Examine Your Habits
I had this conversation with myself the other day. After seeing my clients’ results and my own results, I thought, “Being healthy and fit is not that hard: You do the workouts, eat well, and you get results.” I relayed the conversation to my husband and he countered, “That is easy for you to say. You have a lifetime of being fit. It is a lot harder for people who have had 30 years of bad habits.”
He makes a good point. What is holding people back from being healthy and fit? Is it our habits? Perhaps this is the root of the problem.
Examine your mindset
First, we need to examine our mindset. Our bodies are not the problem. We should love our bodies, whatever shape they are in. Don’t be upset with your body for holding onto fat. Your body is doing what it is designed to do.
Be amazed that our Creator designed our bodies to store extra energy as fat, and in turn, to burn fat to give us energy when we need it: Between meals, at night when we are sleeping, or whenever food is not available.
Treat your body with the awe and respect it deserves. Love your body for having carried you this far. Treat it well. Speak to it as you would a friend.
Be amazed for the ability of the body to heal, to fight infections, to kill free radicals, to get stronger through stress. We are designed to be resilient.
When a muscle is stressed through exercise, it heals and becomes even stronger than it was before the stress. This is called “supercompensation”. This is true not only for the muscles that move your joints, but also for your heart’s ability to pump blood and your body’s ability to exchange oxygen. Your mitochondria increase in size and number in every cell of your body and that is where the fat burning happens.
If you do healthy things for your body – feed it with the proper nutrients, exercise, and rest – it will most likely be healthy.
Keeping Us Healthy
I think we also need to give the body the credit it deserves for keeping us as healthy as we are, in spite of the unhealthy things we do to it. When we eat sugar, the insulin hormone signals the receptors to work hard to take the glucose out of the blood. If we drink alcohol, the liver works hard to get it out of our system. When we are exposed to viruses and probably so many other chemicals on a cellular level that we do not even know of, our body is working hard to defend itself. As we encounter stress, the body turns on the sympathetic nervous system to help us cope.
Understanding these processes helps us to gauge how to help our bodies do its work. I think we can all agree that it would be better for our hard-working bodies if we did not have too much sugar, too much alcohol, too much stress or too little recovery.
Examine your habits
We are creatures of habit. We park in the same parking space at work, use the same locker at the gym, and sit in the same seat at church. Heaven forbid the day a visitor comes to church and sits in your seat. (Just kidding!)
The point is, doing something out of habit is how we function. It is what what we make a habit of that matters. Habits can protect us. We teach our children habits: Look both ways before crossing the street. Brush your teeth before bed. Wash your hands. Wear a seat belt.
We need to examine our own habits. Do they protect us and keep us healthy or are they making unhealthy? Our body’s condition is the result of the choices we make. And the choices we make are largely determined by our habits.
The pandemic has affected all of our lives. No wonder this has been such a difficult time. Our habitual selves crave for our world to be the way it used to be. We have been forced out of our old normal. Each of us are now faced with making changes in some way or another, at least for the time being. What habits did you have to change? What habits did you create?
On the positive side, many people learned to cook at home instead of eating out. Many people found ways to exercise at home. The trail near our house had never been so busy with people out for walks at it was this spring. On the negative side, some gave up exercising when the gyms closed. Alcohol consumption increased. Some people ate more and some stayed up late watching Netflix.
September is the new January. Kids may be going back to school, parents may be going back to the workplace for the first time since pre-COVID. What habits would you like to change? What habits would you like to keep?
Make small changes
Rather than making resolutions, make small changes. It’s not about being perfect. It’s about getting better, making improvements. A client gave me a clock for my mantel with the inscription “Success is not something that happens in the future. Success is little steps taken right now”.
The key to lifelong health and fitness is making small changes. In the Healthy Eating and Weight Loss course, we never advocate a certain “diet”. Instead, we prioritize the top 3 changes to a person’s current eating patterns. And we work on making one change at a time. Diets fail because people put up with a restricted way of eating for a time, but ultimately go back to the way they used to eat before. If you make small changes, you will adopt them for good. They will become your new normal.
Everything in Moderation
…Unless you can’t.
I grew up hearing my mom say, “Everything in moderation”. It is true that as long as we can stick to an 80/20 ratio of healthy/unhealthy we will manage pretty well. That means, out of 21 meals a week, 18 of them should be very healthy and you will do okay if 3 of them are not so healthy. This allows for life to happen. Birthdays happen. There will be cake. You can enjoy a piece of cake. But keep in mind it is a pretty high ratio and we have to make effort that it does not become 60/40 or 50/50 or 20/80.
One way to manage habits is to decrease portion size. If you want to have some dessert, opt for a smaller piece. If you need that once-a-week cheat meal with fries, opt for a smaller portion of fries. Having a cheat meal is not an all-you-can-eat cheat-fest. It is an opportunity to practice delayed gratification and self-control to look forward to having a treat that you have put off having.
You may find that you are unable to have smaller portion size. For example, if you have to:
- finish the leftover cake,
- eat the whole chocolate bar instead of one square,
- finish the bag of potato chips instead of one bowl, or
- you can’t limit yourself to 5 oz of wine,
then you may want to consider eliminating the item all together. Do not have it in the house. And you can do this by replacing it with something for which you crave less.
Substitute the substance
I think it is important to separate the substance from the habit, and I believe it is probably easier to change the substance than it is to change the habit. After all, we are creatures of habit. Therefore, you can keep the habit, but choose a healthier substance. A healthier substance is also probably less addictive, and so you will be able to eat better while also managing portion control.
Food, in a way, is a substance. In addition to providing valuable nutrients and energy, food gives us pleasure and comfort. We may use it to keep us awake when tired, to calm us when stressed, to reward us when we have accomplished something, keep us company when bored. If that is the case, it may be easier to change the food we are seeking, than the reason we are seeking it.
If you are looking for something crunchy, like potato chips, swap munching on dry cereal like Vector or Ancient Grains. You can keep the habit of eating something crunchy, but choose a healthier option.
If you have the habit of looking for something to eat for dessert after supper, find a healthier dessert. For example, make black bean brownies instead of traditional brownies. Fruit is always a good option.
If you crave the fizziness of drinking pop, switch to drinking sparkling naturally flavoured water. You do not have to limit your water intake!
There is really no end of talking about healthier food swaps. It just takes a little bit of thought about what could be a better choice. Choose whole (real, unprocessed) foods over processed foods. Choose less added sugar over more sugar.
It was not uncommon to hear people talking about alcohol during the pandemic lockdown. There was no reason for people not to start drinking wine a little earlier in the day. They weren’t going anywhere. There was no accountability.
If you want to wean yourself off alcohol, recognize that the act of drinking (literally: hand to glass, glass to mouth and swallowing liquid) may be more important than the substance. Fill a wine glass with sparkling water. Switch to non-alcoholic beer. This has worked for me! I have found it can be just as satisfying and is far healthier for me.
For me, it is easy to drink wine, but I can only drink one beer or else my stomach feels upset. So guess what? I switched to drinking a beer to avoid drinking wine. I consciously switched to the thing that I do not want more of. And of course beer has less alcohol in it than wine. So from there it was easy to switch to a 0.0% de-alcoholized beer, which has only 50 calories and 12 carbs, and for which the label reads “Enjoy freely”. I still only want one, and after that I have sparkling water.
You may not have to get rid of the habit, but switch to a healthier substance.
Substitute the behaviour
Finally, you may want to swap a behaviour with a behaviour. For example, consider the habit of eating at night while watching TV. If your goal is to not eat at all after dinner, then swapping potato chips for popcorn, or ice cream for yogurt, is not going to help. The habit is “hand to food, food to mouth”. The habit is doing something with your hands while you watch TV. Therefore, you need to substitute the behaviour. You need to find something else to do with your hands. You can take up knitting or crocheting, for example, while watching TV so that your hands will be busy and distracted. Or you can keep your hands busy with a video game you like to play on your tablet while watching TV. Substitute the behaviour.
Similarly, if you have the habit of opening cupboards and endless snacking after a meal, you can leave the house, go for a walk, get some fresh air. You can go brush your teeth. Clean teeth will often be motivation to not eat anything else.
Treat your body with the love and respect it deserves. Make healthy choices and make healthy habits. With my clients, I have witnessed inches being lost as the body releases unnecessary fat stores when they switch to making healthy choices: Eat whole foods, do resistance training, manage stress, hydrate and sleep well. Our genetics will largely determine our individual body shape, but it will be a strong and healthy shape.
For your individualized workout plan or healthy eating coaching, Contact VAL for a free consultation.