By Diana Sofia
Do you find it difficult to sustain your healthy lifestyle? Like many of us, you might have done many programs or diets effectively for a limited time and then are faced with the same situation in the end: You want to sustain these healthy habits long-term but are not sure how. What we need to do is change not only our habits but also our mindsets in order to continue working on progressing in our health journey.
These are some of the mindsets I have seen have a profound impact on people being successful in sticking to their healthy lifestyle:
1. Rethink your definition of pleasure
Normally, we associate pleasure with how the food or drink feels while we consume it. We focus on the texture and the taste of food to determine how much pleasure it gives us. But, we can also focus on the pleasure it gives us after that meal or food. How do we feel after we eat or drink it a few hours later, that night while sleeping, or the next day? If they are foods or drinks that aren’t good for our health, chances are they won’t make us feel good. This helps us make better decisions about what and how much to eat.
You can also find pleasure in other things in life besides food, such as hobbies, new interests, taking a walk, or being in nature. This is not about restriction, it's about learning to enjoy foods that nourish us, make us feel good, and are delicious.
2. Avoid the “all or nothing” mindset
The "all or nothing" mindset comes from the diet culture: I am on a diet or I am not on a diet. Thinking “I already ate what I wasn’t supposed to eat, so I might as well eat everything I want today. I can start eating healthy again next week/month.” Your healthy lifestyle is not a diet. If you want to sustain it for life, you will need to be flexible. More like, "I eat foods that are nutritious and delicious. I enjoy social events and allow myself to eat play foods that don’t damage my well-being.” There isn’t an ON and OFF switch, it’s all part of my healthy lifestyle.
3. Consider that “difficult” is relative
Living with the consequences of maintaining some habits and decisions is often more difficult than not changing at all, and facing what we think is "difficult" now. "Difficult" is relative because it is based on our beliefs, thoughts, and perceptions. Also, the degree of difficulty for everything depends on our perception and what we compare it to. For example, if we try to compare what is more beneficial–either cooking a meal at home or eating out–we could say that one is faster and with a greater variety of options, while cooking involves buying groceries and preparing food. But, you can also choose better ingredients and use foods that are beneficial to your health. You can choose to focus on the nutritional aspects of the meal, instead of its convenience. Another example: Is it more difficult to make some changes to your diet and lifestyle or to feel sick and low energy? Re-educating our minds and redefining what we actually value is necessary to lead a healthy life.
4. Don’t aim for perfection
Gain consistency by setting small and progressive goals. Do what you can. For example, the day you can’t do a one-hour workout routine at the gym, you can still do a 5 to 7-minute workout, walk longer, or take the stairs. Everything adds up! Also, don’t make it too hard. Instead of aiming to exercise for 6 days a week, set a reasonable goal like working out 3 times a week and exercising for 30 mins at first. Slowly increase your goals as you see the results of your commitment and want to increase your progress.
5. Rely on commitment, instead of motivation
Don’t rely on motivation because it’s inconsistent. Sometimes we are motivated and sometimes we aren’t. Rather, rely on commitment. Get clear about your WHY and commit to it. Why do you want to feel better? Why do you want to be healthy? Why do you want to have increased energy and focus? Getting clear on your reasons behind working on your health will create the commitment you need to do whatever it takes to maintain it.
Commitment also helps repeat the new behavior enough times so that it sticks. Once you do it enough, new neural connections will make it into a habit. Don’t stop until it feels easy and more automated. For example, if you want to eat more salads for lunch, don’t assume your habit is established if you have done it for 3 days. Try repeating including salads for lunch for a few weeks before you reap the full benefits of your newly implemented habit.
6. Your setbacks are opportunities to learn
Many times we believe we have "fallen off track" when we return to habits we had left behind. This way of thinking only makes you feel pity for yourself or guilty and it doesn’t help you keep working on maintaining your healthy habits. The truth is, our path towards implementing healthy habits is a process, not a straight line. Rather, it is more like a scribble. There are always steps forward and backward, ups and downs. We need these "setbacks" to learn and identify what we don’t want in our lives, test what we want to stick to and move forward. This different way of looking at your setbacks and failures will help you use them to your advantage, avoid internal conflicts and free yourself from all the guilt.
One way to look at all of this is to consider that to be able to consistently sustain healthy habits you must make a commitment to take care of your future self. The one that will be living 10-20+ years from now. And ask yourself the question: How do you want his/her life to be?
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