Resolutions and Relapses

As we head into April, I’m going to go out on a limb and say the vast majority of people have long given up on their New Year’s Resolutions. Why is this? We start the year off gung-ho with the best intentions, and can’t find a spot in the gym classes AT LEAST until Martin Luther King Day. Then rapidly people fall off and are right back into their old habits. In addition to being an online kettlebell coach, I work for a non-profit that provides free fitness programming to people in drug and alcohol addiction recovery and work with many people who have relapsed multiple times. There are a couple of parallels I have drawn from drug and alcohol recovery relapses and abandoning resolutions early in the year.

1. Temporarily changing behaviors instead of changing mindset

2. Giving up when we fail instead of viewing failure as a step on the pathway to success

Temporarily Changing Behaviors Instead of Mindset:

Consider this scenario. Larry has a resolution to “lose 10 pounds.”  He decides to exercise 4 times a week and cut out sugary snacks but he doesn’t change his mindset. He adds a workout to his “to-do” list but doesn’t become the type of person who wakes up at 6AM to hit the gym and who doesn’t even consider that piece of birthday cake in the office break room. He bargains with himself instead of making these behaviors non-negotiable. “Well, just this one piece and I’ll run an extra two miles” or “I’ll hit snooze today but will add an extra one in Sunday.” We all know you can’t out-exercise a poor diet and these makeup sessions rarely happen. I’m not saying there aren’t times to splurge once you have a track record but starting out already making concessions is a recipe for giving up before he is two weeks in.  Similarly, when I was trying to find ways to manage drinking, I would say ‘Ok, just two glasses of wine today” which always turned into far more. I would have it in my head that I would limit myself but I hadn’t changed my mindset to one of a non-drinker. It was only when I realized that me drinking in moderation was something that did not exist could I completely abstain and not have an issue being around it. A very good friend said, “How are you out and not drooling over the alcohol everyone is drinking?” Because I had changed my mindset. It was my new reality. I used the analogy that it would be cool to teleport but I couldn’t so I wasn’t going to sit around being upset about it just like me drinking in moderation isn’t a thing, and exists just as much as teleportation so why worry about that either? It just isn’t part of my reality. If I person has the mindset and belief that they are now a different person, the likelihood of them sticking with their resolutions is much higher.

Giving Up When We fail Instead of Viewing Failure as a Step on the Pathway to Success

“I didn’t fail 1000 times trying to invent the lightbulb. I found 1000 ways to not make a light bulb.” -Thomas Edison.

A big mistake people make is thinking that failure and success are opposites. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. People who are failing are trying. And learning. A baby doesn’t give up on learning how to walk after falling down a time or two. Ask a person in long time recovery who relapsed a few times before it stuck what she learned. Just like when a baby falls, he learns a little more and starts to course correct, an addict who relapses learns a little more about what works and doesn’t work for her recovery. Just like if we forgive ourselves when we slip up on resolutions and use it as a learning experience, we are more likely to make long-term changes. Progress isn’t linear. We try something. It doesn’t work. We course correct and go on about our way until we realize again that something isn’t working. Repeat. For pretty much everything in life. So LEARN from your slip-ups instead of using them as an excuse to give up completely. Dr. John Berardi wrote a great article on The Benefits of Indulging that you can check out and it focuses on the positives and what we can learn when we fall off the exercises and nutrition wagon.

So when you go full force into a new habit and make a small slip-up (like missing a workout or having extra dessert), think of the big picture and what you can learn from it. Remember WHY you decided to make those changes, course correct and be right back on your healthy journey. Focus on your mindset and who you are becoming.

What’s the Best Diet?

Short answer: The one you stick with.

Everywhere you turn there is a new eating plan. Many are just repurposed versions of methods that have been around for decades. There is so much conflicting “research” that it’s difficult to discern what’s good for you and what’s a “fad” – or even what’s a “fad” that’s also good for you. And by now we all know you can find research to back up ANYTHING you want to think is a good idea so just because a method is “scientifically proven” doesn’t mean… really anything.

Over the years I’m pretty sure I’ve tried some version of every diet imaginable. The two things I KNOW to be true are:

  1. Added processed sugar is bad news.
  2.  Mindless eating is a dangerous pitfall.

Perhaps for your New Year’s Resolutions, you chose a plan that didn’t fit into your lifestyle. Or maybe you bit off more than you could chew trying to deprive or eliminate EVERYTHING all at once instead of taking baby steps toward your goals. There is a simpler (and easier!) way to make strides toward your goals. There is a saying that the marginal plan you stick with is better than the perfect plan you abandon.

To take a page out of my friend Josh Hillis‘s playbook, I’m going to challenge you to keep a food journal for 10 days. I’m not going to ask you to choose to be “Paleo” or do a “Whole30” or be a vegetarian or follow any other plan that’s out there. For just ten days, I’m asking you to write every single thing you eat down on paper (or in an app) and explore why and what you are eating.

By being accountable to yourself you will second guess your choices and become more aware of your habits and patterns. Here are some questions to consider when you are recording your food:

  1. Why am I eating? (i.e. Am I hungry or bored? Did I just grab a handful of Goldfish crackers when making my kid’s lunch and almost not realize it?)
  2. Is this the best choice I have available to me? If not, is it meaningful and delicious? (For example, I talk a lot about my Aunt Teri’s carrot cake. It’s not the best option available but I see her MAYBE three times a year and I eat her carrot cake without thinking twice about whether or not it’s the best option.)
  3. Is eating this food moving me towards or away from my goals? There are no neutral foods. Everything you eat is either getting you closer to your goal or moving you away from it. Please do not interpret this as you need to starve yourself. I find a lot of dieters actually eat too few calories. Here I’m talking about the food choices within your calories consumed.

You don’t need to show your food journal to ANYONE. This exercise is to learn about yourself and your patterns and where you can make small steps toward lasting change. Try it out for just ten days and see what you figure out!

You Can’t Outswing a Doughnut

Right now we are coming to the end of the first week of our New Year’s Challenge. People participating asked me for a fourth one because they wanted a little extra in their Resolutions kickstart – and that’s great. BUT…

You can’t outswing a doughnut. I know, I know. Trust me, if I had my way I could eat whatever I want and work it off in the gym. It just (unfortunately) doesn’t work that way.

Don’t get me wrong – you will never get the physique you want without exercise but diet is the major player in fat loss. Trying to burn off extra meals and drinks doesn’t work in the long run and then it puts us in a vicious cycle of thinking of eating something off plan as a sin and exercise as a punishment.

So what is the answer?

  • Try to consistently make better choices. What is the good, better and best choice in the situation?
  • Think of your food as fuel. Because it is. What is going to better nourish your body?
  • Eat slowly and to 80% full.

And if you want to sweat an extra day this week, by all means do an extra workout. But don’t do it so you can fall face first into cake tonight.