An insurmountable hurdle for many people is overcoming the repeated failures of prior attempts to get healthier. We all know the story here. We look at ourselves in the mirror or see some fierce-looking person on tv and we feel that burning desire to become gods and goddesses in our own right. In our minds we envision this superhuman chiseled version of ourselves, and vow to workout 12 hours a day for the rest of our lives while eating only natural, organic, home-cooked foods. Like last year, when I went to see the movie 300. That night, after seeing it, I think I ripped off some pushups and then psyched myself up to do like 3 million crunches in the morning. When I woke up the next morning I did like 12, considered it a failed attempt, and then went to the beach.
I went through several years of trying to eat only healthy food. Anyone know this story? You get amped up thinking that you are never going to touch a processed food, a granule of sugar, or a drop of alcohol ever again in your life and then go spend your life savings at the health food store on dirt-flavored, unsatisfying food. You eat nothing but that for say, two-weeks if you are really driven, battling cravings and continually finding ways to rationalize eating just about anything (this is probably how organic chocolate became a ?health food?), until you finally throw in the towel and eat the most devastatingly harmful wad of food you’ve ever ingested (6 Krispy Kremes and a quart of chocoloate milk for example).
I call this the binge and repent cycle, and you can live in an intensified version of this state whether you are an underwear model or carrying around 100 pounds of excess body fat. Either way, it is equally distracting from living your real life, and following your real dreams. It is murderous to the human psyche. It is equally murderous to your physiology, for cravings and lethargy that sometimes overwhelm that urge to eat the ?perfect? diet and exercise excessively are the body’s mechanisms for keeping you from continuing to destroy yourself. In fact, tiredness and cravings are perhaps the two best forms of feedback that we have to fine-tune our diet and lifestyle for maximal health. In other words, strengths, signposts ? evolutionary wisdom in action.
So how do we get out of this destructive, vicious binge and repent pattern? How do we steadily progress toward a healthier way of life in a peaceful and rational manner?
Put realistic expectations on yourself. The most commonly made error in trying to follow a health regimen of some kind is going overboard. But you must know thyself. You might think that you really want great health, especially if you don’t have it, but odds are that other things are higher priorities in your life. For example if your family is important, making money/career is important, friends are important, and leisure and relaxation are important ? then you’ve got little extra time and energy to dedicate to improving your health. You really have to make your goals practical, easy, and non-strenuous or you will either have to sacrifice something in life that you love (quit your job or stop seeing your friends) or you will wind up burning out trying to squeeze only homemade food and lots of nonstrenuous exercise into your schedule.
Only someone deeply inspired by health above all other things in life can really go full throttle ? a true health geek that gets off on being healthy and could give a rats ass about just about everything else. But that is probably not you, so don’t try to be someone you’re not. Set simple, extremely easy, realistic objectives within the parameters of who you know yourself to be.
Don’t go cold turkey. Going cold turkey on things is mentally overwhelming. More importantly, if you vow never to eat ?x? again, develop a craving for ?x,? and pig out on ?x,? then that is a failure, and progress is usually brought to a halt. You fall off the wagon and feel weak and defeated, worse off than when you began. For most people the only way to sustainably progress is to strive for improvement, plain and simple. ?Exercise every day? is not an acceptable goal unless you are a freak of nature. ?Exercise more this year? or ?Be able to do 50 pushups? or ?Get better at Yoga? are much more failsafe aspirations.
Cheat occasionally as a psychological exercise. Knowingly cheating on your objectives is actually quite a powerful tool. For some reason it always makes your program feel more like a way of life and less like eternal punishment. The best is to do it when you actually don’t want to do it. Eat the forbidden food before you have the craving, and it won’t feel like such a tempting delicacy. The best is when spending time with friends or family. Instead of promising yourself to avoid unhealthy foods (which admit it, this never happens in mixed company because deep-down none of us want to look like anal-retentive douchebags; ARDB’s), psyche yourself up to just relax about this whole health thing and enjoy the health-giving quality of casual social interaction without the mental turmoil.
The power lies in the fact that you will wake up the next day feeling crappy and wanting to eat healthy. That’s the ticket. Eating unhealthy when you want to be eating healthy keeps you wanting and craving healthy foods, a healthy day, and a healthy life. If you are too restrictive with yourself you’ll be wanting to eat unhealthy, a sign of awaiting doom. Basically, if you are dying for junk food and a day on the couch as a reprieve from the healthy program you’ve been on, you’ve already failed. The problem is the desire, the craving. Overcoming those temptations with willpower is not a praiseworthy accomplishment. You’ve got to want to eat and live healthfully. Go full Spurlock if you have to in order to get to that state of being, and no I am not joking.
Think on the same time scale as the body. Our minds set goals for weeks and months at a time, but our bodies operate, for the most part, on an hour to hour basis. The human body responds chemically to the substances that enter it at any given time. If you go 3 weeks without sugar and then gobble down a couple sleeves of fig Newtons like your mouth is a wood-chipper, the way to counteract this is by eating a balanced, wholesome meal when it comes time to eat again. I ate too much so I’m going to eat a small meal later? is in complete disharmony with the way the body works. Your meals are either healthy and balanced or they are not. The only way to counterbalance an unhealthy, imbalanced meal is to eat a healthy, balanced meal the next chance you get. More simply put, the antidote to an improper meal or day is a proper one. Otherwise you are sinning and repenting, something the human body doesn’t understand or respond well too. It’s quite confusing actually.
Don’t consume addictive substances two days in a row. Do make an effort, if you are trying to avoid what you know to be a highly addictive substance or behavior for you, to not break your healthy habits in two consecutive days. This can cause an unraveling of your progress. However, as mentioned before, if you find yourself in some social situation where you need to indulge to keep from feeling like an ARDB, doing so against what you’d rather be doing can have you craving getting healthy and back on track, which will override your tumble from the wagon.
Those are some of the basics of getting out of the binge and repent cycle and succeeding on a sustainable path to a healthier, more balanced, more stable, and more self-appreciative version of you.
Great article! Read what my nutritionist daughter has to say on how food can improve anyone’s health, along with exercise and sleep. You can read her advice at peoplepowergranny.blogspot.com. I also invite you to vote in my poll on what you think will make a person healthier.
Good post. However, I would like to add that if eating healthier has become a chore for you (not you “you,” but the general “you”) then there is something wrong. Eating healthy (as you describe it) should not be as laborious as mainstream conceptions of healthy eating. Confining yourself to things like raw grass-fed cheese, butter, raw milk, cream, not-so-lean meats and fish, sourdough, etc. is not torture. That stuff is delicious because it provides with the very substances we intuitively need. Mainstream health programs–e.g., chicken breasts, steamed vegetables, rice cakes–require psychological diligence because those diets are deficient in both micro- and macro-nutrients. Therefore, if adhering to a health plan feels overly taxing, I think one should first check to see if his or her diet is lacking in those delicious, nutrient-dense foods that I referenced earlier.