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!