I’m not a fitness guru or a health nut. Despite growing up in a part of California where a lot of people do get up with the sun and start their mornings with a long jog, I’ve never once done that myself. In fact, I’m not even sure I’m from the same planet as your typical gym rat, and I love food way too much to be a very dedicated dieter.
What I am is a freelance copywriter by profession who works completely out of her home on a full-time basis. My idea of a lit Saturday night is staying home with my husband and binge-watching Netflix or marathon-reading whatever book’s most recently caught my interest. I like to sleep in on the weekends, and I spend a lot more time than I probably should scrolling through Facebook or playing with my phone.
In other words, I have a lot in common with almost everyone who says they have trouble managing their weight, watching what they eat, or turning exercise into a habit. However, I’ve also successfully overcome years of backwards thinking about fitness and gotten myself into the best shape of my life regardless, and if I can do it, I assure you that anyone can. The following are just a few of the more important lessons I’ve learned along the way that I honestly wish someone had taught me years ago.
Exercise Doesn’t Have to Be a Chore
As a dyed-in-the wool homebody, I spent many years trying to find a way to stay slim and be happy with my body without actually getting off of my cushy, little behind and moving around more, and it was for one reason only. I simply took society’s word for it that exercise (by my definition) sucks — that it’s hard and that it hurts. I thought that for something to count as exercise, it had to be done someplace “official” — like a gym, or a jogging trail, or an aerobics studio, or any number of other places I did not want to be. I definitely thought it had to cost a lot of money and take up a lot of time I didn’t really have to spare.
Well, I’m here to tell you that none of those things are true. Anything that gets you up and moving is exercise, even if you really enjoy it and never would have thought of it as “good for you”. In fact, the more you genuinely enjoy your physical activity of choice, the easier this whole process will be for you. If there’s truly nothing active that you enjoy (which was embarrassingly close to being the case for me when I first started), choose something you can at least see yourself tolerating.
For me, that meant purchasing an elliptical, a stationary bike, and a set of resistance bands to turn a corner of our office into a mini home gym, because I knew I wouldn’t actually stick with anything that required me to put on pants or leave the house. You decide what it means for you. If you’re genuinely jazzed about joining a gym and lifting weights, by all means do that, but only if it realistically makes sense for you. For lots of people, dancing more, going for evening walks, or taking up roller skating is a better fit, and that’s OK too. The best exercise is the exercise you know you can stick with because it actually fits your lifestyle, interests, and personality.
2. Diets Don’t Work, Moderation Does
Like a lot of people who had trouble managing their weight at one point, I’ve been on my share of crash diets over the years. And I’m weirdly good at sticking to extreme diets for someone who loves food, so I’ve lost large amounts of weight that way before. The problem with adopting an approach like that to dieting is its not sustainable over the long haul for most people, nor would it be good for you if it were. Despite being pretty excited when you see all those pounds falling off, you feel like trash when you “diet”. You can’t focus, you‘re sluggish beyond belief, and you definitely miss eating things you actually enjoy.
The bad news is that, like exercise, taking control of what you eat isn’t optional if you’re serious about not only losing weight and getting in shape, but maintaining your progress. (Eating whatever whenever is how you got to where you are, so change is a must.) The good news is that you don’t need to cut out all of your favorite foods or eat flavorless diet food that you hate. You do need to start regulating calorie intake and setting some limits for yourself by changing how you eat.
The game-changer for me personally was intermittent fasting for a lot of reasons. For one thing, it didn’t force me to cut entire food types completely out of my diet the way paleo, or keto, or any number of other approaches might have. What it did require of me was that I only eat within a certain window of time each day and fast the rest of the time. (I personally like the 16/8 version of this discipline, but there are other patterns you can adopt as well.) I’m the sort of person that can really only put away so much food within a short period of time anyway, so that really did the trick for me.
Most importantly, it was comfortable enough and realistic enough, that it was sustainable over the long haul. I felt great and liked the system, so I actually wanted to stick with it, instead of counting the days until I could stop. I will eat this way for the rest of my life because I genuinely prefer it to how I used to eat, and that’s how you’ll feel as well when you hit on the right system for you.
3. It’s Possible for Healthy Food to Taste Good
We all have a really vocal friend or a relative who’s totally on the wagon when it comes to healthy eating and wants to get everyone they know on board as well. The problem is that person’s probably into eating things that aren’t going to appeal to someone who hasn’t quite got the knack of voluntarily eating healthy foods yet. Just please don’t let that person’s dedication to replacing every food you love with cauliflower convince you that all healthy foods are sad, sorry substitutes for things that actually taste good.
Take vegetables, for instance. I spent most of my life convinced that I hated a lengthy list of them, including green beans, peas, cabbage, beets, and squash to name just a few. Once I learned to cook them myself though, I realized that I actually only hated those things when they come out of cans or are otherwise served overcooked. It’s been my experience that most people have zero idea how to cook vegetables, and some vegetables can taste pretty horrible if they’re not prepared properly.
The other issue I run into has to do with people who don’t understand how critical seasoning is, especially when you’re cooking healthy things like vegetables, fish, or brown rice. Those foods aren’t packed with the fat, sodium, and sugar that make other foods so appealing, so they need to be seasoned if they’re going to taste good. Keeping salt to minimum is a great idea, but you need to use at least a little to stop your food from tasting flat. Other spices and herbs can be used relatively liberally, and olive oil or broth make great substitutes for all the butter you might be in the habit of using if you’re not on the health wagon yet.
It’s all about bringing out the natural deliciousness of these foods, because I assure you it’s there, just waiting to be discovered. The more thoroughly you come to realize that, the more you’ll grow to love healthful, delicious, good-for-you foods in general, and the easier it will be to maintain any progress you make toward your goals.