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!