Last week, I received a comment from a friend of mine asking how I stay motivated to exercise and live a healthy lifestyle. I’ve spent the last year trying to figure out what works for me and what doesn’t. I think it’s high time I share my thoughts with you on the matter.
Disclaimer! Please be advised: I’m not a doctor and what works for me may not work for you. Please consult your doctor before partaking in any physical regimen.
Last year for my birthday, I asked my parents for a gym membership to our local recreational center. I had recently visited the newly renovated space and the place looked promising for me to get back on track to a successful and healthy lifestyle. With a 3 month membership under my belt, I began going to the gym 3-4 times a week. My main gym machine was, of course, the treadmill. I couldn’t go wrong with air conditioning and individual televisions.
I focused on building my strength and simply working on enjoying my workouts. I knew that if my mindset wasn’t in the right place then my plans would diminish quickly. I noticed that I loved getting on the treadmill and just running. I remember the first time I ran over 2 miles without stopping. It was a little victory and I was on a serious high. I loved it.
That fall, I wanted to try something new. Nothing too drastic, I wanted to begin running outside. It was about this time that I began setting goals to run races. Luckily, my city offers a great bike/walking trail near my house. There were absolutely no excuses for me to not walk out the door and enjoy a good run. Those first few weeks were awful. My lungs burned, my legs felt like jell-o and my body was screaming at me. As those crummy days continued, I mentally talked myself up. I’d say, “Just get to the next light. Now just make it around that corner. Get yourself to that lamp post and you can have a sliver of that brownie at home.” It just worked for me. I wasn’t willing to give up.
Some weeks were always better or worse than others. At times, I would doubt myself. “You can’t do this! What are you doing? You’ll never be good at this!” I noticed that this whole lifestyle change wasn’t just a physical and healthy eating change. It was a mental game – a mental game that was going to test me. I’ll always have some of these thoughts, but the best way to escape those mental pitfalls is to simply prove yourself wrong. There’s always going to be people rooting against you. There’s always going to be someone better than you. It’s how you mentally strengthen yourself that proves you’re better than you give yourself credit. I was doing this for me.
No one else can make the change to be healthy and strong but you. I’m not looking to lose weight or be as skinny as possible. I want to be confident in my own skin and that means being strong.
A friend of mine was making this same change. He was eating better and losing weight. He also found a love in running and we both made the decision to sign up for our first 5K together. A great piece of advice would be to sign up for a race and make it your goal to complete it. I’m working on this for a 10K. If you pay and sign up for any race then you better work your patootie off to cross that finish line looking strong and confident. It’s one of the best motivational factors out there.
January arrived. I completed that 5K in 35 minutes. I ran the whole thing without stopping even when a gargantuan hill nearly took me out completely. I completed that thing and I was proud. That’s when I knew that something great had begun.
I continue to workout 4-5 days a week because I don’t want to start over. Years ago, I’d start some sort of workout regimen and a few weeks later I’d be perched on the couch with a hand down a bag of Cheetos. At the time, my mental state wasn’t where it needed to be.
I knew that I needed to start with the right fuel in my body. Well before I made the decision to make exercise a priority, I made the kitchen a priority. Moving out of my parents in January helped this tremendously. I was forced to visit the grocery store on a weekly basis. It became my decision to either pick out some apples or grab a tube of Pringles. That’s the beauty about making a change. It’s your decision. It’s as simple as making good choices. That’s it.
My apartment isn’t filled with junk food or high-calorie snacks. The refrigerator is filled with fruits, veggies and lean meats. I substitute certain ingredients in recipes for unsweetened applesauce or greek yogurt. I reduce the amount of salt in marinades. I’m a big advocate of munching on some nuts, cheese or a piece of fruit for a snack instead of a candy bar or bag of Fritos. We eat chicken and ground turkey on a daily basis while red meat is a once a week sort of meal. Spices are my best friend. I hunt for recipes so we don’t get bored. It can be hard work, but the reward is so worth it.
It’s not like I don’t indulge. I indulge on a regular basis. The idea is moderation. You can indulge in anything that tickles your fancy, but only in moderation. I love chocolate. There was no way I was willing to give up chocolate. If you force yourself to give up what you love, you’ll end up crashing and losing your focus. To combat this, I buy really good, dark chocolate. The darker the better since it’s healthier for you. I buy Lindt or Ghirardelli dark chocolate bars. I like the 72% – 85% range. In one sitting, I’ll eat two squares. That’s half the serving and it’s plenty for me to get my sugar and chocolate fix. So whatever you indulge in, find a way to adjust your intake amount or find an alternative that’s equally satisfying without all the added processed and sugary ingredients.
In the end, motivation is simply a mental game. It’s getting rid of the little voice in your head that says you can’t do it. It’s about empowering yourself to want to do better. It’s about not settling and taking life into your own hands. It’s your life. Go out and live it.