14th May 2020
Hi…..so we’re assuming you're here because you want to get some answers about nutrition and exercise. We're going to give you some, but they may not be the ones you are expecting. Typically, the wellness industry (and the internet!) either promote pre-made plans with outlines of what to eat and how to move that aren't specifically tailored to anyone, and therefore don't really work for anyone, or they encourage women to stop showing up for themselves because they tell us we should love our body image regardless of how we actually feel. Neither method is particularly effective and many women find themselves on a hamster's wheel that they stop and start as and when they get a flicker of motivation - at New Years or in the run up to a big event.
And it seems to affect almost everyone. We're going to put money on the fact that you’ve never asked a woman about their lifestyle and then heard them say ‘Yes I’m as fit as I can be and I eat really well 90% of the time and I’m really happy with how I go about that area of my life.’ And if you have, you may have started hunting around the top of her head for a unicorn horn.
Why do so many women have difficulty getting a consistent rhythm going around exercise and nutrition when we are consistent in so many other areas of our life.
We turn up to work on time, we pick children up from school and we brush our teeth. So why, when it comes to our own wellbeing do we swerve between severely restricting calories, to feeling completely unmotivated to improve our health?
Well, that could easily be a 3 hour conversation, but as you’re probably pushed for time, we’ll go with a nutshell approach to the most common reasons:
Our modern nutrition and wellness culture has made us focus solely on having end points - goals and time limits. Think about how many times you’ve decided to lose X amount of weight in time for a vacation, a reunion, a wedding. We are short term creatures and most of us make those goal based decisions around 4-8 weeks before the big event. Sound familiar? Then so will the next step - Googling a plan that goes something like ‘Lose a stone in a month’ or ‘Drop a dress size in 10 days’. Then you agree with yourself that you’re going to definitely cycle/go the the gym/run/strength train or whatever your chosen exercise is, at least 7 times a week for the next X months. You start, you falter, you fail. Even if you’re more sensible and you plan to drop weight in a longer timeframe, or of exercising more, you get demotivated when you don't see a fast enough change, then temptations come along and you start compromising your health schedule. You skip one gym visit because it's just that one, you eat the foods you agreed not to eat because it's a family event. And before long, you falter and....well you know the rest.
Time is a massive issue for many women. Jobs, partners, pets, kids, family responsibilities, domestic chores all take precedence over the self care that is required to organise your diet and movement. It also takes a significant amount of time to change a routine and instil new habits, and most women feel they don’t have that time to spare, so they continue to operate in survival mode.
Many women operate from a negative space with regard to their body image. Even if they fundamentally like themselves, the culture we live in encourages us to fix something that’s wrong (cellulite, belly fat, ageing lines) rather than celebrating on enhancing what is already working well. As a result many women begin a diet with a denial mindset, they begin an exercise regime with a negative mindset and if they don’t see the number on the scale moving down within a few days or weeks, they engage a defeatist mindset.
Many women’s minds, consciously or not, are in competition with their bodies.
If you are able to reset your thinking to a teamwork mindset and think holistically (when one element positively affects all elements) then you can begin a journey of better health and fitness, a happier emotional state and most likely, top marks in your underpants too. If you are looking to improve your diet, health and fitness, here are a few fundamentals for you to tackle today before you step on the scale, write a meal plan or spend £700 on a Peleton bike.
WHY DO YOU WANT TO DO IT?
When you think of your goal, ask yourself why you want to achieve it. Your immediate response might be goal based, like ‘I want to look great in that dress for that occasion’. So then the next questions to ask yourself is - ‘Really, why do you want to achieve it?’ Do you want to feel more confident? Do you want to be fitter to keep up with your kids? Do you feel that your value comes alongside how you look, and if so why? Do you want to feel sexier? Do you want to have more energy?
There are a million reasons, and the core ‘why’ is deeply personal, but you need to know what yours is, because it’s what you will need to come back to for reassurance when you hit a ‘falter’ moment. If you can’t get beyond the desire simply to lose weight, if you can’t find your core ‘why’, try thinking backwards. Imagine a memorial service after you have passed away - what would you want your friends and family to say about you as their lasting memories? Would you want them to praise you in front of the assembled guests for being a size 8 or for managing to consume under a thousand calories a day for the six weeks before you took your holidays? Would you want your children to say they were so proud that you were the slimmest mother at their sports events?
You probably wouldn’t want that to be the key focus of your loved ones’ image of you, so why make that the key focus of your own image of yourself? Get to the real ‘why’ and know it, own it because it will help you to move forwards.
FORGET THE GOAL
Most people use a single goal as their motivation and inspiration for improving fitness or their physical appearance. Working towards a single goal will not not achieve a general and longstanding improvement in your health. Because once the goal is achieved there is no goal. If you don’t continue to exercise or eat well, you will revert to the version of you that you found problematic enough to take action against.
Goals are simply what keep the diet industry in business. But you don’t say ‘I’m going to brush my teeth every day for 6 weeks so they look nice and clean for my holiday, but after that I’m just going to stop’. That would be crazy right?
So why do it with your nutrition and your exercise? It doesn’t make any sense.
If you focus on the process, and not a specific outcome, you will be successful in your aims.
HOW MUCH TIME DO YOU HAVE TO DO IT?
This is a good place to start on your journey. Most women have packed schedules, many feel that they don’t have room for 7 hours of sleep or 30 minutes of their own time every day. So how are you going to cram in an hour of exercise and an hour of blending cacao and chia and avocado into a 50 calorie popsicle that’s supposed to qualify as breakfast every day? You need to look at your daily routine as it is now, and SWAP OUT some of the less valuable activities in your day for exercise and nutrition. You may think at first glance that you don’t have any time that can be swapped, but this is where prioritising is so important. Some things may not be able to be swapped but could be combined with another activity.
Lesser value activities can include social media (the average time people in the UK spend on leisure social media (ie not work) is over an hour a day) or watching TV, whereas combining activities could mean cooking a healthy meal while on speakerphone to a friend, or cycling to work instead of driving or using public transport. Or running on a treadmill in the gym while watching your favourite TV show. Your immediate response to this may well be one of resistance because switching up a routine requires an outlay of time in the first instance and because it’s more effort. And also because most women can justify their way out of anything that prioritises themselves, because they are so used to prioritising others.
But in truth the beginning of this process of change doesn’t have to be cataclysmic. Small steps taken are more likely to lead to consistent big changes. It's a bit punchy to quote Aristotle here, but it’s relevant: “We are what we repeatedly do.” If you repeatedly go for a long walk, or a short run a few times a week, then you are a walker, you are a runner. Notice also that this phrasing doesn’t have an end goal. It’s just a part of who you are. Make yourself say out loud what you want to be, but say it in the present, based on doing something once a week, It will help you prepare your mindset to be successful in your endeavour. “I am a healthy eater” “I am a dancer” “I am a swimmer”.
THE 5 MINUTE RULE
This is a self-help favourite from James Clear’s ‘Atomic Habits’ and it will help you to get started, so give it a try. The way to help implement your health journey is through making it a habitual part of your day, in the same way that you brush your teeth as part of your morning routine.
Once you have chosen what you’re going to do - whether it’s cooking vegan or doing push ups in your garden, for the first few weeks of your new routine, just do 5 minutes. You must do the full 5 minutes, but you are also ONLY allowed to do 5 minutes.
So if you’re cooking vegan, spend 5 minutes researching quick recipes for one day, the next day spend 5 minutes preparing a dish. If you’re doing push ups, get your gym kit on in two minutes, go into your garden and do as many push ups as you can.
The point of this exercise is to form a habit that doesn’t overwhelm you. It’s do-able, so then you’re more likely to keep doing it.
ABUNDANCE NOT DENIAL
Many women approach their diet and fitness in denial terms. They plan out a workout schedule that takes up too much time and compromises their other life activities, they plan out a diet plan that feels like they’ve been taken hostage in their own fridge. You are much more likely to be successful in your aims if you think in terms of abundance. Instead of thinking, ‘I need to skip my daily chocolate bar at least 3 times a week’, think ‘I get to eat a chocolate bar 4 times this week’ and then you can plan when you’re going to have it, what kind of chocolate it’s going to be, where you’re going to find some peace and quiet to sit and enjoy it. The whole process becomes a lot more bountiful than mindlessly consuming a daily snack or a thrice weekly takeaway that you are in the habit of relying on and yet don’t even really notice.
Aim to eat 5 pieces of fruit and 5 vegetables a day. You will start to feel better in yourself and the natural carbohydrates and fibre in fruit and vegetables will fill you up and give you energy and you will be less likely to reach for the empty calories.
Similarly with exercise, think of it as your own time, make it an occasion - if you are going for a run and then a shower after, make sure you have nice products, make sure no one is going to disturb any of the process, come in from your run, take a lovely shower, dress and dry your hair, the whole thing is part of the experience and then it starts to feel like quality self care, not just something else you have to get done.
Treat the process as a celebration of your body and what it can do.
Environment is so important when changing up your routine. It’s more important than willpower, which we all have limited reserves of and which most busy women do not have the energy to dig into on a daily basis. If you can make your environment conducive to your aims, then you are far more likely to succeed. A few easy ways of doing that with regard to nutrition and exercise are:
Plan your food and exercise for the week and schedule the environments. Are you eating lunch at your desk and not really consciously digesting your food, do you need to bake some healthy snacks on a Sunday to see you through the week, should you lay a yoga mat out in your living room the night before, or keep your gym kit by your bed so it’s the first thing you think to put on in the morning? Planning and environment go hand in hand. Make a plan in advance when you’re feeling motivated, and stick to it.
As part of your plan, avoid buying unhealthy foods in your weekly shop. Keep them off the list and then if there is an occasion when you are faltering in confidence, you don’t just have a store cupboard full of crap to dive into.
Plan to eat out, or to get a delivery, and know that that’s where your more indulgent/less healthy food will come from. It will either give you more of a sense of occasion and awareness around eating something ‘special’ or it may turn you off of those foods if you’re feeling inspired in your home cooked healthy food journey.
Use your environment to inspire your aims. This can be as literal as having inspirational quotes or pictures stuck up around your house, or it can be finding a corner of your home that you turn into an energy space, where you get up and do 10 push ups every morning before you do anything else. Do what works for you, but keep the environment conducive to the aim. If you find yourself falling asleep to a TV show in bed every night, or putting the breakfast news on every morning and finding yourself losing half an hour to it sat on the sofa, make a conscious effort to adapt your environment. Take the TV or laptop out of your bedroom for good, put your mat out in the morning and do your sit ups while catching up on news, but only allow yourself to tune in for the headlines.
Organise your closet and your drawers. How many clothes are you keeping hold of that no longer fit you, and even if they fit you probably wouldn’t be something that you’d wear out in public? Aside from a wedding dress and maybe a handful of other sentimental pieces, you need to remove the rest of those clothes from your sight. They are not inspiring you, they are bullying you. If you don’t have nice things to wear right now because you’re waiting to hit a certain number on the scales (this advice obviously doesn’t include postnatal women!), then you are cutting off today's potential enjoyment of life. Be honest with yourself, go back to your 'why' and get a wardrobe that helps celebrate the you that you are already in the process of becoming.
Take some time this week to start putting this plan into action.
Being honest with yourself and taking small, achievable steps that can form part of your daily routine is the best way to get started. Good luck!
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The Balance Club x