10/05/2012 12:24 pm ET Updated Dec 05, 2012

What's Perfect for You ?

Let's explore the idea that it's possible to be on a health program that works for you, yet acknowledge and embrace your humanity. If you've begun to make a lifestyle change -- a new diet, exercise routine, stress reduction activity, or anything else -- consider that there will be times when you may need or want to get off your lifestyle wagon. I was reminded of the strength of this tactic when recently speaking with a colleague. I love the people I work with, not only because they are fantastic individuals, but also because they provide beautiful examples at the perfect moment!

"Amy" is a woman I have worked with for a number of years, and during this time she has been overweight. Recently, I noticed she was losing weight, but I was not ready to ask her how she was losing the weight. The other day, I saw her drinking a protein shake. I've never seen her drink something like that, so being my nosy self, I had to ask. It turns out that she started a program that is gluten-free, dairy-free, and sugar-free, and has lost 30 pounds so far. She told me that she can't believe how good she feels and how much more energy she has. She also mentioned that it was hard when she goes camping with her family and they eat s'mores -- one of her favorite treats.

What Amy told me next makes me think she will be very successful at changing her lifestyle! Whenever her family goes camping, she has ONE s'more, by choice. Not four, not a package, but one. And every time, she gets a stomachache. She knows to expect it, and eats the s'more knowing what's coming. And what she said to me was, "I'm human, and humans aren't perfect." What's so powerful about Amy's choice is that she not only recognizes she's human, but also knows that striving for perfection would undo her.

Which brings me to my first strategy for successful lifestyle changes: Know your own limits. That line in the sand differs for everyone, so I really do mean your limits. Not your mother's, father's, sibling's or best friend's, but yours, because only you are walking a mile in your new -- lifestyle program -- shoes. Because of this, it helps to know your weaknesses before starting a program, and then plan for them. Now here is where it gets a little tricky.

Sometimes in a new program, you may need to hunker down, settle in and get used to it. These are the times that it may be a healthier choice for you to beg off going to that dinner, party or celebration until your new program is more manageable. In other words, if you stopped eating sugar (fill in your own blank here: dairy, meat, alcohol) two days ago, perhaps you don't want to go to a party tomorrow. There just may be too many potholes to navigate, including explaining to your friends what you're doing.

What is really important is that you spend some time consciously thinking about the details that may derail you. Do you comfort eat? Do you eat out of boredom? Do you feel left out if others eat something you're not eating? Do family events upset your balance and make you more likely to go off the wagon?

To be clear, except for individuals with addictions, going off the wagon happens, and there is nothing intrinsically wrong with it. My goal for my patients and readers is that if you go off your program, it is by choice or design instead of happenstance. To that end, knowing your weaknesses will allow you to design a plan that works for you.

Stay tuned for my next blog, in which we'll explore more tips for successful lifestyle changes. In the interim, I invite you to explore and think about what behaviors will and won't work for you as you start wearing your new healthy lifestyle shoes. Go ahead, put them on. See how they fit. You can always get another pair if they are too tight!

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