Momentum Busters

Has something derailed your fitness plan? Here’s how to get back on track.

Stop and think about it: What is it, really, that gets in your way? What things typically distract you, dampen your spirits or throw you off track? Is there anything you can identify that prevents you from staying the course? Perhaps you struggle with unrealistic goals, work addiction, or self- defeating beliefs. All of these are familiar and powerful momentum busters. But there are some other, equally challenging UFOs that I see as even more common and perhaps less readily understood.

In an effort to help you build and maintain maximum momentum this year, I’ve sketched out my top three UFOs, along with some tips for tackling them head on…

Weak Boundaries

Weak boundaries can make getting in shape especially challenging. For example, I’ve heard many people say, “I’m influenced by my friends. They often persuade me to drink too much and overeat fattening foods.” I’ve heard others comment, “My spouse sabotages my success. She always buys things that I can’t resist, like sweets and sugary foods.” Or, “My husband makes fun of me whenever I go on a diet.”

If someone you know often undermines your efforts to get in shape, it’s time to stand up for yourself. Make it clear that you are determined to succeed and you would like the support of the people around you. Keep in mind that it is up to you to explain exactly what will (and won’t) help. Specify what kinds of support you wish to receive, then stand firm and refuse to allow anyone to disrupt your resolve.

Here are two keys to keeping your boundaries strong:
1. Identify those who undermine your self-confidence and commitment. Keeping a journal can help you determine who (or what) brings you down. By writing down how you felt and what was going on for you emotionally just before you consumed a fattening food, or whom you spoke with just before you decided to skip the gym, you’ll begin to see the patterns that sabotage your success. Once you’re clear about this, consider the steps you need to take. For example, if your journal reveals that a certain friend often tempts you to binge, you can either ask this person to stop, or you can make him or her an “ex-friend.” It may sound harsh, but it may be the best thing you can do to take care of yourself. Often we’re not fully conscious of how our relationships keep us stuck. Once you know the situations that wear you out and the people who bring you down, you’ll find it much easier to deal with them.

2. Let all your boundary bashers know that the jig is officially up. Learn where to draw the line and then commit to holding your ground. Send a clear message to people whose needs tend to take precedence over your own. For example, you might say: “I’ve made a commitment to take better care of myself, so I’m not going to be as available as I’ve been in the past.” Let people who are frequently critical or unsupportive know that you have no interest or investment in hearing their criticisms. Keep in mind that what other people think you should do is not your concern. If they don’t approve of your choices, it’s their problem; don’t make it yours.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

If you tend to feel glum in the fall and winter months, you may have SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). Symptoms include depression, increased appetite and excessive sleep, as well as weight gain, increased carbohydrate cravings and daytime fatigue. You can find out if you have SAD by taking the Seasonal Pattern Assessment Questionnaire (SPAQ), which most practitioners use to diagnose SAD.

It’s important to understand that SAD Is not just a state of mind. It involves very real biochemical changes in your body and brain, and it has been known to derail even the most dedicated fitness fanatics. The good news is that it often responds well to treatment with light therapy (exposure to high-intensity, full-spectrum light).

Light therapy involves employing a dawn simulator, bright-light visor or light box to expose yourself to very bright light on a daily basis for a specific period of time. The variable parameters for light therapy include wavelength and intensity (lux), time of day and the duration for which the light is used. The intensity is generally 2,500 to 10,000 lux (up to approximately 20 times brighter than normal room lighting) and a typical exposure time is one to two hours a day, although 30 minutes can provide a good response for some people. You’ll need to experiment to determine what works best for you.

If you can’t afford a specialized light-therapy device, using full-spectrum bulbs in overhead lights or lamps in your bedroom, office and home may produce beneficial results. (For more information about light therapy and related products, see the Resources sidebar.) You will probably notice some response to light therapy within two to four days, with a noticeable improvement observable within a week.

Sleep Deprivation

When you are sleep deprived, you’re much more vulnerable to stress. Stress can manifest throughout your body, causing pain in your head, back and neck. In addition, you’ll have less energy and be prone to sickness, which will keep you from making headway with your diet or exercise plan. If you’re not getting the sleep you need, consider the suggestions below.

Listen to peaceful music before you go to sleep. (I suggest you use a timer so that your stereo shuts itself off.) Or try a relaxation tape.

Develop a sleep routine. For example, choose to read, journal, meditate or take a bath prior to going to bed.

Soundproof your room. Wear earplugs, if necessary, and make sure doors and windows are closed.

Don’t eat anything for three hours before you retire. Also avoid intense exercise directly before bed.

Getting Back on Track

If you’ve been derailed by weak boundaries, a seasonal slump, lack of sleep or other momentum busters, don’t despair. And don’t let inertia get the better of you. Take time to identify the biggest problems you’re facing, then make resolving them a top priority.

Michael Gerrish, MS, is the author of The Mind-Body Makeover Project: A 12-Week Plan for Transforming Your Body and Your Life (McGraw-Hill, 2003) and When Working Out Isn't Working Out: A Mind-Body Guide to Conquering Unidentified Fitness Obstacles (St. Martin's Press, 1999). Formerly a conditioning consultant for the Boston Red Sox and Boston Bruins, he is an exercise physiologist, psychotherapist and certified thought-field therapist. He lives in Massachusetts.