This week I’ve had more than one person express fear to me about their new habits. They’re lifting now, eating better, feeling better, and looking better, and just when you think things couldn’t be any better the old adversary pays a visit.
If you’ve done the hard work and engaged in the self-reflection necessary to change your body, you want to keep the “new you.” This desire can cause more than a little anxiety about slipping back into the old ways that yielded the old you.
I wish I could tell you or my clients that I can guarantee that you won’t slip back into the old habits, but there’s no guarantee for that. I can only share with you what I’ve seen from people who’ve successfully made dramatic changes and who continue living a healthy lifestyle.
A Focus on Strength, Not Weight Loss
Strength, and thus, muscle mass, is the best insurance policy against sliding back into an old unhealthy body that there is. If you’re continuously getting stronger, then it’s going to be difficult to simultaneously continue getting fatter. This doesn’t mean that you might not gain weight, but it means that your ratio of lean mass to fat mass should tip in your favor as long as you’re–
…Eating Vegetables At Every Meal
Tired of me talking about veggies yet? Sorry. I’m not going to stop. You need to be eating more vegetables. Right now, in fact. Seriously. Stop reading this post and go eat some damn vegetables.
If you’re getting progressively stronger and you’re filling half your plate with vegetables every time you sit down to eat, it’s going to be really, really difficult to slide back into your old ways. You’re going to feel too full to eat extraneous calories, especially if you stick to the rule: veggies at every meal. The corollary to this is that you also should be eating protein at every meal, but generally I’ve seen people fall short in the vegetable department. The key is eating balanced meals full of nutrients, the building blocks of immune health and muscle, and satiety.
The people I’ve known who’ve successfully changed their lifestyles have incorporated some sort of weight bearing exercise and eaten well. At least some of these people had tried the usual prescription of “eat fewer calories and do a lot of cardio” and failed before adopting the sustainable path built upon muscle mass and balanced meals.
When someone says to me that they’re nervous about returning to their old ways, often I’ll ask them to compare how they used to approach wellness to their new approach.
Often what I’ll hear about their old approach is that they counted calories, they ran a lot, and that they were injured a lot. I’ll hear that their weight loss journey generally made them miserable.
In comparison, their sustainable approach often involves fewer workout sessions (but with more intensity), eating more often (but with nutrient dense foods rather than calorie dense foods), and feeling stronger.
So the fear usually stems from the fact that most of the time when people embark on a weight loss journey they’re engaging in behaviors that are patently not fun. Who wants to be injured all the time? Who wants to feel hungry all the time? Who wants to feel weak? Who wants to eat bland chicken and broccoli for dinner every night?
The most important thing you can do if you’re trying to change your body is ensure that the process you’re using feels good, tastes good, and is fun. You’re going to be sore if you’re new to working out–I’m sorry, that’s just the price of admission for the first couple of weeks. As you get stronger, however, as you walk up and down the stairs without pain, as you play with your children or grandchildren without tapping out because you’re tired, as your clothes fit better (even if the scale doesn’t change), you will feel good about yourself. And you’ll want that feeling for the rest of your life.
Worried about the eating part of the equation? I promise you that a well-prepared home cooked meal will always taste better and make you feel better than fast food, processed food, or anything you can get from a big chain casual restaurant. What this means though is that you have to learn how to cook. The people I know who’ve changed their lifestyles sustainably have almost always incorporated more cooking into their weekly routines. This is not negotiable.
If you’ve changed your life using the sustainable path, if you’ve learned to cook, if you’ve learned how to get stronger, and if you’ve embraced the process–you have nothing to worry about.
If, on the other hand, you’ve dieted your way down to that dress size you’ve been chasing; you’ve been doing hours upon hours of cardio; and you’ve been counting every calorie, I can’t say that you won’t slide back to your old ways. I’ve seen it happen too many times.
Turns out you have to enjoy your body in order to sustain it.