To Adopt Healthy Eating Habits Set Realistic Goals

Manhattan, KS- The secret to succeeding is to not try to do everything at once. Instead, look at one thing you can realistically expect to accomplish within the next week.

This approach to moving toward your goal is action planning. An action plan is short-term and doable, and it sets you on the road toward achieving your goal. Your action plan should be about something you want to do or accomplish. It should help you solve a problem or reach a goal. It is a tool to help you do what you wish. Do not make action plans to please your friends, family, or doctor.

Action plans are probably your most important self-management tool. Most of us are able to do things that will make us healthier, but we fail to do them. For example, most people can walk – some just across the room, others for a mile or more. However, few people have a regular walking exercise program.

An action plan can help you do the things you know you should do. But to create a successful action plan, it is better to start with what you want to do. It can be anything!

Creating a Realistic Action Plan

First, decide what you will do this week. For a person who wants to eat healthier, an example might be eating a serving of vegetables with lunch three days this week.

Make sure your plans are very “action-specific.” Don’t decide to “lose weight” (which is not an action but the result of an action). Instead, decide to “drink 40 ounces of water by lunchtime” (which is an action).

Next, the plan should answer the following questions:

Exactly what are you going to do? Are you going to walk? How will you add fiber to your breakfast? Which stress management technique are you going to practice?

  • How much will you do? This question is answered with details about time, distance, portions, or repetitions.
  • When will you do this? Again, this must be specific: before lunch, in the shower, as soon as you come home from work. Connecting a new activity to an old habit is a good way to make sure it gets done. For example, brushing your teeth can remind you to take your medication. Or decide you will do a 15-minute relaxation exercise in the evening after washing the dinner dishes.
  • How often will you do it? This is a bit tricky. We would all like to do the things we want every day, but that is not always possible. It is usually best to decide to do an activity three or four times per week to give yourself “wiggle room” in case something comes up. If you do it more often, that’s even better.

Once you’ve made your action plan, ask yourself the following question: “On a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being not at all sure and 10 being absolutely sure, how sure am I that I can complete this entire plan?” If your answer is 7 or above, your action plan is probably reasonable. If your answer is below 7, you should revisit your action plan.

Focus on Adding Foods, Not Cutting Them

In addition to setting realistic goals, work on adding nutrient-dense foods to your diet rather than stressing about foods you need to eliminate.

A study published in The Lancet shows that a suboptimal diet is responsible for more deaths than any other risks globally, including tobacco smoking. The study shows the leading dietary risk factors for mortality are diets high in sodium, low in whole grains, low in vegetables, low in fruit, low in nuts and seeds, and low in omega-3 fatty acids, each accounting for more than 2% of global deaths.

The authors suggest that dietary policies focusing on promoting the intake of these nutrients might have a greater effect as opposed to policies only targeting sugar and fat as has been the norm in diet policy debate for the past two decades.

How to Add Nutrient-Dense Foods to Your Eating Plan

  • The following are some examples of small shifts you can make today.


  • Make an effort to drink more water and unsweetened tea throughout the day
  • Add an additional veggie to your pizza, taco, or sandwich
  • Keep nuts, carrots, apples, or popcorn on hand and try to snack on one of these once per day
  • Add fruit to your breakfast cereal or yogurt
  • Add beans or lentils to your taco filling or soups
  • Substitute whole grain flour for ¼ to ½ of the all-purpose flour in recipes


  Living a Healthy Life with Chronic Conditions, fifth edition, published by Bull Publishing Company Boulder, Colorado/the River Valley District’s 2022 Walk Kansas Newsletter

  GBD 2017 Diet Collaborators

Health effects of dietary risks in 195 countries, 1990–2017: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017

  The Lancet Volume 393, Issue 10184, P1958-1972, May 11, 2019

Questions about action plans or how to incorporate more nutrient-dense foods into one’s diet can be directed to Kaitlin Moore, Nutrition, Food Safety & Health Agent at 785-243-8185 or

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