The first thing to note is that deciding to be healthy or to lose weight is not about a diet. Diets are temporary and nearly impossible to maintain for an extended period of time. Health and fitness goals are all about creating goals where you form a sustainable habit that can last forever.
When many people start out, the first step is often to raid the fridge and pantry and discard anything and everything that might be considered as unhealthy. Once everything but the oatmeal and frozen kale has been discarded the next step will be to refill the fridge and pantry with a bunch of strange foods aren’t used to. Once the food situation is taken care of the next thing to do is to lace up those super fancy sneakers and hit the pavement or the gym. This method of adopting a lifestyle change works for some people… Alright, it works for very few people. In reality, going cold turkey like this causes most people to abandon all changes after a few weeks.
The reason many people drop off the bandwagon so soon is because they haven’t had the chance to really solidify the habits of their new lifestyle. While it is true that it takes 21 days to make or break a habit a lifestyle is the sum of all of your habits. Picking up new habits is like learning to juggle; you start with one or two things and then slowly add in the third, fourth, fifth, etc. When it comes down to it, breaking an old set of habits and forming new ones takes years. Taking on a handful of new habits such as eating healthy, exercising, drinking enough water, and getting enough sleep can lead to a lot of stress, both mentally and physically. Not to mention your body is going through withdraw from the sugar and processed foods it once used to rely on.
At the end of the day, the fact is that it took years to form those habits and it’s going to take a considerable amount of time to break them as well. This is the other part where people get discouraged and give up: we want to see immediate results. However, the reality is that we can only physically and mentally handle a certain amount of change at one time before we get stressed out.
Start With Nutrition Habits
While it is undoubtedly important to be active we’ve all heard the saying of “you can’t out run a bad diet” or “70% nutrition and 30% exercise” because there is some truth behind it. While regular moderate exercise is a building block of a healthy lifestyle and any fitness goal a proper nutrition habits will make this transition easier.
I would argue that the easiest habit to break is to stop drinking sugar. Skip the pop, juice, and sweetened drinks. The only beverage you really need to be drinking is water. That being said, it is still alright to treat yourself from time to time. While it won’t be easy at first, cutting sugar and sweeteners from drinks (and not adding them anywhere else) is an excellent start, especially when you replace them entirely with water.
If you’ve already stopped drinking your calories the next step might be to take a look at what you are putting on your food. More precisely: take a look at the dressings/sauces/condiments you are adding to your food. Consider reducing the quantity of these or finding a replacement as they are loaded with sugars and bad fats.
Kill Two Birds With One Stone
Sometimes it can be simple enough to tackle a couple of bad habits at a time. Take a look at the habits that are most detrimental and which other habits are related to that habit. Work at tackling that one habit and some of the other bad habits will take care of themselves.
Gradually work at replacing everyday food items with a healthier alternative. One simple substitution is by replacing white grains and rice for whole grains and brown rice. If you’re feeling ambitious start replacing your candy stash with dried fruits. Turn the bag of chips that you have for lunch into a baggie of fresh veggies and humus. If you love a good steak or burger then opt for a leaner cut. Small changes gradually lead to massive progress.
Everything in Moderation
The purpose of a lifestyle change is to break the bad habits and form new ones. But, the only way those new habits are going to stick and be sustainable. In order for a lifestyle to be sustainable it has to reflect who is living that lifestyle. Not everyone is the same. I am an ice-cream junkie. That means it’s not realistic for me to say I’m not allowed to have ice-cream ever again. Banning certain foods can cause us to become fixated on those foods and leads to a tendency to binge and then we begin the cycle of “okay, that’s it, I’m done forever” to “omg I’ve been craving that forever” to “I’m just going to have a taste” to “omg I can’t believe I ate twenty doughnuts, twelve pizzas, and the kitchen sink”. It is more important to avoid this cycle by moderating than it is to have a 100% “clean” diet. Remember: this is a forever change, a treat here and there isn’t going to have a negative effect on your good habits (that’s why they’re habits)/
We know that many unhealthy eating habits are actually unhealthy mental habits. It is also known that these problems range in severity and nature. Everyone is different and no one should feel ashamed to seek help if their lives are run by food. It is common for people to struggle with stress eating or binge eating. Issues such as these may be a manifestation of an anxiety disorder. If you do not have the means to seek help then consider journaling; keep track of the thoughts and feelings and what prompted them. This can help determine what triggers this sort of behaviour.
Walk Before You Run
This should be taken both figuratively and literally. Once you have cracked a few habits and have a good hold on your new nutrition habits, consider adding exercise to the mix. Again, it is important to start slow to avoid stressing yourself out and to avoid injury. If you have previously been more sedentary, consider going for walks. If you are used to more activity then you may want to consider doing a combination of strength and endurance training.
It is important to remember that this is a life-style. This is how you will live your life. You must remember that the changes you make should be changes that reflect who you are and what you want to do with your life. You have to live this for you, not for anyone else. Start by tackling small changes and gradually build on that. Rome wasn’t built in a day; start with a strong foundation and build on top of that.
It is also worth noting that no two people are the same. Everyone has a different personality, a different body, and different goals. What might work for some people may not work for others. This is just a suggestion for those who have fallen off the wagon once or twice. If you are struggling to get to where you want to be try reevaluating the scope of what you want to accomplish and work at breaking it down in manageable pieces that you can work at gradually. Always remember that you didn’t form your old habits overnight.