Secrets to Making Fitness Changes That Actually Last

By Tia Norris, June 2019 Issue of Echo Magazine in Phoenix, AZ.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it: starting a new diet or exercise program is hardly sunshine and rainbows. In fact, the process usually begins with promise and positivity, but can soon devolve into discomfort and internal mental warfare. After all, making changes in diet and exercise takes time, energy, and for some people, it takes some of the fun out of life. 

While I can’t disagree that making a commitment to diet and exercise is demanding, I can promise you that the juice is in fact worth the squeeze. All of my clients have highs and lows through their fitness endeavors, and here are some of my tips on how to approach the inevitably uncomfortable journey ahead.

When to use your emotions

Make the connection between good diet and exercise choices with how you feel. Notice how satisfying it is to complete workouts, and the energy spike that often follows a vigorous exercise session versus the sluggish state you were in before the workout; notice how focused and light you feel after choosing a healthier lunch option like a chicken salad, versus a gut bomb like a burger and fries when it comes to your midday performance at work; notice how empowering it feels to achieve your goals and stick to your commitments, versus how it feels when you’ve squandered another day, week, or month without making those changes you so deeply desire. These are the feelings worth studying and replicating!

Don’t get me wrong, I love pizza, burgers, fries, and desserts; however, what I don’t love is how heavy, tired, and unfocused I feel after one of these indulgences. You can’t argue that you function just as sharply at work after eating dirty vs. clean. It’s a fact! Of course, different goals have different levels of demand. However, if you make the connection between any particular choice now and the expected outcome later, perhaps the decisions will become easier. Do now, what makes you feel best later. 

When to use your brain

And on that note, don’t overthink it. Oftentimes, people get hung up on the back and forth mental dance of “should I?” or “shouldn’t I?” … “I want to eat cleaner, but this little snack just sounds better right now … what should I do?” In this scenario, try to make a split-second, perfectly logical, decision based on what you know. Don’t get entangled in irrational patterns when it comes to diet and exercise choices. Just do it.

I fully acknowledge that for many clients, this purely logical approach may not be as easy as it sounds; emotions and food choices unfortunately go way back for many of us. However, sometimes it’s best to cut through the fog of emotions with ice cold logic and do what you needto do. Not what you want to do. 

Be patient with yourself

I’m looking right at you, perfectionists: eliminate that black/white thinking pattern when it comes to diet and exercise. These types of “all or nothing” patterns are not only unsustainable, they’re completely unnecessary! Read this carefully: you do not need to have a dreadfully austere diet and a grueling exercise program, to see results. If you’re hitting about 80-90% of the program, most people will see what they want to see. Give yourself a bit of a break and be realistic.

For most of us this means better execution on the program during the week, with room for planned spontaneity on the weekends. Remember, to see progress, you’ll need more days onthe program than off the program. However, sustainability of a program is fueled by planned deviations off the program. Work, rest, repeat, right? Don’t forget to take the “rest” needed on diet and exercise programs. Eat that thing, or those things, that you like but you know you shouldn’t have all the time, occasionally. I recommend for most clients, one “cheat” meal per week where there are no rules on quality or quantity. These planned deviations help to make the program more sustainable mentally and physically. 

It’s hard. Food tastes good, and exercise can be hard. Remember that and set the goals low and slow to start. But this doesn’t mean you get to stop when it gets hard! Use your emotions when they serve you: connect the good feelings with good choices and use that positive reinforcement to drive results. Use your logic when your emotions aren’t serving you: know what you should do, and just do it without letting your emotions cloud your better judgment. And be patient: make it a long term lifestyle change instead of a crash diet. Allow yourself to have some fun along the way, and I promise you’ll enjoy the work a whole lot more!

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