I've been a group fitness instructor for more than 20 years, and I’ve seen what I like to refer to as the "shame spiral" consume so many of my clients.
Here's how it goes: Someone misses a couple of workouts or, in a moment of weakness, polishes off the pint of Ben & Jerry's in the freezer. Feeling like a failure, they let their one slip lead to another, which leads to another, and suddenly they’re free-falling down the shame spiral.
Most people think the solution is simply stronger willpower. Don’t allow the misstep, and you won’t have to deal with the aftermath, right? Wrong. The problem is not the slip. Everybody slips. The problem is letting it define you. The simple most important thing you can do to lead a healthy life is to learn to forgive a mistake rather than letting it derail you.
With the holidays upon us and temptations at every turn, this lesson is more important than ever. So, how can you avoid going down the dreaded shame spiral? At my fitness studio, barre3, I developed a practice we refer to as the three A’s.:
1. Acknowledge your behavior.
Simply observe what you are doing: “I’m standing alone in my kitchen eating ice cream directly from the carton even though I swore it off just hours ago."
2. Accept your actions.
Instead of beating yourself up, be compassionate with yourself: “Of course I’m eating ice cream. It’s delicious! I’ve had a long day and I am craving a sweet reward.”
3. Ask yourself one simple question.
“What do I really need right now?” Listen to what you really need in that moment.
This exercise isn’t necessarily going to change your behavior in the moment, but it will help you stop feeling shameful about it. It’s an exercise in being self-aware, and it goes back to one of the most important points I make in my mbg online course, The New Food & Fitness Rules: You are your own best teacher.
The more you practice the threes A’s, the more you’ll start running through them automatically. Even if you run through the three A's and decide to stick with the ice cream, it’s okay. You have not failed.
I know that sounds odd coming from an exercise and wellness expert. This time of year is filled with a lot of celebration but also with a lot of feelings of guilt and shame (“I ate too much.” “I shouldn’t have had that last glass of wine.” “I can’t believe I missed my workout today”). My purpose isn’t to add to that guilt and shame; it’s to help you move beyond it.
If you create rigid rules for yourself about exercise and eating, you’ll not only set yourself up for failure, you’ll also start to associate healthy living with negative feelings — and that’s a guaranteed way to fall off the healthy wagon for good. But if you’re realistic and compassionate toward yourself, you’ll be able to miss that workout and eat those cookies, and then get right back to your healthy life.
I encourage you to look at the sum total of your movement and eating. Skipping a one-hour workout doesn’t mean you can’t find movement in short bursts throughout the day. Likewise, a day of indulging doesn’t mean you can’t pack your plate with greens the next day. One of our favorite mantras at barre3 is “Make It Your Own.” We encourage clients to modify barre3 moves to suit their bodies’ needs. The holidays are no different. It’s okay to modify your usual regimen to allow for a little indulging.
For more tips on how to stay healthy and fit in today's world, check out my mbg course, The New Food & Fitness Rules.
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