We all get off track with healthy habits from time to time, especially in times of intense stress. Here are some easy steps to kick-start the process of getting back to your regular healthy routine.

We've all been there where we're not eating the healthiest or moving our bodies as much as we could be. Maybe it was triggered because of stress, a change in seasons (hello, holidays) or because the "healthy" behaviors you were following were too strict to keep up with in the first place. While it can feel overwhelming making the shift back to healthier habits, it doesn't need to be that complicated, nor should it be! This easy three-step process will help to identify the barriers making it hard to stick with healthy habits and help you overcome them so you can get back to feeling like yourself.

Before we dive into the steps, let me just say that what we're all experiencing right now with COVID-19 is quite crazy. Stress levels are high and when we're stressed we crave comfort, whether that's cuddling up on the couch watching your favorite TV show or digging into your favorite tub of ice cream. We also need more calories to cope with stress, which is why we tend to crave those higher-calorie foods. Rest assured, as we all adapt to a more regular way of living or our new "normal", stress levels should go down and you may find that it's naturally easier to eat healthier and exercise more. But, if you're looking for a boost, here are some ways to help kick-start that process.

3 Easy Steps to Kick-Start Healthy Habits

You don't need to overhaul your entire life or follow some strict diet to be healthy. In fact, the first thing you need to know about changing behaviors is that if you're feeling overwhelmed, it probably means whatever goal you're trying to achieve is too lofty. The name of the game is simplicity, so keep that in mind as you read through this easy three-step process for kick-starting healthy habits.

1. Identify your biggest barrier to healthy eating or exercise

Start by pinpointing one thing that has been making it hard for you to keep up with healthy eating or exercise. Maybe it's that you're so busy with work and kids that you feel like you don't have time to prep healthy meals or get in exercise. Or maybe being home all day means more snacking. For me, I've been working through my mid-morning snack because I'm not excited about what I have in the pantry and then, come lunchtime, I'm absolutely starving and end up eating the quickest thing I can find, which isn't always the healthiest (think tortilla chips and salsa, ramen noodles, and cheese and crackers).

While there may be a few things going on, just choose one to focus on at a time.

2. Set simple goals that are easy to achieve

Too often people make goals that are way too lofty, like losing 20 pounds in a month (healthy weight loss is 1 to 2 pounds per week), eating only vegan foods when they love beef, or writing off snacks altogether, which can cause even more issues. And then when they can't meet their goal or they slip up, they get discouraged and give up. We see this all the time, especially with fad diets that are far too restrictive. This is why it's important to make sure the goals you make are easy enough to achieve.

Rather than promising myself that I'm going to meal prep all my meals for the week, so that I always have something healthy on hand, I need to start smaller. Making a snack I'm excited about is a great place to start, so I have something healthy and tasty for the week.

The same goal could be applied to the bored snacker—make something you're excited about and focus on filling ingredients (include fiber, fat and protein), so that you'll actually feel satisfied and less inclined to reach for another snack 10 minutes later. Or set a goal to stick to one serving of a snack or to replace one of your snacks with something healthier, like a piece of fruit.

If your barrier is limited time to make healthy food, instead of telling yourself you'll set aside 30 minutes each night to prep veggies, buy preprepped veggies from the store (like peeled and cubed butternut squash, or frozen veggies), which is a much easier goal to achieve.

And if it's movement you're struggling with, don't underestimate the power of a short walk, some jumping jacks or a quick stretching session!

3. Make a plan that you can actually stick to

Map out a solid plan for achieving your goal and, remember, keep it simple enough that you're guaranteed to achieve it.

For me, this means choosing an easy recipe to make—like these high-fiber Baked Banana-Nut Oatmeal Cups—and blocking off time to make it over the weekend. An added bonus is that I already have the ingredients on hand to make this recipe (you probably do too!), which means no grocery trip required.

For the bored snacker, you can do the same or choose a different satisfying recipe to make. Or maybe you prep some fruit for the week to reach for when you feel like snacking, like cutting up a pineapple or melon, or washing strawberries.

For those limited by time, plan to choose an easy recipe to make to get started (like one of these 20-minute recipes), add preprepped veggies or other healthy store-bought ingredients to your shopping list and pick a night of the week to whip up this simple meal.


The Bottom Line

Lasting behavior change requires simple steps to get there. Keep that in mind as you strategize how to kick-start healthy habits. Once you're comfortable and feeling good with one new change, you can move on to another. And remember, don't be too hard on yourself—especially now! Eventually we'll all get back into our regular healthy grooves.