By Leo Babauta
While most people want to lose weight, get fitter, get healthier … it can be tough forming the habits.
It took me many starts and frustrations before I learned how to live a healthier lifestyle. In 2005, I was 70 lbs. heavier, a smoker, addicted to junk food, sedentary, couldn’t exercise for more than a few days without quitting.
Today, I am much healthier, leaner, fitter. I eat healthily most of the time (with regular indulgences) and I’m able to stick to a meal plan if I want, and avoid junk food most of the time.
How did I change? I learned a few simple strategies. These aren’t for everyone, so pick and choose the ones that might fit in your life, and give them a try!
1. Toss out the junk food. Having junk food in your house or workplace makes it too hard to stick to a healthy diet. If at all possible, toss everything out that’s sugary, fatty, greasy, salty. The best strategy is not having it around. Clean out your pantry and fridge!
2. Find some healthy recipes and buy the ingredients. There are thousands online. Find one or two to start with, easy ones that don’t take an hour to prepare, and go buy the ingredients today.
3. Cook in bulk. I find it easiest to stick to a healthy meal plan if I prepare things in advance. So cook big batches of veggie chili or soup, or tofu veggie stir fry, and put the bulk of it in containers in the fridge or freezer. I like to divide things into meal-sized containers so I just heat things up when it’s mealtime.
4. Stock up on healthy snacks. When you’re hungry for a snack, what will you eat? Have healthy things to munch on at home, at work, and for the road. Fresh fruits, chopped veggies, raw nuts, dried fruits are some of my favorites.
5. Socialize in healthier ways. Instead of going out to bars or unhealthy restaurants, can you get together for tea, or a game of basketball, or a walk in the park? Or find a healthy restaurant to eat at?
6. Find a workout partner. Get your spouse or good friend or coworker to go on walks or runs with you, or meet you at the gym or a workout class. Having someone do it with you makes it fun and easier, and you’re more likely to show up if you have an appointment to meet someone.
7. Use social media for motivation. You can use Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or your favorite online forums for motivation and accountability. Publicly announce 2-week or month-long health challenges, and have people keep you accountable. Try Fitocracy — it’s a social fitness game that can make getting fit fun.
8. Play outside. It’s important to go outside every day and get some fresh air and sunshine. Move around, take the kids out and play, find a friend and take a walk or throw or kick a ball around.
9. Find healthy options for eating out. Instead of eating at fast food or chain restaurants where everything is deep fried, can you find more local restaurants where there are some healthy options? Make a list, and go to those places when you go out.
10. Make water & tea your default drink. Many people drink soda or sugar coffee drinks all day. This is not necessary for a healthy or enjoyable life. Water can become your favorite drink, and (unsweetened) tea can be very healthy. I love a mindful green tea ritual once a day.
11. Schedule active breaks. If you’re on the computer all day, schedule short breaks every 30-60 minutes where you stretch, walk around, maybe do some squats or pushups, drink some water. Exercise doesn’t have to be just once a day.
12. Get your spouse on board. It’s hard to make changes if your significant other is resistant. So early on in the process (read: right now), share your thinking, share your reading materials, and ask them to help you get healthy. Don’t ever force them to change, but see if they can be on your team.
13. Start small — don’t overdo it. Big changes tend to be hard to sustain. Make one small change on this list, and then try another, then another. Each step along the way, you’ll get used it and it will become your new normal. No step needs to be very difficult.
14. Have fun exercising. Create challenges for yourself, and your friends. Find sports you like to play. Use running as a form of meditation. Exercising doesn’t need to be boring or hard — it can be one of the best parts of your day.
15. Drink red wine. One or two glasses of red wine can be very healthy, and can add some pleasure to your new healthy lifestyle. I’m a believer in making a healthy lifestyle one that you enjoy, so add healthy foods you love, activities you enjoy, a mindful tea ritual, and an end-of-the-day wine ritual.
16. Explore berries, kale, raw almonds and walnuts, avocado, flaxseeds, quinoa, tofu, tempeh. These are foods that many people don’t eat on a regular basis, and some people have never tried some of these. One by one, explore these foods, as I find them to be very healthy. Some of them take some time to acquire the taste, and others (like tofu and tempeh) just need the right seasonings — they don’t have to be bland!
17. Add healthy ingredients to your meals. If you don’t want to change your entire diet, start adding some healthy stuff to your usual meals. For example, if you normally eat spaghetti, try ground turkey or meatless grounds instead of beef. Add some finely-diced kale and carrots, and some flaxseeds. You can do this to many recipes.
18. Try new ethnic foods. Don’t look at changing your diet as a sacrifice. Think of it as a joyous adventure. Want to try going meatless a few days a week? Try some healthy dishes from India, Japan, Thailand, the Mediterranean. It can be a lot of fun, even for the whole family.
19. Stop smoking. OK, this isn’t the easiest strategy, but it is one of the most important. I quit smoking on Nov. 18, 2005, and it was one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life. It takes about a month of focused effort. Here are my tips.
20. Diet before exercise. One of the easiest ways to start getting healthier is to start improving your diet — it’s fairly easy to add some fruits and veggies, for example, and maybe cut back on some of the sweets. Starting exercise takes a bit more focus, and doesn’t always get results as quickly. On the flip side, if you start exercising, don’t let that be an excuse to eat whatever you want — it’s easy to negate the benefits of your morning run with a donut and sugary and fatty coffee drink.