"Diets don't work, you have to change your lifestyle."
"It's not a diet, it's a lifestyle change."
"It has to be a lifestyle change!" Lifestyle change, lifestyle change, lifestyle change. That's all we hear from people like me ...and well, me. I said it for years, too.
But this idea that we just have to make the decision to stop being lazy and switch from one "lifestyle" to another is a faulty premise that I no longer buy into and I invite you to reject it as well.
Not only is it not really true, I think it's a message that may actually be hindering real change for a few reasons.
First, while in theory it feels right - the whole "lifestyle change" message has been largely re-branded by the diet & weight loss industry as another way to shame people.
There's this unwritten, unspoken idea that anyone who is thin is living the "good" lifestyle (that is, exercising an hour a day and eating "clean" or "right" by whatever subjective definition that is) and those overweight are living the "bad" one (that is, they're lazy, inactive, eating "junk" and unhealthy).
Nine years of working with women of all shapes, sizes and lifestyles has taught me that's completely untrue, misguided and naive.
First of all, people are FAR from lazy. The single most common "lifestyle" I've seen in the women I've worked with is one of non-stop working and doing for everyone around them. It's overworked, stressed, exhausted, unfulfilled, unmotivated, and uninspired. It's 10-12 hour days of work, house work, child-care, taxi-ing kids from one location to another -- and neglect for their own needs until every few months they look in the mirror, decide they don't like what they see and they want to "change their lifestyle".
When a short attempt to "fix the problem" by fitting someone else's program into their already crazy and unmotivated day goes unsuccessful, they decide they're too lazy and they quit until the next time they get "motivated" to try a different version of the same basic thing.
That's not a lazy person, that's treating the wrong problem with the wrong solution.
Second, believing that creating health is an outside job is way off base. Being healthy isn't the result of following other people's "lifestyle" advice, food rules and restrictions, or an arbitrary amount of steps per day or hours logged in the gym per week.
After more than a dozen years in, I've learned that this place of "living healthy" requires no one else's rules, and no huge lifestyle change after all.
It's an inside job.
You have no idea how badly I wish someone had told me this 20+ years ago. I feel like I finally just GET it now and life is so much easier and happier.
The only differences in my day to day life now compared to when I was overweight are: I work to protect my mental health and I shut out every one's messages about what I "should" be doing for it, and I listen to my own body -- how it feels and what it needs.
The best thing I EVER did for myself was to stop trying to conform to what's expected of someone living a "healthy lifestyle" and start connecting with my own body, and my own motivations with no judgment. Because the truth is, our bodies want to move & they want to eat things that make them feel good. They just get ignored and overpowered by our brains that end up working overtime telling us all the things we should be doing and then all the reasons we don't want to.
When we tune all that garbage out, it gets peaceful and we can hear the wisdom of our own beautiful bodies.
In navigating my own way through both lifestyles to finally just finding a place of balance and peace, I've learned that being healthier, or even losing weight, doesn't actually require an entire lifestyle overhaul after all and that message may actually be making things worse.
I mean, I get the point of it -- we need to get out of the quick and easy fix mindset and understand that lasting change requires making long term changes. That's 100% true.
But it's simply not realistic to expect people to wake up one morning and completely overhaul their entire "lifestyle" to match someone else's definition of what's supposedly healthy simply because we keep repeating this "it needs to be a lifestyle change" message.
AND ...it's not our "lifestyle" that we have to change, it's US.
Our lifestyles aren't the problem (and neither are our bodies) - they're merely the result of millions of day to day choices and our choices are a result of the things going on IN us -- our brains, our habits, our mindsets.
Our lifestyles aren't the problem - they're the symptom. Our lifestyles are simply the result of millions of day to day choices and our choices are a result of the things going on IN us -- our brains, our thoughts, our habits, our mindsets.
Those are the things that drive the choices that create our lifestyle but they're the things we've been flatly ignoring.
We have to change the driving forces behind the choices we make rather than simply trying to force and willpower our way into completely transforming our entire lifestyle based on what some diet guru or fitness personality decides is the "right" way for us to live, move and eat. And I say that as someone who used to be that fitness personality telling people the "right" way.
But switching from that feeling like we're supposed to go from completely inactive & emotionally eating (for example) to doing these exercises this many hours a week and doing this many steps a day and you have to cut out all your favorite foods, stop eating the way your brain has been programmed to eat for decades... and start eating (insert whatever diet fad of the day is relevant) because this is the "good" way to live... Instead becomes...
Learning to connect with your own body's wants and needs and give it what it's telling you it needs, one small choice at a time every single day. It requires looking at why you're making the choices that you're making, how the habits, mindsets and behaviors behind those choices got formed, and changing those things.
It's the difference between externally bandaid-ing (yes, I used band-aid as a verb) symptoms versus surgically repairing the cause.
When you stop focusing on trying to force yourself to do all the things the "lifestyle change" people are telling you that you "should be" doing and start focusing on the thoughts, habits and mindsets that are creating your current lifestyle, the whole "lifestyle change" thing becomes completely moot and change becomes less scary because you're not trying to move the entire mountain at once. The "lifestyle change" that's way too big and scary for most people to stick to for very long, becomes just a series of examining the why behind our self-destructive behaviors and learning to change them -- learning to care enough about our health and well-being to make different ones -- one minuscule choice at a time, one day at a time.
If you've spent years in fruitless attempts to "change your lifestyle" -- starting a new "fitness journey" every few weeks or months, only to repeatedly fall back into old patterns, I invite you to instead, begin to consider this concept.
What if, rather than continuing to buy into this notion that we have to find the willpower and motivation to force ourselves to fit into someone else's mold or idea what of what we "should be" doing to live the "good" lifestyle we instead just asked our bodies what they need? What if every day when you got up, you just took a minute to connect with your own body and consider what it needed and wanted that day? What does it want to eat? How much does it want? Does it feel stiff and lethargic? Does it want a short walk in some fresh air to loosen up and feel more alive?
When you get good at tuning out the messages that tell what you think you're "supposed to" be eating and doing, start listening to what your body actually wants and needs, and learn to change the underlying reasons for self-destructive choices, it changes everything. Our bodies don't want to lay around doing nothing but bingeing on netflix for 8 hours a day. They need and want some movement.
Our bodies don't want to binge on an entire pizza, 3 glasses of wine and a pan of brownies or to restrict entire food groups that have important nutrients. They want foods that meet all their nutritional needs and make them feel alive and energetic -- and they know what those foods are.
The problem is that we've been taught to tune OUT our own bodies in lieu of what other people determine they need which is ludicrous and ineffective. What if instead you just started paying attention to how you felt physically and emotionally everyday, decided how you wanted to feel and started making small choices to bridge the gap? No huge lifestyle change required after all. Mind = blown. If you need help learning to do those things, to re-wire your brain, change your self-destructive habits and repair your relationship with food, I created Cognitive Eating to help.