Why is it so hard for us to buckle down and eat healthy? I've been a personal trainer and healthy lifestyle coach for over six years, and lately, I've been more agitated when my clients don't get the results that they should be getting when I provide them with great workouts and tons of resources. One night, as I reviewed some of my client's recent scans, I was in tears and feeling like I was a horrible trainer. But it was in that moment that I realized why I was so upset: I had forgotten what it felt like to be a beginner.
Lifestyle change is hard, especially if you are a newcomer.
I had forgotten what it was like to be a person who was addicted to sugar; I had forgotten that I once spent a semester in college living off of mozzarella sticks and chicken wings. I had forgotten that I used to drink half my weight in booze and wine (instead of water), and I had forgotten that I was once a person who would stop working out the moment I felt small beads of sweat form on my forehead. I had forgotten that I was once a beginner—just like my clients. In that moment everything changed, and I realized that I had to approach things differently to help my clients achieve better, lifelong results.
Don't forget that food choices are often driven by emotion.
I get it; starting a new habit can be difficult, uncomfortable, and scary. Especially when you shift habits around food and eating. Food is one of the most emotive things in our lives; it can provide comfort, pleasure, support, and relief in a moment's notice. The mere thought or smell of certain foods can bring up memories from our childhood, first date, or favorite holiday. Food rules! I have even joked that I love food so much that I wish I could marry it. But the reality is that food's major role is to provide fuel and nutrition for our bodies to properly function. Period. Everything else serves our emotions and our egos.
Our food culture doesn't make it easy to fuel our bodies with real food.
The issue today is that many people have drifted away from the "food is fuel" notion and look at food as a social and supportive construct to help us deal with life. It also doesn't help that most food these days is packed with preservatives, refined sugars, artificial ingredients, and fillers—which is NOT real food. Our unhealthy eating habits are creating disease and dis-ease, causing us to put on pounds of fat around our vital organs and leading to the rise of obesity and obesity-related illnesses like type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
So how do we adjust our habits to live a more fulfilled life? Here are three things that you can do today to begin to break the habit of unhealthy eating:
1. Be mindful.
We live in a fast-paced world, and often it is so tainted with instant gratification that we stick with what's easy, what's quick, and what's familiar. This doesn't require us to think too long or too hard about what we put into our bodies. One of the best ways to start actively thinking about what you eat is to track your food in a food journal. I ask my clients to write down everything that they eat for a three-day period with notes on what time they ate and what they were doing. This is powerful because I am able to identify patterns, habits, and also begin to see where we need to make adjustments. A notebook, the notes app on your smartphone, or an app like MyFitnessPal are all great tracking tools.
2. Be patient.
In a world where "quick" and "easy" are supreme, it's easy to want to give up when we don't see the results we are looking for in a week or two. In a study released by the European Journal of Science, Phillippa Lally and her team concluded that it takes 66 days to create a new habit—not 21. My advice here is to create a 60-day plan, but instead of focusing on a huge diet overhaul, focus on one small habit at a time that you can change today. Maybe you replace your sugar-packed breakfast muffin with oatmeal and fruit or cut out one can of soda each day for 66 days. Once that habit sticks, add another small habit to the mix and continue that process until you're at a place that makes you healthier, happier, and more confident.
3. Be forgiving.
Let's face it, there will be days when you are on it and making great decisions about food, but there will also be days when you give in to temptation. The key here is simple; don't let one bad meal ruin your progress and the confidence you have gained. Forgive yourself and move on. When I was a beginner I would have a bad meal and beat myself up and dwell on it, but don't let your inner voice—fueled by your past failures and insecurities—convince you that this is a waste of time or that you can't do this. When you want to give up, remind yourself of all the reasons you want to change and let them be your motivation.
I truly believe that you have the power to break the habit of unhealthy. But it will require you to be intentional about what you put into your body, consistent in your daily actions, and positive about your ability to be successful and live a life of health, happiness, and fulfillment. As Thomas Jefferson once said, "If you want something you've never had, you must be willing to do something you've never done."