I used to find health and fitness so confusing.
There’s so much advice – which can be complex and frequently changes or contradicts itself – and there’s always some new fad arriving on the scene.
I also believe diets set us up to fail. They come with a set of unrealistic rules you must follow in order to succeed, and rarely take an individual’s lifestyle or unique needs into consideration. Subsequently you start day one, brimming with motivation and by day three, you’re beginning to falter and feeling like a failure, again. They foster an “all or nothing” mentality, which damages both physical and mental health.
A much better approach is to focus on changing one habit at a time, realistically and consistently. I’ve mentioned this before, and I can’t stress how much this approach has changed my life.
When you change one thing at a time, you build upon each habit, making incremental improvements, and thus expand your confidence in your ability to change as you go.
Over time, I’ve added what I refer to as my “four building blocks to health” to my lifestyle. What I’ve realized is although I don’t do all of them consistently all of the time, I’ll always get one right. I congratulate myself for that success rather than focusing on where I’ve “failed.”
This feels like a revelation!
And whilst this journey was never about weight loss, but rather about how I feel and my health, I am “almost” able to wear everything in my closet again, so something’s obviously working there, too.
It’s the internal changes I value the most though…my deep sense of confidence and how connected I feel to my body and intuition.
I’m not suggesting I’ve got everything figured out, but I no longer beat myself up for being human.
These past six months have changed me: I’m happily a teetotaler, and I spent four days hiking, alone. I’m that person who takes my own food on long-haul flights, and it delights me, because I’m doing it from a place of love as opposed to a place of self-loathing. I repeat to myself, “I am fit, healthy and strong,” and now it’s also true.
I’m becoming who I’m meant to be and whilst it’s not a perfect journey, it’s no longer a relentless struggle, either.
Here are my “Four Building Blocks to Health”
Sleep: This is the foundation upon which everything else is built on.
Previously I struggled to get enough sleep and whilst there’s a ton of scientific studies on the benefits of doing so – the stress hormone cortisone increases when you’re sleep deprived, which can affect weight – what changed everything for me was creating a sleep schedule.
I have a written reminder of what time I need to finish my last meal of the day so my food has adequate time to begin digestion (allow three hours), when to turn electronic devices off – including my phone – so my brain starts to wind down (allow an hour), and during that hour before lights out I have a cool bath, do some journaling or read.
Bedtime now feels luxurious and sleep transforms me. The trick is to create a routine that works for you. Written reminders of what to do, by when, can have a big impact when you’re trying to develop a new habit.
Hydration: I don’t enjoy drinking water. Yet when I’m getting good, consistent sleep and I’m well hydrated, the difference in my skin is amazing! Maybe not as effective as Botox, but certainly much safer.
Whilst staying hydrated is one of the cheapest, easiest and most effective ways to feel good – and it keeps you satiated – I have to force myself to do it. I try to drink two liters a day by consuming a 500ml glass of water at set times, but not with meals. I drink an hour before and two hours after I’ve eaten. The ‘have-a-glass-of-water-on-your-desk-and-sip-it-throughout-the-day’ method doesn’t work for me; I find it more effective to glug a lot in one go. If you don’t drink much water, you might find 500mls is too much for starters. I’m not advising you what to do. I’m simply sharing what works for me.
Diet: If you’ve read this series from the start, you know diets make me crazy. So, I stopped dieting, but over time I developed some new, horrendous habits.
I claimed to love food, and yet, when I took a close look at my eating patterns, I discovered I was guilty of shoving it into my mouth, barely stopping for air.
Here’s some other charming habits I identified:
- Picking at food mindlessly from dawn to dusk, often whilst standing in front of the fridge
- Not eating meals or eating meals standing up, on the move, or at my desk
- Throwing foods I found impossible to resist in the bin then drenching with Ajax to make them inedible
I decided rather than trying to “fix” everything at once, I’d focus on changing one habit.
I committed to eating three meals a day – no snacks – and I eat them sitting down, away from my desk or any distractions. I take 10 slow, deep breaths first and take my time eating. I allow myself to eat whatever I want, but I have to sit and savor it.
Focusing on this one change is helping resolve all of the issues above, yet the truth is that some days the process feels excruciating, and I do slip up. But these days I’m more about slow, sustainable change than trying to achieve an immediate, dramatic result.
Exercise: Hands up if you’ve ever resolved to attend boot camp six days a week? Yes, me too.
Now I have a realistic schedule, which I’m currently working on following consistently. I only do exercise I love, and I avoid workout trends. It’s not sexy, but I do what feels intuitively right for me:
- Aim to walk 10,000 steps a day
- Do weights three times per week
- Do yoga twice a month
I also have a routine I created for myself when I can’t get to the gym or I’m traveling, I recently came back from a month in Australia in better shape than when I left, despite numerous treats. There’s room for improvement, but Ernestine Shepherd didn’t even start going to the gym until she was 71, so I figure I’m well ahead of the curve (pun intended).
Image credit: Bhav Sonigra Photography.