Everyone’s heard of the “Freshman 15,” but have you heard of the “Startup 15”? Any time you pour yourself into an endeavor like entrepreneurship, everything else naturally falls by the wayside.
Working 16-hour days, eating meals at your desk, and only venturing outside long enough to restock on energy drinks is a good way to pack on some pounds and damage your overall health. For me, it took serious effort just to pay attention to what I was putting in my body, and when I really thought about it, I realized the reason I felt like crap was because I was eating crap.
But by making a few small changes over time, you can redirect some of your focus to your well-being and become a better version of yourself. Your family, your team, and maybe even your customers will thank you for taking care of the one resource you can’t replace: your health.
Here are a few steps to help you get started losing your startup 15 (…or 20 or 30):
Step 1: Define what ‘healthy’ means to you.
It’s not enough to say you want to “get healthy” this year. Just as you drew up a business plan to guide your startup, you need a concrete definition of the aspects of your lifestyle that need to change so you can design a fitness and nutrition plan around those goals. If being “healthy” means dropping 20 pounds, your primary focus should be reducing the number of calories you take in and maximizing the number of calories you burn. If you just want more energy, focus on eating more whole foods and exercising regularly. For me, the types of foods I eat make a huge difference. While cheeseburgers and pizza are comforting, they don’t fuel me as well as an egg-white omelet for breakfast and a high-protein lunch of chicken breast and broccoli.
Step 2: Ditch the ‘diet’ mindset.
Arguably, many fad diets have some kind of science to back them up, but short-term results almost never deliver long-term changes. Don’t diet; focus on making small changes you can maintain. There are some great healthy substitutions out there, but they only work if you like what you’re eating. Find the healthy choices you enjoy, and incorporate more as you go.
Step 3: Start with redesigning one meal.
You have to carve out time to integrate new behaviors, but as an entrepreneur, time is one thing you always seem to be short on. To make healthy eating more manageable, schedule time to prepare one healthy meal per day until it’s a habit. I recommend starting with breakfast because, according to Amanda MacMillan at Health.com, breakfast “can give you energy, satisfy your appetite, and set the stage for smart decisions all day long.”
Step 4: Commit to working out.
Work out during the time you feel the most energetic. One of the biggest health obstacles you’ll face is finding time to exercise. I’m not a morning person, and after a long day of work, I’m too drained to go to the gym. I’m most energetic around noon, so I set aside 30 minutes four days a week for a midday workout. A lot of lifting and a little cardio go a long way toward making me feel more confident and attractive. Plus, exercising regularly can actually give you more energy to devote to your business.
Step 5: Hire a trainer.
Find a trainer who you feel comfortable with to help you on your fitness journey. A good trainer will design a workout to fit your goals and your lifestyle. For instance, according to my friend and certified personal trainer, Shawn Kraft, if you’re looking to burn fat, your trainer may tell you to do cardio first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. Just as you rely on experts for your business, you should invest in an expert to help you reach your fitness goals.
Step 6: Harness ‘Arnold-worthy’ mental toughness.
The key to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s success in everything from politics to bodybuilding is that he sees every situation as an opportunity, not an obstacle. When I face a new challenge, I remember his words: “The mind is the limit. As long as the mind can envision the fact that you can do something, you can do it, as long as you really believe 100 percent.”
When it comes to fitness and nutrition, your own mental hurdles will be the biggest barriers to health. Don’t expect perfection right away, and don’t try to get healthy overnight. Focus on making small, healthy choices one day at a time. Eventually, these choices will become habits, and you’ll be well on your way to your version of healthy.
This article has been edited and condensed.
This article was co-authored by Matt Cowart of Dell for Entrepreneurs. Blake Menefee is a co-founder of Dell for Entrepreneurs. He brings 15 years of emerging technologies and marketing experience to the program. Blake comes from a long line of entrepreneurs and, prior to Dell, he had a nonprofit startup and was the founder of a talent agency. Connect with Blake on LinkedIn and @DellInnovators on Twitter.