The secrets to healthy living are no secret. Even mentioning them in 2018 feels redundant. Eat less junk, more vegetables, and move around often. It’s solid advice that’s remained consistent for longer than homo sapiens have roamed the plains. However, actually living that way has become harder since the industrial revolution traded physical labour for mental labour and natural food for industrial “stuff” (I don’t feel right calling it food).
And since it’s so simple to do, yet so rare to see, the difficulty mustn’t lie in the practice, but in the practitioner. 10 tips and tricks and a time-saving hack or two really won’t change someone’s attitude towards their lifestyle until they decide to change. And unhealthy living is an arduous cycle to break.
Suit up and show up
At some point, everyone has thought, “I’m just not up to it today.” And that’s ok, so long as there are days when even if you’re not up to it, you suck it up, power through, and do what you must. This does more for your mental health than your physical health, but that’s the point of this article. Saying you have no time to live healthy is not a reason not to, it’s an excuse to keep digging deeper into the pit of habitual unconscious behaviour. All this does is maintain and reinforce self-destructive actions and self-defeating attitudes.
You feel better when you stop avoiding responsibility and start embracing it. Humans are consistent creatures, and our habits build their own feedback loops. The more actions you take in favour of feeling worse, the worse you’ll feel. Conversely, the more you do to feel better, the better you feel. You think you’ll feel better if you skip the gym today and instead go home, order a pizza, and binge TV – and at that moment you might. But the next morning you’ll regret it, making you more likely to comfort yourself with junk food and Netflix the next day, and the next day, and the next.
Quantity or “Quality”
The most straightforward benefit of a healthy lifestyle is the addition of more years to one’s life. The apparent downside of a healthy lifestyle is the lack of pleasure people believe it involves. No cakes, donuts, and mandatory trips to the gym. Gross.
But that’s not the case. A healthy lifestyle not only affords you more years on Earth – it also enhances the quality of those years. Conversely, not only does a junk lifestyle steal objective years from you, it makes the years you have left painful – not pleasant.
Let me paint two scenes for you:
The first is a person who eats healthy and exercises regularly. They do their best to exercise at least 30 minutes a day if they’re genuinely too busy. On Sundays, they plan their entire week’s meals, accounting for what kind of organism they’d like to live with. Every once in a while, they treat themselves to any of the delicious empty calories available at your local bakery and a night on the couch. As a result of their lifestyle, this person enjoys physical and mental prosperity well into old age. They suffer few to no debilitating illnesses. They are able to thoroughly enjoy their life by travelling, biking, hiking, or whatever else suits their fancy.
The second person rarely exercises (if ever) and eats the cheapest and/or most convenient options available to them. They’ve tried to do things differently, but their changes never seem to stick. As a result, they’re plagued with feelings of disempowerment and a lack of control over their own lives. Frequent visits to physicians, specialists, dieticians, and personal trainers leave them cash poor and in near-constant physical distress. In the moment, they decided there was no time to live wholesomely, and they end up paying for that “saved” time with their quality of life.
I’ll assume I’ve made my point: the easy way out is actually more difficult.
Granted, I may be oversimplifying just a smidge. I understand that completely renovating your habits and attitudes is neither simple nor easy. It takes time, discipline, and self-reflection. And I’ll never say it’s easy – I only assert that it’s worth it.
Let’s talk practice
I hope I’ve made the theoretical background of a healthy lifestyle abundantly clear, so let’s move to the practical aspects.
Before offering 10 tips and tricks on proper form in the gym or a time-saving hack to ease any meal prepping angst, let’s explore how to adjust some unhealthy habits.
1. Take things one step at a time. If you jump in with both feet, you’ll find yourself in over your head. Every day, make one small change. Replace that afternoon bag of trans fat-laden potato chips with carrot and/or celery sticks (but avoid hyper-processed baby carrots) or an apple.
2. Upcycle “wasted” time. Waiting sucks, but you can use that time to rewire your brain. If you’re stuck in line or traffic, take those few minutes to check in with yourself or meditate instead of reaching for the cellphone.
3. Train yourself to be an optimist. Try to see things from a different angle. Silver linings are a sign of the sun behind the clouds. The next time you’re unnecessarily frustrated, look for absolutely anything you have to be grateful for, no matter how small.
4. Drink more water. Yup – that’s it. Hydration is the secret to life, so get more of it.
5. Get excited about something. Think about the big things you want in life. Your list will put a smile on your face and hopefully motivate you to take those first steps in the right direction.
6. Focus on the journey, not the destination. Stuck in traffic and late for work? There’s nothing you can do about it. This means your emotions are 100% in your hands. Blast your favourite song or radio station and sing along.
7. Practice mindfulness. There’s a lot of stigma around the difficulty of mindful living, but of course it’ll seem hard when you overcomplicate the practice of simplicity. Pay attention to your surroundings. Notice the breeze in the air. Notice the light reflecting and refracting all around you. Take a deep breath.
8. The next time you think of dodging the week’s meal plan or passing on the gym for the third day in a row, instead of telling yourself, “I don’t have time,” try thinking, “this isn’t a priority today.” When a thought is reframed like this, your feelings will change, and your actions will naturally follow. You’ll need significantly less sheer willpower to live the life you want to live.
That’s it. Life is only as difficult and complicated as you make it. Just because you assess an afternoon of Netflix and popcorn as being “better” than a couple hours at the gym doesn’t make it so. Flip your story upside down and relate to it differently.
Stop putting your best life on hold. Go get it.