Virtually everyone knows that adopting a healthier lifestyle is important, and most of us even really want (in theory) to be active and make more ideal nutrition choices. The problem is, wanting and doing are two very different things — weaving activity into one’s day and figuring out how exactly to eat well can be complicated.
It can often feel overwhelming. As a trainer part of my job is helping people identify the roadblocks keeping them from succeeding, and then strategizing solutions. Usually the solution is a change of mindset; it is only after a mindset change that behavioural changes can occur.
Problematic Mindset 1: “I deserve…”
You know what I am taking about — the “I went for a 30-minute run today so I deserve all the beer, cake, fried food, or (fill in the blank) that I want” or “I exercised today so I don’t have to feel guilty for watching 10 hours of TV in a row.”
If you are exercising with the goal of losing weight, remember that exercise will only help with weight loss if you don’t replace the calories you burned with extra food. Have a treat if you want it, but understand that the treat will affect how quickly you reach your goal.
Portion sizes are always important, even on days you exercise. Even if you work out, prolonged sitting negatively affects the cardiovascular, lymphatic and digestive systems, not to mention your metabolism. Move wherever and whenever possible.
Problematic Mindset 2: “I am too busy…”
“I don’t have time” is the grown-up equivalent of “the dog ate my homework.”
If you justify being inactive because you are “too busy,” take a moment to ask yourself what is really going on. You may be busy, but are you really “too” busy?
Have you unconsciously or consciously structured your life so that your needs always come second?
Do you use the “I am too busy excuse” because you are trying to commit to a plan you hate?
Are you “too busy” because you are afraid of failure and therefore don’t want to try?
Are you “too busy” because you haven’t taken the time to rearrange your schedule?
The key is preparation, preparation, preparation. Of course you are too busy to work out if you haven’t carved out the time. Schedule in your workouts and analyze your upcoming week so you can troubleshoot possible problems and come up with solutions.
Make movement fun. If you hate something, you will always find other more “important” ways to use your time! Instead, make exercise palatable. Make a date with a friend or sign up for adult dance classes.
You are an adult — own your choices. If you decide not to exercise, fine, but state something like “I decided not to exercise today because I made something else a priority.”
Deciding not to exercise is okay — just acknowledge that it was a choice.
I know that if you are not a fitness professional whose job it is to be fit; training can’t (and shouldn’t) always take first priority. Other aspects of life, such as work and family, often need to come first. You may not always have time to go to the gym, but own your choices.
When you are legitimately too busy to spend two hours getting to and from the gym, figure out how you can weave motion into your day. Everyone has time to take the stairs instead of the escalator. Do squats and lunges as you watch your children practice their sport, walk your kids to school then jog or run home, or pace as you take conference calls. EVERYONE can pepper movement throughout their day.
Replace “I am too busy” with “Movement is a non-negotiable! Exercise is not an if, it is a when.”
If you let it, life will always take over. So, don’t let it. Commit to figuring out how to integrate some motion into every day of your life! There is no perfect week to start training; just put on your running shoes and go out for a walk!
Problematic Mindset 3: “The damage is already done …”
Too many of us let ourselves snowball once we have made one less-than-ideal health choice; we rationalize missing a workout or eating multiple treats by telling ourselves that the damage has already been done, so why not indulge further?
Well, the reason “why not” is because portions count, and all movement adds up. Missing one workout is not the same as missing five workouts. One cookie is not the same as seven. One glass of wine is not the same as drinking the bottle.
When I am tempted to let one unhealthy choice snowball into five or six, I remember an image of a tiered cake I found in Judith Beck’s book. Imagine a wedding cake with food choices written on each of its multiple tiers. Each tier represents an amount of food consumed in a sitting.
The top and smallest tier has something like a 100-calorie cookie written in it. In each lower tier the choices get more extravagant. The next tier might include two cookies, a piece of cake, and a hot chocolate that, if eaten, would total 800 calories. By the final tier — the bottom layer — there are thousands of calories of food listed within the box.
The lesson is that mindfully eating small portions of indulgences we love is a healthy part of life — but mindless binges are not physically or psychologically healthy. You can easily compensate for a small indulgence by going for a walk or eating more vegetables the following day.
If you let that one choice snowball into multiple indulgences it will take days (even weeks) to get back on track. Aim to only ever eat the top tier of the cake, and take the time to actually enjoy the food you are consuming.