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Making Your Health Goals a Family Affair

 “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” ~ C.S. Lewis

There are many different reasons why someone chooses to begin living a healthier lifestyle.  Maybe you had a health scare, want to wear smaller clothes or want to be more active.  There are also those reasons that have less to do with our desires, but our realization that leading a healthy lifestyle is the RIGHT thing to do for our children, family and all those that we care about.  When we begin to question our viability, we realize that how we move, eat and take care of ourselves, not only impacts us, but all of those around us.  The hardest part of realizing that we have to take a different path is that acceptance of the responsibility of our kids.  We are to demonstrate how to care for our bodies, nourish it with nutritious foods and move it daily so that we can be an example that helps them build a healthy body that can resist disease and deterioration that is at epidemic proportions.  A big problem is that being in a state of “unhealthy” is widespread, “everybody is doing it.”  That presents some obstacles, not only for you, but for your family who is also sharing this life with you and may not be on the same path or even near it yet.

So, how can we get them to see your path, gravitate towards it or even walk alongside you?  One of the best ways is to set goals.  I know, you have heard this before, but maybe not in enough detail to make them achievable, manageable and family-friendly.

When we set a goal, I like to say that it needs to be in 3-D vision.  The 3 Ds are Detailed, Dated and Divided.  So, let’s start with divided.  One of the biggest mistakes I see in those trying to lose weight is trying to change so many things all at once.  Studies have proven that by taking baby steps, losing weight slowly and gradually adjusting to changes make them stick or become habitual.  So, in looking at goals, they need to be divided into short-term and long-term.  Some examples of short-term could be “no eating out this week” or “I will exercise at least 30 minutes Monday through Friday for the next two weeks.”  You can extend them to a month, but not much longer than that.  Sometimes, they have to be a day-to-day process.  This allows for you to adequately plan, adapt more slowly to a new routine and in a child’s life – a week seems like a month.  So, this allows for everyone to have time to come up with coping mechanisms.  Yes, some could feel like they are detoxing from sodas or their favorite restaurant, depending on the goal set.  Also, it is important that family members all know what the goals are and actively help create them.  Think of it like creating team plans.  A coach doesn’t come up with the championship game plan at the beginning of the season.  He or she comes up with game plans each week, testing them, finding weaknesses and addressing them.  This allows for better teamwork, understanding each one’s weaknesses and strengths along with how it can all work together for one goal.  Also, by making short-term goals, it gives you opportunity to open the door to communication with your family to find out what their obstacles are in getting healthy.  It could be that your teen doesn’t have good eating options at school or your husband can’t get a decent lunch break.  Talking through the struggles can help you support each other along with learning empathy and understanding.  What better way to bring a family together and learn important life skills?  Long-term goals must be a family affair when making.  These take more planning along with more support, understanding and patience as making lifestyle changes is a process and journey.  These could be goals such as losing a substantial amount of weight, quitting unhealthy habits like smoking or deciding to run a marathon.  There will be times in the journey that you need accountability, support, help and if your goal doesn’t match your family’s (not many families run marathons together), it can be difficult for them to stay on the boat with you.  So, keep the lines of communication open.  Talk to them about how you are feeling, make them know that their support is important.  Sometimes, we are so focused on what we need to do to reach our goals that our support team on the sidelines feel like they have been forgotten.  So, remind them that they are a necessary component to your success.  Help them realize that by you working to make your family healthier, it is an extension of your love.  You NOT buying sodas is not a parenting torture tool, but a way to show you care more about their health than they do, especially at that time in their life.  Kids tend to feel invincible and don’t have much experience of disease and disability.  So, therefore their understanding of the consequences of making unhealthy lifestyle can seem foreign to them.  In this day and age, it seems maintaining a healthy lifestyle can make you feel like a foreigner.  Our culture is to support just the opposite through various means, so to go against the grain can be challenging at times.  This makes it even more important to create supportive relationships that encourage your journey to health and to help your children or spouse understand that making these choices can benefit them for a lifetime or at least allow you to be a part of their life for longer ……

The next one is detailed goals.  When you make goals and state them generically like, “I want to feel better,” what does that mean to you?  How can that be measured?  When someone says, “I want to go to a beach,” we automatically envision this beach, but every beach is different and what if you have never gone to a beach?  How would you describe it to someone?  That is the details I am talking about.  Make your goal so descriptive that a stranger can picture it or know exactly what you are talking about.  Your idea of “feeling better” could be completely different from your spouse’s.  He may want to be able to keep up with his son playing basketball.  You may just want to feel less sadness when you try on clothes.  Everyone’s visions, experiences and meanings are different.  So, draw me a picture of your goal filled with measureable ways to monitor progress.  That could mean creating an emotion scale to gauge where you are at, writing down the amount of time you can participate in an activity before feeling winded or too tired to continue, how many steps you can go without stopping or other exercise goals.  Some food goals could be the amounts of vegetables eaten each day or week, how many glasses of water consumed or a measurable decrease in unhealthy foods.

The last part is date.  This means you make a date for the goal to be reached along with dates to review the progress.  Most people don’t think about reviewing their plans that they have created to reach certain goals.  When they feel like they’re not going to obtain the goal, they just give up with little thought as to why it wasn’t working.  Many times, when they review why it didn’t work is when they are starting all over.  Talk about feelings of defeat.  This is why getting healthy can be such a vicious cycle of on and off with the failure rate so high for people to maintain a healthy weight with continued exercise and good food choices.  So, when you choose your short-term goal, it may not need a review date, but when you choose long-term goals, the plan must be reviewed to make sure it is working at getting you where you need it to be.  It must be measureable at that time.  It must be realistic.  Don’t choose a goal that is not achievable within healthy reason.  Sure, you can lose 5-7 pounds in a week, but to expect that to continue the rest of the month and stay off in 3 months is unrealistic, but I see this goal verbalized over and over.  You must get real with yourself.  Be a boss!  What does that mean?  Schedule your workouts, have a nutritional game plan, get an accountability partner and write this stuff down.  Post inspirational words in areas you look every day.  Post the meal plan on the fridge for all of us to see, get the family’s help and input on meals.  Keep a food and workout diary.  Share it with your spouse or co-worker.  Most importantly, post that long-term goal with an end date and measureable data right on your mirror.  Recommit yourself every day until it’s reached.  You never know who you are inspiring, but your family does even if they can’t say it.  Most of the time the backlash or lack of support we get has nothing to do with us.  It is their own relationship with their health and where they are on the journey. 

Beth Gabhart, RN is a ASCM certified Personal Trainer & certified nutrition coach with Certification in plant-based nutrition through Cornell University.  She can be emailed at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.