The Key to Long-term Change is “Appropriate Responses”
Stop letting one less-than-ideal health choice snowball into multiple unhealthy choices
Adopting a healthier lifestyle can be a difficult, overwhelming, and frustrating experience, but it doesn’t have to be. Frustration and defeatism often bloom from a feeling of doing the same things over and over (dieting or exercising) and never getting the desired results! Of course you feel overwhelmed and at a loss if you consistently start and stop health programs. If you are constantly on and off your fitness horse, this time instead of getting back on and hoping for different results, rethink your mindset and LEARN from your past experiences.
Get back on the horse, but get back on a more informed rider!
Ask yourself, "What has and has not worked in the past?" Pinpoint the valuable lessons and work to reproduce successful approaches. Abandon anything else. Start fresh.
Mindset change: aim for “appropriate health responses”
Too often our health responses are the opposite of productive; they are disproportionate, all-or-nothing, knee-jerk reactions.
Appropriate responses are productive; they are measured. When you respond appropriately, you don't delude yourself, nor do you make something a bigger deal than it needs to be.
Let's say you gain five pounds and are distressed by it. One unproductive, unmeasured response is: "I am worthless and fat and I will starve myself to lose this weight." On the other end of the spectrum, the unproductive thought is: "Screw it! I gained five pounds; I might as well gain another five."
Instead, the problem needs an appropriate response — a productive response — a response that will make your future self healthier. Instead say: "Despite the five pounds I am a worthwhile person. I love myself enough not to overreact and to take the rational steps so that in four weeks I will have lost the weight." Be productive. Don't chose denial, but don't "lean into" depression either. Make a plan to take those rational steps. If the strategy doesn't work for you, again have a measured response.
Don't "dig deeper" into a method that isn't working, but also don't give up on health altogether. Instead of digging deeper or abandoning the dig, dig smarter. To have appropriate responses you must change your mindset. Value your effort when trying to reach a goal — not just the outcome. Learn from your experiences and make smarter, more productive choices in the future.
As with everything, don't be afraid to start because of fear of failure. Not moving forward out of fear is an unproductive, inappropriate response. You will never succeed if you don't start. If you try something — and put real effort in — that experience will always be worth something.
Always stay in the top “tier of the cake”
Don’t let one less-than-ideal choice snowball into multiple unhealthy choices. “Snowballing” is not a productive or appropriate response!
When I am tempted to let one unhealthy choice snowball into five or six, I remember an image of a tiered cake I found in Judith Beck's book. Imagine a wedding cake with food choices written on each of its multiple tiers. Each tier represents an amount of food consumed in a sitting.
The top and smallest tier has something like a 100-calorie cookie written in it. In each lower tier the choices get more extravagant. The next tier might include two cookies, a piece of cake, and a hot chocolate that, if eaten, would total 800 calories. By the final tier — the bottom layer — there are thousands of calories of food listed within the box.
The lesson is that mindfully eating small portions of indulgences we love is a healthy part of life — but mindless binges are not physically or psychologically healthy. You can easily compensate for a small indulgence by going for a walk or eating more vegetables the following day.
If you let that one choice snowball into multiple indulgences, it will take days (even weeks) to get back on track. Aim to only ever eat the top tier of the cake, and take the time to actually enjoy the food you are consuming.
Have a growth mindset; learn from all your experiences so you can make smarter, more productive choices in the future. When you find yourself having a knee-jerk health response ask yourself, “Am I responding appropriately, or simply reacting? Will my future self be happy with this choice? Am I letting my poor health choices snowball?”