Guest Post: How Lent Can Help You With Your Fitness & Health Goals

With Lent here, we all know that by tradition, it is the season for giving things up and setting new health and fitness goals for Spring. Whether doing it for religious reasons or not, it is a popular time to give up those ‘naughty foods’, usually with an Easter or summer holiday in mind which are not too far round the corner at all. Dropping chocolate is apparently the most popular Lent goal. Whatever your Lent goal is, the question is: could you be doing more harm than good with how you look at your goals?

Outcome Goals and Action Goals

Most people will have some weight loss goals as the main reason they partake in the Lent chocolate drop, but these tend to be outcome goals, such as:-

  • I want to lose 10lbs in 5 weeks;
  • I want to fit into my size ** dress in 6 weeks;
  • I want to drop 5% body fat in 2 months;
  • And so on.

The problem with this approach is that they are all outcome goals, they are all an end state, and no matter how much you want them, they won’t just happen on their own.

Outcomes are affected by environmental things, such as:-

  • Your job gets crazy busy.
  • Your kid gets sick.
  • Your family has a crisis.
  • You have exams at school.

And they are influenced by physical things, for example:-

  • Your hormones get out of whack.
  • You have a chronic illness. (Or even just a tough bout with the flu.)
  • You are stressed.
  • You are traveling a lot.
  • You are getting older.
  • You are having problems sleeping.

You get the idea!

So the first thing you need to do is create more action goals. You can do this by using your outcome goals and breaking them down into actions and behaviours you can actually do and monitor. This of course does not just apply to giving things up at Lent, but all your health and fitness goals!

Here is an example for how to put this into action:-

Outcome Behaviour (action goal)
Lose 10 pounds. Eat the right portion sizes at each meal. (or calories/macros if you are tracking that)
Cut out chocolate. Have a prepared, alternative healthy snack every time you crave chocolate.
Squat more weight. Squat 3 times a week at various intensities.
Sleep 8 hours per night. Create a calming pre-sleep routine and start it 30 minutes before bedtime.

By implementing this approach,  you will have something you can track daily that you have done; you can see you have done it and you are accountable to it. You could even have a tick sheet on your fridge to say you have done it every day!

‘Stop’ and ‘Avoid’ Goals

The second thing with goals is to avoid ‘avoid’ goals. (I am sure you get the irony there!) This is typically what everyone does at Lent but it could in fact be causing you more drama down the line! That is because telling yourself to stop doing something almost guarantees that you will keep doing it.

The truth is that nobody likes being told what to do. This is called resistance, and it is a completely normal, human reaction. The moment someone (even yourself) argues strongly for change, your natural reaction is to argue equally strongly against change.

What is more, if your goal is to stop doing something, even the smallest slip can feel like a failure. One miss means you are ‘off the wagon’ and all hell breaks loose!

As you can see, ‘avoid’ goals are a lot of psychological work. They take up a lot of mental and emotional real estate and energy. All you can think about is what you are not doing… or shouldn’t do… but really want to do… but you are not allowed to do it…

The ‘Replace’ Formula

So, the solution is to look at replacing not avoiding. Here are a few examples:-

Avoid Replace Benefit
Stop snacking on ‘junk food’. Snack on cut-up protein and veggies prepared in advance. Protein and veggies are good for me, and this helps me get more of them.
Stop over-eating when stressed or overwhelmed. Stay ‘checked in’ and practice eating slowly and breathing between bites. I feel so much calmer, I enjoy meal times more with my family, and my digestion is better.
Stop drinking fizzy pop. Drink a glass of water with at least 3 meals each day. I do not get headaches or feel constipated any more.
Stop eating when feeling stressed out. Come up with a list of stress-relieving activities that I enjoy. Then pick one from the list and do it. I feel so much better after my ‘stress-relief break!
Stop feeling so fatigued and sleep deprived all the time. Develop a relaxing sleep ritual and 9pm bedtime. I am clear-headed, energised, and happy. I need less caffeine now.

By following this formula, not only do you give yourself another option, so you are not depriving but replacing, but this way also allows you to show yourself the benefits, as illustrated above. You will also feel more comfortable with the goal, so you are more likely to stick to it, and you can see how it is doing you good (as well as getting you to the main goals you had right at the start)!

Have you set goals, or cut things out, only to struggle and fail, or just go back to the same old habits when Lent is up or the timeframe is over? You can see above how much easier you can get results, just by changing the way you look at your goals, so go ahead and try it!


Comment with your old goal and how you can make it an ‘action’ goal which isn’t an ‘avoid’ goal.  After all, goals that are shared become accountable and more effective….


This is a guest post written by James Scott. James is a Personal Trainer, Sports Nutritionist and a Studio Manager at The Fitness Experts gym in Basingstoke. The following article by Precision Nutrition has provided some of the content inspiration for this post.

Photo credits:

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  1. March 10, 2017 / 12:13 pm

    This is such a great post. Some very informative and valuable information to take on board. I have never really thought of action and replacement goals, but it really seems like a way that would work better for me!
    Lola Mia //

    • Timea
      March 10, 2017 / 4:39 pm

      I’m glad you have found this article useful! This definitely got me thinking about my goals and how I can tweak them to be able to achieve them.

  2. March 10, 2017 / 3:51 pm

    I really like this positive approach to goal-setting. I can see how it leads to less guilt and better motivation!

    • Timea
      March 10, 2017 / 4:39 pm

      I have found this approach quite refreshing, too! It sets you up for success, not failure.

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