Using the stages of change model to adopt new fitness and nutrition habits

Change is hard.

Whether it’s getting started with exercise, cleaning up your diet or giving your website a facelift (hint, hint…), changes worth making don’t happen overnight.

stages of change

And the best way to start implementing change depends on how ready you are to make it.

Despite all the motivational social media memes telling you to ‘just do it’ and ‘stop making excuses’.

And the best intentions of friends telling you that ‘the only workout you’ll ever regret is the one you didn’t do’ and that you should just ‘pull up your big girl panties’ and get on with it.

If you’re not truly ready to make change, you can’t and you won’t. It has nothing to do with willpower or excuses or fortitude and everything to do with mindset and mental preparedness.

The transtheoretical model of behaviour change (also know as the ’ stages of change’ model) is used by counsellors, psychologists and fitness professionals alike (including yours truly…) to assess an individual’s readiness to act on new behaviours. By knowing which stage of change (Precontemplation, Contemplation, Preparation, Action and Maintenance) a person is currently in, we can identify strategies that are relevant, appropriate and most likely to be successful at guiding them towards action.

If you’re struggling with starting a new exercise program or making changes to your nutrition plan, take a minute and read the descriptions of the five stages of change below. Check out the suggestions I have for actions you can take at each stage to help you move forward and beyond the stage you’re currently stuck at. You can use these same suggestions to help a friend who’s been trying to improve their fitness and health as well!

Stages of Change

Stage 1: Precontemplation (Not Ready)

‘Precontemplators’ have no intention of altering their behaviour in the near future. In fact, many are unaware that change would benefit them at all! I don’t tend to see very many people in this stage of change; they aren’t typically the ones looking to hire a personal trainer 🙂

If you suspect that you’re stuck in Precontemplation (it’s actually tough to self-assess this one…), focus on educating yourself about the benefits of exercise and healthy eating. Work on becoming more mindful of the choices you’re making right now and focus on the consequences of your actions. Begin to notice patterns between behavioural choices and how they make you feel.

Currently in stage 1? You might find these posts helpful >>>

 Stage 2: Contemplation (Getting Ready)

‘Contemplators’, while more aware of the benefits of making a change than ‘Precontemplators’, are still relatively ambivalent about taking action in the very near future. While they’re usually aware of the benefits of change, they still see as many ‘cons’ as ‘pros’. Moving forward requires encouragement to reduce the ‘cons’ of changing their behaviour.

If you’ve been ‘Contemplating’ starting a new exercise or nutrition program for six months or longer, your best chance of success is to surround yourself with people who have already made the change you desire for yourself. Spend time with friends who are physically active and interested in healthy eating. Ask for (and be receptive to) their encouragement. Identify the hurdles (both physical and mental) that are keeping you from getting started and actively work to eliminate them.

Stage 3: Preparation (Ready)

People at this stage are ready to start taking action, typically within the next month or so. They’re willing to take small steps that they believe can help them make the healthy behavior a part of their lives.

For example, they may tell their friends and family that they want to change their behaviour. They may join a gym or start a Pinterest board of healthy recipes. They might start reading nutrition labels and going for a daily walk. Most of my new clients are in the ‘Preparation’ stage. Reaching out to a fitness professional is often one of the first action steps they take.

If you find yourself in ‘Preparation’ mode, let other people know. Sharing your plans with trusted friends increases your chances of success. Identify one or two small changes you know you can be successful with. Think about possible roadblocks to success and map out a plan for dealing with setbacks.

The number one concern at this stage is fear of failure. Have a plan in place for those inevitable days when you miss a workout or ‘mess up’ your nutrition plan. The more prepared you are, the greater your chances of success.

Does stage three sound familiar? One-on-one health coaching is perfect for you >> Online Fitness Coaching with Fitknitchick

Stage 4: Action

If you’ve already started implementing small changes and are ready to keep moving ahead, you’re well into the ‘Action’ stage. The biggest challenge you face is fighting the urge to slip back into old behaviour patterns. Strengthening commitments to exercise and healthy eating are super important, as is understanding your ‘why’ (the real reason you want to make changes to your behaviour).

People in this stage progress by being taught techniques for keeping up their commitments such as substituting activities related to the unhealthy behaviour with positive ones, rewarding themselves for taking steps toward changing, and avoiding people and situations that tempt them to behave in unhealthy ways.

Action takers; surround yourself with like-minded women. Join my online monthly group training program for 40+ females >> #40plusfitness Group Training

Stage 5: Maintenance

Once you’ve mastered ‘Action’ and regular exercise and healthy eating have been part of your daily routine for at least six months, you’ve entered the ‘Maintenance’ stage. At this point, it’s important to be aware of the types of situations that may tempt you to slip back into old behaviour patterns. For example, stressful times at work, fights with loved ones, social events with certain friends or family vacations.

Again, anticipating challenges, being able to identify them when they occur and planning an appropriate response in advance can keep you from slipping back into old habits and previous stages of change.

Which ‘stage of change’ are you currently in, with respect to fitness and nutrition?

What’s keeping you from moving forward? Share your ‘obstacles’ and ‘roadblocks’ below.



  1. Very well written. And I love all the changes.
    AlexandraFunFit recently posted…Exercises That Are Joint-Friendly for Rheumatoid ArthritisMy Profile

  2. I think so many of us get STUCK on the third one too.
    writing 🙂
    CARLA recently posted…I loathe the phrase “binge watching.”My Profile

  3. Hi Tamara,

    Thanks for a thoughtful and inspiring article.

    As a 40 plus women who once fell off the fitness wagon (after more than 20 years of only missing my 5 hour a week target twice in over 20 years, once due to illness and once an interstate move), my life circumstances changed and I pretty much stopped exercising for a few years.

    I’m well and truly back on track now, but still remember how difficult it was to find the motivation to start afresh and stick with it. I went through all of the stages you’ve mentioned, faltered at all, and got stuck at Stage 5 on more than one occasion.

    Thanks again for the great read.
    Melissa recently posted…Precor EFX 5.33 Elliptical CrossTrainer ReviewMy Profile

  4. I am in Stage 4 Action but just need to stay there. I have the exercise down but need to work on the nutrition. Expanding my support group to MyFitnessPal (your wonderful recommendation) has really helped.

    In Stage 3 for writing and need to move my butt out of that Stage 🙂
    Stephanie Robbins recently posted…Natural Skin Care Affiliate Program – Amoils.comMy Profile

  5. I’m definitely in Stage 4. I’ve been exercising semi-regularly ever since I can remember but I decided to get “properly fit” and have completed 5 weeks of my program now. I decided to take a double-rest day this week and 2 days turned into 3. Luckily my new routine is sticking and I got up and went for a mini-run and did my home workout this morning. I think my healthy habits really will stick long-term and I’m willing to work to help that happen.

    I would love to join a group forum here, but I’m not a woman and I’m not over 40. I wouldn’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable. Saying that, I really like the philosophy here! Tamara et al. know their stuff- experience and knowledge show through and this another example of a high-quality article. I plan to stick around and keep reading. Cheers!


  6. Great post!!! YES, fear of failure – man oh man is that a pain in the ass! 🙂

    LOVE the new look, name, site!!!! Did you do on your own?
    Jody – Fit at 57 recently posted…New & Old Brand Finds from ExpoWest; What I am Loving! MY TRUTH! GIVEAWAY Too!My Profile

    • Thanks so much Jody! I had lots of help with the site re-design. My fabulous stylist and photographer at phoTobin Photography and Rita, my Blog Genie!


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