Let me start off by saying that I'm all for people incorporating healthy habits that will help them feel their best and live a full, happy life. What I'm not all for is when those health habits are taken to the extreme and result in failure due to the unrealistic nature of them, leaving the person feeling guilty, shameful and stagnant.
This is what often happens when people make New Year's resolutions (and it's why I'm an advocate of cultivating intentions instead). New Year's resolutions, by nature, are very rigid, black and white and require an all or nothing mentality. You're either doing it or you're not. Say for instance, you make a commitment to work out 4 times a week. That sounds great until life gets in the way (think: birthdays, sickness, your kid's commitments - you name it).
What I'm getting at is that eventually, you won't be able to sustain your workouts 4 days a week and what often happens is that people apply so much meaning to that and feel guilty for not sticking to their plan that they end up giving up. It's a big reason why 80% of people fail their New Year's resolutions. Luckily, it doesn't have to be all doom and gloom and it's very much possible to sustain a healthy way of eating and living that isn't restrictive and that's actually sustainable.
1. Incorporate healthful habits by focusing on ADDING rather than REMOVING
The natural response to restriction or deprivation is overeating, indulging or binging, especially if you've been affected by emotional eating or disordered eating in the past. That alone is enough for me to know that removing things from your life in the pursuit of a healthy lifestyle isn't the answer. Instead, I love to focus on what we can ADD in the way of food and lifestyle habits so we don't feel deprived and can still live healthily and happily. These are just a few ideas of various health habits you can potentially add that will help you to start feeling better today:
- Drinking 1 extra glass of water
- Picking up a new vegetable from the grocery store to try
- Enjoying a cup of herbal tea in the afternoon
- Adding an extra helping of greens to your salad, soup or stir fry
- Incorporating Collagen into your smoothie, soup, oatmeal, tea or coffee
- Practicing mindful eating habits (chewing food until it reaches a fine paste, eating without distraction, expressing gratitude for the food before you)
Those are just a few ideas, but if they don't resonate with you, I encourage you to find healthful habits that do feel natural and exciting to you. The more exciting and enjoyable your health habits are, the more likely you are to keep up with them long-term.
2. Find a Form Of Movement That You Enjoy & That Feels Good
I'm going to sound a bit like a broken record, but just like it's important to establish enjoyable health habits, it's just as important to find a form of movement that feels really good and is exciting for you! This is one of the ten principles of intuitive eating and a philosophy I carry and teach my Intuitive Way For Eating clients as well.
The minute it feels like an obligation is the minute you'll begin to make excuses. However, if you take the time to discover what form of movement feels good for you and that excites you, you'll actually want to do it and will carve out time in your schedule to do so.
Part of this process is removing the qualifications of what exercise means to you and if you noticed, I'm being very deliberate in my language by saying "movement" rather than "exercise". That's because exercise has qualifications embedded in it already in the way of how long it should take, how much you're sweating, how hard or vigorous it is, etc. Whereas, movement doesn't hold any expectations. It simply asks you to move your body in any way that feels good for you, whether that looks like a gentle stretch in the morning or half marathon.
A great way to find a form of movement that feels good and natural to you is to explore an array of activities and see which ones light you up the most. If you still don't know by the end of it, ask yourself which of these feel the most effortless to you, keeping in mind that it likely feels effortless because you're enjoying it. Here are some examples of movement you can explore:
- Weight lifting
- Rock climbing
3. Eat food you actually enjoy
And so the broken record plays on! I'm sure, by now, you're gathering that finding joy and pleasure in your health habits is important if you want to sustain your healthy habits long-term. It seems simple, but when you grow up in a generation where you're taught that "no pain, no gain" and that "nothing tastes as good as skinny feels" (which naturally causes people to operate from a restrictive mentality), it can feel a bit conflicting to comprehend that we're actually allowed to find joy in our health habits.
But it's incredibly important that you do look forward to your health habits, because again, the more you enjoy them, the more you're going to do them. I mean, have you ever witnessed someone eating a salad, only to say "what's next?â€ in a matter of 0.2 seconds after finishing it? It's likely because they didn't want the salad to begin with and didn't find much joy out of it.
Don't get me wrong, I love my salads and think they can be super exciting (when prepared properly - no iceberg lettuce and tasteless bottled dressing here!), but that's me. But what pleases your palette? It's said that eating foods that you genuinely enjoy contributes to how satisfied you feel overall, even in the case of "fun foods" like chips.
By giving yourself unconditional permission to eat them and enjoy them, in many cases, people are found to feel more satisfied, less preoccupied by it (as in, not thinking shameful thoughts about it for hours after they eat it) and sometimes even eat less without exerting any control over the situation.
To start with this, it's quite simple - just ask yourself, what foods do you genuinely enjoy that make you feel good? Eat more of those foods (mindfully, of course, so you're getting everything you possibly can from it) and observe how much more satiated and content you feel after eating them.
4. Stop Striving For Perfection
This one might seem a bit counterintuitive, because we often think that the harder we try or work at something, the closer it'll bring us to our goals, but that's not always the case. In fact, that's rarely the case, especially in the way of food and movement.
To one of my earlier points, bringing this perfectionist, "all or nothing" and black and white mentality to our behaviours around food and movement is actually very paralyzing. It does not leave very much room for flexibility. Again, you're either doing it, or you're not, and when you're not, often people feel an immense amount of guilt and shame, which ultimately keeps them stuck in the dieting cycle.
Instead, release the perfection by ditching the all or nothing mentality. One way to do this is to change your language. Simply thinking of your health habits from a "most of the time" mentality already creates flexibility and room for you to sustain your healthful behaviours without expecting perfection.
Being gentle and compassionate with yourself is important too. When we can meet ourselves with compassion, we are less hard on ourselves. This is important because you can't build positive, healthful habits from a place of self-hate.
So, if you happen to live outside of your healthful habits, or perhaps engage in emotional eating from time to time, invite in that compassion and respect for yourself. Beating yourself up and telling yourself you'll try harder the next day (and the next, and the next ...) is only going to continue bringing you to where you are. Instead, approach the situation with love and respect, remind yourself that you're human, and if you did happen to engage in emotional eating or overeating of some kind, take the opportunity to get curious as to what might have brought it on. Perhaps there's a need in your life that isn't being met that needs tending to.
While these strategies might seem straight-forward, simple and dare I say "fluffy", they are effective and truly the solution to establishing and sustaining a healthy routine long-term without restriction.
If you happen to give some of them a whirl, I would love to hear how it went for you! Share in the comments below or share and tag me on Instagram @rachelmmolenda.
Intuitive Eating Nutritionist
Rachel Molenda (@rachelmmolenda) is Toronto-based Intuitive Eating Nutritionist and Host of the Fill Your Cup Podcast, on a mission to help women obsess less and make peace with food and their bodies. Rachel brings her non-restrictive, whole foods-based approach to the healing work she does with burnt-out women who are tired of chronic dieting to help them establish a healthy relationship with food and their body.