I like to jump into the middle of things. Puddles, trampolines, bed, cakes and major life-altering projects.
The positive side of this is that, really, the only choice is to swim. As a volunteer surf lifeguard, it would be suuuuuper embarrassing if I drowned. The problem is, this way of learning is a bit inefficient, because there tends to be a lot of too-ing an fro-ing, going back to the start and retrofitting knowledge.
Luckily, through my own learnings, and by working with a hundred or so others in their health journeys I have made a note of the important bits you wish you knew before you jumped into the middle of a diet, training program or lifestyle shift. So grab your pens and paper, because this one is interactive.
Draw a picture of how your life looks once you meet your goal. The fact is, it’s hard to picture how you are going are going to look and feel once you meet your goal if it’s been a while since you have been a healthy weight, or if you have never really lead a healthy lifestyle. Drawing a picture and referring to it regularly can help build the picture in your mind to move towards. Visualisation has been used in a number of domains to increase the chances of success. Personally, I have used it when working on training technique or learning a new skill. I do it just in my head, but have also played around with drawing a picture of what success looks like, in very vivid detail, if it’s something I actually can’t imagine! I have also used visualisation to get myself through a busy day. If I know I have a lot to get through and remember the next day, I will run through the steps in my head before bed the night before, a mental rehearsal if you like! It is actually quite amazing what you can get done in a day if you have a clear picture in your mind. So you might visualise getting out of bed, putting on your runners and hot-footing it to the gym, or you might draw a picture of what your life looks like once you have reached your weight loss goals.
There is another part to this visualisation gig which I think is highly useful to, and that is negative visualisation. This is rooted in stoic philosophy (my favourite school of thought) and helps us to keep it real. We imagine life if we don’t make the change, and what could go wrong. It’s not the most uplifting exercise to do, but since when has life ever given us the most ideal set of circumstances to reach our goals in? Last I checked it was never! Anticipating what adversities you are going to face, and coming up with solutions in advance can help us be on the front foot when life throws us a few lemons. With a bit of negative visualisation, you won’t just make lemonade, you will have the jars sterilised, and salt ready to go for preserves. My favourite is the conversation you have with the office morning tea enthusiast who tries to twist your arm into having a wedge of cheap Woolworths mud cake. ‘No Doris, thank you for the offer, but I don’t eat cake during the week’. Think of it as pessimistic optimism- trust me- worth a go.
Change your environment.
Me: “I want to stop eating the from the Nutella tub, so I will just ignore that it is there. I am going to just use my self-control and newly acquired positive visualisation skills to get over my Nutella addiction”.
Meanwhile, it is burning holes in the back of your head with tiny Nutella laser beams to remind you of its existence while you go about your daily tasks. While positive visualisation is good, it’s not that good- this was never going to work.
If we want to really set ourselves up for success, we need to get real. Get rid of the foods that you eat when you are bored, emotional or stressed. Your home is probably the easiest environment to change. The obstacles usually lie around sharing a house and workplace with other people. If it’s your home, call the shots. I’ll be honest and say that kids don’t need the treats in the house either (a common excuse). It may be a harsh call, but really, everyone is going to benefit if you remove junk from the house- even the reluctant spouse. If they are on you team, they will deal with the absence of junk. And really, you can always go and get something if you are dying for it, at least you have a 5 minute buffer between getting in the car and getting to the shops to decide if that is what you really want. Workplaces are hard, but again, I will stand by the fact that most workplaces could do with a snack spring clean too. Be that person. Or at least request the jar be moved out of eye sight. And if you dislike you job that badly that you need to eat to make yourself feel better- make a plan to leave ASAP- it’s never worth it.
Deal or no Deal
What are you willing to give up, and what is no-deal. You don’t have to live a Spartan lifestyle to get results, in fact I encourage people to have a bit of what you fancy, regularly. But for every food that you just love to bits, there will be a whole lot that you are indifferent to, but ate because it was there. Me? I have tried to give up a few things close to my heart, but got quite sad. So I include these on a semi-regular basis, and low-and-behold? I don’t feel deprived and am more likely to say to the foods that I don’t really care about, because I am in control! It’s not magic, it’s just human behaviour.
Get real with timeframes and expectations
How long have you ‘let your self go’ for? Well, you are going to need to give yourself at least half that time to start really seeing changes- the lifestyle ones that mean the results stick. Or at the very least a good 6 months with a solid plan. For sure, one 6 week challenge will get the ball rolling, and if that helps, do it- but what is your plan once that is done? Remembering our brains are a bit slower on the uptake of change, but are the most important piece of the puzzle. We need timeframes that allow us to adjust our lifestyle to accommodate new ‘ways of being’ that sustain the healthy changes in your body. Sometimes just knowing its going to take a while, and being cool with that is helpful.
We have a lot to get through in the day- fact. We are expected to jam more into our days than ever before. Quite frankly, if it wasn’t for habit, I probably wouldn’t go to the gym anywhere near as often as I do, left to my own devices. However, I will make one suggestion. Log how long you spend binge watching television, compulsively scroll through your social media feeds in the car after you pulled up home, and how many ‘18 signs you are an introverted-extravert’-esque articles and then review how time poor you actually are. (Noting that I am guilty of the last 2, and that this is an article of a similar structure, but I would counter with the fact that I am providing actual useful information, and not trying to get you to accidently click on ads to buy stuff you don’t need, because the screen shifted a bit to make you click it). The next step is to set times.
We need to create time blocks when we have to go to exercise, or have to prepare food. And stick to it. It may be uncomfortable to start, but practice makes habits, so push through and get going. Buddies always help, so drag someone along for the ride!
To summarise, the meal plan, gym program or other tool you have to make change is really the middle bit. Jump in too deep here and the risk of failing is high. In most cases, this stuff is actually more critical to success than what foods you decide to include in your diet. A bit of honest reflection is seldom a waste of time. Before you ask for a meal plan, to get an appreciation of the non-food related reasons you may not be the healthiest version of yourself, and then enjoy the process of practicing until you reach your version of perfect.