Lifestyle change is a gradual process, where we make small incremental improvements to our eating habits, the amount that we move and our overall lifestyle. However, it is very easy and common to forget this and jump straight into things, feet first, going hell for leather. Even if you don’t start out that way, you might find that certain aspects of following a healthier lifestyle give you a bit of a buzz, and that you want to do it more and more frequently. Before we know it, we get lost along the way, lost into the realms of the extreme, where the danger is that everything becomes too much, we get exhausted and tired, which can lead to injury and illness and even the desire to give up.
In order to prevent this it’s a really good idea to check in with yourself now and again, just to make sure that you aren’t running the danger of burning out.
Doctor in the house!
A year or so ago, Dr. Paula Watson, the Doctor of Sports Psychology at Liverpool John Moore’s University came to visit one of our sessions to talk about how we achieve a healthy mindset for adapting to lifestyle change. She asked some really insightful points and questions, that are useful to be repeated as part of this topic, to help us check in with where we are on our journey, and help us to keep our new lifestyle in perspective, and most importantly, on track!
Dr. Paula made some observations about what a healthy lifestyle should be, then gave us some questions to ask ourselves then some thoughts on how we can maintain that.
Point 1: This a way of life not a short-term fix
Ideally you should be aiming for this to be a lifelong thing. Starting out slowly and building to a point that we can live with forever, acknowledging that within that there will be ebbs and flows depending on your life circumstances. A healthy lifestyle is fluid, at times we are less healthy than others, but ultimately we always come back to maintaining that control over our food intake and being physically active.
You shouldn’t be thinking of this as a journey of two halves, ‘weight loss’ then ‘maintenance of goal weight’. All that should happen when you get to your goal weight is that you eat a little more than when you were trying to lose weight. Your habits that you have built up throughout your weight loss phase, should remain the same – exercising regularly, controlled eating and holding yourself accountable. Everything you are doing now, should be something that you can and plan to keep up forever.
Dr. Paula suggests you may want to ask yourselves these questions to check in with where your mindset is.
- Do you view your current diet and physical activity as temporary or permanent in your life?
- If you are currently “losing”, how do you feel things are going to be different when you reach your target weight? (i.e. your diet, your physical activity, your mindset)
- If you are currently “maintaining”, how do you feel things have changed since before you met your target weight? (i.e. your diet, your physical activity, your mindset)
If your answers to these questions suggest that you perhaps haven’t got the balance right and you are perhaps still living in a ‘temporary’ state, then have a think about how you can adapt what you are doing to make it a permanent fixture in your life, forever.
Point 2: Physical activity is your friend
Physical activity should be enjoyable and we should accept that it can take different forms depending on where we are on our journey and our current ability. If you want to just live a healthy lifestyle, get a little bit more active and be able to do things without it being a struggle, then your physical activity should definitely be enjoyable and fun. You should not be dreading taking part in your planned exercise and you should almost certainly be doing it with the view that you could continue your current levels of activity for the rest of your life.
If you are training for a particularly challenging event or you want to achieve a particular goal, your physical activity may well be a challenge at times, there may be a temporary element to it, as the goal is a stretch, there may even be a point where you don’t necessarily enjoy it in the moment, but you know you will enjoy the glory of achieving that goal. But once that goal has been reached and the event completed, you should be able to comfortably revert back to the regular enjoyable exercise and physical activity, not want to give up moving all together.
Dr. Paula reminded us that physical activity should be more to us than a means to lose weight – and we have discussed many times, how physical activity and exercise isn’t actually a great strategy for achieving weight loss. We treat physical activity as separate to weight loss in lifestyle change, as it is a means to get us fit, and we do it for the many health benefits it provides, including improved sleep patterns, improved mental and emotional health, preventing chronic illness, and improving our risk factors for many life limiting diseases.
Dr. Paula asks us these questions:
- Do you enjoy being physically active?
- Do you feel you have a healthy relationship with physical activity?
- What role do you see physical activity playing in your lifestyle change/weight loss journey?
It is so important to maintain a healthy relationship with physical activity and exercise. We should love the exercise we do and we should get a buzz from doing it. A healthy relationship with physical activity is one in which you can say to yourself:
- I enjoy the activity I do
- I am in a regular routine that I am confident I can maintain
- There is some flexibility in my routine (as I recognise it is sometimes necessary to shift things around)
- I don’t beat myself up if I miss a day, or have to take a break due to other commitments (as sometimes these things happen, and I am confident I will get back on track)
- Physical activity is important to me and I view it as a constant in my life
You can use the above checklist and questions to consider your current relationship with physical activity, and identify areas that might need to change.
Dr. Paula says, ‘If you currently don’t tick any of these, and this aspiration seems a million miles from where you are now, don’t worry – it takes time to develop this kind of relationship with physical activity. Instead see this as an aspiration, and something to check back with on your journey, or to keep yourself on track if you are slipping into unhealthy tendencies (e.g. being too “all or nothing”, beating yourself up, or finding you’re not enjoying physical activity).’
Point 3: Take the pressure off!
If weight loss is your goal, then you also need to check in with your relationship with that particular number on the scales – your weight target. Sometimes specific weight targets take over, and seeing a certain number on the scales becomes the ‘be all and end all’ for us. When realistically, what it the difference between being 10 stone dead, and 10 stone 2? Not a lot, in real terms, certainly nothing you could see visibly, and probably not that much in our physical health. So if you find yourself focusing too much on getting to that final weight target, then it may be time to take the pressure off.
Dr. Paula reminds us that too much pressure is bad for us. It impacts our motivation and can result in us taking short cuts or making poor choices, because we feel that ‘we have to’, which then impacts negatively on our mental health. When this happens, we are more likely to fall off the wagon, and give up, and regain the weight we lost.
If we take the pressure off to see a certain number on the scales by a certain date or each week, and instead be happy seeing an overall downward trend on the scales, and feel happy with our new active, healthy, balanced lifestyle, that we can maintain (along with our ‘happy weight’) forever.
Dr Paula asks:
- What does your current weight target mean to you? Why that number in particular?
- Do you feel motivated by your weight target, or is it starting to get you down?
- Have you ever considered how it would feel to forget about your weight target, and focus instead on the process of changing your diet and physical activity?
If your weight target is causing you to feel demotivated, or you feel like there is too much pressure on you, Dr. Paula recommends the following:
Be flexible about your weight target and acknowledge that “the number” you first came up with might not be the best weight for you. Sometimes are body is just happy at a particular weight. Listen to your body, and dip into the realms of unhealthy behaviours just to see a particular number on the scales. Set a ‘happy weight range’ of a few pounds where you can quite happily move up and down through for the rest of your life. No-one stays the exact same weight, every day for the rest of your life, so accept that our bodies fluctuate and as we have holidays or lots of social events, our weight will too, but keeping it in that happy weight range, will keep you happy too!
Try not to be overly restrictive with your diet. If you constantly deprive yourself of particular foods, you are more likely to have a binging episode which is totally counter-productive to what you are trying to achieve, so always make sure you have a little bit of what you enjoy, or at least something similar, to keep yourself happy.
Make sure your goals are meaningful to you. If a weight target isn’t really that meaningful to you, that is perfectly ok! Your goals are your goals, and you can set them to be whatever you want them to be. You might have only set a weight target because you were asked to, and now that target is making you feel bad for not quite hitting it. If that’s the case, forget the weight target and focus on something else.
Accept that this will take time and there will be ups and downs. Weight doesn’t go on overnight, so it shouldn’t come off quickly either – no matter how much we wish it would. If you accept that this is a lifelong process, and that you will get there when you get there, but you will enjoy the journey, you have absolutely cracked lifestyle change.
No matter where we are on our lifestyle change journey, or where we are with our health and physical activity goals, it’s worth checking in with ourselves occasionally, just to make sure we have everything in balance. The last thing anyone wants is burn out or to completely fall off the wagon, so by checking in on our relationship with our weight, our activity and our ‘diet’ is a great way to keep us on track and keep things in perspective. This week check in with yourself, and see where you are. If you identify anything that you think you might need a little help with, let us know, we are always here to help!
You can read Dr. Paula Watson’s full article ‘Achieving a healthy mindset for maintenance’ here.