One of the things I hear a lot on the Primal Potential podcast and on MFP (My Fitness Pal) is the idea that, because you blew it today or this week, that you’ll start again fresh on Monday, or tomorrow, or whatever convenient date is approaching. As we head into the holiday season, for a lot of us that date will of course be the New Year. I have to confess, this idea of “I’ll start tomorrow!” (as Elizabeth Benton terms it) was initially foreign to me. Not because I’m so good at not blowing it (yeahhhh, riiiiight-eye roll) but because I really never planned on “starting.” I’d try to “eat better,” blow it and well, so much for today! There was never any idea of starting over; it was pretty much one constant flub-up after another without any planning or organization. To say that I didn’t know what I was doing is being charitable- I was a total diet disaster!
This idea of planning a start date for a diet/ eating plan was a little mystifying to me, but the more I listened to Elizabeth’s podcast and saw what my MFP friends were posting, I soon became acquainted with the idea of “starting fresh.” I understand the concept but the constant “damage control monitor” in me rebelled at the idea of just trashing the rest of the day/ week/ year and starting fresh on another date. Maybe it’s from all those years as a student, but when you really botch a midterm and/ or project, you really can’t say “I’ll just retake the course next semester!”- you do as much as you can to salvage what remains of your grade! I think that mentality has been thoroughly ingrained into me, so yeah, if I totally blew it on lunch because we went out the Death By Deep Fried restaurant, I’d usually do as much as I could to save the rest of the day, whether I was “dieting” or not. My natural inclination is if you completely lost control (or chose to indulge) at one meal, or on one day, then you don’t give up the rest of the day/ week; you start making better choices right away (even if they were only marginally better at first)! Yeah, you went way overboard at breakfast today! Admit it, own it and move on! Make better choices at lunch today! Or, if your breakfast was really satisfying, skip lunch entirely and just have two meals for today. Actually, this is kind of what I do on weekends when I have lunch out with my dad- I stick to coffee for breakfast, have a bigger lunch and then have dinner that evening. This is what I did when my friends treated me to a birthday lunch at Death By Deep Fried- it was a surprise (and a total Paleo disaster!), so there was no dinner that night!
There are a lot of people who are really attached to the whole “fresh start” idea and it’s not without merit, but I think this is one of those good ideas that has been corrupted by excuse abuse. The idea of starting fresh on a certain date allows you to prepare mentally for the process. It also allows you to get all your ducks in a row, like getting rid of all the foods that are not on your new eating plan and picking out some good alternatives. One of the changes I made was I bought a lunch kit: the insulated bag, food containers and a water bottle. In the past, I always ate takeout for breakfast and lunch; in my new lifestyle, I bring my meals with me. In the past, I ate a lot of boxed pasta mixes and in my new eating plan, I eat more veggies, so when I was transitioning, it was a simple process of buying some fresh veggies instead of processed foods and not restocking the boxes as they ran out (I eventually threw out the last one!) It’s not unlike people who quit smoking: they mentally prepare themselves for the day when they will officially be a “non-smoker,” pitch the last of the cigarettes, and stock up on things they think they’ll need like nicotine gum and/ or patches. Writing in a start date on your calendar is a good way to get ready for the “official start” of your healthier lifestyle.
The abuse happens when people repeatedly “start over fresh” because they keep giving in to temptation. You are almost two weeks into your new healthy lifestyle and you’ve been doing okay, despite the temptations, cravings and bad habits. Then, you’re running late, have a less than satisfying protein bar for breakfast and come rushing into your morning meeting –BOOM! plateful of donuts on the conference room table! oooh, and there’s buttermilk bars- your favorite!! mmmm, they smell so good! and the aftertaste of that getting-yuckier-by-the-minute protein bar is still in your mouth! I can have a half of one, right? That won’t be so bad! Well, I ate more than half, so I might as well eat the whole thing! It’s only one donut….. I can start again tomorrow, can’t I?
Or instead of the morning meeting’s donuts, it’s the impromptu lunch out with friends or co-workers: they love that Mexican restaurant, and their chips are always hot and fresh! and they make their own tortillas each morning! So you succumb to the chips and tortillas and beans and rice and heck, I’ve already blown it, so let’s splurge on the deep-fried ice cream (yeah, it’s a thing!) “I can start again tomorrow, can’t I?”
It becomes a loophole- an excuse mantra, if you will- for indulging in the things you know aren’t going to move you towards your goals. Rather than saying no to the buttermilk bars, you give in and “redeem yourself” by agreeing to start fresh the next day. Rather than saying no to the carrot cake (my own kryptonite!), it’s okay to have one slice since I’m going to be starting fresh again on Monday! Tomorrow is going to be a killer-strict hold-fast-to-those-goals day!! The problem is tomorrow never comes! Literally, when you wake up in the morning, it’s Today, not Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is always a good day to get your ducks in a row and start fresh! The problem is it’s not the diet or healthy lifestyle that keeps getting postponed- it’s your goals! It’s your success that keeps getting farther and farther away! I italicized the “your” for a reason, because the person you hurt the most when you push the date back again and again is YOU! How can you ever be a winner if you don’t even get in the game? We used to have a lottery slogan in California: if you want to win, you have to play! And it’s true! I will never win a gold medal for skiing, and I can say that with absolute certainty because I have never been on skis. I have no desire even to try skiing, so I know I’ll never been world class, let alone an Olympic medalist! If you want to be healthier, lose weight, be more athletic, it means you have to engage in that behavior! It means you have to play the game!
Training & Practice isn’t just for the Gym
I used to teach Basic English (waaay back in the 90’s- aack!), and in addition to writing essays, my students had to read a book. Since most of them were freshman and more than a few were straight from English as a Second Language classes, it wasn’t a big book, but most of them were not recreational readers. I would tell them that reading is a skill and the more you practice, the easier it gets. I would tell them when they begin the book, read for at least five minutes without stopping, or as long as they could before they started getting antsy. Next time, read for ten minutes. Just increase the time each time (or every couple of times) and they were usually surprised that it got easier. Many of them had never thought of themselves as “readers” but it’s just practice and like any skill, if you don’t keep practicing, you lose your edge! I used to ask them (and this will really date me!) “Do you think Michael Jordan practices? You better believe it!”
Most of us who go into the healthy living/ eating arena aren’t that different from my former students: we don’t think of ourselves as healthy individuals or healthy eaters because we’ve never practiced it. It’s a skill we really stink at because unlike people who have always worked out or made healthy choices, we don’t have any consistency or familiarity with either of these areas. It’s awkward and uncomfortable at first when we have to make healthy choices or go to work out. We feel unsure and the idea that other people are looking at us at the gym, or impatiently waiting for us to order at the restaurant, makes us feel self-conscious. We are hesitant, which makes it difficult to practice consistency, which lends itself to a vicious cycle: we feel awkward, so we don’t do it often, and because we don’t do it often, we feel awkward and so we continue not to do it! Obviously if we made healthy choices more often, we would feel more comfortable and it would be less of an issue until it became a non-issue entirely!
For me as a reader, I grew up watching my dad and my grandparents read just about every day. My dad took us to the library on a regular basis and my grandparents had a set time every afternoon when they read the paper or their books. It was normal for me to pick up a book and read for long periods because I enjoyed it (I still read recreationally almost every day). I had seen family members do it and it was no big deal: no whining, no fanfare, just every day, enjoyable behavior. Making healthy choices to be more active or eat more whole foods isn’t that different. We just need to practice long enough until it becomes a habit. We hone our skills with practice and consistency and lo and behold, the buttermilk bars are no longer a temptation because our palate has changed and they aren’t as great as they used to be. We learn through trial and error what works best for us and what we need to avoid. This means that we have to risk being unsure, making mistakes, having people ask us questions that maybe feel a little awkward at times. It means we have to put ourselves out there a little. Our real friends and family will be supportive and, in my opinion, everyone else doesn’t matter! So what if the waiter sighs impatiently while you ask questions about the glazed salmon and fresh vegetables? Who cares if the other guys at the gym roll their eyes when you grab the 10# free weights? You have just as much right to be there as they do, and as for the waiter, his tip depends on you! (Minus $1 for each sigh!)
As a child in the library, I often wandered out of the Children’s Section into the mainstream areas and at home I usually picked up the books my dad finished. (FYI: James Bond is most definitely not for kids!) As a result, I was the only kid in my freshman history class to know the difference between a rifle and a musket (it’s the grooves aka rifling in the barrel; increases accuracy and speed of the rifle’s bullet). Did my parents care that I was reading way above my age level? Definitely not! I did learn that I am not an Ian Fleming fan but that history is pretty awesome! Did classmates think I was weird? Some of them, but when they needed help on their Iliad term papers, I was really popular! The point is being different didn’t stop me from doing what I liked doing. If they thought I was weird, I really didn’t care. The reading and learning were more valuable to me than my classmates’ opinions of me. (Personally, I never saw the thrill in getting stoned/ wasted in the school parking lot, but that’s just me!)
Risk v Reward
You have to decide what’s important to you: learning to make healthy choices regarding your food and activity or feeling awkward at gyms and restaurants. Does looking like a newbie or a dork in front of strangers matter more to you than your health and well-being? (Granted, it’s a little more awkward in front of friends/ family, but they should be supportive!) Your goals are important to you, whether it’s eating healthier, getting fitter, or even something like just being strong enough to do a hand stand; it matters to you! The reason is really beside the point. Every time you set out to reach your goals, you are telling yourself that you matter and you are worth the effort! It’s a promise you are making to yourself to improve your health, your strength, your fitness: I will do this! Each time you give up your goals for the momentary thrill of the buttermilk bar, the thrill of playing hooky from the workout in favor of the Walking Dead binge, you are breaking a promise to yourself. You are putting your dreams last in favor of the momentary whims. Will the donut taste good? Probably. For about five minutes. Will the tv show be fun? Probably. For as long as it lasts. What will either of those gain you? Not much. Making the healthy choice not to eat the donut and to hit the workout, on the other hand, will give you more confidence in your healthy choices and move you a little further to your goals. Your body will appreciate the exercise and get stronger. You’ll be more confident in the gym. Your metabolism will appreciate the healthier food and your blood sugar will be more even, and maybe you will even burn some fat instead of the donut you didn’t eat! Your palate will change and move away from craving sugar and refined carbs, and you’ll have fewer cravings for the simple processed foods. All of these positives come from keeping your promise to be a healthier person. Weigh those against the fleeting momentary pleasures of donuts and tv (or whatever else tries to lure you away)!
Strange things happen when you keep your promises to yourself: 1) you get stronger- mentally and physically! I drop off my laundry every week and it’s generally around 20 lbs. I used to need both hands to lift and carry the bag, but not anymore. Because now I keep my workout appointments. I used to hate getting milk and eggs at my supermarket because they were right next to the bakery, and I could smell the cakes, donuts and cookies. It was such a temptation for me, but now I just walk right by them without a thought. Even when I stop to look at them, they are not appealing, because I know how much better I feel when I don’t eat them (they don’t really taste as great anymore either)! Neither of these accomplishments would have happened if I hadn’t kept my promises to myself, and frankly, I learned this the hard way, after breaking them over and over again (yeah, I’m a little slow)!
2) You become more confident in yourself. As mentioned above, the more you do something, the easier it gets, so eventually, even when you come up against something that is a little beyond your comfort zone, it’s still not much of a stretch because you’ve done something similar for so long. By the time my friends took me out for my birthday lunch at Death By Deep Fried, I had been making healthy choices at restaurants for a while, and even though there was very little on that menu that fit in my eating plan (it was a Paleo train wreck!), it wasn’t that big a deal. I made the best choices that I could and skipped dinner that evening. The “I’ll start tomorrow” excuse wasn’t even an option for me! There was no need to “start fresh” the next day, because I chose not to quit!
3) The more you choose not to quit, the easier it gets to keep going! You build momentum and the more you see the results of not quitting, the more you want to keep going! This is what finally happened to me. After biting the bullet, keeping my workout appointments, and saying no to the “treats,” I became more confident, I became stronger, and – gasp!- I started seeing results! The more I saw results, the more I wanted to keep going forward! I finally got under 300 lbs! (After almost 20 years!) Yowza– was I thrilled!! Carrot cake be damned! Who needs it when it feels like this to hit a milestone like that?! Why would I ever want to quit for a donut so I can “start fresh tomorrow” when I am kicking butt with my goals today?! Success breeds success and when you stop breaking your promises to yourself, and keep them instead, you go from being your worst enemy to being your strongest ally! You deserve the best and don’t let others’ opinions stand in your way!