The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start. ~ John “The Penguin” Bingham
Attempts at improving our health through rigid exercise or exclusion diet programs have failed most people, and for good reason. First, our bodies never evolved to go on crash diets or intense exercise regimens. Second, our culture and environment encourage inactivity and unhealthy eating while exploiting our innate, human instinct of seeking immediate gratification. I write more about this topic in my wellness blog post, Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone. And, last but not least, deceptive, quick-fix advertising from the fitness and diet industry plays into our inability to control our instant desires.
When I started my career as a trainer working at health clubs, I played a part in these quick-fix schemes. Come every January my club would heavily promote the “New Year, New You”, claiming that we could help you get stronger, healthier and lose weight within a certain timeframe. This misleading promotion would often be associated with a before and after photo of a slimmed down club member, hoping that the “New You” image would persuade people to sign up for our program. When people feel inadequate or shamed about their body size, they are more likely to have lower motivation to engage in physical activity. Consequently, people stop showing up at the gym when they don’t see improvements, even though they are locked into paying their yearly memberships. On top of that, we’ll spend thousands of dollars over our lifetime on supplements and the latest fads in fitness and diet, hoping to find that magic bullet for whatever ails us.
There are no quick fixes to improving your fitness and well-being. There are no secrets or shortcuts to success. Living a healthy, more fulfilling life is a journey that takes consistency, perseverance, and long-term commitment. Anyone who tries to convince you otherwise does not have your best interests in mind.
Cycle of Failure
As I mentioned, humans are hardwired to choose immediate gratification over long-term benefits. If we’re in chronic pain, or unhappy with our body or physical fitness, it seems sensible to want results in a hurry. However, this mindset has proved to be futile because it sets us up for a cycle of failure. It usually starts with good intentions and admirable goals such as wanting to lose weight or improve our health. It then seems logical that if we want to lose weight, we choose a diet and exercise program to reach our goals. However, this often backfires if we don’t have a positive relationship to and acceptance of our bodies, and a healthy attitude towards food and physical activity.
If you’ve gone through life feeling insecure with your body and athletic abilities, most likely you’ll perceive exercise as a chore or something you “should” do to lose weight or improve your health. The fitness industry reinforces this view by often promoting effort at the expense of enjoyment. To make matters worse, exercise promotion is almost always used in an underhanded way to instill fear (you’re pre-diabetic so you need to lose weight), or to make people feel inadequate. When you enter into a fitness program feeling insecure about your appearance or athletic abilities, then hear the proverbial message, “no pain, no gain”, it’s no wonder why many people don’t stick to their New Year’s resolutions and fitness routines. When eating and moving become something we should do or have to do rather than something we want to do, it undermines motivation and participation immensely.
Cycle of Success
Living a healthy lifestyle requires taking small steps every day towards improving your long-term health. Research has shown that making practical, daily lifestyle changes such as sitting less and moving more, cooking and eating wholesome foods, drinking more water, getting outside to walk or play, and getting quality sleep, can go a long way to improving one’s health. These are simple but not easy behaviors, because it takes a conscious effort and daily awareness to overcome the pitfalls of our sedentary culture. Nevertheless, doing something small every day towards changing your behaviors becomes your new and lasting healthy lifestyle.
In order to make small changes towards better health, we need to think of food and physical movement as life essentials, not as “diet” and “exercise” that we have to fit in during our day. This awareness can lead to an understanding that cooking and eating wholesome foods, and getting more daily physical activity, are healthy behaviors that are practiced throughout your life.
Another key to your journey is to enjoy the process, rather than forcing yourself to the gym or through the latest fad diet. Making changes to your lifestyle is difficult, but if you can make it pleasurable and even sociable, you are far more likely to stick to the changes you have made, especially if you have the support of others. Look for like-minded groups, either online or in person, to connect with (such as the Be Resilient Project), or seek support from health care professionals if you need help in a specific area. Above all, self-compassion is probably the most important adjustment you can make during this journey. If you encounter a slip up, don’t beat yourself up over it. Reflect on why and remind yourself that tomorrow is another opportunity to try again.
To embark on a journey, it helps to have a guide to help you overcome obstacles or barriers that will impede your way. To learn how to overcome barriers to making lasting lifestyle changes, please read my complementary article in this month’s newsletter.
Share Your Wellness Thoughts: What motivates you and keeps you on the path to good health?