I heard a story from a friend about someone he had hired to work in his mechanic shop.
The man had spent the bulk of his career as a race car driver, a profession that seems to add a bit of electricity to a conversation. A race car driver? Well, that’s not someone you meet every day! I could visualize a huddle of middle-aged men recalling their glory days, their eyes twinkling as they angeled for stories from the pit, transported back to being little boys enamoured with the roar of an engine.
(Girls could have had that dream too. I’m just saying that in this case it was boys.)
Eventually my friend got around to explaining how he came to hire the race car driver in the first place, and it turns out that racing cars was just too rough on his body. “Even with all of the modern technology in cars these days,” the men asked. “Even with all of the padding and reinforced clothing they wear?” Yes, my friend said. The race car driver told him that driving the car was no problem at all. Stopping, however, was a different story.
Stopping, said the race car driver, had put him in retirement.
When my friend got to this part of the story, I pulled out my little notebook because he had just given me a great way to start a new year of health and wellness advice.
The reason stopping had been so hard on the race car driver’s body is because even with the latest technology and best gear, when you’re driving at top speed and then suddenly a parachute pops out behind you, even when you were expecting it, there is impact. The latest and greatest technology can only go so far when dealing with physics like that. Over time, the residual effects of that impact on his body became more trouble than it was worth, and he retired. In a sense, stopping over and over again had put him in retirement.
I wonder how often we are speeding through life and have something come up that stops us in our tracks, like a family crisis, an illness, a job loss, or some other game-changer. Those events aren’t usually nice gradual decelerations that arrive safely in a new destination. No, there are skid marks, screeching tires, and all manner of chaos! In my line of work, that translates to more fast-food meals, more workouts being missed, and less sleep at night. When the healthy habits come to a screeching halt, there is impact. Keep up that cycle long enough, and it will deteriorate your body, too.
So then I guess the solution is to just never stop, right? If the race car driver had just kept speeding around the track and never stopped, he wouldn’t have gotten run down and needed to retire so early. Tempting, yes, but we know that’s not the real answer. Eventually he would run out of gas, the tires would shred apart, and the engine would dry up. Not ever stopping is not the solution, either.
You know what the answer is, don’t you? Of course you do! The answer is to keep the car moving at a slower speed so when the need arises, changing course doesn’t mean slamming on the brakes and jolting everything out of place. Yeah, it’s the same slow-and-steady healthy living advice dressed up in a new way.
Here are some ways that can be true in your life this week:
In your “new year, new me” zeal, you may be tempted to commit to rising early each morning to go to the gym and exercise, and even enroll in a 90-day fitness challenge to really motivate yourself to get in shape. Woah! Too fast! Three to four challenging workouts a week is a great pace, and less likely to result in burnout or injury.
Having finally gotten the leftovers, ahem, put away, you may be ready to purge the pantry and fridge of all temptation, buy the latest diet book, adopt the culinary ways of your ancestors, and never eat carbohydrates again. Watch out! You’re going to crash! Lightening up your favorite recipes and eating out less often is a clear path to progress, and easier to maintain while also having a social life.
Because here’s the truth: stuff is going to come up. Life is going to happen, and you’re going to have to course-correct, and if you’re careening around the curve at top speed trying to do the extreme version of your healthy goals, you’re going to crash and it will be awhile before you are back on the road again. And that would be a shame considering how much work you did.
So, take a lesson from the race car driver, and remember that constantly stopping and starting took such a toll that eventually, he couldn’t do it anymore. When you get into the driver’s seat of your healthy goals, take it nice and slow. Sure, it’s not as thrilling or exciting as being a race car driver. But, you get to keep going for a lot longer.
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! But I wondered, “what if I like the old me?”
OK, 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 OK 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 feels a little misplaced, consider these tips for building confidence in the new year.
1. Look How You Feel 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!
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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 OK if they don't. Embrace the new year, the old you, and the awesome power you have to up your game in 2019. Happy New Year!
One of my favorite Thanksgiving traditions is having no Thanksgiving traditions. My family has some pretty established must-do items for other holidays, but Thanksgiving has always been a wild card for us. Sometimes turkey day finds us at the beach, we’ve spent Thanksgiving on the ferry to see the Statue of Liberty, and for the past couple of years we have gone camping.
It’s liberating to not be tied down to certain things needing to happen in order for the day to feel “right.” Whether Thanksgiving dinner is cheeseburgers and a pint of beer at a diner or a pot of gumbo over a campfire, it’s all good to us.
It makes me think about other ways we challenge convention, and how rebelling against what is expected can be a liberating breath of fresh air. Are you feeling stifled by your holiday food traditions?
I’ve spoken to plenty over the past couple of weeks who feel it is next to impossible to not eat everything that is presented to them on Thanksgiving. Some folks tuck their napkin into their collar, open their arms, and say, “bring it on!” Others wring their hands because they don’t want that I-can’t-believe-I-ate-the-whole-thing feeling but also don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings or don’t want to miss out on the tasty food they love.
Either way, let it go. Thanksgiving is one day. Yeah, I know, everyone says that healthy living is a lifestyle, but it’s not really. It’s a series of small decisions that take place over the course of a long time. But you don’t actually have to commit to a healthy lifestyle to reap the rewards of good health.
I know this sounds like the opposite of what everyone has told you! Weight loss success stories are full of testimonials about how you have to toss the quick fix to the curb and adopt a healthy approach for your whole life! Well I am here to tell you that is simply not true.
You just have to do it now.
You don’t need to commit to being healthy for the rest of your life. You just have to commit to doing it today. Or at this meal. Right now. You deserve to feel great all the time, but if that’s more than you want to think about, just feel great now.
Then, if you liked it, do it again. You can make healthy choices - the ones that keep your body feeling light, energetic, and mentally clear - all day long if you want to. Or, you could stop and go back to the old way. It’s your choice!
Now, I might be playing a bit of a trick on you. In a perfect world, you would start doing those healthy things, and then do another one, and another one, and keep doing them until, if you looked behind yourself, you would realize that you are smack dab in the middle of a healthy lifestyle.
But let’s not think about that right now.
Right now, it’s Thanksgiving week. You’ve got old family recipes to make, family coming into town, travel to pack for, and who knows what else. It might feel overwhelming to add exercising and watching what you eat on top of all that. So don’t. Just do it for today.
You don’t have to stay tied to those old holiday traditions of eating too much and regretting it later. You can go to the beach, or get on the ferry to see the Statue of Liberty. You can go camping. You can get a hotel room by yourself and watch TV all day. Whatever. You do you.
Thanksgiving is about reflecting on that for which we are thankful, and it is also about a bit of rebellion. After all, if people couldn’t see a better future for themselves, they wouldn’t have sailed across the ocean to get it. This year, rebel against convention. Throw that healthy lifestyle out the window. Toss your holiday traditions to the side. Live healthy one moment at a time, and be thankful for the right to do it.
A few years ago, folks in Tallahassee decided that October was a really nice month. So, every organization in town began to schedule their events on October weekends. There were craft fairs. There were fall festivals at every pumpkin patch in town. There were birthday parties, tailgates, concerts in the park...and my kids were invited to all of it. Before long, what had started out as a really nice month had turned into something else we felt like we needed to survive. Does that happen to you sometimes, too?
If you’ve been having the physical signs of stress - rapid heartbeat, sweating, confusion, fatigue, a feeling of overwhelm, etc. - then your answer is probably a weak and weary yes.
Well, I have some good news. You can relieve those symptoms with one simple step: do more stuff.
Yes, you read that right! A 2015 study published in the Clinical Psychological Justice journal found that the physical signs of stress can be alleviated through the act of helping others, and that people who practiced random acts of kindness throughout the day reported feeling less stressed and more positive.
The even better news is that kindness and service to others doesn’t need to be time-consuming or costly. Small gestures like making eye contact and sharing a smile with fellow shoppers at the store, allowing someone to go ahead of you in line, holding the door for someone who needs help, and paying someone a compliment can turn the tide of stress on your health.
Need a few more ideas? Try some of these quick ways to bring some sunshine into someone else’s life:
When we feel connected to another person, our bodies release a hormone called dopamine, which is sometimes called the “hug hormone,” because it makes us feel so good. A study in the medical journal Cancer showed that breast cancer patients who perceived their doctor as compassionate, warm, and caring during their appointments were less stressed during treatment.. You can provide the same benefit to others by showing compassion and empathy to them when they express concerns to you.
The pace of life is about to crank up big-time. So, in the next week, I invite you to slow your roll and pay attention to those signs of overwhelm. The next time you feel stressed,, stop and ask yourself, “how can I help?” The solution to stress could very well be in our hands, when they reach out to someone else.
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.
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!