I don't want to be another health expert who tries to convince you that living at your ideal weight is easy. Because for many women, the ability to create a body and life that they love seems endlessly complicated, sometimes even unattainable.
And I get it. For many years I struggled with low self-esteem, eating disorders, and depression. No matter how disciplined I became—no matter what I ate or how frequently I exercised—I was never able to feel happy in my own skin.
My ideal weight was always out of reach…even when I was at it.
Looking back now I realize that my unhappiness had little to do with how I looked; if anything I was actually fitter, leaner, and healthier then than I am now. The real problem was with the way I was prioritizing my life. And it wasn't until I spent more time focusing on how I wanted to feel (and way less time focusing on how I wanted to look) that I reached my ideal weight.
I work with clients every day who face this same struggle. In our first session together they tell me that they're making the juices, skipping the gluten, and they're doing the spin classes but it's just not working. And it's because they're so overwhelmed by the pressure to make the "correct" and "healthiest" decision at every opportunity—they find it hard to live in the moment and actually listen to their body. Most of these clients are women over 40. They've read the literature and know the rules: Eat this, not that. Exercise like this, not like that. Fit it all in around family, work, friends, chores, and volunteer commitments…then repeat this cycle year after year.
I would like to propose a different approach that forces us to completely rethink everything we know about weight loss. And while it may not be as easy to get back into your favorite pair of jeans as it used to be, you will get there if you remember these three simple strategies:
1. Listen to what your body wants instead of telling your body what it needs.
You may think that the latest workout trend or juice cleanse is the magic bullet to getting your "dream" body, but that might not be the case. For the longest time I ate a diet that included 80 percent raw foods and after each meal I found myself curled up into a ball with sharp belly pains—the overload of fiber was too much for my stomach to handle. Yet even after suspecting that the kale salad was the culprit, I continued to fly the raw food flag for many, many months. (All the trendsetters were eating raw and they looked SO healthy and slim.)
Eventually I wised up, listened to my body, and started cooking my veggies, which stopped the constant bloated belly and allowed me to feel energized, not crippled, after each meal. The takeaway? Chances are your body is smarter than your brain. Listen to its needs with an open mind and open heart.
2. Exercising in a state of stress adds stress to your stress.
Exercise jolts your body out of its state of feeling calm, happy, and relaxed, which triggers the stress hormone cortisol to be released from your adrenal glands.
This can be a good thing. Exercise boosts endorphins, increases blood flow, and can actually help you become better at dealing with stress as the more physically fit you are the higher your physical "stress threshold" becomes. However, if you're already living in a regular state of stress with work, relationships, finances, and traffic jams (which all affect our nervous systems), your body is constantly receiving a cortisol rush, and exercise is just adding fuel to the fire.
The takeaway? Don't give up that morning workout just yet, but before you rush to attend a high-intensity boot camp, consider the state of your emotions. Perhaps a nice walk around the block is all you need.
3. Everyone is different, and you're beautifully unique.
There's no one-size-fits-all when it comes to fitness and nutrition, and what works for one person may not work for another. Regularly educating yourself about healthy living and personal development is wonderful, but take each piece of advice with a grain of salt—mine included!
The takeaway? Experiment with your healthy living program, and have an open mind about finding success outside the boundaries of traditional weight-loss advice. I lost 30 pounds and found my ideal weight after I stopped intense exercise and started eating bread again…who would have thought?!
At the end of the day you need to trust in your ability to make the best decision for your body, heart, and soul, not your ego. Here's a question that you can ponder as you walk along your path to wellness: What will you need to change—in your mindset, your lifestyle habits, and the goals that you are setting—to live the life you want to live and feel the way you want to feel?
Start there. Take action. And then watch as everything else falls into place.