5 Things to Ask Yourself Before Starting a Diet or Fitness Program

The time-honored part of the year for getting “back on track” or starting that new “diet” is now in full swing. It’s the time when gyms and yoga classes are packed to the brim and we make our customary New Year’s resolution to lose weight and get healthy.

Making resolutions at this time of year is very understandable. No one likes to feel unhealthy or to look in the mirror and not like what they see. So, this edges us towards the prospect of change. Keep in mind, the stress of not changing has to feel worse than the stress caused by changing. Otherwise, we don’t do it, or worse, we’ll do it in a way that is not realistic, makes us dread waking up every morning, and eventually leads to the inevitable crash and burn.

So, we give up . . . Which only makes us feel guilty, resort to old ways, and then back to square-one you go. On the flip side, you may do really well and lose a few pounds on whatever rigid program you opted to try. "Yay!"  This feels great so you reward yourself by having a “cheat meal” because “I deserve it." Since you didn’t start off in a way that is realistic or sustainable, this cheat meal leads to another . . . And another . . . And you’re back to your usual ways before you know it; having gained all the weight back (and then some!). You feel "blah" again, but at least you get to eat what you love and don’t have to stress about getting that intense workout in at the break of dawn every day.

Sound familiar? This pattern which I’m describing is very common – it’s referred to as the “all-or-nothing” approach. You are either “on” or “off” your diet. You either give up (insert perceived favorite-weight-gain-causing-food such as bread, pasta, or chocolate) completely or binge on it because you felt so deprived and eventually caved.

This way of thinking may serve us in other areas of life but not when it comes to our health. Research backs up that the slow, sustainable approach is what works – whether you want to lose weight, feel more energetic, or manage a health condition. Becoming your healthiest self takes time – you didn't gain weight overnight so why expect that you can or should be able to lose it overnight? 

Take a look at the people within the National Weight Control Registry (http://nwcr.ws/stories.htm) – a database of those who have lost a significant amount of weight and have kept it off:  One of the characteristics they share is taking a flexible versus rigid approach when it comes to their food choices.  

Between myself and my clients, I have countless experiences that further confirm this. In fact, I’m as confident about the slow, sustainable lifestyle approach versus the strict and rigid approach as I am that ice cream should be its own food group (I know, a dietitian saying this . . . Can you believe it? :o)

My firm belief in this inspired the creation of a new exclusively online program ‘From Fad to Fab – Craving Healthy Habits’.  It's geared to help you kick fads to the curb, create healthy habits FOR GOOD, and finally love your lifestyle, 

I know all this might be hard to muster. I see the skeptical looks on the faces of my clients all the time . . . But it's soon followed by a look of relief!  Since we're not face-to-face at the moment, I have comprised 5 questions you can ask yourself when contemplating a health overhaul to help you decide what will work best for lasting results.

1.      Will I enjoy my life the same while making this change?  

o   For instance, if you enjoy going out to socialize with your friends over a few drinks yet announce that you are going to give up alcohol for good, how will that change your socializing time? I’ve had clients tell me that they are going to stop going out because they can’t go out and not have a drink, only to soon realize that life without some fun in it, isn’t much of a life after all. Fortunately, there is a balanced approach one can take that allows them to enjoy drinks with friends while still leading a healthier lifestyle. Wine spritzer anyone?

2.      Is it really necessary to make this change?

o   Let’s keep with the alcohol analogy. Absolutely everyone should consume alcohol in moderation within the safe drinking guidelines. But say you already are within the safe drinking guidelines yet feeling like this is the area that needs improvement. Is it really? Or is the mammoth portions of pasta or entire bag of chips you eat along with your daily nightcap the real problem?

3.      Do I have the support I need?

o   Sometimes even with the best intentions and motivation, a lack of support can prevent you from obtaining your goals. The support you may need could be family, work, or financial. So if the alluring program that promises you’ll lose ten pounds each week is going to require you to cash in on your retirement fund to pay for it or if it requires you to hit the gym hard every night after work but you have no one to watch your kids, how realistic is it for you to do?

4.      Can I see myself making this change for the long-haul or will I simply be counting the minutes until it’s over? 

o   Does the program require you to eat meals different from your family? Or eliminate your favorite foods and/or force you to eat foods you really don’t like? Whatever you do to (insert goal), you must continue doing to maintain the results. So if cutting-out bread completely makes you shed a tear, then why do it?  If you're thinking, "There must be another way!" - trust me, there is.

5.      Is this change realistic for my life?

o   In other words, if the program you’re contemplating requires that you workout every morning but you already wake up at 5am for a long commute to work, how feasible is this for you to do? Rather, could there be a better approach that still allows you get in your exercise while not sacrificing your much deserved sleep?

Bonus question:  Ask yourself this - How confident am I that I can achieve this on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being no confidence; 10 being 100% confidence)? Be honest with yourself and if you rate your confidence at 6 or less, then it's time to rethink your plan. Choose a plan of action that you feel at least 7/10 (or 70%) confident about. This will set you up for success instead of failure.

What’s the Bottom Line?

If you are going to take away anything from reading this post, please remember this: Being healthy is not as complicated as we often think it is. By taking an approach that is simple and realistic, that aligns with your preferences and lifestyle; you will create positive health changes that make you feel your best and are long lasting.

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