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.
When it comes down to the business of losing weight, the to-do list is pretty short: eat less, move around more, and try not to screw it all up on the weekends. But what if you’ve been doing that stuff for weeks now and nothing is changing? You may call your friendly neighborhood health coach, and she will likely say, “well, let’s take a look at how much you’re eating.”
You may reply that you eat a really healthy diet, and that you’ve stopped eating so much fast good, and don’t drink as much sweet tea anymore. And she may say, “that’s great! I am glad you are eating healthy food. Let’s take a look at how much you are eating.”
Knowing how much you eat is important, 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. 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. No, no, no. 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. There is a lot of counting things in weight loss. That’s okay because counting things is easy. You know how the dentist says you only have to brush the teeth you want to keep? Well, you only have to count the calories you swallow.
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 afterwards. 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.
Some people launch into a crazy new diet each spring, knowing full well that fad diets are full of empty promises and that the weight loss, though dramatic, doesn’t last through summer. We know these things, but the beach calls, and we think maybe this time things will be different. It’s what we do.
As for myself, I start a garden. I load up my car with beautiful flowers, plant them in my yard, and stand back to admire the instant beauty. I make a lot of promises. I promise to water them. I promise to mulch. I promise a lot of things.
But, like fad diet weight loss, my garden doesn’t make it past summer. Once the temperature hits the upper 90s every day, air conditioning becomes my favorite thing and I dictate my wishes for the world from the comfort of a climate-controlled environment. Over the past few years, I have gotten better about this. I’ve begrudgingly watered and fertilized them, and they lasted a bit longer and a bit longer, until now I have the very basics of what some might call a landscape.
Well, this year things will be different. This year, while shopping for plants, I pulled out the little plastic tag that tells you about the plant and noticed something I hadn’t paid much attention to before. It was a list of what the plant needed to thrive.
Now, I know you’re looking at this right now and thinking, “does she really not know to read the instructions for a plant before planting it? Come on, girl, that is ridiculous.” That’s cool. There are things I know and things I don’t know, and I we are all still learning so hush and listen to my story.
And for the record, yes, I do know to read the instructions. I just thought that I knew better. Kind of like when medical science tells us all to eat lots of healthy food, and we drink margaritas and eat chips and guacamole instead. It’s the exact same as that.
Anyway, I was shopping for plants, and I pulled out the tag and looked at it, and suddenly it all made sense because of one little word: thrive. In the past, the plant instructions had been just that: instructions. And as a rebel, I ignored them and did things my own way. Some of the really tough plants survived, but most withered away because I didn’t follow the instructions.
The word, “thrive,” changed my perspective, though. I had gotten my plants to a point where they were surviving, but I wanted my plants to not just survive, but thrive. I bid farewell to my hydrangea dreams and embraced hostas and drought-tolerant grasses. And as I did, the metaphors started pouring in.
We all have a list of what we need to thrive, and it can be as varied from person to person as from plant to plant. I know someone who needs daily naps to do her best work. Sure, she can survive on less sleep, but to thrive, she needs that extra rest.
Plenty of folks survive just fine on take-out meals and soda. They’re getting by, and that might be okay for now. But to thrive, they need something different.
For some, a diet high in complex carbohydrates is what has them feeling their best. They enjoy rice and pasta and homemade bread and feel great. But others would feel sick, bloated, and lethargic in those conditions, and they need a different diet to thrive.
How do you know what you need to thrive? Pay attention to how you feel in different circumstances! When you have a high-energy day, look around and discover what could have led to it. What did you eat? When did you eat? How much sleep did you get? Did you exercise? Who are you spending your time with? Have you been in nature, or glued to your office?
On the days when you can’t get any steam, pay attention to that, too. What’s been going on recently that is enough of a trend to mean something?
Collect all of this information about yourself and start creating your own list of what you need to thrive. Then, honor it. Sure, you can survive in less than ideal circumstances, just like my poor pitiful plants. You deserve better than that. Discover what you need to thrive, and give it to yourself. You are going to love what blooms.
Ah, you gotta love that new-lifestyle feeling. It’s great, isn’t it? Everything is bright and full of promise, energy is high, and you just feel like things are about to change. For real this time. You’ve signed up at the gym, bought all of the food needed for your meals, and this time, things are going to be different.
And it really is different. The workouts are challenging but fun and you feel like you’re getting the hang of it. On the weekends, you’re able to make healthy choices when everyone else is drinking beer and eating chips. There was that time when you ordered veggies instead of fries and you didn’t even have to convince yourself to do it. You are riding the wave and the view is fantastic.
But then, one day, something feels off. Nothing’s wrong, really, it’s just kind of a normal day of doing your healthy thing. But no one comments on it anymore, and the breakthroughs feel less exciting, and it kind of seems like your new healthy life is just...your life.
When this happens, there are usually two different paths we can take. The first is to settle in and enjoy the ride, taking pride in the hard work that has gone into creating habits that stuck. The second is to poke at it with a stick until it falls apart and needs to be fixed, which is what we usually do, by sabotaging our progress with a “cheat meal,” or unintentionally looking for drama to get involved in.
It feels weird when everything is going well, doesn’t it? Sometimes during one of those weeks when I arrive to meetings early, I don’t need to go to the grocery store three times, and there isn’t a growing pile of laundry in the bathroom, I think I must have forgotten something. Surely one of my children was supposed to be at the dentist or someone is sitting in a restaurant waiting for me to arrive. It’s unsettling when things go well. But sometimes things are going well because the strategies we put in place to improve our lives are actually working. What? Yes, it can happen.
It is at these times when I encourage my clients to take the first path.
Imagine that you are in a tunnel on a busy highway. Before you reach the tunnel, the road is loud and cars zip around you, and it is kind of stressful. Then you enter the tunnel and are absorbed in white noise. Cars have to stay in their lanes in the tunnel. The radio signal gets lost for a few seconds, and all you hear is the quiet hum of your car. It’s different, and a little weird, but not bad. Then before you know it, you’re back out into daylight, among the chaos of the highway, and things are normal again.
The weird place where life is going pretty well and your healthy habits have become rote is like that tunnel. It’s different, and a little weird, but not bad. And, it’s temporary. Believe me, there will be a time soon enough when your life gets crazy again and maintaining your healthy habits feels like work, and you wish you could go back to that time when things were boring and healthy living was easy.
Starting new habits can feel like that chaotic highway, especially when you’re making progress and seeing results every day. It’s expected for things to feel different as you travel down the road; after all, making things different is why you started in the first place!
If your habits have become your life, and you’re in that weird tunnel this week, congratulations. That’s what is supposed to happen. Enjoy that weird place. It’s not bad.
“Results not typical.” There’s a reason for that small-print disclaimer on advertisements for popular weight loss schemes: for every person who experiences lasting success on most commercial weight loss programs, there are many more who are starting again from scratch. There are plenty of reasons why we don’t experience long-term satisfaction from these programs, but the before-and-after photos keep inspiring us to see if maybe, this time, we are the ones who will strike gold.
In a recent conversation with a client, we talked about the twisty, winding road that leads to permanent health and body transformation. Marketing companies and social media posts make it easy to believe that a new life is a quick 30 or 90 days away, and have the photos to prove it. Just look at the inches lost and sizes dropped! And then, she made me very proud. She said, “my before and after pictures would have to be of my brain.”
Friends, there are times when you work really hard, taking two steps forward and one step back, take the long road to success, and do the inside work for months before anything shows up in the mirror, and it can seem like you’re not actually making any progress. But then you start noticing things, like the time you got excited about a bowl of ice cream and it was just okay. Or when on Sunday night you realize that you don’t feel sluggish from a weekend of overdoing it. And it feels weird to hear yourself order a side salad instead of french fries or say, “nah, I’m good,” to that second beer. Guess what? Those are your before-and-afters.
If you’re taking the winding path, the one that looks more like a roller coaster than a bridge to change, I challenge you to discover your own before-and-afters this week. Notice when you are doing something that is different from what you would have done before, and snap a mental picture of it.
When you jog the stretch of road that you used to walk, take a mental picture.
When you pass by the mashed potatoes and get two scoops of broccoli, snap a pic.
When you don’t listen to the voice that nudges you towards the pantry in those times when you’re nervous or anxious or just feeling antsy...remember that.
Keep those mental images with you so when everyone else is showcasing their body before and after their latest diet, you can appreciate the before and after of your life.
Now, yes, I know you want your body to look better too. We all do! It is part of being human. And I guarantee you, if you keep making progress along that crazy, crooked path, your results will be visible on the outside, too. And when that happens, post a picture for everyone to see so we can all cheer for you! That is hard work and it deserves appreciation.
But don’t discount the before-and-after transformation that you can’t take a picture of, the one that no one else really sees. The milestones you reach might not be measured in inches and pounds for a while, and that’s okay. It can be a really good thing when your results are not typical.
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!