Over the course of my career, I’ve worked with hundreds of people looking to improve their diet or stick to an exercise plan. It’s hard for anyone to truly make a change, especially if they have years or decades of less than stellar habits. I’ve written about my own journey here.
So, what’s the secret for actually making a lifestyle last…well…forever?
Make your meals satisfying and enjoy what you’re doing for an exercise program.
For diet: If you are cooking healthy meals that you don’t enjoy, your journey at cooking healthy will be short lived. The common American comfort foods are popular for a reason – they’re satisfying and they keep us wanting to come back for more! So, how can you make your home cooked meals or healthy meal dining out satisfying?
- Add fat for flavor. Fats tend to get bad press. Remember in the early 90’s when everything needed to be low fat? All fats are not bad fats. My go-to fat choices are olive oil, ghee, coconut oil or even butter. I rarely eat vegetables raw or steamed because I simply don’t like them as much (except carrots, leafy greens & steamed green beans because they are enjoyable). I roast or sauté almost all of my vegetables with my choice of fat. This is what keeps me eating vegetables every single day. My current top four veggies choices: sautéed zucchini noodles (garlic powder, salt, pepper in ghee), sautéed mushrooms (with minced garlic, salt, pepper in ghee), roasted sweet potatoes (chili powder, salt, pepper in olive oil), roasted Brussels sprouts (garlic powder, salt, pepper, in olive oil).
- Find healthy snacks you love. Every week, I buy a container of fresh almond butter from my local PCC grocery store. It’s expensive but it’s a 10 on a satisfaction level and it helps me from wanting to eat sugar. Sometimes I eat it on celery, while most times, I get out my tablespoon and a tiny spoon to eat it with. I eat two TBs slowly and savor. Other things I enjoy: roasted nuts, Pink lady apples, whole carrots, bell peppers, a plain rice cake with almond butter + fruit spread or my Trader Joe nitrite-free ham. All great healthy choices, but most of all, they tame my sugar cravings because I find all these snacks very satisfying.
- Choose a variety of protein choices. Yes, there are many benefits to white fish, chicken breast or 99% ground turkey. I have many go-to meals where those choices are delicious, but I don’t eat them 24/7. Egg whites also fall into this category. I incorporate eggs, chicken thighs, pulled pork or steaks a few times in my weekly meals. Since they have more flavor because of the slightly higher fat level, they keep me on track instead of wanting to get takeout Thai, pizza or burgers. Plus, it’s a nice balance between the leaner choices I make throughout the week. Example: A few meals a week for breakfast I’ll make two fried eggs, I’ll choose the carnitas at the Whole Foods buffet for lunch and for the past month, I’ve been roasting chicken thighs for one meal a week. Since my satisfaction level is so high with these meals, I don’t find myself with sugar cravings afterwards or wishing I had gone out for pizza instead.
Bottom line: I prefer to make the healthy choices over my favorite comfort foods because I learned how to make them really satisfying. I still love going out for pizza, but I no longer want it as much as I used to.
For exercise: Ask yourself if you look forward to your next workout? If exercise feels like a chore, you might not have found what you like yet. I realize there are some people who simply don’t like exercising, but there has to be a reason to keep them doing it every week. Do they like the increased energy? Do they like how it relieves stress? Do they like how their clothes fit? Do they enjoy the personal satisfaction of completing a workout? Regardless, there needs to find a deep reason for exercising every week, otherwise it won’t truly stick as a lifestyle. Here are some my go-to workout choices and the reasoning behind it.
- Walking. I walk at least 30 minutes every day. For me, I have to move daily to release the small stressors in life that build up. Walking allows me to clear my head, resets my intentions and truly makes me feel better. I also like the personal satisfaction of hitting my step goal of 10,000+ steps. Lastly, it’s an opportunity to spend time with my dog. He loves his walks and when he is happy, I’m happy.
- Strength Training. I commit to three full body workouts a week. I try to stick to the same days every week for the habit (Tuesday, Friday, Sunday). These are usually my favorite days of the week for exercise. Lifting weights makes me feel strong physically and mentally, plus I like the challenge of trying new movements. I switch my strength program every four weeks to prevent boredom, but also to keep my body from adapting to my program.
- High Intensity Intervals. Again, I try to stick to specific days of the week for the habit. I take a boxing class every Thursday morning. Nothing feels better than hitting and kicking the crap out of a punching bag. I also enjoy incline walking. Recently, I’ve set the goal of trying to climb 2,000 feet in less than 30 minutes. It’s my latest challenge! I also love completing sprint intervals. All three of these workouts leave me feeling happier after ever session.
Bottom line: if you haven’t found something you like to do for exercise, be open minded and try new things. Maybe you’ll learn you love to exercise in a group setting or in the comfort of your own home.
If you are currently working on building lasting healthy habits, pay attention to what may cause you to fall off track. Are you not enjoying your workouts? Are your meals satisfying? After years of practice and learning, I’ve finally found what works for me. Don’t give up on your journey. The more your work it, the easier it gets! Remember, you don’t want to strive to be perfect. 80-90% compliance gets great results and truly helps a habit stick forever.