Do you know anyone who leads a perfectly healthy lifestyle? Of course you don’t. Not your physician, trainer, your favorite celebrity, or even those of us who write about tips for healthy living. We generally follow the 80%-20% rule – most of the time we think, eat and move well, and sometimes we don’t.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s focus on the 80% of the time that many do stay committed to a healthy lifestyle and identify the most effective ways it can be achieved. Think, eat and move. That’s the trifecta of optimal health. It all begins with, and is sustained by, your healthy thinking. There is no way around that. No tricks, apps, trainer or doctor can do it for you.
If you aren’t thinking clearly, you won’t be able to honestly recognize the need to change, to eat as though your life depended on it, or begin and sustain an effective exercise program. Thinking in a healthy way is intimately linked with maintaining a consistent commitment to a fit lifestyle, reasonable weight, longevity, a better quality of life, and positive emotions.
Let’s understand first that you are not really ever “out of shape.” Rather, you are in the shape that you created. Crossing over the “river of change” and creating a healthier shape, requires that you leave your predictable self with those thoughts and behaviors that created the “out of shape” you. The best way I know how is to begin by visually rehearsing and imagining what you would need to stop doing and start doing to create the healthier future you want to have. No, you don’t need someone else to tell you what those steps are. I believe, from tens of thousands of hours of coaching folks over decades, that when your mind is quiet enough and you can hear your inner voice, it will direct you properly.
This may require mindful meditation, or another way of quieting your mind to think positively and clearly, unencumbered by misleading commercials, sneaky supermarket marketing tactics, social influences of friends, attractive packaging, the allure of easy and quick fast foods, etc. When your mind is quiet and unattached to these cruel tricks, you will be better able to think about and plan your choices, future actions and new levels of health. After all, we aren’t doomed by our genes – we can become our own epigenetic engineers, turning on and off appropriate expressions of genes to help us live in optimally healthy ways. We just need to think about it all differently than we have.
This step begins with thinking about what you eat and how you move. The benefits of healthy, positive thinking include increased life span, lower rates of depression and anxiety, better immunity, reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease and increased coping skills during trying times. Sounds like a winner to me!
So identify those areas of your thinking that are frequently associated with unpleasant feelings. Check yourself and you’ll notice the same thoughts pop up again and again when you are stressed. See how negative those thoughts are? Not the types of thoughts that’ll promote healthy living, right? Martin Seligman, author of the wonderful book, Flourish, notes, “We estimate that being in the upper quartile of optimism seems to have a beneficial effect on cardiovascular risk roughly equivalent to NOT smoking two packs of cigarettes daily.”
And Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of The How of Happiness, has observed, “Essentially, all optimism strategies involve the exercise of construing the world with a more positive and charitable perspective, and many entail considering the silver lining in the cloud, identifying the door that opens as a result of one that has closed. It takes hard work and a great deal of practice to accomplish effectively, but if you can persist at these strategies until they become habitual, the benefits could be immense. Some optimists may be born that way, but scores of optimists are made with practice.”
The next step involves other people. It’s been said that we are the average of the five people we spend most of our time with. Is it time to do a social audit? It may just come down to spending less time with some and more time with others, especially around activities that involve food. Do you have a workout buddy? A coach? A support group? I’d add doing a social media audit. Check out those Instagrams, Snapchats, Facebook and Twitter accounts you have and what you read on social media – seeing too many pictures of pizza, cupcakes, cookies and caloric drinks? Even the apps you rely on may need to be cleansed. I like Paprika, an app that helps you organize your recipes, make meal plans, and create grocery lists (http://paprikaapp.com). Websites such as www.MayoClinic.com, www.WholeFoodsMarket.com, and www.ACSM.com are also good sources of information to look at.
Perhaps it’s not just other people, but other sources beyond ourselves as well. According to a Reuters Health dispatch, spirituality, defined as a belief in a higher power that gives life meaning, improves overall health and may prolong life. This report is based on two published studies, the first found in the journal Demography and the second in an issue of Family Medicine.
This step looks at how mindful you are when you shop. This is called “precommitment,” and is a tool to “buy willpower” in the supermarket. If you aren’t a naturally mindful person, having a moment-by-moment awareness of your thoughts, feelings and sensations, food shopping may be a problem. Look at your shopping cart and measure it by this simple formula: mostly organic fresh produce, about 15%-20% lean cuts of non-processed meat, the rest divided between twice as much organic fresh fruit and whole grains as fun choices (ok, junk food – remember nobody’s perfect so it’s ok to cater to your weakness just a bit). Extend that mindfulness to the way you eat. Look at your food, savor the smell, colors, arrangement on the plate, textures, etc. There is no one-size-fits-all so check with a nutritionist or your physician to identify any food issues you may have.
Be physically active! If physical movement and exercise aren’t a part of your daily regimen, you are not going to cross that river of change. You’ll be sitting on the river edge moaning about that shape you are in. After all, if thinking is the centerpiece of living a healthy lifestyle, keeping your brain in good shape is wise. And your brain always works better after exercise.
Remember, healthy nutrition is king and exercise is queen. Want a healthy kingdom? You need both. That’s where full-body, functional workouts come in. You see, literally ANY diet will help you lose weight. That’s not the hard part. The hard part is keeping it off with genuine, healthy, lifestyle changes. Socrates had it correct when he said, “The rest of the world lives to eat, while I eat to live.”
One last word about a particular, “do this program, not that program” approach. Let’s face it. What works for your friend may not work for you. You have to run your own race. As long as the program you choose includes thinking, eating and moving, you’re likely going to find success. The key to healthy living, especially if you are off track and want to get back on track, is to understand your own individual needs and not follow anyone else’s predetermined set of rules.
When your mind is focused and free of negative thought patterns, filled largely with gratitude for your ability to live a healthy lifestyle, when you realize that your friends are an important element in your staying on track, when you include movement and exercise that you enjoy, when you pack your pantry and refrigerator with food that leaves you feeling energetic and filled with vitality, and when you have faith in yourself, and perhaps in a higher power, to bring about transformational behavior change, you will succeed and feel healthier, less stressed, and more enthusiastic than ever about continuing on this path.