Turning the Trend: Balancing Habits
“What would be the costs if I let this trend continue?” I asked myself, “I would keep worsening my diet, exercise less and less, and eventually end up very unhealthy and fat.”
It was 2010 when I realized that in the previous two years, while being a graduate student at Stanford University, I had put on 12 pounds (about six kgs).
I was gradually worsening my diet, eating out more, rather than cooking at home—and at the same time my exercise habits were yo-yoing.
My body had no choice but to start storing fat.
I knew that if I let it continue, then it would only be a matter of time until I woke up fat, see myself in the mirror and think: “Is that really me? How did that happen?”
Well, this is how it happens. Insidiously. Year after year, pounds creep in.
Right then, I realized I had better reverse that trend…or I knew exactly what the future would hold.
One year later, I was eating vegetables every day, cooking at home, and exercising five days a week. Oh, and I lost 12 pounds.
And you know what the best part is? I lost weight while eating a lot of chocolate. I am a chocolate fan, so I cannot imagine myself actually going on a diet.
When I have a chocolate craving, I eat chocolate. Period.
You see, a healthier lifestyle can support eating chocolate, much better than a so-so lifestyle can.
The three key factors that helped me switch to a healthier lifestyle:
1. Making a healthy activity top-of-mind priority.
If watching television is what comes naturally when you come home from work, then that’s what you will do. If exercising is the first thing that comes to mind when you wake up, then this is what you’ll do.
Even though you may want to exercise in the morning every day, if exercise does not get top-of-mind status you won’t make daily morning exercise a habit. You will forget about it.
2. Making a healthy activity easily achievable.
Assuming that you remember about your morning workout, if your athletic clothes are in the laundry bin, or somewhere hidden in your drawer, you might skip it.
If exercise is 60 min and it just seems a lot to you, then you might excuse your way out of it.. Top-of-mind status is one key ingredient, easily achievable is another.
This is the puzzle you need to solve. You need to create a system that will make eating better, or exercising more top-of-mind and easily achievable.
This ingenious system helped me switch my eating habits.
What’s for lunch? Nothing. So, I’d go to my favorite Indian restaurant and have a delicious Paneer Masala—I did that almost every day. (Do you know how calorie-dense those restaurant sauces are?)
To avoid eating my favorite Indian dish that had already achieved top-o- mind status, and was familiar to me, I had to have lunch ready for myself already—before I felt hungry for lunch.
I had to start cooking, so that homemade food was there for me when I felt hungry (top-of-mind plus easy to consume).
I used to cook years ago, but my cooking skills went mostly unused for a few years and were rusty; to make cooking at home top-of-mind (rather than eating out), I had to learn to cook without looking for recipes.
The system that made the shift happen: I chose three dishes that I liked and decided to master them—I wanted to learn how to cook them without looking at a recipe.
By avoiding the need to look for a recipe, cooking became much easier and faster (easily achievable). Learning to cook just a couple of dishes without a recipe made a huge difference.
I started to eat a lot more at home than out. The food I made was delicious and healthier. Victory!
You can have your chocolate and eat it too.
Most people believe that the reason they don’t do the things they want to do (like exercising and eating right) is that they are lazy. Yet, that’s not the case. They just haven’t yet found a way to build a system that will help them do those new healthy activities.
Living healthier will let you consume chocolates without taking on pounds. You may be actually losing weight while you are enjoying eating what you want, as I did.
Why? Because most of the choices you make throughout the day are now better than what they used to be.
Now it’s your turn.
What new systems will you create for yourself to improve your life?
Maria is Stanford Engineering and an MBA graduate. She writes the Healthy Tips Blog of Fitness Reloaded, about living a happier life with a vibrant body & an open heart. She is the author of “Surprisingly…Unstuck”, the bible of creating healthy habits.
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Asst. Editor: Edith Lazenby/Ed: Bryonie Wise