Whether you took on summer with a margarita in hand and a permanent seat on a lawn chair or went on daily jogs in the warm weather after sipping on green juices, summer isn’t the only chance you have to form healthy routines throughout the year. If 2020 has left you with extra unhealthy habits or you’re still in laid-back summer mode, don’t worry: it’s not too late to get back into a healthy routine. Back-to-school season can feel like a fresh start (even for adults), making it an ideal time to revive habits that will get you through the colder months as healthy and happy as possible. Here are 10 ways to eat better, move your body more, and achieve your health goals through fall and winter.
1. Set easy-to-reach goals
Your inclination may be to set higher goals to push yourself so you achieve more. While lofty goals can challenge you to be your best, hard-to-reach goals can actually prevent you from making progress when you’re trying to get back into a healthy routine. Lofty milestones can feel overwhelming, so start small with goals you know you will be easy and enjoyable to reach (like going on a walk every day or doing yoga for 10 minutes in the morning), and then work your way up. The point of making and hitting milestones is that every achievement builds motivation to achieve even more. Instead of running five miles, losing 10lbs, or eating 100 percent clean by the end of the season, set weekly or daily goals. Try eating leafy greens with two meals a day, drinking eight glasses of water by dinner, or moving your body for 30 minutes for five days a week.
2. Don’t deprive yourself
When we want to get back into a healthy routine, it’s tempting to start with the “don’ts:” don’t eat sugar, don’t have processed foods, don’t skip a workout, etc. But depending on rules to get your body to make changes sets up for failure. First of all, we always want what we can’t have, so you’re going to be craving Halloween candy or an apple pie more than you would’ve been if it wasn’t off-limits. More importantly, external rules prevent you from listening to what your body really needs. Maybe your body needs grounding foods or to take a break in order to be healthier, so listen to what your body is telling you. DIY whatever you’re craving with more nourishing options, rest when you need to, and prioritize what brings you joy. True health comes from a place of freedom, intuition, and abundance, not deprivation.
3. Get more sleep
If you couldn’t tell by the shorter days and longer nights, your body is craving more sleep. Don’t push through the tired feeling; use daylight savings as an opportunity to set an earlier bedtime. When you get enough sleep at night, you wake up feeling great, stay energized throughout the day, and are able to make the best choices for your mind and body. Sleep can be the most crucial ingredient for a healthy routine, so prioritize it above anything else. If you have to choose between 7-9 hours of sleep and an early workout or late work night? Choose sleep every time.
4. Set support methods along with goals
You could set the most motivating goals with the best intentions, but they may be too difficult to reach if you’re not looking at the big picture. If your goals are fitness-related, think about the food and lifestyle choices you can make to support that goal, like getting enough sleep and eating whole, energizing foods, so you have the energy to keep up with the exercise routine you want. And if you want to eat cleaner, think of how you can set yourself up for success with meal prepping, healthy snacks, or strategic grocery shopping. No matter what healthy habits you hope to adopt, you have to look at every area of your life to see how you make changes to support those healthy habits.
5. Make small tweaks to your diet
Good news: you don’t have to transform your diet to be healthier (yes, even if you’ve enjoyed too many glasses of rosé over the summer or one too many frozen pizzas in 2020). The most sustainable and effective way to eat healthy (without hating your life)? Make small tweaks to your diet. For example, if pasta is your go-to for dinner, add some kale to the sauce, or order a side salad whenever you order out. You can also try having a smoothie instead of a breakfast sandwich or eating carrots and hummus instead of your usual chips and salsa snack in the afternoon. No matter what tweaks you make, the point is to make one small change at a time, rather than to transform your entire diet at once. In terms of what to change, think of adding more fruit and vegetables rather than taking away any foods that are a part of your routine.
6. Start with stretching
Even an athlete doesn’t get back into a fitness routine by running a 10k; don’t expect your strength and endurance to be the same as it was the last time you had a consistent exercise routine. Whether you were a gym rat pre-virus, work out here and there, or have never cared much about exercise before, start with stretching. Stretching will likely feel less daunting than weight training or cardio, so it’s a good way to start moving your body again. Also, stretching keeps muscles flexible, strong, and healthy. Without stretching, the muscles shorten and become tight, so any strenuous activity meant to strengthen them could cause joint pain, muscle damage, or strains. There’s also a wide variety of other benefits to stretching, including mental health; try these stretches to help anxiety or these to get a better night’s sleep.
7. Enjoy the season
Just because the days of jogging on the beach and swimming in the pool are over, it doesn’t mean the rest of the seasons can’t help you be active and healthy too. Instead of staying inside on your couch 24/7 (although we’ll definitely be doing a lot of that), enjoy all that autumn has to offer to achieve your healthiest self. Take a walk to look at the changing leaves, rake leaf piles, go apple picking, and enjoy all the fresh seasonal foods like apples, sweet potatoes, kale, butternut squash, and pumpkin. Sure, a PSL and Harry Potter movie marathon are not necessarily fall essentials that were invented with our health goals in mind, but there are so many ways to enjoy the season that will help establish a healthy routine. Enjoying the crisp air will help get you moving, and eating the delicious seasonal produce will not only result in killer pumpkin recipes, but will be giving your body more nutrients.
8. Be kind to yourself
Forming a new routine or habit is not easy; our bodies are conditioned to crave what’s comfortable. If you find it’s difficult to adopt healthier routines, know that it’s not because you’re lazy, weak, or have something inherently wrong with you; it means you’re normal. To get through the tough transitions that come with forming new habits, remind yourself why you want a healthier routine. Is it because you love your body enough to treat it as well as possible? Is it so you can feel more confident, vivacious, or happy? Remember that self-judgment, criticism, or shame are not going to get you to that end goal any more than your unhealthy habits. Lead with self-compassion, and I promise you’ll get to your goals quicker and easier.
9. Cook at home more often
Fall and winter are the perfect time to hone your cooking skills. The weather’s colder, you’re staying in more, and you’re craving grounding foods that can easily be made with an instant pot or in the oven. Cooking at home typically means healthier meals, more accurate portions for what your body needs, and satisfying your cravings with as much nutritional value as possible. Cooking newbie? Stock your fridge at the beginning of the week with seasonal produce and healthy basics like leafy greens, grains like quinoa or brown rice, and a few organic proteins to prepare grounding, warm, satisfying meals throughout the week. Check out easy recipes like here, here, and here. If prepping meals in advance feels overwhelming, try making a little extra dinner and save as leftovers for lunch the next day.
10. Strive for consistency
We often look at healthy routines with all-or-nothing thinking: we either eat perfectly or binge on junk food because indulging in one bag of chips made the day “no longer count” (I hear that one a lot!). But the key to any routine is exactly that: routine. Unlike friends or clothing items, strive for quantity over quality when it comes to healthy habits. For example, if you’ve had a busy and exhausting day, fit in five minutes of some movement, even if it’s not the intense HIIT workout you had hoped for. Likewise, keep up healthy eating goals by eating as healthy as you can every day, rather than eating perfectly. If your friends go to a fast-food restaurant, keep up consistency by ordering a side salad with your meal or extra veggies on the side, instead of telling yourself you’ll start tomorrow. After all, a healthy routine is just consistent decisions that snowball into habits to make us feel our very best.