That sounds weirdly counterintuitive. Exercise is all about improving your body
You’ve been getting your workouts in, and you’re moving more and eating better. But no matter how many positive changes you’ve made and good habits you’ve adopted, you’re still not seeing the kind of progress you were expecting. Why?!?! Despite all of these good healthy habits you’ve fit into your life, you might have some ingrained habits that are secretly sabotaging your progress and preventing you from getting to the fitness level you’re aiming for.
PHOTO - SAD EXERCISER
1. Dreading Your Workout
Next time you’re in the gym, look at your fellow exercisers. Chances are a good portion of them will look absolutely miserable. Too many people walk into the gym dreading the torture they’re about to put themselves through. They might end up putting in less effort into their workout, and they’ll be much less likely to come back. Don’t let this be you.
Just because has the word “work” in it, doesn’t mean your workout has to be a bad experience. Yes you should absolutely exert yourself and put some effort into it, but it can and should be fun. If you hate something, and consider it torture, you won’t keep doing it. So if there’s a particular exercise that you really don’t like, skip it! Get creative and try new ways to workout and play at the same time. Staying excited about fitness is incredibly important to making exercise a lasting habit.
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2. Doing the Same Workout Every Time
A great way to keep the excitement and fun is to switch up your workouts. Some folks hang onto the elliptical for every workout, while others just do weights and nothing else. While sticking to only one type of exercise is great to build up a habit and get better at that particular movement, it can also prevent well-rounded fitness and open you up to a higher risk of injury.
Cross training is key to making sure you’re hitting all of the different muscle groups in different ways. Working in a mix of flexibility, stability, power, endurance, and strength can do wonders for your overall fitness level. It can help you adapt to new movements throughout your daily life, prevent exercise boredom and burnout, ward off injury, and let you keep working through any injuries that may occur. (http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00339) Try building out a weekly schedule that includes different exercise styles and modalities, cycle through that diversified program each week, and see the amazing benefits kick in.
[Study data / quotes from experts on drawbacks of doing the same workout every time vs. the benefits of varying workouts]
PHOTO - CUBICLE WORKER
3. Sitting Too Much
Let’s face it: in today’s day and age, we sit a LOT. We sit during our commute, when we eat, as we wait, while we work, in the bathroom, when we relax with some Netflix, and when we Facebook stalk our exes. All of this adds up to around 60 hours of sitting each week. Well, “so what” - right? It’s just sitting. While it may not seem so bad, research shows that sitting too much can contribute to obesity, metabolic syndrome, hip and lower back issues, and more, leading to a downward cycle of inactivity. (http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/expert-answers/sitting/faq-20058005) Overdoing it on sitting can definitely do more harm than we may think.
When we sit all day and keep our mind occupied with work or the internet, we’re not mindful of our lack of activity. Luckily, there’s a lot you can do to easily boost your activity and lessen some of the effects of sitting. Getting up to take short breaks and walks, even just to use the bathroom or to fill up a cup of water, can make sure you’re stretching your legs and getting some blood flowing. Setting an alarm for once an hour, or using a fitness tracker that has an inactivity alarm, can be a great reminder to get up and move.
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4. Setting the bar too high
A lot of people think that if they don’t make it to the gym, they’ve failed. Unfortunately, this mentality drives too many to give up on trying to get fit, thinking that it doesn’t count if it’s not big. The reality is that doing some physical activity, even if it is just for a few minutes, can make a huge difference in your physical fitness.
A workout doesn’t have to be an hour long session at the gym. You can get great results from a HIIT workout, some pushups, or a quick yoga routine. When you aren’t up for a full workout, celebrate the little bits of activity you can sneak in throughout the day. Things like walking up a flight of stairs, parking at the far end of the parking lot, carrying your groceries home, and getting a nice deep squat when pick up a box. Doing any activity is a win!
PHOTO - STANDING ON A SCALE
5. Focusing on the Wrong Measurements
Tracking your fitness progress can be a great way to know if your routine is working, and can help keep you motivated to stay active. But tracking can also backfire if you’re using the wrong metrics. The scale is the traditional go-to method of fitness tracking, but it might not be the best. Your weight on the scale, and the Body Mass Index (BMI) number you can get as a result, but it doesn’t tell you what’s actually going on inside of your body (http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/72/3/694.full). Yes, you’re losing the weight of any fat you’ve burned, but you may be gaining the weight of any muscle you’ve built .
Measuring the body physically is a great way really see your body transformation. Whether that’s taking a tape measure to different parts of the body, taking progress photos week after week, finding out your Body Fat Percentage, or testing yourself to see how much you’re improved in strength and endurance. If you want to go deeper, Heart Rate Variability, resting heart rate, and blood pressure are other key metrics to get a full picture of your cardiovascular and overall health.
Your body takes time to adjust to changes in fitness level, and you usually won’t see results immediately. Be patient with yourself and focus in on adopting healthy habits rather than flashy programs offering quick results. Fitness comes with time and effort, so do what you can, don’t go crazy, and enjoy the journey!
The entire approach toward dieting - going hard for a short period of time and expecting lasting results - tends to result in failure and frustration. Embrace a gradual, realistic approach and BECOME the change that you want.
Could There Be A Better Way?
On the wagon, off the wagon
My dad’s a funny guy. We’re the same height, but he weighs a lot more than I do. He’s constantly looking to lose weight, and since his body probably wants him to, he can typically lose a few pounds without too much effort.
The process typically looks like this - he reads an article about a new diet and then drastically rewire his diet for a few weeks. He restocks the cabinets with “approved foods,” cooks meals dictated by the diet, and tries not to eat out (but when he does, he looks at the diet menu beforehand so he knows that he can order an approved meal).
With these changes in place, he inevitably loses a few pounds. Close friends and family start to notice, and he feels accomplished.
And then something changes in his life. Work gets stressful, he gets a deep craving for something that is “not approved” and then he falls off the rails and puts the weight back on - and then some.
It’s a process that repeats itself a few times a year, without fail.
Maybe you can relate.
The tortoise beats the hare
My mom, on the other hand, has been able to keep a body she’s been happy with for years and has more energy than almost anyone else her age. She has basically trained herself to crave healthy foods and reject unhealthy ones.
She does love chocolate and has a piece pretty much every night, but besides that she’s clean. When she eats a greasy, unhealthy meal, her body feels terrible; meanwhile, she has gotten her body to actively crave kale.
This wasn’t natural for her. Her diet wasn’t always like this. It happened over time. And without ever actually going on “a diet.”
The difference between my mom and my dad here is that my dad’s approach is to try to lose as much weight as possible, as quickly as possible, through drastic diet changes. My mom has been slow and steady all her life.
Most people try to change their diet the way my dad does. They get a burst of motivation, find a diet that sounds promising, and implement dramatic changes to their life immediately. They see before and after pictures, listen to success stories, and dive in.
What people don’t really talk about is that you actually CAN have success by dramatically changing your diet in an instant. But the only way it works is if you’re committed to sticking to this diet FOR LIFE.
Don’t keep falling off the wagon - choose an approach to dieting that works
Choose a Smarter Path
Transform your body without suffering
Paleo or low-carb diets do work in the short-term, but in order to keep the benefits, you need to adopt those eating habits permanently. If you’re using them as a traditional “diet” to lose some pounds fast, you’re almost guaranteed to put the weight back on the second the diet becomes overwhelming.
For most of us, a lifelong commitment is absurd. We want to enjoy our food, eat with variety, and have flexibility.
So if you don’t want to commit to being on a diet your entire life, changing your diet slowly and steadily is the probably the best shot you have at making lasting change.
How do you do that, you ask?
I’m going to make this MEGA simple. I’m going to give you advice you’ve heard before. But I’m going to give it to you in a way that will make it STICK.
It starts with behavior science
We’ll start with psychologist BJ Fogg’s behavior change model.
This model says that in order to change a behavior you need three things:
- Motivation - you want to change your behavior
- Ability - you make it easy to change your behavior
- Trigger - you have something reminding you to change your behavior
What is the behavior you are trying to change? Right now, it’s eating healthier.
To eat healthier, there are two pieces of advice that are pretty much universal.
- Add more fruits and vegetables to your diet
- Cut back on simple and refined carbohydrates
We’re going to exclusively focus on building these two behaviors. If you do these you’ll be well on your way to accomplishing any health goal you have.
Motivation - How to keep the fire stoked
If you’re reading this, you probably feel pretty damn motivated right now. When you feel motivated, you read about changing and then you tell yourself you promise yourself you are going to make a change. But motivation is a fickle thing. The second something unhealthy and delicious is in front of your face, that motivation will probably go right out the window.
To keep the motivation going, you need something extra.
While eating healthy is about more than being fit, let’s be real that most youthful people want to eat better to be more fit. There are health reasons and energy reasons too. But let’s start with the body.
If your “why” is to improve your nutrition for the appearance benefits, one of the best things you can do to add motivation to your life is to put a picture of yourself in a bathing suit on your fridge. Doing this means you’ll see a photo of yourself multiple times a day, and be reminded of what you’re working for. Yes, it’s a little fat shame-y, but we aren’t in the business of being PC. We’re in the business of helping you get what you want.
Ability - how to make healthy eating easy
We want to make eating healthy easy. How?
Number one. Do as my dad does, and restock your cabinets. Go shopping when you’re full, and buy foods that you’ll feel good about eating.
Lots of fruit and veggies.
When your motivation does fail you, your pre-planning will save you. You’ll walk over like a zombie to your cabinets hoping for chips or cookies, and all you’ll find is almonds and pieces of fruit.
Number two, choose one meal a day where you’ll add some veggies. Instead of trying to change everything, decide to add more veggies to breakfast, lunch, dinner or a snack. Try to do this every day.
Number three, choose one meal where you tell yourself you won’t have carbs, or swap refined carbs for complex carbs. Make this a meal where you typically do have carbs.
You can do this for meals you prepare for yourself, or if you eat out for a meal, find a specific dish that meets these criteria.
Over time, increase the number of meals where you make these changes. Try and up the challenge every week for a month.
Trigger - how to remind yourself to eat well
A key to achieving any of our desired goals is to plan our environments so that we are reminded of the positive behaviors we want to enforce, and to prevent us from temptations to do the things we want to avoid.
In the case of being a healthy eater, there are several concrete steps you can take to do this, as highlighted by the research of the wizardly kitchen transformer, Dr. Brian Wansink, the Director of the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University.
Dr. Wansink has an entire checklist of things that you can do to health-proof your kitchen. Take all of your snacks, and put them in a cabinet in your kitchen that is slightly inconvenient to reach. A good place is a cupboard above your oven or refrigerator.
Two: The ONLY food that you should have out on your counter top is a fruit bowl. That way, when you do go hunting for a snack, you’ll see the fruit bowl.
To get a download of Dr. Wansink’s checklist and find out your kitchen’s healthy eating score, click here and we’ll send you the full list along with some follow-up tips.
Other things we would recommend?
Write yourself a little reminder of your goal in a place you will see it every day. Similar to the picture of yourself in a bathing suit, try to match this trigger, or “cue,” to your source of motivation and your “why.”
You could write this on your whiteboard where you’ll see it in the morning, set up a reminder on your phone that triggers before meal times, paste a post-it note on your work computer, or any number of places, as long as it will get your attention.
The message could say something personal, and from the heart, with something like “I choose to eat healthy because I ________.”
Pulling it all together
If you follow these steps, over time you will naturally begin to crave healthy foods and avoid unhealthy ones, and begin having more energy, and look more fit than ever.
Before we say goodbye, here is one other suggestion…
Make Saturday or Sunday a cheat day where you can eat whatever you want. Even if your diet isn’t totally prescriptive, you can still reward yourself. And if you know a treat is coming on the weekend, you can be even more disciplined during the week.
If you follow these steps, eating healthy will not be something that “you’re doing” for a specific reason. It will become part of who you are. You will be a healthy eater.
What we eat impacts not only our weight, but also our happiness, vitality, and longevity. Unless you continuing to revel in your college eating habits, eating healthier is probably on your to do list. And yet, when we’re looking at the menu at our favorite deli or restaurant, we often leave a choice that makes us happy in the moment, but unhappy and depleted in the long term.
Why is there such a disparity between what we want to eat and what we actually eat? The short answer? Bad habits.
Our eating habits are so deeply ingrained that now matter how hard we want to change, our lizard brain often takes over encouraging us to make the same unhealthy choice we’ve always made.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common bad habits when it comes to eating healthy.
1. Making drastic and immediate changes
We all want quick fixes, easy hacks, and instant results. We want an incredible beach body, and we want it now. We want to give up chips and soda today and replace them with salads and water today.
This is why we see so many extreme diets and workout regimens promoted in the market place. Companies make false promises playing to our base instincts. And while it’s great to harness motivation when it arises, trying to do too much too quickly is a proven recipe for burning out and falling back on your old habits that got you where you were before. When it comes to food, quick and dramatic changes almost never work.
In fact, one study showed that only 5% of people who lost weight on a diet kept the weight off for 5 years. 1
To make your diet changes work, you need to enjoy the ride and find sustainable habits because healthy eating doesn’t end once you lose that extra ten pounds or make it through your 21-day diet. To see the true benefits of healthy eating, we need to sustain our habits for months, years, and decades. This is only possible if we find joy and abundance in the foods we eat instead of crash dieting only to return to the same old routine.
Things like replacing simple carbs with complex carbs, adding more protein to your diet, or learning to make salads that you actually look forward to eating can all go a long way in helping you change your eating habits.
(P.S. if you’re incredibly serious about cutting a food group like candy or chips out of your diet, you may want to look at the Pavlok. It’s extreme, but it seems to really work)
2. Eating out and ordering in
The convenience factor makes this one of the easiest habits to fall into. Proximity and speed often trump quality when we’re looking for a quick meal. The unfortunate reality is that we often can’t be sure what we’re eating. Fat, sugar, and salt hide expertly in places we’d never expect, not to mention other additives like preservatives, colorants, and artificial flavors. Cook your own meals, and your body--and wallet--will thank you.
The best way to do this actually prepare your food in advance, when you know you’ll have time. Prepare your meals for the week on Sunday, or prepare tomorrow’s lunch the night before. That way you won’t have to worry about ordering out of convenience, you’ve got your food ready.
And if you want to take food prep out of it, you can actually sign up for a meal kit delivery service, which sends you all of the prepackaged ingredients for a meal to your door.
3. Too much sugar
Sugar use has skyrocketed in the last century, and it’s not just in candy and soda. Sugar is found in all kinds of foods whether they’re sweet, savory, or spicy. Sugar is also highly addictive and can also wreak havoc on your blood sugar, throwing off the hormones that regulate appetite.
The reason sugar is so addictive is because it spikes dopamine in our brains. However, just like a drug, we get used to one dosage of sugar, and our body craves more. Over time, long-term consumption of sugar can actually lead to a reduction in overall dopamine levels. Without sugar, people may find themselves in a mild state of depression. 2
Look at food labels and see how much sugar is in all the food you buy, even the salty items. You’ll be surprised. Also be aware that fat-free foods often contain added sugar to make up for the flavor lost when the fat is removed.
If you have a real sweet tooth, try to savor small doses of sugar, like a square of chocolate. It seems cheesy, but if you can get the same amount of pleasure out of less, your body will thank you (and if you can't, the Pavlok may be the solution)
4. Careless shopping
The grocery store is where the foundation is set for a nutritious diet. As I mentioned, making meals at home is imperative for healthy eating. But this doesn’t do you much good if your kitchen is filled with junk. When going to the store, have a list of health-supporting foods and stick to it. Planning that out in advance makes a huge difference on what you walk out of the store with.
Sometimes it’s not practical to have everything planned out on a list. In this situation, pick a couple of aisles to skip altogether. By avoiding the chip and candy aisles (there’s nothing in those aisles you really need anyway, right?) you dramatically reduce the likelihood that you’ll end up with a cupboard full of temptation. Another great way to avoid impulse buys is to eat before going to the store so you don’t shop hungry.
Another option is to actually skip the grocery store altogether by ordering your food online. By ordering online you won’t be tempted by impulse purchases as you’re walking to the checkout register, giving you the highest chance of succeeding keeping unhealthy foods out of your house.
5. Emotional eating
Food affects our mood in powerful ways. A meal can bring feelings of joy and comfort and reinforce our bonds with those we care about. Food can also be used to overcome feelings of anger, sadness, boredom, and stress. This temporary fix comes at a great cost because the underlying causes of the negative feelings remain after the good feelings from the food have subsided.
Emotional eating can compound the problem because we often pile on guilt or shame about the food we ate. This habit can also occur subconsciously and automatically. We experience some emotional trigger, and it sends us over to the pantry for some comfort in the form of chips, candy, or other damaging foods. It’s helpful to pause for a moment before indulging and asking yourself, “Am I eating this because I’m hungry or for some other reason?” If it’s the latter, take a breath, assess your emotional state, and wait a few minutes before eating to let yourself calm down.
Eating out, careless shopping, emotional eating, drastic dietary changes, and excess sugar intake are five of the most common habits stifling our goals around healthy eating. Keep your eyes open to where these creep into your life. In order to begin tackling these habits and replacing them with better ones, we first need to become aware of which ones affect us and when.