It takes commitment to make the kind of changes called for in a successful cholesterol lowering plan, along with the support of family and friends. One thing that will help is understanding your own risks, for studies show that people are more likely to make a healthy change if they believe it’s relevant to their situation.
Other ways to get on track and stay there:
Shout the news. Tell everyone in your life that you’ve made a new commitment to your health, from eating well to exercising to reducing your stress. Their questions and support will help you remain strong.
Track your progress. There’s no better way to succeed than to see your success. Weekly logs are integral to a lasting plan.
Make a list. Write down all of the reasons you think this won’t work, then prove yourself wrong. For instance, if you think you can’t exercise because you don’t have time, list five ways you can find 30 minutes a day. Try skipping a TV show (or else exercise in front of the tube), dropping a commitment you can do without, or walking during lunch and eating your sandwich at your desk.
Take small steps. Don’t expect to go from 0 to 60 immediately. By making just a few changes at a time, you’re less likely to be overwhelmed — and more likely to succeed.
Set realistic goals. Your goal shouldn’t start as: “Cut out all red meat.” Instead, set a more reasonable goal such as: “Eat no more than one hamburger per week for the first three weeks, then switch to chicken or veggie burgers.” Make your goals very specific, and make a list of steps you need to take to reach them. In the hamburger goal, for instance, your step-by-step to prevent fast-food lunches might look like this:
1. Make a list of three different lunches I can pack.
2. Buy ingredients for lunches at the store.
3. Buy an insulated lunch bag.
4. Pack lunch the night before.
Plan for roadblocks. The holidays, a vacation, or a deadline crunch at work can all stall your progress, so plan ahead. To cope with a work crunch, for instance, bring along a bag of healthy snacks to the office and get your exercise by taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
Be flexible. Don’t take an all-or-nothing approach. If you miss your daily walk one day, it doesn’t mean you’ve failed or that there’s no point in walking the next day. If you couldn’t resist the french fries, vow to return to your plan when you finish licking the grease off your fingers. Remember, this is a permanent lifestyle change, not a short-term solution.
Build in rewards. Every time your cholesterol drops treat yourself to something special, like a new golf club or a manicure.
Be patient. Studies show it takes at least three weeks of daily repetition before a change begins to feel natural, and longer before it’s automatic.
Also understand that just as people move through various stages when they grieve, they move through stages when they’re trying to change habits. The fact that you’re reading this means you’re past stage one (precontemplation) and have reached stage two (contemplation). Stage three, preparation, means you’re getting ready to put this advice into action, such as by purchasing a bottle of olive oil, cholesterol-lowering margarine, or a new pair of walking shoes. In stage four, action, you’ll begin following your plans — and well on your way to your goal.
It won’t always be a smooth road. You may backslide (maybe the sausages on the breakfast buffet were just too tempting to pass up) or become frustrated if you don’t see quick results. That’s okay. Just don’t give up. As we’ve said before, this plan is for life.
Which brings us to stage five: maintenance. You’ll know you’ve reached this stage when you automatically order a salad at Wendy’s instead of the Big Bacon classic (or stop going to Wendy’s altogether and pack your own lunch instead), or walk to the post office instead of driving. You’ve found renewed energy, watched your cardiac risk factors — including your cholesterol — drop substantially, and perhaps even wangled a muttered “good job” out of your overworked doctor.