Sometimes when we decide to change our lives, we have grandiose dreams and unrealistic expectations of ourselves. I often hear this when someone wants to set up an exercise program. They may say, “I used to be a size (x) and I want that again.” We delve deeper into that, and they were a size (x) in high school while playing sports or in college at the height of their athletic career.
While it is doable to achieve those lofty goals, the level of commitment needs to be equally as astonishing. What happens typically, if the goals are not revised and made realistic, is a mentality like a race horse at the gate. The gate opens and you hit the track 100 miles an hour. You deprive yourself of food, and you work at this pace for three weeks; then you step on the scale, and it hasn’t budged and you’re in the same size. The big balloon deflates, and you eat yourself into a food coma of defeat. The key to achieving sustainable change is not full throttle, all steam ahead. It is typically a series of changes that build on each other, like a slow boil or gradual climb up the hill.
Setting short term or SMART goals to take the baby steps to success will help achieve long-term goals. Setting the eyes on the long-term goal will end up in defeat when you work full blast and don’t accomplish it is a short-term time frame. Think about it - you didn’t get “this way” overnight, and it won’t change overnight. The change that will last is a journey, not a destination trip. You will need to commit to the journey, the process and continually revise the short-term goals to get to the long-term goals as life throws its stumbling blocks, trials and setbacks your way.
Here are five statements to avoid and ways to look at changing your lifestyle that can help you sustain the change for a lifetime. Don’t let someone beat you with a stick to change, that is short term…find your carrots and dangle them in front of your eyes. Don’t count on others to dangle the carrots for you…
1. Avoid – Setting a perfect size and weight goal. A long-term goal that you aspire to someday conquer is too vague. It should not be your first goal or your focus. Short term SMART goals – that are specific, measureable, action based, realistic and time based must be set to take the baby steps to accomplishing the larger goal. What often happens if the focus is on a long-term goal, you start strong, then after three weeks of deprivation and a workout schedule you cannot maintain forever makes you sore, burned out and tired…you quit, you are defeated by your unrealistic goal and give up.
Instead - Set SMART goals; make a list of parts of your life you want to change and improve that aren’t scale related…make your “fitness pie.”
2. Avoid - I’ll finish this off…talking about unhealthy foods or trigger foods in the pantry. You may think, I’ll just eat up the last 87 cookies, then I’ll start getting healthier snacks. You need to rid your pantry of ALL unhealthy foods so you don’t have them to go to…check the labels – toss the partially hydrogenated oils, high fats, high sugars – including high fructose sugar and white sugar, sugar-added items. Cut the salt – nobody needs greater than 2,000 milligrams a day. You are sabotaging yourself by having unhealthy foods in your home. Don’t make the excuse it’s for the kids. They don’t need it either; you are just passing on the unhealthy habits to them. The gift of a treat is not a gift at all…teach your family to eat right and healthy.
Instead – Stock your pantry and frig with fruits and veggies. Cut them up so they are grab and go; make serving size baggies up so that it is “fast food.” You cannot continue to binge on weekends, saying I’ll just finish this up, or I’ll just eat this and succeed. The food can trigger whole chain reaction of poor choices. “I ate the whole spaghetti dinner and breadsticks that are too many to count…so why not have the cheesecake? I’ll start tomorrow…” You cannot work off in the gym what you ate in one night like that in one day, much less a week. The average restaurant meal is about 8,000 calories…about 6,500 more than most people need in one day, and that was just one meal! Add your breakfast, snacks, lunch etc. to that and you could easily hit 10,000 for that day. That’s a three pound weight gain right there. Make better choices…if you want the spaghetti and know it is four portions, eat one today, and three more during the week. Have one breadstick and fill up with a salad, dressing on the side. Have a taste of the cheesecake and share the piece with the whole table…make wise choices and stock your pantry at home with nutritious body fueling foods, not entertainment and empty calories.
3. Avoid infomercial or fad diets – Don’t listen to the promises of unrealistic success, the latest fad will go away, or you’ll run out of money and energy to keep up with the programs demands. You will feel defeated and as if you failed because the four easy abs exercises on the magazine didn’t give you flat abs in two weeks like they promised.
Instead – Eat close the source AKA God’s packaging, not a pre-packed meal or a pill. Get up and move each day, do things you enjoy and then add other activities you need to do to accomplish your goals. Success is a process that takes commitment, not a guaranteed money back plan.
4. Avoid being an island – If you keep your goals to yourself, you can always talk yourself out of them. It can also get lonely, feeling like you’re the only one going through problems, having temptations or putting in the hard work. You can talk to yourself like a three year old, nobody else is doing it – so why should I? I don’t wanna do it, or I deserve to have that cookie because I am breathing. That is the voice of a bratty three year old, not an adult.
Instead – Recruit friends, family and supports. You’ll find out that others struggle, need support and would love an accountability buddy for workouts, food choices or just someone to help lift them up to fight the same battle of the bulge that you are. Research shows that when you reveal choices to others and make them public (like blogging or Facebook), you will have a better chance at success. The camaraderie and accountability of others people is very important to a life change that sticks. Surround yourself with people that also want to succeed. If you have friends that want to sabotage your efforts – come on, let’s go out to eat, come on – you can skip that workout…you made need to talk with them about their lack of support for your choices and say no to their efforts to derail your efforts.
5. Avoid giving the scale 100 percent of your power! We can fluctuate five pounds in a week’s time based on hydration, sodium intake, time of day weighed and other factors. Others check the scale multiple times a day, waiting for that change and are also defeated. The scale will zap your mojo quickly.
Instead – Make what I call your “fitness pie.” Divide your pie into as many pieces as you have areas you’d like to improve in. For example: reduce size, reduce body fat and bmi, reduce blood pressure, sleep better, more energy/reduce fatigue, reduce A1C levels, increase good HDL cholesterol levels, reduce total cholesterol, greater self-esteem, emotional well-being, climb steps without being winded, do push-ups, fit into an airplane seat, etc. Your pie can be 30 slices with equal power…the scale gets 1/30th…not 100 percent of your pie. Also gauge success on easily measured actions like flights of stairs without being winded, how many push-ups you can do, how long you can hold a plank or other functional things that you want to see improvement in. Other subjective measures like sleeping better, better mental focus, more energy and reduced stress should also fill out your pie. Remember, you are eight dimensions of wellness…not just one, in the physical.
So…use this advice to help make change in your life, lasting change that sticks! Well-being is a journey, something you engage in…it is not something someone does to you or for you. It is not a destination, the scenery and landscape you deal with changes each mile of the journey. You must accept that change is part of life – really the only other constant besides God. Change brings stress, even if it is a positive change. We must learn to embrace change and adapt to it. Develop that relationship with God to get started; He can help set your paths straight and offer you’re the strength you need to start, stick with and maintain your walk on this marathon of life. Setting a pace for success and help with the failures when they come.