Cultivating healthful lifestyle habits like good nutrition and regular exercise takes effort, especially if you have some entrenched less-than-healthful habits. It’s frustrating when you feel like you are putting in the effort but not seeing the payoff. Here are some pitfalls that can impede your progress toward better health:
Perfection. Perfection is the enemy of progress. Trying to eat perfectly or follow an ambitious fitness plan to the letter leads to all-or-nothing thinking: You’re either perfect or you’re a failure. This can lead to feelings of shame (see below). It can also block all progress while you search in vain for the perfect diet or exercise plan. Start small, start today, and keep moving forward.
Boredom. Eating the same foods prepared the same way day in and day out can become dull, even if you like those foods. There is comfort and convenience in sticking to a routine, especially when you are trying to cement new healthful behaviors into actual habits. However, once you feel like you’re getting it down, expand your repertoire to keep things feeling fresh and interesting. Try a new healthful recipe each week, or test out a fun exercise class or activity you’ve been curious about.
Aspirational thinking. Trying to go from a staple diet of restaurant, takeout and heat-and-eat foods to complicated home-cooked gourmet recipes using fresh foods from the farmer’s market is a lovely idea — that’s likely to fail. Some people have the bandwidth to make broad, sweeping changes to their kitchens and their lives, but most make more progress by making simple, sustainable changes that will stick.
Insane thinking. By this, I mean doing the same thing you’ve always done and expecting different results. If you’ve lost weight in the past by cutting carbs, foregoing fat or standing on your head while eating, only to gain it all back — plus 5 pounds extra — in a year or two, why would you try it again and actually expect to keep the weight off this time?
Trying to control the wrong thing. You have direct control over whether you pack a healthful brown-bag lunch or make time for daily exercise. Taking actions like this each day will add up to larger health benefits, but you don’t have direct control over the size or speed of your results. Tune into more subtle clues your efforts are working, such as sounder sleep, more energy or better digestion.
Succumbing to shame. Negative emotions like shame, disgust and self-directed anger are not effective motivators for change. When you don’t like yourself, why should you take care of yourself? If a bad day or a bad week leads you to make choices that aren’t in line with your nutrition and health goals, that doesn’t mean you are weak or unworthy — it means you are human. See what you can learn from the experience, and move right on back to making healthier choices.
Choosing superficial motivators. When you stop getting compliments about how healthy or fit you look, motivation can go out the window. Identifying and tapping into deeper sources of motivation, like having the energy to keep up with your kids (or grandkids) or clearing up digestive issues that have been hurting your quality of life, is more likely to keep you on the path to continued progress.
Carrie Dennett, MPH, RDN, CD is a registered dietitian nutritionist at Northwest Natural Health in Ballard. Her blog is nutritionbycarrie.com and her website is carriedennett.com. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.