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Finding Time For Healthy Behaviors

Published by Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, LD on Oct 24, 2023


Taking time to plan, prioritize, and problem-solve can help you reach your behavior change goals


Achieving behavior change goals, such as healthy eating and exercise, requires planning, prioritizing, and problem-solving. Putting these three “P’s” to work will help you stay on track and overcome any obstacles that may hinder your success.

Beginning a new behavior can be challenging and sometimes even overwhelming. But when utilizing the skills of planning, prioritizing, and problem-solving, suddenly, everything tends to fall into place.

Let’s explore how you can put these skills and ideas into action in order to attain a healthy and active lifestyle.


A famous quote from former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt says, “It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan.” Mrs. Roosevelt understood that wishing upon a star, rarely results in our wishes coming true. A better approach is to make small, realistic goals and plan for how you will achieve them. By doing so, you can use your energy more effectively and increase the likelihood of achieving your desired outcomes.

When planning, always review your routine, be adaptable to change, and overcome barriers by being flexible and creative.

  • Meal Planning 

Regarding meal planning, it’s helpful to have a designated day of the week to assess the foods you need to buy based on your planned meals. Making a shopping list and preparing food ahead of time can also save you time and hassle. Additionally, keeping simple meals in regular rotation can help speed the meal-making process and reduce the temptation to eat out.

  • Physical Activity Planning

Due to time constraints, exercise can sometimes seem impossible to incorporate. However, we can overcome this obstacle by adding simple physical activities to our schedule. For instance, we can practice yoga or stretching for 10 minutes every morning or before bedtime. We can also walk during our lunch break or after dinner, depending on what suits us best. Even small movements can have a positive impact on our health. We can make the most of any opportunity to move, such as parking farther from our destination, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or walking for 10 minutes inside our house. Being creative and consistent with movement throughout the day leads to results.


  • Meal Prioritizing

Achieving success in behavior change is dependent on identifying and prioritizing tasks that will assist you in accomplishing your goals. For example, prioritizing the consumption of homemade healthy meals necessitates prioritizing meal planning, recipe reviewing, and food shopping. Similarly, prioritizing regular physical activity requires allocating time to your busy schedule. It also involves exploring different ways to engage in physical activity and discovering movements you enjoy and will be eager to participate frequently.

  • Physical Activity Prioritizing 

Here are some tips on finding pleasure in being physically active:

1. Everyone has unique exercise preferences, such as nature walks, pickle ball, boxing, weight lifting, yoga, or dancing. Discover what exercise routines you like best, motivating you to keep coming back again and again.

2. It’s essential to learn how to multitask effectively. You’re off to a good start if you can chew gum and walk simultaneously! When doing simple tasks like cooking, walking, or riding a stationary bike, consider listening to a podcast or music to make the most of your time. You can also talk to your friends or family on the phone during these activities. This way, you’ll be able to get more done in less time!

3. Sharing your goals with a buddy can be extremely helpful. Having someone who can offer you support and hold you accountable is essential. If you struggle with staying committed to exercising, try working out with a friend. Similarly, consider batch cooking, hosting a healthy dish potluck, or swapping healthy recipes with a friend to improve your eating habits. These activities help motivate and increase your chances of success.


It is expected to face difficulties in life, and it is also likely to encounter obstacles while trying to modify your eating and exercise habits. However, it is essential to remember that problems can be resolved. The more challenging issues in life often require a lot of experimentation to discover practical solutions for you. Please remind yourself that you are researching daily to determine what works best for you. Do not give up on your journey.

But healthy eating and being more active means changing your habits and making the changes a permanent part of your lifestyle. Many things can get in the way of changing habits. Here are examples of things that may trip you up:

• Negative thoughts
• Slips and your reactions to slips (a slip is when you don’t follow your eating or activity plan)
• Stress
• What people say and do (or “social cues”).

Let’s say you wanted to go out for a walk, but it was too cold, or you wanted to eat fewer calories and make healthy food choices, but your family wanted you to buy potato chips.

The first step to problem-solving is to describe the problem in detail as a chain of actions. For example, instead of defining the problem as “I eat more calories than I should,” be specific about what foods you eat that are high in calories – maybe high-calorie desserts and candy. Please be clear about when you eat them, and then describe these situations in detail.

For example, you may eat high-calorie desserts when you visit your mother’s house, which she offers you every time you visit. Also, look at what led up to the problem. Many problems involve a chain of actions: one action leads to another and then another, eventually leading to inactivity or overeating. This is called an “action (or behavior) chain.” Try to see the steps (or “links”) in the action chain, including:

• Things that “cued” you (made you want) to eat or be inactive. Examples of cues might be a bakery near your workplace you like to frequent, watching TV several hours before bedtime (a sedentary behavior), or having a big bowl of ice cream in your freezer that keeps tempting you.

• People in your life who are unsupportive in your efforts to lose weight, eat a healthy diet, and be more active. Examples are a co-worker who offers you doughnuts every morning, the family who insists that you deep-fry many foods rather than bake them, or a spouse who wants you to watch TV in the evening rather than go for a walk.

• Thoughts or feelings that get in your way. Examples are self-defeating thoughts like, “I’ll never be disciplined enough to walk every night.” Or eating in response to feelings of boredom, stress, loneliness, or anger.

It may seem complicated to look at a problem in this much detail. But it makes problem-solving much more straightforward.

• You see that the real problem may not be the last step (eating the cookies) but rather all of the things that led up to it (like not eating lunch).

• Uncovering the action chain will help you to find the “weakest links” in the chain to break. There’s a saying that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. By naming all the links in the chain, you can find the weakest ones, where you can make a change most quickly.

Next, brainstorm your options for each link in the chain. What are all of the possible solutions to the problem? “Brainstorming” means to create a storm of ideas in your brain. Let the ideas pour out, no matter how crazy they may seem. Anything goes. The more ideas, the better. And it’s helpful to include some crazy, extreme ideas because it helps open your mind and stir up your creative juices.

By brainstorming, you’ll see you aren’t helpless and powerless to change your situation. You have many options, and weighing the pros and cons of each option is likely to work and that you can do. In other words, be realistic. You should be confident that you will succeed.

It’s also helpful to try to break as many links as possible in the chain as early as possible. For example, it will be much easier to control your eating in the evening if you eat some lunch and don’t arrive home hungry. It will be easier to avoid eating too many cookies if you don’t buy cookies in the first place.

Another reason to try to break an action chain as early as possible is that you will have more links to work with. If eating lunch doesn’t help you and you still arrive home tired, stressed, grumpy, and hungry, you can still choose low-calorie options such as fruits, veggies, or yogurt.

Putting it all together

The saying, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” implies that apples benefit one’s health and emphasizes the significance of consuming them regularly. While the phrase may suggest that individuals should consume more apples, the crucial takeaway is maintaining a well-balanced diet by regularly consuming nutritious food.

Just like we all brush our teeth daily as part of our daily routine, there’s no reason why a new healthy behavior cannot become just as routine.

Even if you slip up on occasion, don’t fret. You’re not a failure; you’re human.  We’ve all slipped at times, but the important thing is to get back up, reevaluate your goal, and move forward on planning, prioritizing, and problem-solving to get you back on the right track.






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Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, LD

Cheryl Mussatto MS, RD, LD is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in Dietetics and Nutrition from the University of Kansas and a bachelor’s degree in Dietetics and Institutional Management from Kansas State University. She is a clinical dietitian for Cotton O’Neil Clinics in Topeka and Osage City; an adjunct professor for Allen Community College, Burlingame, KS where she teaches Basic Nutrition; and is a freelance writer and blog contributor for Dr. David Samadi, Urologic Oncologist Expert and World Renowned Robotic Surgeon in New York City. Cheryl is also the author of The Nourished Brain, The Latest Science on Food’s Power for Protecting the Brain from Alzheimers and Dementia and The Prediabetes Action Plan and Cookbook, both available on Amazon in Kindle and paperback editions.

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