Over my last few posts, I have drilled down into the specifics of committing yourself to a healthy lifestyle, from acknowledging your emotions to the specifics of shaping your dietary intake to building an exercise plan. My next three posts will be focusing in on the hardest touch points in adopting that lifestyle: the beginning; the mid-way drag; and maintaining your achievement. Today’s focus is on getting started, which is strangely fitting for me. For years, my diets always started on a Monday so I could enjoy one last hurrah. I also had a new beginning today as I decided to restart my elliptical resistance training on Cardio-Monday, something I haven’t done since I broke my foot ten weeks ago. So…a new beginning for me and a new beginning for you! We’re practically partners!
So much about starting a successful new road is your mindset, as I am sure you already know. The thing is, achieving that appropriate mindset isn’t magical. You don’t have to wait for everything in your head to just mysteriously line up behind a new beginning. In fact, if you do wait for the magic, you will likely never get started, because none of this is magic. Rather, there are deliberate steps that you decide to take.
Prepare yourself mentally
Over the years, I have started a diet—notice I didn’t say “started a path to healthy living,” because that didn’t happen—every single way possible from a mindset standpoint. I slid into starting by quietly deciding I would make some changes, but I wouldn’t do it overtly and I certainly wouldn’t talk about it with anyone. That was my stealth approach, and it was usually abandoned no later than midweek. I had no accountability to anyone, especially myself, so it was easy to get off track. There was the formal approach, like going to Weight Watchers or NutriSystem, putting my future in the expert hands of others. There was the crisis diet, before a vacation or special event when I wanted to fit into something or at least wear a bathing suit without being publicly humiliated.
Preparing yourself mentally means acknowledging all of the success factors that follow below. It means committing yourself, deeply and absolutely, to this new path. It means finding the will to make a lasting change and acknowledging that you are worth that extraordinary effort.
Have Your Goal Firmly In Mind
If your goal is “just losing some weight,” you can achieve that quickly and easily. The trouble is, that goal is based on how you are now and not how you want to be far down the road. Losing ten pounds can take away that sense of urgency because you feel better after couple weeks, so it is easy to say “mission accomplished” and abandon your effort. Bottom line: it isn’t enough to know you are miserable the way you are now.
You don’t have to know what you want your goal weight to be or what size you want to be in. I didn’t identify a goal weight until I was halfway there. Instead, how do you want to feel? What do you want to be able to do that you can’t do now? What does “a good life” look like to you? From there, go on to the powerful goal of not just achieving a certain weight, but achieving a level of healthy living that you will maintain the rest of your life. That’s a big goal, but an essential one if you don’t want to gain weight back again and lose all the progress you made.
Identify Why You Are Doing This
Why is this important to you? Not to your spouse or your kids or your work. Why is this important to you? This is the foundation of self-empowerment, because if you truly understand why you want to make these changes, that determination blossoms on a cellular level. There is nothing to deter you, because this is vital to your well-being.
Give yourself a starting point for the changes you are going to make, and write them down as a commitment to yourself. Because you are doing this for yourself, your accountability is to you, no one else. If you have foods that tempt you beyond your ability to resist, get rid of them for now. Plan your meals for the coming week and make a grocery run to ensure you have what you need for healthy choices. Figure out what you’re going to do to be more active, and when you are going to do that.
Commit Yourself to Hard Work
I have frequently said that the way I eat now is a joy to me, and that is true. Equally true is that losing weight and learning how to live differently than I had ever lived before was extraordinarily hard work. This isn’t for the faint of heart. First and foremost, you need to figure out where your boat is leaking the most, and plug those up. For me, that was my out-of-control portion sizes and all-day nibbling. Three meals a day, nothing in between, with small portion sizes was my starting point. It was made easier by the medicine, once that kicked in, but that was four weeks after I started. I had some nail biting until then, and reliance on pure will power. Not to get through the next ten minutes—to see this through all the way. The start of exercise was equally onerous, but my commitment to doing the work was high.
Be Willing to Learn
After years of dieting, you might believe you know everything there is to know about what it takes to lose weight. Throw that belief right out the window and consider yourself a novice at what you are undertaking. Any diet in which you ended up regaining your weight was a failed diet. I am going to say this again: any diet in which you ended up regaining your weight was a failed diet. Talk with a dietician, talk with your doctor, read up on healthy living. Learn. Most of all, learn about yourself. What makes you tick? What is your relationship to food and to exercise…and why? When do you feel like you’re being deprived and how do you move from that to feeling satisfied? How do you approach food and physical activity and how can you approach them differently? Why have your past attempts at losing weight and keeping it off failed? These are tough questions, with answers that often require some self-searching on your part.
Name Your Team
We rarely do anything in a vacuum, and the road to a healthy lifestyle badly needs your comrades-in-arms to walk with you. First and foremost, do whatever you can to ensure your family understands what you are doing and why. It is not always possible to have a family that is supportive, but it makes a huge difference if you can. Family isn’t on board? Recruit good friends. Not for a “Ra-ra-ra” from the sidelines, but so you have someone with whom you can explore your feelings, your worries, your barriers, your achievements. Someone who is a good listener and who absolutely believes in you. Once you have that, you’re on your way home, but consider who can also provide the expertise you need. Your doctor or your dietician, or a clinic or a personal trainer. You are staging a major campaign and you need to know you aren’t doing this alone.
Forget Timing (Because It’s Always a Bad Time)
See if this sounds familiar: You want to lose weight and get healthy and the first thing you do is consult your calendar. This week isn’t good because there’s a party at work on Friday. Next week you’re having friends over and the following week you have some major work deadlines that are bound to be stressful. Better wait until all that’s past, right? The problem is, life happens all the time. There is no perfect stretch where nothing unusual is going on, where things are easy and stress-free, where something isn’t falling apart, where you aren’t planning some kind of special event. If you can’t pursue your healthy lifestyle during these times—well, you can’t pursue a healthy lifestyle, plain and simple. Don’t worry about the calendar, just start your journey, and figure out along the way how to deal with special events or hard times. It’s a learning that will carry you through beautifully once you achieve your goal weight.
Make a Plan for Your Barriers
I have heard it so many times: “I did really well all day until I got home and then, you know, it was kind of a free-for-all until bedtime.” Or, whatever variations-on-the-theme that are the barriers in your life. Don’t figure you’re going to just grit your teeth and get through those times: make a plan for them. One of mine was “fast food Wednesday.” We had that firmly entrenched in our family culture, and it was put there as much to give me a mid-week break from cooking as anything else. I researched every place we went for our Wednesday meal and figured out what I could have at each of those.
Decide to Believe in Yourself
This is a biggie, a foundation for this road you’re walking. Notice I didn’t say “believe in yourself,” just “decide to believe in yourself.” That means you don’t have to necessarily be there, but you have to model what it would be like if you did believe in yourself. Every morning I looked in the mirror and looked right into my eyes and said—yes, out loud—“You can absolutely do this today, Margie.” Snicker if you want, but it really helped. I didn’t know that the woman in the mirror had insecurities and fears and self-doubt. She was looking right at me and telling me I could do this, and I believed her.
I’m not usually a list kind of gal, but there it is, my Top Ten to beginning to adopt a healthy lifestyle. Of course it isn’t that simple, but if you get these nailed down, you have a firm foundation to take those first few steps down this brand new path. I promise, I will be walking right alongside!