There is a lot on social media about “finishing strong” lately. Even my own water aerobics trainer shouted it at us yesterday as we were splashing around in the pool. I can understand it: a lot of times we might start strong but as we get increasingly tired or keeping the pace gets hard, we start to slow down like a wind-up toy until we are barely going through the motions. Sometimes, if we are fairly tired towards the end of the workout, we start out going through the motions! If fitness is your goal, this is not the way to get there!
It’s not the way to get there with weight loss either! For a lot of us, the week looks like this: we start out on Monday eating great, making healthy choices, saying no to temptation and then over the next few days, the stress of working, family and daily life starts getting to us. We start feeling really stressed or really rushed because things happen that get in the way of our carefully laid plans and so we start “improvising.” We don’t have time to eat that healthy salad we brought with us so lunch today is a sandwich. We get stuck having to run an unscheduled errand at the end of the day so rather than fix that healthy dinner we had planned, we opt for something processed but “healthy” and then we worked late and had an early morning so breakfast is something takeout but “on the healthier” side on the way to work. By Friday, our weight loss plan looks nothing like what you actually planned for the week and you count it as a Win if your dinner Friday night is anywhere close to “healthy!” As for the weekend, who’s had any chance to make plans for healthy eating? You’ve been too busy!
I know that reality can be a real monkey wrench in the middle of carefully laid plans. We start out strong but somewhere along the line our resolution crumbles along with our plans. It’s not our fault that Real Life screwed it up! Seriously?! This is news to you? Where have you been living and how can I move there? Because thinking that everything is always going to go according plan all the time or even just most of the time is living in a fantasy world. Most of us hardened Real World citizens make our plans and if even half of them go as we’d like, we consider ourselves lucky, but we make our plans in spite of Real Life. There is always the chance than more will go right than not but regardless of how much goes along with the plan or not, we hold fast to our resolution to start strong and finish stronger!
I know this sounds like a lot of cheerleading motivational jargon but the truth of the matter is that our success with weight loss, fitness or anything else we want to achieve begins and ends with our resolve. No one can make us eat healthy or choose the carrot over the candy bar, especially when we’re on our own. I heard it said once that the definition of integrity is what one does when no one is watching. If you pull up to that stop sign in the middle of the night and you are alone on the road, do you stop or do you just blow right through it? I know that Common Sense would say if there is no cross traffic and you are the only car on the road for miles, why stop? In response, let me refer you to a high school classmate who came to that same conclusion and blew through the stop sign only to be pulled over by the police cruiser hiding in the shadows with the lights off.
If he had stopped, there wouldn’t have been any issue, but he thought he could get away with something. A lot of times, this tends to be our mentality too when our resolution starts to waver. We begin rationalizing excuses why it’s okay to make the choice to eat what’s tempting rather than what’s on our plan. It’s that damned Real Life again! I don’t have time to cook after running all these unscheduled errands so I have to get takeout! I couldn’t finish my salad so this snack is okay (it makes up for lunch!) NO. It’s NOT okay. Not if you want to reach your weight loss goals.
Anyone can start strong. All it takes is a little planning. We get on the road to eating healthy and for the first day or so, things are great because they are easy. Once things start getting bumpy, this is where our resolution gets tested. How committed are we to these goals? Notice: I said “goals,” not “plans.” Plans change (there’s that Real Life again!) and our choices aren’t ‘the carrot or the candy bar,’ it’s do we want to finish the week strong or do we want to give up and ‘start strong’ again next week? Hint: there’s a difference between Serial Starters and Finishers. Two or three days of great healthy eating are canceled out by four or five days of really crappy or even mediocre eating! If you are always starting, it means you aren’t finishing! It also means you aren’t making any progress to your goals.
When our resolve starts to waver or our plans end up going out the window again, we have to be strong enough to keep our focus on our goals. That might mean skipping a meal if what’s best for us isn’t an option. Just because it’s noon doesn’t mean we have to eat “lunch.” It’s okay to wait to eat something healthy later rather than eat junk food. It’s also true that we don’t have to eat tacos just because our conference is serving them to us. We don’t have to drink sugary coffee drinks just because they are in season or our friends are all drinking them. Even if we like them, the question really is what we want more: our goals or tacos, seasonal lattes or the candy bars.
Too often we tell ourselves that we can never have these foods again, which isn’t true, but it goes back to our resolve. We know what our trigger foods are. Some of us can have a holiday coffee and never feel the urge for another one (me, for example!) One holiday latte won’t trigger a binge for me, but a Kings Hawaiian roll? One of those turns into four before I know it! Well, not really…. because I know bread is a trigger for me. This is where I have to ask myself: do I want the bread more than I want my goals? Because not only will the bread throw my weight loss plans out the window, it’ll also make me feel cruddy physically too. So not only will I feel bad not finishing the week strong, I’ll plain just feel bad! So where is the Win eating the bread? The few minutes it takes to eat it? Sound like a Lose-Lose to me!
Finishing strong takes practice because it’s hard. Starting and even starting strong is easy by comparison. It’s a lot like a marathon. Anyone can start a marathon: you stand at the starting line and run a step or two: congrats! you just started a marathon! But no one gets awards for starting because it’s the finishing that counts! When things get hard and people start dropping out of the race, the ones who keep running keep running because they’ve practiced. They’ve run this race before and they know what to do when it gets hard. It’s a whole lot of work and practice but they keep running: they know their goal is up ahead and they just have to keep running to get there. When our weeks get tough and everyone else starts giving up, remember our goals are also in our reach. We just have to keep running until we reach the finish line.