8 Tips for Achieving Your Goals

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This week marks the beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere. I don’t know about you but this makes me seriously excited. I’m not particularly fond of winter and all its baggage (lack of sunshine, snow, ice, bitter winds, and bone-aching cold, to name a few) so am inwardly cheering at this change in the tides. This girl is ready for some fresh flowers, buds on the trees, and sunshine. Halle-freaking-lujah friends.

Apart from these very welcome changes, I also think of the shift from winter to spring as a great time to bring about positive change. We are emerging from the doldrums of winter with new energy and excitement, burying our coats at the back of the closet and dusting off our sandals. What better time to celebrate this transition than to use that renewed energy towards a goal you’ve been meaning to work towards?

My philosophy about goals and change is fairly straightforward. Whether you are looking to change your diet, be more active, de-stress, or really whatever, keep these rules in mind.

  • Keep it simple. If you have grand plans break it into bite-sized pieces and do them one at a time. For example, if your goal is to lose a certain amount of weight by swimsuit season, maybe try to lose “X” amount of weight by Memorial Day. Putting a number and time limit to a goal makes it more actionable.
  • Make it realistic. And healthy for that matter. Losing 5 pounds in a week is not healthy or realistic, nor is it sustainable. Humans in general like things to happen immediately or within a fairly short amount of time. But it took you awhile to get where you are, so it may take some time to get where you want to be. Personally, I look at my health as a long-term game, with the efforts I put in now paying off in dividends later, similar to how an investment account accrues interest over time (sorry, as an accountant I just had to throw that in there).
  • Find a partner. Whether it is a friend to do it with you or someone to hold you accountable, sharing your journey with someone makes it loads easier, especially when the going gets rough, which is going to happen at least once. Some people even find that sharing their journey on social media inspires them. Find what works for you.
  • Find your “why”. Deep down, why do you want to do this? Do you not feel well? Do you want to feel more confident in your skin? Do you want to fit into that favorite pair of jeans? Determine what is driving you. Write it down. Put it on your mirror and in your kitchen where you can see it every day.
  • Give yourself a break. You are going to have days where you trip up. We are human and we are prone to make mistakes. Don’t beat yourself up or throw in the towel. Instead, dust yourself off and vow to get back to it tomorrow.
  • Don’t make excuses. This may seem a tad harsh, but saying you don’t have enough time to accomplish something is not a valid reason to abandon a goal. We are all busy. You make time for what really matters in your life. So if this goal matters then make time for it, which may mean sacrificing time in some other area. Some of my favorite time savers for healthy eating (if that is your goal) are batch cooking, using my slow cooker, and planning my meals and snacks ahead of time. Speaking of…
  • Plan. If anything can kill a goal it is being unprepared. I see this in my office every afternoon around 3 pm, which is when I head to the kitchen to prep the afternoon snack I’ve brought from home. Usually at this time someone is hungry and is standing in front of the snack machine about to purchase something that isn’t so great from them. Doing that every once in awhile isn’t going to kill you, but regular trips to get snacks like that will do you no favors. Whatever your goal, plan ahead of time and be prepared.
  • Don’t compare yourself to others. Comparison is the thief of joy. One of the things I dislike most about social media is that it has created a culture of comparison. We are all on our own unique journey and everyone is different. Just do you. That is all that matters.

I believe that anything can be accomplished if you truly put your mind to it and your heart and soul behind it. It’s not going to be a cakewalk by any means, and there may be days where you feel like an utter failure, but if you keep the end goal in mind and what it will actually feel like when you meet your goal, it makes the journey so worth it.

One of the things I love to do most in this world is to help people work towards their goals, specifically those that are nutrition and fitness related. We all have different hopes and dreams. Being able to accomplish something that puts you closer to those dreams is one of the most amazing feelings. For me, if I can get someone to drink one less soda, eat two more servings of vegetables, or get up and walk for 30 minutes every day I consider it a victory. And every little victory counts when it comes to our long-term health.

So what change do you feel pulled to make? What has been on your mind to do as the seasons change? Whatever it is, I encourage you to get out there and give it a shot. You never know what you may be missing until you give it a try.

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What is Functional Medicine?

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Answer me this: If you had a rock in your shoe would you take off your shoe to get rid of said rock or would you just take some Advil to help with the pain?

Chances are you would do the former and not the latter (I hope). Determining what has caused a problem and removing the source of that problem is a pretty basic thing that most of us learned from a pretty young age. It’s so basic that you don’t really even think about it, you just do it.

But when you think of this analogy in terms of our healthcare industry, you see that this basic premise does not apply. I like to call our healthcare system a “disease-care” system because that’s what it is. We excel when it comes to trauma care, but when it comes to long-term health and wellness, we stink. In general, Americans aren’t taking off their shoe to remove the rock and find the true source of illness and disease. Most of us just go to the doctor and get a medication to deal with the problem. A short-term fix, if you will, to get rid of the symptom. Then 20 years down the road we end up on 10 different medications and wonder how we got to where we are.

Do these fixes really address the problem? In some cases sure, but in most absolutely not, which is where I think our medical system is failing. It would be so easy to point fingers to certain groups who may have contributed to this. To the doctors who just write a prescription and don’t take the time to speak with their patients, learn about their diet and lifestyle, and try other, more holistic means to determine the source of the issue. To the lawmakers who incessantly fight over what healthcare system is best and blame each other for the mess we are in. To the insurance companies who charge premiums that are astronomical and make insurance so confusing mere mortals can’t understand it. To the pharmaceutical industry who actually benefit the most from how this all is playing out and market the sh*t out of their products to us. (On a side note, did you know we are one of only two countries in the entire world that allows drugs to be marketed directly to consumers? New Zealand is the other.)

It would be so easy. But pointless. And just plain negative and cynical, which isn’t how I roll.

I truly wish I had a solution for this problem and sincerely hope that someday we will, but I do have another option to try. It’s time to take matters into our own hands and pursue a path to health that works for each of us individually. A great place to start is with a functional medicine doctor.

So what exactly is functional medicine? It is a patient-focused form of medicine that looks at the body as a whole, not as different systems that should be treated separately. It treats the person, not an individual symptom, to address the underlying causes of disease. The patient and practitioner work together to understand how environmental and lifestyle factors influence health, with the ultimate goal being proactive, predictive, and personalized medicine (as opposed to the current state of reactive medicine where we only go to the doctor after the problem has already occurred).

I have known about the field of functional medicine for a few years now, but only started actually going to a functional medicine doctor last December. How my health has changed since then is pretty dramatic (to me at least). I’ve finally discovered the key to what may be the underlying causes for my hormonal imbalance, underactive thyroid, and digestive ailments – an imbalance in my gut. Not only am I intolerant to gluten, but I also was diagnosed with SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth), and an intestinal parasite called giardia. Yikes! I have eliminated gluten from my diet, took medication to address the latter two issues, and how I feel now is like night and day. In the process I feel like I’ve lost about five pounds of bloating around my middle that has been nagging me for years.

I still have work to do with my doctor but I am extremely happy with how it’s gone so far. It’s a marathon, not a sprint and it took 32 years for my gut to become imbalanced (though I sincerely hope it doesn’t take a full 32 more to get it right again!).

Hippocrates did say that “all disease begins in the gut” and the more I learn about it, the more I believe this to be true. Over 70% of our immune system is housed in our gut and the majority of our serotonin (happy chemical) is produced in the gut. The vagus nerve links the gut and the brain, proving that what happens in one will influence what happens in the other. I’ve recently started reading The Microbiome Solution by Dr. Robynne Chutkan, creator of the Live Dirty, Eat Clean diet. I promise to give you a rundown of what I learn from this book when I’m done. In the meantime, check out a past post I’ve written on gut health.

For those of you who want to dig deeper and learn more about functional medicine and the current state of our “disease-care” system, I strongly recommend this podcast. It’s a bit lengthy but totally worth it. I wish I could take credit for the brilliant rock analogy above but I heard it here first. If you are interested in functional medicine and finding a doctor near you, this website is a great place to start. Click on “Find a Practitioner” in the top right menu.

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Photo courtesy of Michael Stern on flickr