Do you want to get in shape? More importantly do you need to get in shape, drop a few pounds, slim down? You’re not alone. It’s that time of year once again, when many of us are thinking about next year’s goals and a healthier and stronger version of the person greeting us in the mirror every morning. A lot of us will fail. We’ll attack our goals with passion and zeal until reality sets in and hitting snooze becomes preferable to dragging our sore hungry bodies out of bed and into the cold winter morning air for another workout that seems to be getting us nowhere. Maybe we’re going about this all wrong.
I think so may people fail in their health goals because they take on too much too soon. They aim for drastic steps and dramatic results before they’ve taken the time to build a solid foundation of a healthy lifestyle. They are unaware of the true level of commitment and discipline required to achieve their dream body. They also focus too much on the body and not enough on everything else around them, their habits, their mindset, their routines, even their friends and family. Living healthy is a total lifestyle. It’s not something you can pick up for 6 to 8 weeks to achieve a result and then set back down again and expect things to keep on rolling along. This is a lifelong commitment to change.
I would advocate a bottom up approach. Don’t get wrapped up in the workouts and finding a gym at first. Stop obsessing about macros, calories, keto, paleo, and all that other marketing bullshit. Instead of worrying about what you need to bring into your routine, start by taking some time to look inwards at yourself, your life, and your habits that are making you unhealthy. Do an audit and try to be as unemotional and unbiased as you can be. Enlist the help of a trusted friend or family member if you can whose opinion you can count on. Ask some hard question before you begin this journey.
Do I lead a healthy lifestyle? Obviously many of us don’t, or we wouldn’t be looking for ways to get in shape. But what habits or routines are we engaging in that make us unhealthy? Being out of shape doesn’t just happen one morning. It’s a cumulative result of years and maybe even decades of consistent routines, and habits, and maybe even social conditioning. For example I grew up in hard poverty, with a single mother. We often couldn’t pay the electric bill and had to walk everywhere but we did have food and we were always admonished for not eating everything on our plate regardless of portion sizes. Those portions were often carb heavy cheap foods provided by the government; filling but not very nutritious. Start looking at your life and past and start asking some honest questions like these below.
Are we getting enough uninterrupted quality sleep? I put this first for a good reason. America is one of the most sleep deprived nations in the world. Wherever technology is so too is sleep debt and a whole host of related issues, like depression, obesity, high blood pressure. The over abundance of blue light emitting screens in our daily lives and obsession with our cellphones is destroying our natural circadian rhythms and sleep patterns. It’s limiting our natural production of melatonin and serotonin. Healthy people prioritize sleep, do you? Are you turning off your screens and tuning out a few hours before bed? Is your bedroom dark and quiet? The only things you should do in your bed are sleep and have sex. Anything else is just training your body and mind not to sleep.
Are you physically active? Does your job require you to sit for hours on end? Do you often come home mentally exhausted and drained and plop down in front of your TV for a few hours of escape. Do you spend your weekends on the same couch catching up on that series you missed during the week or football. All this time not moving around, not being active, not using your body for the very purpose it was designed for, adds up. 45-60 minutes of exercise a few times a week is not going to overcome 12 plus hours a day of doing nothing. Your body was designed by millions of years of evolution to stand, walk, and move, to squat not sit. The majority of your daily physical activity should not come from your workout, but constant low intensity movement. Get a stand up desk if you can. Walk around, going for hour long walks everyday should be the bedrock of your fitness routine combined with strenuous exercise and weight training. Get a dog and learn to see every walk like your dog does, a brand new adventure and opportunity to reconnect with the natural world.
Do you eat to fuel your life? Or do you eat to soothe, repress, and relieve stress? This is a big question and one that will require the most honesty on your part. I’ve yet to train a client who was overweight that didn’t have an issue with some kind of stress eating. Healthy people view food primarily as fuel, and nothing more. Yes they enjoy tasty good food, we all should. Unhealthy and overweight people tend to see food as an emotional soother. They eat when they feel sad, depressed, mad, or rejected, then they feel guilty about overeating, then eat some more to sooth that emotion; the cycle never ends. Food becomes a drug as potent as any narcotic and triggers the same hormone and endorphin rush as those drugs complete with highs and lows and the never ending need for more. Can you learn to see food as fuel and separate yourself from it emotionally?
Do you surround yourself with healthy like minded people? The saying that “you are the average of the five people closest to you,” is generally true. If our friends tend towards being overweight out of shape overeaters, we will tend to be as well. If your spouse or significant other is overweight chances are you will be too. If your goal is lifestyle change, hang out with those people whose lives mirror your goals. Soon you will start to adopt those healthy habits and make them your own, we as humans can’t help it. We will change to blend with our environment and the group we most often interact with. Make your group healthy fit people and the road to change will be all that much easier.
In the end, it’s actually a pretty simple concept. If you want to change your life and become healthier you have to do what healthy fit people do. You have to act how they act, eat how they eat, live how they live. It’s not rocket science. It’s a matter of habits and routines and sticking to them until they become hardwired into your daily life. Health is a lifestyle, not something you do. Its part of who you are. Can you commit to that?