If you really want the ‘healthier you’ to materialise, you will have to navigate round that obstacle course of negativity that you are bound to encounter. Some of it will comprise temptations put in your way by others, but most of it stems from self-doubt and not having ‘thought it through’ in advance.
Take a tip from Thomas the Tank Engine: “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can. I know I can.” (Watty Piper, The Little Engine That Could)
Most of your ‘obstacles’ will centre around exercise and food and will likely involve the availability (or lack) of time and money. So let’s start with exercise and the time which you think you don’t have enough of.
Start by redefining ‘exercise’. You don’t have to spend an hour in the gym or run five kilometres. If you are starting from a ‘couch potato’ position, any extra movement is ‘exercise’. (Even twiddling your thumbs burns calories, but it would take a helluva lot of it to have any effect.) The standard starting points offered are using the stairs instead of waiting for the lift and walking across the car park instead of cruising round several times looking for a space closer to the mall entrance.
Jog up and down the sidelines when you watch your children playing sport; walk around the garden when you are talking on your cellphone; put on some bouncy music and dance round your household chores. As you get more active, you will begin to want some time-consuming exercise and, when you really want to do it, you will make the time.
If you can’t afford gym membership or expensive exercise or sports equipment, there are plenty of low-cost options available. Walking, running and swimming are free; there are plenty of sports that require nothing more than a ball and some suitable footwear. Remember the fun you had in your early teens, bashing a tennis ball against the garage door? Or before that, playing hopscotch along the garden path? (Do children still play hopscotch?) Skipping is wonderful exercise and that’s – as the saying goes – a piece of old rope!
Now for the food excuses. Healthy food doesn’t take any longer to cook than any other food; in fact quite a lot comes in the ‘wash and eat’ category. You can serve a salad with anything that doesn’t have built-in gravy and, even then, you can put it on a separate plate. If your family objects to eating ‘rabbit food’, you can adapt some of their favourites to a healthier version simply by cutting down on salt and changing the cooking method – bake or steam, rather than fry. If they insist on chips, invest in an air fryer.
Entertaining with healthy food doesn’t have to be a problem. A buffet table with all sorts of salads and cold meats or cheeses is always popular and South Africa’s traditional braai (barbeque) and potjiekos (stewpot cooked over an open fire) can be made as healthy as you like. There’s nothing wrong with a burger, if you make it with lean meat and dry-fry it in a non-stick pan. Herbs and spices are not fattening and most have admirable medicinal properties, so you can use them with gay abandon to make some really taste-bud-tickling dishes to prove that healthy food is anything but boring.
If you really don’t have time to make healthy, home-cooked meals, then you must already be spending a lot of money on restaurant meals, ready-mades and take-aways. Whichever way you get around the cooking question, do some research into the vegetarian options available. They are more likely to be prepared in a healthy way than meat dishes. (You an always have a slice of lean meat on the side.) Check out the salad bar and deli at your local supermarket. You should not have to spend more on a healthy diet than you currently waste on over-salted, deep-fried or candy-coated rubbish.
Another perceived obstacle to a lifestyle change is the effect it might have on one’s social life.Of course, you expect your friends will love the ‘new you’, but will they have the patience to put up with your efforts to achieve it? Will they encourage you or try to talk you out of it? Will you even tell them what you are doing?
The answer is that you must enlist their help if you are going to succeed. You need peer pressure to be on your side and it probably will be. Gone are the days of cigarette advertisements claiming: ‘More doctors smoke C****s than any other brand’. Any friends worth the name will encourage you – maybe even join you – and, if they don’t, then make some new friends! Seriously, though, what you are setting out to do will not be easy and you need people to cheer you on, not trip you with temptations. You need someone to pat you on the back when you reach a milestone.
Talking of milestones, there’s no harm in aiming high but you have to be realistic. A Barbie doll figure suits a Barbie doll. It wouldn’t suit you. Set a goal, but be a bit flexible about the timeline. Decide how you are going to measure your achievements and mark milestones on a chart, but don’t put yourself under too much pressure – resorting to ‘stress-relief by chocolate’ could put you back to square one. And don’t become a slave to the bathroom scales; muscle weighs more than fat, okay?
As you explore your exercise options, you will meet others on the same quest. Making friends at the gym, on the tennis court, or even walking on the beach (especially with a dog), will give you an additional source of encouragement. Plan activities that your families can enjoy together, with an energetic pastime as an option. Take some sports equipment on a picnic (just a soccer ball will do) so that you can work off some calories while the others just work up an appetite.
Charity fun-runs, bike rides and mini-golf are all healthy pastimes that the whole family can enjoy and the lotus position is not mandatory when you feel the need for meditation – a walk in nature (or even in your garden) can serve two purposes.
Sometimes you hit a fatigue barrier. You skip your workouts and grab a quick takeaway rather than cook at home. The trouble is, lack of exercise and the wrong foods can add to your tiredness. Are you sleeping enough at night? Are you drinking too much coffee? Or going to bed tense? Winding down, relaxing before retiring for the night can make a real difference to the way you sleep and a good night’s sleep will work wonders for your stress levels.
If your job requires entertaining and socialising, you need to think ahead. Decide ahead of time what you intend to eat and don’t let the rest of the menu tempt you – just don’t read it! Skip alcohol (you will probably be driving, anyway) and dessert. Keep your eyes – and paws – off those crusty bread rolls in the middle of the table. If the event is one of those finger-food affairs they used to call ‘cocktail parties’, eat your healthy meal in advance, nibble on a lettuce leaf at the party and ask for water with ice and lemon, masquerading as a G&T.
Your biggest obstacle may be deciding how and when to get started. Most people will tell you: “There’s no time like the present. Start now.” Good advice, in general. But there are some days that simply don’t lend themselves to a change in lifestyle. Christmas Day, for example. No one would start a diet on Christmas Day, but it always amazes me how many people try to do it on New Year’s Day. Your best chance of succeeding with a New Year resolution is to start on the first Monday after January 2.
Start with small changes. Let one improvement become a habit and then add the next. Take a five-minute walk every day. Cut down on coffee and substitute herbal tea. Use honey, not sugar. Don’t think of these changes as ‘giving up’ something. Give a positive label to what you are doing. And reward yourself for your achievements, not with boring old chocolate, but an exciting day out, a spa treatment or a new health monitoring gadget.
“As important as it is to have a plan for doing work, it is perhaps more important to have a plan for rest, relaxation, self-care, and sleep.”― Akiroq Brost
You are worth it. Ed and the OM Team