All too often, when we think of how we would like to change our lives for the better, we think of large changes that will radically change our everyday lives forever. Let me help you get started with some simple guidelines ...All too often, when we think of how we would like to change our lives for the better, we think of large changes that will radically change our everyday lives forever. We set goals, make plans and start working with all the best intentions, but we lose enthusiasm when the changes don't happen right away.

Let's set our sights a bit lower. Our goal is to make improvements, work towards a healthier lifestyle, and see changes in 7 days. Whatever your goals (most of us hope for at least some weight loss), following these guidelines will get you started feeling better right away.

First we need to think about what we would like to change. In order to embrace a healthier you, would you agree that a boost of self-esteem and motivation would be welcome? Would being able to set clear, doable goals help you stay on track and give you more confidence?

How about eating better and getting more exercise?

Let's take it from the top:

1. Right Mental Attitude

Without the necessary self-confidence, self-esteem and strength of purpose, none of your resolutions will stick.

First of all, you have to realize that the inner you is a beautiful person, and deserves a healthy body to match. You need to believe that you deserve good health, you are worth it, and you can achieve it. You have to commit yourself 100% to doing whatever it takes to feel better.

We all know that staying active and eating right are critical for long-term health and wellness -- and that an ounce of prevention is worth a TON of cure.

So why do we procrastinate, change our minds, and allow ourselves to give in to temptation?

It starts with education in order to understand how our lifestyle choices affect our bodies, minds, emotions and thoughts. We then know how to reorganize our lives to set ourselves up for success.

Numero uno, choose the right time to start any new program. Don't pick a time when you are stressed out at work or with social obligations; choose a time when there are minimal demands on you, when you feel positive and empowered, and when you truly want to begin a new life.

Practice standing in front of the mirror every morning, look yourself in the eye, and say, "I love you!" and mean it. Even though you know you want to lose 40 pounds, for example, first you must appreciate who you are right now.

2. Right Diet

Next, go to your kitchen and clear out all the foods you don't want to eat. Replace them with food you DO want to eat. Replace fatty junk food with cream cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt, fresh and canned fruit, vegetable finger foods (carrots, celery, snap peas, cherry tomatoes, slices of bell pepper, mushrooms), whole grain crackers - anything else that is healthy and appeals to you, and is easy and quick to prepare.

Prepare 4 or 5 meals a day for yourself. Incorporate palm-sized proteins like lean meats, fish, egg whites and dairy products, fist-sized portions of complex carbohydrates like whole-wheat bread and pasta, wild rice, multi-grain cereal and potatoes, and fist-sized portions of vegetable and fruits. On Sunday, prepare a few days' worth of lunches ahead of time. Don't groan, it's really quite easy.

Here are some suggestions: prepare two cups of hummus or bean dip or buy some, bake 1 chicken breast and one piece of fish, hard boil half a dozen eggs, and bake 3 potatoes. Make sure you have on hand whole grain crackers, pita bread, whole wheat bread, salad fixings, assorted finger vegies, sour cream, cottage cheese and fresh or canned fruit. Now you have lots of snack and lunch variations literally at your fingertips. I also like to keep frozen lean beef and chicken (breast) patties on hand. They can be cooked up in just a few minutes.

The key to making easy changes to eating habits is making sure to have healthy choices already prepared and available at all times. Then you're not tempted to grab that piece of cake or handful of cookies and call it lunch!

Instead of counting calories, weighing meals, counting points or whatever other systems various diets use that almost require a bookkeeper, I suggest these easy-to-follow guidelines:

*The key to eating well is variety and advance preparation.

* Eat several small meals (optimally four) and a couple of small snacks throughout the day. Don't let this overwhelm you; you are discovering a whole new concept of the word "meal". If you've prepared ahead like I explained above, this should be no problem. It doesn't need to include extensive cooking and preparation time.

* Limit your fat intake to only what's necessary for adequate flavor - a dab of butter and a smidgeon of sour cream on that baked potato, a quick spray of cooking oil on a frying pan, and so on.

* Drink at least eight 8-oz. glasses of water throughout the day. I vary this too. I add a squeeze of fresh lemon or a couple tablespoons of bottled fruit juice to a glass of water, just for added interest. Lemon and cranberry are my favorites.

* If you question whether you are getting all the vitamins and minerals your body needs, take multivitamin and mineral supplements each day.

When you combine healthy eating habits with adequate rest and exercise, you are sending signals to your body that you want to burn a substantial amount of fuel. Your body will then burn fat more efficiently to create energy. When you diet and do not exercise properly, your body loses water and muscle tone. You realize a net loss in energy, and you will compensate by eating more. You will gain back what pounds you have lost.

3. Right Exercise

Exercise doesn't have to be intense to work for you, but it does need to be consistent. Walking 20 minutes a day is more beneficial than walking longer once a week. Why? Because if you keep it short, you're less apt to procrastinate or postpone. You can increase the aerobic value by increasing your speed or walking up and down hills.

If it's feasible, walk to do your errands; walking to the grocery store means going several times a week so you can carry what you buy, and walking with added weight increases the value of the exercise!

If you drive, park further away from the stores when you go shopping; don't use the elevator, take the stairs; don't ask for curbside pickup, push that cart to your car, unload it and push that cart back to where it belongs.

Regular cardiovascular exercise three or four times per week for 20 to 30 minutes per session is a good schedule to start with if you are out of shape; add resistance training three or four times per week for 20 to 25 minutes per session when you're used to exercising. This balanced regimen may not drop the pounds off you quickly, but it does increase your overall health. What you lose in fat you may very well gain in muscle, at least at first, so forget the scale and use your tape measure and mirror.

Here's a sample exercise program that may work for you:

Walk for 30 minutes every other day, gradually increase that to 45 minutes every day. You can also increase the intensity by swinging your arms, picking up speed and walking uphill. Each workout should take you to the point where you feel tired, but don't overdo it.

You want to keep increasing the intensity as you become used to your current level. Keep it to 45 minutes maximum; when you can't increase the intensity any more, start including stretching and strength building in your regimen. Warm up by walking, and wrap up your exercise session by stretching, breathing deeply, relaxing and meditating.

When starting an exercise program, it is important to have realistic expectations. Depending on your initial fitness level, you should expect the following changes early on:

* From one to eight weeks -- Feel better and have more energy.

* From two to six months -- Lose size and inches while becoming leaner. Clothes begin to fit more loosely. You are gaining muscle and losing fat.

* After six months -- Keep losing weight until you reach your goal and then maintain. Easy maintenance is the key: if you forbid yourself foods with a strict diet, or force yourself into a gym schedule, jogging, or some other exercise that is not comfortable for you to continue, you will slip back into your fat-storing ways.

You want to create a new healthier lifestyle that satisfies and rewards you with more self confidence, motivation, energy, and a slim profile, which allows you to do more mental and physical work with less effort. Every time you exercise, you strengthen your metabolism, aerobic capacity, strength and overall health. Your body responds by burning more fat 24/7 - now that's a goal to go for!

Author's Bio: 

Kathryn Beach lived off the grid, growing much of her own food and medicines, for 30 years. Let her show you how you can eat well, lose unwanted weight, maintain a healthy weight, and live a simple healthy lifestyle.