I’m not trying to be clever here, but these two ideas really do go together. I see some of my fitness friends lamenting how they’ve gotten off track and they don’t know how to get back into a healthy routine and I see a lot of other comments from people who want to start either eating better, working out or just being healthier and they don’t know where to start. They’re stuck at the starting line. I suppose I could pretend to be wise and throw out the famous Lao Tzu quote: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” (comes up all the time on motivational apps!) but really it’s not my style. My advice is usually “Pick one! Just do SOMETHING!”
Indecision makes me nuts. (It was seriously the most irritating thing about reading Hamlet- yay, dithering about in iambic pentameter!) When it comes to starting out on a healthier lifestyle, really all you need to do is choose ONE thing and start doing it. Ideally, you should start with tracking your food/ drink and activities, but even if you just start by limiting your soda, your processed foods, adding in more vegetables- any one of those is a start and you begin to build momentum. You have begun to build a platform!
The sad truth is that too many people rely on old incorrect advice, like the ol’ Calories In- Calories Out model (CICO). That’s great if you only plan to do it for a couple weeks so you can lose enough to get into the tux or dress for the reunion/ whatever event. If you plan to lose weight permanently (usually more than a few pounds) and want to be healthier overall, CICO can be really problematic. Some people listen to their doctors who usually give them a “diet plan” that’s based on CICO. What most people don’t know (including me who heard about it from multiple sources while researching nutrition): med students are only required to have about 24 hours of education in nutrition. (I seriously think I have more hours in Shakespeare studies!) That’s the equivalent of one semester of information! If you want to get your nutrition and weight loss information from a healthcare professional, which is really a great idea, then ask for a referral to a nutritionist or registered dietician within your health plan. These are the people who have studied what nutrients a human body needs and how the metabolism works! This is the information that most people (including me) think they are getting from their doctor.
Another sad truths is that most people think in order to lose weight they need to do tons of exercise. They go full bore on their exercise and activity and still eat the same way they have for years. I see this idea a lot on billboards for local gyms saying things like “I work out because: I love deep dish pizza!” That’s great: I love deep dish pizza too, but working out like crazy so you can eat pizza, cinnamon rolls and all the cheese curls you can grab is not going to stop you from gaining weight, never mind losing weight! Most health professionals will tell you that weight loss, specifically fat loss, is 90% nutrition and 10 % exercise. This is why many of them tell you to change your diet first and then work on getting more activity.
I know from experience, including my own, that it feels easier to start exercising more because changing your diet seems way too complicated: “I don’t have time or want to read a book about nutrition/ diet plans/ whatever else someone suggested, so I’ll just walk on the treadmill or use the elliptical.” Exercise is a good thing, and even better once you get into a habit, but seriously, changing your diet can be just as easy. Like the title of this post says, start simply and simply start! It’s not rocket science, no matter what Dr. Famous Guy says in his Best Selling Diet Book. It’s ONE change: make it and you’ve started! You are on your way!
Ideally, you start by tracking your food and activity every day for at least a week or two. I DON’T mean counting calories, weighing your food or eating ‘diet food.’ Just write down what you ate or drank and when. Before you eat, it’s also helpful to write down if you are hungry, really hungry, not hungry and if you’re tired, energetic, ‘okay’ or ‘stressed.’ It wouldn’t hurt either if you also track how much you sleep and the sleep quality. Yeah, I know that sounds like a lot of stuff, but bare bones, start with the food and activity- you can add in the others later. I mention them because all those factors (sleep, stress, hunger & energy) can effect your weight loss, but you don’t need to know all of this information to start. Information Overload is another trap we fall into when we plan to lose weight. We do not need to know everything about weight loss to track. There is a reason for tracking. I know a lot of people think of it as a waste of time, but if you don’t have a record of what you started with and what changes you made, you won’t know what is responsible for your outcome. In other words, if you had bagels for breakfast three days in a row and felt like crap by 11:00 and then you switched to cottage cheese for breakfast one day and felt great all morning, are you sure you’re going to remember? “I felt great on Thursday but what was different? Was that the day the canteen was out of bagels, so I had cottage cheese instead?” This is why we write things down: we don’t always make the connection between the 3:00 slump and the Chinese food for lunch or the morning-after blahs and the high carb dinner the night before.
Even if you opt not to track, healthy eating habits don’t have to be complicated. I know a lot of people who say they hate to cook after I tell them I eat mostly whole foods. They make a face: “I don’t like to cook/ I don’t have time to cook.” Seriously, I am the laziest person I know. I spent most of my childhood cooking for my family and cooking is the last thing I want to do after driving two hours to get home. I want to park in my recliner, play with my pup and do nothing for a while! Eating whole foods doesn’t have to be complicated: I eat a lot of fresh salads: I throw a bunch of veggies in a bowl and pour some olive oil & balsamic vinegar! I eat rotisserie chicken from the deli! I throw some grassfed meat in a frying pan to cook while I eat the veggies! Maybe it’s not gourmet, but it’s not complicated either, and it’s what I like. I can also tell you that I feel a whole lot better after eating it than I do after eating fast food or something processed. I also don’t cook every night. There are a lot of nights when I cook enough for two or three meals and put the leftovers in the fridge. Then I’m reheating it in the microwave while I’m eating my veggies. There are a lot of healthy cookbooks that have 30 minute meals. After years of eating fast food, I can tell you stopping at the drive thru takes about the same amount of time as throwing something on the stove, and it’s got the bonus option of being at home doing other things instead of sitting in the car breathing all the carbon monoxide from all the cars lined up at the window. It’s a little cheaper too. If you pay $7 for the rotisserie chicken (at least 4 meals) and $5 for the box of mixed salad greens (at least another 4 meals), that’s $12 for 4 meals or $3 a meal. Technically, it’s a bit more if you add things like salad dressing and maybe some tomatoes, but usually the bottles of olive oil & balsamic vinegar last a month or more and the box of tomatoes (also $5) lasts all week, so it comes out about $1 serving. It’s healthier than the fast food which usually costs more, takes about the same time and makes you feel like sludge afterwards.
But you don’t have to start with “eating whole foods” right off the bat either! One change: eat one meal at home once a week; eat at home on weekends; switch one processed food for one whole food; when you run out of pasta/ rice/ mashed potato mix, buy fresh or frozen veggies instead. We’ve all seen the “extreme” shows where the fitness guru cleans out the trainee’s kitchen and chucks all the “bad food” in the trash and fills everything with whole grain, grass fed and blah blah healthy stuff. It’s scary! AND YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO IT!! One of my fitness friends made the same lament to me, and I told her “when you run out of oatmeal, buy eggs instead!” She was trying to go low carb for breakfast, but the idea is still the same. It’s what I did: when I ran out of mac & cheese, I bought broccoli in its place.
By making one healthy change you start moving, and the more you move forward, the easier it is to build momentum and keep moving forward! You don’t have to learn everything about nutrition before you start: I think of it as on the job training! I am already moving forward and I am learning as I go. If I had waited until I had a clear cut plan, I might not have ever started, because frankly, it’s intimidating! Once you start looking closely at nutrition, metabolism and fitness, you realize what you don’t know! Let me rephrase: I realized what I didn’t know, and it was daunting! But because I was already moving forward and making progress, the momentum I had built up kept me moving forward! One change: I stopped eating fast food. From there, I moved to replacing the mac & cheese with veggies, and then to having low carb breakfasts, and then to eating organic meat, and another change and another change. The more I learned, the more I refined my way of eating but I was already making progress on my weight loss and overall health. I was already seeing the results and the changes were becoming part of my regular habits, so on top of eating healthier, I was losing weight, being healthier, being more active and I wasn’t miserable! I didn’t hate my diet and fitness, and I wasn’t counting the days until I could go back to eating the way I used to eat. When I do eat something like fast food or processed food, it doesn’t taste as good as what I usually eat, so no temptation there!
Eating healthier, losing weight, being more fit: whatever your goal is doesn’t have to be complicated or a big hassle. It starts simply with one change, and if you don’t know where to start, just pick one thing to change, and there you go! You’ve started! Find one thing you can change easily and make the change. Bonus info: if you don’t like that change, find another one to make! It’s not carved in stone or tattooed on your forehead! To paraphrase wise old Lao Tzu, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, but you’ve got to take that single step!