Live Long, and Prosper
I am probably the last person who should be writing a blog about a healthy lifestyle since a casual glance will immediately disqualify me from the discussion. I am neither a physician nor a nutritionist, and do not claim to have any particular knowledge or insight into either field, so I am going to make this my obvious and obligatory disclaimer. However, I am in the process of creating a healthy lifestyle for myself, so I would like to share a few thoughts I think will be practical and helpful for those who, like me, have struggled over the years to lose weight and maintain a healthy lifestyle. If you are looking for the latest and greatest breakthrough in health, exercise and nutrition, you will be disappointed. There is no magic bullet or stunning revelation. Just common sense restated for truth. I have lost around 60-70 pounds on five separate occasions in my life, and yet, like many others, I have failed to keep it off and live healthy. There are some very specific reasons why, and that is what I offer to share with you in the hopes together we can overcome them to live long and prosper.
Ignore the Noise
Everywhere we turn we are bombarded with health tips and quick weight loss schemes: in magazines, on the radio and TV, on the Internet, advice from friends about the latest fad diets or exercise routines, everywhere. This assault is rivaled only by get rich quick schemes, which is really no coincidence since both health and wealth follow the same general laws and rules. New industries are spawned every day promoting this or that product, supplement, plan, program or routine which will allow you to break these well established laws and rules and accomplish your goals without the appropriate effort. In the end most, if not all, are just snake oil in a shiny new package. My advice is to force yourself to ignore the noise and play by the rules if you seriously want to change your life over the long haul.
The Golden Rule
In life as in math|geometry|physics, there are certain fundamental rules or laws that serve as the basis for all others. We learn many of these at an early age and know them as 2+2=4 or “what goes up, must come down.” We generally accept them as being immutable and they are the foundation for all other rules on which we build our lives. We happily follow them and use them to our advantage, and violate them to our own peril.
When it comes to health (and wealth), there is also what I call the “Golden Rule”:
consistency + time = results
It is a simple, but powerful concept, yet it is the very law every quick weight loss (or get rich quick) plan lays siege to. At some point every scheme seeks to violate either the consistency or the time portion of the formula. While it is true results will often come in the short term, the long term effect is typically a failure to sustain the momentum and the end result can in fact be a net weight gain.
- Consistency – A healthy lifestyle is all about creating a sustainable routine, which is the very essence of consistency. For instance, pre-packaged weight loss foods purchased on the Internet are far less effective over time than reasonable portion control combined with healthy food choices.
- Time – By its very nature a quick weight loss (or get rich quick) scheme undermines the fundamental law of time. The promise of a short cut to success often proves too tempting to resist and we fall prey to the illusion we can have what we want without investing the time required to obtain it.
Truth is, virtually any weight loss and exercise program will work, if you invoke the Golden Rule with it.
- Weight Watchers? Check
- South Beach Diet? Check
- Body for Life? Check
- Spin Class? Check
- Zumba? Check
Most reputable programs will take the weight off with varying degrees of success if they are pursued consistently over time. However, none of them have the corner on the healthy lifestyle market. You should only adopt and adapt these programs to your lifestyle if you can maintain them over the long haul. If your goal is to reach a magical goal weight and then resume the same lifestyle you left behind, you are already doomed to failure. A healthy diet does not have to consist of painstakingly counting calories or carbs, or even eliminating your favorite foods. It is about making healthy choices with reasonable portions consistently over time. Exercise doesn’t require a gym membership or Zumba classes. It is about moving and getting your heart rate up. You can accomplish the same by taking a brisk walk with your spouse in the evenings to talk about your day, or by riding a bike or climbing Stone Mountain on a beautiful day.
Weight loss is only part of the equation when it comes to a healthy lifestyle. You have to maintain the weight loss as well, and that is where most of us fail miserably, often regaining the lost weight and then some. True success is achieved by finding an approach that fits your lifestyle and personality, something you will stick with the rest of your life, not just for six or eight weeks to lose 15 pounds. While eliminating carbs or drinking healthy protein shakes can provide a jump start, they are not a realistic (or healthy) lifestyle that can be sustained over long periods or a lifetime. There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to a healthy lifestyle. You have to be willing to listen to your own body, find what works for you and establish that as your routine.
How Does It Work?
Weight loss is simple economics.* Take in less than you burn off and you lose weight. Take in more than you burn off and you gain weight. These are the two variables available to work with: how much you take in and how much you burn off, and you have control over both.
To simplify this for us, think in these terms:
What you take in = food
What you burn off = exercise
Adjusting the balance between a healthy diet and moderate exercise is essential to creating and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. It isn’t necessary to starve yourself or totally eliminate your favorite foods. In fact, that is probably the worst thing you can do because it will cause you to fail quickly. Nor is it necessary to devote hours to the gym each week in order to exercise. Radical changes are rarely successful in the long term. Typically it is only a matter of changing your mindset and tweaking things to achieve some very substantial results over time.
The wild card in all of this is your metabolism, the rate at which your body processes your food and exercise program. It is possible to increase or decrease your metabolism with your approach to diet and exercise. That is why there are times when you feel like you are starving yourself and yet you are gaining weight. The truth is, your body also feels like you are starving, so it seeks to conserve all available resources, hence the weight gain. Establishing a balance between healthy eating and moderate exercise will increase your metabolism and help to avoid those frustrating plateaus.
The bottom line is this:
- Consistency = making moderate exercise and healthy food choices with reasonable portion control a daily routine
- Time = maintaining this daily routine over an extended period of time, preferably a lifetime
consistency + time = results
Why We Fail
Why do we always seem to fail? Simply put, we fail to follow the established law which allows us to maintain a healthy lifestyle. We cannot violate the law of gravity without the consequence of falling to the ground and skinning our knee. We cannot violate 2+2=4 without screwing up our checking account. And neither can we violate the law of the healthy lifestyle without similar disastrous results.
Typically we either fail to sustain a healthy eating pattern with reasonable portion controls, or we fail to follow through on our moderate exercise program, or worse, both. That is why it is essential to establish your healthy lifestyle with patterns you can sustain over time, a lifetime. Condemning yourself to a life without certain foods or eliminating fat or carbs is just begging for failure. Creating a grueling exercise routine you hate is no way to ensure you will continue it indefinitely. You must find a balance you can live with, and if possible, share it with a friend or a spouse. It will create more time together and it will help to hold you more accountable. As a side note, avoid creating separate meals for you and for the rest of the family. Find a balance you can all live with, otherwise you won’t be able to sustain the healthy eating choices by cooking and preparing separate meals. Here’s another tip: don’t skip meals. I know it is tempting if you aren’t particularly hungry at the time, but skipping meals is a quick way to destroy your consistency. It gives a false sense of accomplishment, and can trick you into relaxing your portion control in the next meal.
Think Beyond Just Weight
For most of us, when we talk about being healthy the focus is on the weight loss. Reaching our “goal weight” will make us happy and healthy. While it may make us happy, making us healthy is more than just shedding a few pounds… ok, for some of us, a lot of pounds.
Instead of just thinking in terms of weight loss, we should also include things like heart rate, blood pressure, endurance, muscle tone and more. That is why a moderate program of exercise should include a balance of cardiovascular stimulation for heart health and endurance, along with some simple weight training for muscle tone. This does not need to involve hours at a gym, but can start as simply as taking a walk or using the stairs instead of an elevator. Park further away at the mall to walk more, or do simple push ups or other exercises while watching TV. The point is to start moving and keep moving. It will increase your metabolism and it will work together with your healthy eating choices to further reduce your weight.
Think Long Term
Weight loss and a healthy lifestyle is not a sprint. It is a marathon. It is not something to be accomplished over the next two months. It is something to be lived out over a lifetime. You must learn to adjust your thinking for the long term and not the short term when it comes to goal weight and overall healthy living.
Having a goal weight is good and gives you something to strive for and obtain. The danger is focusing on the goal weight and obsessing over reaching it. That creates the temptation and desire for shortcuts, and those can be fatal to your overall plan. Keep your eye on the prize, but don’t focus so much on the numbers as the health you are creating. Lack of rapid progress towards a daunting overall goal weight has caused many to give up prematurely, not allowing for the law of time.
Think Short Term
I don’t know about you, but I tend to get overwhelmed when I stare at my goal weight and see the amount of weight I need to lose. I seem to move in slow motion in comparison to my goal weight, and it creates an enormous amount of frustration. For that reason, I have started adjusting my thinking using the “marathon not a sprint” mentality. I have conceded that creating a healthy lifestyle is a long term solution not a short term process. For that reason, I am committing my goal weight to the future and not seeking immediate gratification. I am content to see gradual progress over time, knowing that such progress will ultimately lead me to my overall goal. consistency + time = results.
I have set a modest goal for myself of 4 pounds per month. That’s it. Just 4 pounds per month. Studies have shown that a person can reasonably lose about 8-10 pounds a month with the proper healthy diet and exercise, but I have chosen to be more conservative in my approach, and given myself a very achievable but meaningful goal.
Notice I did not state my goal weight, or how much weight I wanted to lose overall. Simple math will tell you that 4 pounds a month will yield a weight loss of 48 pounds in a year. Who wouldn’t sign up for losing 48 pounds in a year? And if your goal is less, it wouldn’t even take that long. However, we fail when we lose patience and say we want to lose the 48 pounds in six weeks, and violate the law of the healthy lifestyle 🙂
Instead of saying I want to lose 50 pounds, I prefer to look at it as 4 pounds per month. I begin each month with a goal of losing 4 pounds. If I lose more, great, but my goal is 4 pounds. The next month, regardless of what I did the previous month, my goal is consistent… 4 more pounds. I don’t bank or borrow from the previous month, I start each month fresh with my goal of 4 pounds. If I did really well the month before, that’s awesome, but I don’t adjust my goal. If I did poorly, I get back on track with my goal. I have 4 pounds to lose this month, every month, until I reach my goal weight.
Losing 4 pounds a month does not take a radical change in lifestyle, but it does require some healthy adjustments. Reduced portions. Healthier food choices. Consistent exercise. I have found that eating out isn’t that hard either. Most places have something on their menu that, while maybe not entirely healthy, is at least healthier than other choices. We like to eat at your typical restaurants: Chile’s, O’Charley’s, Bahama Breeze, etc. Instead of ordering the cheeseburger and fries, I order the grilled chicken of fish with broccoli and rice. Most menus will even have a “lighter choice” section to choose from to take the guess work out. Same goes for Wendy’s… get the grilled chicken sandwich instead of the burger, or maybe a salad. consistency + time = results
Never Give Up
All of us have set goals. All of us have started strong. All of us have dropped off at some point along the way. The key is to never give up. Never give up. Never.Give.Up. Time is required for results, any results, and we have to persevere, even when we feel like giving up. We plateau. We have stress. We have interruptions (mine is travel). But we have to always get back in the game and start again fresh from where we are. Failure is simply not an option.
It is a sad but true fact, the weight goes on much faster than it comes off. So any time you give up and give in, you are at risk of putting yourself that much further behind each day you wait. If you fall, get back up, dust yourself off and climb back up on the horse. You will be glad you did.
Always Start Today
My last piece of advice is to start today. Not tomorrow. Not on Monday. Not after the holidays. Not any time but today. Don’t put it off another day. You can start now creating a healthy lifestyle that fits you, your personality, your schedule and your mindset. Don’t like Zumba? Ride a bike or take a walk. Don’t like getting up early? Walk in the evenings. Don’t like broccoli? Try green beans. Just look for the healthy choices and find the things you already enjoy doing. And do it today.
We all should be on a journey to create a healthier lifestyle for ourselves and our loved ones. So good luck on your journey. I would love to hear about your story, so feel free to leave a comment here, or contact me through Twitter: @themacdawg or Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The ancient alchemists were always searching for a way to turn lead into gold… a shortcut to wealth, but such shortcuts simply do not exist. If you seriously want to change your lifestyle you have to learn to play by the rules.
*Note: I do realize there are those with medical conditions which render this irrelevant, but most of us do not fall in that category.