This was originally published back in 2011 … I’ve updated it and guess what? It’s still true!
It’s a roller coaster many of us have ridden …
You’ve been spot-on with your clean eating. Your workouts have been pretty stellar. Basically, you’re killing pretty much every area of your program.
And then … pizza happens. Or maybe an extra glass (or two) of wine. And then you miss a workout or two.
Suddenly, you are a failure. You suck. You can’t stick with anything. So, you do the only thing that makes sense. You throw up your hands and give up.
DON’T DO IT!
That’s an example of black-or-white thinking, and it never works. I’m gonna help you stop that, now.
How To Stick With Your Fitness Program
A while ago at a wellness class at my gym, we talked a lot about food and what/when to eat.
One thing that struck me is how we think that there are mythical humans – human who are NOT us – who always eat “perfectly” and who never indulge and/or are rarely tempted.
That person doesn’t exist. That’s a robot. Everyone slips up now and then, and it’s the way that we THINK about those slip-ups and manage them that makes all the difference.
Sometimes there’s pizza at work, and it shows up at the exact wrong moment – when you’re hungry or tired (key times when we are at risk), or when you least expect it.
Let’s not forget about the times you’re at your wits end: stressed, emotional, too busy, and just plain “over” everything. Or your friends/family are pestering you to JUST GIVE IN this ONE TIME.
These are not the result of any intrinsic weaknesses in YOU. They are problems/hurdles/obstacles that we all face.
And the way to solve them isn’t to point the finger at yourself … instead, look at the situation and try to figure out how to fix THAT.
I’m going to outline a few real problems/situations from my own life, and how I (mostly) work around them now.
Riding The Struggle Bus
First of all, it’s hard for me to talk about being on the struggle bus because I am afraid I’m letting people down. They always seem so disappointed to know that there’s not going to be a day when they magically wake up and poof! all of these little struggles disappear.
Wouldn’t it be great if there was hope for this? Yes, it would.
The good news is that avoiding struggles gets easier the more you practice certain habits. But even then I find myself circling back around to a few key problems.
I get up really early because I go to work really early. But I don’t want to get up any earlier than I have to. I really, really, really don’t.
Even though we’re hearing all about the powers of intermittent fasting, studies continue to show the importance of eating breakfast, and I know if I don’t eat a good meal early in the day, I’m gonna be hungry later.
Well, I don’t want to prepare a full meal in the morning. And I won’t. I know this, because several times I planned to cook breakfast and it didn’t happen and I ended up grabbing something in a rush, which wasn’t the best way to start the day.
So now I cook my breakfast the night before.
Some nights (like last night) when I get home after 7 p.m. and then the phone rings and the dog starts barking and I have a gazillion things to do, I don’t want to precook my breakfast.
But I cook it anyway (last night I scrambled 3 egg whites, 1 egg, and a cup of broccoli, adding in some goat cheese). It’s in the fridge waiting for me, and will be microwaved and eaten with a slice of Ezekial bread as soon as I press the “publish” button this post. (Note: I’m on a med that requires me to take it first thing in the morning and to wait an hour before eating, which is why I didn’t eat it as soon as I woke up. 🙂 )
Running Out of Food Mid-Week
This is embarrassing to admit, but every Thursday night I found myself going through the drive-through for supper.
And I was doing this while still sweaty after teaching a high-intensity group exercise class. My stomach would be grumbling and I’d be mad at myself for putting crap into my body, even if it was from the “healthy” and “low cal” menu.
Sometimes when voice on the drive-thru speaker asked, “Would you like some nachos with that?” I would answer, “yes.”
Driving home, I’d be hating on myself. I would be all, “WHY DO YOU ALWAYS DO THIS? WHYYYY?”
And then I realized: hmm. I always do this. Why?
Duh. I was out of food at home. I was hungry. I needed to eat something immediately after class. Why didn’t I already have something on-hand?
There was a reason.
See, I tend to rock my lunches and dinners all week long … until Thursday. I work late both Wednesday and Thursday nights, and by Thursday all the proteins I precooked for the week on Sunday are gone.
And I am HUNGRY when I leave work Thursday night because I cap the day off by teaching a group ex class. Here’s a formula that will also apply to you.
Hungry Wendy + No Food In The House = Danger
Planning = Winning
What I do now is plan ahead for this. I find time during the day on Wednesday or at lunch Thursday to make sure I have food for later. Nothing that requires much prep but is more than a salad-bar salad. Yes, it’s a pain to find that time, but that little bit of pain is worth it in the long run.
Perhaps that’s a big “duh!” but it’s that kind of silly little problem that often derails our plans and makes us think we’re failures with no willpower and that we should just give up.
Look closely at the times you tend to slip up on your eating plan, and see if there’s a pattern. And if there is one, come up with a strategy that helps you work around that problem.
Maybe you eat on Friday nights because you’re lonely or it’s become a form of entertainment for you. Entertain yourself with something else!
Donuts at the office on Tuesdays? Bring something else, something healthier and lower calorie, to eat instead. And avoid being them around them, if at all possible.
Weekends – always an issue. Have a plan in mind.
Eating out. I don’t know about you, but there’s something about eating out that makes it feel like an “occasion.” But if you do it a lot, it actually is just another meal. Think about what you’re going to eat and how you’re going to ask for it to be prepared before you get to the restaurant.
It’s not so much about willpower as it is about identifying the problems, and then solving them.
There have been many changes the past five months including these three biggies:
I’ve stopped training clients in person.
I took a new job in an old career.
It all happened very quickly. During all of it, it felt like I was pushing boulders uphill — tedious, scary and never-ending. Plus, I was unable to see beyond the boulder in front of me.
But even though it felt like a never-ending task, it wasn’t. I’ve made it to the top of this tiny hill and I can see the landscape a little better, but is this the hill I wanted to climb?
This recent climb has been hard and humbling. Lonely. Quiet. It’s made me contemplate the nature of friendship, of connection with others, expectations and reciprocity.
I’m learning that sometimes — not always, but sometimes — it isn’t you (or me). Sometimes it is them. Sometimes it is hard to let that go, because sometimes it’s less painful to shoulder the blame.
5 Things for Wednesday May 9
1. I like how cardio makes me feel. It’s not always “cool” to like cardio … just like it’s cooler to like pizza than broccoli. But the truth is, nothing lifts the spirits quite so much as getting the heart rate up for a little while (see workout below). And let’s face it: if you’re worried about being cool (because why does that even matter?), you aren’t.
2. Dancing with the Stars athletes edition … so much fun.
3. Based on my viewing patterns, I think maybe my next personal trainer continuing education classes should be dance related, yes? I miss teaching group ex.
4. When something makes you feel anxious, do you rush headlong into it, do you sit and analyze or do you back away? What do you do when you aren’t sure you can trust your gut (because, contrary to popular belief, sometimes your gut gets bad programming and you can’t trust it).
5. I want to stay home from work this afternoon and play with the flowers that are in full bloom in my yard.
15 minutes Arc trainer (elliptical), 160 strides/minute pace
10 minutes Stepmill with skip-a-step intervals
15 minutes treadmill incline and side-step intervals
The other day I realized I need to figure out what to do with this blog. It’s been lying dormant here on the internet, giving me website shame. Things have changed, a lot, since my last post. So much.
And I’ve been listening for far too long to the experts who told me what I had to do in order to have a blog … even though it’s likely I’ve had a blog for longer than most of them have been old enough to own laptops. Plus, there’s been a great deal of business and personal betrayal, which has made me pull back on sharing basically anything. I’ve been figuring all that out and what it meant and means.
For my entire life I’ve tried really hard to color inside the lines because on a survival level I want to fit in and be a good girl. But the truth is, that’s probably not me … I get bored, I check out, I slip out the side door. So I am going to do an experiment, replicating what I did back in the days when I enjoyed blogging. Because as I’ve been musing on this blog’s future, I realized the officialization of blogging (the rules, the must-haves, the systems) is part of what killed it for me.
For a while, I’m just going to write about stuff that interests me. Stuff I find fun or helpful or “aha.” If it sticks, I’ll keep the blog. If it doesn’t, cya later gator.
If you followed my old forever-archived blog, you know I love lists.
5 Things for Tuesday, May 8
1. Bingeing on The Next Step on Hulu. How did this happen? And why?
2. Life is better when you have a goal or something to look forward to.
3. Sitting all day at work sucks. Fastest way to effortlessly gain weight ever.
4. Trying to turn that above thought around, into how efficient my body has become at storing energy. It’s built to survive.
5. Being able to “borrow” e-books from the library is pretty awesome.
When was the last time you took a break from working out?
I’m talking about taking a real break … not just a day or two off from your usual routine.
If you spend at least 45 minutes a day getting sweaty, most days of the year … probably for years on end … I’m talking to you.
You might go to the gym, run, or take group ex classes, or maybe you do exercise videos at home. And most of the time when you work out, you push yourself.
Maybe you need a vacation from your workouts.
BEFORE YOU THINK “STOP BEING WEAK” AND QUIT READING ….
Don’t Be Me
First, just so you don’t think I’m being Judge Judy: I am you.
Well, at least I was until a few years ago, when shit happened and I suddenly couldn’t work out every day. (Ironically, that “shit” was a bunch of random health issues and injuries I thought I was protected from because I worked out and ate a clean, balanced, and healthy diet, took my vitamins, and did all the “right” things.)
When I had to cut back on my workouts, I thought I would balloon up in weight, or suddenly lose my fitness base, or I don’t know. It just seemed like something bad would happen, or maybe I just wouldn’t feel like myself any more.
For sure, I would lose that odd virtuous feeling I had after a good workout. (See? I know you.)
Not working out every day sucked, big-time, until I noticed something.
On the days those random health issues weren’t nagging at me, I actually felt pretty great.
Fewer Workouts = More Energy
I had energy I didn’t know I was lacking before. It took me a while to realize this, but little things started to change.
One night I noticed that I wasn’t stressed about getting to bed at a certain time. Seriously, I used to be obsessive about getting enough sleep, so that I could make it through the following day.
But the realization totally hit home when, on a weeknight (OMG!) I found myself getting ahead on my weekend chores. There I was, standing at the kitchen sink, thinking, “Who am I? How did this happen? I’m like a normal person, but I didn’t even know I wasn’t normal till now.”
Because usually, I would have collapsed on the couch, nodding off till bedtime.
Are You Part of the <5 percent?
Now, remember: I’m a personal trainer, so fitness is my pretty much my life. I work out, I have taught (easily) hundreds of group ex classes over the years (which require hours of practice), plus it’s not unusual for me to demonstrate exercises for clients several times during training sessions.
Meanwhile, most of us struggle to find time to work out a few times a week – due to our schedules, interest, or motivation. Truth: according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, only about 5 percent of Americans get 30 minutes of exercise a day.
Even though I was so active, according to the medical literature, I also wasn’t in the overtrained crowd, or even in the overreached crowd.
Mostly, I was in the over-worked-out crowd, as are many of us who include “fitness enthusiast,” “gym rat,” “exercise nut,” “athlete,” or other exercise-activity descriptor in our identity.
I Dare You
If any of this is you, I’m throwing down a dare. I dare you to unleash the beast. How about you take a week off?
And THEN, after that week, try working out only every other day. Do that for a month.
You won’t fall apart. You won’t even lose strength or fitness. And you also won’t gain weight, unless you start eating extra.
I promise. Like 100 percent promise.
Seriously. Be a real beast and be brave. Be human. Just try it.
About 3 weeks ago, I started a “30-day get-back-into-shape” plan. I’d just come off a bad spell – including a weekend in the hospital. That’s a long story all on its own, which I’ll write about soon (when I’m feeling brave).
Basically, though, I was sick of feeling sick.
My plan was going great. I was working out every day (just right, not too much), making headway on some business and personal stuff, and I was happy with the progress I was making.
Seriously, even though I was concentrating mostly on cardio exercises during the first week (part of that long story), I was getting stronger. One night I had my group training session clients do some sun salutations, and I was surprised at how easily I could lower into chaturanga without going to the floor, and push into full upward-facing dog.
It felt amazing.
In fact, that’s when I started thinking about putting together a real 30-day plan for this blog, that I could do in real-time with my readers. How awesome would that be? (Awesome!)
And then that let me to think:
“Slow down, speed racer. You know how it’s gone these past few years. If you make this a ‘thing,’ you’re gonna jinx yourself. Instead, write about it offline as you go, get the 30 days done, and THEN publish it for readers to follow along with.”
‘Ha, Ha, Ha!’ Saith The Universe
The next morning I woke up at my usual time and walked the dog. I noticed I felt colder than usual and generally “off.” I couldn’t seem to warm up when we came inside, so I took my temp.
It was 94 degrees … on two different thermometers.
Now, on the one hand having a low temp wasn’t shocking, as I was just coming out of a significant thyroid “crisis,” caused by a medical snafu (that long story I referred to above). And I always run a low temp anyway (again, thyroid).
But on the other hand, that’s ridiculous. I bundled up, drank some hot tea, and kept moving, and eventually my temp came up a little bit, so I went to work.
By nighttime, I was downright sick, with a real fever this time, and for the next three days all I did was sleep.
That meant I missed a major exam I was supposed to take for an advanced qualification I was working toward. Plus, I’m self-employed, so my income took yet another hit (part of the long story).
Mostly though, I basically 1) felt like shit and 2) was beyond embarrassed by this nonstop barrage of problems. Plus, I was exhausted and I looked like a stoner because I was so tired.
Not very fit-spirational!
To top it all off, I developed shingles … and out of the blue my knee started hurting, which made me walk with a limp.
Did you ever see the old Mary Tyler Moore show, where she goes through a bad spell? It’s considered one of the top 100 sitcom episodes of all time – it’s called Put on a Happy Face. It’s a classic because we can all relate to it.
When I went to see my doc, a few more things came up (part of that long story, having to do with thyroid issues).
We agreed: I was in the midst of a bonafide “spell.” Like, all I could do was laugh. But … also not laugh.
Because how would I turn things around?
How to Get Out of a Rut
… or stop getting your ass kicked, and start kicking ass instead.
I already knew the answer, and I sure wish it was sexier. There’s only one real way to move forward, even if you’re in the middle of a “spell.”
The bad news: It’s the opposite of following a 30-day plan.
Now, I already knew all this based on my numerous (ha!) years of experience both living my life and coaching others. But the thing is, like everyone else on the planet, I wanted a plan that took me from A to B to C … preferably as fast as possible.
The good news: The key to moving forward is simple, whether or not you’re in a spell.
You just have to keep moving ahead, probably more slowly than you like, at least to start.
The bad news part two: You have to be patient, do stuff you might not always want to do, and get a little uncomfortable from time to time.
Seriously, I’ve used the whole “be patient, take your time, do a little bit of something every single day” routine numerous times. It’s how I got into fitness in the first place, after a partially misspent youth. It’s also how I achieved my goal of writing for major newsstand magazines, got a publishing deal on a book, trained for and finished a triathlon, prepared for a bodybuilding show, and more.
Chances are you won’t move toward your end goal in a straight line, and you might even back up/move sideways a little. You might even move at a snail’s pace.
Also, chances are you are gonna have to make some trade-offs along the way.
We’ve all seen the meme:
It’s pretty accurate.
And none of this means you can’t follow a 30-day plan. But what it does mean is that it might take 45 (or more) days. You might change vehicles mid-trip. You might decide you actually enjoy the scenery on a particular detour, and you could even change your ultimate destination.
The thing is, you just can’t stop.
Here’s my plan. Do a little working out every day. Load up my diet with nutrient-dense foods (I have a great recipe tomorrow). If I’m tired, rest.
Reevaluate in a week.
Are you ready to start with me? I have a feeling that the trip is gonna be worth it.
In the middle of a personal sh*storm – dealing with financial, health, or family crises.
Faced with too many things to do in too little time.
Overtired, overstressed, or just plain “over” stuff.
What does this have to do with fitness, you ask?
Kind of everything. I’ve spent the past 10+ years watching and listening to overwhelmed clients try to do it all. And I’ve heard them talk about their sore backs, their knees, their hips, and their shoulders. It’s as if they are carrying the weight of the world. And yet they think it will all better better if they just do more … and do that more even BETTER.
I’ve also been there. Over the past couple years, between some huge business/work changes, battling a pesky health bump, juggling online/offline work, walking my never-enough-walks dog, AND trying to get my own workouts in, there have been days I didn’t know which way I was going.
So Much To Do, So Little Time
My grandmother, who also was an entrepreneur, had a saying: “I’m so busy I am going to meet myself coming around the corner.” (She also occasionally said she was “busier than a one-armed paper hanger.” She said a lot of non-corny things, too.)
Anyway, when you’re in the middle of all that overwhelm, it’s normal to think: “I just need to get organized.”
But have you ever noticed that when you’re feeling overwhelmed, any attempts you make to organize your mind/tasks/life/stuff don’t ever stick?
That’s because when your mind is overwhelm mode, you can’t get a handle on exactly what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, how you’re going to find the time, and often, how you’re actually going to do it.
Plus, when you’re struggling with brain clutter, you somehow seem to come up with even MORE stuff you have to (or want to) do. It’s a crazy self-perpetuating cycle.
Get Quiet, Get Clear
Before you can organize your tasks, your life, your stuff, your finances, or whatever … you have to do one thing first.
You have to clear your mind.
I know. Sounds impossible, right? When your thoughts are running you with a never-ending list of stuff to do/think about/etc. how are you supposed to shut them up?
Take it from me: going on a massive multi-tasking binge to get caught up on a few things first is the exact OPPOSITE of what you need to do.
Instead, try to STOP and get quiet … even though you think stopping is going to make it worse.
Taking some time to pull back and declutter your mind is totally worth it.
And here are some simple ways to make that happen.
8 Ways to Declutter Your Mind Backed By Science
1. Take a Nap
When you’re tired you’re especially prone to feeling overwhelmed.
When you haven’t had enough sleep, the pathways in your brain just don’t work the way they are supposed to. Your brain’s info-filtering system has a hard time differentiating all the input that’s being thrown at it.
And that means making decisions is even harder (1).
Seriously, what’s one of the first things you would do for a fussy toddler who can’t seem to get comfortable or happy? You’d think: “If only they would just take a nap.”
Try to take some time to chill, and if you’re freaking out about wasting time, set your timer and let yourself relax for 20 minutes. It’ll be worth it.
2. Write Down Your Feelings
One of the best ways to clear your mind of clutter is to take the time to write down your feelings/thoughts/tasks.
Here’s a huge hint that you will benefit from journaling. If the idea of taking the time to write down your feelings makes you feel stabby … like you have NO TIME for it, and it’s a stupid idea… it means you should do it.
Trust me. I’ve felt that way on numerous occasions. And then I’ve picked up my notebook, written for a while, and felt so much better that I vow to write in my journal every day (which I mostly do).
Anyway, study after study points to how beneficial journaling is to our well-being (2).
I find it to be especially effective if I do it as soon as possible after waking up, either in the morning or after that nap I mentioned above.
Write down how you’re feeling and thinking, organize your thoughts, and you’ll start to see your priorities develop, which will help get you out of overwhelm mode.
And if you’re worried someone will read what you wrote, rip up the pages. Problem solved.
This is another one of those things that if the idea of it makes you feel grouchy or like kicking the wall, maybe you need some of it in your life.
You’ve probably noticed over the past few years that meditation has moved out of the “woo-woo” sphere to become more mainstream. That’s because more stressed-out individuals have found it to be an effective tool to clear the clutter in their heads.
When life is hectic, do you ever feel as though you’re having a non-stop conversation (with yourself) in your head? Like your thoughts are scattered and out of control? That’s called monkey mind, and it’s a real thing.
But here’s another real thing: meditation helps soothe that monkey talk (3). Study after study has has pointed to the powerful effects meditation has on our brains.
It also has been proven to help improve coping abilities and resilience (4).
Try the Headspace app for some meditation assistance.
4. Go Outdoors … Maybe Barefooted
Getting outside to enjoy the sun and earth is huge when it comes to changing your mood, in so many different ways.
First, sunshine itself has powerful impact on your mood, energy, and sleep quality (5).
Second, if you go for a walk somewhere in nature – the woods, a meadow, the ocean, anywhere you aren’t surrounded by dozens of buildings and honking traffic – it can help qualm what Stanford researchers called “a maladaptive pattern of self-referential thought.”
Which basically is ruminating on negative crud. You know, like all that brain clutter (6).
Third, and maybe this is deep into the woo-woo sphere, but there is a growing belief that actually “grounding” or “earthing” your body by walking barefooted outside can help reset your body’s systems. It’s all rooted in bioelectricity.
I mean, if you think about it, your body actually DOES have an electrical system, one that operates all the way down to your cellular level. And electricity is a natural force on the planet. Yet we are the only living beings that do not (at least now, in modern times) regularly come into physical contact with the earth’s surface by walking on it.
Many alternative and integrative health practitioners (and even some mainstream ones) are suggesting our bodies “recharge” by coming into contact with the earth … that it makes a difference in our moods, our sleep, and maybe even more (7)(8).
5. Go for a Run (or Walk!)
There are so many reasons that workouts – like running and walking – help you feel better mentally.
Cardio exercise has a direct impact on the hormones that help you get stuff done (it’s true! there are hormones for that!) (9).
It also can help boost your mood and reorganize your brain for resiliency (100).
And if you do it outside (see number 4, above), you can get even more benefits, whether it’s from mood-boosting sunshine or extra calorie burn (11).
Listening to music when you run is even more beneficial.
Why? A Ohio State University study recently discovered that when someone exercises with music, it activates the area in the brain that deals with a higher level of mental function (12).
6. Spend Time with a Pet
For most people, pets aren’t just animals – they’re beloved members of the family.
And if you have a pet, you know that spending time with them – you know, actually patting, walking, or playing with them – brings you to the present moment. Pets don’t get preoccupied with their to-do list, their phone, or anything else (except maybe sniffing things, but that’s another story).
Anyway, that present-ness is incredibly centering.
And not only that, if you spend quality one-on-one time with an animal, it triggers the release of oxytocin in your body (12). Oxytocin is commonly called the “love” hormone, as it is helps increase feelings of warmth, well-being, and affection (13).
If you don’t have a pet, take a few minutes to watch one of the thousands of cute pet videos on the internet. You’ll get a dose of cuteness – and relaxation – without any strings attached.
Even though I have pets of my own, some mornings I watch cute pet videos online and they always start my day with a smile.
Seriously, check out this video of cat fails and try not to laugh.
7. Cut Back On Sugar and (Maybe?) Caffeine
What food group do we crave when we want a quick hit of energy or a mood boost?
Carbs, of course. And what do carbs contain?
Sugar. (Of course.)
But here’s the kicker. While sugar might temporarily elevate your mood and power you through that brain clutter, there’s the inevitable sugar crash, which can leave you feel agitated, tired, stressed and … overwhelmed.
Eliminating sugar from your diet is hard, but reserving it for sweet treats is easy, once you start to feel your mind calm (15).
Caffeine, meanwhile, is a tricky little beast. In the right amount, it can help give us focus and energy, but too much and we’re heading to the land of chaos. (16) (17). As with most things that can cause dependence, moderation is the key.
8. Set a Timer and Do Something
On paper, Saturday mornings should be an upbeat, relaxing time for me, because that’s when I finish work for the week and have the rest of the weekend off.
But often when I get home from the studio on Saturday, I’m super stressed. That’s because I start to think about everything I want or need to get done during the weekend, and when I think of the list I’ve created for myself, I get overwhelmed.
And that overwhelm makes makes me want to say “screw it” and take a nap (which actually isn’t a bad idea, as per item 1 on this list … except on Saturdays I’m really not that tired, just overwhelmed).
So here’s what I do instead.
I pick one thing on my to-do list (say, clean the fridge), set a timer for 15 minutes and I crank it out.
Sometimes I listen to music when I do this, sometimes a podcast. Sometimes, nothing.
It’s kind of awesome. Once I have knocked one thing off my list, it gives me a feeling of accomplishment and focus to do at least a couple more things before I kick back and enjoy my time off.
Make Some Brain Space and Feel Better
Taking advantage of some of these tips should help you get more organized overall – and also help quiet “monkey mind.”
One of the things I found when taming my own monkey mind – an ongoing process! – is that just as we develop physical habits, we also can develop habits with our thought patterns.
Taking a few moments to “declutter” our thoughts to break the overwhelm cycle goes a long way toward getting more organized with everything long-term (18).
Even if you’re currently the most disorganized person you know, it’s not impossible to change… with a little help from your mindset.