Recently, a number of people commented that they envied my "discipline" and "dedication to my health." The comments caught me slightly off guard -- to be honest I don't really consider myself particularly disciplined.
I responded that most of my choices don't seem like choices -- I have structured my life so that I make them fairly unconsciously. The way I live my life no longer seems particularly special, it is just the way I live my life.
I received a few slightly dubious looks, a couple eye rolls and versions of, "how exactly did that happen?"
After reflecting, I decided that I have taken three main steps that allow for my 'fairly effortless and unconscious dedication to health'.
I am sharing my three steps with the hope that some of what has worked for me will work for you!
Step One: Make certain things "non-negotiable."
Many things in my life are "non negotiable." I don't have an internal debate over brushing my teeth, drinking water, eating five plus fruits and vegetables per day, sleeping, eating enough protein or moving daily. I don't contemplate not doing these things -- I just do them.
How did these health habits become "non-negotiable"?
A. I consciously formed the positive habits that allow the 'non-negotiables' to fit seamlessly into my life.
B. I don't allow certain 'internal debates'.
Applied to exercise this means:
I always have a change of clothes at work so I can go for a run if a client cancels. I leave a jacket at work that can carry my cell phone and wallet so I have the option of running home after work. I make exercise dates with friends so exercise is fun. I sign up for races so I am both monetarily and emotionally invested in exercise.
I frame exercise in a particular way. I think "when will I exercise today?" Not "if" I will exercise today. I don't allow myself to question if I should "skip" my workouts, I don't let the thought enter my brain.
Applied to healthy eating this means:
I always keep things like cut up vegetables, fruit, cooked chicken and beans in my kitchen so I can easily whip up a healthy meal.
My first stop when I travel is a grocery store. I stock up on healthy snacks for the hotel room. If I know I won't be able to get to a grocery store, I pack a travel blender, tins of tuna, almonds, protein powder, bananas and other food that doesn't need to be refrigerated. Hotels always have ice, so worst comes to worse I can make a smoothie with protein powder, fruit and ice, or eat a banana and almonds.
At home, I don't bring unhealthy food into my condo.
I google menus before I go to restaurants so I can decide in advance on my meal.
I don't focus on what I am depriving myself of. I positively frame my food choices by thinking about the healthy food that I have the privilege to eat. I think, "I am lucky to be able to eat healthy food like berries," versus "why can't I eat cake?".
I understand food as fuel. Instead of dieting, and worrying about how particular foods will effect my weight, I think about how food will effect my energy, my mood and my athletic performance.
Step Two: Learn to enjoy exercise!
I exercise because I know I feel better afterwards. I know I sleep better, have more energy and generally am a happier person.
Before you exercise regularly you don't have a positive kinesthetic memory to attach activity. My suggestion, challenge yourself to move everyday for a month. Even if you just walk home from work. After 30 days, moving will have become a habit, you will have found ways that exercise can easily fit into your life, and you will know how good it makes you feel.
Step three: Enjoy everything in moderation, BUT set yourself up for moderation success!
Most of the time, my "treats" are wonderfully tasty fruits, or other healthy treats like dates and figs. My taste buds genuinely love healthy food so it is not hard for me to skip traditional desserts, but once in a while it is nice to have something more decadent. Knowing I can eat decadent foods in moderation keeps me from binging. If I thought I could never have chocolate peanut butter ice cream, I would probably have to eat 10 tubs of it.
When I do decide to have a decadent treat, I structure my life so that it is almost impossible for me to over-indulge. I know if I am exhausted after a long run I am more likely to mindlessly over-indulge in whatever is in my fridge. So, I don't give myself that option. I simply don't keep things like chocolate peanut butter ice cream in the house. If I want a decadent dessert, I have it at a friends house, at a restaurant, or a I make a date to walk to the ice cream parlour.
Main take-aways: structure your life, and train your brain so more and more healthy choices become 'non-negotiable'. Make yourself exercise for a sustained period so that you gain a kinesthetic memory of how great exercise makes you feel. Eat your favourite treats in moderation, BUT don't indulge mindlessly. When you decide to have a decadent treat, do it as far away from the comfort and mindlessness of places like your sofa.