No matter your age, lifestyle habits play a role in how you look and feel. But, the effects of how you live your daily life become even more magnified the older you get. When you’re 25, it’s pretty easy to have a weekend filled with appetizers, drinks, Mexican platters, biscuits and gravy, etc. and not feel or look much differently on Monday morning. Doing the “free for all” when you’re 55 is a different story.
We’ve all been there, right! As my own journey has evolved, I’ve begun to pay more attention to the way I do things and what my consistent habits look like instead of doing what is called “diet jumping” or “program jumping.” By slowing down and addressing my personal struggles with food, exercise, sleep, and how I handle stress day to day, I’ve started to unveil where I need to do better.
No generally written program or diet can do that for me or for you.
It’s human nature to look at programs and look at what works for others so I don’t blame you for doing that. I did that for nearly 20 years. In fact, doing that is necessary to get ideas of where to start, what foods might support you, how to exercise and more.
The critical task comes in tweaking those plans to your life.
Your “program” becomes deeply knowing yourself and your habits, filtering through information, and coming up with strategies that are customizable to your life. Believe it or not, there’s a psychological system for doing this.
And it does not rely on willpower.
With repeated, conscious action, lots of practice and compassion, you can train your brain to support a life that serves you.
First, you need to understand that willpower is finite. It runs out. Think about a long day dealing with your job, your co-workers, your husband or wife, your kids, your bills, etc. Willpower is used for every single interaction throughout the day. It’s also used to keep yourself from yelling at the person who cut you off in traffic, to keep from buying something you can’t afford at the store, and even to empty your dishwasher at night when you’re exhausted and just want to sit down.
So when it’s 9pm, there’s chocolate chip cookies sitting on the counter, the house is quiet, everyone’s asleep, and you’ve used all your willpower for the day, what are you going to do? I know what I’m going to do if I don’t have a strategy to deal with that!
If you’re a food user (emotional eater) and use food to calm and medicate the stresses of the day…. you’re going to eat cookies. Willpower doesn’t work. Don’t beat yourself up for failing because it’s not your fault.
A lean mindset and, therefore, a fit and healthy lifestyle doesn’t come from having the willpower to do so, it comes from having a… STRATEGY. “Strategy Trumps Willpower” is a phrase coined by celebrity trainer Valerie Waters.
“Strategy Trumps Willpower”
Take yourself out of destructive habit loops by creating strategies that back up your desire for a better life. For example, eating bready, starchy, and sugary foods late in the day is typically not supportive of a healthy, fit physique. (In fact, excessive use of these foods is NOT supportive of that goal at all!) If you find yourself out to dinner faced with these options, your strategy could be that you always order a salad with extra protein or a piece of protein and double veggies. By knowing what you’re having before walking into a restaurant, you’re less likely to be swayed by the wrong mindset upon opening the menu. That’s strategy.
Other examples of strategies for a “lean & healthy” mindset include:
- Pack a protein bar, jerky, or nuts in your purse to ward off fast food stops while traveling.
- Fill several 1 liter water bottles before going to bed at night so you have water ready to go the next morning.
- Cook and shred some boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts and have them readily available in the fridge to top salads, pair with a side, or to whip up a healthy chicken salad.
- Eat what Jill Coleman calls a BAS (Big Ass Salad) each day to ensure extra veggie consumption. Load it up or better yet, enjoy having someone else make it for you when you’re out!
- Plan indulgences throughout the week to ward off binges that are inevitable with too much deprivation. Do you know you’ll want something sweet after a meal? Have a piece of gum handy or another supportive sweet treat to take the edge off (I used to use 2-3 mini tootsie rolls). No, it’s not perfect, but it trumps stopping for an M&M Blizzard or eating a pile of chocolate chip cookies.
- Have a seat to eat. You’re new strategy could be to chew gum or sip water while cooking and that you ONLY put food in your mouth if you’re sitting down and not before.
- Turn off your computer, TV, iPad, and any other backlit screen devices 1-2 hours before bed. This strategy ensures that you’re going to get the best sleep your body is capable of.
- What time do you have to get up? Count back 7-8 hours and make sure you’re in bed at that time. Sleep has a huge impact on your health and body composition.
“Don’t let Perfect be the Enemy of Good”
Jill Coleman, Jillfit Physiques
It takes PRACTICE to break unsupportive habits. Don’t beat yourself up when you’re not perfect. Perfect doesn’t exist; you’ll never find it. Making ONE CHANGE at a time is critical to your success. You don’t get up one morning and start doing every single one of these things. The “all or nothing” mindset always ends up being nothing in the end.
Start becoming the expert on your own life! It’s the most effective “plan” or “program” you’ll ever embark on.