A healthy life is more a marathon than a sprint. So start where you are. Choose sensible, sustainable shifts over instant cures and quick fixes.
Look at any leading health and fitness magazine, and you’ll probably notice a pronounced (and sometimes amusing) emphasis on time urgency.
“Flat Abs NOW!” has long been my favorite cover line (and it apparently rivals “Six-Pack Abs!” as the most effective sales pitch ever, because it is repeated religiously by publishers desperate to move newsstand copies). But I also enjoy “Blast Fat Fast!” and “Get Ripped Right Now!” and “The 8-Hour Diet.”
Such headlines are aimed directly at our brains’ impulse-purchase mechanisms. They prey on our natural tendency to want whatever we want right this instant.
The promises we see plastered all over magazine covers, advertisements, and product labels often entice our “wish selves” to buy into the notion of fast, dramatic change. And by doing so, they may trigger a momentary spurt of real-life “I can do it!” motivation.
The problem is, beyond wishful thinking, these right-now gimmicks rarely deliver much in the way of results. Because they don’t often get us any closer to what most of us are really after, which is a healthy, fit, high-vitality body we can build, keep, and enjoy for a lifetime.
Even though I’m not a fan of most quick-fix solutions, I do think there can be real value in certain “quick-start” or “springboard” programs. When you jump into a new nutritional or fitness regimen with a clear goal in mind — and particularly when you start getting satisfying results early on — that can (and often does) mark the start of a bona fide, lasting transformation.
I’ve seen this positive scenario play out in the case of well-designed elimination diets and detox programs, for example. I’ve also seen it happen in the case of smart, strength-oriented fitness programs where palpable results can be felt, and perhaps even seen, within a couple of weeks.
Whenever we start doing something that triggers positive biochemical, metabolic, cellular, and neurological change, the effect can be so dramatic that we decide, “Yeah, more of this!”
By the same token, whenever we stop doing something that’s been making us sick, heavy, and depressed, we may find that we very much enjoy the break from feeling chronically awful, and thus we find ourselves highly motivated to keep going.
That is when a 10-day “diet” or two-week fitness program can, in fact, become the entry point to a whole new way of life.
The key is to start where you are and then keep going — in a way, and at a pace, you can sustain. Because here’s the truth: There is no magic pill or silver bullet that’s going to spare you from having to make lasting change if what you want is lasting results.
Whether a particular program or intervention has any positive lasting effect ultimately depends not on any too-fast-to-be-true promise, but on you.
So if you want to create healthy change for real, here’s what I suggest:
Adjust your mindset. If your current perspective is something like “Ugh, I hate my body, and I have to find some way — any way — to change it as quickly as possible,” you are probably on a treacherous, side-winding path.
Why? Because that desperation will make you vulnerable to all kinds of quick-fix temptations — like wonder-diets, weight-loss pills, or overly aggressive fitness programs — that were never designed to be remotely sustainable, and may actually do you more harm than good. Before long, you’ll probably wind up right back where you started, or worse.
A better mindset? “I really want to look and feel better as soon as I reasonably can; I know I am going to need to change my life to make that happen, and I’m willing to start by making some smart, sustainable changes now.”
Play the long game. Even if it initially delivers results, the liquid diet or outrageous workout program you undertake “NOW!” has limited value if you’re not likely to do it, or something like it, for the long haul — which, even if you wanted to, would probably not be a good idea.
The lie we tend to tell ourselves is this: “Once I get the body I want (by any short-term, white-knuckle means necessary), I’ll surely be motivated to maintain that body with lasting healthy lifestyle change. Then I’ll get around to learning the skills and developing the discipline I need to put them in place in real life.”
But, from what I’ve seen, it just doesn’t work that way. And too often, that lie is what keeps us stuck.
So what sets you free? Letting go of your attachment to instant results, and instead committing yourself to becoming a healthy person in both body and mind. Ironically, the results of that approach will probably deliver equally fast results — results that deliver far better and more dramatic returns in the long run.
Adopt an experimental mindset: If you’re not yet ready to commit to changing your life forever, but you know you want to look and feel healthier than you do, consider running some short-term trials.
Find out for yourself: What does it feel like when I eat more vegetables, when I eat only whole foods, when I lay off sugar and alcohol, when I go off gluten and dairy? What does it feel like when I do some daily physical activity — gentle or intense, brief or prolonged? What happens when I cut back on TV time and get more sleep?
What I learned from experiments like these (even when I initially committed to following an experimental “program” for only a few days at a time) was that the more frequently I did those things, the better I felt, and the better I looked, the more willing I was to do more.
The more I adopted my most successful experiments as habits, the more satisfaction I took in my choices, and the more motivated I became to expand my healthy-living skill set and mindset even further.
My experiments in trying dozens of “Bikini Body Now!” diets and “Flab-Be-Gone!” workouts turned out to be far less rewarding. Most of them only led to disappointment and self-reproach — either because I couldn’t manage to follow them for more than a day or so, or because the results weren’t as promised, or because they just didn’t seem worth the crazy-making self-denial and misery involved.
Inevitably, after a few days of starving or overexerting myself to the point of pain and exhaustion, I noticed I was far less resilient and happy, and far more likely to boomerang back into my unhealthy choices and patterns with a vengeance.
Ultimately, Revolutionary Act No. 12, “Go at Your Own Pace,” reminds us of an inescapable and wonderful truth: Your body reflects your life. It reflects your daily habits and choices, your perspectives, your willingness to grow and change.
Becoming a healthy person for real means adopting the identity of a healthy person, deciding to make the daily choices of a healthy person, and then acquiring the skills and perspectives of a healthy person — at whatever pace you can manage. Now, and for the rest of your life. Amen.