Even though most people know that they should be making their health a priority, not everyone does. Between work, family, friends, kids, and busy schedules, too often, focusing on our personal health falls to the bottom of the list. People know they should eat vegetables, they should exercise, and they should drink more water, but that doesn’t mean that they always do it. In fact, I am often asked myself how I do it; How do I find time for the gym? How do I find time to eat well? And how do I find time to cook? But despite the daily grind, family obligations, and the never-ending to-do list it is possible to make your health a priority without it feeling like a chore. So, I’ve put together some of my best tips on how to make your health a priority.
Make Your Health a Priority
When I talk to people who are looking to improve their diet or their lifestyle, I am often confronted with a list of excuses or reasons why not. Although different people often have different reasons, they all boil down to three common themes; time, money, and knowledge. I often hear things like:
“I don’t have time to cook.”
“I don’t have time to do groceries.”
“Eating well is too expensive.”
“I don’t know what to eat.”
I get it, I hear you, and the reality is I used to be there myself. I was the first to complain that eating well took time and cost money, and the first to eat out, buy packaged foods and look for the most convenient route. I don’t have time to make eggs, so bagel and cream cheese it is. I don’t have to make my lunch, so I’ll buy a muffin while I’m out. I don’t have time to make dinner, so I’ll pick up something I can microwave. When life gets busy, it’s easy to skip meal prep, skip the gym, and just grab a bite to eat while you are on the run because it’s easy and convenient. But, I’m going to be really honest with you, the excuse “I’m too busy” is a really shitty excuse.
I have yet to meet someone who is actually “too busy” to eat well and make their health a priority. If you are “too busy” to prioritize your health then you are also too busy to watch Netflix, too busy to hang out with friends, too busy to scroll on Facebook, and too busy to go shopping. However, I rarely hear people saying they are “too busy” to do any of those things. The reality is most people are not “too busy”, they are just prioritizing other things over their health. I know it sounds harsh but it comes from a place of love and I have no problem saying it because this is something I had to learn for myself, and I want others to learn it too. So instead of making excuses, consider these simple suggestions on how to make your health a priority.
1. Be Selfish
For many people, especially women, we end up being the last item on our priority list. When I ask people what causes them stress in their life, I often hear answers like work, family, kids, pets, or finances, but rarely their health. We live in a very busy world that emphasizes status, money, and things; people would rather stay all night at work to impress the boss or ensure that their kids are involved in every activity under the sun than actually chill out, slow down, and focus on what’s actually important. Living in the house with the white picket fence, driving the top-of-the-line car, and having kids with honors does not matter if you are sick, unhealthy or depressed. People who are able to make their health a priority, myself included, prioritize themselves over others. Although that might sound like a bad thing, it’s not. You can call it selfish, and I’m ok with that, but it is important to understand that if you are able to take care of yourself, you will be in a better place to love and care for the other people in your life.
2. Schedule and Plan
Finding time to exercise, meal plan and the cook doesn’t just happen, it happens because I create time for it. Every Sunday I create a rough mental schedule for the week ahead so I can organize my schedule to fit in my workouts and plan my meals. I carve time out of my weekend, purposely, to batch-cook a couple of items to help save me time later in the week. Although it might seem like an investment of time upfront, it saves me time in the long run. How exactly you chose to meal plan depends on your personal style, schedule, and what works best for you. You don’t necessarily need to create a meal plan for the entire week, but having a rough idea of how many nights you will be home and what you will be eating will help you to be more efficient with your time, and your money. The same goes for your workouts; a little forward planning goes a long way to help ensure you are able to fit in exercise. Consider your schedule for the week, what days you are busy, and what days you have more time. If your nights are busy, consider getting up a little earlier for a walk or trip to the gym, pre-register for a class to help hold yourself accountable to show up after work, or simply take some time to go for a walk on your lunch break. It’s important to remember that even a little bit of movement is better than none.
3. Don’t Make Changes, Create Habits
It’s easy to change your diet or change your schedule. Anyone can eat a salad instead of a burger, and take the stairs instead of the elevator, and anyone can do that really quickly. However, it is making the changes stick that is really hard. I often have people ask me to create a meal plan for them, as they think this will solve all of their problems and help them prioritize healthy eating. I never do this. The reason I never do this is because what works for me is not doing work for you. Anyone can follow a plan blindly, but actually enjoying it is a whole other thing. If you want to make your health a priority, you have to do things you like. Hate running? Great, don’t run. Hate kale? Great, don’t eat it. If you want to learn how to make your health a priority and learn how to make changes work and make them last, you have to create habits that you actually enjoy. Like walking your dog? Great, walk him longer. Like stir-fries? Great, make more of them. If your co-worker lost 50 pounds eating a certain way, that’s great for him/her, but that may not be great for you. I am only able to maintain my healthy lifestyle because I have created habits that I actually enjoy and look forward to them every day.
If you want to learn how to make your health a priority, learn how to make changes work and make them last, you have to create habits that you actually enjoy.
4. Change your Environment
People are a product of their environment, the people around them, the places they visit, and the food that surrounds them. If your kitchen is disorganized, what are the odds you are going to want to cook in it? If your pantry is full of chips and crackers, what are the odds you are going to snack on carrot sticks? The food that you bring into your house is going to determine your eating habits – case in point. Every single time that you buy something at the grocery store you are making an investment in your health. If you spend $10 on cheesy crackers and chocolate every single week, you are likely making a poor investment and not setting yourself up for success. I’m not suggesting you can never eat them, but if you bring them into your house every week it makes making your health a priority a whole lot more difficult. I love ice cream, but I don’t keep it in my freezer all of the time, because I know if I do I will just end up eating it and far too frequently. If you can leave your trigger foods, whatever they might be, at the grocery store it is going to be a whole lot easier to set yourself up for success. When it’s 9:00 pm and you want those cheesy crackers and chocolate, it’s a whole lot harder to eat them when they are still on the shelf at the grocery store than if they are sitting in your pantry at home.
5. Create Goals and Move Slowly
Stop trying to be a hero, it doesn’t work. If you keep telling yourself the “diet starts Monday” and it never does, just stop telling yourself that. It’s damaging and it’s not worth it. If you actually want to create habits, not changes, you need to slow down and move slowly. If you never pack your lunch and want to start packing it, start with one day per week, maybe two, you don’t need to do all five. If you never workout, and want to start going to the gym, don’t sign up for an 8-week 5-day a week bootcamp, you likely aren’t going to go. And that’s ok. It is important to realize that even small changes are changes and that continuous small changes over time create really big habits. Be kind to yourself, work on small goals that you can actually accomplish, and celebrate them when you do. Stop telling yourself you will lose 10 pounds in the next month, or workout every day for 30 days, you’re setting yourself up for failure. If you really want to learn how to make your health a priority, and how to make it last, you need to focus on small sustainable changes that you can actually maintain for the long term.
6. Realize you Only get One Body
You only get one body. Who else is going to take care of it if you don’t? This lesson was one of the most impactful and beneficial lessons I learned myself. If you take care of your kids, your pets, your clothes, your house, and your car, why would you not take care of yourself? You get one vessel, one set of limbs, one set of organs, and one beautiful brain. You can buy a new couch, you can buy a new car, you can buy a new shirt, but you can not buy a new body. If you chose not to prioritize your health, nobody else is going to prioritize it for you. You can make all of the excuses in the world, tell yourself you are “too busy”, and bring all of the junk food you want into the house – nobody is going to stop you. But when you realize that you are in control of the changes you want to see, it is empowering. Be kind to yourself, and start where you need to start. Everyone is at a different stage in their journey, and wherever you are is ok. You are not doing anything “wrong”, everyone has areas of opportunity, so just focus on tackling those one at a time. Remember, this is not your practice life, this is the only one there is.