Strategic Planning: A 10-Step Program to Sustaining Health-Promoting Habits

Submitted on January 5, 2011 - 4:45pm

Adopting a health-promoting diet and lifestyle is one of the most difficult tasks facing modern human beings. Even people who are health conscious have a difficult time implementing a health-promoting diet, designing and sticking to a regular exercise program, and getting proper rest and sleep. This article outlines a strategy that can help you achieve your health goals.

Step 1: Determine your goals

It is important that you identify what your goals are. Eliminating pain, restoring function, improving capacity, losing excess fat or delaying death are examples of achievable goals. Most of us can rattle off a few goals without having to stop and think much. They can be vague or precise but, whatever they are, start by writing them down. Then arrange your goals in the order of importance to you.

Step 2: Objectify your problems

Establish an objective baseline so you will be able to determine progress or deterioration. For example, if your goal is to lose weight it is helpful to know what your weight is and what a realistic goal weight is. In addition, determining your percentage of body fat and specific measurements such as waist circumference may prove useful in determining if your strategies are being effective. If your goal is to reduce your risk of premature death from cardiovascular disease, knowing your blood pressure, functional blood vessel health, blood measurements such as cholesterol, triglycerides, hemoglobin A1c, C-reactive protein, etc., will give you an objective basis to evaluate the progress of your health-promoting strategy.  Working with a doctor who focuses on health promotion may prove extremely helpful. The doctor may be able to provide you information on the underlying cause(s) of your problems.

Step 3: Establish realistic goals and timelines

It is important to set realistic goals so that you do not violate your expectations and become discouraged.  For example, the average overweight individual can lose two pounds per week by adopting a health- promoting diet and lifestyle. That translates into a negative calorie balance of 1,000 calories per day and in my experience is the maximum sustainable weight loss for the average person. If your goal is to resolve hypertension with fasting, you need to understand how long a fast will be needed to achieve the desired results.  The higher your self-efficacy of resolution, the higher the probability for definitive, sustained action.  In order to regain and maintain health in the face of adversity and challenges, you must have confidence that the actions you are taking are likely to succeed.

Step 4: Identify the roadblocks to achieving your goals

It is important to have an understanding of the nature of the obstacles you face in achieving your goals. Roadblocks can include genetic and epigenetic factors, diet (deficiencies and excesses), environmental conditions (air, water, sun, chemicals, etc.), activity (rest and sleep, strength and flexibility, and proper body usage) and psychology (how well you deal with the stressors of family, friends, and social contacts.) 

An accurate diagnosis can be critical in planning a strategy. Mistaken beliefs, no matter how commonly held can sabotage a well-intentioned plan. For example, if one of your goals is to resolve joint pain and you believe the official position of the national arthritis foundation that "no specific diet will make your arthritis better," you are likely to fail.

If your goal is to lose weight, it is important to evaluate your dietary strategy as well as sleep, exercise and possible metabolic dysfunction including hypothyroidism, sleep apnea, musculoskeletal problems that might limit activity and psychological issues including addiction.  The reason weight loss is such a persistent problem is that deficiencies in a number of different arenas can contribute to the problem.  It is often useful to consult with health professionals experienced in diagnosing the factors that might be preventing you from achieving your goals.

Step 5: Give up on magic

Money is made telling people what they want to hear, NOT what they need to know.  What you want to hear is you can achieve your goal without escaping the pleasure trap of the standard American diet and lifestyle. What you need to know is how to escape the pleasure trap so you can achieve your goal. HEALTH IS THE RESULT OF HEALTHFUL LIVING.  You want to avoid getting caught in the trap of the cure mentality.

Step 6: Set priorities

All actions are not equal in effect. Focus on the actions likely to yield the most substantial results. Time is the primary limiting factor in life. Rich and poor alike are strictly limited to 168 hours per week. Evaluating practicality and learning to manage your efforts effectively and efficiently are a priority.  Securing enough sleep, exercise and a health-promoting diet need to become a priority if success is to be achieved. In some cases, major life management skills need to be developed and obtaining time management coaching can be very helpful.

Step 7: Establish accountability

Some of my patients will send me detailed diet diaries of any dietary variations or alterations from their health- promotion regimes and the reasons that these variations occurred.  In reviewing these email messages I can advise them as to adaptive strategies.  The fact they are reporting variations tends to reduce the frequency of variations and make them more aware of the consequences. 

Step 8: Initiate action plan

Up to this point, all of our efforts have involved identifying the challenge, understanding the difficulties and planning a strategy.  Now it is time to take action.  Attitude determines action but ACTION determines outcome. You have to work the plan in order for the plan to work.

Step 9: Assess progress

Periodically reassessing the objectives such as weight, blood test results and measurements from Step 2 will provide objective evidence of progress which tends to improve persistence.  It will also allow you to fine tune your plan if you are failing to make adequate progress.

Step 10: Maintain success

The people who are successful in the long-term under-stand the importance of ongoing education and inspiration in maintaining their persistence. Education is available from organizations such as the National Health Association and their books, videos, seminars and by spending time at the TrueNorth Health Center and similar facilities where the focus is on strategic health planning and implementation.