Set Goals For a More IBS-Friendly Lifestyle This Year!

It’s a new year, and that means new goals and New Year’s resolutions! There’s nothing like a fresh start to feel positive and motivated for a change! Start by examining your habits – both good and bad. How are they serving you? What’s the real reason for them? What small habit changes could potentially add up to the most significant differences in your gut health?

Your wheels may already be turning with ideas – going to bed 15 minutes earlier to decrease the morning rush, tracking IBS symptoms on an app to identify triggers, being consistent with lactose-free products (if that’s your biggest trigger), or working out before dinner, so you don’t put it off. So many gut-changing options!

Here are simple ways to evaluate and stay on track with your New Year’s resolutions and gut health while optimizing your planning for more success this coming year!

Goal-setting for IBS

Having a clear goal that’s not too broad is a good starting point. Setting very specific goals is one of the keys to increasing the likelihood of success. Making small daily improvements adds up to significant change. The more you repeat these small improvements, the more likely they are to become a long-term habit. Like baby steps, little habits help you get to your goal destination with fewer roadblocks and more confidence.

For example, if your goal is to “minimize IBS symptoms associated with stress,” then evaluate which specific actions you will need to put into place to minimize pressure. These particular actions are the plan to reach your goal and can include:

  • Deep breathing before bedtime and first thing in the morning on weekdays.
  • Getting up a few minutes earlier on workdays, so you’re not rushing to make your first work meeting of the day.
  • Scheduling in a weekly time to meal plan, so you’re eating the right foods for your IBS-D.
  • Trialing a low FODMAP diet this week to rule out potential triggers.
  • Increasing soluble fiber and water daily for IBS-C.

Why does goal-setting work?

By setting small yet achievable goals and creating a plan to facilitate them, you’re setting yourself up for success. If you want to increase soluble fiber and water, you’ll need to shop, cook, and prepare foods with soluble fiber and remember to bring a water bottle to work and use it. Each daily action should get you one step closer to your overarching goal. Scheduling the specific actions in your calendar will raise their perceived priority.

Just like you wouldn’t miss a doctor’s appointment on your calendar, you’ll start to see “deep breathing” as a scheduled meeting of importance. Every week perform a mental check-in to assess your status and adjust any behaviors to help you stay on track. Then plan to make those behaviors happen instead of becoming disappearing intentions. It’s helpful if there are measurable ways to determine success, such as the number of IBS symptoms experienced per day or week. Results are motivating!

As you practice habits regularly and see (and feel!) positive results, you may start to define yourself as a person who takes daily steps to prioritize your health. When you see or define yourself as this person, it further propels healthy choices. For example, 25 years ago, I read a study on how fit people at the mall take the stairs, not the escalator. Since I define myself as fit, I’ve made a rule that if it’s five or fewer flights, I always take the stairs!

Small changes – big rewards

Your goals must be both realistic and measurable to enable your success. Remember, taking small steps are still steps in the right direction. If your goal is to decrease IBS-constipation, completely replacing all processed carbohydrates with a whole-grain equivalent is likely unrealistic. But maybe you can commit to swapping out your morning croissant for oatmeal with fresh berries, walnuts, cinnamon, and a drizzle of maple syrup 3-4 times a week to start. Start small, but stick to it! Once these habits become part of your daily routine, you can progress to further improvements and plan for new specific actions to meet those goals.

Next, create a list of tasty and trendy new whole-grain products to try at breakfast. Find a whole grain recipe that looks appealing, shop for the ingredients, and schedule when to make it. Making healthy lifestyle changes is not an all-or-nothing mentality – it doesn’t have to occur all at once. Building new habits over time will lead to sustained changes. Plus, you’ll get the bonus of increased confidence in your choices, habits, and overall progress.

Plan, plan, plan

Planning is your other key strategy, and it only occurs if you are willing to expend the effort it requires. Unfortunately, no healthy meal is going to graciously appear on your dinner table – just as traffic will not part and clear a path for you to get to work on time. Everything in life worth achieving takes planning!

Go through your day and write out everything that is supporting or taking away from your goal. For positive actions (good habits), recognize them, and plan to support that good habit continually. For negative actions (bad habits) that are an obstacle to your goal, write down how you can address or modify that action to support your goal.

Make it as easy as possible. If you know you’re not going to shop for specific foods for a recipe, consider a meal kit service. Or perhaps you want to binge-watch a show on the weekend. Instead of lounging on the couch, set up your computer in the kitchen, and batch cook while watching! Before you know it, you’ll be in the habit of meal prepping every weekend to a new episode, podcast, your favorite music, or an audiobook.

Once you’ve got your goals, the planning begins! Finding a social accountability partner and working with a dietitian can help support new habits. Most of all, keep your eye on the prize and set yourself up for success. Build your momentum —whatever that looks like for you – and don’t let it go!

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