Start Where You Are
The perils of undertaking a healthy lifestyle are, in my opinion, threefold:
- The expectation that it’s going to be hard/time consuming/you’re going to miss out on all the good things you’ve come to love about life (cake, ice cream, pie, pizza, hamburgers, beer, sleeping in, etc etc etc)
- The initial excitement and overzealousness that leads to upfront perfectionism followed by burnout (and ultimately quitting)
- The sheer OVERWHELM.
This is why I tell every dear human embarking on a journey to a new way of being the same thing: simply start where you are.
It’s really easy to read a book or follow someone’s instagram feed and get crazy inspired to emulate them in every way. The urge to purge your life of all the things you’re sick of and move into clean green machine diva mode is so very tempting, but I advise resisting that urge.
Because more than likely the person who wrote that book or curates that gorgeous Instagram feed has probably been living a healthy lifestyle for a good long time. I promise you it didn’t come on all at once for them.
It’s not like one day they were snoozing through the alarm, not working out, having instant coffee and Cheerios for breakfast, skipping lunch, desperate 3 pm snack hunt in the desk drawers, drive through dinner, ice cream and wine, followed by staying up too late watching Game of Thrones, and the next day was sunrise yoga followed by green juice/smoothie and a matcha maca latte, gorgeous salad for lunch, chia pudding snack, fresh squeezed juice handcrafted cocktail happy hour before a plant based gluten and dairy free lasagna entree and a cashew cheesecake dessert.
It takes time to find what works for you, what you like (dare I say LOVE), how it fits into your life, and please please PLEASE do not attempt to cut anything out. Restriction is not the answer. If you love Coke, keep drinking Coke. If you love Beef Chalupa Supremes from Taco Bell, keep eating them. Love wine and beer? Keep em coming.
Here’s the secret: Add in more of the stuff you want more of.
When I first began this health journey of mine a good 7 years ago, I started doing 30 day yoga challenges not because I wanted to do yoga every day (at that juncture in my life), but because if you finished a 30 day challenge, the reward was a month of yoga FO FREE. Um… yes. Sign me up. I quickly found that what I ate/drank truly effected how I felt in class. This was Bikram Yoga, aka 90 minute classes in a 104 degree room. This environment is truly hell if you’ve been treating your body like a garbage can. Which, at that time in my life, I was. Like, my body was basically a dumpster behind a bar in the East Village.
I’d heard that a smoothie was a good way to start out the day, so I did some Googling and put some of the random ingredients I had in my house into my tiny blender that I’d purchased for just this purpose (no, I have not always had a Vitamix, but holy mother of blenders it was a game changer). One banana, some spinach, some blueberries, some Hershey’s cocoa powder, some ice, and some water. Blend blend blend and sip sip sip.
My smoothies are definitely a bit more elevated, now, but listen: there was nothing wrong with that smoothie.
I was starting where I was.
You want to add in more yoga?
You may find that if you have a Coke right beforehand, you feel like a load of crap through the class. Maybe the next time you’ll drink some water before class. Maybe you'll decide you're kinda over Coke. But don’t quit it because Coke is bad and you want to drop a couple pounds and if you cut out Coke that’ll do it. Do it because you realize you actually FEEL better without it.
Add in more water and you may find yourself drinking one less Coke a day just because DANG that’s a lot of liquid.
Add in going for a walk in the evening, and you may note your Netflix queue backing up a bit.
Add in some more fresh vegetables and fruits. Try one new thing a week. You have a whole lifetime to take this journey, and it’s not like there’s a destination (other than the one we’re all headed towards… the long nap). We’re all just trying to enJOY our time a little more, and feeling amazing is pivotal to enJOYing life.
In this way, the aforementioned perils become less, well, perilous:
The expectation that it’s going to be hard/time consuming/you’re going to miss out on all the good things you’ve come to love about life (cake, ice cream, pie, pizza, hamburgers, beer, sleeping in, etc etc etc)
Ain’t no thang! Taking it slow and steady means it’s not going to be that hard or time consuming, because you’re going to fit it in where there’s space in your life. And you don’t have to miss out on a single thing that you love. (The caveat here is that you may realize that some of the things you love don’t love you back. For me? That’s gluten and dairy. I’ve come to realize that I enJOY life more without them because I don’t want to feel like shiz—so, I avoid them. But… I know that I can have them any time I want them. If I want!)
The initial excitement and overzealousness that leads to upfront perfectionism followed by burnout (and ultimately quitting)
With this approach, you’re not going to start off like a bat out of hell, throwing out all your food and replacing it with a perfectly culled grocery list of acceptable and non-acceptable foods. You’re embarking on a lifelong experiment to find what makes you feel the best you can feel, from head to toe. Sure, there will be hills and valleys, but rather than starting this out like there’s some sort of finish line that you’re racing towards, taking it slow and keeping happiness at the heart will prevent you from feeling like it’s all too much. Don’t throw in that towel!
The sheer OVERWHELM.
It can seem like a lot. So many articles flying around social media about “what’s good,” “what’s bad,” the best recipes, the best foods, the best time of day to exercise, the best time of day to drink coffee, the worst food to eat if you want to live to be 100 (which ironically is also somehow the best food to eat?). Suddenly everyone you know is a health expert telling you what you should and should not do. It’s a lot to sort through. It’s a lot to take on. But you don’t have to do it all. And you don’t have to do it all at once. Add on new things as they pique your interest. Find support. Keep it light. Keep it fun. Find the joy.
So go ahead. Try one new thing this week. Check out this Sun Salutation yoga practice. Try a chocolate zucchini smoothie or a Morrocan smoothie or a Sweet Pea Mint Smoothie. Go to the produce section at your grocery store and try one fruit or vegetable that seems weird/new to you.
Most importantly: Have fun!