My last post was on why you no longer have excuses for skipping out on improving your health. Now I want to explain exactly how to do that. Everyone knows “eating healthy and exercise” are the two things we need to lose weight, gain muscle, improve our blood test results, etc. but it’s not as some as it sounds. If it were we wouldn’t have an obesity epidemic in this country. Diabetes and heart disease would be more rare. Sadly that’s not the case. So if we know what we have to do in order to get healthy what is keeping us from doing it? Why do we fail over and over? There are few key points that will help you start and be successful this time around. And I will let you in on a really big secret. Ready? There is no one way to do it. Choose a diet plan, any plan, and you will find people who have great results. Choose a gym, any gym, and someone has a success story worth mentioning. There is no perfect way that fits everyone’s needs, but there are three things those that have success have in common.
1 – You Have to Want It
First and foremost you have to be mentally prepared to change. You have to want it. Just as an addict has to be ready for rehab for it to actually work, you have to be ready to make changes to your lifestyle to have them stick. If you set out with the idea that it will only be until a certain event or a certain weight on the scale, you are already setting yourself up to quit and go back to where you started. I have done this so many times in the past. I would think “If I could just get to this weight, I could live with that”. I would think of a wedding or vacation in the near future and would want to diet and exercise just for that event. Ultimately, I would give up on the goal, choosing my bad habits once again because I already had it programmed in my head that eventually I COULD go back to them. Giving myself that leeway meant I was allowing myself to give up. So then it didn’t matter if I gave up before or after that specific event. I was forgiven. Either I wouldn’t change a thing, or worse, I actually gained weight for that event. If I was successful in losing weight, I eventually put it all back on knowing that it was a temporary fix, and the deprivation I felt during that time was rewarded with even more bad choices. Not a very good plan.
The difference this time for me was having the attitude that there is no stopping. I was ready. This wasn’t for just one reason. This wasn’t about a special event, a breakup, a vacation, a weight on the scale, a clothing size, or whatever else may be a temporary motivator. This was for my entire life. Eyes forward, no matter what. I didn’t have any idea what that meant or what sort of lifestyle I would end up with at the end, but I knew I was serious this time and the rest fell into place over time. But I had to be ready if I wasn’t going to resort back to the old me with bad choices and habits.
2 – Ease Into It
If you decide today that you are changing your life, and then you change every single thing about your daily routine, YOU WILL FAIL. This is putting unrealistic expectations on yourself. It is a guarantee that you will let yourself down and now you are depressed and reaching for the emergency ice cream in the back of the freezer. Don’t.
Start small. Here are some ways to get started when you are at the absolute minimum starting point – meaning no attention to what is going into your body and no activity beyond functioning as a human.
- Get a device or an app on your phone that tracks your steps and make a goal for yourself that is about 2000 steps above what you get on average already. Increase it from there. If you start out saying you will run 5 miles a day, you will quit after 2 blocks. Realistic goals is the name of the game.
- Join a gym of your choice and dedicate 3 hours a week. That’s it. When you have that feeling like a routine, add another day or hour. Build from there.
- If you prefer at-home workout videos, again, 3 times per week to start. If that feels easy, bump it up. But as soon as you feel like you are dreading it, that’s your limit. Exercise should be enjoyable and I promise at some point it will be, but not if you would rather be anywhere else.
- If you are doing a more strenuous program, like Crossfit, Orange Theory, a boxing gym, etc. then modify your movements. Proudly. If you go full out the first day, you won’t be moving for several days and that defeats the purpose.
So the lesson here is do enough that makes you sweat, gets your heart pumping, and you feel like it was productive. A little soreness is good and a sign that you are working those muscles, but if you have trouble walking, you may have gone too far. Save those hard workouts that make it impossible to walk, for when you start to want that feeling of soreness. If you aren’t in that crazy mindset yet, you aren’t ready to go there.
Eating habits have the same rules. Changing your life drastically will not only set you up for failure, it may mess with your digestive system and your hormones. We aren’t trying to shock your body and cause more stress.
- If you want to give up wheat / grains start with something substantial that will be a challenge like giving up bread, but maybe pasta on Sundays is still okay for now. As you progress you will find giving up wheat products altogether isn’t so hard.
- If you want to try to go dairy free, but coffee creamer is just not something you can live without, (I totally empathize with this one) then wait until your body and your taste buds adjust to milk substitutes like almond or coconut, and then try to switch your creamer to a non-dairy option. You will notice your body wanting the change over time and it will be easier to part with the half&half anyway.
- If you want to switch to better produce and meat choices, but the sticker shock of grass fed products and organic produce is too much, then start slow. Hormones gross me out, so grass fed beef is more important to me than an organic banana. Make those price choices according to your own values and do what you can.
- If you have a problem with cholesterol because you have been an avid bacon and sausage eater for decades, going vegan the next day may be a bit extreme. Maybe you start with no red meat. Work your way to vegetarian, and see if a vegan diet is something you can commit to and value at that point. You might find modifications you can live with along the way or you might find it much easier to switch to that lifestyle once you have eliminated so many animal products already. Each step will add up over time.
When I made the switch from “I need to lose weight someday” to “That’s it, eyes forward, no quitting no matter what” I wasn’t eating a Paleo diet and hitting a Crossfit gym 5 days a week. I was far from that. I started with my diet. I still had yogurt and bread occasionally, and I added more vegetables to my meals, and cut out fried foods. I was about 20 pounds down from my starting point before I gave a full Paleo diet a real try. As for exercise, I slowly eased into classes at the park district gym before I decided to try Crossfit. Once I was there, it was 2-3 days a week and I didn’t touch a barbell for almost a full year. Now I get cranky if I don’t make it in on a weekday and I live for PR’s with that barbell. It didn’t happen overnight. And if I could see myself now 2 years ago, I wouldn’t believe it. The thought would have been overwhelming. But each step, each small change, led to big results.
3 – Pick Yourself Back Up
I know I have talked about this before but it is so important and it is a hard one. You cannot get down after one slip up. So you caved and ate a cupcake at the barbecue. So what? It happened. You can’t change it. But you can move forward. Even if it is bigger than that. You ate an entire pepperoni pizza 3 weeks after starting Paleo? Ribs when you’re trying to be a vegan? Okay. No biggie. You probably have a bit of a stomach ache. You will remember this feeling and choose better next time. Eyes forward. No need to dwell on your momentary lapse. You aren’t looking like a fraud to your peers who know you are now “Paleo”. You are a human being who used to enjoy these foods regularly and you are still learning how to live without them. OR you are still allowing yourself to have a day here and there for a treat. No shame necessary.
People often remind me how hard I have worked to get here and yes, I can recognize that my routine workout and my disciplined diet is hard work. But it doesn’t feel like hard work. I don’t feel deprived. I don’t feel exhausted after working out (except for right after of course). It isn’t a struggle for me to eat healthy and exercise regularly. The gradual increase of activity and the slow pace of changing my diet led to my new lifestyle. And that is what it is. It is just my life.
If you want to get healthy and really stick to it you can. You just need to be ready to stick to it, make changes over time instead of all at once and move on from any imperfections during that process. Regardless of what your health goal is or what method you choose to accomplish it, these three concepts will get you there. That is a guarantee.