Fitness is a lifestyle not a program with an end date. Even making changes in small, manageable increments, as my Small Steps series advocates, doesn’t guarantee one won’t get derailed. What’s needed is an environment that promotes a healthy lifestyle and reduces the risk of getting pulled back into unhealthy habits. This month, your challenge is to make simple, permanent changes that enable positive fitness behavior while eliminating the negative influences on your fitness quest.
What follows are considerations for the most common pitfalls and how to turn them into advantages. Weaknesses vary from person to person. For some, having ice cream in the house isn’t a temptation. For others, it’s impossible to resist. It’s important to take a thorough assessment of the obstacles that present the biggest challenges for you. You might identify some challenges that aren’t listed here. You can use my examples to develop your own strategies to manipulate your environment in a positive way.
Make tempting foods hard to get and healthy ones easy to get:
- Purge your home, vehicle and office of junk food:
- Candy, chips, soft drinks and baked goods are obvious culprits.
- Some foods may seem healthy but are actually loaded with sugars and stripped-down flours with little protein, fiber or healthy fats. These foods are quickly absorbed by the body, causing glucose levels to spike and then plummet, producing a drop in energy and more hunger. While that 100 calorie pretzel pack may seem like a good choice, if you’re back at the snack bin in 30 minutes consuming another 100+ calories, you’re no better off than if you’d eaten a candy bar. Crackers, white breads, fruit bars, cereal bars and some granola bars and yogurts fall into this category.
- Stock up on quality snacks and always have them handy so you’re ready when hunger strikes:
- Snacks that have protein, complex carbohydrates, fats and fiber give you sustained energy and satiate you for longer periods of time. Think whole foods like nuts, seeds, dairy and whole fruits and vegetables.
- If you’re buying pre-packaged snacks, read food labels. What you’re looking for is protein and fiber with low amounts of refined flour and sweeteners.
Know your bad habit triggers: Think about the circumstances in which you reach for food when you’re not hungry or consume more than you intend. You’re likely to find a trigger or two that all these moments have in common.
- Time of day: Morning or afternoon snacks shouldn’t be avoided. Be prepared with correctly portioned, high-quality snacks to avoid poor snack choices. On the other hand, snacking in the evenings is rarely a good idea. If you’ve eaten three meals and a few snacks in a day, chances are you’ve consumed all the calories and nutrients your body needs. Try flossing and brushing your teeth after dinner. It creates an annoying inconvenience if you eat something – you’ll have to floss and brush again. And it’s a physical signal to your brain that eating is done for the day and it’s time to prepare for sleep.
- Mindless eating: Eating while distracted by electronic devices is a recipe for over-consumption. You aren’t paying attention, so you eat more than you should. It also creates a trigger by association. Eating breakfast in front of the TV every day causes the body to associate eating with watching TV at other times of the day. 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 stressed, sad, angry or bored. Because of the psychological component, emotional eating is a tough habit to break. The solution is to find another physical stimulation, outside of food, to break the funk. Try taking a walk or going up and down a flight of stairs. Call or IM a trusted confidant. Take a shower, bath or wash your face. Practice meditation, journaling or relaxation and breathing exercises.
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 appointment cancelation if you’re wearing a skirt and heels. Always have a bag with sneakers and workout clothing in your car or office.
Manipulate your social environment: Nothing influences our behavior, good and bad, more than those 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 actively working to be fit are your good influencers and those who are not fit or not actively 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 also should be told about your quest to be fit. Ideally, you’d enlist them to partner with you, 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 exercising. When you’re together, go shopping, get mani/pedis, go to a museum, movie or on a relaxing stroll through a park. Find something you enjoy doing together that doesn’t involve food.
If you’re new to the Small Steps series, you can read about the philosophy and strategies of the series here. Know the Small Steps strategies don’t need to be done in any particular order and are independent of one another. So, you can begin the series with this post, continue throughout the rest of the year and pick up what you missed next year.