Last week, I watched a good portion of Hurricane Michael blow through Tallahassee from my front porch. As a lifelong southerner, I’ve seen a few tropical storms and hurricanes, and find myself stuck between being in awe of the power of nature and wanting to give it a wide enough berth to show my respect. This storm was no different, and as I sipped my coffee and wondered how long the power would last, I sat under the cover of my porch and watched the trees.
I have a lot of pine trees around my house. I have some of the big fat ones and some of the spindly little ones, and I had placed my bets on which would survive and which would not. As the bands of wind and rain came through, the trees began to sway. And then they began to bend. That’s when I went inside and moved to the window.
I watched the trees bend and thought about their root system. I wondered how far the roots went down and how far over a pine tree could bend. I wondered whether it was better to be a big fat tree or a little skinny tree. And, I noticed some things.
A while ago I saw a quote with a picture of a tree that said, “if you do not like life’s circumstances, move. You are not a tree.” It made me feel kind of bad for trees, because they can’t move from their circumstances. They have to stand there and take it, whether it is a drought or a category four hurricane.
We are like that sometimes too. Sometimes circumstances are bad and it’s easy for someone to say, “well, if you don’t like it, then leave.” But sometimes we are so rooted where we are, either by family or obligations or other life things that happen, and picking up and leaving isn’t really an option. We are like a tree, and we have to stand there and take it.
I know a lot of people who feel that way about their health. They need to make changes, and sure, it’s easy for someone outside to say, “well just eat better. Just get up earlier and exercise. Just quick buying cigarettes. Just do it.” But they are rooted in lives that can’t be undone that easily, and it seems like they have to withstand the winds of life.
But as I watched the trees in the storm, I noticed that they were doing more than just standing there. They were swaying, bending, and releasing. Even when we are rooted where we are, we can do the same thing.
Sway When You Can
The storms of life can definitely push us around, but we don’t have to just stand there. Like a tree, we all sway from side to side throughout our lives to allow for this event or that unexpected change of plans. I believe that these times actually make us stronger, more cognitively nimble, and more creative. Sway when you can so that the things you do to take care of yourself can keep happening even in a storm. Swaying might mean compromising on when exercise happens so that it can, rather than letting it stop altogether.
Bend When You Need To
As I watched the trees bend I thought about how they were pretty stubborn and must really be committed to being where they were to withstand so much pressure and not fall over. It reminded me of those times when life gets so hectic that if we want to stay healthy in spite of it, we need to make even bigger compromises. Sometimes we let exercise go and focus on eating healthy. Sometimes food choices are not in our control so we counteract it by staying active. Bending in this way means that we might not be getting everything we need, but at least we’re getting some of it, and sometimes that’s enough.
Let Some Branches Fall
Those trees were swaying and they were bending, but they were also releasing some of themselves in order to stay upright. This is a loss, for sure, but one that is regained over time. Don’t be afraid to let some branches fall off of your tree if it means you stay rooted in what supports your physical and emotional health. It’s likely that those things will come back in time, and the loss will be a temporary one.
The clean-up from the storm continues, and as we reach out to the west and help our neighbors recover, I believe that our roots will go deeper and we will be stronger. If another of life’s storms is headed your way, be like a tree. Sway, bend, release, and hang on to your roots.
Have you ever said that you are, “ready, willing, and able,” to tackle the task at hand? The phrase rattles off the tongue quite effortlessly, conjuring images of a soldier in uniform stepping up to the front lines with a salute, ready for battle. I’ve said it often without a second thought, but as I often do, recently I stopped to think about it a little more and wonder if perhaps the words should be rearranged.
In my work as a Certified Wellness Coach, being ready for change is a big topic of conversation. After asking about and listening to many people’s desires and strategies for change, I propose that we put the words in reverse order to discover what we are able, willing, and ready to do to create change in our lives.
This first stage is pretty easy, because most of the things we want to do for healthy living are tasks we are able to do. With a few exceptions, we have the ability to buy fruits and vegetables instead of cookies and soda at the store, to drive to the gym for an exercise class or walk in the neighborhood, and to turn off the lights and go to bed at a certain time. Our arms and legs work in such a way that we are able to do those things, and we’re adults so generally we have some level of control over our time. There are some of us for whom these things are a challenge, but on the average, our functional ability is high; we are able to do most anything.
Now we’re getting into some rougher terrain. After all, what we are able to do and what we are willing to do can be quite different. Sure, you’re able to get in the car and drive to the exercise class, but are you willing to miss something else in order to do it? You have the ability to sip on coffee or tea while others have dessert, but are you willing to? It can take some time to sort out what we are really willing to do - and miss out on - in order to have a particular outcome. Be honest with yourself about what level of hassle you are willing to tolerate in your life if it means that you can make progress on a goal that is important to you.
This is where we get to the good stuff! Being able to do things is a gimme, and being willing to do things feels kind of like being talked into something. But being ready? That’s exciting! Being ready to take action is a great place to be because that’s exactly where you are: ready for something. The best way to figure out what you are ready to take action on is to think about feels like a step in the right direction, and also not like too much work. For example, you know you are able to buy fruits and veggies for snacks during the week, and you might agree that you are even willing to eat fruits and veggies as snacks a few times a week. The next step is determining what you feel ready to do, like maybe you feel ready to bring them to work with you so they are available when you need a snack.
Now, I realize you may be reading this and thinking, “I’m ready to sit here in my chair and do nothing, how about that?” That’s fair, because this process is for people who want to change, not stay the same. The key to using the able/willing/ready process to get started towards change is to challenge yourself a bit and nudge yourself towards the next step. The results you experience will be relative to the amount of challenge and effort you put in. The more willing you are to take action, the more you will be rewarded.
The beauty of working toward change is that it is a fluid process. Rarely do we get up, begin doing things differently, and never look back or get off track. So, if you find that the speed at which you are trying to change things is too fast, slow down. You can even go back to the old way of doing things. It’s your choice.
My question for you this week is are you able? Yes. Are you willing? Perhaps. Are you ready? Well, ready or not, your life is here. Jump on in!
Eating food is a pretty simple job, but somehow we have managed to make it seem really complicated. What diet is best? Is bread good or bad? Is the keto diet safe? What about fat?
Every week someone asks me for help figuring out their food, and as they begin to tell me their story, I need them to back up and start again from the beginning. They start in the middle, you see, telling me about what they are doing without first telling me why they started doing anything to begin with.
Sometimes, we need to stop, look around, and take a few steps back in order to see the mess we’ve made of things before we can start cleaning it up. If food feels like a mess these days, you can simplify by remembering to prioritize, organize, and compromise.
Prioritize What You Want
You’ve likely heard the adage to begin with the end in mind, right? It’s good advice, because it demands purpose for your actions. The first step to figuring out how to eat healthy is to decide what “eating healthy” means to you. Do you want to eat more vegetables? Drink less soda? Spend fewer meals in restaurants and more at home? Lose weight? Knowing this helps simplify your process because you can focus on meeting a specific goal and choose actions that support it.
Next, think through the to-do list of what it will take to achieve the goal. Let’s say you have a goal to each more vegetables. That seems like a simple objective, but it’s likely that you may need to get out a piece of paper and write out the steps for making that happen:
Going through this process helps you notice the next step: being honest about the obstacles in your way. Maybe you look at that list and think, yeah right, I don’t have time for that. Maybe you have a friend who always invites you to your favorite burger place for lunch.. Maybe eating vegetables is something you just feel like you should do but don’t really want to. You owe it to your future self to be honest about what is standing in the way of you and what you want, so that later on you can have a good answer when your future self asks why you didn’t do something sooner.
Once you’ve come to terms with all of that, decide what you are willing to do (or not do) to achieve the outcome you want. This could mean adding vegetables to meals three days a week rather than every day. Maybe you are so motivated that you’re ready to try a meatless day once a week. This is where the rubber meets the road - you’ve identified what you want, now how much hassle are you willing to put up with to get it?
Alright, you just did a lot of work there, and I told you this was going to be simple. The rest of this is easier, I promise.
Being organized about your food means taking the steps necessary to make healthy food as convenient as junk food. Research shows that you’re more likely to eat fruits and vegetables if they are the first thing you see in your refrigerator. Get them out of the crisper drawers and into a bin, front and center! Take the extra step to chop and package snacks to go, or spend a little more for the pre-cut veggies and remove that time barrier. Learn from the times that you don’t reach your goal and ask, “how can I win next time?” Then, do it!
Be Ready to Compromise
Here’s the truth: food can be healthy, it can be cheap, and it can be really tasty; you can choose two. You have to compromise! Sometimes eating healthier means scrimping on other things so you can spend more on quality food. Sometimes the meal that is going to be the healthiest for you doesn’t taste like Grandma’s macaroni and cheese with two sticks of butter and the crackers crumbled on top. Choose your two biggest priorities...and remember that future self.
It’s okay to grumble about not getting to have everything you want, but it doesn’t change things. It helps to know what you are willing to let go of (and what you are not) in order to feel your best.
So, which way of eating is going to be the best for you? I don’t know. Let’s start from the beginning.
Happy Eating Season! With the kickoff of college football last weekend, Eating Season has officially started. Can you feel it?
Weekend tailgate BBQs and pumpkin spice lattes will carry us through to Halloween, which will trigger the candy parade that marches on to Thanksgiving, a day when we take pride in how much we can eat in one sitting. Then the parties begin, accompanied by fancy drinks, grandma’s time-honored recipes, and cookie baking contests.
Eating season eventually wraps up shortly after Christmas, coming to a slow roll in the week between Christmas and New Years Eve, when we eat everything that we are sick of so we can really have our work cut out for us in January. And finally, on January 2, or the first Monday of the year, whichever comes second, we wrap it up, for real this time, and get back on the straight and narrow. Whew!
As a health coach, I am often in the role of navigator and guide, tapping folks on the shoulder and nudging them off the curb of life’s highway and back to the middle of the road. It’s human nature to veer off once in a while, but since living in extremes isn’t conducive to good health, it’s my role to go around and help anyone who wants to travel a little more moderately. I like it, because I need help with that sometimes, too.
So, here we are at the beginning of it all. Do you know which path you will take to January? As your navigator, I’ve created a few itineraries that may be of interest.
The Fast and Loose
Adventure-lovers take note: this path is going to be a thrill ride! The playing field is pretty wide open, and the rules are….well, there are no rules. Whenever you arrive at a destination, you’re free to sample anything and everything until you need to unbutton your shorts or take an antacid. In this journey, people will regularly bring food directly to you, becoming more decadent as you go. There may be times when you aren’t really hungry or in the mood for lots of food, but hey, you only live once, right? This itinerary is great for folks who like a project, because in January you will definitely have a pile of work to do. This trip has already departed, but if you start now you can catch up!
The Scenic Route
For those seeking a change of scenery and a route that feels special and fun but not quite so spontaneous, the Scenic Route is perfect. In this journey, there are selections of food available more often than during the rest of the year, but no urgency to taste everything at once. To maintain a sense of calm, many of the foods are things you’ve likely eaten before, so you don’t necessarily need to experience them again unless you really want to. There is a lot of water on this path, so bring a bottle to fill at your pleasure. You may want to pack a pair of stretchy pants for a day here or there when you overdo it, but if you stay with the group you should arrive home to find that there is some tidying up to do but things will be back to normal pretty quick. This trip begins today, whenever you are ready.
The Work Camp
If you’ve been intrigued by the idea of a vacation working as a farm hand or rebuilding storm-ravaged villages in a third world country, then you may like the Work Camp path through eating season. There is no real change from your daily life in this journey, you keep doing all of your regular stuff, just while surrounded by people who are having a lot more fun than you. This path does include some social events, but you need to bring your own food because there is not likely to be anything there that works for you. In a fun twist, this journey becomes more challenging and the terrain steeper as you reach the end, which makes it perfect for martyrs, show-offs, or anyone with a personal goal that brings internal satisfaction regardless of the sacrifice to achieve it. It’s an exclusive path, but a noble one, with the reward of arriving at January with everything exactly as you left it. This trip does not have a beginning or an end.
Now, the choice is yours. How will you spend the next four months, and what will January look like for you? This is a great time to choose, because you can maximize the amount of time that you spend on your chosen path, where you feel best.
And don’t worry, I’m out there with an eye on the field, guiding wanderers back to their path. If I see you and you need help, just wave me over. I’ll help you get back where you belong, or arrange for you to join another group if you’d like. I hope that if I need help, you’ll guide me back to my path as well. I want to make sure that everyone arrives at January with the set of circumstances that make them feel the most satisfied and content with life!
Happy travels, and have fun!
I spent the better part of last week in Tampa talking to different folks about how they manage (or don’t manage) their health. Their employer provides health coaching to them at work, and as one of their coaches, I have the privilege of being at their side to navigate them through the process of improving their health. It’s amazing and I love it.
Anyway, I almost always have the same question for everyone who tells me about the changes they want to make in their health: why? Why not just stay like you are now? And, almost everyone has the same answer: they want to feel better.
I love that answer because feeling better is great, and it’s completely within our reach. Feeling good is easy, and we all have the skills to feel better almost instantly. I don’t mean the way eating ice cream makes you feel better. That’s pretend. I mean the kind of feeling you get when you’ve done something that makes you feel proud, or when you have been exercising for a few weeks and you notice you have more energy in the afternoons. Even when you make the choice to skip the second helping of mashed potatoes and have some more water instead. It might not feel awesome right at that moment, but later on….I know you’re glad you did that.
That brings me to my next question: what makes you feel better? This answer is brings a smile to their faces: exercise! Then the stories start to come out. “A while back I was walking every morning with my friend, I felt so much better and I really had more energy.” Or, “my physical therapist gave me these stretches to do, and when I do them I feel better, but I stopped.” Or my favorite, “I used to exercise all the time. I even taught exercise classes! I really liked it!” This is where I do an internal high five with myself, because having previous positive experiences with healthy habits makes it so much easier to get back into them, so I know these people are about to start feeling better really soon.
And then I have to ask: why on earth did you stop doing this magical thing that made you so happy?!? Studies show that the most common reason why people fall out of exercise habits is a change of environment, such as a new job; an injury or illness, whether themselves or someone they care for; or a schedule change that compromises their time. I get it. There is a lot going on.
The good news is that it doesn’t take much exercise to make you feel better. In fact, it doesn’t take much of any healthy habit to make you feel better. As soon as you start, you feel better immediately. Instant success.
And friends, all we really have is how we feel. If you think back to times when you spent time worrying about something that might happen, or being angry with someone who had long since moved on from your dispute, you lived in that feeling. Worry and anger were your life. When you think about times when you were content with life, enjoying the people around you, and taking good care of yourself, you lived there. Happy and satisfied were your life. All we have is how we feel, and how we feel is where we live.
So, if you know that there is something really easy to do - getting a bit of exercise and making nutrition choices that make you feel proud - that leads to you feeling good, do that thing. Do it every day! Then, you get to feel good every day. And you get all the credit, too!
Now, of course that doesn’t mean every day will be good. No, we all know it doesn’t work that way. But, the feel-good benefits of those little habits make it easier to get through a bad day and get back to feeling good again soon.
If exercise makes you feel better, do it. If eating healthy makes you feel better, do it. The power to feel better every day is within you, and you can start now.
A friend recently sighed as she took a sip of coffee and said, "I really envy people who can eat to live, not live to eat. I wish I could learn to do that." I completely understood. For a long time, I lived to eat. Growing up in Louisiana, there was always a holiday on the way and it was always celebrated with food. Circling around food and cooking our favorites was a regular pastime, but over time I became frustrated with the value I was putting on food. Like my friend, I wanted to learn how to eat to live, not be preoccupied with what I was going to eat next.
Health and fitness guru Jack LaLanne has been credited with coining the phrase, “eat to live, don’t live to eat,” meaning that we should eat with function and purpose in mind, not with enthusiasm and anticipation of flavors and textures that we enjoy.
Do you eat to live or live to eat? Here's a quick quiz to help you figure it out.
When you are hungry, do you A) choose something that is convenient and satisfying or B) reach for your favorite snack, which you’ve been looking forward to all morning.
When you discover that the food you prefer is not available, do you A) eat something else and move on, or B) feel annoyed and as if you have been cheated out of an experience because it is not there.
When you choose something to eat, is it A) because your stomach is growling or you have some other sign that your body needs food, or B) because it is time to eat or because you have been planning to eat at that time.
In social situations, do you find that you are A) looking forward to the food that will be there and anticipating sharing the food with your friends, or B) looking forward to the people who will be there and knowing you'll find something to eat, too.
If you chose mostly As, then it is likely that you are eating to live. That means that while you may enjoy your meals, it's also okay if your food is less than ideal because the purpose of it is to satisfy hunger, not your taste buds.
If you chose mostly Bs, you may feel that you live to eat. Food may play a central role in your life and be the byproduct or the motivation for your social activities.
It's important to mention here that neither is good or bad, and it is perfectly possible to be somewhere in the middle. Enjoying and savoring food is a beautiful thing and part of a rich and fulfilling life. Delicious food is part of what makes life fun and brings people together. I am totally in favor of tasty food.
On the other hand, some want to sever their emotional tie to food and join the other camp: people who eat to live. While they may consider this relatively Spartan existence to be missing the spice of life, for others it is simply how they have decided to change emotional or disordered eating patterns. Or, they may just not be interested in food, and that is okay too.
As I say about most habits, it's not a problem unless it’s a problem.
Since most of us want to learn how to eat less emotionally, not more, here are some ways that you can raise your awareness of your eating habits and learn how to eat to live. (It is perfectly valid to want to learn to enjoy and savor your meals rather than going about them methodically, but I don’t know many people who are striving for that.)
First, notice how you feel when food situations occur. What is the ratio of socializing to eating when you are with friends? How do you feel when eating during social events is delayed or not included? Consider whether you are placing too much emphasis on the role food in your social life, and try to focus on friends, fun, and fellowship before food.
Then, pay attention to the motivation for why you eat when you choose to. Are you choosing foods that you feel you “deserve” or have earned in some way? Make an intentional choice to wait until you are hungry, and then pay attention to what drives your choice of what to eat.
Finally, make an effort to separate how you feel about food and what food needs to do. That doesn't mean you have to always make the productive choice, but be aware of which one you are making, how often, and how much sense it makes given your hunger level and goals.
How did eating get so complicated? I hope you enjoy every meal this week, whether you’re savoring the flavors or the efficiency.
If you notice parents dancing in the streets this month (except for the parents of kindergarteners, of course, who are crying at the school gates), it is because the first day of a new school year has finally arrived. Hooray!
It’s been a fun summer for my family. We’ve taken road trips together, played with cousins and grandparents, explored cities, climbed mountains, and swam in rivers. We’ve also eaten out a lot more, slept in more often, and well, you know what happens after that. So, when I drop my children off at school tomorrow and return to my car alone, there will be a moment of silence to savor the silence, and the fact that I can finally take some time to focus on myself again, a little more intentionally.
Whether you have kids in school or not, the beginning of a new school year feels like a fresh start. So open up a brand-new notebook and sharpen your pencils: it’s time to brush up on the basics and get back to work!
Do you have a goal in mind for your health? You’ve probably heard advice to set goals that are “S.M.A.R.T.” - specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and time-bound. You may have also heard that it’s important to know your “why”. This is good advice, because it requires us to take the time to think through what we intend to do and increase our chances for success. But sometimes in our rush to set goals and get to work, we jump over an important step: understanding how ready we are for change in the first place.
One of the most difficult parts of my job as a health coach is being patient when I can see the potential for someone to make radical changes in their lifestyle, but they are not ready to do it yet. Sometimes it seems like it takes forever for the pieces to come together, but I know from experience that we can’t rush these things, and I know how to listen for these clues that things are about to happen:
You See Your Goal Everywhere. Kind of like when you’re pregnant and you see other pregnant women, or you buy a new car and suddenly see other people driving the same car around town, your goal will show up all over the place. You may notice people walking for exercise in your neighborhood or find yourself drawn to the produce section of the grocery store. I don’t have scientific evidence for why this happens, but it does. Pay attention and go along with it! When your goal lays down in front of you, stop and pick it up.
The Thrill is Gone. When I travel, I like to sample local beer and look for restaurants that serve beer that we don’t usually get in our town. The splurge of having a delicious, thick stout with my meals feels decadent and special. But, after a few days of that much beer, it loses some of the magic. Then when I get home and beer finds its way to me, I find that I’m kind of tired of it. That’s another clue! When what used to be a fun diversion has become par for the course, it’s time for a change. Stop pressing repeat on a habit that’s run its course. Take the hint and change directions!
The First Step Feels Like a No-Brainer. Now, this is where it gets personal: the first step. Some folks would have us believe that the first step is doing something dramatic like eliminating a food group or signing up for a big challenge at the gym. For some, those steps feel right. For others, they are overwhelming and discouraging. Pay attention to how you feel and go towards what feels like the first step in the right direction, even if that step seems small. When you’re choosing between a cheeseburger or a salad for lunch, choose the salad. When you’re choosing between a salad with cheese or one without cheese, choose the one without. When you’re choosing between a dessert of brownies and ice cream and one of sorbet with fresh fruit, choose the fruit. Notice here that I didn’t say the step would be easy. It might not be! But it will feel obvious. It’s obvious for a reason.
This month, a new chapter begins for everyone. Look around in your life today and pay attention to what is calling you towards the first step of change. Are you ready? Change is ready for you at whichever level feels right!
Imagine that you have moved into a new house. You’ve done that before, right? Do you remember how it felt to not be sure which light switches turned on what, or to wake up at night and have to remind yourself how to get to the bathroom?
It took some time before you could navigate around in the dark. You had to learn how to fold the towels so they fit in the linen closet the way you like them. Eventually you could estimate how long it would take for the water in the shower to warm up, or which room got the coldest at night. But it took time, right? You had to live there for a while before it felt like home.
Now imagine that you have been in your new house for a few days, still unpacking and surrounded by boxes, and someone barges in and says, “tell me where the can opener is!” Startled, you may look bewilderedly around at the half-unpacked boxes scattered about and stammer that you’re not sure. “Oh really,” says the intruder, crossing his arms with a self-satisfied smirk. “You’ve been here a full week and don’t even know where the can opener is. I’ll bet you’ll never know. This whole idea was stupid. This house will never work!”
You may get defensive. You may say, “well hang on a minute there, mister. I just got here and I have barely even unpacked. Just give me a minute to get things organized and then I can tell you where things are.” And he may shrug, turn on his heel, and sit in the corner, waiting to be proved correct.
That may seem like a ridiculous scenario, but it happens more than we think. How many times have you been on a diet for a week and then stepped on the scale only to see little to no change? The voice that says, “I told you so,” is the same one who barges in and demands the can opener. But when it happens on the scale, we don’t get defensive and stand up for ourselves. We hang our heads and say, “you’re right. This was dumb. This will never work.”
But in your house, you did find the can opener. You figured out the light switches. You learned how to jiggle the door so the deadbolt will lock. And now, after being there for a while, you can find your way around in the dark and know which part of the floor squeaks and where to be careful for Legos. You know that place like the back of your hand, because you stuck around long enough to unpack the boxes and figure it out.
It is the same way with the habits that we take on. Before we have barely gotten going, we’re demanding results and expecting to be proficient at our new skills. If the weight loss isn’t fast enough, or we overdo it during a weekend of travel, or nothing happens for a while, it’s easy to assume it will never happen. It’s okay to bump into a few walls while you’re finding your way around.
Now, that’s easier said than done, so here are some mantras you can share with that intruder:
“I’m Learning.” Yes, there is a learning curve to creating health habits! Remind yourself that you are learning, and give yourself credit for what you have figured out already. You can even keep a notebook of your discoveries as a visual reminder of what you have learned.
“Give Me Some Space.” I don’t know about you, but I find it almost impossible to work when someone is reading over my shoulder. My fingers get wonky and I can’t type, I make stupid mistakes, and it aggravates me. I need some space! You might, too. This mantra can sometimes work best when you physically stretch your arms out to the sides and literally make some more space for yourself. This is your goal, and you can take up all of the room in it!
“Keep Unpacking.” There is a picture on the wall of my living room that is crooked, and it has been that way for about four years, when I hung it up. Every once in a while I see it and I know I should take the nails out and straighten it. But I haven’t. That’s okay. It’s a reminder that we are always a work in progress, and always settling in. Allow yourself to keep unpacking and get settled before you decide the place is not for you.
This week, give yourself time to bump into the walls and try a few light switches before you call it quits on your health goals. Give yourself some space to learn. Keep unpacking.
At least once a week, someone tells me about the new challenge they are undertaking to lose weight or get healthier. They are going to stop eating anything white, or they’re going to cut out all carbs, or exercise every single day at their new gym.
I saw a 30-day “get skinny” challenge online that listed about twenty-five things to avoid: no sugar, no alcohol, no red meat, no tropical fruits, no fast food, no fried food, and of course, no excuses. Then followed the comments of people who had accepted the challenge, and said, “this is what I need to finally get myself in gear!”
And I couldn’t help but ask, in gear for what? Never one to shy away from a challenge, I love and appreciate the thrill that comes from achieving something difficult, even if that is its own reward. I get that. Doing the difficult thing just to say you did it is a legitimate source of confidence and accomplishment. But when the goal is to get healthier, I find that success is much more accessible when we make things pretty easy.
First, let me define what I mean by success. When the goal is to lose weight and get healthier, I declare success when my client has reached a healthy weight, is able to maintain it through holidays and travel and tailgate season, and feels at ease with their ability to stay there physically and emotionally. Most of the time, when people drill down to what they want from their healthy goals, it is the ability to get to a good place and stay there.
That’s not the kind of thing that happens in thirty days, and it surely doesn’t happen in a state of survival conditions. It just doesn’t. I can’t say that you won’t feel triumphant and accomplished at the end of your month of no fun, but I can almost guarantee that you won’t be healthier or at ease with your ability to stay at the weight you’ve dieted down to.
To succeed and thrive, we need to step out of survival mode and into a safe zone. I encourage you to simply ask what would make it easier to do the things that will lead to weight loss and a healthier body.
For the sake of simplicity, let’s use the most common methods for healthy living as examples: eating healthfully, exercising, managing stress, and getting enough sleep. Instead of asking what should be removed from your diet, consider asking, “what would make it easier for me to eat healthier this week?”
Instead of signing up for the most rigorous workout in town and jolting your body into boot camp, ask, “what would make it easier to get more exercise, the good kind that really gets my heart pumping?”
What would make it easier to find time for meditation or relaxation in your day? What would make it easier for you to get to bed earlier?
It’s a bit of a trick question. Yes, it would be easier if we didn’t have to do anything, or if wine didn’t have calories, or if we had personal chefs and could quit our jobs so we had complete control of our time. Ha ha, yes, I know. But for real. In your real life, what would make it more realistic that you’re going to do these things?
Life is already hard enough, and there are plenty of opportunities to challenge your body and mind every day. And, challenge is good for us and I love a good kick in the pants to work a little harder and level up. But if you have been trying to convince yourself that you just need to work harder and try harder to make changes in your health, then I invite you to instead ask, “what would make it easier?”
The pharmacy where I worked as a teenager had a sign in the back displaying the store’s hours of operation. You’ve probably seen it in other businesses as well:
“We’re open most days around 9 or 10. Occasionally as early as 7, but sometimes as late as 11 or 12. We’re closed around 5:30 or 6. Occasionally as early as 4, but sometimes as late as 11 or 12.”
It goes on with more exceptions to the rule, and it always gets a chuckle. It also sounds a lot like me when someone asks me whether their weight loss plans will work. Reducing calories and increasing exercise should work, but sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes you lose weight at first and then stop losing weight. Sometimes you do everything “right” but some other medical condition is causing a plateau. Sometimes you and your friend do the same things, and one experiences results when the other doesn’t. The reason is because losing weight is more of an art than a science.
Science is exacting. It is either right or wrong, and can almost always be explained with facts, data, and reason. Science is using a food scale to measure your portions so you know exactly how many calories you are eating each day. There is a definite element of science in how we manage our health, especially of numbers like cholesterol, blood pressure, or blood sugar need to be monitored. Science allows us to know statistics like how losing 10% of your body weight can reduce risk factors for heart disease, or whether you need insulin. Science plays a role.
Art, on the other hand, is open to interpretation. The same piece of art can be seen differently by different people, just as a size 10 on one person feels as comfortable and manageable as a size 4 on someone else. Art is connected to our own personal values, and when health is art, we are able to create a picture of what balance means for us.Health as art is about quality rather than quantity, and knowing that maintaining healthy habits will result in healthy returns, even if the numbers don’t always add up. Art makes us whole.
Science plays a role and art makes us whole. The truth is, we need a little of both to make magic happen in the world of weight loss. Consider these balance points as you work on your goals of achieving a healthy weight.
Balance Calories with Consistency.
I’ve been maintaining my current weight for about five years now, but I still weigh my portions most of the time. Calorie management is a big part of weight loss, and attention to the details can make the difference between losing weight and maintaining. But what’s more important than the everyday ratio of calories in versus calories out is the consistent pattern of a deficit over time. It’s just like watching the stock market or investing for retirement; it’s performance over the long haul that matters.
Balance Your Weight with Your Waist.
The science of weight loss tells us that 3,500 calories is equal to a pound of fat. So, using 3,500 calories through exercise and reduced calories should equal a pound of fat lost...right? Yes, it should. Except when it doesn’t, which is usually about a week before you need to fit into a bridesmaid dress or rented tuxedo. Relax. There is so much going on inside your body that can make those three little numbers on the scale go haywire. Medications, not drinking enough water, your current hormonal state, the workout you just returned from, and what you ate for dinner last night will all factor into the number that shows up on that scale.Your body is a living thing that in flux all day long. Put the scale away and focus on the waistband of your jeans instead. If it’s changing, so are you, regardless of what that hunk of metal and plastic tells you.
Balance Perfection with Progress.
One of my favorite things to do is read stories of people who faced immense odds or setbacks and figured out a way to climb out, sometimes to epic levels of triumph. I often refer to these stories when someone is stuck in the muck of imperfection, thinking they are never going to make progress because every day, something happens to push them back. That, my friends, is called life. Success is not found in everything going according to plan, but in finding a way to move forward despite setbacks. I am going to say this part really loud: you do not have to get it right, you just have to get it going!
The truth is that weight loss is not just a numbers game, and it’s also not as easy as just making better choices. It takes a combination of science and art to make progress in changing our health, especially when the canvas is an ever-changing living thing that sometimes plays by its own rules.
So, relax. You got this. Enjoy those days when it all comes together and you knock it out of the park. Balance them with the days when you have to really focus to make any ground. If you are consistent, your success story may very well become a work of art.
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!