Transitioning to a Healthy Lifestyle: Ease Up a Little

How many times have you promised yourself once and for all that you were never going to eat chocolate again?

Or that starting next week, you’re going to hit the gym every day, even though you’ve not set foot in the doors in months?

Far too many of us have an all or nothing attitude when it comes to fitness and nutrition and while some amount of structure can be helpful, too much can become punitive.

Humans are creatures of habit and it’s hard to make lasting changes.

Because our brains respond much better to what to do versus what not to do, simply announcing that we’re not doing to do X ever again without having a replacement behavior or strategy in mind isn’t the best way to proceed.   This approach is both negative and unlikely to create permanent habits.

And negative goals are almost always doomed to failure, for two reasons. First, when you are constantly trying to stop yourself from performing an action, you have to ride your mental brakes, using brain systems that are prone to weakening and giving out. Second, your habit-learning system does not learn from the experience of avoidance. You generate habits when you perform an action that is related to an environment. You learn from doing. “You do not learn when you don’t do something” according to Art Markman, Ph.D, in an article in the Huffington Post[1].

How can you tell if you’re being too strict?

The first step is to take an honest assessment of how you’re feeling on a day-to-day basis, all things considered.

Are you happy? Do you feel energized? Are you sleeping and eating well?

Of course, there is a certain amount of stress inherent in our lives, simply as a function of the world we live in, but if it’s at such a high level all the time and you’re only making matters worse by creating an uber strict eating and fitness regime, you may be working against yourself.

If you approach your goals too strictly or unrealistically, setting yourself up for feeling deprived and eventually caving (not a Paleo reference in this instance) into consuming mass quantities of low to no quality foods, it’s not as simple to just bust out a ninety minute spin class to work it off.

            Losing weight and developing a healthy lifestyle isn’t about making deals with your body.

Skipping breakfast to save calories so that later you can eat pizza, or just eating only veggies today to prepare for a day of pastries tomorrow doesn’t work.

The reality is that if you eat the wrong foods, your body pays the consequences.  It’s only you who gets the short end of the stick!

It’s important to add that this isn’t even about calories: you can’t just “exercise off” a bad meal. While doing so may help control weight gain and can even help you lose weight, the calorie burn doesn’t counteract the damage that unhealthy foods can do on the inside and that’s most important when it comes to overall health outcomes, longevity, staying disease free, feeling energetic and enjoying a high quality of life no matter what your age[2].

A proper eating an exercise regime should be an outlet for stress, not a cause of it!

If you can remove the urgency to see change now, you’ll lighten the weight on your shoulders and make it easier to set smaller, attainable goals along the way to the big one.

Even if you have a long way to go, setting up a positive reward system to acknowledge your successes as you go is incredibly important.

Fifty pounds of fat is quite a bit to lose. And it’s not going to come off in a single week.

But if you have mini goals to strive for each week, such as getting to the gym three times, eating vegetables at lunch in place of bread or pasta and aiming for a one pound / week loss, you’ve got three markers to measure in addition to the benefit of simply feeling better both emotionally and physically.

Equally as important is the reward you plan on for yourself, which can be whatever feels special to you.

A manicure, an afternoon spent perusing your favorite bookshop you never make time for or carving out time for a solo hike along the bluffs. It doesn’t have to be costly, just special.

When it comes down to it, and you’re feeling frustrated at yourself and find you’re getting rather negative, take a moment to breath and ask if you’d treat your best friend the way you’re treating yourself.

[1] Holmes, Lindsay. “5 Secrets To Behavior Change.” The Huffington Post., 15 Feb. 2014

[2] Rosen, Michael, MD. “Biggest Weight Loss Mistakes.” ShareCare