5 Tips to Start your Health Journey
Updated: Jan 8
Where are you on your journey? Take a good look.
If you are just starting out and trying to make some healthy changes in your life - GO YOU! I’m so proud of you for being here reading this. You’ve already taken the first big step! Hopefully this post will help you take the first step to a healthier you.
Or maybe you’ve already started your journey, and find that you’re already doing some or most of the things listed below. In that case – GO YOU! Give yourself a pat on the back! It’s so SO important to remind yourself how far you’ve come!
Wherever you are, remember that everyone is at a different place in their health journey. We all have to start somewhere, and there is always room for improvement. So these are my 5 tips to help you get started:
1. Find an exercise you love
“I hate exercising. I could never find an exercise I enjoy.”
Sound like you? Yea, that was me circa 2013. Now I’m a fitness instructor. WHAT? If you talked to my high-school friends, they would tell you just how crazy that is. But it’s because I found something I loved. And I wanted to share it with others.
Every person is different. Remember that. Some people actually like running. I know, it sounds like total bullshit. But it’s true. I became one of those people a few years back. Today, running for me is therapeutic, but a younger me would have faked sick to get out of running the mile in gym class. The trick is to start by finding something you enjoy. Then, that might lead to something else, and another, and before you know it, you might be running too. Never say never.
I like choreographed group classes like zumba and boot camp and cardio-kickboxing. I also enjoy hiking and long walks in the great outdoors. I DON’T like biking, but that’s a story for another blog post. My mom likes swimming and hiking, but she joins me for a class once in a while. Jim likes sports, so he plays in a town softball league in the summer. He also plays videogames, and he’s recently been experimenting with different VR workouts – have you tried Beat Saber?
If you are an absolute super beginner, I would not recommend going out and joining a gym right off the bat and forcing yourself to try and workout everyday. Joining a gym is a big commitment. I’m not saying don’t ever join a gym, but pace yourself. Do a trial membership, find some classes to test out, maybe a session with a trainer. But most importantly, spend time trying to figure out an activity that you can see yourself falling in love with. If you find something you actually enjoy, and you’ll be more likely to stick with it in the long run.
2: Add fruits and veggies
This seems so obvious, but can also be really really hard for people. According to the US government guidelines, (and other governments in countries all over the world) fruits and vegetables should take up about half your plate. At every meal. Every day.
If that sounds insane to you, don’t worry, you’re not alone. When I was growing up, I had spaghetti and meatballs with a side of bread and butter for dinner. Sure, there were some veggies hidden in that sauce, but definitely not half the plate! Even as an adult, my favorite dish for a long time was buffalo chicken with a couple sticks of celery.
I’m not suggesting that you try to adopt the MyPlate method completely and right away. Dieting can be really overwhelming, and is too often all about taking things away – cutting carbs, tracking the calorie deficit, limiting sugar. It can easily start to feel like you’re depriving or punishing yourself. And that’s not a change you can stick with long term. But this is different - this is something you can add to your diet.
So, if you’re just starting out, don’t cut anything. Try adding some fruits and veggies to what you already love to eat. Cut up an orange or apple the day before and have it with breakfast or a morning snack. Love baked ziti? Sneak some extra spinach into your sauce. Burrito-lover like me? Peppers and onions and corn and black beans – I see some recipe posts in our future.
Do some trial and error, find out what vegetables you actually like and what you don’t. Don’t force yourself to eat asparagus if you know you hate it. Try new things. I tried spaghetti squash and Brussels sprouts for the first time this year. And there are still tons of veggies I’ve never tried before. By doing this, I have found a lot of vegetables I actually like, and I’ve found ways to incorporate them into dishes I’ve always loved. And what’s more, I end up eating less of the not-so-good stuff because I’m filling up on good stuff.
3. Limit liquid calories.
Soda is evil. You know it. You’ve heard it a million times. But you just can’t give it up. But you can! Also… you don’t have to, not completely. I actually gave up soda way before I officially made the determination to lose weight and get fit. I don’t think I even specifically said “I’m giving up soda” or anything along those lines. I just started replacing soda with juice, and then juice with water. Within a year or so, I was drinking solely water (and my morning cup or two of black coffee).
If that’s too hard for you, try making soda (or whatever your liquid weakness is) a special treat. Only have soda on Saturday night, or only when you go out to dinner. Make it a specialty instead of a staple. You don’t have to get rid of it completely, but find a way to limit your intake.
The same goes for other liquid calories. I’m talking to you, Starbucks caramel macchiato. Find places to limit your calories. Try milk in your coffee instead of cream? Or just sugar, no milk. Or just cream, no sugar. Whatever! Make a super small change, and stick it out for a while (30-day challenge?). You might find that you can in fact live without it.
In high-school, I drank a Dunkin' Donuts medium french vanilla coffee with cream and sugar every morning. Sometime around college I switched to milk and sugar. Then one year I decided to make it my new year’s resolution to switch to completely black coffee. For the first few months I would drink it with a chocolate granola bar or something sweet to balance the bitter, but eventually I didn’t need that anymore. Now, I’ve been drinking black coffee for years. But I still treat myself to that Caramel Macchiato every so often.
4: Track EVERYTHING.
Write it down. Get an app. Count carbs or calories or points. It doesn’t matter how or where you do it. As Nike says, just do it.
When I started, I wrote in a journal by hand. Eventually, I switched to the FitBit app to count my calories. I was religious about logging every single piece of food I ate. Even one little Hershey kiss went in the app.
Tracking your food and exercise helps you realize how much you’re actually putting into your body. Just being aware and conscious of what you’re eating can make a huge difference. Even if you already eat super healthy, this might be helpful to realize how important portion control can be. I’m a big fan of carrots, pita chips, and veggies as a snack, but I know if I don’t portion it out beforehand, I’ll end up eating 2 or 3 servings, which turns your 150 calorie snack into 400 calories really quick.
This is a great way to hold yourself accountable for your own actions. Plus, and I speak from experience, it can be really rewarding to look back at what you ate “before” and realize how far you’ve come.
5. Small Changes equal Big Progress.
Take baby steps. Make small changes, gradually, over time. If you try to completely change yourself in a week, a month, a year even, it’s not going to be a lasting change. So just add or subtract one thing at a time (see tips one through four).
Give it some time to become a part of your life before adding the next thing. I find 30-day challenges really helpful for this in a lot of cases. Try doing one new thing each month. Before you know it, it will start to become a part of your routine.
Okay, those are my 5 Tips for beginners. If you’re already doing one or more of these – you rock! Keep up the good work and maybe take this as an opportunity to pat yourself on the back and then try adding something new.
If you’re getting overwhelmed by the health and fitness world, go easy on yourself. Everyone has to start somewhere. Remember, this is a process. It is a lifestyle change. That doesn’t mean you need to change your entire life, just aspects of your life. Slowly, gradually, until those changes become part of your life without you even realizing.
Start small. Go slow. And most importantly, find ways to enjoy yourself along the way!