My journey to build healthy habits took me a long time. Before I found what worked for me, I bounced between various diets and exercise programs and struggled with disordered eating habits. By the time I found the program that would ultimately work best for me, I had such an unhealthy mindset that I almost couldn't do it. I could tell that this was a healthy way to live, but it was so difficult to deprogram myself! It was so frustrating because I had the tools and I felt too overwhelmed to use them.
I've talked to many of you who have at some point felt the same way. So here is some advice that I wish someone had given me before I started my journey towards a healthier lifestyle.
It doesn't matter what program you're using because this applies to all of them. I personally use with the portion control container system for nutrition, 30 minute at-home workouts, superfood shakes daily, and accountability groups for support and motivation, and I wrote this blog with this plan in mind, but if you're doing something different this advice will help you too, I promise.
You don’t have to change everything at once. This plan, although it's simpler than any eating plan I’ve ever tried, has a learning curve. You don’t absorb all the information and apply it to your daily life immediately, as is true with most things.
I’m an English teacher, so I’m going to use the analogy of vocabulary instruction. If my goal were for my students to know and use 50 new vocabulary words – really understand them on a deep level, not just memorize them to regurgitate them on a test – I wouldn’t teach all 50 on Monday and expect a 100% success rate by Tuesday. I might give out the whole list on Monday, but I’d explicitly teach 10 words one week, and 10 words the next week. Then we’d review all the words taught so far, clear up any confusions, and so on.
The same is true for this nutrition and fitness plan. If you can adopt 100% of it immediately, then by all means go ahead, but that’s not where I was at when I started. Try your best of course, but if you don’t really get into the groove of meal planning until week 2, don’t worry about it! It’s a journey, and if you stress yourself out about not following everything perfectly every second, it won’t be a very fun one!
Be active in your challenge group. Challenge groups are what set this program apart from fad diets, so utilize them! Use them to hold yourself accountable! Post about working out, making a great meal, saying no to a donut, the moment you bite into a guilt-free treat, or the day you realize push-ups are getting easier.
Post about your struggles! My breakthrough was a moment in my second round when I ate a piece of pizza for lunch. I could feel the “Well, I ate one bad thing, the whole day is a failure, I might as well continue eating crap and start again tomorrow,” mindset washing over me. Then I went into my challenge group and posted about what happened, asking for support. No one judged me, and at least 6 people responded with helpful comments that enabled me to turn my day around.
So POST, comment on other people’s posts, and like things! It doesn’t have to be in real time, but set aside some time each day to login and be active! It will help you stay on track, it will help you build relationships with your team, and those relationships will, in turn, help keep you on track.
Listen to your body when you exercise. If it hurts in a way that feels bad, take a break. When in doubt, modify an exercise. I learned this the hard way when I was sidelined by a knee injury. You know what’s worse than missing a workout, or ending a workout early, or modifying it even more than the modifier person in the videos? Missing an entire week (or more!) because you injured yourself. Resist the urge to power through all pain all the time. Focus on your long term goals. One workout will not make or break your progress. It’s the consistency that counts.
Remember that consistency is key. One cheat meal won’t ruin your progress. The flip side of that, however, is that one healthy meal also won’t make you lose 10 pounds. Every day consists of hundreds of tiny decisions you make, and the ratio of healthy decisions to unhealthy ones over time drives your success.
This was my biggest hurdle at the beginning of my 21 Day Fix journey. It took months to deprogram the part of my brain that jumped to “Well, I messed up, there goes my whole day, bring on the Cheez-its.” MONTHS. Yesterday I forgot my food at home and ended up eating 2 pieces of gross pizza (fine, it was 3). I stopped there. I drank tons of water. I did not slide into a binge, AND IT FELT LIKE A MIRACLE. A miracle I worked really hard to accomplish. …so a goal.
I’ve found it helps to think of it as a ratio of healthy to unhealthy choices. I aim for 80/20 healthy/splurge. Some days it’s more like 70/30. Some days it’s closer to 30/70. Thinking about this mathematically helps me immensely, because if 300 tiny choices make up my day, then 1 or 2 unhealthy ones barely leave a footprint in an otherwise successful day. Returning to the numbers helps me remind myself that even if I eat 70% unhealthy food one day, that 30% counts for something!
Plan your cheats. Not everyone has them, but if you do plan to splurge a bit here and there (and Autumn herself says she aims for 90% on plan, 10% splurge so don’t feel guilty if you do), plan it in advance. Look at your calendar. What events are coming up? If your friend is getting married, or it’s Thanksgiving, or your friends are in from out of town and want to cook you a traditional pasta dinner, maybe you want to splurge. Eliminate the impulsivity of the decision. I try to, without exception, only splurge when I plan it ahead of time. It doesn’t always work out that way, but it gets easier. If you know that you’re going to be eating a piece of cake from your favorite bakery after Shabbat dinner on Friday night, then you’re more likely to say no to the candy bowl at work.
FALL IN LOVE WITH DATA. Numbers matter, but you need to open your mind to numbers beyond the scale and the tape measure. Some weeks you won’t lose an ounce or an inch, and that’s extremely frustrating. It helps to broaden the numbers you’re measuring. During stretches when I’m not seeing the scale or tape measure numbers budge, I focus on other numbers. Last week, for instance, I noticed the following:
-I’m not asking, “Do I look OK in this?” nearly as much. It used to be constant, and multiple times a night. Now it’s once a day if that.
-I saved roughly $20 by making recipes that used at least 1 ingredient I already had, which means I can now spend that money on something else… like boots! Just kidding. I already spent it on jewelry.
-I worked out 1 more time than the week before.
-I’ve decreased the amount of time I spend thinking negative thoughts on a daily basis. I am also able to snap out of it when I do get super negative. I’ve still got a long way to go, but 10 minutes feeling uncomfortable in my own skin trumps 2 hours any day!
Force yourself to think about and celebrate those non-scale victories (NSVs as we tend to call them). This is about more than the number on the scale. That's an important part of it, but it's so much more, and when you fixate on one part of this journey, you are missing out on SO MUCH. Don't do that to yourself. And if you start to, reach out to your team! Tell them you're feeling frustrated. Remember that we're all in this together, and that's why we're going to succeed.
PS: I run monthly accountability groups (aka challenge groups, they go by many names) to help people on their own health journeys! If you are interested, or want more information, get in touch! firstname.lastname@example.org