December 29, 2014

Health, Fitness, (and that stupid new year resolution)!

Do not judge your future success by
your past.  Do it differently, change
your process and you will change
the results.
 Before Christmas I was surprised by a call from a Vancouver based radio station.  First off, may I just mention how freaky it is to hear my credentials being listed by a complete stranger (Google still amazes me at times).  For the next 45 minutes, I got to talk about my understanding of behaviour change as it relates to exercise and weight loss...and have someone actually listen!  Unfortunately, it was kinda like Ralphie in "A Christmas Story" when he was asked by Santa what he wanted for Christmas and choked.  I found myself choking on my words because the answers to his questions are just too big for a few minutes.  Now I am preparing myself for a 30 minute stint on this radio show asking myself what the most important aspects to behaviour change are.  My point is...the answer isn't as easy as exercise and eat well.  It isn't about nutrition, exercise, active living, or any other health promotion message we all hear on a daily basis.  The answer is messy, convoluted, and detailed (something the average listener is NOT wanting to hear).

Since that fateful phone call, I have been thinking about behaviour change and that stupid new year resolution. Since the beginning of this blog (when I thought I knew something about health and changing behaviour) I have learned so much more about underlying motivations and emotions that influence us.  From emotional eating and exercise addiction to chronic stress and depression that leaves one lacking the interest in exercise and healthy eating, our resolution to change encompasses more than what our health and fitness experts are suggesting. So, with the knowledge and understanding I have now, what would I suggest to someone who is starting from nothing (i.e. fat, sick, tired, and ready to make a change)? 

Step One:  Take Inventory

You have to understand where you are now (and what got you there) before you can make a permanent change.  Taking inventory includes the bio-psycho-social aspects of your health. The biological includes your physical health (heart, blood pressure, joints, muscles, and the like).  Are they ready for change? Is your medical "team" aware of your change? Do you have any special considerations before you embark on change? The psychological includes your emotional past and present. Do you have a history of depression or mental health issues? Are you under chronic stress? Have you had a traumatic experience? I have met many people who are experiencing depression due to trauma and/or loss who are blaming themselves for their lack of motivation (a.k.a. sloth-like behaviour) when what they need is a good counsellor.  The sociological aspects of your inventory include your support network (friends, family, work colleagues, etc.).  Do they support your change? Do they engage in the behaviour you wish to adopt? So many questions...take the time to answer.

Step Two:  Get Real with your Barriers (and values)

 You now have a clear understanding of your present situation / health. The next step is examining the why, what, how, and where of what got you to this point in your life.  Why, for example, are you "sick, fat, and tired"?  I have one friend (I do have more...just in case you are wondering) who is resolving to become healthier in 2015.  She is a self-proclaimed perfectionist, chronically stressed, and turns to fast food and the couch when things get too busy.  Her barriers to change would include the perfectionism and the lack of a stress management plan.  What are your barriers?

Some people find it challenging to eat healthier when their family is eating junk.  Others find it hard to get in exercise when their lives are scheduled from sun-up to sun-down.  There are even more who are addicted to the salt, sugar, and fat and struggle to reduce when fast food and junk is so readily available.  By getting real with yourself and outlining your barriers now, you are more able to create some plans of action around these barriers. 

What do you value? If you value sleep you are not going to be the early morning exerciser you have always wanted to be.  It is one thing to want to want to change but another to "just do it" (as the popular athletic saying suggests).  Those that value family will find it tough to take time from family to work out. However, if one could work family into fitness, the problem may be solved.  If you value week night TV, how can you exercise in front of it? There is no shame in that, it is getting real with your values and aligning them with your potential changes.

When we don't examine ourselves
we may as well be wearing

Step Three:  What Changes do You Want to Make?...(and other questions to ask yourself)

One of the biggest mistakes we tend to make is creating a long list of changes that only leads to feelings of hopelessness, intimidation, and exhaustion before we even begin. In the case of my friend, mentioned above, her barriers included perfectionism and chronic stress.  We now know that chronic stress can lead us away from our best intentions to change.  Stress steals our energy, joy, and motivation and can leave us feeling depleted.  We don't sleep well, eat well, or get our physical activity.  Before doing anything sure to reduce / manage your stress. 

Chose one change (i.e. exercise) and focus on that until it becomes easier to manage.  Begin slowly...two days a week is suggested to help you stick to it. Chose something you enjoy and you know you can fit into your schedule. If you manage to stick with this for a month (NO LESS) add another day (and so on and so forth). Once you have an exercise program you are happy with and are sticking to...focus on another change (i.e. nutrition).  Again, take it slow; focusing on one or two days a week to start (i.e. reducing sugar intake by preparing whole foods).
Too much, too soon, too fast will
only lead to dissapointment (and
eating from the tub of icecream while
watching Biggest Loser).

For those considering beginning an exercise program while reducing sugar intake and quitting smoking...drop me a line after a few months and let me know how that is working out for you.

This process could be a full semester course, but the most important consideration for this step is going slow (so slow it may be painful...but necessary).  Establishing a sense of mastery of your change is one sure way of building confidence and enjoying a future of success.

Step Four:  Learn from your Lapses

So you have fallen off the wagon? Whatever you do, do not berate yourself or throw your hands up in the air and give up. Lapses (and even relapses) are an important part of the change process.  These are opportunities to learn about yourself and plan for future lapses.  One of my barriers for eating well was my habitual march to the kitchen right after work.  Without thinking I would gravitate to something easy, processed, and empty.  Once I became aware of this habit, I made one small change that changed my pattern of behaviour (I went upstairs, changed into workout gear, and worked out first before going into the kitchen).  So good.

Lapses are important and something not be feared by welcomed.  However, if you fail to analyse them, learn from them, and plan around them in the future, they should be feared.  They will knock you off the wagon for good...guaranteed.

Step Five:  Practice Patience (think lifelong)

Are you sick of making the same resolution every year only to drop it by February? The research suggests that a mere 5% of those who lose weight keep it off.  How can you avoid becoming a statistic? It's a fact that a focus on health (versus weight loss) adds to the success of life long change.  More bubbles are burst when one does not reap the rewards of exercise (i.e. body shape changes) than if one measures success by how they feel. 

Focus on the feeling and not the fat!
Focus on change until death (not until the summer is over).  I started my healthy eating change at 40 with a goal of eating whole foods while eliminating sugar and junk.  I'm now 46 and can say I'm 80% there.  I still fall off the wagon but when I do I feel so sick, I bounce back the next day. I am now valuing whole foods more than a night of beer and nachos (not that there's anything wrong with that).  My motivation for this change is rooted in my fear of cancer and other chronic diseases that are related to a lifetime of processed food.  My fear has fueld my desire to do whatever I can do (that is within my control) to help stave off this diagnosis.  What is your motivation????


Of course, I failed to mention some of the most important considerations to resolution success because the depth of the subject far outreaches the capacity of this blog post, radio interview, or curbside conversation.
  • Mental Health: It is suggested that approximately 50% of Canadians are depressed.  Depression will most certainly get in the way of any well-meaning resolution.  If this relates, I strongly suggest investing in a good counsellor before personal trainer or health coach.
  • Cultural Influences:  Our North American culture values thin and abhors fat. To be thin is to be accepted, beautiful, successful, smart, and self-controlled. To be fat is to be stupid, lazy, gluttonous, and out of control.  It is no wonder women (and men) will go to drastic measures to obtain thinness.  People want change NOW not years from now...and, hence, I am not a YouTube sensation or even a popular blogger.
  • The Pursuit of Success:  Mortgages, car loans, the latest iPhone, and the senseless jobs we have to keep to obtain this stuff is what is driving many of us into a lifetime of stress.  Chronic stress, if left unattended, will lead to a world of illness (and early death).  It's nasty stuff.  I believe our stress pandemic is one of the major contributors to obesity, mental health issues, chronic sleep deprivation, addiction, and overall unhappiness.  Daily exercise and eating carrots don't hold a candle to the importance of stress management. 
So there you have it. It's a long post, I know. You may have successfully read through it until the end or got bored and moved on to the blog about the latest Cross Fit program.  For those that stayed, you made the right choice (in the name of life long health change)....but that's just my opinion.

Have a healthy 2015.

That's all I got.


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