Setting And Reaching Healthy Eating And Fitness Goals (It’s not the luck of the Irish!)

By: Jackie Confalone

March. A month of transitions. From winter to the official start of spring. In like a lion, out like a lamb. It’s a month of renewals and life as we start the period of Lent and daffodils spring up from the cold, hard-crusted ground. And, of course, the month of celebrating the luck o’ the Irish and St. Patrick’s Day! My late mother’s maiden name was Kirkpatrick. She had six sisters and one brother, which translated into me having twenty cousins, and our large family likes to celebrate this day!

Do you know the pinching rule on Saint Patrick’s Day? As the tradition goes, wearing green on Saint Patrick’s Day is supposed to make you invisible to leprechauns. They will pinch you as soon as you come upon their radar if you don’t wear green.

If you’re looking to feel a little bit more Irish this year, share a few of these Irish sayings/blessings as you wear your green:

“May your blessings outnumber the shamrocks that grow. And may trouble avoid you wherever you go.”
“Experience is the comb that life gives a bald man.”
“A good friend is like a four-leaf clover, hard to find and lucky to have.”
“Luck is great, but most of life is hard work.”

This last Irish saying has a lot of truth in it, especially when it comes to eating healthy food and developing good physical fitness habits. That takes motivation, planning, and effort.

March is National Nutrition Month®, an annual campaign created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. During the month of March, everyone is invited to learn about making informed food choices and developing healthful eating and physical activity habits. The theme for 2022 is “Celebrate a World of Flavors.” Celebrating flavors from cultures around the world is a tasty way to nourish ourselves and appreciate our diversity. We are all unique with different bodies, goals, backgrounds and tastes. A Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) can help you create healthy habits that celebrate your heritage and introduce you to new foods and flavors.

But I’m guessing most of you are not going to make an appointment with an RDN after reading this, so I’m going to share with you three things that have helped me to develop good food and physical activity habits.

1. Set long-term and short-term goals.
An example of a long-term fitness goal: “I will walk briskly for 30 minutes each day at least five days a week.” If you haven’t exercised regularly, you should set short-term goals: “I will walk 15 minutes during my lunch hour (or before breakfast/after work) at least three days each week for the next month.” After reaching that goal, set a second short-term goal of extending it to 15 minutes five days a week, then a goal of 30 minutes three times a week, then your long-term goal of 30 minutes five days a week.

I have a long-term goal of losing 10-12 pounds and decreasing my body mass index (BMI) until I reach the “normal” range. BMI is a measurement of a person’s leanness based on their height and weight. It is widely used as a general indicator of whether a person has a healthy body weight for their height. My short-term goals include gradually changing my caloric intake to reduce my weight by one pound/week and doing strength training to increase my lean body mass.

“I think goals should never be easy. They should force you to work, even if they are uncomfortable at the time.” Michael Phelps

2. Eat foods that are low in calorie density.
Calorie density is the measure of how many calories are in a specific weight of food. I am using a program called Noom® to lose weight and learn about food. They begin by teaching about calorie density (CD) and encourage participants to slowly replace high CD foods with low CD foods. This change means I can consume a larger portion of a low CD food than a high CD food for the same number of calories. This knowledge helps me to make decisions “in the moment” (Should I order a baked potato or mashed?), analyze my past food choices (I’m primarily eating low CD foods only in the morning.), and identify new opportunities for the future (Maybe I can replace 80% ground beef with ground turkey or chicken next time.). Get the picture?

Here’s some examples of the difference caloric density makes: 1 cup of grapes = 104 calories vs. 1 cup of raisins = 434 calories. Or one cup of salted pretzels = 171 calories vs. one cup of watermelon = 47 calories.

Other examples of low CD foods: many fruits and vegetables, sweet potatoes, squash, beets, whole grains like brown rice and oatmeal, whole grain bread/tortillas/pasta, fish, lean meat (chicken, turkey), nonfat milk/yogurt/cheese, soups/stocks/broths, popcorn, and much more!

On a day-to-day basis, people generally eat a similar amount of food, by weight. Therefore, choosing foods with a lower calorie density allows us to consume our usual amount of food (or more) and feel satisfied while reducing our caloric intake.

Even with all the variety of low CD foods, this is currently the greatest struggle for me. I generally eat healthy foods, with a few treats when my calorie budget allows, but I continue to try new foods and new recipes. My husband and I just spent a few days with our seven- and five-year-old grandkids, so my food choices were less than optimal. But as I return home and have more control over my menu, I try to choose more low CD foods. And every day is a chance to start again!

3. Learn and do temptation bundling.
Temptation what? Temptation bundling is pairing something that gives us instant gratification with something we ‘should’ be doing that’s less “fun” (like cleaning out a junk drawer). Essentially, it’s putting together something you WANT to do with something you SHOULD do.

Temptation bundling works in two ways: 1) spending less time on your temptations, and 2) building a new habit (what you SHOULD be doing) by combining it with something you already love. Over time, the SHOULD behavior can become your WANT behavior.

Some ideas for temptation bundling:
– Listen to your favorite podcasts (WANT) while working out on the elliptical trainer or taking a walk (SHOULD).
– Meet a friend (WANT) for a walk or hike (SHOULD) instead of coffee, lunch, or dinner.
– Treat yourself to your favorite latte (WANT) near work by walking there and back (SHOULD).
– Enjoy your favorite show (WANT) while drinking several glasses of water (SHOULD).
– Order your favorite burger or sandwich (WANT) with salad on the side (SHOULD).
– Make new friends (WANT) by joining a pickleball league (SHOULD).
– “Celebrate a World of Flavors” by trying a new food (SHOULD) with foods you already love (WANT).

There are so many ideas on how to set goals to develop healthy eating and fitness goals that I haven’t written about here. Matter of fact, Body Zone’s Smart Choices Nutrition Month Calendar has many different tips and facts to help amp up your knowledge of nutrition.

As you can see, it’s not luck, Irish or not. It starts with having the motivation to make a change and focusing on one or more long-term goals as you progress or when you begin to waver.
For those of you who will be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, like my family, enjoy your corned beef and cabbage and perhaps raise a glass of green beer. Even though it’s not exactly healthy and is packed with sodium, do it in moderation and enjoy the celebration! Then get back on track the next day with your short-term goals and rest well with this Irish blessing: “May the leprechauns dance over your bed and bring you sweet dreams.”

i National Nutrition Month Resources,, March 2022

About Jackie Confalone:
Although retired from full-time work, Jackie is a freelance writer and has been a group fitness instructor for more than 35 years, the last 13 at Body Zone. She particularly loves working with seniors and people with chronic illnesses. She is nationally certified as a personal trainer and instructor for group fitness, Les Mills BODYFLOW, Pilates and SilverSneakers.

No Replies to "Setting And Reaching Healthy Eating And Fitness Goals (It's not the luck of the Irish!)"