Month: June 2020

How to Create the Perfect Health Goals

Whether it is your career, finances, relationship status, health, or your life in general, goals are an important tool for helping guide you in a particular direction.

Goals serve as a blueprint for action and set standards for improvement. They help shape the purpose for what it is that you are trying to achieve and help you stay motivated and energized.

There are two types of goals: short-term and long-term goals. Short-term goals are something you want to achieve in the near future (anywhere from tomorrow up to 3 years). Long-term goals focus on the bigger picture and require more planning for the future. Typically, long-term goals include those you hope to achieve in a 3-5 year time span, while short-term goals serve as the stepping stones to get there.

When creating any type of goal, it is important to ensure they follow the S.M.A.R.T parameters:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant/Realistic
  • Timely

By far, January 1st is the most infamous time for setting goals. However, the goal setting process is ongoing and ever changing, much like how life is in general. With 2020 over halfway done, why not take the midyear mark to reevaluate your old ones and/or create new ones.

In order to help you create the perfect short-term and long-term health goals, I will be walking you through each S.M.A.R.T component to help make your health goals a reality.

The first step in creating the perfect S.M.A.R.T goal is to make it SPECIFIC.
 
Creating a goal of “I want to lose weight,” “I want to be healthy,” “I want to make more money,” “I want to travel more,” or “I want to exercise more” are very broad statements. I like to refer to these as blanket statements, rather than directional statements.
 
If your goals are too general, how will you know how to accomplish them? What does “healthy,” “money,” “travel,” and “exercise” truly mean?
 
When working towards creating specific goals, try and answer the 5 w’s: who, what, where, when, and why:
  • Who: Who is involved in this goal?
  • What: What do I want to accomplish?
  • Where: Where is this goal to be achieved?
  • When: When do I want to achieve this goal?
  • Why: Why do I want to achieve this goal?
Let’s practice making our examples above more specific:
  • “I want to lose weight” > “I want to lose 10 pounds in the next 6 months”
  • “I want to be healthy” > “I want to discontinue my 2 medications for high blood pressure”
  • “I want to make more money” > “I want to make a salary of $75,000 in 2020”
  • “I want to travel more” > “I want to travel to 3 new countries in Europe in 2020”
  • “I want to exercise more” > “I want to walk 30 minutes/day, 5 times/week”
 
Now it is your turn. Write down at least three health goals (either long-term or short-term) using the criteria for “specific” mentioned above.
The second step in creating the perfect S.M.A.R.T goal is to make it MEASURABLE.
 
Measurable means establishing a concrete timeline for assessing progress. A measurable goal should address questions such as: How much? How many? How will I know when it is accomplished?
 
By defining the metrics that you need to determine whether you meet the goal, you will be able to make the goal more tangible. 
 
Let’s take a look at the examples from yesterday. Notice they all contain some quantifiable number or quantity that allows us to assess progress (ex. 10, 2, $75,00, 3, 30 minutes):
  • “I want to lose weight” > “I want to lose 10 pounds in the next 6 months”
  • “I want to be healthy” > “I want to discontinue my 2 medications for high blood pressure” 
  • “I want to make more money” > “I want to make a salary of $75,000 in 2020”
  • “I want to travel more” > “I want to travel to 3 new countries in Europe in 2020”
  • “I want to exercise more” > “I want to walk 30 minutes/day, 5 times/week” 
Looking at your own health goals, do they all include something quantifiable? If not, edit them to ensure they meet the “measurable” criteria mentioned above.
The third step in creating the perfect S.M.A.R.T goal is to make it ATTAINABLE.
 
By making a goal attainable, you can determine what resources, skills, or tools you need to achieve the goal.
 
For example, if you have a goal to: “Go to the gym 3 days/week for 1 hour” what resources would you need to achieve this?
  • Answer: a gym membership, time to commute to/from the gym, sturdy tennis shoes, and workout clothes. If times are financially tough right now and you can’t afford a gym membership AND/OR if you are super busy and cannot set aside 1 hour/day plus driving time to go to and from the gym, this goal would not be attainable. 
Instead, I would change the goal above to say: “Walk briskly for 30 minutes/day, 5 days/week.” By changing the words to accommodate the resources you actually have, you will make the goal more achievable. Now the resources you would need to make this goal a reality would be: sturdy tennis shoes, workout clothes, an outdoor walking space, and a 30-minute time commitment.
 
Let’s practice with one more example. The goal is: “I want to lose 10 pounds in the next 6 months.” What resources will you need to achieve this? Answer: a scale to track weight loss, a meal tracking app, knowledge of the number of total daily calories you need for weight loss, knowledge of portion sizes, basic cooking skills, and motivation. If you lack some or most of these resources, then this goal would be unattainable.  
 
Now it is time to look at the health goals you have written down. Do you have the resources needed to achieve these goals? If not, edit them to ensure they meet the “attainable” criteria mentioned above.

The fourth step in creating the perfect S.M.A.R.T goal is to make it RELEVANT.
 
Oftentimes the “R” can be interchangeable with “realistic.” Making a goal realistic determines whether you are willing & able to achieve something. Relevance means making the goal meaningful to you.
 
Let’s take a look at how to make goals both relevant and realistic.
  • If you have a goal, “I want to lose 10 pounds in 1 month” is this truly realistic? It can be for those who need to lose a significant amount of weight to begin with, however even ten pounds in 30 days is stretching it. Instead, if you are only slighter over your goal weight, you can change it to, “I want to lose 10 pounds in the next 5 months.” This would be 2 pounds/month, which would be much more doable, achievable, and realistic.  
  • If you have a goal, “I want to run 30 minutes/day, 5 days/week” but do not enjoy running would this be relevant or realistic to achieve? The answer is no it wouldn’t. Instead change the activity of running to something you actually enjoy doing such as: swimming, biking, walking, hiking, or dance, etc. This way you are more likely to be successful in achieving a goal that is enjoyable to you.
  • If you have a goal, “I want to travel to 3 new countries in Europe in 2020,” however flights are restricted due to Covid-19, is this goal realistic? It may be relevant to your needs, but it is not realistic. Instead, the goal can be changed to, “I want to travel to 3 new places in my home state by December 2020.” This goal may be more doable since it involves closer, less restricted travel.
Now is the time in the goal writing process to be the most honest with yourself in what you are hoping to achieve. In all of these examples, you can see that by changing goals to reflect your interests, needs, and enjoyment, you will enhance the goal’s likelihood of success. Take a look at your goals thus far. If they don’t seem realistic and relevant, edit them to ensure they meet the criteria mentioned above.

The fifth and final step in creating the perfect S.M.A.R.T goal is to make it TIMELY.
 
The purpose of putting a time constraint on a goal is to create a sense of urgency. Without a time constraint or deadline, it may be more difficult to find the motivation to work towards that goal. You always want to ensure that the deadlines you attach are realistic, meaning that they are not fast approaching nor too far away.
 
Let’s go back to our original examples: “I want to lose weight,” “I want to be healthy,” “I want to make more money,” “I want to travel more,” and “I want to exercise more.” Notice none of these goals have a time-frame attached. For example, how long do you want to give yourself to reach your goal weight? When do you plan to go off your medications? When do you want to make more money (1 month, 1 year, 5 years)? When do you plan to travel more (by the next month, 1 year, 5 years)? When do you plan on starting an exercise program? Without urgency, you can create a weight loss or fitness goal that could literally be for 10 years from now. On the flip side, you could create a weight loss goal of 30 days and that may be highly unrealistic.  
 
Taking the examples above, let’s practice making them timely: 
  • “I want to lose 10 pounds in the next 6 months or by December 2020”
  • “I want to discontinue my 2 medications for high blood pressure in the next 6 months or by December 2020″
  • “I want to make a salary of $75,000 by March 2021”
  • “I want to travel to 3 new countries in Europe by December 2021”
  • “I want to walk 30 minutes/day, 5 times/week” 
All of these goals now have a realistic time-frame attached, so that you can spark up motivation as well as more accurately measure your progress towards them. 
 
Looking at your own goals, ensure they each have a time-frame attached, which meets the criteria mentioned above. 

Mindful Eating

What is Mindful Eating?

Mindful eating is the act of creating awareness of the food and beverages you are putting into your body while acknowledging your feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations surrounding taste, satisfaction, and fullness. Mindful eating involves: (1) using and recognizing all of your senses to find pleasure in your food, (2) chewing, swallowing, & savoring each bite, and (3) having a non-judgmental awareness of external & internal cues influencing the desire to eat, food choice, the quantity of consumed, and the setting in which food is consumed. 

When you are more closely in tune with your internal hunger cues as well as your external environment, you can better control portion sizes, know the exact moment you are satisfied from eating, and better manage your weight.

Benefits of Mindful Eating

  1. A  non-diet, non-judgmental approach to eating 
  2. Increases awareness of portion sizes eaten to reduce likelihood of overeating
  3. Reduces stress & alleviates health problems
  4. Enhances the entire eating experience
  5. Helps you recognize differences between emotional & physical hunger
  6. Helps you learn to control the urge to eat when you are emotionally hungry

Brain-Stomach Connection

Fun Fact: It takes 20 minutes for your brain to register the chemicals released by your stomach that indicate when you are full. 

Most of us eat our meals on the-go, in our cars on the way to work or school, at our desks, or distracted in front of the TV or computer. Feeling full is a result of your brain registering the chemicals that are released once you put food and drinks into your stomach. When we eat our meals in under 20 minutes, we are not allowing the brain-stomach connection to occur. This diminishes our ability to recognize our true fullness levels and could potentially lead to overeating. Once you complete your meal, chemical levels continue to rise over the next 10-30 mins and stay elevated for about 3-5 hours. This helps keep you satisfied until the chemical levels fall again, yielding the return of hunger. 

To determine how long it takes you to finish your meal, set a timer and put it face down. Eat your meal like you normally would, without peaking at the timer. If you finish your meal in under 20 minutes, you ate too fast. 

Here are some helpful tips to help you slow down your eating: sip water in between bites, put your fork down between bites, eat with your non-dominant hand, eat with chopsticks instead of a fork or spoon, and chew your food thoroughly before going for the next bite. If you still do not feel full directly following your meal, the best thing to do is wait. The level of chemicals will increase with a little extra time making your hunger fade.

First Step in Mindful Eating: Assess your Hunger Levels

When practicing mindful eating, it is important to first differentiate between emotional vs. physical hunger cues. Signs of physical hunger include: headache, dizziness, stomach growling, feeling faint, lightheadedness, irritability, or a gnawing in your stomach. Emotional hunger includes eating when

bored, happy, stressed, angry, anxious, depressed. Once you have determined you are physically hungry, assess your hunger level using the hunger scale. It is always best to keep your hunger levels between 3-7 so that you don’t end up in cycles of under eating or overeating. A good rule of thumb is to always eat in order to feel “satisfied” not “stuffed.”

Second Step: Establish Awareness

Establishing awareness helps you build a connection between your hunger and your environment in order to help control possible episodes of emotional eating. Use the awareness checklist to help guide you through the process. I recommend printing and hanging it either in your desk drawer at work or on the inside of your snack cabinet at home for when you have any urges to emotionally eat. You can also keep a screenshot on your phone for those difficult times when you feel a lack of control. The awareness checklist is also a helpful tool for guiding you through mindful eating. 

Third Step: Be Present

After you have determined that you are in fact physically hungry and you have established awareness of your environment, it is time to practice being present. Shifting out of auto-pilot can be very difficult, especially when we are all so busy. However, mindful eating cannot be practiced without attentiveness. Take some time to look at the texture of your food and soak up each unique scent. With each bite, savor the flavor. If someone was to ask you what you had to eat, are you able to describe to someone each spice detected, each flavor tasted, and what it looked like? If not, then ensure you are in an environment free of distraction.

Mindful eating takes time to master so do not be discouraged if you have difficulty in the beginning. Your practice will certainly pay off as your portion sizes decrease while your ability to control hunger levels increases. Continue to utilize these tips and tools and eventually you will be an expert.