As so many of us who have spent a lifetime dieting know, losing weight—or not losing weight—is pretty black and white. I’m on a diet or I’m off a diet; I’m cheating or I’m being really careful; I’m really proud of my progress or I hate myself. You simply flip a switch and you’re lighted up with possibility or you’re alone in the dark.
It is odd, then, that my path to a healthy lifestyle was paved with compromise. I stayed away from carbohydrates at dinner, I drastically reduced my portion sizes, I didn’t eat in between meals. On the other hand, I used butter on my vegetables and I made full fat vinaigrettes for my salads. I embraced “flexing” as opposed to cheating—allowing myself occasional treats or indulging myself a bit if we went to a nice restaurant for dinner. Those “flexes” in the beginning tended to be a bigger indulgence than they were as time went on. I found I could split a salad with Marc, avoid an appetizer and the bread, and take a bite or two of a dessert. While my flexing in the early days usually added a pound or two to the scale the next day, my flexing now usually doesn’t.
I decided to exercise five days a week because I knew if it was any less than that I would just keep putting it off. I forced myself into that routine the first few months, and I gradually ramped up the intensity and the skill. What I haven’t ramped up, for years, is the time I devote to my exercise: forty-five to fifty minutes a day. It just takes up too much of my day, otherwise, and I start resenting the time it takes. There have been several times my trainers have wanted to add another exercise, or the frequency I do something. My reply has been pretty consistent: “If we’re going to be adding something, then tell me what I should be dropping.” To a recent suggestion that I add another cardio session on Saturday, my trainer received a very concrete reply back: “Nope.”
It isn’t that I don’t have a pretty firm set of rules by which I live. I’m not going to start consistently “compromising” on the number of days a week I head down to the basement. If I can’t for some reason—well, it had better be a pretty good reason and not sound like an excuse when I say it out loud. If I loosen the reins on what I eat over a vacation, it can’t feel like a free for all or one big binge.
I find my sweet spot for living healthy and work to stay within a Standard Deviation of it—and that Standard Deviation gives me room for making choices. Compromise is actually one of the main reasons that this road has been easy to navigate over time. Nothing is “make or break,”—and if, or when, I wander off my path a bit I can find my way back easily, without any self-flagellation.
Compromise means finding what is most important to you in your life and figuring out what you need to do to get that—and, what you’re willing to give up to get that. It wasn’t a little butter on my vegetables that made me obese, or using a vinaigrette rather than some diet dressing. I suppose if I’d been unwilling to give up carbohydrates at dinner, perhaps the butter and vinaigrettes would have been what I set aside.
I stepped away from black and white choices, from the RIGHT and the WRONG; I went from “I’m starting a DIET on MONDAY” to experimenting with tiny lifestyle changes one at a time. It’s a different approach and it works for me. We compromise in life all the time—in our relationships, in our disagreements, in our negotiations—it’s how we all ultimately get along in society. Doesn’t it seem reasonable to skillfully apply the art of compromise in your quest to be healthier and happier?