Whenever I go to the grocery store and stand in line looking at all the fitness and health magazines, there’s a moment where I think: “I could totally look like HER if I do those 3 flat-belly ab exercises!”
And then the checkout person asks if I want paper or plastic and I remember that I’m standing in a grocery store, not in never never land and that I will never, ever look like her even if I did a thousand flat-belly ab exercises.
It’s that kind of in-your-face marketing that makes all of us think losing weight is just 3 exercises or 3 superfoods or 3 whatevers away. And they make it look so easy, don’t they? Flip open a fitness magazine and there’s the hard body, zero bodyfat fitness model standing on one leg with the other foot wrapped around the back of his head and it seems so effortless, you actually think of trying it.
Close the magazine and step away from it slowly, because it’s lying to you.
There’s nothing easy about losing weight.
That doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing, however. What it does mean is that knowing the facts about losing weight can help make the process, at the very least, less painful. It all starts with three truths and one ugly lie.
Truth #1: Starting Will Never Get Easier
The first rule of exercise is that there’s never a perfect time to start doing it. It’s like having a baby or getting married…life will never be settled and perfect enough to do it.
It’s easy to sit down on Friday and proclaim, “I’m going to get up Monday morning and go to the gym!” You envision the New and Improved Monday You gliding through your gym workout, sweaty and happy and fit.
But then Monday comes and it’s morning and you have to get up and the gym is just….so loud and exercisey and workouts require effort and sweat and the bed is so toasty warm….
Yeah, it looked a lot better on Friday than it does on Monday morning and there is no New and Improved You that suddenly wants to workout.
The thing is, exercise is always going to require some sort of effort and there are always going to be obstacles that stand in your way.
You still have to workout even when you:
- Wake up on Monday
- Change jobs
- Go on vacation (some exceptions apply)
- Work late
- Get sick (again, exceptions here)
- Someone else gets sick (exceptions, etc.)
- Are in a bad mood
- Are tired
- Had a bad night’s sleep
- Go on a business trip
- Have a big fight with your spouse
- Don’t feel like it
In order to make exercise something you do all the time, no matter what’s going on, you have to do a few things:
- Make it easy to do it – Know what you’re doing beforehand. Get all the stuff you need the night before. Make it a breeze to put on your clothes and get moving. As soon as you have to look for something, your brain will start telling you to go back to bed.
- Start with workouts you KNOW you can do – Maybe running for an hour on the treadmill is what you think you should do, but maybe that’s just a little too much to start out with. But this 5-minute Core Workout? Sure you can. Allow yourself to choose workouts you enjoy, even if they’re not killer workouts. Just start. You can always add later.
- Practice – The only way to get better at something is to practice it. You have to practice scheduling your workouts, practice following through with your workouts. Some days you’ll get it right and some you’ll get it wrong. Experimenting will help you find a schedule you can live with.
- Be self-aware – The other thing is to notice when something isn’t working. If you keep skipping your workouts, you need to know why. It’s not just because you suck, it’s because there’s something wrong. Maybe the workouts aren’t right or the timing is bad. Maybe you just don’t know what you’re doing and so you do nothing. Once you know why you can do something about it.
- Do it anyway – Even if you think you can’t, try. We all have days when we’re just not sure if we can do it. That’s fine…maybe you can’t. But promise yourself you’ll at least do the warm up. Most of the time, you’ll keep going.
Truth #2: Going on a Diet Doesn’t Work
Do you ever do that thing where, it’s Saturday and you’re eating a giant plate of french toast drenched in maple syrup and butter and you promise yourself that, after this weekend, you’re going on a diet?
It feels good to think that on Monday, a New and Virtuous You is going to wake up and WANT the oatmeal and the salad without dressing and the grilled chicken. And maybe you do that. You eat that oatmeal and salad and you feel good about yourself, as you should.
But eventually, Virtuous You will breakdown under the weight of all the decisions, the choices you have to make to stay healthy. Is that salad dressing fat-free? Is brown rice really good for me? Oh my god, did I just eat something with SUGAR in it? WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!
The constant vigilance makes every bite less and less appetizing and, at the same time, all the things you can’t have are starting to add up – The wine and the burger and, heck, just some regular salad dressing for god’s sake!
The underlying theme here is that we must suffer to lose weight, but if you’re white-knuckling it, it’s only going to backfire. Here’s more on that.
Truth #3: Why White-Knuckling It Doesn’t Work
So, what happens with all that suffering? We sacrifice the foods we enjoy, grit our teeth through temptation, sweat and grunt and burn during our workouts. At the end of the day, we’re triumphant and exhausted for all our hard work and it feels like we should see something for those efforts, at the very least, a few pounds gone on the scale.
But the scale can’t measure everything you’re accomplishing and it may be weeks or months before you see significant changes.
And, it’s that very feeling – The feeling that we sacrificed something, that we missed out on something – That causes the problem. If you feel that way, you wonder: Do I have to keep this up every damn day? And for what?
For weight loss to work permanently, there has to be a sense of rightness in what you’re doing. A sense of power when you realize you really don’t need that afternoon donut to make life worth living.
A sense of satisfaction when you move your body in a new way. If it feels like a chore, like a sacrifice, if you have to white-knuckle it through every choice, how long can you keep it up?
Instead of suffering through a diet, try:
- Adding good things to your meals: We usually approach food as something good or bad. Don’t eat this, do eat that. Instead of taking something away, try adding something healthy. Eat an apple before lunch, drink a full glass of water before a snack. Eat twice as many vegetables as you normally do. Filling up with healthy stuff means there’s less room for the stuff that adds more calories.
- Plan your treats: Pizza and burgers are fine, as long as you don’t have them several times a week. Plan when you’re going to have your favorite foods and, for the rest of the week, try leaning more towards the healthy stuff – Salads, grilled protein, you know what I’m talking about. Now you have something to look forward to and you don’t have to feel guilty about it.
- Get it out of your face: The single most important thing you can do is take junk food out of your house. If it’s not there, you can’t eat it. If you see a bag of chips every time you open the cabinet, you’re going to eat them. You can even do it one at a time if you have multiple foods you eat on a regular basis. Start with the chips – replace them with whole grain crackers if you like something crunchy or air-popped popcorn. Get used to life without chips every day and then move on to the next.
And The Lie – Being Healthy Sucks
From a distance, exercising and eating healthy looks like one giant drag. You have to watch what you eat and be annoying at restaurants, asking how they cook this and is there butter in that? Can you put the dressing on the side? Can I have that with steamed broccoli?
And then there’s the whole exercise thing and that has multiple issues: Figuring out what to do, working hard enough to make a difference, physical exertion when what we’re used to doing is sitting on our rears most of the time.
Looking at it that way, it’s easy to think that being healthy sucks. But, there are things you get out of being healthy and these things are worth a lot.
What you may not realize is that the more you practice healthy behaviors, the more you want to do them. Here’s what happens when you stick to it:
- You start to enjoy healthy foods. Would I rather have Doritos instead of Wheat Thins? Probably. In fact, I used to live on them. But, after working on my diet for awhile, I realized I can live without them and it’s okay. You learn that it really is possible to live without those kinds of foods and, and added bonus, your body just feels better when you eat better.
- Your priorities change. Because your body feels better when you eat better, that becomes more important to you than the instant gratification you might feel from having something with too much fat or sugar. Not all the time, of course. Sometimes you may need that indulgence but you won’t need it all the time.
- You learn how to deal with temptation. The more healthy choices you make, the easier it is to avoid common pitfalls like the overloaded buffet at a party or lunch out with friends when everyone else is having the burger and fries. When you eat healthy, you eat on a regular basis so you’re not starving all the time. When you’re starving, a salad just isn’t going to do it, is it?
There are lots of other things but the point is, the more you practice, the easier it gets and the better you feel about it. The same goes for exercise, if you approach it in the right way. The more you exercise, the stronger you get and the better exercise feels to your body.
The key is to start easy. Just pick something, even if it’s just one stretch, and do it every single day. Same time, same place. After a week, add another exercise…it really can be that simple.
And it doesn’t have to suck.