This month’s Small Step is all about setting yourself up for success. Remember, fitness is a lifestyle not a diet or exercise program with an end date. Even making changes in small, manageable increments, as my Small Step program advocates, doesn’t guarantee one won’t get derailed especially if she is relying only on willpower and well-intended plans. What’s needed is an environment that promotes a healthy lifestyle but also reduces the situations in which one gets pulled back into old, unhealthy habits. So, this month, your challenge is to make simple, permanent changes in your daily environment that can accentuate the positives while eliminating the negatives in your fitness quest.
What follows are considerations for the most common environmental pitfalls and how to turn them into advantages for you. Weaknesses vary from person to person. For some, having ice cream in the house isn’t much of a temptation. For others, it’s impossible to resist on a regular basis. Therefore, the most important step in this month’s challenge is to make an honest, thorough assessment of the obstacles that present the biggest challenges to fitness for you. Those are the ones that require your attention this month and beyond. You might identify some challenges that aren’t listed here. You can use the examples here to come up with your own strategies to manipulate your environment to thwart those pitfalls as well.
Make the foods that tempt you hard to get and the healthy ones easy to get: Purge your home, vehicle and office of junk food and always have on hand healthy snacks to satisfy urges. If your desk is near the break room or the office candy-keeper’s desk, see if you can have your desk moved. If you are the office candy-keeper, fire yourself. See my previous post on stocking a healthy pantry to come with a strategy for your home.
Be smart about food shopping so you won’t replace what you’ve purged with more junk: The basic rules of thumb for food shopping are: have a list and stick to it, don’t shop when you’re hungry, shop the perimeter of the store (where the majority of healthy, whole foods are located) first and then go down only the aisles that contain the remaining items on your list. For more tips, see my healthy food shopping post.
Know your bad eating habit triggers: We all have our moments of weakness. It’s at these times that the pull is very strong to slide back into bad habits. Telling yourself that you will simply say “no” is a strategy for failure.
- Time of day: The most common times of day when there is a strong urge to eat high-fat, high salt foods are mid-afternoons and evenings. One should have a snack between lunch and dinner. Always have with you a pre-measured, pre-prepared, packed (if necessary) healthy snack for these times. It should contain protein, some healthy fats and a crunchy texture. If the snack has these three elements, it mimics what your body is craving – but in a much healthier way – to satisfy you. On the other hand, snacking in the evenings is rarely a good idea. If you’ve eaten three meals and a couple of snacks in a day, chances are you’ve consumed all the calories and nutrients your body needs. Try flossing and brushing your teeth right after dinner. This does two things. First, it creates an annoying inconvenience if you eat something – you’ll have to floss and brush again. Secondly, it’s an actual physical signal to your digestive system by way of the brain that eating is done for the day and it’s time to prepare for sleep.
- Mindless eating: Eating while distracted by something else – TV, reading material, electronic device – is a recipe for over-consumption of calories. You aren’t paying attention to what you’re eating, so you over eat. It also creates a trigger by association. If you eat breakfast in front of the TV every day, your body associates eating with watching TV at other times of the day, tricking you into thinking you’re hungry when you’re not. Make it a rule to eat all meals and snacks at a table without distractions.
- Emotional eating: Emotional eating means you self-medicate with food at times when you’re most vulnerable – stressed, sad, angry or even bored. These vulnerable times are weaknesses at their very peak. This is why emotional eating is such a tough habit to break. Try taking a walk, preferably outdoors. But, even going up and down a flight of stairs or a couple of laps inside an office building can be enough to keep you from food-medicating. Another option is to call or instant message a trusted confidant. Take a warm shower or bath or even just wash your face. Try meditation, relaxation and breathing exercises, or journaling. Or maybe you just need to find a private place to have a good cry. What you need to do is find another physical stimulation, outside of food, to break the funk.
Always be ready to be active: You can’t take advantage of a spontaneous invitation to take a walk or a free hour to head to the gym courtesy of a last-minute lunch date cancelation if you’re wearing a skirt and heels. Always have a bag with sneakers and workout clothing in your car (or at your office if you take public transportation).
Manipulating your social environment: It’s true the things around us influence us a great deal. But nothing influences our behavior, good and bad, more than the people around us. Take inventory of the people in your life – friends, family and co-workers – and place them into one of two categories: good influencers and bad influencers. People who are fit or are actively working to be fit are your good influencers and those who are not fit and not trying are your bad influencers.
- Harness the good influencers: Tell them about your quest to be fit and your willingness to enlist their help and support. You’re likely to find new workout partners and people with whom to exchange healthy recipes.
- Limit the damage of bad influencers: This isn’t about cutting loved ones from your life, it’s about changing what you do when you’re together. They, like the good influencers, need to be told about your quest to be fit and that you would like their support. The best thing would be to enlist them into your quest but many won’t be receptive. If you can’t recruit them, social gatherings with your bad influencers should avoid food as much as possible. Arrange phone chats while you’re out exercising. If you’re spending time together in person, go shopping or on a relaxing stroll through a park. Find something you enjoy doing together that doesn’t involve food.
This Small Step, I believe, is the most crucial for those who are trying to transform from unhealthy to fit. If you are constantly bombarded by temptations and bad influences you don’t have a fighting chance of succeeding. Keep up your portion control and planning Small Steps from the previous two months, but really put everything you have into this one. This is the key to being fit and happier.
My One Small Step Philosophy: A fit life is attained by making small, manageable changes in food consumption and exercise over time. This allows a person time to create and hone new, fit habits that then become adopted and integrated into her everyday life. The result is a person who is living a fit lifestyle each and every day, making her healthy and strong for a lifetime. I have used this philosophy to create my One Small Step blog series. Each month, I give you one healthy change to work on for that entire month. Sometimes it’s a diet change, sometimes an exercise change and sometimes one of each. The idea is to concentrate only on that one change for a month so that it becomes ingrained into your daily meals or weekly exercise routines, making you able to take on another small change at the beginning of the next month.