I apologize if you have sent me an email and I have not responded yet. Same for voicemail. You see, I am very busy. I am very important and in demand, and I have so much work to do that I am just swamped. But of course I want to help you; let’s get together soon and talk about it!
This is how I used to live my life, back when I thought being busy meant I was valuable. A long, long time ago in a cubicle far, far away, I learned the snarky way that replying to emails too quickly gave the impression that I must not have very much work to do. And, that my job must not be very important if it didn’t generate enough work to keep me busy all day. “Must be nice,” a co-worker would comment when hearing chatter in the break room. Being busy, and therefore inaccessible, became a badge of worth. So I stayed busy. You better believe I never let on when my work load became more manageable. Oh no, I was very busy. And I never replied to an email too quickly, lest I be perceived as dispensable.
I quit that job. But not until after I had been hospitalized twice for exhaustion and so stressed out that I became sick. You see, that toxic work culture had seeped into my personal life, too, and I began to be uncomfortable with the feeling of not being busy. Free time felt lazy, and I felt guilty if I wasn’t making myself useful. Some of my drive for achievement was my DNA, but I had lost the zest I had for it. The need to be busy, and therefore valued, had replaced the sense of satisfaction I felt when worked hard to achieve a personal goal. So I scurried.
But I wanted off of that crazy train. Being chronically busy isn’t just exhausting, it’s unhealthy. Studies show that those of us in the fast lane eat more unhealthy food, smoke more cigarettes, experience more feelings of depression, have less quality sleep, and our bodies respond with obesity, hypertension, muscle spasms, ulcers, and sometimes the development of cancers.
Signs that you are too busy include feeling overwhelmed, overreacting to small disruptions in expectations, waking up feeling tired, chronic headaches, vague feelings of hopelessness that you will ever be able to catch a break, and resentment about it all. I had some of that writing on my wall, and I didn’t like what it said.
So I started doing something that felt very scary: admitting that I had free time. Well, that’s not completely true. First I created free time, by deciding to stop doing so much. It wasn’t easy, but the words of that emergency room doctor were still ringing in my ears, and I didn’t want to be a hypocrite of a wellness coach teaching others how to live in balance while I was so obviously off the rails. So I said a little prayer and did triage on my to-do list. What really needed to be done? What was a choice?
Then I had to face the real fear: being okay with not being busy, not being as busy as other people, and remembering that I was pulling my weight in life even if I wasn’t scurrying around, too busy to return a phone call. As a business owner, having free time was unnerving. Shouldn’t I be working? Shouldn’t I be capitalizing on an opportunity? There was guilt, especially when my mom friends vented at soccer practice about how busy they were. Between working full-time, managing the kids’ activities and school work, volunteering, trying to maintain a marriage and social life, and of course keeping up the image that they were handling it all just fine and raising a beautiful and adorably monogrammed family, they felt like their lives were a speeding train and they were just trying to hang on.
That’s when I started to feel sheepish, because I must be a bad mom to be so selfish with our time. Then I started to feel scandalous, because it felt good to go home and sit on the porch with my family and play Jenga. Then I started to feel rebellious, because I knew I was breaking the rules. And finally, I felt liberated, because nothing feels more natural to me than breaking the rules. This was something I could do well.
You can break out, too. My life is less busy, but more full. And I don’t feel guilty about it anymore. This week, say a prayer and let something go. Resist the urge to tell someone how busy you are. Recognize when you are truly being a responsible person or just choosing to take on too much. Be the rebel that is brave enough to admit that there’s not much going on today. “Must be nice,” they say? Yes, actually. Yes, it is.
Being called a control freak isn’t usually considered to be a compliment, but these days I am proud to be one. Don’t worry, I’m not going to start bossing everyone around, at least not any more than usual, and try to micromanage the decisions of the people around me. No, I’m focused on what I can control in my own life, because that’s where I can make the most progress on my health goals.
As a wellness coach, I hear a lot of “if/then” statements. If it’s not raining, then I can go for my jog. If the kids are in bed on time, then I can go to the gym. If I bring something healthy to the cookout, then I won’t overeat. These statements are somewhat productive and important, because they show a way of thinking that is focused on positive outcomes. I like that they demonstrate the way that that things could go well, rather than on the obstacles.
But, these statements are a deceptive, too. What if it is raining? What if the kids are up past bedtime? What if you don’t have time to pick up healthy food? What then? The flaw in this way of planning is when we rely on circumstances beyond our control, and fail to have a plan that can be executed regardless of what else happens.
I’m on the lookout for these if/then goals when I am working with my clients, and challenge them to take things one step further and fool-proof the goal. How can that workout happen even if the weather is bad? Is there a time you could go to the gym that doesn’t depend on the kids being in bed or your spouse being home from work on time or anything else out of your control? That’s when it is time to be a control freak.
From the time the alarm rings in the morning until we lay our heads on our pillows, it doesn’t often seem that much is in our direct control. We control more than we think, though. Not in the magic-wand-wielding your-wish-is-my-command kind of control that we think we want (be careful what you wish for), but rather, in the approach that we take towards the day, and whether it sets us up for positive outcomes.
There are two ways to apply this concept. Let’s start with the more pragmatic approach: switching from “if/then” to “even though”. Challenge yourself when making plans for healthy eating, food preparation, exercise, or other healthy habits to fool-proof (or reality-proof) your goals. Avoid making if/then goals, especially those with a heavy emphasis on the “if.” When you notice that you’re relying on something out of your control – the weather, your workload, other people, traffic – in order to take the next step in your goal, stop and find a way to make it an “even though,” goal. How can you make it so you have a success story even though a bunch of stuff happened? Sometimes the end result of this approach is a less impressive goal. That is okay! It’s better to have a smaller goal that is achieved on a consistent enough basis to generate change than a big impressive one that is never reached.
The second approach is in how we create our environment. We cannot control the person in the next cubicle but we can control how often we smile at them. Did you know your brain can’t tell the difference between a real smile and a fake one? Nope, it feels the rush of happy chemicals either way, and those happy chemicals make it easier for you to do good things for yourself later. We can’t control the weather, but we can control whether we have a backup plan for exercise. We can’t control the food someone else makes for a gathering, but we can control how much of it we eat. I know that one is hard, but yes, it is within your control. We can control whether we approach the day assuming good intent, looking for opportunities to succeed, or if we stomp around brooding about the ways things are unfair. Yes, these approaches to controlling our environment do just as much as the pen-to-paper work we do to achieve goals, because they put us in the best mindset for success to happen in the first place.
This week, be a control freak. Take control of how you set your goals: focus on the elements that you can actually influence, avoid falling into an if/then trap, and set your mind on creating an environment where success can happen by expecting the best. Step away from the rest. When you’re in control, none of that matters.
When I pick up my son from school, I walk by a car with a bumper sticker that says, “if it can go well, it will.” It’s a nice reminder to let go and let things happening, remembering that everything always works out okay. But sometimes I still fight it, especially when things don’t seem to go my way.
Like the other day. I was stuck on a project so I decided to make myself a snack. I toasted some bread, and spread some peanut butter on top. I reached for a banana to slice and make myself a nice pb&b, but knocked the jar over, landing it right in the peanut butter. I righted it and went back for my banana, but this time I managed to knock the bread right off the counter. I caught it right before it hit the floor, then it fell out of my hand and landed on the kitchen rug, peanut butter side down. “Hm,” I thought, looking down at my failed snack, “I think maybe I shouldn’t be making a snack when I am not hungry.”
Last week I was on the phone with a client who told me that he would have no problem with his goal of not eating any more ginger snaps because his dog had eaten all of them. He came home from work and all that was left was a few scraps of the box and a guilty dog. “Wow,” I said. “Sounds like the universe did you a favor.” He laughed and agreed.
It was then that a different idea occurred to me. Maybe the universe wasn’t working against us, after all. Maybe it was working for us, like a guardian angel protecting us from our stupid ideas.
My friend and his workout buddy headed to the gym one morning, only to find that every machine they usually use was being repaired, reupholstered, or being used by someone else. They had to change their plan and use different equipment. As a result, they found some new exercises they liked better and felt like they had a better workout than they expected. It seemed like their guardian angel was hard at work, too.
All of these blessings disguised as annoyances reminded me of one of my favorite songs, “You Got It,” by Roy Orbison. Whenever I hear it, I crank it up and sing along because it feels like a love song from the universe to us:
“I’m glad to give my love to you.
I’m glad you feel the way I do.
Anything you want, you got it.
Anything you need you got it.
Anything at all, you got it, baby.”
Call it what you want – the universe, a guardian angel, that inner voice, a higher power – but pay attention to those times when it gently turns you away from a choice that can sabotage your health and back to the straight and narrow. It may seem like an annoyance, an obstacle, or like things just not going your way, but sometimes the best course to a healthier path isn’t knocking down the obstacles, but honoring them. The trick is in knowing the difference.
Luckily, that’s pretty easy. That tricky little angel on your shoulder isn’t trying to thwart you, but pave the road for your success. Let it do its job! Knock down the obstacles that block you from progress, and obey the ones that keep you on the right path, even if a detour looks appealing.
If the Girl Scouts are out of your favorite cookies, don’t settle for less. Make a donation and consider it a gift. When your favorite television show didn’t get recorded by the DVR, don’t turn on Netflix. Head outside for a walk. When there’s a 45-minute wait to get into your favorite restaurant, don’t have a seat at the bar. Go somewhere that offers a healthier meal on your schedule. When we listen to these nudges the first time, oh, the rewards are so incredible.
Anything you want, you got it. Anything you need, you got it. Anything at all, you got it. If you’re letting it all work out.
Have you ever seen the restaurant menus that show the number of calories for each entrée and compared a burger to a salad? I have been shocked to learn how a salad could have more calories than a cheeseburger and thought, “well shoot. If it’s the same number of calories either way, I’m getting the burger next time and enjoying myself!” After all, weight loss is about calories in and calories out, right? As long as there is a net deficit at the end of the day, it’s all good, right?
Well, kind of. Yes, math matters in the world of weight loss and a consistent calorie deficit is key to progress. But nutrition science shows us that not all calories are created equal. It does matter whether you order the salad or the burger, even if they are the name number of calories.
Consider this tale of two diets: each totaling the same number of calories but with different levels of nutritional quality:
Each adds up to just over 2,000 calories, which is a recommended calorie range for most active adults. Which would you choose? Does it matter?
Yes. What we eat matters for weight loss, and also for energy, immunity, bone strength, muscle development, and brain health. Oh, and our likelihood of weight loss success, too. While each meal plan offers the same number of calories and might look the same when entered into an online food journal, one reflects a person at odds with their needs, and the other demonstrates someone who has joined their own team and is playing smart.
If you weren’t sure, the second meal plan is the one that wins. That’s because the high-fiber, nutrient-rich, complex (in a good way) foods that make up those calories not only do your body a lot of health favors, they also keep you full longer and make it easier to make healthy choices later in the day.
Plan two wins in other ways, too. The first option appears to have meals balanced with carbohydrates, protein, and fat but includes no fruit and offers carbohydrates in the form of processed, quick-releasing sources, like cereal and bread. Someone eating this way every day may find it hard to resist the temptation for a sweet snack in the afternoon, a pick-me-up coffee, or a quick burst of energy from a convenient snack.
The second option also offers plenty of carbohydrate-fueled energy, but from complex courses that include fiber and protein. These help us stay satisfied longer, avoid surges in appetite, and keep blood sugars stable. The fruits and vegetables provide minerals and nutrients, and the plant-based fats and protein (beans, avocado, olive oil, nut butters) fuel your brain. Same number of calories, but totally different levels of helpfulness to you.
Years ago, I practically lived off of Lean Cuisine, Weight Watchers desserts, diet soda (calorie free) and packaged protein bars. I meticulously logged it all in my online food journal and strived to stay within the calorie range that would result in weight loss. I felt very responsible and organized because I was doing such a great job of counting my calories. But, I was plagued by cravings, distracted by every temptation, and always waiting for the next time I could eat. I felt like I was always at odds with myself, battling energy, motivation, and that voice in my head that begged for more.
I was playing by the rules of weight loss, but I wasn’t truly on my own team. The boxes were checked off - calorie goal met: check; workout complete: check – but I was just providing myself with the bare minimum and withholding the kind of teamwork that could actually help me win. As a result, I was treading water. As I learned more about nutrition, my habits changed, and I became a true partner with myself. The 20/20 hindsight seems pretty obvious now, and the changes in my health and my body are night and day.
Your body is showing up every day and working hard to keep you going. Are you just checking off the boxes of healthy living, or are you really teaming up with yourself, bringing your best effort to the team, and collaborating for a win? If it feels like you are constantly battling yourself to stay on the healthy path, consider whether you are working for the right team.
A frustrated client vented to me this week about her slow results with weight loss. She had been diligent with her workouts, seeing progress in strength and stamina, and even gotten a compliment at the gym. But her bathroom scale told a different story, and her clothes still felt tight. She felt like given the effort she was putting in, she should be losing weight faster. I agreed. She had been working hard, and she should be experiencing faster results. As much as we fitness professionals would love to provide a scientific and logical answer for why this happens, sometimes we’re as stumped as you are. The human body is a tricky thing.
She was in a funk about it for the rest of the day. Suddenly she doubted her progress, as if she had imagined her workouts getting easier or the energy she had never had before. It was remarkable how quickly she had transitioned from celebrating another day of passing on the office snacks to feeling defeated and confused.
I asked if I could issue a challenge, and suggested she take her eyes off the prize for a while, and just enjoy the instant results she was experiencing every day: the endorphins, increased energy, and personal satisfaction for eating healthfully. I wanted her to take her focus away from having the outcome and put it on doing the things.
“Doing the things,” is the foundation of progress. Consistently doing the things – the action steps — that lead to the outcome is an almost guaranteed path to success and happiness. In this case, the things are good old fashioned healthy living: eating the right amount of wholesome foods and getting some exercise. As I wrote last week, the payoff of these simple tasks is immediate and transformative. Enjoy that! Are you ready to take your eyes off the prize and enjoy the ride for a while? Here’s how.
Get off of the scale. I’ve seen many good days ruined by stepping on a scale for validation. Proceed with caution. A scale is one way to measure a change in body composition, but there is a lot more to the story than your weight. You can create a healthier relationship with your scale – or choose to break up with it completely – by taking a look at the whole picture.
The amount that your body weighs changes throughout the day, week, and month depending on many factors. Your level of hydration, hormonal state, sleep quality, stress levels, and what you ate for dinner last night all contribute to what those three numbers are. If you use a scale to maintain your weight, give yourself a range of three to five pounds that you are comfortable with and don't worry about your weight until it is above that threshold for a few days.
Focus on habits, not outcomes. Ideally, the things we do to lose weight and maintain weight loss are the same things: eating sensibly, using moderation, and exercising regularly at a challenging level. These habits are the foundation of both outcomes and only vary in intensity based on how our goals change over time. Sometimes establishing and maintaining these healthy habits can seem like work because they require a certain level of planning and discipline.
But, the rewards are almost instantaneous: the endorphins of exercise, the energy of healthy eating, and sense of personal pride in taking care of ourselves kick in right away! Why wait for the scale to show up to the party when you can feel great now? Focus on what you are doing to live healthier, and you won’t care as much whether that hunk of plastic agrees with you.
Use more than one method of measuring results. The fact that my client felt stronger, more energetic, and that her results were noticed by others was a big indication that she was doing the right things to lose weight even if the scale’s report was underwhelming. Before stepping on the scale, try on a pair of pants that were snug a month ago. How do they fit? If the size of your body is not increasing, then the number on the scale is just an illusion!
I asked my client to commit to a month of focusing on the doing of the things – instead of the having of the outcome – before she stepped on a scale again. I want her to weigh what matters: the consistency and intensity of her workouts, the quality and quantity of the food she eats, and the opportunities she takes to be proactive about changing her habits. I invite you to do the same and enjoy having the outcome right now.
A recent conversation with a client was the most fun I’ve had at work in quite a while.
She had set a goal of exercising three to four times week, and this was a point of struggle for her because she had a busy job, a long commute, and was tired when she got home. But, she had enjoyed success by changing her nutrition habits and knew she needed to add in exercise to see it continue and to further protect herself from heart disease. So, off she went.
A couple of weeks later, she was hitting her goal like a pro. I asked her what the trigger was that got her from the couch and up doing an exercise DVD. Her answer was so simple and so awesome: I just love how I feel.
Yes! But there was more. She went on to tell me that even when she had a long day at work and was really tired, she exercised because she knew she would feel better right away.
I wanted to clarify this point and make sure I understood exactly what she was saying, so I asked her to confirm what I heard: the results from exercising were immediate, positive, and attainable. Yes, she said. They were.
I was floored. This was fantastic news! Just a few weeks prior, she had been frustrated that her progress had stalled, and she was at a crossroads for what to do. She was confused, because she was still working hard but her body wasn’t changing as much as it was before. She sighed and confessed, “I know, I want instant results. I need to give it time.”
But now she was positively giddy, telling me that exercising made her feel so good right away that she was looking forward to her workouts after a long day at work. It was not possible to have a bigger smile on her face.
The New Year is a month old, and if you began a new health and fitness program on Jan. 1 (OK, if we’re being honest, Jan. 3) you may have already stepped on the scale a few times to see whether your hard work is paying off. And for some of us, they are elusive. The scale might not be budging, your clothes might still be a little more snug than you’d hoped, and you may be wondering what the point is if nothing is going to change.
Stick with it. Those changes you can see in the mirror and feel in your belt are coming. But the impact of healthy living is more instant than we are led to believe. Chief among those is the immediate benefit of feeling great, which my client was enjoying every single day. But there is important work being done on the inside of your body, too. Stuff you can’t see. But check out these instant results from daily exercise and healthy eating.
Worried about diabetes? Exercise reduces insulin levels in your blood and improves your insulin sensitivity. That means you and your brain are better able to partner up to notice when you are full and don’t need to keep eating.
Feeling stuck on a project at work? Exercise helps with neurogenesis, which is the creation of new brain cells. A walk and some fresh air can lead to more clarity of thought, productivity, and energy to work.
Exercise is proven to boost our mood to the point where we can alleviate symptoms of clinical depression. Just thirty minutes a few times a week can make a difference. But don’t just stroll around. Work up a good sweat and get your heart and lungs pumping! Get your money’s worth!
Feeling a little low on self-confidence? Battling anxiety? Go and do a strength-training workout or join an exercise class. Exercise can boost self-esteem and improve body image, making your feel like a million bucks. And when you feel good, you look good. More instant benefits! Could this get any better? You betcha.
Not only does exercise immediately make you feel amazing, raise your intellect, and make it easier to eat healthily, it burns calories, which leads to weight loss. Yes! You can even lose weight, on top of feeling great whenever you want to. Oh, and exercise also lowers your blood pressure, enhances sleep quality, reduces cholesterol…should I go on?
My client and I were laughing and cheering over the phone as we marveled in her discovery. Happiness, relaxation, lower stress…it was all attainable within minutes and completely in her control. In fact, the two things that were guaranteed to bring her a lifetime of happiness were two things she had complete control over: what she ate and whether or not she exercised. Instant gratification was sitting right next to her this whole time.
It’s sitting next to you, too. You can join her and feel amazing today. Right now! I hope you will, and that your smile will not be able to get bigger. You deserve to feel great. What are you waiting for?
When it comes down to the business of losing weight, there are a few standard tactics that we all turn to: eat less, move around more, and try not to screw it all up on the weekends. In most cases, those approaches work great, and when we apply them consistently, change happens pretty predictably. But, as many of us have experienced, there are other times when the standard approach hits a wall, and results become more elusive.
The solution can be as simple as adjusting calorie intake for a new body weight or shaking up the old exercise routine to get things moving again. But other times, we’ve let old habits creep back in and fill the gap between weight loss and weight maintenance. That’s when most of my clients say, “are you going to make me keep a food journal?” And I reply, “I am not going to make you do anything. But yes.”
But not for the reasons you might think. Yes, if you want to lose weight then the math of calories in and calories out is something to pay attention to. But food journaling isn’t just about portions and calories. Sometimes, the best awareness we can build is the behind the scenes motivations for why we are eating, not what. Consider keeping a different type of food journal that encourages you to qualify your food before you quantify it.
I have three rules for food logging, and they are easy to follow. First, if you bite it, you write it. I would say that if you swallow it you write it, but that doesn’t rhyme and rhyming is more fun. The point here is that every bite of food contains calories, even the healthy ones. Yes, it is completely possible to sabotage your weight loss by eating too much healthy food! So, if weight loss is a goal and it seems like you are doing everything right and not making progress, it might be time to get into the nitty gritty and focus in on the details. Write it down. Everything. Yes, even that.
Second, resist the temptation to evaluate what you just wrote down. This is data collection, not a performance review. If you don’t like what you wrote, that’s cool. You can change how you eat any time you’d like. But in the initial stages of food journaling, I just want you to write it down and put it on the list of things you ate, without deciding whether it makes you good, bad, or ugly. It just is.
And third, be as accurate as you can be with your portion sizes. Sometimes that means counting out how many nuts were in that handful. Sometimes that means putting your ice cream bowl on a digital food scale and portioning out exactly what you intend to log. Yes, there is a lot of counting things in weight loss. That’s okay because counting things is easy. I’ll bet you’ve been counting since you were a kid, right? See? You’re already a pro.
Those are my rules. Shake off the apprehension and guilt and just track what you eat, as if you are observing someone other than yourself. Once you are logging away, it’s time to take your food journal from a simple list of things you ate into something from which you can learn and draw conclusions.
Look for patterns. Perhaps make a note of why you decided to eat, how hungry you were, and how you felt afterward. Ask yourself whether you’d like to keep doing things that way, and if you want to change, what would have been a better idea. What can you do to make that easier next time?
Pay attention to the time that you eat to identify whether you are eating at regular intervals or going too long between meals. If you are a creature of habit, you may find that you eat at the same time of the day whether you are hungry or not. If you are always in survival mode, you may be surprised to see how long it’s been since you last ate.
Take a big-picture look at your food journal and look for the obvious signs of what needs to change. It is my philosophy that sustainable change affects as few areas of our life as possible, so I take the approach of changing as few things as possible to set things in motion again. Look at what you’ve eaten objectively, and ask yourself if you are creating an environment where you can be successful or one where you are doomed to fail.
Change is not easy, but if the payoff is great enough, it can be rewarding. Awareness leads to behavior change, so being honest about why you decided to eat can play a leading role in forming new habits. Put down the calculator, step back and look at the big picture, and take a holistic approach to your food journal this week.
A friend and I are about 15 days into a 30-day pushup challenge.
It started innocently enough; I needed some external motivation to work on building my upper body strength, and I knew he would be up for some friendly competition. So, I found a simple month-long push-up challenge and off we went, smack-talking our way to stronger muscles.
It didn’t take long before we decided that our next challenge would be pull-ups. I’ve never been able to master them, and it’s been a goal of mine for years. Surprisingly, I was able to find a program that will allow us to start with being able to do zero pull-ups, and it is set for February.
Soon after, it became apparent to me that what I really needed was an ab challenge. Perfect for March! But March seemed kind of far away, and I wanted to get started. Thankfully, that wise, practical voice of reason tapped me on the brain and whispered, “pssst! Heather! You know abs start in the kitchen!”
Have you ever heard that abs are made in the kitchen? You may also hear your health guru friends say that fitness is 80 percent nutrition and 20 percent exercise. It’s a reference to the power of nutrition in building a better body, and the amazing head start we can give ourselves when we let our workouts and our nutrition be best friends forever.
So, I created this 4-week abs challenge that requires no exercise. If you keep saying you don’t have time to exercise, this is definitely the plan for you! Just follow these week-by-week instructions and you’ll see amazing changes in your body! This is a progressive challenge, so each week you will add to the skill set you have established. Don’t worry, you can totally do this.
In the first week of the challenge, do three sets of not going through the drive-through for any meal. That means three times during the week, do not buy food through a window. Or over a counter of an establishment that also sells food through windows. Also, add in three sets of drinking a bottle of water with each meal. Add some lemon, mint, and cucumber to that water and let it steep overnight to create a tea that further eliminates belly bloat.
In addition to the week one tasks, in the second week we will add four sets of replacing animal fats with plant-based fats. That means four days out of the week, eliminate butter, cheese, cream, and red meat and replace it with fats that come from plants, such as avocado, nuts, olives or soybeans. Then, add three sets of including leafy green vegetables in your meals. You don’t have to adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet to see changes, just some of the practices. Don’t worry, if the vegetables make you hate the way you feel, you can always go back to your old ways.
In week three, you get a little bit of a break. You’ve been making a lot of changes, so this is an easy week. In addition to the habits of the first two weeks, add four sets of decreasing the amount of sugar in your beverages. Opt for plain coffee or tea instead of a frozen coffee drink. Skip the sports drink and drink water instead. Hey, you asked for a challenge, right? Real change comes from real change!
By now, you may be feeling lighter, more energetic, and slimmer around the middle. It’s working! Now we’re ready to increase the intensity. In week four, continue the practices of the first three weeks and add two sets of fewer alcoholic drinks and five sets of replacing anger with gratitude. Relax, you don’t have to give up alcohol entirely, just drink less of it less frequently. When you start to feel aggravation or anger brewing inside of you, stop and redirect that energy into gratitude for the opportunity to grow and evolve as a person.
Just go with me on this one, I promise you’ll like it.
Once the month is over, if you want to stop doing the habits that have brought you such great results, you are welcome to do so. Begin by slowly reintroducing each unhealthy habit one at a time. If you begin to notice a reaction, such as your waistline increasing in size, that may indicate a habit that you are sensitive to. Speak with your doctor to determine whether you need to be worried about that.
No time to exercise? Hate doing crunches? Bad back? Not a problem. Give this four-week abs challenge a go and results are practically guaranteed. I can’t promise it will be easy or that you will not need to do it more than once. But, if you don’t like the results, let me know. I like a challenge.
Do you find yourself reaching for a snack when you’re stumped on a project at work? Does it feel weird to watch TV and not nibble on something? Does making something to eat come to mind whenever you are bored? If so, you may be a mindless emotional eater.
Mindless emotional eating is any time you are eating for reasons other than hunger. A client expressed surprise recently when I mentioned emotional eating habits, because from her perspective, she wasn’t eating to soothe a broken heart or calm anxiety or avoid dealing with difficult emotions. But any time we reach for food and eat even though we are not hungry, we are eating mindlessly. If we feel gratification from eating even when we are not hungry, we are eating emotionally. It’s OK. We all do it.
What might not be OK, though, is the impact that it has on your health. Obesity is at an all-time high, and weight loss is a common goal at this time of year. Often, the catalyst for that weight loss is simply getting a handle on mindless and emotional eating. But, since what may be simple is not always easy, here’s how to go about it.
First, recognize that you are doing it. Just noticing that it is happening helps. Knowing why helps, too, but right now I just want you to notice it. “Woah, I just reached for one of those cookies even though I am not hungry.” That is noticing. The most important part of this step is to avoid going into negative self-evaluation. That means ending the observation with, “I just did that,” and not continuing with, “I have no self-control. I am never going to be able to do this. Why did I let myself get this way?” Imagine one of your children berating themselves for making a mistake on a homework assignment or when completing a project. Would you stand idly by and let them put themselves down? Of course not! Let’s give ourselves the same courtesy. Notice that you’re doing the thing that you want to stop, and then move on to the next step.
The next step is to redirect yourself towards something else. Diet advice often encourages finding a distraction from the temptation, as if simply being out of sight will put it out of mind. It takes a deeper intention than just a distraction to change habits. I want you to redirect yourself towards something more productive. The difference between distracting and redirecting is in the purposeful intention to change, not just delay, gratification. The purpose is to become gratified by something else.
Make a list of activities that you can take on quickly when you notice that you are doing the old habit. For bonus points, include on that list some of the goals you may have set for the year. Did you resolve to read more books? Put that on the list. To stay in touch with loved ones more regularly? Write a hand-written note. To sharpen your brain power? Pull out a crossword puzzle. The key here is to not just distract yourself with something until the feeling goes away, but to purposely redirect yourself into an activity that actually feeds the life you want to be living. Distractions are a piddling away of time. Redirections are a better use of it.
Once you are engaged in your redirected habit, it is time for step three: acknowledge that you choosing to do something different and the reason why. It’s not enough to just say, “nope, not doing that,” and change course. Our pesky little brains will just try to go back later, and we’ll have to repeat the process over and over. Instead, tell yourself, “I just reached for those cookies even though I am not hungry. I’m committed to ending mindless eating. I’m going to read my book and learn about something new.”
Mindless eating habits develop just like mindless habits that are positive, too. How you pick up your tooth brush, put on your seat belt, or make your coffee happen without you giving much notice to them, right? But when you first learned how to do those things, you paid more attention so you could learn. The way we mindlessly nibble on food throughout the day has developed in the same way, but that can change. Yes, you can tell your brain what to think! Notice, redirect, and acknowledge the intent. You did it when you learned how to brush your teeth, and you can do it with anything else.
Do you have a mindless habit that needs some attention? Look for opportunities this week to redirect yourself into something that is not just a distraction, but a better use of your time.
Feed your life!
In case you haven’t heard, it’s a new year, and time for a new you. All of the commercials and advertisements say so! Out with the old you; move over for the new and improved version. As I drove through town last week and listened to a radio commercial encourage to enter a sweepstakes so I could become the new me, I wondered, “what if I like the old me?”
Okay, I know that’s not what they meant. But still, as I listened to the words and absorbed “new year, new me” messages on billboards and in magazines, it kind of felt that way. The truth is, unless you’re going out every day and purposely trying to screw things up for people, you’re just fine the way you are. No new you needed.
But, if the new year has you thinking about taking things to the next level, adding some new skills, and fine-tuning your current level of spectacular, then you may have made some new year resolutions. And your friendly neighborhood wellness coach wants to know: why?
That's the first question to ask when embarking on new goals: why? Why is reaching the goal important to you? Why is now the time to act? Why are you excited about the outcome? Why haven't you done it already? The answers to these questions become part of the vision statement that you can turn to when the work gets hard. Knowing why you started in the first place is helpful in February, when the New Year shine wears off and reality sets in. And all of the other times when you don't wanna.
Knowing the motivation for your resolutions can also help you identify when it is misplaced. I recently came across a quote that I saved because it spoke to me and so many of my clients when we are going through times of change: "Confidence is not about knowing they will like you. Confidence is about knowing you'll be okay if they don't."
When the answers to why a goal is important to achieve include being accepted by others and reaching their expectations, that’s a signal that motivation is misplaced. Your resolutions and goals are best when they come from a place of confidence, not shame. Your goals are more rewarding when they fuel your heart and soul, and yes you deserve that, regardless of whether others approve. But how do we get there as a starting point? If the motivation for your goals feel a little misplaced, consider these tips for building confidence in the new year.
Look Your Best. Are you wearing baggy or tight clothes because you’re waiting to lose weight before buying new ones? Buy clothes that fit you now and the boost will be a big one. I used to put off buying new clothes until I reached a goal weight, but when I needed an outfit for a special event and bought one that fit, just feeling better in my clothes gave me the energy to work on my weight. Get a haircut. Spruce yourself up. When you feel good, good things happen!
Tackle Small Projects First. Nothing breeds success like success, even small victories! Get some momentum by knocking out some easy things you’ve been procrastinating on, and ride that wave of confidence into bigger goals. Get on a roll! It doesn’t have to be a fast one. Just get going.
Zap Negative Thoughts. There’s a difference between being a realist and being negative. It’s totally healthy to be realistic about whether a goal is likely to be reached. But when you notice your brain saying mean and negative things to you, that will become a confidence killer in an instant. Pay attention to when you hear yourself get caught in negative self-talk, and stop it immediately when you notice it. Negative thoughts can be reversed with a message as simple as, “it’s not so bad, I can do this,” or “just five more minutes and then maybe a break.” Ease yourself into just a bit more, and confidence will grow.
Seek Opportunities to Give. Being kind and generous with your time and resources makes other people feel great, and it makes you feel great as well. Even better, serving others connects you with other people who are also serving others, and their positive energy will rub off on you, becoming an endless cycle of good stuff. If you’re not sure about this one, just give it a try and see what happens. I will give you all your happiness back if it doesn’t work.
Confidence is not about knowing they will like you. Confidence is about knowing you'll be okay if they don't. Embrace the new year, the old you, and the awesome power you have to up your game in 2017. Happy New Year!
About This Blog
Each week, I write the "Healthy Heather Blog" in the Tallahassee Democrat. It is republished here in case you are not a subscriber (what???). Sometimes it is really good and other times it is just okay. Thanks for reading it regardless of your opinion!