Most of us tend to live like a yo-yo; we go up with the good moments, we go down with the bad experiences, and sometimes we just stay stagnant. Diet and exercise is no exception to this. Like most, in the past I’ve had my fair share of “I’ll workout tomorrow or the next day” and “I’ll cut out all junk food and start eating right on Monday”. In recent years though, I have finally been able to stop these less than awesome habits and make fitness and nutrition my lifestyle. I still see a disconnect for a lot of people with this, so today we’ll look at how we can all finally break the cycle of poor nutrition, inconsistency and the sedentary life.
We all have the same 24 hours in each day to get our seemingly endless list of tasks complete, leaving most feeling exhausted, overwhelmed and stressed out. It’s no wonder the thought of exercising ends up being the last thing that anyone would want to do. There have been countless times where I would get home after work and say “I’m too tired to workout so I’ll take the day off”, which would lead to another day, week, then weeks, and so on, until I would realize that I’ve started getting a little bit softer from having not exercised in a really long time. Along with that, I like many others tend to have this all or nothing attitude where if I’m not consistent with fitness, my nutrition will be less than optimal too. Then it would always feel like I had to start all over again and the cycle would continue. So how did I finally manage to stop this? Well, it took me a while to realize that it all comes down to three things: having a goal, having a plan to reach that goal and accountability.
In terms of figuring out your goal, be very specific: do you want to lose fat? How much? By when? Do you want to gain muscle or build strength? Or do you want to do both fat loss and muscle building? Having a clear picture of what you want to achieve is the first step in making it happen. Be sure to set a mix of short and long term goals for yourself. For example, if your goal is to lose 50 lbs in one year, it may be a good idea to break it down into smaller increments, say 1 lb per week, and increasing the intensity of your cardio and the weight that you are lifting every 4 weeks. A longer term goal might be to drop down to a certain body fat level or dress size and to have an overall lean look with nice curves and definition, essentially having a fit and healthy lifestyle. In recent years, my goal has been to gain muscle, but now it’s shifted to something else that I’m not quite ready to share just yet so stay tuned!
The next step is coming up with your plan, which can take some of effort and trial and error to figure out what works best. I started by going through articles in fitness magazines and websites; thankfully a lot of these have free workout and nutrition plans (depending on what your goal is) that are detailed and straight forward. This part took me a while to get down packed as in the beginning I was all about cardio so the idea of strength training was totally new to me; I still find myself making tweaks along the way. What may work for one person may not work for you, so just keep that in mind if you find yourself trying and struggling to follow a plan that someone else put together for you or if you find that you’re not making any progress after months of hard work. That being said, it doesn’t mean that just because it’s hard that it’s not working; it’s especially challenging in the beginning so hang in there for a bit and see what kind of changes your body will have. I also strongly suggest that you try a few new things as well and not just the usual treadmill, aerobics class, push ups and bicep curls. Consider crossfit, yoga, kickboxing, barre class, powerlifting, tabata etc. It could surprise you to see how your body responds to something that’s a bit out of your comfort zone. My most recent strategy change involved going from free weights at home to a mix of both weight machines and free weights and adding a cardio session at least 4 days per week (last year I had to cut out all cardio due to a foot injury). I am happy to say that I am seeing some serious progress. It’s hard, but I do love it.
The most difficult part of breaking the cycle is accountability. This is what will really make or break your goal. We can all find some reason or another for giving up and then feeling sorry for ourselves for never being able to change or grow. There’s work, family, chores, and obligations galore that can easily lead to anyone sacrificing their fitness goals because they just don’t have the time or energy. This is where accountability steps in. The best thing (and probably the hardest) is to tell the people closest to you what goal is and what your plan is to get there. You may get some snide or snarky comments, but just remember that it’s probably just the other person’s way of attacking what they either don’t understand or can’t do themselves. On the other hand, they may surprise you by being supportive, so regardless of how others react just stick to your guns and don’t give up. Accountability really set in for me last year when I signed up for a 12 week fitness challenge. This was ideal as it was in line with my goal, it provided a thorough and detailed plan and it included a private social media group for all participants which allowed us to share any questions, concerns and keep track of each other’s progress. Since I told everyone that I was taking part in this, I had no problems following the nutrition and got no grief from anyone about my wanting to not only complete the challenge, but to do it well. Another option is to work with a trainer or coach; the potentially hefty price tag can be enough to make anyone stick with their program, so if you can afford it and if it helps you get to where you want to be, then go for it. There’s also always the option of taking weekly progress pics of yourself, taking your measurements or going with how well your clothes fit. When your goal is fat loss, dropping a dress size is always nice.
Ultimately you are only accountable to yourself. If you want to finally drop that extra weight or build up a nice physique it’s up to you, you call the shots. There will always be something that will potentially get in the way, or some last minute thing that will come up, but you’ve got to make it happen for yourself. It’s completely understandable that there are people who really do not have the time to workout or hit the gym, such as those with a young family and full time careers, physically demanding jobs, careers that require long hours and extensive travelling, etc. It may be possible to sneak in a workout, but you may burn out or push too hard and end up sleep deprived on a regular basis. There is however one thing that everyone can always do that will have a huge impact on how you look, and that’s nutrition. A good diet accounts for 80% of your progress as exercise will only take you so far. Think about it: how many people do you see at the gym regularly or jogging outside who still have bellies or are not lean? That’s due to diet. If you are active, but you sneak in treats without even realizing it (as was my case for many years) or you consume alcohol regularly, it will show. I’ve mentioned this before and I will say it again here: You cannot out-train a bad diet. You are in control of what you put into your body, so eat mindfully and remember that just because someone offers you something or just because something is sitting right there doesn’t mean that you should eat it. You are not a garbage can, you are awesome so treat yourself that way and stop worrying about being wasteful. If you are having your weekly treat meal and the person next to you is done but has some leftover on their plate, before you reach over a grab it ask yourself if you really want that; are you still really hungry? are you hungry enough to justify eating a third piece of cake? Chances are that the answer is no, but if the answer is yes then you may be either restricting your calories too much and therefore are starving or you may have an addiction to eating and to food. In either case, please seek help immediately, it is available and will get you through whatever you are struggling with.
Are you ready to break the cycle? Are you ready to achieve the lifestyle and body that you’ve always dreamed of? Success doesn’t just happen, it takes long term hard work, but the rewards are amazing so stay with it and make small changes if need be as you go along. Don’t look at exercise as if it is a chore, consider it to be a priviledge to have a body capable of moving and to have the means to move it and make it stronger. Try not to compare yourself to others (as hard as it may be) or make some excuse like “if I didn’t work full time or have all these things going on right now or if I had even a fraction of the willpower of that person I would be in way better shape”, we are all so different from one another. Don’t keep this off any longer, start right now and keep going. It is possible to do get there; you are the one in charge of your life. No one will ever do this for you or hand this to you on a silver platter, and like everything else worth having, you have to earn it. Most importantly, you can earn it. Set your goal, make your plan and hold yourself accountable by sticking with it over the long haul. Before you know it, this will be second nature to you and it won’t just be part of your lifestyle it will be your lifestyle.
Start It, Finish It … or in this case, stick with it!