My Small Step Philosophy: A fit life is attained by making small, realistic and sustainable changes in food consumption and exercise over time. This allows a person time to create and hone new, fit habits that then become adopted and integrated into her everyday life. The result is a person who is living a fit lifestyle each and every day, making her healthy and strong for a lifetime. I have used this philosophy to create my One Small Step blog series. Each month, I give you one healthy change to work on for that entire month. Sometimes it’s a diet change, sometimes an exercise change and sometimes one of each. The idea is to concentrate only on that one change for a month so that it becomes ingrained into your daily meals or weekly exercise routines, making you able to take on another small change at the beginning of the next month. Just discovering the series now? No worries, the Small Step changes don’t need to be done in any particular order and are independent of one another. You can begin this month, follow along the rest of the year and incorporate what you’ve missed next year.
If you’ve been following my Small Steps toward a fit life program in 2014, you’ve taken control of your daily calorie intake (January’s portion control), practiced planning ahead to minimize high calorie meals and maximize opportunities for exercise (February’s plan ahead), used strategies to manipulate your environment to avoid falling back into unhealthy habits (March’s accentuate the positives and eliminate the negatives), improved the quality of your food choices and quantity of daily activity (April’s substitutions), revisited healthy habits of the past when we were slimmer and healthier (May’s go old school) and added strength training and more fresh produce to your bag of tricks (June’s +1). Congratulations!
July’s Small Step advice is relevant no matter where you are in your fitness journey. This time of year can be the most difficult to stay on track with exercise and diet goals because routine is a friend and disruption is the enemy. The oppressive weather, vacations, kids at home and outdoor parties brimming with food and drink can distract, tempt and derail the most avid exercisers and healthy eaters. Now is the time to reflect on what is and isn’t working for you, revamp your goals to get you through the summer, and renew your commitment to a fitter you so that you’re off and running when September brings normalcy back into your life.
If something hasn’t been enjoyable, do-able or working quite right for you lately, it’s doomed to fail during the summer months. Better to readjust your expectations and goals before you give up so you can give yourself a fighting chance to succeed. If you aren’t already keeping an exercise and food journal, now is a good time to start. It can be treated solely as a log, listing the exercise done and food eaten on a daily basis. Studies have shown that journals help keep dieters and novice exercisers on track. It forces you to stay accountable to yourself. If you know that you’re going to be writing it down, you’re less likely to raid the fridge at 10pm or skip an exercise class. However, I recommend going beyond a log and make it more of a journal. Record thoughts, emotions and reflections along with logging activity and diet. You can use this to identify positive and negative triggers to your fitness behavior so you can maximize the positive triggers and minimize the negative. The more detail you put in your journal, the more relevant and valuable the information is when setting goals, scheduling exercise and planning meals. This approach turns what can be the drudgery of keeping a log into more of a diary that has a positive vibe, making the process more personal. It also creates a historical record of your fitness journey. Imagine how inspiring it would be for you to flip back to one of your own personal success stories and relive it, particularly at a time when you might be experiencing a set back.
Use the knowledge you’ve gained from your reflections to set some short-term exercise and diet goals to get you through the summer. Some things are more difficult to achieve in the summer. For example, it can be tricky if the bulk of your cardio is done outdoors. The heat and humidity can be a real and valid deterrent. We all need to plan for that and either do less intense outdoor workouts during those times or find indoor or water-based alternatives. Other goals are more easily achieved this time of year, such as eating more fresh, local fruits and vegetables. To avoid other common summer pitfalls, come up with game plans for including your children in your healthy habits, what and how much you will consume at the neighborhood block party and what you will do for exercise and diet while on vacation. Planning ahead isn’t difficult but it can be the difference between success and failure.
Once you have your summer plan in place, use the next two months of journaling and reflection to set a course of goals beginning in the fall. Maybe they will be similar to what they are now or maybe they’ll be entirely different. In either case, they need to be realistic, manageable and enjoyable. The more thorough you are in your reflections, the more likely they are to meet those three criteria and, therefore, the more achievable the goals will be for you. (See my SMART goal setting tips here.)
Just as vacation is a chance to break out of the mundane, recharge and renew, so should this time be for your fitness routine. Appreciate how enjoyable it is to move your body, make it stronger and savor really good, healthy food. Sample new things, rediscover old things, reflect on both, revamp your goals and renew your commitment to fitness.
This summer’s One Small Step is less of a step than, actually, a pause. The step by step approach is good and it works. But sometimes it’s valuable to stop a moment, look at the big picture and re-evaluate before taking the next step. This step is all about taking advantage of the laid back mood of summer by checking in with the mind and soul to make sure they are on board with the body on the journey to fitness.