Dream Big—and Get There This Month

Welcome to our HealthCentral series, where we challenge you to a big goal every month—then help you get there through actionable steps on Move-the-Needle Mondays each week. Whether your dreams of self-improvement involve fitness, food, or feeling your emotional best, we’ve got something for you. Let’s get started!

Welcome to July and a brand-new month of Dream Big challenges, where we help you reach a goal that you thought was just too crazy-big and impossible to accomplish. If there’s one thing we’ve learned from putting together these challenges, it’s that anything—even the most ambitious, complex goal—is possible when you take it one stroke at a time.

This month we’re arming you with the tools to go after three big challenges. Each week, we'll kick things off with our Move-the-Needle Monday column (this week, it's Move-the-Needle Tuesday!), breaking down the details for each of these goals, to help you succeed in reaching them by the end of the month. You’re going to get there, and we’ll be there with you. (Show us your progress on Instagram or Facebook at #DreamBigGetThere.)

Ready to dive in! Keep reading for this month’s goals—plus your Week 1 Plan.

Dream Big: Drink 8 Glasses of Water a Day

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Week 1: Drink 2 Glasses of Water a Day

The science: We are what we drink—literally. Our bodies are made up of 60% water and getting enough to drink helps with everything from regulating our temperature and keeping our joints moving smoothly, to protecting our spinal cord and getting rid of waste. There is no gold standard for how much water the average person should get—our bodies all work a little differently. Thankfully, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine offers a general daily recommendation for us to start with. For men it’s roughly 120 ounces per day. For women it’s about 90 ounces per day. We’re talking total fluid intake from all the foods and beverages you consume in a day. You’ll need to get even more if you’re working out, living in hot or humid weather (um, hey there, summer), when you’re sick, or if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.

Move-the-Needle Tuesday: “Three one-liter bottles (about 90 ounces total) is a good place to be,” says Tiffany Ricci, a Billings, MT-based registered dietitian nutritionist and co-owner of Fueling Life Nutrition. Ricci encourages her clients to set that as a baseline goal, which can then be adjusted to their individual needs. Translated to glasses, that’s about eight glasses a day and that’s what we’re aiming to get every day by the end of this month. This week we’re going to start small. Our bodies need time to get used to that extra fluid. “Your bladder, your blood pressure, and your thirst temptation all have to adjust,” Ricci says.

The plan: Every day this week, plan to drink two glasses—20 ounces—of plain old water in addition to whatever fluids you would regularly have with your meals, coffee breaks, etc. Use a water bottle to help you track how much you’ve consumed each day. You don’t need anything fancy; a basic one-liter (32-ounce) bottle like this one will work just fine.

Top tip: If you want to have a shot at reaching your new daily hydration goal, Ricci says, you have to drink water the way you like it. If you prefer a straw for easy sipping while driving, use one. If you enjoy ice-cold H2O, an insulated bottle like this one might be worth investing in. And keep in mind your temperature preferences will likely change with the seasons.

Dream Big: Unplug for a Full Weekend

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Week 1: Audit Your Tech Use

The science: “Technology is everywhere—we cannot avoid it even if we want to,” says Karen Veintimilla, a licensed mental health counselor with Humantold, a therapy practice in New York City. “As technology gets more advanced, we have become less able to detach from our technology use.” In fact, adults spend about 11 hours on average looking at a screen of some kind, according to Scripps Health.

But the negative effects of too much screen time are clear. It has numerous effects on physical health—eye strain, sleep disruptions, headaches, back pain, tendonitis, and more. And it can harm your mental health, too: For example, one 2017 study in Preventive Medicine Reports said screen time may make you more likely to experience depression. “It can negatively affect our health because we cannot detach from social media or technology use, whether it be staring at our phones all day, constantly updating something, posting, Snapchatting, tweeting, and more,” explains Veintimilla. “We get a dopamine hit with all the likes and retweets; it becomes an addiction of its own.”

Move-the Needle Tuesday: The first step is to actually notice how all this screen time may be negatively affecting you, says Veintimilla. This means putting yourself to the test with a small goal to see how you feel when you consciously avoid using your devices for a certain period of time.

You also may consider using this week to track your device usage so you can start to see when and how you’re using up so much time glued to your screen. This information can help you then make choices about where to cut back and how to prioritize so that you can work your way up to a screen-free weekend. “When we realize how harmful being on social media/technology can be, if only for our own personal sense of peace, we then can start setting a goal,” explains Veintimilla.

The plan: Pick a time on the first day of the week when you know you tend to scroll your phone mindlessly. Maybe it’s right before bed or first thing in the morning. Then, challenge yourself: See if you can keep your hands off your phone for 20 minutes—set a timer, and then just notice how you feel. “If you are looking at your phone still, thinking about something on your phone, or even reaching towards it, this may be an indicator of a problem,” says Veintimilla. Each day this week, tack on another 20 minutes to work your way up.

This week, you can also start to track your screen time habits on a broader scale. There are apps you can use to do this—including the Screen Time app built into iPhones, for example, which automatically logs how long you spend on each app on your phone per day—or you can track it the old-fashioned way with pen and paper. This can help you start to become more mindful of your tech use and learn where you spend the most screen time.

Once the week is up, reflect on what you’ve learned. Make note of any uncomfortable feelings that arose during the mini challenges, or whether it seemed to get easier as the days went on. And looking at your screen time log, watch for patterns and potential areas to cut back.

Top tip: If you’re addicted to your devices or social media, go easy on yourself this first week and just give yourself permission to notice how you feel around your tech use as you observe your habits. “To use a potentially overused trope, think of unplugging like a marathon,” says Veintimilla. “You do not expect to run a half marathon if you never ran a day in your life.” That’s why we’re starting small. So if you’re a daily tech user, don’t expect yourself to be able to quit cold turkey—and give yourself some grace as you get started on this journey.

Dream Big: Eat Like a Pro Athlete

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Week 1: Eat Enough to Fuel Your Workout

The science: With the 2021 Summer Olympics starting later this month, you may be motivated to raise the ante on your workouts. The first step? Here's a surprise: Boost your caloric intake. Yes, you read that right. We’re not saying nosh like Michael Phelps, who reportedly consumed 8,000 to 10,000 calories each day during his competitive Olympic swimming reign. But exercising more means eating more, espeically high-quality foods, in order to sustain muscle growth and fitness intensity. Research shows that elite athletes who exercise intensely for more than an hour each day consume an average of at least 1,000 calories (or more) each day compared to people who don’t exercise.

Move-the-Needle Tuesday: Amy Goldsmith, registered dietitian, sports nutritionist, and owner of Kindred Nutrition and Wellness in Frederick, MD, advises, “The key to performance and recovery is a combination of training, fueling, hydration, and rest. It’s difficult to know exactly what your calorie needs are for performance, but there are ways you can ballpark your needs.” Goldsmith recommends using an online tool or smartphone app such as My Fitness Pal to calculate your unique calorie needs. These apps ask questions about your level of activity to give you a daily calorie goal.

For the most accurate meal planning, Goldsmith advises that you reach out to the pros. “I always caution athletes to be aware that recommendations from online apps are often lower than their actual calorie needs, so it’s important to monitor hunger cues. A sports nutritionist can more accurately assess your needs by calculating your resting metabolic rate, measuring body fat, and evaluating your training schedule. An expert can also recommend the appropriate percentage of your calories from carbohydrates, protein, and fat. An athlete could be eating the right number of calories and still miss out on key nutrients, which could negatively affect training and recovery.”

The plan: To meet the demands of a more intense workout regime, look to add nutrient-dense, high-calorie foods that don’t fill you up between meals, says Ryan Andrews, a registered dietitian and principal nutritionist for Precision Nutrition in Norwalk, CT, who works with competitive athletes to meet their training goals. “If someone is logging seven to 10 training hours per week, overall demands for calories go up substantially,” he says.

If you’re used to eating three meals a day, add two or three snacks between meals. A fruit smoothie, Greek yogurt and fruit, oatmeal mixed with dried fruit and nuts, whole-grain bread topped with almond butter, or cottage cheese and fruit are just a few snack ideas that you can try.

Top tip: “Sometimes intense training will lead to increased hunger, but not always,” Andrews warns. If you’re not feeling hungry between meals, remember, you still need to eat regularly (and often!) to meet your body’s needs. It’s like topping off your fuel tank even if it’s not empty. If you’re feeling too full to eat, drink fluids like chocolate milk, smoothies, or juice between meals for extra calories.

Contributors: Danielle Gamiz, Lara DeSanto, Carmen Roberts, R.D.