When you think of your diet and exercise habits, do you find yourself taking an all-or-nothing approach? Depending on how well we are living up to the diet and exercise standards we set for ourselves, we often feel like we are either “on the wagon” or “off the wagon.” We can easily fall into the trap of believing that there is no middle ground.
This black and white view of diet and exercise can actually backfire, though. The problem with seeing our diet or exercise habits in terms of “on” or “off”, is that when we inevitably fall “off”, we fall victim to the “What the Hell!” effect.
I bet you know what I mean. Take for example, when we don’t ALLOW cookies in our diet, yet find ourselves eating a warm chocolate chip cookie we just baked for the kids. We tell ourselves, “What the hell! I’ve already messed up, so I may as well eat four more cookies, or five more cookies. In fact, I may as well go eat that ice cream too (that I also don’t allow myself to have). After all, today is wrecked. I’ll get back on the wagon tomorrow.”
Or maybe, the wagon that you are forever trying to climb back into is the often elusive Exercise Wagon. It is just so hard to find the time to get a thirty minute workout in when you already have to juggle work, kids’ schedules, and all of the other things you agreed to help out with (even though you already wish you had an extra hour in the day to get everything done).
So then, when all we have is ten or fifteen minutes, we just say, “What the Hell! If I can’t… run all three miles, do the entire 60 minutes of the aerobics video, walk for 30 minutes, etc, then I just won’t do it at all.” Of course, the problem is that we will be just as busy tomorrow and the day after that, so this self-sabotaging cycle continues.
All of this stress that we create for ourselves by this black and white thinking, is actually as bad or worse than the lack of exercise or the cookies that we were so worried about eating! Research has shown that stress not only affects your thoughts, feelings and behaviors, but it can also contribute to a number of diseases and illnesses. (By the way, it is also known to contribute to weight gain, and the inability to lose weight.)
So Ditch the Wagon once and for all by letting go of the all-or-nothing approach.
Take a hiatus from dieting. Yes. Definitely make every attempt to include plenty of nutritious foods in your diet, like fruits and vegetables, lean meats, plant-based proteins, healthy fats, and whole grains. But focus more on what you WILL eat, and less on what you WON’t eat. Don’t moralize certain foods by calling them good or bad. Don’t vow to avoid entire food groups. Then, when you are out with friends, and somebody asks if you want to split a piece of chocolate cake, you can enjoy your dessert without feeling guilty, without feeling like you’ve “blown it”. You will be able to completely avoid the “What the Hell!” effect, which often turns into a binge or semi-binge, and tons of guilt and regret later.
Make exercise fit into your lifestyle, not the other way around. As a culture, we are exercise crazy! We push ourselves until we can’t go anymore, then we get some therapy and/or rehab for our aching, broken bodies, and push some more. Exercise should fit nicely with your personality and lifestyle. If it doesn’t, you will either not do it, or you will hate every minute of it. Ask yourself what you really like to do, keeping in mind, that this may change on a day to day basis. So, if you love running, run. If you love yoga, do yoga. If you love lifting weights, lift weights. If you love pilates…you get the picture.
Also, don’t force yourself to adhere to any strict, predetermined rules about how long, how far, or how hard your workouts need to be. Listen to your body, and see what it needs. You may have a long run planned, but if you wake up with aches and pains, and dreading the run with every fiber of your being, don’t run! Walk instead, or maybe alternate between running and walking. If even THAT doesn’t appeal to you, then do something completely different, like yoga or taking a bike ride. Then sometimes, our bodies just tell us they need to rest, and we would be wise to be open to hearing that message. It can help prevent injury, AND burnout!
Maybe you are one of those people who feels like a short workout isn’t worth it. It is!
If you only have 15 minutes until you leave for your son’s soccer game, walk for 15 minutes. Maybe you can get another 15 minutes in later that day. What you don’t want to do is tell yourself that you have to stick to your plan, or not do anything at all. You may have come up with some arbitrary number, like 30 minutes, and have convinced yourself that anything less is a waste of time. Problem is, this kind of thinking will eventually lead to the, “What the Hell!” effect, and one day you’ll wake up and realize that you haven’t worked out in weeks or even months!
So, learn to accept that you can only do what you can do. Ditch the diet/exercise wagon (or both!). Listen to your body. Give it some freedom to decide. Trust your body. It is very wise.