When you think about your health, chances are you are thinking of a colorful array of products and maybe even impeccable bodies sweating in the gym instead of a white doctor’s coat. That’s because “health style” is a hot topic, has been for a couple of years now, stimulated by a million dollar industry. We are constantly been made aware, sometimes frightened even, of the impact of our everyday choices on our health.
Of course awareness is not necessarily a bad thing, but for many people the constant focus on health and the amount of (contradictory) information regarding this topic can be overwhelming. What is praised by one person, will be outcast by others. That’s why some basic guidelines and an open mind may come in handy, and that’s what I would like to offer you.
Keep your eyes on the prize
While rethinking your current routine and trying to implement more healthier choices, you’ll generally focus on long-term results. However, why is it people tend to go back to their old ways instead of actually committing to these healthier choices?
This could be explained by numerous factors: the overwhelming and contradicting information, the accessibility, pricing and commercialization of certain products, etc. Even though all this is true, and probably part of the puzzle, what many people underestimate is an individual’s motivation, closely linked to one’s general state of mind.
After introducing oats as my go to breakfast for over more than 7 years now, as it has everything I’m looking for in a breakfast: nutritious, fast, easy and versatile, I still tend to opt for bread with chocolate sprinkles in the morning (my go to breakfast in high school) when I’m on rather low point emotionally. Trying to cheer myself up with eating shows that I’m an emotional eater (admitting is the first step). So that’s why I try (yes, it’s a process) to link the chocolate sprinkles with something else, considering why I don’t feel good about myself at that moment. Unfortunately my inner Oprah doesn’t always have an answer for me either, but at least I tried and in best case didn’t eat the sprinkles.
Motivation is a powerful, yet tricky beast. To get motivated, and to keep motivated, it helps to get started and set specific and easy to achieve goals. And yet this is where most people struggle. We have the tendency to aspirelong-term goals within an unrealistic time frame. Who doesn’t want to lose 5kg in a week? Or transform that winter in a summer body with some sort of magic apparatus? The key words always being fast and easy. Hey, it’s only human. The lure of such social media posts isn’t easy to resist. However, in the worst cases, they can do more harm than good.
In order to avoid this, you could opt for getting professional assistance with assessing your goal and/or setting your targets in intermediate stages. Whatever your ultimate goal is: being able to play with your children without shortage of breath, running a marathon, feeling confident in your bathing suit, etc. You are more likely to achieve it if you dare to dream big, but start thinking small. For me, small targets are week or sometimes even daily targets! And don’t forget about the professional assistance. It’s not a requirement, but forewarned is forearmed. Since they are the professionals, they can make a better assessment of your plan, adjust if necessary, protect you from common pitfalls and help you when your motivation is getting low. A couple of common pitfalls (sorry to be the bearer of bad news) are:
- overcompensating, thinking that extra mile earned you that pack of crisps;
- excluding an entire food category;
- thinking that all that matters are calories, not all calories are created equal; and
- eating too many “health foods”.
Enjoy the ride
Another important aspect to consider, to keep that motivation at a high, is that we are talking about your big dream. Try not to confuse what you want to achieve by what you think society thinks you should achieve. That doesn’t mean that you cannot share somebody else’s aspirations. Or that you yourself can’t try to be an inspiration for somebody else. What it means is that you shouldn’t constantly compare yourself, or the progress you’ve already made, to someone else. Easier said than done in this era of social media. Keep in mind that you might need to take other types of action or even want to adjust your goal along the way. The most important thing to remember is that it’s your personal journey. Enjoy the progress and try to have as much fun as possible along the way!
Finding your balance
The word balance refers to two different, but both crucial, aspects when talking about “health style”. Noticed that I have not yet used the term ‘unhealthy’? That’s because I think no food group or food type is inherently ‘unhealthy’. Sure some have a lower nutritional value than others. Still they can be part of a balanced lifestyle, even a balanced “health style”.
What you consider as healthy and unhealthy is largely inspired by the goal you have set for yourself. And that’s perfectly okay. However, don’t start forcing your own ideas about the subject onto someone else. If I have decided that I want to build some extra muscle by eating only plant-based foods, then that’s solely my choice. Giving nutritional advice, wanted or unwanted, requires nutritional expertise and knowing all (nutritional) habits of a person. You also don’t go to the gym for the first time and start adopting the training schedule from the person next to you on the treadmill?!
And even though you know that certain types of food are not the best option for you, eating them occasionally will not prevent you from reaching your goal. It’s all about balance. Nobody is perfect and you shouldn’t be either. The 80% rule is a great guide here, making the more healthier options 80% of the time will also lead you to the goal you have set. Just a small note here, try to be conscious of the moment when you decide to eat something (slightly) unhealthier and make sure guilt doesn’t prevent you from pursuing your ambition.
The real balance
This brings us to another balancing act: the actual scale. It’s a though relationship, since people tend to attach too much importance to this number. Learn to put things into perspective. The scale will only tell you one part of the story. Trying desperately to reduce that number will not necessarily boost your overall health or happiness for that matter.
Let me tell you something, in an attempt to be more healthier I lost 15 kg at my peak (or low point depending on your perspective). Despite this drop on the scale, I wasn’t really happy with where I was. So I started adding more sports to the regime and up went the scale (and no it wasn’t all muscle). And even though the scale went up (for the statisticians around 8kg), and in the meantime has stabilized, I’m actually happy with where I am now. That’s why if I had to give you one advice, don’t determine your intermediate targets solely based on the number on the scale.
Just don’t quit
“Consistency is the key to success”. It might be hard to admit, but your current routines weren’t formed overnight. The same goes for changing your current habits and introducing new ones.
Remember the story about the chocolate sprinkles? If I had quit every time I craved those chocolate sprinkles, ate them and then felt guilty – that feeling that a slice of bread ruined all the progress you had made during the last couple of days, weeks, months, years (my inner Oprah is a bit of a drama queen) – there would be no progress up till now.
So again, be kind to yourself. Try to implement things in phases and combine a change that is rather easy with a more difficult one. What’s easy and difficult is of course very personal. For example: limiting alcohol intake, eating more nutritious meals, eating less sweets, introducing some basic exercise, etc.
Since you are working towards a long-term goal, you have to take into account that you will have to deal with one or numerous setbacks, that’s just life. However, the only thing preventing you from reaching that goal at one point, is to stop trying.
you find yourself on the path of “health
style” at this moment, I hope that the above has
helped you to dream big, enjoy the progress, be kind to yourself and eventually
make it happen for you!