How many of you ask yourself “what am I eating? And why?” every time you put food in your mouth? This isn’t a judgment-based question. If you ask yourself what you’re eating and your answer is: “not the best choice but I’m gonna eat it anyway”, okay! It’s less important that you give the answer you’d hope for and more important that the answer is true and honest. Being unafraid, or better yet, being habitual in asking yourself what’s going on in your mind, heart, and body is more impacting than the answers to those questions. The questions are where we all begin the journey to health and happiness. When you begin with curiosity, your follow-through with healthy choice is far more likely to happen than when you begin with disappointment, judgment and criticism.
I have been asking myself questions for nearly 4 years now, fairly consistently. It has been the most significant and impacting change in my health. With food as the example, when I ask myself “Do you really want this greasy burger and fries”, most of the time the answer is “NO”. However, when I decide to have it, I do so fully acknowledging my choice. I know how my head will feel tomorrow. I know which way my mood will swing, what my body will feel like. Oddly enough, worrying what my body will look like has never been enough of a motivator for me to put down the fries. It brings shame and guilt, not results. I’ve found that the only thing that brings change, no matter what my goals are, is curiosity : questions, asked kindly and without judgment.
Before we can work on action and behavior, we have to work on what’s in our head because it all starts there. We didn’t accidentally eat our way into poor health overnight. We need to understand what we are willing to do to get what we want? What are you willing to prioritize in your life? Just one better decision per day is all it takes to move forward but you have to choose it, daily.
Regarding my health goals, I always ask myself one more question at the juncture of bad decision/better decision- but it’s an important one: “Am I willing to give up feeling great tomorrow?” Do I want a mood swing, a lack of confidence, and a dis-ease in my body and digestion? Believe it or not, sometimes I do say “yep, I’m willing to take that on”. Most of the time, however, it’s “no way, too much I want to do (be) tomorrow.”
Now, we’re not always in our right minds to ask or answer such questions. If I’m in grief or fear mode or under severe stress, it’s tempting to numb the feelings with comfort foods. As we all know, numbing doesn’t change anything other than our ability to cope with reality. The grief of my heart turns into body grief with nutrient poor foods. I know this now. The grief feels more hopeless, the motivation to take care of myself diminishes and the sadness of my heart gets confused with my physical discomfort. But it happens. We make mistakes in self-care every day. The best advice I can give on this point is this: once you’ve made a nutritionally less healthy choice, the goal is forgiveness. Immediate, sincere and with a re-commitment to return to your strategies.
Don’t have strategies? Time to get some! Ever wonder why diets are so effective in the short term? Or why you exercise more with a Fitbit on? Or why riding your bike to work is great the first week and easy to skip out on as soon as it rains? Overriding the neuro pathways in your brain is exciting and it gets a lot of attention. Neuro pathways are those superhighways in your brain you create by doing something over and over. They are a very strong force to reckon with and the only way to overpower them is to do something new that takes attention and focus. Yet, it’s hard to keep it up once the excitement is over. You have neither the habit nor the excitement. Enter the second week slump. We aren’t salmon swimming upstream or birds flying south. We don’t have an instinct that overrules everything else. As humans, we must choose.
So with the temptation of comfort, the absence of excitement, and the ease of habit, what do we have to work with? What is it that drives us onward? What makes up swim against the current? It’s hope and determination that gets us through. We want to be better. You are reading this because you want to feel better; lead your happiest life. But this isn’t all or nothing. We won’t win this battle without some compromise.
For example, if you won’t give up dairy fat, even though it slows your fat loss that you so desperately want, you will learn patience and take success at a slower pace. You won’t have what you want overnight but it’s a compromise between what you want now and in the future. You want to build strong muscles but you can’t find the time to go to the gym, so you do pushups while you’re waiting for a call or crunches on the floor of your office on a break. You miss the value of the full gym workout but you’re heading in the right direction.
As you develop strategies, the first thing I’m going to tell you might be irritating. If fixing your life through healthy habits were easy, everyone would have done it by now. And no matter what you read on Pinterest, you can’t life hack your way out of 20, 30, 40 years of bad habits. However, should you want to feel good badly enough, live a healthy and productive life, and find the energy you lost along the way, it can be done. And it’s very simple. Never easy, but truly simple. You choose, you step forward and you come up with strategies to start and to continue – mistake after mistake.
Sometimes you’ll compromise and sometimes you’ll let it go (whatever “it” is) because we have to choose what matters to us most. I have a silly story that reminded me of my choices over the summer. I was out on my deck and I looked over the fence. I saw my neighbor’s greenhouse that he recently completed. It was lovely. And I found myself feeling envy. I have wanted a greenhouse for years, almost as many years as I’ve wanted anything I don’t currently own. It was made with restored old window frames – beautiful and functional. After sitting with my envy for a few minutes, I went to my strategy of “review options and choose”. I decided I had 3 options: build one; order a prefabricated one online; or just enjoy the view and leave it on my wish list. Pre-fab would be functional for a while but would end up in a landfill somewhere, never actually satisfying my desires, aesthetically or practically. Building one would take months and complete dedication. My neighbor took the summer to build his, including a week off work where he did nothing but work on it. I looked at these options and decided to leave it on the list for now. I’ll enjoy the view while I dream about my future greenhouse. All that changed was my emotional attachment and the guilt that I wasn’t doing something about it. But that little change was HUGE in its impact on me.
When I think of health I see a correlation to this – the yo-yo dieting is the pre-fab item you can order online. It doesn’t last because it’s not meant to. It’s meant to sell product, to make money. You can embrace where you are now and enjoy what you have. Or you can choose action towards your health goals, which is far more important than anything you can own. Truth be told, you have to work on having gratitude for your life as it is and embrace yourself as you are today to be able to build a successful health goal.
So, want to create some strategies? A few quick ones for you to consider. These will be about food, but you can adjust them to suit your own goals:
- Support team. Find your tribe. Not tomorrow but today. Make it a priority. Find people to support your choices and help you through the rough spots. You can join us at My1FitLife or make a support group of your own with friends and family.
- Schedule a prep hour in your week. Pick a day and time where you’re committed to prep for your week. Cook up a stew, soup or chili to get your through a few dinners and lunches. Cut up some vegetables for quick carbs or a salad. Grill a chicken breast for fast protein or a topping for your salad.
- Plan your meals for the week. Using something like my meal chart, pick and choose to create a balance meal plan throughout the week. Spend 15 minutes per week on Pinterest seeking recipes for ingredients you have on hand or new ones you’ve yet to try.
- Learn more about what you’re eating. Read labels, use apps like BUYCOTT to know more about the product’s company. Try Fooducate for basic product ratings.
- Set goals! Write them down. Create small steps for each goal that you can check off 1 by 1. Make them easy to accomplish, measurable and attainable (something you can actually do).
One of my strategies for clean eating is to make my own stuff. I make my own almond milk in less than 10 minutes every 3 days – there is no cost savings to do this but the quality is clean and delicious. I also make salsa, ketchup, bbq sauce, hummus, protein smoothies and cheese made from cashews. By having these staples on hand, my snack and lunch choices are easy. And there is a beneficial health and financial impact to doing it this way. No more massive refrigerator cleaning with bottles, cans and packages heading to the garbage.
A great place to be is this: I know I can do better but I’m happy with where I am. This is an empowering statement of balance. You have goals to improve your life, happiness, skill, and wisdom. Better yet, you are happy with who you are, grateful for what you have, and aware of how far you’ve come. I mean you’re here right?