It is the second week of the New Year and as always, people pick January to start working on their health-related resolutions. They either want to drink less alcohol, exercise more or eat more "healthy" etc. These days my Facebook wall is filled with posts from health and wellness websites promoting their "10-day detox diets" or their "21-day reboot programs".
At the same time, I see quite a few people posting their daily "achievements" on their new found diets or selfies at the gym/yoga studio. These are admirable efforts and I am not here to discourage people who start making such changes to get their health back on track.
However, from my personal and professional experience, if you truly want to implement a lifestyle change, it typically takes more than just a few weeks of enthusiaism as well as a whole new level of awareness in order to go the whole distance. Here's why:
In the first few weeks of the year, after the holiday binge, we feel the need to do something. We are motivated and determined to be strict on ourselves. We set high expectations and go full steam ahead on many fronts. Hard work soon pays off and we see some results in weight loss, our clothes fit again and we start to feel more energy.
A few weeks to months later, with full-time work, kids, school or work projects as well as social commitments, reality sets in. We gradually skip a day or two at the gym for the week or unconsciously order a pizza for dinner one day and tell ourselves, "It's ok, I'll work harder at the gym this week. I deserve this for working so much today".
Next thing you know, we find it hard to sustain the New Year's resolutions that we set out to acheive at the beginning of the year. Sounds familiar?
Real lifestyle changes take awareness and time. Just think about it: if you have been eating a certain way for most of your life and now suddenly decide that you want to eat less meat, more fruits and vegetables, cut back on sugar and processed food etc., your body (and mind) will be in complete shock if you try to do it all at once.
You will most probably experience withdrawal symptoms and strong cravings very quickly. And if you are stressed at work, you are more likely to pick up a sugary snack during teatime, rather than some carrot sticks with hummus or nuts. Trust me, I have been there myself...
To really see long term sustainable lifestyle changes, here are some suggestions:
1. Be clear of your intentions
Understand exactly "what", and above all "why", you want to achieve the set goals.
"I want to lose weight to fit my clothes" is usually not going cut it long term, but "I want to lose weight so I have the strength to run after my kids if they cross a busy street unattended" is going to keep you more motivated.
Similarly, "I want to cut back on sugar so I do not end up having diabetes like both my parents", may seem a bit extreme, but having a strong compelling reason will keep you going. Dig deep!
2. Go slow and build it up
Avoid going overboard. Start with one realistic goal at a time, working at your own pace. It is about establishing new and more desirable habits.
1st week, you start your day with warm lemon water in the mornings on Mon, Wed & Fri.
2nd week, you have warm lemon water in the mornings from Mon - Fri.
3rd week, you have warm lemon water in the mornings Mon- Sat and you drink green smoothies for breakfast twice a week.
4th week, you have warm lemon water in the mornings Mon- Sat and drink green smoothies three times a week and include green salads for lunch twice a week
If you are implementing a new exercise routine, instead of saying "I will start doing yoga every morning for 30 mins", start with "I will do 10 minutes of yoga at home twice a week in the mornings for a month", and then increase both duration and frequency over time as feels appropriate. The key is to stick to it.
3. Experiment what works for you
Although there are many "easy" health tools out there for you to use, e.g. weekly meal plans or fitness regimens, one-size does not fit all. It is important to find out and experiment what works for you.
Say you want to start drinking green smoothies, first try a couple of recipes and see which ones you enjoy and can actually implement throughout the week.
Or if you want to start eating healthier breakfasts, do your research on what are the "healthy" options out there, experiment with different recipe recommendations and come up with your own meal plan for the week.
Or if you want to start yoga, try different types to make sure you like the style, the environment and the instructor. Most yoga studios offer free classes or pay for one class to see how you like it. If yoga is not your thing, try Pilates or Crossfit classes. Keep experimenting until you find something you love and can commit to.
4. Don't sabotage yourself
There will be days where you slip up, but that does not mean you have to continue with the slip ups. Just get back on your goal the next time.
If you missed one yoga class; don't beat yourself over it. Just make sure you attend the next one! Don't listen to the voice in your head that says "Oh! I already missed so many classes this month, I might as well stop going"
Or if you did not eat so healthy that one week, don't tell yourself that it is ok to stop making healthier choices for the rest of the month. Just get back on it as soon as feasible.
Be less judgemental on yourself, perfectionism is not the goal here. The goal is to keep making the conscious choice every time, until it becomes second nature.
5. Be patient
You are embarking on a journey to change your lifestyle. Give yourself the necessary time to make those changes last; for some it might take 6 months, for others it will take a year or 3 years.
When I first started changing my lifestyle 2 years ago, I was drinking green smoothies, working out, eating healthier but I was still smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol. I only stopped both early last year. They just fell away gradually in their own time.
6. Get support
Chances are you are more likely to stick to a new habit with a friend/partner who is supportive of your lifestyle change. You don't need to do it alone.
Want to join a yoga/Crossfit class but somehow never got to it? Tell a friend and ask them to join you too, this will increase your likelihood of keeping at it when you can both motivate each other.
Want to eat healthier at home? Get your partner or family on board. It is easier to cook healthy food for the whole family than make your own seperate meals.
What do you think of the recommendations? Think you can implement them?
If you need help or a listening ear, I invite you to schedule a Skype call with me today. We can discuss how you can take baby steps to begin a whole new life.