by Erin Risius, MA, Program Director at Green Mountain at Fox Run
Research shows that by Valentine’s Day up to 90 percent of all health-related resolutions made in the New Year are abandoned. The reason for this high failure rate isn’t due to a lack of willpower or a lack of self-discipline, as many would believe, it has more to do with the approach taken. Dieting and the “no pain, no gain” approach to food and exercise don’t work long term. Period.
Despite this fact, restrictive dieting and boot camp type approaches are still the most popular because of the promise of rapid weight loss. For someone who wants change yesterday and feels a sense of urgency around that goal, desperate thoughts often lead to desperate feelings, which then lead to desperate measures.
Hello, dieting…. Hello, no pain/no gain exercise… Hello, dead end.
Don’t Try Harder, Try Different
Albert Einstein said it best: “The definition of insanity is trying something over and over again and expecting different results.”
For many people all-or-nothing approaches feel restrictive, joyless, and full of “I should” instead of “I want” around food and movement. Doing what we feel we “should” be doing versus what we “want” to keep doing can often turn good intent into a laborious means to end, not a chosen way of life with eating behavior and exercise.
The key is to not keep trying what clearly doesn’t work for you, but to try something different. The lifestyle approach is the only research-proven approach that works for creating a healthier lifestyle and therefore a healthy weight. But it takes the willingness to be patient with the baby steps that are necessary to bridge that gap between insight and action around self-care. Expecting too much, too soon, and then creating goals based on those often unrealistic expectations sets a person up for failure, not success.
It’s important to review where you are before designing your action plan for change. For example, how much are you exercising now? What are your primary eating habits? This information is important because it helps us be realistic. Expecting to exercise daily after having been sedentary for months, or expecting to revamp eating habits that have been ingrained for possibly years, is both unrealistic and unfair. Who wants to exercise when it feels punitive and causes pain? Who wants to feel deprived of the types of food we love? No, thank you.
So when it comes to creating long term, positive change, slow and steady will win the race for both creating and then sustaining change. We need to hop off the dead-end, all-or-nothing path and instead begin to explore what middle ground feels like with food and movement.
Mindfulness: The only way out is through
We can’t honor what we aren’t aware of, so a crucial component of finding the middle ground, of basically learning how to optimally care for yourself, is to learn how to tune in to our mental, emotional and physical selves by practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness is about being present-centered, about noticing and honoring the body’s cues instead of ignoring them.
The stress and busyness of life are an easy excuse to tune out, but in those moments are when we need to tune in the most. This process takes time but it forms the foundation from which positive, long-lasting change can occur.
Here are a few tips on how to begin practicing being mindful in order to acknowledge and then honor what your body – and mind and heart – need in the moment.
- Eat Mindfully: Slow down and savor the foods you enjoy. Notice how your food looks. Take time to truly taste each bite. As you chew, notice the texture of the food, and the aroma. Instead of guiltily devouring a “forbidden food,” try savoring the flavors of all the foods that you eat. Mindful eating enables you to tune into your appetite cues, which encourages portion management of all the foods you enjoy eating.
- Exercise Mindfully: Your body needs movement. Tune in and move in a way that feels energizing and uplifting. Experiment until you find an exercise type, intensity, and duration that feels good in the body you have today. Don’t allow someone else to tell you what your limits are. Choose support that guides you on how to do that for yourself.
- Take 5 for Mindfulness: Take five deep breaths when you feel stressed, discouraged, anxious, or frustrated. Remember, desperate thoughts lead to desperate feelings, which lead to desperate measures. Taking a moment to regroup to become mindful allows us to center ourselves, to refocus on what our body is feeling and needs now, instead of going on auto-pilot based on a diet or strict exercise program.
So, if you find yourself derailed from your health-related New Year’s resolutions, check in with the approach taken. Were you expecting too much of yourself? Were you disconnecting from your body’s cues in the process? Did the process feel punitive and depriving?
If so, it’s time to simply tune in and try something different! Create a plan that breaks the process of change into more manageable steps that takes into account and honors the whole you!