Although we have reminders around us of the national obesity crisis, lifestyle changes are difficult for most individuals.

For individuals not yet experiencing health problems, the incentive of better health and reduced morbidity in the future is not motivating enough. For those in the thick of health problems, behavior change is seen as an unachievable daunting health-provider requirement.

Scientific observations show health providers and counselors have not been successful at achieving behavior changes in clients. To modify lifestyle, one needs personal resolve, small, intentional gradual changes and the necessary emotional and moral support.

There is also evidence that well written personalized “action plans” that are easy to adhere are effective instruments of behavior change.

To write a personal “action plan,” follow these guidelines.

1. State the “what” (the behavior that needs change).

2. State “how much” (how much will be done).

3. State “when” (which day of the week- to increase chances of success avoid stating all 7 days – even 2 days may good for a start).

4. State “how many times” (in the day or week).

5. Finally, state “your confidence level” (on a scale of 1-10 how confident you are that you can succeed). A confidence level of 7 or over is recommended.

There are several simple but important health behaviors that a person may resolve to modify that can significantly improve their health.

For example, try a few of these changes: increase your hours of sleep; plan a weekly meal schedule to reduce the number of times you eat out; eat less red meat; add oily fish to your diet; increase the number of days in a week that you eat fruits and vegetables; buy whole grain products; exercise (10-15 minutes for beginners), eliminate a certain known stress factor; try a new healthy recipe; attend a health class; start a diary; or meditate.

The goal is to stick to new behavior until you are ready to make another action plan and resolve to modify another behavior.

Most Americans are in our current health crisis because most of our lives are hectic. This means busy lifestyles, poor eating habits, poor quality sleep, and being physically inactive, which leaves majority of people fatigued, and yearning for more energy. Health conditions and/ medications can further complicate fatigue.

Ideally, good habits need to be formed early in children so no interventions would be necessary as adults, and we have lots of opportunities to influence the next generation. But, we must begin by modeling healthy behaviors today. Writing an action plan and making small improvements, one at a time, can be a big step toward nutrition and lifestyle change.

– Lydia Kaume is a Nutrition & Health Education Specialist at University of Missouri Extension. For more information, contact her at 816-482-5850 or email kaumel@missouri.edu or visit extension.missouri.edu.