Now that we’ve had some time to get acquainted with the new year, the usual tropes of “new year, new me” are starting to become overwhelmingly real. The looming nag in the corners of our once ambitious thoughts starts to become louder: Are we really going to the gym five times a week and meal-prepping salads only? Then somewhere in the middle of January, we’re back to where we were before, or even worse.
The issue with consistency and meeting our wellness goals lies in our mindset toward nutrition and exercise. Instead of “new year, new me,” what if it’s actually “new year, same me—just new habits?” Just like with anything in life worth having, if it’s going to remain stable and sustainable then we must build progressively. Striving to become your best self through nutrition and exercise is an important, continuous lifelong goal we should all be actively working on. In order to do so, we must first examine and reframe our relationship with nutrition and exercise.
Embracing A Healthy Diet
Abs are made in the kitchen, meaning one cannot out-exercise a bad diet. A diet is the food and drinks we habitually consume (not to be mistaken for diet program such as Keto or Atkins). Does your diet mostly consist of processed, fatty, sugary foods? The foundation to a balanced diet should only be based on nutritious foods you enjoy. If you don’t enjoy cooking and eating it, then you shouldn’t have it.
A recent Harvard study found that when the 14 most popular diet plans were given to a group of dieters, most of them quit after the study was over despite benefiting from weight-loss results. The study concluded that despite the results, people didn’t want to stick to a diet they didn’t enjoy or couldn’t fully commit to. The best diet is the one you’ll stick with.
You’re on day five into your super-restrictive diet plan but it’s midnight and you’ve remembered you never threw out those chocolate chip cookies in the top cabinet. You eat them even though you said you weren’t going to. They taste so good! This feeling of not being in control is what also leads us to quit our goals despite how well we’ve been doing. Luckily there’s actual science that can help us understand why we have these unexplainable urges when it comes to certain foods. The New York Times book review of Michael Moss’ Hooked, details how his latest read goes into the science behind food addiction, and processed foods, or whole foods that have been altered in some way, are claimed to be even more addictive than alcohol and drugs.
So yes, you do know what you should be eating but sometimes our emotions and addictions just get the better of us and that is OK. Now that we know better, we can do better. To help curb our cravings, cutting back on salt, sugar, and fat can retrain our taste buds (remember, they’re craving the addictive stuff). For example, do you drink your coffee with three sugars every day? Try two sugars for one week and then cut them down to one the next. You’ll be surprised how quickly your body adapts and when you go back to taste a three-sugar coffee, you’ll notice how unnecessarily sweet it was to begin with. This can also be applied to every aspect of nutrition: make small incremental changes, notice the differences in your body and mind, and keep or ditch the stuff that works for you or not. The same goes for exercise.
Tapping Into An Exercise Routine That Works
Here comes the easy part: Get your body moving. The mental and physical benefits of simply moving your body and raising your heart rate are undeniable yet we routinely deny ourselves the opportunity to check in with our bodies. Notice even how when talking about exercise, “moving your body” vs. “working out”, can help frame our attitudes towards it. The former suggests freedom and expression while the latter sounds like a chore to be done. Given this global pandemic, think of moving your body or exercise as a privilege, a way to honor the body that’s been working so hard to keep you healthy. Choose activities you genuinely enjoy or can grow to enjoy once you stick to them.
Motivation vs. Discipline
So, what’s the secret to becoming a person who wakes up to run at 6 a.m.? Or someone who goes directly to the gym after work? It’s our habits, not our personality or past failures that determine the palpable results we seek. Creating a habit means you continue to do it until it’s something you unconsciously do. This also helps create discipline, which is what steps in when motivation ultimately fails. Every avid fitness person you follow online or look up to will tell you they’re not motivated to work out every day, but they’re disciplined enough to continue.
In a Time piece on how to build self-discipline to exercise, one way to motivate yourself to work out is thinking of the short-term immediate benefits of your workout. Do you notice you sleep better after a workout? Are you less stressed or in a happier mood? Those are great reasons to keep up with your workout routine because they affect you now instead of waiting for weeks or months to see results coming in.
Consider setting time aside to exercise as an important appointment with yourself and the body that’s with you for the rest of your life. Just like with nutrition, what can help with your fitness journey is setting realistic, attainable, and trackable growth. Understand that every body is different so it’s imperative you check in with yourself to determine what serves you or not. Remember to celebrate whatever stage you’re in as you keep reaching your goals. The journey to optimal health is a lifelong one, be kind and patient with yourself.