How to achieve a health goal and maintain it

As many of you know, before setting up my practice, I worked in public health. This included working for a weight management project where I learned so much. One thing was that weight loss is never just about losing weight, or about eating less and exercising more. The other thing was that when you desperately want to achieve a health goal there are a whole lot of things that can make (or not make) it happen.

So whether you want to join a gym, take up a new activity or relaxation technique or you’re dealing with a serious health issue, I hope that some of the tips that I’ve learned along the way will help.

Before we really dig in, it’s important to understand what it really takes to make a lasting change.

We often think that making a change and achieving a health goal is a linear process like climbing steps. But as The Transtheoretical Model (attributed to Prochaska and DiClemense) shows it’s a bit more complicated than that:

1 – Pre-contemplation – At this stage we may have an inkling that we have an issue or problem but are largely unaware that we can address it.

2 – Contemplation – This is where we become aware of the issue and have a desire to make a change.

3 – Preparation – At this stage we have the intention to take action and we get ready to do something about it.

4 – Action – This is where we start putting action steps in place.

5 – Maintenance – This is one of the most challenging but also important stages. It’s here where we have to put in the work to embed and maintain the behaviour.

From this stand point it may look as if we should just easily move from one stage to the next. But what I find more realistic is the cyclical ‘Stages of Change Model’. In this version we see another category.

6 – Relapse – What it’s saying is that at any stage, but particularly between preparation, action and maintenance that there’ll be times (often many) when we’re going to slip up. This is when we need to muster everything that we have within us to get going again.

So if we know that we might slip up, how do we stack things up so that we can lessen the relapses and get on to achieving our health goal?

It’s a thinking thing

You might start off feeling really enthusiastic before working towards your health goal and that’s a really good thing. But I’ve seen so many people have a ton of energy and even excitement about what they want to achieve, until they hit a road block. Then they give up. These are not weak willed or disingenuous people. What I’ve mostly seen is that at the beginning, people just put so much pressure on themselves.

+ Those that I’ve seen succeed are firstly, realistic. They take the time to think through how it might actually be and the numerous steps needed to become healthy or well. More importantly their goal is attached to something real and personal to them. That might be having more energy or feeling better and as a result looking better, rather than doing it to impress others or just to look good.

= When you start to improve or feel even 5% better it can motivate you towards the next 5%. Even when things aren’t going so well, planning ahead will help you to know what it takes and just how you could feel when you achieve your health goal.

It’s a community thing

So many people are either depleted or feel as if they have something to prove even before they embark on improving their health. This may be because they’ve tried to become healthy before or because they’re now desperately trying 101 different ways to achieve the goal. But it’s a hard slog going it alone.

+ Those who succeeded had a team (or at least one other person) who supported and encouraged them. Some found those who were going through a similar situation or those who had succeeded before as inspirations. It’s not always easy to do things in a group or to ask for help. But knowing that you have family, friends or even a co-worker in your corner wanting you to succeed can be hugely helpful in letting you know that you’re not going it alone. Joining a group (actual or virtual) or even getting a coach can also help you to stay on course and motivated when things get tough.

= Together we’re stronger and achieve quicker and for longer!

It’s a fun thing

Some people want to succeed so badly that they go to extremes. In weight management it may be wanting to throw everything out of the cupboard and only eating a minimum (which isn’t healthy). With exercise some push themselves excessively for a few weeks and then either injure themselves, or are just too exhausted to carry on.

+ Those who I’ve seen succeed had a goal. But they made the achieving process a fun ‘learning’ experience. Within weight management when people weren’t moving beyond a certain weight, they didn’t give up. Instead they shook things up and looked at different ways to make the journey more fun. Some even took up line or belly dancing! Or they tried different recipes or even just celebrated other’s wins rather than focusing on themselves.

= Having fun takes the pressure off when trying to achieve a health goal and can actually keep you on track.

It’s a whole health thing

I’ve worked with many people who have been on so many different ‘diets’ (Atkins, Cambridge, paleo, fasting, fluid, no carb, carb only, points, colours and many more!). These were reassuring at the time, but transitioning to a normal eating pattern was often a real struggle. What’s more, the disappointment of letting go of the thought that they’d actually achieved their health goal long-term was even worse.

+ Those that succeeded made the connection between what it really means to be healthy (not faddy, not extreme, not just about body, but also about family, friends and having a healthy mind and the whole journey). They also adapted their habits, slowly and consistently. Then they built on the small wins and often enjoyed ways of being that they hadn’t necessarily tried before.

= They understood the WHO definition of health – ‘Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’.

It’s a whole life thing

By now you’ll be getting a picture of what I’ve seen work and not work. Those who pushed too hard or too soon or didn’t get that it was a ‘life journey’, not a ‘fit into that dress or suit sort of thing’ succeeded.

Many didn’t necessarily achieve their goal in a linear fashion and many had lots of ups and downs. But when they got stuck they took the time to really look at themselves. This sometimes meant realising that although they were doing well, they’d maybe reached a level at which they were stuck. This could have been because they were frightened to go beyond where they were or that they could be self-sabotaging themselves.

For others it wasn’t self-sabotage. They actually had something that needed to be addressed bio-chemically. So rather than just doing the same thing, they took the time (and often money) to investigate and to move past where they were.

There were lots of other things that I’ve learned from working towards my own health goals and seeing clients work towards theirs. But it can be mainly summed up in ‘think health’ rather than ‘quick fix, look good’. Get support (and lots of it) and enjoy the journey (and do it in a stress less way). It’s your journey no one else’s!

If you need to talk through moving from where you currently are to further improving your health do get in touch.

 

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