“…Before happiness and success comes your perception of the world. So before we can be happy and successful, we need to create a positive reality that allows us to see the possibility for both.”
-Shawn Achor, bestselling author
Which is more important: nutrition or exercise?
Let’s settle this debate, once and for all. No doubt you’ve heard this debate and probably fall on one side or the other–or perhaps somewhere in between. By and large, most people will fall into the “abs are made in the kitchen camp,” touting the idea that nutrition has more of an impact on your body than exercise–and this is partially true.
Getting your sweat on will certainly help you build muscle and strength, and can absolutely contribute to your metabolism, in turn, aiding in the loss of body fat. But, you won’t necessarily lose much fat or see any significant progress if your nutritional efforts don’t match your fitness efforts.
Diet and exercise are two sides of the same coin, and the relationship flows well when the two are in perfect harmony.
But the truth is, when it comes to sustainable fat loss, endured healthy habits, and a wholehearted life, the real answer is neither. What you eat and how much you eat of it will certainly have a great impact on your body. How you move and how often you move will undoubtedly affect the shape your body takes and how it performs.
Diet and exercise are both integral building blocks of a fit lifestyle, but how you think about these things is even more important. What’s most important when it comes to cultivating a sustainable, fit, happy life has nothing to do with your body at all, but rather your mindset.
Mindset-or the way you perceive your world-has to come first if you want to truly change your habits, and escape the constant trap of rebounding and yo-yo dieting. Think about it: how many different diets, training programs, and workout fads are there in existence? How many times have you, or people you know, jumped from diet to diet, lost weight and gained it back, and yo-yo’d on the fitness spectrum over and over again?
That’s because the real power to change isn’t external at all–it doesn’t lie in a diet or a workout plan, it lies within you. It’s all in your head.
So if you ask me what’s the number one thing you can do for your body, I’ll say this:
Many of us fall victim to the if/then trap, thinking that if we can lose weight, then we will be happy. If we can get fit, then we will adopt a positive mindset. If we can look a certain way or have a certain life, then we will experience success. But the truth is, mindset is the driving force behind sustainable changes–when your mindset shifts, so does everything else.
Taking a “mindset first” approach will ensure that you:
1) Enjoy the transformation process
2) Sustain healthy habits
With a positive mindset, “I have to workout” becomes “I get to workout,” and “I can’t eat that” becomes “I choose not to eat that.” With a mindset that is trained to see the most positive reality, the pursuit of fitness becomes an enjoyable journey in which you experience victories and valuable lessons every single day.
Most of all, with a mindset shift, you’ll learn to stop torturing yourself with a strict diet and using exercise as a form of punishment. You’ll care for your body with nourishing food and regular exercise because you LOVE your body. And what’s more, you’ll be capable of loving your body at every step throughout the process–not just once you’ve reached your goals.
Alas, I do understand that simply changing one’s mindset is a challenging endeavor; It’s not difficult to empathize with the many people who believe it to be impossible. There have been times I’ve attempted to give clients permission to love their bodies now, and they’ve responded as such:
“I’ll love myself when I’m thinner.”
“If I love myself now, I’ll never try to change.”
I understand that, because I know that the task seems nebulous and farfetched. I know that after years of hating your body and never getting the results you want, it’s difficult to imagine a world in which you accept yourself just the way you are. I know that we fear the lack of progress and often confuse acceptance with complacency.
Most of all, I know how hard it can be to grasp the concept that you can love your body even if you want it to change. But I can also tell you that anything is possible with enough practice and dedication.
Which leads me to the question you’re probably pondering: How do you develop a successful mindset that allows you to see your body as beautiful now AND 20 pounds from now? How do you get ya’ mind right, when it seems to constantly be telling you how inadequate you are? The answer is simple but not easy: Practice.
How do you train your mind to use more positive self talk? Practice. How do you break the binge cycle, and learn how to indulge intelligently? Practice. Daily practice, day after day, year after year. Even at my level of awareness and acceptance, I still practice daily through journaling, reading, and self-refelction. This is what keeps me positive and successful no matter my external environment. It’s not a quick fix or a magic pill–it’s a lifestyle.
I want to help you get started on that path, and feel the bliss and freedom that comes with loving your body now. That freedom allows you break free from shame, self-loathing, and constant rebounding. To help you get ya’ mind right and begin a daily mindset practice, here are a few simple strategies that you can begin to implement into your life.
Keep a daily gratitude journal
This can be as simple as writing down 3 things you’re grateful for or as in depth as writing a few pages on appreciation for a certain person or event. The exactitudes of your journaling habits are not important; what’s important is that by keeping a daily gratitude journal, you train your brain to pick out the positives in every day life. The more you do that, the more seeing “the bright side” so to speak, will become a way of life.
Filter your intrinsic self-talk
How many times a day do you look in the mirror and say nasty things about yourself? Or pinch your belly in utter disgust? This kind of behavior messes with your perspective like you wouldn’t believe. The next time you find yourself having an “I’m so gross” thought, turn it around.
Do a complete 180. “I’m so fat” becomes “I’m not so fat.” “I’m disgusting” becomes “I’m beautiful.” Rather than let your inner voice berate and insult you, allow it to nurture and uplift you. Do this daily, and before you know it, you’ll have turned your inner voice from an enemy to a friend.
Filter your extrinsic self-talk
The way you speak to yourself matters. It matters a lot. But what matters equally as much is the way we speak about ourselves to others. In The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz writes about being impeccable with your word, which includes abstaining from gossip. But he isn’t just referring to gossip about others: what about the way in which we gossip about ourselves?
How many times have you said negative things about yourself, your perceived failures, your physique to your friends and loved ones? How many times have you deflected a compliment with a joke or a flat out denial of said compliment?
Stop it. Just stop it. Nobody wants to hear you say nasty things about yourself, and everyone is terribly uncomfortable when their compliments are deflected. Practice only saying positive things about yourself in conversation, and if that proves difficult at first, refrain from speaking about yourself at all, keeping the conversation on others.
Furthermore, practice the art of taking compliments. This is a tough habit to hone, but it can be done. When you receive a compliment, simply say “thank you.” You’ll likely find yourself fighting the urge to say otherwise, and it might even manifest physically like a tightening in your chest or a racing of your heart–fight it. Say thank you and move on.
Practice daily self compassion
The pursuit of improvement can often lead to the exact opposite: neglect of one’s self. We can work so hard to get better that we forget to actually feel better on a daily basis. It’s important to practice compassion towards yourself in order to avoid exhaustion, overworking, overtraining, and general feelings of failure.
Take a bath. Go for a leisure walk. Meditate for 5 minutes a day. Cultivate a nightly “beauty routine.” Take 15 minutes every morning just for yourself. Drink a lot of water. Get enough sleep. Write compassionate, loving things about yourself in your gratitude journal. Look in the mirror and say “I love you” out loud.
And most of all, give yourself a damn break–emotionally and physically. You don’t need to be so hard on yourself.
Learn to let go of the “pursuit of perfect”
Perfect is a myth. It’s a fabricated ideal that none of us can really emanate, no matter how hard we try. There’s no such thing as a perfect body, a perfect mother, a perfect home, or a perfect career. The pursuit of perfect has one outcome: bitter disappointment.
You don’t need to be perfect, you just need to do your best. And you can only truly do your best (without the goal of perfection) once you realize that your best is different every single day. Some days you’ll be exhausted, ill, and downtrodden. Other days you’ll be energized, productive, and jubilant. Regardless of what kind of day it is, give what you have to give, and accept the inevitable fact that it’s going to fluctuate from day to day.
In that same vein, understand that your best has nothing to do with anyone else. Comparing yourself to others is an endless trap that will bring you nothing but misery. It doesn’t actually motivate or inspire, rather elicits jealousy, envy, and feelings of inadequacy.
Focus on your journey, and doing your best every day, and you’ll soon accept that you are exactly where you’re supposed to be.