It’s approaching that time of year when those resolutions and goals to exercise, eat better, get more sleep, drink less alcohol, drink more water, quit smoking, meditate more, stress less, (fill in the blank) begins to fall by the wayside. With that being said, please don’t beat yourself up over it. Each and every year these types of failures reach epidemic proportions only to be forgotten and tried again the following January.
10.. 9.. 8.. 7.. 6.. 5.. 4.. 3.. 2.. 1… HAPPY NEXT YEAR!
Why do we fail?
Your goals are not realistic
If you went from eating whatever you wanted that included foods that were high in calories and low in nutrients to “eating clean” where you stripped all those comfort foods out of the equation, you’re bound to struggle just dealing with the intense cravings alone. People often underestimate the power of cravings. Plus, for some, those cravings are actually addictions that must be worked through.
If you went from hitting the gym or taking a walk once or twice a month to flipping a switch and going 5x a week, those high aspirations (just like drastically changing your diet overnight) more often than not lead to failure, which in turn introduces a hefty helping of guilt. Fail to succeed at something too many times and you will begin to distrust yourself and not want to try it ever again.
“I didn’t fail the test, I just found 100 ways to do it wrong.”
― Benjamin Franklin
Your goals are not specific
I always start by asking my clients what their goals are. A few common answers include “I want to feel good” or “I want to start eating clean” or “I want to get into really good shape.” Sounds fine, right? To me those answers are equivalent to a band telling their audio engineer that they want a “wall of sound” or the kick drum to sound “like a pillow getting hit with a sledge hammer.” My musician and engineer friends out there will know exactly what I’m talking about here.
Confusion often sets in when I ask what each of those goals actually mean. This is the beginning (and should be your beginning). This is when I play detective and find out, for example, that “feeling good” to them might mean waking up with more energy or not crashing everyday at 2pm or not waking up hungover every Saturday. When I might find out that “eating clean” to them (BTW, it’s different for everyone) means not eating so much sugar, trying to find out what veggies they will actually like, or if they should go on a Vegan, Paleo or the (insert dietary theory here) diet. When I might find out that “getting into really good shape” means that they want to lose 30 pounds or figure out how to get ripped abs like movie stars or look great in a bikini.
Health goals must be specific and measurable or they will fail.
Your goals lack a system to succeed
When you’re trying to get better at something – your diet, regular exercise, playing the piano, skydiving, etc. it is crucial that you have a well-designed system to guide you in the right direction. While I know nothing about skydiving (and never want to – no way), I do know quite a bit about advising others on nutrition, fitness and lifestyle. Remember when you learned to ride a bike without training wheels with no adult supervision? Remember how you just hopped on that bike with carefree abandon and rode full speed down the biggest hill in your neighborhood while popping a wheelie the whole way? Of course not, because you had adult supervision – someone who knew exactly how to ride a bike – someone who taught you how to find your balance, steer and brake – someone who wanted to teach you how to ride correctly – someone who made sure you didn’t pull out in front of a car – someone who picked you up and dusted you off
if when you fell down.
When focusing on the glorious outcome, it’s easy to get lost looking ahead, daydreaming about victory, forgetting that all accomplishments are rewarded for the systematic approach which was taken to get there. In fact, in many situations, the damaging effects of goal setting outweigh its benefits.
Focus on the process (the system you have chosen) on a daily basis and try your best to not get caught up in the need for instant gratification – this is how a new lifestyle is created, a sustainable and enjoyable one – self improvement should NOT equal deprivation. When creating this new lifestyle, it is incredibly vital that you search out a pro who has your best interests in mind. Someone able to create a system/program that is designed specifically for your unique life and circumstances.
How to defy the odds; tips for long-term, surefire success with
weightfat-loss and exercise
Since fat-loss and sustainable exercise are the two most common goals, I will cover these in this blog.
Remember that the occasional treat is not a bad thing. In fact, having that cookie or slice of pizza from time to time can actually HELP you in the long run. Categorizing foods as “good” and “bad” can create an unhealthy relationship with food. The same goes for cheat meals as a cheat meal is stating that you’re cheating on a diet, being naughty. Plus, you’re not on a diet are you? Good – because they don’t work! Also, restricting certain types of foods puts you at serious risk of nutrient deficiencies that can leave you worse off than when you began.
A great starting point is to focus on the 80/20 rule. Example: if you eat 3 meals a day; breakfast, lunch and dinner – that equals 21 meals per week. Enjoying a comfort food 4 of those meals (20%) per week will help keep you satisfied and those feelings of deprivation and intense cravings should be rare, if at all. If you’re sneaking around dipping candy bars into peanut butter and eating it like you’ve just returned from being stranded on an island, there’s a good chance that you are on a diet and not creating a lifestyle. Try 80/20.
Whether you are striving to lose body fat OR have your mind set on a specific aesthetic, as stated above, it is an absolute must that you stop looking at food as good vs. bad and realize that your caloric intake plays the biggest role – burn more calories than you consume (calorie deficit) and you will lose weight. But… but… that internet health guru said that I don’t ever need to worry about calories… that calories don’t matter… that I can eat as much as I want as long as it’s “real” food. Sorry, this is just not true. While I don’t preach counting calories (I have other methods) they most definitely, without question, matter. But your Paleo friend eats what seems to be a TON of food and says you don’t have to? That’s because high fat foods and protein are very satiating. Your Plant Based or Vegan friend is thin and doesn’t worry about calories? Maybe they’re under calorie every day. Your friend at work eats whatever they want and they never gain weight? They could have more lean muscle tissue or it could be their non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). With that being said, don’t take that as advice to eat whatever you want as long as you’re under a certain amount of calories per day. This is where many in the IIFIYM world get it dead wrong. You could hit your goals by only eating Pop Tarts, protein shakes and taking supplements – why would you want to? This is an absolutely terrible idea for long term health AND body composition. Consult with a knowledgeable professional and use, you know, common sense. Keep your overall health and longevity at the center of your aspirations – I suggest applying this principle to every aspect of your life. Know that calorie counting is NOT for everyone AND that calories can differ greatly depending on how far food travels to get to the grocery store, how it was cooked, your digestion, individual metabolism, etc. With that being said, calories are still the best we’ve got when it comes to measuring energy balance. By the way, if you do have your mind set on a certain body composition or sport/fitness performance – the optimal makeup of your macros (protein, carbs and fats) is paramount.
I train Muay Thai and strength train 4-6 days each week. Before that, my exercise routine included a lot of walking (especially after my hip resurfacing surgery 5 years ago) and the occasional gym visit – usually for a month or so and then I’d quit going. Again. The potent mixture of low self confidence and limiting disabilities were potent reasons for me to stay away from a world that I viewed as out of my realm. I now hold my head high and walk (limp) with confidence when I train. Reason being, I found something that I truly enjoy. Even though I am held back by physical limitations and even though it takes me much longer than everyone else to figure out techniques, it’s okay. I am forced to learn in my own way – to modify movements in a way that works for me. The point? Find something you love and keep at it no matter what. Consistency is key.
Don’t like regular gyms? Don’t go to a regular gym. Don’t like exercising indoors? Find enjoyable exercises that can be done outdoors. Never exercised a day in your life and don’t know where to start? Research and have fun. Try out different exercises, gyms, etc. You will find that most gyms offer free (or cheap) classes. Take a month or two and visit different places until something clicks inside you – it will, I promise.
Here‘s a great article on restarting (or beginning) your exercise habit.
If fitness already plays a part in your lifestyle and you can’t lose fat OR reach an aesthetic goal, it is time to change up your routine; nutrition, exercise or both. As stated above, to reach a certain aesthetic goal, it’s imperative that you find out what you need to be eating in accordance with your fitness routine – this is where “eating clean” won’t cut it. You need to know what your unique body needs in the way of macronutrients, sleep, rest, etc. to destroy and conquer your aesthetic goals; finally seeing those abs to losing 50 pounds. Always aim to step up your performance in whatever you take part in; from martial arts to body building to yoga to meditation.
“Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.” ~Jim Rohn
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Christopher Hostetler is the founder of Do Not Die Young – Integrative Health & Nutrition Coaching. He’s a proud father, gunshot survivor, musician, writer and Muay Thai enthusiast residing in Los Angeles. He has made self evolution through nutrition, lifestyle, and mental and physical wellness his life’s work.