7 Tips to Becoming a Healthier You

We’ve all heard about the “freshman 15.” You know, the extra 15 pounds a freshman in college will typically gain in their freshman year of college. What about the Covid 19 pandemic? Raise your hand if that one caught you off guard (As I wildly raise my hand and wave it dramatically… me! Me!).

The great pandemic of 2020 threw all of us off-guard. The isolation, the change, the fear – whether it’s fear of health or fear of not being able to buy toilet paper or fear of the world going to heck in a handbasket – it was a lot to handle. Many of us turned to food, or alcohol, or other unhealthy habits to just survive it all. The results? An extra 10-19 pounds of stress-induced self-soothing/numbing fluffy consequences.

As we’re slowly getting back to some semblance of “normal,” the good news is that this out-of-control crazy doesn’t have to be our new normal. It’s time to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and start taking back control of our own health. My friend, I’m here to tell you that it’s “Monday” and time to get started. 

As a woman who’s right there in the trenches with you and has coached other women in health and fitness for years, I’m sharing seven things I’m doing to start making progress and to feel comfortable in my own skin (and pants) once again.

1. Determine Priorities

Making a decision to get back on track and take advantage of that fresh start is easy. Actually doing it, well… that is a whole different story. Life gets in the way. Whether we’re working full time, taking care of a handful of kiddos or overwhelmed with life in general, it’s so much easier to put everything else first and place our own needs on the back burner. 

The problem with that is that when we constantly place ourselves last, we end up feeling like shiznaz, not feeling comfortable in our own skin, caught up in those negative interior emotions or conversations, and then everything seems harder. 

What are the items on your list that are always placed before your own self-care and seem like they’re way more important than meal planning or exercising or taking time to meditate and pray?

michelle hillaert

Take a second and stop to think about this. What are the items on your list that are always placed before your own self-care and seem like they’re way more important than meal planning or exercising or taking time to meditate and pray?

Is it taking care of your spouse or the kids?

Cleaning the house?

Mowing the yard?

Working more?

Serving others?

Organizing vast areas of your life?

Taking care of other family members?

What is it? And trust me, I totally get it. My to-do list is packed full. Between kids, soccer, working full-time, helping out with family that lives with us, making time to podcast or write blogs…many days I’m beat…done… ready to quit everything…and the last thing I’m thinking about is taking time to exercise or meal plan.

There’s a huge problem with this, because if we’re struggling and having a difficult time because we’re out of shape or overweight, it will affect everything. The way we’re interacting with others, our emotions, sleep, energy levels…everything.

Then, before we know it, we’re the ones that are out of shape, battling diabetes or heart disease, just trying to make it through one doctor’s appointment after another. I’ve seen two close family members struggle with this and let me tell you, it’s not where we want to be in another 20-40 years.

So, my friend, taking all of that into consideration, perhaps it’s time we start thinking about priorities. We need to ask ourselves, what’s more important? Having a clean house that will get dirty again or being healthy and happy? Keeping the lawn perfectly mowed? Organizing the house? Doing that extra errand? Or taking care of ourselves, so we’re in a better position to help take care of others?

Even though in the midst of the everyday hectic it might seem like all the to dos are more important, when we step back and take a real look at it, the answer is pretty obvious. We need to make our own health a priority.

So as a step one to taking back control of your health, I want you to take some quiet time to yourself, sit down, write out a list of all of the things on your plate and all the projects you want to get done. Then put a number next to each one to put them in the order of importance with “1” being the most important. 

Once you have your list together, think about which of these items are more important than your own health. In the order of priorities, where should you being healthy be placed?

If you just placed that near the top of your list, then the next time you find yourself saying, “I don’t have the time.” Instead, remind yourself that your time goes to whatever you deem a priority and you have already said that your health is a priority. So take a deep breath and give yourself the guilt-free space you need to take care of you.

YOU are a priority, too.

2. Get an Accountability Partner

I’m convinced that if we have no one to help push us to focus on our goals, when we’re in a rough spot, we can easily become our own worst enemy. It’s easy to say, I’m starting fresh tomorrow… or Monday. But when Monday actually comes and the kids are out of line all day or work is just hectic and overwhelming, and then night time hits, doesn’t that bowl of ice cream or glass of wine seem completely enticing? 

I’ve learned that if my mindset isn’t in the right place and I don’t have someone helping me remember my goals, I can really dish out some self-sabotaging at night and convince myself of pretty much anything. Before I know  it, I’ve spiked way past my calorie limit and am in the “I just don’t care right now” mode topped with “pie-a-la-mode and a side of wine please” mode.

Truth is, you’re not the only one struggling with a pandemic muffin top. Reach out to your inner circle and find a friend who’s also ready to kick the shiznaz out of not feeling good and come up with a plan to encourage each other.

Sit down with your friend and answer these questions:

What is your plan for getting exercise in? What time of day do you want to set for your exercise “appointment?”

How much water do you want to commit to drinking each day?

What kind of meal plan do you want to follow? Basic clean eating and counting calories? Keto? Whole 30? Paleo? What?

What is the best way to encourage you when you’re struggling to help you stick to your goals?

3. Weigh in Every Day

I know. I know. If you’re not used to stepping on the scale every day, the very idea of it can be intimidating. It’s hard to watch numbers rise and fall over and over again as we fall prey to our rollercoaster of emotions and emotional eating. Just hear me out for a minute, though.

What if we looked at the scale as a scientific way of seeing where we’re really at over the course of time? If we’re keeping a daily record of how we’re weighing in, then over the course of a month, we can really see where our trouble areas/days are, and can get a holistic view of our progress. When we use the scale as a meter to see where we’re at every day and track our progress–the ups, the downs, all of it–then we can use that information to make adjustments to the steps we’re taking to become our healthier and more fit selves.

It can be intimidating to see the scale fluctuate up and down within one or two days. Truth is even though the scale may sometimes make it look like we’ve gained a couple pounds of fat in one day, that’s not the way it actually works. When the scale jumps, it can be a sign of bloating and/or water retention or even fluid retention in the muscle after a hard workout. It could also be because of where we’re at in our cycle or inflammation from eating something the prior day. 

It’s time we stop seeing the scale as our enemy and begin to keep track of where we’re at on a daily basis. As we begin to create healthier habits, over the course of time we’ll most likely start to see the ups and downs in a downward trend.

A few apps to look into to help track weight and calories are:


Lose It! App


Fitbit App

WW App

4. Budget Your Food

What if we looked at our food the way we looked at money? If we create a budget so we know how to spend and save the money we have, what happens if we stay within our budget? What happens if we stay just under our budget? And then what happens when we overspend?

Calories aren’t much different. If we keep track of our calories, the same way we’ll be keeping track of our weight, we can begin to see trends with our eating and how they coincide with trends in our weight loss/gain. If we take the emotional struggle out of it and make it more of a scientific study of our own habits, it can be quite eye opening.

When I first started tracking calories, I was astonished at how much I was actually eating on a daily basis. It’s crazy how those calories can add up fast. What we’ll find is that as we track our daily calorie intake, we’ll begin to notice that we’re paying more attention to the food we’re eating and our choices will often begin to line up with our goals.

How many calories should you be eating each day? That all depends on your eating plan, your weight, your goals, etc. I would recommend researching calorie recommendations based on your eating plan and then come up with a number that makes sense as a starting point and begin tracking. Over time, you can adjust that number up or down depending on your goals.

For tracking calories, you can use the same apps mentioned in tip number 3 to track both weight and food intake.

One last piece of advice–when you hit a point where you really don’t want to step on the scale or track the calories you used to self-soothe the night before, just remember – it’s just information. No one is grading you. No one else has to see it. It’s just us being honest with ourselves and working hard to achieve a goal we really want!

5. Decide On an Eating Plan

Some people like to follow a specific diet, others really dislike the “d” word, while others just want to learn how to eat clean and keep their calories in check.

Whatever direction you wish to go, you will need to decide on an eating plan, because you know what they say–a goal without a plan is just a dream–and we actually want to achieve this one.

So If you’re not sure which eating plan you want to follow, spend some time researching on your favorite search engine. I’ve followed so many of them myself: Paleo, Whole 30, Keto, Suzanne Sommers, etc. In the end, I have personally decided to go with my own version of non-inflammatory, clean eating combined with calorie counting so I can help work towards healing some health and gut issues while working to hit my goals.

Something to consider is whether you would want to try an eating plan that includes a shake as a meal replacement. I make my own shake mix using Vital Proteins grass fed collagen and beef gelatin. I’m super busy and really don’t love to cook, so if I can cheat a healthy meal and make it yummy in the process, I will. I just throw in half a banana and some organic frozen mango chunks from Costco along with a handful of organic spinach and it’s good to go.

If you still need help figuring out which plan is best for you, feel free to reach out. I’m not an expert, but I sure have been entrenched in this world for years and am happy to see if I can help or at least point you in a good direction.

6. Drink Water

Water. Water. Water!

Could I be any more emphatic? Water is life-giving, healing, anti-aging, and anti-inflammatory. It’s SO good for us. Yet… it’s so easy to forget to drink it or just avoid drinking it all together. The GOOD news is that you don’t have to actually drink water to reach your water goals. You can drink plain ice tea with monkfruit sweetener if you like it sweet (we make ours with spearmint), seltzer water with lemon or your choice of fruit (we use a soda stream). There are so many creative and healthy ways to get our water in.

How much should you drink? About half your body weight in ounces. So if you’re 140 pounds, then 70 ounces of water a day. If you’re struggling with drinking any water, maybe just try for 60 and work your way up from there if your body requires more water. The goal is to make progress over time, not to be perfect.

7. Get Moving

Finally, get moving! It’s easy to think we have to follow a complete workout program to start reaching our goals, but that simply isn’t true. If we’re not moving at all, then the first step is to get moving.

If you have a fitbit or some way to track your steps, start tracking your movement each day and slowly build on it. Go for a walk with a friend or by yourself. Go outside and do some gardening. Do a quick brisk cleakup of the house. Just move.

If you want to add in a workout program, I have found them to be very helpful over the years. There are so many free programs available on almost any streaming service, just look around until you find one you think you can stick to. The key is… don’t get caught up with being perfect. If you miss a day, you miss a day… it doesn’t mean you have to start the program over, just move on to the next day.

I’ve done a mix of running, walking, hard work outside, barre programs, weight lifting, etc. I’ve struggled with feeling like I’m failing because I wasn’t perfect about sticking with the days on a specific program and finally came to the conclusion that my body doesn’t care how I move, just that I actually move.

So if you’re struggling with exercising, think about how you can make exercising more fun and remember your priorities (that it’s okay to put you at the top of your list)–go and do it.

If you are a mom with a ton of kids, take them all to the playground and run around with them. That’s exercise. If you’re working at the office all day, on your lunch break, go take a walk. Or stand up and do some squats and calisthenics. That’s exercise.

Just. Get. Moving.

From one diet breaker to another, I just want to encourage you to take heart. We absolutely can do this, but we can’t do it unless we drop that perfectionistic attitude. We’ve already proven that we stink at being perfect. So maybe, for once, let’s really focus on progress. The key is–we have to get started.

So go get your accountability partner. Decide which apps you’re going to use to track your progress and create a plan based on the tips above. Ask Our Lady to help you, your guardian angel to encourage you, and when you’re in the midst of the “it’s not fair that I can’t eat/drink what I want” battle, think about someone you know who’s suffering, or a priest or religious person you know, and turn it into a prayer. Offer it up.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you need ideas or support. You’re not alone, my friend. 

Cheers to our post-pandemic taking control of our health! You’ve got this. WE’VE got this.

Jesu, ufam tobie
Jesus, I trust in you.

About Author

Michelle Hillaert brings more than 25 years of experience in roles relating to technology and communications to GIVEN. With an undergraduate degree in Communication Arts from Franciscan University of Steubenville, her portfolio includes emergency management, web, application and graphic design, marketing and social media management, podcasting, and online consulting. In her previous employment, Michelle played a major role in the development and improvement of internal systems as well as the development and expansion of the Quality Management System. She also managed processes and communication with stakeholders in major application builds of state-run programs. In addition to this work, Michelle has dedicated herself to helping women live their full potential as a doula, life and fitness coach, motivational speaker and author. Having four daughters, nine sisters, and having journeyed with many women over the years, Michelle has experienced first-hand how as women, we often hesitate to respond with our gifts because we don’t recognize that we are uniquely gifted and that the world – especially those we encounter on a daily basis – needs us to share these gifts. In light of this, she has a passion and proven capacity for flourishing young women in the Church through mentoring and leadership development. Michelle has found that transformation often happens in those quiet moments of prayer and reading the works of the saints, such as the “Dialogue” by St. Catherine of Siena and makes daily reading and continual growth an essential part of her day. Outside of work, Michelle has been married for over 23 years to her husband, Trent. They reside in Front Royal, Virginia and together have six children, 2 in college and four still at home, along with three dogs, a cat and 27 chickens. She is a soccer mom and singer who loves leading praise and worship. “It’s only when we truly know how unspeakably much we are loved by our Father and how He is constantly pursuing us – even in those moments when we’re running in the opposite direction – that we can come to understand that our identity lies in His love. With this knowledge, we are able to step out in confidence and as inspired by St. Pope John Paul II, live fearlessly.”

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