As 2017 comes to a close, it’s human nature to take inventory of life and think through what we’d like to change or a
chieve in the next year. Some of us write these down and make formal resolutions, and others have a more informal approach. Many of us create goals around body weight, overall health, and fitness. Come January 1st we join gyms, start diets and change our eating, and might even try to establish healthier habits around creating margin in our schedule or incorporating more sleep each night. Ultimately, the main purpose of health-related resolutions is to increase our confidence level, and positively impact how we physically feel, and in the long haul to increase our longevity.
We’re instant gratification people. We want to see change but we don’t really want to have to change. The truth is that when it comes to changing body weight and our eating, real sustainable change requires intentional habit change. It’s not really about what we want but about what we’re willing to work for! It involves changing the way we think about food and prioritizing an active lifestyle. It requires a shift from impulse to intentionality. It requires thought and planning. It also involves making time for things that we often don’t associate with “fun”- like grocery shopping, cooking, and purposeful activity/movement.
The process of learning a healthier approach to eating has five steps:
Learn your food.
Learn your body.
Establish health habits around food and activity.
Redefine your emotional connection to food.
Step one involves the deliberate choice to change. Sit down and write out realistic goals around health and fitness that will help motivate you to stay on track. Identify short-term and long-term goals so you can continually see your progress. These goals should be SMART: Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. I recommend starting with one SMART goal per month.
Then comes learning your food. Learning your food is a process that takes time.
Using apps like MyFitnessPal to log your food, will allow you to learn the basic make-up of the food you eat without feeling overwhelmed. You can just scan a food label or search for preexisting entries. Initially it can feel time consuming but the process gets smoother as you establish the new habit. Your body works best when you eat in a nutrient balance, and it takes a bit of time for you to learn what that balance looks and feels like for you.
Next is learning how your body responds to the food you eat. How is your current way of eating working for you? How do you feel? How is your sleep? Are you bloated at the end of the day? How is your energy level? How healthy is your skin and hair? What’s your mood like throughout the day? Absent the presence of disease, all of these questions lead back to the food you eat.
Now its time to modify the food you eat and develop a sustainable approach to eating. Set a period of time to incorporate less processed and more “real” food into your diet and see how it impacts the way you think and feel. Don’t panic. You don’t have to eliminate all processed food from your diet. The goal is to eat more meats, veggies and fruits and less fast food, fried food, and sugary sweets. The more processed food you eliminate, the more you’ll learn how your body responds to certain types of foods. Initially you may feel less satisfied eating more whole food because your body is so accustomed to running primarily on food-like substances (which might make you temporarily grumpy), but after a few days you’ll likely notice considerably less bloat, better sleep, improved skin and hair, and more energy.
Finally comes the tough part of changing our emotional connection to food and exercise. We must retrain our brains when it comes to the foods we eat. Food is information. The food we eat sends messages throughout our body to perform certain functions that maintain life. That’s its job. Food’s job is not to make us feel happy. Its job is not to bring us comfort or joy. Food can’t make us feel. Going out with friends and choosing a grilled chicken breast and veggies over a cheeseburger and fries or nachos doesn’t mean we’ll have less fun (that’s just the story we tend to tell ourselves). Popcorn at the movie theater doesn’t mean the movie will be better. Hanging out with friends over pizza won’t be more fun than hanging out with friends without pizza. When it comes to exercise, you don’t need to run on a treadmill for 60 minutes or be bored out of your mind doing cardio. Try different methods of exercise. Incorporate weight training and find something that you don’t dread doing! After years of running, I discovered a love for CrossFit because it’s different every day and I don’t have to think about what to do. I just show up, do what I’m told to do, and I get to workout with friends! It’s something I actually look forward to! So try different things and determine what you enjoy and do that! Changing our emotional connection to food and exercise is by far the most challenging part of adopting a healthier lifestyle.