A friend I’ve known for almost nine years sent me an email, and she gave permission for me to post my answer here:
I am ready to make some lifestyle changes, mainly regarding my health, but of course I find myself doubting my ability like I normally do. However, my health problems have gotten to the point where I just can’t let myself go any further or I might end up in serious trouble. I have always admired you for your ability to set goals and achieve them, not only your healthy choices, but others as well. When you decided it was time to change your lifestyle habits and start eating healthy and making other changes, did you just wake up one day and say this is it or was it a process for you. Also, do you ever deal with days where you just don’t feel like eating healthy or working out? I guess I just have always doubted myself, not just because I’m trying to change about 20 years of bad habits, but also because of low self confidence caused by events in my earlier years.
First and foremost, thank you for your kind words. Secondly, this email reminded me of how inspired I felt when I heard Jillian Michaels speak at the BlogHer conference. This is what I said about it:
What I liked the most about Jillian was her honesty, which I found very inspiring. She talked openly about her body insecurities, her struggles with self-image, and her issues with food. At one point she mentioned that we often look at other people and think they must really have it going on, but those seemingly “perfect” people have the same insecurities and issues as everyone else.
So now it’s my turn to be honest. Regardless of how it may seem, I haven’t always gone about this healthy-living process in the right way, or for the right reasons. There are a lot of past habits I’m not proud of — like when I got so skinny, people kept asking me if I was okay. I don’t like to remember that period of time. It wasn’t a happy place for me because all I thought about was what I was (or wasn’t) eating. I was weak and felt lethargic most of the time. And not all of the habits are completely gone, although they’re not anywhere as drastic as they used to be.
The biggest habit I can point to is how I continue to keep a running total in my mind, all day, every day, of how many calories I’ve consumed. And how I feel agitated when I have to eat something that causes me to guess at the calorie intake (like when a restaurant doesn’t post their nutritional information). That’s why I’ve often found it easier, and “safer,” to prepare meals for myself at home. I’ve been trying to get over this, and I’ve definitely gotten better, but the feelings and habits aren’t completely gone — and I honestly don’t know if they ever will be.
Now that I’ve gotten the truth-telling out of the way, I do have a few positive things to share. One of the questions in the email was if this healthy lifestyle was a decision I suddenly made one morning, or if it’s been a series of small changes. Although I remember certain thoughts and motivations I had six years ago when all of these lifestyle changes first started happening, it has definitely been a long, gradual process — full of twists, turns, mistakes, and false starts. Over the years, however, I have done a lot of reading — books, magazines, online articles, and blogs — about healthy living. I think I have a pretty good idea about what I need to do to live a healthy life. Even though I don’t always follow it perfectly (who does?), for me, personally, it’s hard to have so much information and not follow this way of life.
(But I guess that hasn’t always been the case either, especially since I’ve known for years and years that I needed to start exercising regularly, that I needed to gain strength and stop being such a weakling, that I needed to increase my endurance, that I needed to stop being so tired all the time — and yet I just started that about 8+ weeks ago.)
Another question was: Do you ever deal with days where you just don’t feel like eating healthy or working out?
OF COURSE. My God, yes. My situation with food might be different than yours, but we all have different issues. My issue isn’t so much that I’m eating un-healthy (I don’t keep junk food in the apartment, I don’t eat a lot of sweets); it’s just that I sometimes eat too much of the healthy food. If I’m pigging out, it might not be on ice icream or cake, but you can consume just as many calories if you eat a huge bowl of good-for-you cereal. (The only difference is the cereal is more calorie dense, so you can eat more of it if you want to, and you’ll feel fuller afterwards than you might have with something else.)
As for regular exercise, here are some things I’ve found work for me.
Do it early
I’ve surprised myself with my continued motivation to wake up at 5:45am, Mon-Fri (a little bit later on the weekends), to go to the gym before work. Even though in the past I would’ve laughed at the thought of getting up earlier than I had to in the morning, I find that I have a much, much lower chance of making excuses than I would if I waited until I get off work. Early mornings, as soon as I wake up, work for me. I’ve built it into my routine so it’s something I expect to do, rather than having reasons to do something else later in the day.
If your workout is going to be at a gym (as opposed to working out at home), find one as close to your house as possible. Knowing I have a short commute makes it easy to get motivated because I know I won’t waste a lot of time going back and forth. I know this isn’t possible for everybody, but this reminds me of something else Jillian said — she doesn’t work out at home because she likes to have her relaxation time, and looking at workout equipment at home wouldn’t be relaxing for her. I bought a used elliptical machine earlier this year, but I always hated looking at it in my bedroom (which is the only place it would fit in my small apartment). Not only that, but unless you have a lot of money to spend on machines and equipment (and place to store it), if you’re anything like me you’re going to get bored doing the same thing all the time. Which leads me to…
Mix it up
This is so, so key for me. I find it a lot more fun to do the strength and resistance exercises than cardio, because when I do strength training I’m constantly mixing it up. I go from one thing to another, and before I know it 45 minutes or an hour have passed. Not so with cardio. I usually do my cardio on the elliptical because (until a few days ago) I didn’t have a decent pair of shoes to jog on a treadmill with. But even now that I can switch between a few machines, I find it difficult to stay on one piece of equipment for 30 minutes. Even with good music I’m constantly asking myself, “Is it over yet? How many minutes are left?” I think my next step should be to figure out how to mix up my cardio routine like I’ve been able to do with strength training, but I haven’t gotten that far yet.
If possible, get a buddy
This is something else that’s easier said than done, but I find it much more fun — and a lot easier to get motivated — when I’m able to meet a friend at the gym.
If you’re not seeing any changes in your body, or if you don’t feel physically different, the above suggestions probably won’t mean anything. But you have to be willing to try for at least a little while before you get discouraged. I was lucky — I started seeing noticeable results very soon after I started working out. After just a few weeks I could tell I needed to lift heavier weights because the original ones were too light. I had to bump up the “toughness” level on the elliptical machine because the setting I’d been using wasn’t challenging enough. And, most outwardly noticeable, my body has changed — my arms and legs are more muscular; my stomach has more definition than before; my…behind…is firmer, thanks to all those squats and lunges. Even the muscles in my back are tighter, due to exercises that have isolated that area.
In short, these things have helped me, but it’s never easy. It would be a lot easier to set the alarm for a later time in the morning, but I know I’m not willing to give up this feeling of empowerment. A sense of accomplishment is better than easy any day; you just have to find your motivation. My motivation is that I feel stronger, more energetic, and I’m happier with the way my body looks.