Ask a Health Coach: Why Starting is So Hard
This week, Board-Certified health and wellness coach Chloé Maleski is here to answer a few of your questions regarding New Year’s Resolutions, specifically why starting them is such a challenge. If you’re struggling to get going, you’ll definitely want to check out Chloé’s recommendations in today’s post. We love getting your questions, so drop them in the comments below or in our Mark’s Daily Apple Facebook group.
“I’m committed to eating healthier this year, but if I see pizza, corn chips, or cookies in the pantry or fridge, I can’t resist. I’ve tried keeping fresh veggies, bison burgers, and salmon on hand, but I always give in to the junk food first. Got any tips for staying on track?”
If you want to start eating differently, you have to set your environment up for success. Think about the foods in your pantry and fridge right now. Does keeping pizza, corn chips, and cookies on hand get you closer to your results or further away? Sure, buying fresh produce and protein-rich foods is a great place to begin. But if you really want to get off on the right foot, you’ve got to purge the junk, especially if they’re a trigger for you. People tend to believe that their healthy habits are formed by motivation and willpower. It’s actually your environment that pulls the biggest lever.
According to habit expert, James Clear, “If you want to maximize your odds of success, then you need to operate in an environment that accelerates your results rather than hinders them.” That being said, my first recommendation is to do a pantry purge.
Step 1: Purge your Pantry
With a pantry purge, you clean out any foods you don’t want to be tempted by. That means tossing or donating all the processed foods, sugar, and industrialized oils from your cabinets, fridge, and freezer. When you remove the foods that tempt you, and replace them with ones that support your goal, you have the best possible chance of succeeding. So, take this opportunity to design an environment that makes it easy to make smart decisions.
To avoid getting overwhelmed, do this task when you won’t be disturbed and start with one area, like the fridge. Begin on the top shelf and work your way down, reading labels and setting aside foods that don’t fit into your healthy eating plan. Keep in mind that doing a pantry purge when you’re hungry is a recipe for disaster, so fill up on protein and healthy fats first.
Step 2: Toss, Donate, or Place Out of Sight
You can donate your purged foods to a food bank or dump them in the trash or compost and recycle the containers. Dead set on keeping certain foods around? Your best bet is to place them out of your direct line of sight. That’s because foods that are placed at eye level tend to be eaten more frequently.
Ever wonder why grocery stores put candy and other processed convenience foods at the check-out line? It’s based on a concept known as decision fatigue. Psychologists found that the more decisions you’re faced with, the more fatigued your willpower becomes. And the more you open your fridge and see leftover pizza, the less likely you’ll be to cook up a pack of bison burgers.
Step 3: Replace with Healthier Foods
You don’t have to fill your cart with 100% organic, grass-fed foods. Just buy the foods that support your health goals and make you feel energized. And here’s the kicker, don’t purchase that junk food again. Even for “just in case” reasons. If you don’t want to be tempted by it, don’t buy it in the first place. Full stop.
I’m not one for meal plans and recipes, but Mark has a fantastic Primal Blueprint shopping list you can refer to. As you might imagine, it’s filled with meat, fish, vegetables, nuts and seeds, and fruit. And, obviously, no corn chips.
You’ve probably seen the stats on New Year’s resolutions. An estimated 80% of people give up by the second week of February, and most don’t even make it that long. In fact, Strava analyzed user data from more than 800 million logged activities and found that the average date people dropped their fitness-related goals was January 17.
How to Foolproof Your Workouts
It’s not just about the workout, it’s about creating the habit of working out. See the difference? It’s easy to get discouraged when you think, “All I had to do was exercise, and I didn’t even do it!” But you’re creating a new routine in your life and in your daily schedule — and that takes mental and physical effort. And because the brain likes to keep things simple (and keep you in your comfort zone), it takes less effort to do what you’ve always done versus trying something new.
- Deciding when you’ll exercise (what days and what time of day)
- Figuring out what kind of workout you’ll do (and where you’ll do it)
- Blocking off time on your calendar
- Setting out exercise clothes and shoes (and equipment if necessary)
- Finding an accountability buddy to help you stay on track
- Discovering your “why” (why is exercising important to you?)
- Getting clear on the consequences of not completing your workout
Let me elaborate on that last one a bit. It’s easy enough to miss one workout. And honestly, not a big deal in the general scheme of things. But what happens when one workout becomes two, and then you decide you’ll start again next week or next month, suddenly, it’s New Year’s Eve 2022 and you’re making the same resolution all over again?
The Psychology of Creating Habits
Look at this a different way. Let’s say you normally brush and floss your teeth at night, and then one night you’re so exhausted that you decide to skip it. Do you get frustrated with yourself and decide to skip brushing for the rest of the week, month, or year?
No, you brush them when you wake up in the morning.
And then you do it again that night. And if you forget or are too exhausted, you do it when you can, or you adjust your schedule so that it becomes a priority. American philosopher William James had the theory that habits are a result of repeating the same action over and over again until they’re automatic.
Tending to your oral hygiene is an important part of your overall health (and generally makes you feel good). The same thing goes for working out. You don’t need to beat yourself up if you miss one day. You just need to pick up where you left off and then keep going. Or in your case, you just need to start.
Start Small (These Exercises Count Too)
Remember, exercise doesn’t have to look like an epic run, 90-minute boot camp class, or two-hour bike ride. It could be as simple as:
- Taking the stairs instead of the escalator
- Walking around the block
- Doing tricep dips or squats while you’re waiting for your Zoom meeting to start
- Holding a plank while you’re waiting for the next Netflix episode to load
- Parking in the furthest spot from the store
- Gardening, dancing, or playing with your pet
- Any form of microworkout (these are workouts you can do in 2 minutes or less)
Every form of movement counts. So, start small, be consistent, and before you know it, exercise will be as automatic as brushing your teeth.
What’s been your biggest obstacle to getting started?
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