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Challenges, Goals and Happiness
We as adults have enough knowledge, responsibility, and power to take control over important things in life. We get to decide what we want to eat, which job to choose, how to raise our kids, or even little things like which shoes to wear. But still, we tend to fall into traps, very often set by people with money to invest in coercive advertising. We all know all about the Biggest Loser, 200 Calorie Snack Packs, or the latest popular celebrity inspired 7 Day Cleanse. All these diet and fitness challenges are very beneficial to those who sell them. Chances are that you have tried at least one fad diet or a fitness gimmick at some point in your life. We keep falling for these fads because they usually promise fast results with hardly any effort. Want rock hard abs in a month? Sure, here is your 50 dollar ebook. Only three more weeks until bikini season? No problem, this is what you can drink three times a day instead of food and you’ll lose fat in no time! We have all been there. We all once thought: I want a change, and I want it NOW. Our brains work like that sometimes and fad diet creators know that all too well, and work our impatience to their advantage.
I WANT IT NOW
We live in a very fast paced world where everything is just a click away. We have apps for everything and we can connect with our friends on the other side of the world with just a tap on the screen. We can have groceries delivered to our door, or get an instant uber pick up. Transportation is getting faster, meals are made faster thanks to processed pre-made food, and we don’t even need to go to the bank anymore to sign a lease we can do that via iPhone. I see people on the subway platform, running and bumping into each other without even stopping to apologize, even though there is another train going in three minutes. I see people crossing the street against the advice of the red traffic light, without even looking left and right first. Every time I witness something like this, this Queen song starts playing in my head: I want it all, and I want it now.
The sad thing is that we have started applying a similar mentality to our health as well. We seek instant gratification via online shopping and likes on social media (I still cant believe like is now considered a noun and a verb) but also in the mirror or on the scale. We want fast results with minimal effort, just like the marketers promise through their gimmicks and fads. We react with our senses, and sight is one of them. Seeing a chocolate cake makes you crave it more than just hearing the word cake. Smelling coffee makes you want to pour yourself a cup. Hearing your favorite song makes you want to dance or at least sing along. And seeing a body that is considered perfect by these unrealistic standards the media portrays makes you want to have that body, especially when you are unhappy with how you look, or are dissatisfied in another area of your life. When we feel out of control in other areas we tend to try to control our own bodies more. This is where we fall into that trap.
It doesn’t matter if we take up a diet or a fitness challenge because we want to lose fat or solve a health problem, it is the promise of fast results that is so appealing to us. These challenges are very often based on calorie restriction or calorie counting, excessive exercise, or another kind of deprivation. Many of these programs are nothing more than a starvation diet with a crazy amount of cardio added, just like the good old (or we should say bad old) advice eat less, exercise more told us to do. Back in the day, people really believed this was true, and behavior based on this premise leads exactly where we don’t want to end up: another trap. Eating less means depriving yourself of important nutrients, including the key building blocks that literally make you who you are. Not enough food also means not enough fuel for the intense workouts you are told to do, and as an extension of this, there is a serious risk of injury or fatigue. The body is like a vehicle in a way if you don’t put the proper fuel in, you cant expect it to go very far.
CALORIES (DON’T) MATTER
Many people believe that in order to lose weight, they need to burn more calories than they actually take in. If only things were that simple. Logic (math) says so, but health doesn’t work like that; there is no equation for health and there most certainly is not a universal formula for healthy fatloss. Calories are the last thing that matters in the food that we eat. A calorie is a unit of energy, it has nothing to do with health. We forget to actually think about where our calories come from, instead of how many we consume (or burn via hardcore cardio sessions later). You cant exercise your way out of a poor diet, and there is a massive difference between eating 1200 calories in grass-fed steak with butter and salad with homemade mayo dressing, or 1200 calories worth of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. One hundred calories of fat will have a much different effect on the body than 100 calories of sugar. The message should be to learn to choose the most nutrient-dense fuel that works most efficiently for your body.
Each of us is so unique and different metabolically, as well as having different levels of fitness and different health status. Age, sex, and activity level are also factors that we should take into consideration. We will be best served by embracing this individuality that makes us unique, and start working in its favor, rather than against it. Every drastic change that doesn’t agree with your body, your metabolism, and your mindset is a major setback on the journey to wellness and health. If it doesn’t mesh with your values and your lifestyle, it isn’t going to stick. Also, counting calories (or macros) is such an exhausting and time consuming process! Eating should be a mindful process, an enjoyable part of the day, maybe the only quiet and peaceful time you can spend with your loved one(s), not a stressful math class. You benefit more from taking the time to properly chew and enjoy your meal than you would from abusing your calculator, trying to determine if you can eat one more spoonful or not, based on some general nonsensical pattern that was sold to you by a diet expert.
IF IT FITS YOUR MACROS
Once (well, multiple times actually) I saw someone not eating more because it didn’t fit his macros. And no, that person was not an Olympic athlete or a professional fitness model. More and more ordinary people are trying to adopt these super restrictive diets that are developed for elite athletes. Don’t get me wrong, I admire the dedication, hard work, and self-sacrifice of these super humans, but very often they are not the healthiest people in the world. Their bodies have to handle a lot of physical training, frequent injuries, and constant pressure to become better than everyone else. We (at least the majority of us) are not professional athletes, we don’t have to restrict ourselves in order to get that golden medal, and we don’t have to practice for a marathon all year. What we need to do is support our bodies to be able to live our everyday lives with abundant health and energy. There is no deadline for us, no event we have to train for, no coach yelling at us to keep pushing. Every day is our Olympic event and we have to make sure we are ready to perform at work, at home, with our families and friends. The point is to truly live and be able to enjoy life.
Another problem with diet and fitness challenges is the fact that once the set time frame is over, we tend to fall back into our old habits. We tend to believe that once we reach a goal (be it a number on a scale, a pant size, or even an amount of money or a new car) we will be happy. Sure, we can experience some level of satisfaction, but this feeling usually doesn’t last very long. This is called Hedonic Adaptation (or the Hedonic Treadmill) a mental process that makes positive (or negative) emotions fade with time. If you ever wanted something really badly (a new car, expensive shoes, or to fit into size 4 jeans), you surely experienced a high level of happiness once you achieved it. But you could also tell that a week or two later, the feeling was not as strong as the initial moment, and in a few months you probably started taking that thing or person in your life for granted. The same goes for negative emotions if you lose something (or someone), break your favorite mug, or get fired from your job, you probably think you will be sad and unhappy forever.
Thanks to hedonic adaptation, even your feeling of sadness, anger, or grief will go away over time. They say time heals all things, right? When we achieve a specific goal and this feeling of excitement wears off, we either seek out a new goal or realize the high was just temporary and slowly slide back into our old ways. The problem with that first option is that once we get to that new goal, the hedonic treadmill strikes again. And again. If you live every day thinking once I get there, I will be happy, your journey towards that next goal becomes a waiting period filled with negative emotions and expectations (you are not there yet, so you are not happy) and once you get there and the happiness wears off, you might even regret the whole journey and not try ever again. The good news is that there is a better way.
THE JOURNEY IS THE GOAL
In order to avoid this scenario, we have to stop seeing life as a set of goals and checkpoints, and start seeing it as a journey where every step of the way should be valued and appreciated with the same amount of love and gratitude, taken mindfully, grounded in the present moment. Every single day, not just that moment you finally reach your goal. If you have ever experienced this hedonic adaptation cycle (most of us have, even multiple times in our lives), you might now have a better understanding of your past struggles. You might stop beating yourself up for not being strong enough, passionate enough, or motivated enough, and stop thinking of yourself as a loser. Instead, try to focus on your life as a wonderful journey where everyday is a day worth living and enjoying. We are here to learn to love ourselves today, exactly as we are, in the condition or shape or pain we are in right now. A wise man once said: You cant fix a body you hate, and I cant agree more. Loving ourselves is something we don’t do enough, but it is possible and a far more enjoyable journey to dwell in; our bodies deserve all the love we can give them. By shifting our perspective from being goal oriented to journey oriented, we can achieve a greater level of happiness and health, because we will love and cherish every single day of our journey.
Ditch the diet challenges and fitness programs that promise fast results. Don’t look at your past mistakes with regret, don’t rush into tomorrow, focus on NOW and TODAY. Be present, mindfully. Do something today that will make your tomorrow better, while staying in the present. Make choices your future self with thank your current self for whether its batch cooking and freezing a nourishing meal for that busy night later in the week, starting a retirement savings plan, ending a toxic relationship, or booking a vacation with people you love. Make choices that will serve as preventative medicine, allowing you to live your life to the fullest for as long as possible. Enjoy every second of your life, remembering to live in the moment. Try to be happy now, with what you already have. Don’t hate your body just because someone told you that you should look a certain way, or be able to do a certain thing. Choose to eat healthily and incorporate movement in every day; there is no deadline for being healthy, it is a process that never ends. Dr. Michael Amendolara says on his website: Making big changes in your life can be challenging or may even seem impossible. But it doesn’t have to be so difficult. Dr. Amendolara is a friend of ours who uses Neuro Linguistic Programming techniques to help his patients achieve their goals, whether they are pain management or lifestyle changes. He shared some of his wisdom and his personal experiences with us in a video podcast with Martin and Scott. The insights he shared with us in this interview will help you to achieve the changes you are striving for: ditching a bad habit like smoking or drinking soda, or starting to exercise on a regular basis, or creating another new healthy lifestyle habit! Your choices and actions should support your health and your goals every single day for the rest of your life. Not for the sake of a pant size or bikini season, but for life lived abundantly.