There are so many questions that swirl in your head when you try to figure out how to start a healthy lifestyle.
Do I have to give up pizza? What am I supposed to eat when I get hungry? Are dairy foods good or bad? I think I have to exercise…when am I going to do that?
For many, all the confusion leads to analysis paralysis, causing you to call it quits before you even get started.
If you’re going to get a handle on your health, you need to get clear on where you are and where you want to go.
Many people believe that creating a healthy lifestyle means you either white knuckle it through endless cravings or you turn into a complete health nut who no one wants to invite to a party.
They don’t realize that there’s a better way. It’s possible – and probable – that when you fully adopt a healthy lifestyle, you’ll…
- Enjoy life more
- Eat great foods that even your kids would love
- Move more because you have the energy to do so, not because you’re forcing yourself to do it
Building a healthy lifestyle is an incredibly valuable asset that will pay dividends for the rest of your life.
I know this firsthand.
I built a healthy lifestyle from the ashes of a sugar-filled, couch-potato existence.
It wasn’t easy to get that ball rolling, but today my health glides along with little effort, and worries about high blood pressure, heartburn, and bathroom issues never enter my mind.
There’s no silver bullet or super-sneaky secret, but I do have a story that you can learn from.
I can tell you exactly how I did it; every detail and every mistake in hopes that it gives you your own insights into how to start a healthy lifestyle for yourself.
How to Start a Healthy Lifestyle [Video Summary]
Quick Click Guide
This is a long post with lots of unique information. When I publish ultimate guides like this one, I like to provide a table of contents, so you can jump to the area that most interests you:
How to Start a Healthy Lifestyle That Sticks
It’s good to take an inventory of your current health, but don’t get carried away.
You can waste weeks gathering supplies and crafting a master plan and in the end have all of the windblown out of your sail.
Yes, you should visit your doctor to get the all-clear to start a healthy lifestyle makeover, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get started today.
I don’t know a doctor on this planet that wouldn’t support you if you cut back on how much sugar you were eating and ate more vegetables.
So, go ahead and do that.
A lot of us put off doing things because we think tomorrow will be a better day to start.
This delay fills us with a false sense that we are doing something – I have a plan.
In reality, we are simply procrastinating.
Tomorrow is just another today.
It will not be easier to start tomorrow because the same apprehension and emotion that you feel now will be there waiting for you.
Instead of putting off your healthy lifestyle, think…
Ready – Fire – Aim
You are ready enough to take action today. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to get it right the first time.
You’ll achieve more by taking action (fire) and making adjustments (aim), then wasting time trying to come up with a flawless plan.
I bet I made five or six serious attempts to overhaul my lifestyle before I got it right, yet those attempts were not wasted energy.
At first, I didn’t see much progress, but I was gathering skills. I had found some healthy recipes that my family enjoyed, discovered that I liked working out at home as compared to the gym, and experimented with different ways of eating, which resulted in some valuable insights.
Tomorrow is not a better day to start. Take some action today and then make adjustments.
Don’t pressure yourself to get it right the first time.
Step 1: Find Your Motivation
Inactivity is easier than action, so you need to find your motivation to keep going.
Motivation is the thing that keeps your progress moving forward and what gets you back on track after a slip-up.
Yet, finding motivation throws many people for a loop.
They think it’s something they have to go out and get when in reality motivation is a mental thing that you create.
A research study involving more than 44,000 people may have revealed one of the easiest motivation tips ever.
As it turns out, telling yourself you can do better significantly improves your performance.
“I can do better.”
“I will do better.”
“I will try to place first.”
“I will stick with my diet today.”
Participants in the study played a competitive online game. Those who used positive self-talk had a significant boost in satisfaction and results.
According to the researchers, telling yourself that you’ll succeed is so effective because it translates into a belief that your goal can be reached.
“…it appears self-talk process [strategies] had additional advantages in that participants believed it was an effective mental preparation strategy to use.”
Self-talk was the turning point for me.
Although my past attempts at creating a healthy lifestyle helped to build my skill set, they all failed because my motivation would run out.
I would easily fall out of commitment and into convenience because I didn’t have a simple way to stay on task.
As soon as a bowl of chocolates appeared in front of me or someone would suggest going out for ice cream, I’d say to myself, “Oh, well, a little won’t hurt.”
But, chocolate and ice cream have never done anything for me other than make me want more chocolate and ice cream. One small bite would turn into a diet-ending binge because I had no good reason to stop.
The turning point came for me one night as I sat in bed feeling miserable about myself.
There wasn’t any magic fairy dust involved or voice from above; I just found a kernel of truth inside.
I told myself that this has got to stop. I was overweight and inactive, yet I knew in my gut that I was better than that.
On that night, I wasn’t convinced that I could fully overhaul my lifestyle, but I knew I could finish a smaller task.
I committed to writing down what I ate, filling up on vegetables, and keeping junk calories to a minimum for 40 days.
“Jesus fasted for 40 days while being tempted by the devil,” I told myself, “yet, here I am all teary-eyed because I have to stop eating a huge bowl of ice cream every night.”
I am not saying I am as good as Jesus, but this thought put things in perspective enough for me to take action.
Telling yourself you can succeed has been scientifically proven to boost motivation and results.
Step 2: Make A List Of Your Assets
One of the most empowering understandings when it comes to how to start a healthy lifestyle is that you already have everything you need to get going.
Think about it.
- You have access to a grocery store
- You own good enough walking shoes
- You have some past successes that you can draw from, even if those successes were in other areas of life
When it comes to how to start a healthy lifestyle, you can make it as simple or as complicated as you want.
Walking on a treadmill at a $50/month gym does not make you healthier than walking on the sidewalk of your neighborhood.
Drinking some pre-packaged, green-power smoothie exclusively harvested from the Himalayan highlands is not going to contain any magical nutrient that is better than what you can’t get from your local farmer’s market.
Sure it would be great to have enough money to hire a personal chef or a celebrity personal trainer, but if you don’t have that type of income, use what you’ve got.
When I got started on my healthy transformation, I wasn’t completely sure what to do, but I knew I had some things going for me.
My starting assets:
- I had been athletic in high school and college, so I wasn’t afraid to work out.
- I didn’t have a lot of healthy recipes, but I did have healthy cookbooks and a computer (this was in the 90s, so there wasn’t much online yet).
- I had an education in how the body worked thanks to my years at chiropractic college
- I had a supportive husband who was willing to let me do what I needed to do to figure things out
So, what are your starting assets?
I bet you can come up with many, but here’s a list to get you started…
- You have a hobby that occupies your mind (i.e. puzzles, gardening, drawing)
- You have some physical activities that you love (i.e. riding bike, hiking, swimming, lawn work)
- You have an education you can draw on (i.e. cooking, physical ed., anatomy/physiology, herbs)
- You have a collection of healthy recipes
- You have at least one supportive person in your life
- You are a great goal-setter
You have everything you need to get started on your healthy lifestyle.
Make a list of your assets and take your first step today.
Step 3: Eat These 5 Gateway Foods
When it comes to leading a healthy lifestyle, food choices play an obvious role. Yet, there is so much confusion about what is healthy and what is not.
When you’re getting started, there are a few foods that you cannot go wrong with, namely…
Leafy greens reduce your risk of cancer and heart disease since they are high in a host of phytochemicals, such as lutein, beta-cryptoxanthin, zeaxanthin, and beta-carotene.
Vegetables are naturally low in calories and high in nutrients. There is no downside, so the more you eat, the more you lose and the better you feel.
Beans are the forgotten health food, yet pack an incredible amount of fiber per serving. If cravings are a problem for you, add at least ½ cup of beans to your daily diet.
Fruit provided sweetness to your diet, without the side-effects of sugar. The natural sugars in fruit are balanced by fiber and nutrients.
Nuts and seeds provide healthy fats. They are high in calories, but when eaten, they keep you satisfied for many hours. If weight loss or hunger has been a problem for you in the past, get in the habit of adding two tablespoons of nuts or seeds to your oatmeal, salad or meal each day.
When your daily diet includes these five healthy foods, you can rest assured that your healthy lifestyle is on track.
You can cut through the confusion of healthy eating by adding the following five gateway foods: Leafy greens, vegetables, beans, fruit, nuts/seed
Step 4: Reevaluate Your Definition of a Great Meal
Getting together with friends and family often involves a big meal filled with bread, pasta, fatty sauces, fried foods, and sugary desserts.
While life is more fun with some variety, overindulging in these heavy style meals leaves you feeling tired, bloated, and uncomfortable.
I used to think that a great meal was a cheeseburger, fries, and a chocolate milkshake.
To be honest, that still sounds good, but I know that after eating that meal, I will feel completely wiped out, bloated, and fat.
I don’t want to feel that way, so the thought of ordering this meal is unappealing.
Today, a great meal is something that tastes good going down and leaves me feeling great afterward.
My husband and I have a local restaurant we love to go to. It’s known for its burgers, yet we always get their salads.
Now some of you are thinking, “Health Nut Alert.” After all, who goes to a burger joint and orders a salad?
Well, here’s the deal. Their salads taste great. They finely chop their lettuce add walnuts, apples, chicken, and a great dressing. It is delicious to eat, and so big that I can hardly finish it.
I leave the restaurant feeling fully satisfied, and because the ingredients are so light and healthy, my stomach feels great for the rest of the night.
When it comes to how to start a healthy lifestyle, you need to re-evaluate some things, which is as easy as asking yourself some questions:
If you’re hungry in the afternoon, is it more important to go for the sugar high of a candy bar or the sustainable energy of a good healthy snack?
Does a social gathering have to be focused on food? What else do you enjoy when you get together with friends and family?
Would it be so bad to get a salad at a restaurant?
To start a healthy lifestyle, you need to look at food from a different angle. A good meal or snack should taste good, but also leave you feeling good.
Step 5: Exercise in a Way That Fits You
There is no aspect of healthy living that is subject to more over-analysis than exercise.
Here’s the bottom line…
The best exercise for you is the one you’ll do.
Yes, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is great for fat burning, but if you’re reluctant to do it, then get started walking.
Yes, weight lifting helps your metabolism by building and maintaining muscle, but if you’re feeling nervous about going to a gym, start using your muscles by cleaning out the garage.
When Mark was in his early 20’s, he went through a painful divorce. To deal with his suffering, he started walking…a lot.
He walked to and from work, to the grocery store, to his parent’s house.
Walking pulled him out of his despair, and as an added bonus, helped him shed a lot of weight.
After starting a new career, Mark’s health took a backseat, so in his late 40’s he decided it was time to restart a healthy lifestyle.
What did he do for exercise? He walked.
Why did he walk? Because he had created a positive association with walking 20 years earlier.
The best exercise for you is the one you’ll do. Just make a conscious effort get moving more often and allow your enthusiasm for exercise to grow naturally.
Step 6: Stay Committed
A healthy lifestyle is not a temporary thing. It’s about upping your game for a lifetime.
That doesn’t mean you have to be perfect, but it does require commitment.
Motivational speaker, John Assaraf, draws a distinction between casual interest and commitment
“If you are interested you’ll do what’s convenient. If you’re committed, you’ll do whatever it takes.”
Committing to a healthy lifestyle can feel intimidating, yet it’s actually easier than flip-flopping back and forth.
When you flip-flop, you have to pick up all of the pieces and start over.
If you stay committed, you build a strong foundation of health that can withstand vacations, emergencies, and anything else life wants to hand you.
Being committed to your plan does not automatically wipe away days when you don’t feel like watching your diet or exercising.
Those thoughts will still come up.
But, being committed will carry you through those times when living healthy is inconvenient.
One thing you can do is share your commitment with someone.
When you let your intentions be known, it builds a sense of responsibility. You want to uphold your word.
Need a plan to get you started? Watch my free video series, 4 Daily Habits that Give Your Body No Choice But to Lose Weight.
Conclusion: Will You Be Mediocre, Good, Superior, or Inspired?
The answer to how to start a healthy lifestyle lies in getting clear on where you are currently, and then finding enjoyment in new eating and exercise activities.
If you do this right, you catch fire and become a light for others.
I teach college nutrition courses, and I love an announcement one of my fellow teacher posts in his classroom that explains the different success levels of students. picture credit Ashford University (2016)
We are all students in life.
How we decide to live life depends on the effort we put into it.
Which of the following do you want to achieve?
- Mediocre health comes when you blindly follow whatever health advice is convenient.
- Good health comes when you understand health advice well enough to talk the talk.
- Superior health comes when you turn your knowledge into consistent action
- Inspired health comes when you get results that make you an example that others want to copy
Anyone can have mediocre health, but it takes effort to reach inspired health.
I hope this article provided you with the spark and know-how on how to start a healthy lifestyle of your own.
About the Author
Dr. Becky Gillaspy, DC graduated Summa Cum Laude with research honors from Palmer College of Chiropractic in 1991.