout twice a week

  • Hard: Eat 3 meals a day consisting of whole foods and workout 3 times a week

 

After you have spent the first week assessing your current lifestyle habits, you are going to start implementing your Easy behavioral goals as well as reducing your caloric intake. One thing I will suggest is to not restrict your daily calories by more than 500 calories this week. Even if Betty’s daily caloric goal 1,600, she ate an average of 2,600 calories per day last week, she should only reduce her daily intake to 2,100 calories at most. Remember, this month is designed to help build that foundation for your full weight loss or exercise program. Your weight may not fluctuate significantly this month, but it will help increase your adherence to the real program when you start, which will help out significantly in the long run. This month is an investment.

 

Week 2 Example

Average caloric intake: 2,100 cals/day

Behavior Goals:

  • Easy: Drink less pop and workout once a week

Practices:

  • Pop consumption was reduced by 25% this week

  • Walked 1 mile on Tuesday

 

As you can see, Betty met both behavior goals by cutting her pop consumption down as well as walking 1 mile one day this week. Her calorie goals were met as well. Notice how we are tracking the average caloric intake for the week. This leaves room for the ebb and flow of the week.

 

Week 3 is going to be the same as week 2 except now Betty can cut the last 500 calories from her day and adding your moderate goals to the week.

 

Week 3 Example

Average caloric intake: 1,600 cals/day

Behavior Goals:

  • Easy: Drink less pop and workout once a week

  • Moderate: Eat a breakfast consisting of whole foods and workout twice a week

Practices:

  • Pop consumption was further reduced by an additional 25% from starting (50% of starting))

  • Walked 1 mile on Tuesday and spent 30 minutes in weight room on Thursday

  • Daily breakfast was whole wheat toast with avocado and an egg white omelet with green onions

 

Week 4 is the same as the above weeks except you are adding your hard goals to the mix. This week may be difficult, but it is imperative that you stick this out.

 

Week 4 Example

Average caloric intake: 1,600 cals/day

Behavior Goals:

  • Easy: Drink less pop and workout once a week

  • Moderate: Eat a breakfast consisting of whole foods and workout twice a week

  • Hard: Eat 3 meals a day consisting of whole foods and workout 3 times a week

Practices:

  • Pop consumption was further reduced by an additional 25% from starting (75% of starting)

  • Walked 1 mile on Monday and Wednesday and spent 30 minutes in weight room on Thursday

  • Daily breakfast was whole wheat toast with avocado and an egg white omelet with green onions

  • Lunch was turkey sandwich on rye bread with a sliced apple on side.

  • Dinner was lean meat (chicken or salmon) and healthy greens (broccoli or spinach)

 

As you can see, by the 4th week most meals are from a whole food source, calories have been reduced by 1,000 and puts her at 2lb lost per week (assuming she was eating at her caloric maintenance before), she is working out 3 days a week, and she cut her pop consumption down to 25% of what it was originally. These baby steps are what will help increase adherence to the healthy habits that have been created this month.

 

What’s Next?

After this foundation building month is over, you should be able to transition into the action stage the transtheoretical model and start/continue a healthy diet and exercise program flawlessly. This can include starting an actual 5k running program, weightlifting program to gain strength, tracking your macros, starting a specific diet (keto, vegan, etc.), or anything that will help you achieve your SMART goals in a healthy manner.

 

One thing that I cannot stress is enough is continuing these habits. Even after you hit all of your SMART goals and are happy with where you are currently, stick with what you are doing. This could simply be tracking your calories and eating at a caloric maintenance and working out to simply prevent weight regain and strength loss. This is the maintenance stage of the transtheoretical model.

The last stage of the transtheoretical model is the termination stage. This is where most people fail with their healthy habits. They reach their goals and revert back to their old habits and lifestyles. Don’t just stop after you hit your goals. This is where weight regain happens and is the reason why 98% of diets fail.

 

Tips and Tricks.

Here are 5 tips and tricks to help with developing these new healthy habits.

 

  1. Weigh in daily. Weighing in daily will help give you a better, more accurate measure of your overall weight. It is normal for your weight to fluctuate around 1% per day. Do not go crazy over the number on the scale, take the average of your weight each week. That will be a better representation of your actual weight. Also, weigh in under the same circumstances every day. The recommendation is as soon as you get up, wearing minimal clothing, right after you go to the bathroom. But consistency is key here. If you are too anxious about what the scale says, reduce the number of days you weigh in per week. If you can only handle Monday weigh ins, only weigh in Monday.

  2.  Reward yourself moderately. This does not mean go on a day long eating binge on Sunday. This means that if your goal is to limit the amount of Doritos you eat and you adhere to your goal all week, treat yourself to a small bag of Doritos. Just make sure it is accounted for in your calories. Rewards can also be non-food rewards. Clothing is also a good incentive to keep going on your diet and exercise program.

  3. Do NOT completely eliminate anything. Piggy backing off #2, do not completely eliminate Doritos. This will make adherence to your diet extremely difficult and will put you at a higher risk to relapse hard and give up. Eat whatever you want as long as it fits your caloric goal. With that being said, some foods are more satiating than others. It’s a lot easier to eat 2,000 calories of Doritos than it is skinless chicken breasts. Keep this in mind.

  4. Take before photos. I suggest taking before photos for a few reasons. One, it documents where you started so you can always track how much progress you have made. Two, it helps with motivation toward your goals. Take these photos in bathing suit attire or something similar and keep them to yourself. You don’t need to share them with anyone if you do not want to. They’re your photos for yours alone.

  5. Don’t start on a Monday. Type A personality people are probably going crazy over this but hear me out. Most people hate Mondays to begin with, so why would you start a calorie restriction or schedule a dreadful workout on this day? Mondays suck as it is, let them suck by themselves. Do what you need to do to survive Monday (within reason) and start the diet or workout week on Tuesday.

 

Now you have all the tools necessary to form healthier habits. It is your job to spend the next month in the preparation stage to lay the strong foundation that is essential to build a strong, sustainable program in the action stage. The most important step is the first one. Start with baby steps so you don’t fall on your face. Even someone crawling is doing laps around those on the couch.

This is the type of practice we implement here at PPC. If you are interested in receiving online coaching, hit the button below.