Imagine if you had a magical machine that can print money around the clock. But in the manual you read that once a day the machine must be turned off for 8 hours, and once every couple months you have to turn it off for two weeks so that it does not work at all – what would you do? Would you print the money recklessly 24/7 – who cares it will break at most? Or you would do as instructed?
Your body is that kind of machine. I like this analogy because it shows that we are more mindful about the machines than about ourselves.
But in fact our body works better if we eat better, if we have enough rest and sleep, if we spend some time outside in the sun and fresh air. If we have deficiencies in any of these areas, or in all of them, it’s really difficult to get yourself together and start becoming a healthy person. If you’re so tired, enervated, you can barely organize more than basics, it’s hard to expect from yourself that you will get your shit together and reorganize every aspect of your life. And usually we become angry with ourselves if we truly want to make a change, but it always come out different than expected. It’s like you would throw a seed on the concrete floor and expect it to grow. Seed has plenty of potential but the conditions are not suitable for it to sprout.
Sometimes we set up goals that may be too big and too difficult for us. And when we fail achieving them, we abandon these goals thinking that they are unattainable for us. What we can do instead, is to break one big goal into several smaller ones and/or think about which elements of our goal are the most difficult for us and why.
So it’s good to have a seat and analyse which aspect are problematic and why? We are not living in perfect conditions. Contrary to what it seems to us, we have influence on these conditions. Perhaps it won’t be a spectacular and dramatic change, but it will be enough for our seed to slowly sprout.
These are the 6 things that may stop you from becoming healthy, I have learned that from my experience, from other people and books. I have noticed these obstacles in my life that often prevent me from making progress in many different areas, not only healthy eating and physical exercise but others too.
Have you caught yourself going to the kitchen several times, and opening the fridge and all the kitchen cupboards looking for something to eat? You kind of feeling hungry, but you would rather eat a snack or a sweetie rather than a proper meal?
We have two types of hunger: physical hunger and psychological hunger. It’s good to know which one you actually feel. The first one is when your body needs fuel to produce energy, usually happens if you haven’t been eating for couple hours, you start feeling weak, cannot focus, your stomach is empty, you might feeling cramps. It happens gradually, until you feel you really need a proper meal (some people starting to have a headache). Psychological hunger on the other side, doesn’t really show in your body, it’s more in your mind. You rather think about food, you’re craving something specific, without experiencing physical symptoms.
What is boredom? Boredom happens when a current activity or situation isn’t providing engagement or meaning, may occur when our energy isn’t channelled into an outlet that provides meaning or fulfilment. A lot of people eat when they are bored. According to some researchers, the excitement or stimulation of food can be used to create a sense of escape and cope with boredom. So in some way we are trying to eat our emotions. We are trying to cover lack of positive emotions with tasty snack, instead of generating these emotions from other activities. Why? Because it’s easy? Downside of this method is, that having a chocolate bar or a bag of crisps will fulfil this lack of engagement and positive emotion only for the time we consume the food. After the last chunk of chocolate vanishes in our mouth all the magic is gone. And then we go to the kitchen again… Ask yourself if you are truly hungry or if you are craving food for another reason. If you’re not sure the answer, make yourself a tea or drink glass of water. Many times it helps. Some people have more tendencies to generate state of boredom, some people are less prone to that. If you recognise yourself as boredom eater you can do couple things.
Put a large sticky note on your fridge that will divert your attention towards more mindful direction: am I bored or hungry? So each time you mindlessly go to the kitchen you will see this question. Have on hand a list of things you can do to occupy your mind until the craving stops. Whatever floats your boat: reading, knitting, drawing, colouring, going for a walk, playing with your pet, dancing. Anything that will draw your attention and create positive emotions. Keep sweets and snack out of sight or even better – don’t keep them at home.
Stress often becomes a trap it’s hard to get out of. When you experience permanent stress, you’re feeling under pressure most of the time, it’s not only hard to relax, but you don’t even think about implementing healthy habits. Stress and pressure make you look for quick solutions that will give relief immediately. You do not anticipate the long-term effects of your daily decisions, or the effects of bad habits. You find yourself in vicious circle, where bad habits produces more stress to the body, and stressed body gives more stress to your mind. The longer you stay in bad habits, the more you consolidate them and the harder it becomes to deal with them. It is good to have someone with you who will help you notice these bad habits, change them and persevere without them or change them into positive ones. It could be a partner, friend, mum or even a good work colleague, who reminds you that a quick Mac for your lunch is not the best idea. Ask someone to pay attention to your behaviour. Choose a person who will be meticulous and in front of whom you will want to do well. It will be an additional motivation for you to consolidate good behaviour and give up bad habits. It is important to choose a kind person, someone who will not cause additional stress in you. Look for alternative behaviours together – with benefits similar to or even greater than those caused by bad habits. Maybe it’s time to learn relaxation techniques? Reach for soothing music? Start playing sports to defuse bad emotions or get creative and start some DIY project? If you do not have such a person next to you, look for support groups, people who try, for example, to eat healthy or get rid of a bad habit. There will always be someone in the group, who at the moment will give you support or a positive kick, even if it’s only virtual.
When we were on a strict keto diet, attending to birthday parties or meeting friends was kind of awkward food-wise. While everyone were tasting a slice of birthday cake, we could taste only a strawberry from the top. But that was a unique situation, that we decided we will stick to the diet as prescribed without exceptions. Apart from that I don’t see any reason why would you should refuse to try someone’s birthday cake, even if you decide not to eat sweets. Obviously if you’re able to restrain and finish after a slice. But I can’t see any reason why you would need to feel awkward or embarrassed in social situations. Don’t be afraid to be that weirdo who doesn’t want to go to Mac, or that weirdo who doesn’t drink alcohol at the party (that’s me – my body has low tolerance to alcohol). Try to find a different place to eat with your friends, and if they still insist or laugh, maybe you should consider looking for new friends. In general people get used to your eating habits and do not insist when you explain them your new lifestyle.
Lack of regularity
I am the prime example of that. I used to set up plenty of goals and ideas what I would like to do regularly and 90% of the times I would fail. I also get distracted easily. So even if I remember to do something I planned, I often get distracted by something else and I’m out of my track. Have you experience something like that?
Healthy lifestyle requires regularity and permanence. Learning new habits takes time and some effort at the beginning. What can help in introducing new habits into your daily routine? What works best for me, is to attach new habits to the old ones I already have. For example straight after I finish my morning coffee which is a strong habit of mine, in the same mug I prepare myself linseed and cacao drink. If I would like to drink it any time of the day I would probably forget, and instead of drinking it daily, I would have it 2-3 times a week. It’s also a great idea to connect new habits with things we do to entertain ourselves. For example if you have a habit of watching one or two episodes of Netflix series each evening, connect a new habit to it. Exercise watching an episode. Or always prepare yourself a portion of smoothie and drink it while watching.
Other idea I’ve heard about that people do, is making one plank on the bath tub or pull up on the door frame each time they go pee. Try to connect somehow a new habit with the old one and this way the new habit has a bigger chance to stick for longer.
Other way you can do is make a habit tracker – simply draw a table with all your habits you would like to implement and cross out each time you comply a task. It didn’t work for me, but maybe it will work for you. Next thing you can try is to set up an alarm that will remind you about something you would like to become a habit. Like drinking more water. There’s plenty of apps you can download on your phone, to help you remind and track how much water you should drink. Or simply set up multiple alarms on your phone that reminds you to drink water (set them up according to your daily routine, so you will be able to actually drink some water when the alarm rings). On the other hand if you want to get rid of a bad habit, try to replace it with a good one, that will replace the same need. My personal example: it has become a habit to watch my favourite youtubers to relax after work or with my morning coffee. Sometimes (often) it gets out of hand, and a few or several minutes of YouTube watching turns into an hour or two. While several minutes can actually be relaxing, an hour or two is a waste of time. So now whenever my hand wants to reach for the phone to watch YouTube, I rather grab the book and not the phone. Reading is far more relaxing and has lot more benefits.
We have a lot of beliefs about food and health, that we are not even aware of and which have an influence on our daily decisions. And often, until we are aware of them, we will not be able to move forward with healthy lifestyle. Many of our beliefs are old, resulting from ignorance or the willingness to mislead us by food producers. Let us recall how many times you have heard that eggs are not healthy, and then that they are healthy, the same with butter, idea that to be healthy you should eat fewer calories. That breakfast is the most important meal of the day, that there should be 5 meals a day, etc. Let’s try to think about common food and healthy lifestyle believes that stops us from taking action:
“Eating healthy is too expensive” – basic types of veggies are far more cheap than processed foods, and the ratio of the number of meals that you can prepare from them is several times greater than, for example, buying ready meals. Good quality meat and fish is a bit more expensive than meat from the supermarket, but you save up quite a lot of money when you stop buying all the junk food, snacks, processed foods, sweets and fizzy drinks you were buying up until now. Also pre-washed, pre-cut, individual servings of produce as they are often more expensive. So if you actually think and calculate, eating healthy is not as expensive as you might think. This is an entire topic I could start, but we would never get to the end of this post.
“Eating fat will make you fat” – that’s an old belief from the 80’s and 90’s when the infamous Ancel Keys published epidemiological data linking fat-consumption to heart disease. While this type of data doesn’t prove cause and effect, markets were swarmed with low-fat, fat-free, and 0% fat products. These items were marketed as “diet” products and promoted as being helpful at helping people lose weight. Over time, society grew fearful of fat, and people started to believe that eating fat will make you fat. The fact is that carbohydrates, protein, and fat can all be stored as fat. There is also evidence that low carbohydrate (high-fat) diets may actually be more beneficial than low-fat diets for weight loss, when healthy sources of fat are included.
“You shouldn’t eat anything after 6 pm” – late night eating can lead to weight gain not just because it’s late. Our strong will tends to get very weak till the evening, and in the evening we make the worst eating decisions. Lots of highly processed food we tend to eat late at night are rather a reason for our problems. This myth also does not take into account a lifestyle of a person, lumps everyone into one basket.
“Salt is unhealthy” – Excess sodium in the diet can cause numerous disorders in our body. The most serious of these is the increase in blood pressure, which causes heart disease. That’s why it’s often said that we shouldn’t use salt if we want to lower our blood pressure. Too much salt in the diet can also cause the body to excrete more calcium. Which, in turn, can cause cramp problems or osteoporosis. On the other hand, sodium is an electrolyte that helps water balance, and is necessary for our muscles and nerves to function, including our heart and brain. But we often can’t see how much of the excess sodium is consumed from the salt added to processed, ready-to-eat foods and fast food meals. Limit the processed foods and enjoy more fresh, home cooked meals. Also type of salt you use has a big impact. Natural rock salt, sea salt or Himalayan salt contains plenty of minerals that our body needs. Supermarket salt is a highly purified product and devoid of naturally occurring microelements, almost always sold with addition of anti-caking agent.
This kind of believes and hundreds more as a rule, they build our concept of healthy or unhealthy lifestyle. Most of us doesn’t verify if the information served by mainstream media is true or false. We assume that everything we hear is the truth confirmed by “experts”. But if you dig a bit in the subject, you discover that “experts” are not always quite right and information providers not always have pure intentions.
What to do? If you catch yourself with a thought that is a belief, and does not come from your experience, take a little bit of time to dig deeper to see what’s beneath. Check if it works for you. Free yourself from stereotypical thinking according to well-established patterns. They limit our field of view, narrowing down the possibilities of choice. Ask yourself: on what basis do I think so? Since when do i think so? Who showed me this way of thinking/who did I take it from? What could prove the validity of such a view? What do i really think about it?
You don’t want to take an effort
Let’s be honest – most of the best things in life comes with an effort. You want to have a beautiful garden? – you need to take an effort to grow and maintain it. You want to have great kids? – it needs an effort to raise them well. Clean and organised home? Look fabulous and put together everyday? – some effort will be needed. It’s the same with your health. If you won’t take time and effort to take care of it, no one else will do it for you. Most of us would like good things to come to us effortlessly, myself included. Imagine going to the doctor with some health problems that bothers you. Doctor makes an exam, some blood tests and say: “you have some vitamin deficiencies, you should loose some weight and maybe work on your sugar levels that are a bit too high. Eat more veggies, stop with junk food and fizzy drinks, and exercise everyday – then you should feel much better”. What is a typical answer of the patient? “Is there any kind of a pill I could take instead?” How wonderful it would be if we could eat junk food, sweets, drink fizzy drinks, lay on the sofa all day watching Netflix and look and feel fabulous with just one magic pill?
The truth is our brain always wants to follow the path of least resistance.
“Our brain tricks us into believing the low-hanging fruit really is the ripest,” says Dr Nobuhiro Hagura. University College London study from 2017 shows, not only that humans are simply quite lazy but also that the amount of effort required to do something influences what we think we see. 52 participants took part in a series of tests where they had to judge whether a cloud of dots on a screen was moving to the left or to the right. They were instructed to move a handle to the right if the dot cloud was moving right and to the left if the cloud was moving left. Easy and simple so far. But when researchers added a directional load to the handle, making it slightly harder to move it the way the dots were going, participants avoided the response that caused more effort and moved the handle in the opposite direction of the dots. Participants didn’t realize that the researchers were manipulating their decisions, instead becoming convinced that the dots were actually moving in the direction of least resistance. Their motor system automatically adapted, triggering a change in their perception.
What does that prove? The researchers believe that our daily decisions could be modified not just through deliberate cognitive strategies, but also by designing the environment to make these decisions that cause you more effort. So what doest it mean in our situation? Maybe if you have issues with sweets, fizzy drinks or unhealthy processed snacks it would be better not to have them at home? It cost more effort if you actually need to go to the shop and buy something (and it’s raining, it’s far away, or it’s middle of the night). So if you won’t have these foods around you, at home, it will be easier for you to stay away from them. Maybe it’s a good idea not to keep “snacks for guests” in your kitchen cupboard? Or if you’re like me avoid going to the shop to buy your groceries, if it’s more tempting to grab something from the shelf that you might regret buying (and eating) and do your shopping online instead?
You’re still not convinced?
Try baby steps, to overcome your lazy-self. Let’s say you want to exercise everyday but you’re tired, not motivated enough, not in the mood or you just feel lazy as hell, but you know deep down inside that you would really like to exercise everyday. Set up a timer for 5 minutes and exercise whatever you like. You like squats, do squats, you like stretch, stretch for 5 minutes, if you like jumping rope, jump for 5 minutes. But not more. Only 5 minutes. When the timer rings, stop and give yourself a high five. Next day do exactly the same. Only 5 minutes. 5 minutes is so short, that your brain won’t be able to talk yourself out of it. When this 5 minutes of exercise becomes a habit, and you will not have to convince yourself to do it every time, switch the timer for 10 minutes and add some more type of exercise (or more repetitions of the same exercise). And then exercise for 10 minutes each day until it becomes a habit. I know it’s a tiny baby steps and it seems like it 5 minute exercise wont change much, but remember that the best exercises are the one that you actually do. Not the on that you think would be the best, but you’re not able to do them at the moment. Someone will tell you that an hour training a day gives the best results, but at the stage you’re at the moment, you’re not able to workout for an hour. But that 5 minutes a day is better than nothing at all. That’s how I started exercising. Just 10 minutes every morning. When this became a habit I added a bit more exercise. After some time your body gets used to exercise so much, that it will feel the urge to move even if your brain won’t feel like it.
Exactly the same situation with food. You’d like to include more veggies into your diet? But it’s difficult for you to start preparing meals full of veg, or simply you don’t like cooking. Find one vegetable you really like and have it on hand. You don’t have any particular veg you like, but you actually like smoothies? Make yourself an everyday smoothie. Explore smoothie world. Everyone say: avocado is the healthiest veg, but you absolutely hate it? It doesn’t mean that you can’t eat healthy, because you hate avocados. Eat carrots or beets. Or green beans. Or challenge yourself trying all veggies in the shop you can find. Everyday different veg.
And for God’s sake don’t punish yourself if you fail. You failed because you were stressed/sad/angry/tired and you ate a pack of doughnuts, and now you think all your healthy life went to trash because of that, and you will never ever become healthy? Start brand new tomorrow. You can always do better.
We usually underestimate things we can do little but often. I love the example that one of the authors always gives: what will be better in the long run – exercising 5 times a week for 15 minutes, or going to the gym once a month for 10 hours? Ignore the fact that no one would be able to exercise for 10 hours in the gym, but we actually underestimate what we can do by taking small steps. Perhaps the effect will not be visible and noticeable immediately, but going to have better and more long-term effects, than single outbursts of motivation.
You don’t have good enough reason
Maybe becoming healthy is not good enough reason for you? How come? – how just being healthy would might not be good enough reason?
Being healthy is not good enough reward – you’re healthy, so what? Why do you want to be healthy? What does it mean for you? Maybe you love hillwalking and being healthy and strong will let you go for longer distance trips and see places you’d love to see? Maybe you would like to be able to play with your grandkids and see how they grow? Maybe you would like to have a dog that requires lots of activities, and you would like to be able go for long walks? Find a good reason, whatever floats your boat. So when your brain will try to lead you astray, remind yourself that reason. You can also pop a sticky note on your fridge: I EAT HEALTHY – that might help you making better decisions, because you will feel committed to that sentence.
Remember that food should not only be healthy, it should also be tasty. Unfortunately, lots of tasty food we are used to eat is not necessarily healthy. Combination of sugar and fat (that I believe doesn’t exist in nature) actually has a narcotic effect, so we are not always able to manipulate our mind, so it’s better to manipulate our environment. I’m sure you noticed that in the morning you’re more motivated to make healthy decisions. It’s easier to eat healthy breakfast than healthy supper, to workout in the morning rather than in the afternoon. Take advantage of it, and when you prepare your healthy breakfast, make your healthy dinner ready, so when you come back home in the evening, you will have it ready in your fridge. And you will be less tempted to order some junk food or dig in the cupboards looking for some snacks.
Ask yourself whether what I eat helps me to be who I want to be or doesn’t help?
Have you noticed any of these issues that stops you from taking action and becoming healthy? I would be happy to read your tips ans your ways to deal with them, so do not hesitate and leave a comment or send a feedback.
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