Now that we've looked at how starting small relates to our diet, let's apply the same reasoning to our exercise regimen. The approach is the same, so I've left the headings the same.
As I mentioned before, the biggest mistake we make is to try to do too much too soon. There's certainly nothing wrong with working out every day, but what kind of workouts are you doing? Our bodies need to rest in order to get the full benefits of a workout, and it is really tempting to overdo it, especially when we have reached a point of frustration with how we look or feel. There is a spectrum between Couch Potato and Olympic Champion, so figure out where you are on that spectrum and work at your level. If going for a 30 minute walk every night is a huge step for you, then that's the step to take. If you are comfortable lifting the bar when you do a bench press, moving up to 100lbs right away is going to result in one thing; injury. If you overdo it and injure yourself, you may have to take a break from exercise, which will likely have a negative impact on your relationship with working out.
So again the idea is to start small. Work with your trainer to come up with a plan that works for you. Once they know what your goals are and how often you want to workout, they will be able to put something together that will be both safe and effective.
I will discuss this more fully in the future, but it is extremely important to be mindful when you exercise. This ties into the idea of being fair. Listen to your body when you're getting ready to workout as well as while you're working out. If you are overdoing it, you may be able to pick up on that earlier than if you were just mindlessly “pushing through the pain.” You will need to be honest with yourself about the way your body is feeling; soreness is fine, pain is bad.
Small shifts in the way we think can have big impacts, so be aware of what is going on in your mind before, during, and after working out. Are you dreading the gym? If so, why? Learning to let go of the negative mental chatter is not easy, but giving it a try is worthwhile.
Some of us like to run, some of us like to lift, some of us like interval training, climbing, kickboxing, cycling, etc. There is probably something you can do that will seem exciting and help you to actually look forward to your workouts. Start small by trying different fitness classes, finding different workouts online, and talking to friends who already participate in certain activities. “I don't like the gym” is no longer a valid excuse because there are so many options out there, and many of them are available to try for free.
If that all seems like a bigger step than you are ready to take, drop it down a notch. Instead of meeting a friend for coffee to chat, catch up while going for a walk or throwing a frisbee around at the park. Find ways to add little bits of activity into your daily life and you'll be on your way to living an active lifestyle.
This does not mean go out and buy a bunch of activewear and exercise equipment. That would be against the point of starting small! For the purpose of this discussion, “prepared” means that you've checked with your doctor to make sure that you are okay to start exercising, you have a decent pair of supportive athletic shoes, and you're ready to see what happens when you start moving a bit more often. You're ready to be sore the next day, you're ready to forgive yourself for taking a day off, and you're ready to start with a few manageable workouts at a time.
Just like in Part 1, you don't have to do this alone. Find a workout buddy and go for a run or to the gym together, perhaps the same person you send a message to when you make a good dietary decision. If you are having trouble finding the motivation to workout, find 1 or 2 times a week that are non-negotiable. You don't get to skip work if you don't feel like going, right? You don't get to skip your 8am Bootcamp on Monday either. Discipline takes over when motivation isn't there.
The only finish line we have is the one at the end of our lives, so there is no such thing as steps towards being more active, stronger, more flexible, etc that are too small. The key is to keep at it, and not to expect change overnight. You can do this, you just have to do it.
Ok, that's enough. Time for a change.” - Me, you, and everyone else, probably.
Call it rock-bottom, call it a tipping point, call it whatever you want, but something happens to make us want to start all over again. Common tropes include the smoker who throws out their pack of cigarettes or the hung-over declaration of “I'm never drinking again,” but my favourite example can be seen during the first 60-90 days of each calendar year. Of course I'm talking about the resolution-fueled rush to buy gym memberships that end up going unused.
Once again I've offered some cliche's, but I think most of us can identify with some part of those examples. They all have 2 things in common; they are a reaction to a feeling (rather than a fresh start down a different path), and they usually end in failure. The feeling goes away, or the craving comes back, or it feels like change is too hard, and we go right back to the way things were.
So what do we do? How can we make these huge life changes and have them stick? By starting small, of course. By breaking our goals into bite-sized, manageable pieces, we set ourselves up to succeed. We avoid the feeling of being overwhelmed by the magnitude of what we want to achieve, and we avoid the feeling of shame and self-loathing that comes in when we've tried and failed yet again to make the changes we know we need to make.
There are 2 components to wellness to which I'd like to apply this idea, and in Part 1 we'll look at strategies for making positive changes to our diet.
The biggest mistake we make is to try to do too much too soon. Throwing out all of your junk food is fine, until you find yourself right back in the cookie aisle hating yourself for what you're about to do. A better strategy is to make an effort to cut it down. Give yourself guidelines that allow you to enjoy the food you want to eat, but that don't allow you to over-do it. Following the serving size on the package is a great place to start, with the next step being to restrict how often you eat whatever it is. Telling yourself you can never eat cupcakes ever again is a surefire way to make sure that you eventually break down and give in to your cravings, overdoing it when you do.
In a similar vein, when you do decide to enjoy whatever it is you want to enjoy, make an effort to actually enjoy it! When you eat mindfully you are less likely to overeat, and you may find that the smaller portion is even more satisfying when you take your time and enjoy it.
As creatures of habit, it is easy to fall into a dietary rut. We make the same 10-15 things for dinner, we always get the same thing for lunch, we eat the same snacks before bed. Trying out a new recipe can snap us out of this a bit, and making your own healthy meals is a great way to take charge of your dietary changes. Making substitutions is another good strategy. Instead of ice cream for dessert, have some Greek yoghurt with fruit. Instead of chips, try some veggies with hummus. Just be sure that the substitutions you make are actually positive ones, and observe the portion sizes on these as well.
Getting caught with nothing to eat when you're out and about usually means buying food from a restaurant, food truck, or vending machine. While this isn't automatically a bad thing, it just makes it harder to make good choices. On the other hand, declaring that you are going to spend all day on Sunday prepping meals for the week ahead is great, but only if you're actually going to do it. Remember, start small here. Spend a few extra minutes in the morning or before bed to plan out your meals and snacks, even if at first you only do it a few days a week. Bring an apple for that 3pm snack rather than buying a muffin, for example.
You don't have to do this alone. Find someone in your group of friends, family members, or co-workers who wants to make similar changes, and set up a buddy system. Send a text or email when you make good choices, and send one when you don't. Agree to keep judgement out of it, and to act as a support group, rather than competing with each other. If you have a Personal Trainer, they will be happy to be involved as well, and would be thrilled to hear about your successes.
Perhaps most importantly, just keep at it. Whatever it is you are trying to change, just keep doing it until you don't have to think about it any more. That's how you will know the change has really taken place, and you can move on to something else. If you slip up, don't give up; making one mistake doesn't mean you've failed.
Stay tuned for Part 2, when we'll be looking at making small changes to the way we exercise.
Ryan Casselman is a personal trainer, musician, and the founder of Real Trainers. Stay tuned as he finds out what he's going to write about each week or so!