I’ve been doing this “fitness thing” for a couple of years now and I remember last January when everyone on MFP (My Fitness Pal) was complaining how crowded the gym was! They went for their regular workouts and found the gym was packed with all the “newbies” lining up for equipment and crowding the classes. The general response across the board was “wait a few weeks and it’ll be back to normal!” Happily for most of us chronic gym rats, that’s what happened: by the end of February/ beginning of March, the gym was back to normal. Good for us; not so good for everyone whose New Year’s resolution was to get fit!
So, how exactly do you keep a resolution (New Year’s or otherwise) to get fit/ eat healthier? I’ve got two words for you: 1) Baby; and 2) Steps! Yeah, I know it sounds silly and it takes too long and everyone else is out there crushing it nightly at the gym and juicing the heck out of every leafy green thing they can find! And there you are, looking like a wuss, taking baby steps! Need I remind you of the tortoise and the hare? You can be off like a shot, but this is a marathon, not a sprint, and biologists will tell you rabbits are built for speed, not stamina. Long distance runners will tell you the same thing: you need to pace yourself! [FYI: the first marathon runner who ran the 26.2 miles from the battle of Marathon to Athens to announce the Athenian victory to the city DIED after making the announcement!]
This is all about sustainability! All of us who regularly haunt the gym (or in my case, the pool) have worked it into our regular schedules. This is a habit with us and we regularly schedule around our workouts. For example, if I’m going to run errands after work, I never do it on Mondays or Wednesdays because I have my water fitness classes those nights. Maybe two nights a week doesn’t sound like a lot, but I’m still going after all these months. (I also just bought some pool gear so now I can do the same workout on Friday nights too!) A lot of the newbies who were crowding into the pool in January and February are no longer coming. Hitting the gym or weights or whatever four times a week is great, if you have the time. If you can fit those in every week month after month, you’re definitely crushing it (and frankly, I’m a little jealous)! I don’t have that much free time in my schedule and I really don’t know a lot of people who do. That’s the problem for most people: they want to get healthy but they think that in order to get great results, they have to show up at the gym several times a week.
They also think they need to clean out their kitchen of everything that even remotely looks or tastes good or fattening or “unhealthy.” So the juicers and blenders and spiralizers and other gadgets come out of hiding (like they do every January) and are put through their paces for roughly six weeks or so. Like the constant trips to the gym, all that rigorous “healthiness” starts to wear thin after a while. Really, how many spinach, cucumber and cranberry smoothies can someone drink?? (I know I’m soo tired of Epic bars myself! Ugh!) It’s also more difficult if you have a family to contend with: kids and spouses who are not doing the “fitness thing” with you also have to adapt to the new schedules and habits. These can create substantial impositions on their lives: “sorry, hon, can’t pick up/ drop off the kids because I’m at the gym!”; “yes, we’re having kale salad tonight again!”; “no cinnamon rolls in the house- daddy’s on a diet!”; “More spinach?!”
Do you know why baby steps are called “baby steps”? Because- like a baby- you are learning how to do something! If you’ve ever tried learning a new language, you don’t pick up Don Quixote in the original Spanish! You start with a few easy phrases: Hola, mucho gusto, por favor, gracias, de nada, etc. You create a foundation to build on; otherwise you get lost in unfamiliar territory. Fitness and healthy nutrition are no different. Build yourself a solid platform you can rely on and then keep building. Ideally, you should make a list of healthy habits you want to incorporate into your life and start with just the first one, then every month (once you’ve successfully added in the first), add in another. For example:
- Drinking 6 glasses of water daily
- Tracking your food/ drinks/ activity
- Going to the gym twice a week (or once)
- Getting more sleep (at least 7 hours)
- Giving up (or reducing) bread/ pasta
- Eating cruciferous veggies daily (1 meal)
- Getting 5000 steps a day (or whatever number works for you)
- Eating at least one whole food meal daily
- Practicing gratitude/ stress management
- Giving up (or reducing) sugar
- Stop snacking between meals/ evenings
- Eating more organic/ non GMO foods
I admit this list does not look very impressive, but that’s because it’s things you will actually do and enjoy– not overwhelm you with “healthiness.” These are just some examples, but if you don’t know where or how to start this list has some easy examples and it should easily take you through 2017. I know they look like something you can start all at once, but this is where most people run into trouble. They’ve got this list of things they need to focus on and when real life hits, these “little things” get lost in the shuffle: “I can work on eating healthier after the huge office project is done! I’ll worry about getting more exercise after the meetings are over! I’ll focus on getting my steps in once the merger is completed!” Before you know it, it’s April and you maybe get to the gym once or twice a month, your Fitbit is gathering dust on your nightstand, and you’re still regularly eating ravioli and English muffins. This is about having one thing that you focus on for one month or so until you know longer have to think about doing it: it’s become a habit. Congrats! Cross that one off your list and move on to #2! By June, when everyone is complaining that they didn’t lose the weight or work out more during the winter and now it’s swimsuit season, you’ll look way better than most of your friends & office mates. You’ll be more active, leaner and fitter and eating a whole lot healthier, and when they’re asking you how you stayed on track, you can tell them: baby steps!
Instead of trying to make a bundle of changes all at once, you made one change a month and built yourself a sturdy foundation. (In other words, you learned your vocabulary before you started on sentences.) It’s not glamorous or exciting or dramatic, but it’s effective. This is why this process is overlooked by a lot of people. When it comes to fitness and weight loss, the slow steady ‘be the tortoise’ approach isn’t what people want to hear or see: everyone wants the quick fix and the magic pill. In the next couple of months, there are going to be a lot of commercials for ‘super-quick’ fitness & weight loss products & programs: “you can lose weight & look great in 14 minutes a day!” “Pack all your food in our colored portion control boxes and you’ll lose weight without boring calorie counting!” They are all very tempting and some of them actually work….. as long as you stick with the program. Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) tells her clients & listeners regularly: “short term solutions provide short term results” But most people are focused more on “fast and dramatic” and ignore the “temporary and unsustainable” part of the program: “I’ll worry about that later!”
People also run into trouble when they think they have to be perfect. They’re supposed to be cutting back on the simple carbs (breads, pastas & cookies) and they end up at a Mexican restaurant and before they know it, they’ve eaten half a basket of chips and salsa: “Crap! I screwed up!” Yeah, those chips are definitely not low carb or whole food (even if they are corn tortilla chips). Two more words for you: 1) so; and 2) what? Yeah- so what? You screwed up and had some chips! It’s not the end of your fitness journey; the nutrition police don’t throw you off the Fitness Team; the gym doesn’t shred your membership card! Sometimes when you’re learning a new habit, you forget and follow your old routine by mistake. When I was trying out Bulletproof coffee, I kept adding my usual cream and stevia every morning because I was half asleep on autopilot; I had to stop buying the cream and stevia so it wouldn’t be there for me to put in by mistake! It took a little time but eventually, I got there. When you flub up, you get up and try again. If you ever learned to ski, you know the first few times, you spent a lot of time in the snow, either face first or on your butt! The same thing when you learned to ride your bike- the training wheels got a lot of mileage! But that’s why they’re there! Something odd happens when we try something that’s not on the regular “growing pains” list or maybe it just happens when we turn into adults: we stop giving ourselves a break and start holding ourselves to ridiculous standards. It’s like we give ourselves one attempt at something new and if we goof it up (as most of us will!), it’s “too bad- so sad! thanks for playing!” This isn’t the last at-bat of the last game of the World Series! It’s not fourth and goal with 10 seconds on the clock of Super Bowl! If you flub up with the chips three days into “low carbing it,” you don’t lose the championship or the game or even your gym membership: you just stop eating the chips! You just move on to the next good decision. These are your training wheels! They are your baby steps, because you really are still learning this!
This is why the newbies at the gym drop off six weeks into the New Year and the rest of the regulars are still there. They’ve taken the time to work these healthy habits into their regular lives. I went to the grocery store without my list the other day (I thought I had it in my pocket- what can I say?) So when I realized I’d left it at home, I just went through my usual circuit at the store: produce section, meat, coffee, health, pets, dairy. It was pretty much autopilot, but that’s what made it easy. When I reached an area where I normally shopped, I knew what I was there to get, did a quick mental check (am I out of that?) and moved on to the next section! This is what makes it easy to stay with it and this is the difference between sustainability and “temporary solutions.” It would have been harder for me to do my grocery shopping last year when it was still a new process, but now it’s normal and I don’t have to worry about having to fall back on boxes of mac & cheese and hot dogs “in case I don’t have anything for dinner.”
There’s nothing glamorous about taking baby steps and following the “tortoise” route. There are no dramatic changes- yet! The dramatic “holy cow, you look great!” comes later in the year, when you show up for the 2017 office Christmas party and people who haven’t seen you for several months get another look at you. The dramatic looks start coming about June or August when you’ve had six or eight months to get the baby steps rolling. Once the sustainable changes start showing, the “wow! you look good!” remarks will start coming more and more often (which is some great motivation, too!) but the best part of knowing that your improvements are showing is also knowing that you don’t have to worry about “how long can I keep this up?” and “what happens when I can’t do this any longer?” This is what no one talks about when they’re pushing the super-quick ‘look great in 21 days’ programs at you: what happens when the 21 days are over? what happens when you can’t keep doing the boogie board exercises or can’t keep packing dinner in the portion controlled boxes? The bottom line: if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing to lose weight/ get fit, YOU WON’T KEEP DOING IT! You have to find what works for you, what you enjoy doing and then make it part of your normal every day life. It’s a little bit of work, it’s not oh-so-dramatic, and Chris Powell isn’t going to show up at your house to turn your garage into a mini-gym, but on New Year’s Eve 2017, you won’t be at a party with a muffin top and a huge piece of something unhealthy on your plate, getting ready to start ‘getting healthy’ all over again! When everyone else is making New Year’s Resolutions to lose weight, exercise more and eat healthier, your resolutions for 2018 will be things like “learn to surf,””start kick-boxing,” and “try hot yoga.” You’ll already be healthy and getting healthier because all those good habits are now part of your normal, and it’ll have been a lot easier and a lot less pain than killing yourself in the gym every night in January 2017! It’s one new habit a month and each month, you add a new one! be the tortoise and finish the race! And try not to laugh at all the exhausted rabbits you pass on the way!