In the last 15 years I’ve embraced healthy living: working out regularly, trying various styles of yoga, meditating, and eating whole foods whenever possible.
But the only way I’ve been able to do it is to not even aim at being perfect. You see, I grew up as a sedentary kid in a house always stocked with soda, candy bars and processed food. My dad's sudden death in 1997 shocked me into looking at my lifestyle. But taking the leap from the low bar that I started at to balanced living was only possible by not having a hardcore approach to health.
Here are five ways I’ve become healthy by “cheating the system,” and they may help you, too:
1. Focus on what healthy things you can add to your life, not on the stuff you should eliminate.
Like most people, I’m not a big fan of deprivation. So when I made green smoothies my breakfast staple a year ago, I promised myself I’d still have my morning joe after it. The result: I’m still chasing the smoothie with a coffee, but often it’s a smaller cup than it used to be.
2. Any meditation is better than no meditation.
Most meditation proponents advise doing your sitting practice at the same time every day (preferably in the morning) in order to make it a habit. While that makes sense in theory, it just doesn’t work for people with variable schedules. The 15 to 20 minutes that I take whenever it feels right has meant I’m meditating more regularly.
3. Don’t drop all your vices.
Of course, I don’t mean any truly dangerous ones. While I’m not a big fan of fried food, I’ve never met a french fry I don’t like. And as much as I’m aware that fries are high in fat and sodium, with little nutritional value, I can’t bear to say goodbye to them forever. But knowing they’re not forbidden has made them less of a temptation for me, resulting in me indulging in them only a few times a year.
4. It’s OK to reward yourself.
Yes, healthy living should be its own reward, but sometimes we need some incentives to stay motivated. For me, that means I often follow my early evening workout with a glass of Chardonnay. Yes, many exercise physiologists would frown on that, but while they’re fitness experts, I know what works for me. So if you’re struggling to get to that sunrise spin class, try focusing on the latte you’ll treat yourself to after it. And if sticking to your low-glycemic, gluten-free diet is becoming a grind, maybe allowing yourself a little reality TV will satisfy the craving for something less virtuous.
5. Accept that there will be days when you don’t make the healthiest choices.
One of my friends was adamant about not skipping any days of his new morning walking regimen. When I tried to tell him he was setting himself up for failure, he resisted. But then a work project started interfering with his walking, and he dropped the routine completely. While he’s since joined a gym, it took him several weeks to get back to working out. The moral: when you realize that not every day will be perfect, it’s easier to get back on track when you slip.