Let’s face it. We’ve all been there.
Sooner or later, each and every one of us has gone through a time in our lives where we’ve spent days, weeks, months or even years eating the foods we know we should avoid, or at least limit, in our diets.
And unfortunately, this usually goes hand in hand with spending quality time on the couch after a long day at the office, when we know we should be making more of an effort to move our bodies.
Then comes that one day when you suddenly realize what you’ve been doing (or not doing). You’re sick of feeling tired all the time with zero energy for activities you really enjoy.
You’re sick of eating food that, while undeniably delicious, makes you feel awful as your body struggles to digest it.
You want to completely overhaul your lifestyle. You’re overcome with guilt and you can’t fathom how it could have gotten this bad.
You might even resolve to make a change.
As you try to pinpoint exactly where to begin, time passes. You become distracted.
Before you know it, you’re back to the same old habits. Or worse.
How do I know this? Because I’ve been in those shoes. It took me years to stop, look around, and focus on what was really going on in my life.
I was not leading a healthy lifestyle. I didn’t feel good, and I didn’t look my best, either.
Admitting these things to myself was hard. But consciously acting to resolve them was even harder.
The thought of where to begin was overwhelming. After all, thanks to the media and social networks, we are constantly bombarded every day with tips – both good and not-so-good – on how to lead a healthier lifestyle. If you’re anything like I was, you end up ignoring them simply because they seem insurmountable.
Then, one day, I figured it out. As the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu put it:
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
The best tip I can give you? Start small.
No matter how small, your chosen avenue of progress is exactly that – progress. It will (eventually) take you to where you need to be.
In other words, start with a small change to your lifestyle, and gradually add more small changes as you feel you are ready for them.
What kind of a change should you make?
First, just simply pay attention to your everyday habits:
• What are you eating?
• How much of it?
• How does it make you feel?
• Are you getting any exercise?
• If not, why not?
• Can you find time for ten minutes of activity per day?
• If so, when would you fit it in?
• If you’re already exercising, how do you feel after you’re done?
• How do you feel when you skip working out for a few days?
• How do you feel when you wake up in the morning?
• Are you exhausted when you get home in the evening?
I highly recommend writing down all your answers to these questions so you have a record and can compare them to how you feel later on.
After a week or so, read what you’ve written. Notice which habits lead to you feeling your best, and which habits….don’t.
Perhaps you feel at your worst when you wake up in the morning, because you’re always incredibly exhausted. Or maybe your low point is every Sunday night, after eating take-out pizza for dinner and your stomach is in knots.
For me, it was definitely overeating. There were times when I had no portion control and didn’t know when to cut myself off, so I kept eating and ignoring my body’s cues that I was full. This led to stomachaches and feeling sluggish for half a day or so.
Pick one of your observations of a habit that isn’t working for you, and decide how you will implement a small change.
Can you commit to making your bedtime just fifteen or twenty minutes earlier? Can you order something besides pizza on Sunday that might make you feel better, or are you willing to make your own pizza instead of ordering out?
In my case, the best change for me to start with turned out to be portioning out my food. Instead of eating as much as I wanted, I began deciding ahead of time how much I would eat at each meal, and that’s how much would go on my plate. If I was eating out and I knew the portions were huge, I’d order a side or an appetizer instead of a main meal.
Next, implement your change – now.
Not tomorrow, not next week, not on a Monday – begin immediately. Leaving yourself room to procrastinate will only end up making you feel worse in the long run, because you can put it off indefinitely. There will never be a perfect time for this change to happen, so you may as well start right now.
Try to record how you’re feeling once you’ve put your change into practice. Aim to write something down every day, even if it’s just one sentence. I know it sounds like a drag, but this really is an important part of tracking your progress – you’ll want to see how far you’ve come!
Allow yourself time to adapt to your small change – a month is good for most people. After that time has passed, consider how you feel and then read through your notes.
Perhaps you have a few extra hours of free time on Sunday now that you’re not nursing a stomachache. Or maybe you’re finding that getting just twenty extra minutes of sleep – or even just being in bed and resting twenty minutes earlier – is having a small effect on your energy levels in the morning.
Once I started cutting back on portions, I didn’t even need to consult any notes – I felt better, I looked better, and I lost weight. It was only a few pounds, so I didn’t think much of it, but other people noticed, too.
If you discovered your change yielded positive results, fantastic! Focus on why you think that happened. Then use that same reasoning to decide what your next tiny change will be.
Didn’t notice a difference? Read through your records from the past month to ensure you stuck to your goal enough times for it to be effective.
If you’re sure you did everything as you’d envisioned, consider what you’ve changed and whether it needs to be tweaked in some way to be effective. For example, if you’re religiously getting to bed twenty minutes earlier every night and then laying there with the TV on while playing games on your tablet (AKA exactly what you were doing before “going to bed”), you might need to try switching off all screens, dimming the lights and reading a book or meditating instead.
Once you’ve taken an effective first (baby) step towards a healthier lifestyle, think of where you want to end up and write down all of your goals. Don’t hold back. Work backwards from there to figure out all the small changes you will need to make to arrive at your destination.
Then, simply continue putting one foot in front of the other. Each month, implement a new small change. Remember to write down how you feel. And, of course, don’t forget to continue to practice your changes from previous months.
If you feel ready to add another small change before a month is up, by all means, do it. The most important thing is to be comfortable with the changes you are making in addition their timing and to do what is best for you.
This is all it takes to start a journey to a healthier, happier you – small, incremental changes that are relatively easy for you to incorporate into your current lifestyle. When one change has you feeling and looking better, it will naturally motivate you to move on to the next change, and the next.
And before you know it, the day will come again when you suddenly realize what you’re doing (or not doing). Only this time, you will be delighted with where you’re at and amazed at all you have accomplished. I know I was.
Do you have any other tips that helped you journey to a healthier you? Let me know!