Many years ago, I decided to try cocaine. I loved it so much that I continued trying it out pretty much every day for the next five years. Predictably, I got hooked. And, just as predictably, my half-decade bender eventually came to a tedious, stupid, and lonesome end. Once the dust settled, I had no job or marketable skills, but I did have a slew of awful habits.
Fortunately, a friend recalled that I had been a rather mediocre kickboxer. He hooked me up with a job teaching kickboxing, which led me to where I now am 12 years later — making a living as a personal trainer. And, like all personal trainers, I see people start and give up on fitness programs all the time. Ninety percent of the obstacles these people face are planted snugly between their ears.
Just as being an addict doesn't necessarily have a lot to do with actually doing drugs, being fit and healthy doesn't necessarily have a lot to do with how many reps or hours you put in at the gym. In fact, I found that deciding to give up cheeseburgers and cokes wasn't that much different from deciding to give up drugs — the majority of the challenges were in my brain. Much of the advice that people gave me to quit using, I frequently pass on to clients struggling with getting traction in a solid fitness program. So, if you asked me, How do I begin a healthy routine and stick to it?, I'd tell you to first ...
Change the Vocabulary in Your Brain!
Instead of issuing yourself little directives like "I need to get in shape" or "I really need to eat better," try switching to something more affirmative like "I am getting in shape" or "I don't drink sodas anymore." Keep it encouraging and present tense. It doesn't matter if 10 minutes prior to telling yourself that you no longer enjoy sodas you shotgunned three Mountain Dews. What's important is that you begin internalizing this simple truth as quickly as possible: If you want to take positive action you gotta think positive thoughts.
I tell my clients all kinds of dorky positive stuff all day, and it works. To get started, I suggest picking one bad habit and start telling yourself, right now, that you no longer do it. It's probably not all it'll take to nip it in the bud, but it's a great place to start. It may seem insincere at first, but, in my experience, the ones who say, "that positive BS doesn't work for me," are the ones who throw in the towel first. Our actions start with our thoughts, so that's why I believe you oughtta ...
Quit Being So Freaking Hard on Yourself!
Life can be stressful, challenging, and downright insane at times. Believe me, no matter how motivated you are in the beginning, you will absolutely, positively, no matter what, have days that you simply do not want to work out. There will be days when you set your gym bag by the door all ready to rock it out aaaaaand ... BAM! Your ex or your boss calls right as you are walking out the door, pushes your buttons, and totally stresses you out. Or whatever. So instead of going to the gym, you decide to go to Gibson's and eat a dozen donuts. Well, hey, stuff like that happens. I see it all the time, and it's okay. Eat your donuts and move on. Get up the next day, grab your still-packed gym bag, and give it another go.
Too many times in the fitness biz, we see people enter a program with such an all-or-nothing attitude that the smallest setback triggers feelings of failure, and they just sort of give up. So you fell off the wagon. Guess what? At one point or another, so did all those other people at the gym. It's okay. Everybody gets cravings now and then. Which is why it's also important that you ...
Be Mindful of What You Consider a Reward
This one is a little tricky. Some of the things we like to reward ourselves with are rooted in our emotional connections to stress, fear, and confusion. When disconcerted, we tend to gravitate to what will bring us comfort. Frequently, that comfort is found in high-carb, high-fat, high-sugar foods. Sometimes we might turn to those foods impulsively, or sometimes we might have an entire conversation in our brain where we convince ourselves we "deserve" that cinnamon roll. But we also deserve the amazing feeling that comes after a nice walk, or the chance to unload what's bothering us to a friend, or the rush that comes from completing your workout after white-knuckling your way past the donut shop and heading to the gym.
Those cravings we get for unhealthy snacks and comfort foods are not really hunger. They are just a byproduct of your brain screaming like a spoiled child for you to activate its reward system. The compulsions are, quite literally, in your head. One way to combat these very powerful urges is to start recognizing when and why they hit you. Be mindful of your thoughts and feelings when you feel overwhelmed. Before you know it, you'll feel the cravings coming on and you'll learn how to cut them off by taking a healthier action instead of shoveling your way through a quart of Ben and Jerry's.
Hunger is a survival tool, cravings are a coping tool. There are lots of healthy, effective ways to cope with stress, but they sometimes take a little bit of discipline and planning. So, lastly, I suggest you ...
Start Creating Some Healthy Habits Now
This is a lot easier than it sounds if we remember to keep our first steps small and simple. Here are a few actions you can start today that won't cost you a penny and take only a small amount of time.
Drink a glass of room temperature water every morning. This will get you hydrated as quickly as possible and help to set a healthy tone to your day.
When possible, walk for 15 minutes after every meal. Clearly, most of us don't have time for a walk after breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But the more we walk after eating, the more we can help our digestive system do its job and begin turning that food we just ate into fuel.
Pack snacks! Snacking between meals is critical because it can help prevent binge eating due to feeling like we are starving when we finally sit down to eat. Obviously, snacks should be healthy and not sugary or high in carbs and fat.
Put your knife and fork (or sandwich) down after every bite. Studies show that people who do this simple action ate significantly less than those who don't.
Relax! Stress is not only a killer, but when we get stressed our body produces the hormone cortisol, which prevents weight loss. Breathe and relax. It can help you lose weight!