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We live busy lives, shuttling back and forth between home, jobs, social events, and many other commitments. At times, we feel there is no time to exercise, or we have no choice but to grab the convenient food over the healthy food. I completely understand these feelings, and experience them myself. When I’m in full-time writing mode, I feel like all I can do is write, go to work, spend time with my wife, and then write some more before going to bed.
We’re tricking ourselves in to thinking our time and options are limited. Even if our time is (which is a separate post entirely), our options don’t have to be. We need to be a little better at starting small, balancing our needs, and planning. The benefits of a healthier diet and active lifestyle are well-documented, stimulating both brain power and productivity. In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg names exercise one of the keystone habits that empower a healthy, productive life. Exercise fuels the ability to make other habit changes in your life possible, including diet.
The first and biggest lie is the mindset that you need to make life-changing, wholesale changes to make a difference. Not so! Even if your diet and fitness habits are non-existent, you can begin to make small changes which can snowball in to big results. Consider snow, or rain. One flake or drop of water isn’t going to make a big difference, and is easy to dismiss. But compounded by consistency and quantity, they accumulate in to a force of nature.
Here’s a little sub-list for you, little ways you can start small in fitness and food. Start with any of these once a week, or every 2-3 days. Starting small will keep you motivated for the next opportunity.
- Go for a 10 minute walk or a 5 minute run
- Swing a kettlebell 10 times
- Do 10 squats, then 10 pushups
- Drink 1 liter of water instead of soda
- Eat 1 salad a week
Resist the temptation to start big, because big starts normally end is big crashes. If you go for a big workout or run, you’ll be sore, and need to rest even longer, or risk injury. If you eat incredibly healthy for a few days, the sugar craving will be too much to resist, along with the thought of “I’ve been eating so healthy anyway!” So start small, and allow the snowball to grow.
Food over Fitness
Many people, myself included, tend to flip the equation, prioritizing fitness over food. We use our exercise as an excuse to eat whatever we want, and burn the calories off later. While the plan isn’t bad, it’s very short-sighted. A healthy diet combined with regular exercise is clearly the best way to live, instead of constantly trying to burn off the donuts you ate.
Food is one of the constants of our lives, something we truly can’t function without. Fueling yourself with good food simply makes sense. When you combine healthy eating with your exercise, you’ll notice you feel even better! Elite athletes understand this balance, and though they routinely burn over 2,000 calories in a workout, don’t immediately go refuel with soda, fried chicken, and ice cream.
Plus, when a day comes up where finding your exercise time is difficult, making smart choices with your meals will help keep your body and mind in top shape. So when the choice is in front of you, choose the right food.
I won’t drop a diet plan bomb on you now, and certainly there is a lot of information on what to eat. We tend to make eating over-complicated, even healthy eating! So here are a few simple rules to keep in mind.
- Eat as many whole foods as possible, i.e. fruits & vegetables.
- Eat lean cuts of meat.
- Eat smaller portions, but a little more often.
- Drink plenty of water.
Move in a way that’s fun
If you don’t enjoy running, don’t run. If you don’t enjoy lifting weights, don’t lift weights. Move in a way you enjoy, and you’ll see the benefits much quicker. Your exercise won’t be a burden because it’s fun! Maybe it’s a dance class, yoga, hiking, canoeing, martial arts, cycling, soccer, or tennis. If you stop forcing the workouts, following what you’re “supposed” to be doing, then the habit won’t take hold. I enjoy running, but only on trails. I enjoy lifting weights, but not in slow, uni-directional ways (bench press). I also enjoy mixing up my workouts, keeping them fresh and interesting by trying new things.
Bottom line: Do what moves you.
Follow the Pareto Principle, aka the 80/20 Rule
Disclaimer: This isn’t the Pareto Principle exactly. But the 80/20 mindset is helpful when figuring out what kind of grace you can extend to yourself when your food and fitness isn’t measuring up. Basically, if you’re eating well in 80% of your meals, you can be flexible in the other 20%. If you exercise most of the week, don’t stress out over taking a couple of days off.
CrossFit offers a pretty solid principle for their workouts. 3 days on, 1 day off. Not quite 80%, but close enough. If you’re taking care of your body and mind 75-80% of the time, you’d have to do a lot of damage in the remaining time to screw it up.
One more suggestion though, from my own experience. Mix up your rest and cheat days so they don’t occur at the same time. Being able to workout on a day you’ve eaten some unhealthy food will help negate the bad calories, and eating well on a day you’re resting will increase the benefits of your rest.
Buy a Kettlebell
A kettlebell is far and away the most important and useful piece of equipment I own. The functionality of a KB design allows it to be used in so many more ways than a dumbbell or barbell. You can swing, carry, press, power clean, and tons more. Since the bulk of the weight lies directly beneath the handle, the weight displacement allows gravity to pull the weight in a more natural manner. Classic dumbbells place the weight on the sides, making some exercises awkward or impossible.
If you own just one piece of equipment, make it a kettlebell. The good people at FringeSport offer great prices and free shipping, which is pretty much unheard of. Gals, start around 15 lbs or less if you’re not used to weights. Guys, 25-30 lbs is a good starting point. If you want, go to your local sporting goods store and feel one out, then save some money and buy from FringeSport.
Eat more Color
Have you ever admired the rich color palette of fruits and vegetables? Orange, after all, is both a fruit and a major color. Dark greens, apple red, or banana yellow? Ever noticed the basic color names on the Apple palette?
Simply increasing the diversity of colors on your plate will help you eat healthier, even if that’s all you do! No, Skittles don’t count. Red meat, sweet potatoes, spinach salad, and squash? Nailed it.
Embrace a Routine
If figuring out a daily workout just adds more stress to your life, don’t do that either! Write one workout you’re going to do for the week, and then simply do only that. I find I don’t work out well in the morning because I haven’t planned anything. I need something concrete to get out of bed for. If our goal is to wake up and move around for 15 minutes, let’s have a plan for it, and just do it for a week! I mentioned that enjoy mixing up my workouts, but it’s comforting to know there’s something I can fall back on that I know will bear results.
If you’re interested, join me this week in the following routine! No equipment required, ha! Your excuses have been reduced to ash.
- Monday – 25 pushups, 25 squats, 25 burpees, 25 box jumps
- Tuesday – Repeat
- Wednesday – Run or walk for 15-30 minutes
- Thursday – Rest
- Friday - 25 pushups, 25 squats, 25 burpees, 25 box jumps
- Saturday – Repeat, or your choice of cardio
*Scale number of reps or duration of cardio to your pace. Doing a little is better than doing nothing.
If you do want more variety, check out TheSimpleGym.com. Morgan writes 4 workouts every week and puts up a video of the movements so you can see how they’re done.
In a go big or go home lifestyle, we tend to overcomplicate matters, and the ways we move and eat are at the top of the list. We want to say we finished a killer workout or are on a fad diet, because it makes us interesting. Consider instead the snowball effect, building flake by flake until you’re a force of nature.