We all know the benefits of working out and eating well, but when it comes to our health, knowing and doing -- especially doing over the long-term -- are two very different things! Sure, most of us can be dedicated for a few days -- sometimes a few months -- but long-term change is a whole other ballgame.
I spent the first 18 years of my life on the "be healthy, quit, be healthy, quit" see-saw. As a teenager I was incredibly unhealthy. My mom gave me a membership to the YMCA as a graduation gift. I started to run and lift weights. Before I knew it, the girl who would do anything to get out of gym class was running marathons and lifting weights.
In large part I became a personal trainer and fitness writer to share my appreciation and respect for healthy living. If I have learned one thing from my 15 years in the health field, it is that there is no "one-size-fits-all" health plan; everybody is different. Everyone requires a tailored recipe for success.
The problem is, creating a personalized yet effective health plan is tricky, and although there are copious generic programs available, in my opinion realistic and intelligent health guidance is somewhat lacking. In an attempt to fill the lacunae, I wrote Finding Your Fit: A Compassionate Trainer's Guide to Making Fitness a Lifelong Habit. The intent of the book -- due out October 1st, 2016 -- is to provide readers with the tools needed to build their own health recipe so that they can connect the dots between wanting to make a health change and actually making it.
Can't wait for October 1st? No problem. Here are the two main take-aways.
1. Own your health choices; take the time to actively "set yourself up for health success" -- the key words being own and actively. You are an adult; take responsibility for your health choices.
Adopting a healthier lifestyle isn't a passive process. If you don't take the time to set yourself up for success, you might as well be setting yourself up for failure.
Always have a plan...and then a back-up plan.
For example, don't decide you are "destined" to be inactive when you have a busier-than-normal week. Instead, use my "piggyback" strategy. Pinpoint daily, non-negotiable habits that you already do, then turn them into a workout: turn your daily dog walk into a jog or interval workout or have meetings with your colleagues while walking.
As for nutrition, decide in advance how you will handle every event. When going to a restaurant, read the menu online and decide in advance what you will order. Going to someone's house? Offer to bring a healthy option. When in doubt, opt for a lean protein and lots of vegetables, never eat while standing, use a smaller plate when possible, and be mindful of your portions.
2. Stop trying to follow someone else's version of a "perfect" program; put together a unique and realistic plan tailored to fit your individual lifestyle realities.
The plan should take into account your goals, your health history, your lifestyle, your finances, your genetics, and your unique relationship with food. You can stress eat or binge eat out of loneliness on any diet -- lots of people overeat gluten-free cake and Paleo treats. If you don't become aware of your eating patterns, your personal food habits will simply follow you from nutrition program to nutrition program.
A few more helpful take-aways
-When you fall off your health horse, don't allow that not-so-great choice to spiral into multiple unhealthy choices. Instead, learn from your unhealthy decisions so you get back on a more informed rider. Did you let yourself get too hungry? Were you emotionally eating? Did you not take the time to set yourself up for success? Make a mental note of what went wrong, then proactively avoid those situations in the future.
-Adopting a healthier lifestyle is a marathon, not a sprint. Your unhealthy habits were not formed in a day. It is unrealistic to think they can be replaced overnight. Aim to simply have a greater number of healthy habits this month than you had last month --"trend positive."
-Adopting a healthier lifestyle is about self-care, and it is a privilege. It is easy to forget that eating well and exercising are things we are doing for ourselves, not to ourselves. Embrace how lucky you are to have the power to make healthy choices. Find modes of exercise that you are genuinely excited to do; garden, walk with friends, or play a sport. Think of healthy foods that you love -- such as fresh berries or sweet potatoes -- then include those in your weekly diet.
-Some movement is always better than no movement. Every bit of motion adds up, and every situation can be reframed as an opportunity for movement.
-Frame daily movement as a "non-negotiable." Instead of thinking of movement as an if, frame moving as a when.
-Anything worth doing takes mindfulness and perseverance -- and almost nothing is more important than your health.
Finally, remember that when it comes to exercise, getting started is usually the hardest part so use my 10-minute rule. Tell yourself you have to do something for at least 10 minutes. Anyone can do anything for 10 minutes. If after 10 minutes you want to stop, fine. At least you will have done something. Once you start you will usually end up doing a full workout.
Basically, stop waiting for the "perfect" day to start moving. Get up and go for a walk!
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