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Making a change in your life can be daunting, especially when you are embarking to create a new and improved self. Committing to a healthier lifestyle is an enormous task, but even the longest journey begins with a single step. The path to a healthier body and spirit is not made of giant actions, but rather small steps and victories that will add up to a higher quality of life.

If you have decided to make healthy eating a new habit, remember that slipping up and making mistakes is part of any new endeavor. However to create a habit, you must only repeat an action twenty times- so in less than a month you can be well on your way to a healthier outlook.

From the first time you choose organic produce over pesticides or salad instead of French fries, you are sending a strong signal to your subconscious mind that 1) things are changing and 2) you can do it. Every small shift adds up to a whole new you, and once you take the first few steps, making healthy choices will get easier and easier until you don’t even have to think about them at all.

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1. Start small. If you swear off chocolate, caffeine, fried foods, sugar and alcohol the first day of your healthier life, you are setting yourself up for failure (and chocolate stains on the bottle of wine). Instead, start your new lifestyle by giving up something you don’t really care about anyway. For example, stop putting cream and sugar in your coffee; you may find you like it better black, and you will save yourself unneeded sugars on a daily basis. Perhaps you have never had a sweet tooth- resolve to give up dessert after dinner completely, and you probably won’t even miss it! Always thought fast food was kind of gross? Convince yourself it’s really gross (it is) and never go back. Find an easy victory to start your new healthy habits with, and then pat yourself on the back.

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2. Plan ahead. This step is crucial but often overlooked because it requires effort and forethought. When you don’t plan ahead for meals, you wind up in the drive-through line at a fast food joint deciding between deep-fried egg rolls or nacho cheese chicken. Just as you must plan for success, you must plan for a healthy lifestyle, because the “default” mode in America is not one of healthy eating. If you pay no mind to what you eat, you will wind up eating garbage. You must carve out time to sit down and plan your meals for the week before you go shopping; while you don’t have to write out every ingredient, you do need to know whether or not you have the groceries to create nutritious meals.

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3. Stick to your list at the store. You can’t eat junk food if you don’t buy it in the first place. Resolve never to go grocery shopping when you are hungry, angry or sad, and realize that many unhealthy food purchases stem from needs and desires other than hunger. You have already planned out your meals, so stick to your list throughout the store in order to foil the grocer’s psychological tricks to try and make you buy more. Six hundred cookies for $6 is NOT a deal in the long run. Before you check out, stop and go over everything in your cart to make sure no impulse purchases of junk food have snuck in. Toss those chips back to the bin.

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4. Eat foods you love. Eating is one of the great pleasures in life, and eating healthy does not have to be about denying yourself your favorite foods in favor of those you dislike. If you hate celery, forget it! Love cheese but not the calorie count? Learn to enjoy stronger, sharper cheeses and have just a bite instead of slathering a handful of cheese over your lunch salad. Look at your new healthy lifestyle as a positive new choice, and you will feel inspired on your new adventure instead of deprived of all the foods you are giving up.

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5. Get rid of the blame. Did you slip and eat a giant slice of chocolate cake for breakfast? Instead of pummeling yourself for failing and feeling guilty, recognize you made an unhealthy choice and then move on. No food is inherently good or bad, and beating up on yourself for slipping up will only create unneeded stress. What you put into your body and how you deal with stress are the two biggest factors that determine your current and future health. Resolve to eat healthy and chill out, and you will increase the quality and quantity of your days.

Image Credits: Zach DischnerBiking Nikon PDX, Joe Lanman, GenBug, cyclonebill, stuartpilbrow