We live busy lives, shuttling back and forth between home, jobs, social events, and many other commitments. At times, we feel there is no time to exercise, or we have no choice but to grab the convenient food over the healthy food.I completely understand these feelings, and experience them myself. When I’m in full-time writing mode, I feel like all I can do is write, go to work, spend time with my wife, and then write some more before going to bed.We’re tricking ourselves in to thinking our time and options are limited. Even if our time is (which is a separate post entirely), our options don’t have to be. We need to be a little better at starting small, balancing our needs, and planning. The benefits of a healthier diet and active lifestyle are well-documented, stimulating both brain power and productivity. In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg names exercise one of the keystone habits that empower a healthy, productive life. Exercise fuels the ability to make other habit changes in your life possible, including diet.
The first and biggest lie is the mindset that you need to make life-changing, wholesale changes to make a difference. Not so! Even if your diet and fitness habits are non-existent, you can begin to make small changes which can snowball into big results. Consider snow or rain. One flake or drop of water isn’t going to make a big difference, and is easy to dismiss. But compounded by consistency and quantity, they accumulate into a force of nature.
Here’s a little sub-list for you, little ways you can start small in fitness and food. Start with any of these once a week, or every 2-3 days. Starting small will keep you motivated for the next opportunity.
- Go for a 10 minute walk or a 5 minute run
- Swing a kettlebell 10 times
- Do 10 squats, then 10 pushups
- Drink 1 liter of water instead of soda
- Eat 1 salad a week
Resist the temptation to start big, because big starts normally end in big crashes. If you go for a big workout or run, you’ll be sore and need to rest even longer, or risk injury. If you eat incredibly healthy for a few days, the sugar craving will be too much to resist, along with the thought of “I’ve been eating so healthy anyway!” So start small, and allow the snowball to grow.
Food Over Fitness
Many people, myself included, tend to flip the equation, prioritizing fitness over food. We use our exercise as an excuse to eat whatever we want and burn the calories off later. While the plan isn’t bad, it’s very short-sighted. A healthy diet combined with regular exercise is clearly the best way to live, instead of constantly trying to burn off the donuts you ate.
Food is one of the constants of our lives, something we truly can’t function without. Fueling yourself with good food simply makes sense. When you combine healthy eating with your exercise, you’ll notice you feel even better! Elite athletes understand this balance, and though they routinely burn over 2,000 calories in a workout, don’t immediately go refuel with soda, fried chicken, and ice cream.
Plus, when a day comes up where finding your exercise time is difficult, making smart choices with your meals will help keep your body and mind in top shape. So when the choice is in front of you, choose the right food. I won’t drop a diet plan bomb on you now, and certainly there is a lot of information on what to eat. We tend to make eating over-complicated, even healthy eating! So here are a few simple rules to keep in mind.
- Eat as many whole foods as possible, i.e. fruits & vegetables.
- Eat lean cuts of meat.
- Eat smaller portions, but a little more often.
- Drink plenty of water.
Move In a Way That’s Fun
If you don’t enjoy running, don’t run. If you don’t enjoy lifting weights, don’t lift weights. Move in a way you enjoy, and you’ll see the benefits much quicker. Your exercise won’t be a burden because it’s fun! Maybe it’s a dance class, yoga, hiking, canoeing, martial arts, cycling, soccer, or tennis. If you stop forcing the workouts, following what you’re “supposed” to be doing, then the habit won’t take hold. I enjoy running, but only on trails. I enjoy lifting weights, but not in slow, uni-directional ways (bench press). I also enjoy mixing up my workouts, keeping them fresh and interesting by trying new things. Bottom line: Do what moves you.
Follow the Pareto Principle (AKA the 80/20 Rule)
Disclaimer: This isn’t the Pareto Principle exactly. But the 80/20 mindset is helpful when figuring out what kind of grace you can extend to yourself when your food and fitness isn’t measuring up. Basically, if you’re eating well in 80% of your meals, you can be flexible in the other 20%. If you exercise most of the week, don’t stress out over taking a couple of days off.
CrossFit offers a pretty solid principle for their workouts. 3 days on, 1 day off. Not quite 80%, but close enough. If you’re taking care of your body and mind 75-80% of the time, you’d have to do a lot of damage in the remaining time to screw it up. One more suggestion though, from my own experience: mix up your rest and cheat days so they don’t occur at the same time. Being able to workout on a day you’ve eaten some unhealthy food will help negate the bad calories, and eating well on a day you’re resting will increase the benefits of your rest.