Aim for Consistency
*DISCLAIMER: I'm not a doctor, trainer, nutritionist, or medical professional of any kind. I'm just sharing my knowledge gleaned from reading, research, and my own experience* My first of my top five tips for staying healthy during the holidays was to focus on consistency, not perfection so today, we're going to break that down. Once a week, between now and Christmas, I will break down each tip and offer some thoughts, so check back often!
[photo by Josh Winn]
During the holidays (or any other time for that matter) people tend to believe that the way to achieve their goals is to stick to a super regimented plan and never stray until it's over - in essence, be the perfect "dieter". While that may work for a week or so, eventually, a slip WILL happen - it may be the first day, it may be 30 days in or even longer, but slips happen. That's life. Does slipping up that mean that all of your hard work is undone because you had one day/meal/bite of indulgence? NO.
[I ate pie on Thanksgiving. Lots of it. And I still like myself.]
Consistency breeds results - in the gym, with your diet, and in life. It may seems counterintuitive at first, but allowing yourself freedom from expectations of perfection can help you reach your goals in a big way. And because I love lists, let's break down the importance of consistency a bit further:
1. Willpower is not an infinite resource: As I've mentioned before, willpower is an exhaustible resource. Muscling through something via willpower will ultimately wear you down mentally, emotionally, and physically - and that's just no good, period. Once your willpower resource is tapped out for the day, you're more likely to slip up which is why sticking to a plan at night can be very difficult. Accepting and embracing the fact that willpower is not unlimited can be extremely helpful in the long run.
This article from Psychology Today is a good read if you're interested in reading a bit more about the connection between willpower & diet.
[picking up the bar every day makes me better]
2. Consistency & sustainable habits: The best plan is one that is sustainable in the long term. Something that requires perfection isn't sustainable but consistency is - this applies to both exercise and your diet. Being in it for the long haul means embracing the lack of perfection, constant learning, and making mistakes. I think most people have a grasp on this but it is easier said than done. Mastery over small changes, made gradually and in a small amount (1-2 habits) can lead to substantial change and more importantly, it can lead to lasting change. I'll expand on this more in a few weeks but my point is that sustainable habits are better than perfect attempts.
If you're interested in the connection between habits, diet changes, and forming new habits, check out this article from Metabolic Effect.
You can't expect to go work out 2 days a week and make huge gains - it is consistent work day in and day out that yields results. Not every day is going to be a good day and some weeks there may be more bad than good days but what matters is when you look at the overall picture and see consistent and deliberate effort. We can often reconcile this notion when it comes to exercise but fail to do so when it comes to diet. It is helpful to approach both with discipline, not expectations of perfection.
[regular cheat meals keep me sane]
3. Perfection breeds stress & lacks specificity: Stressing out about having the "perfect" diet only contributes one thing - stress. Stress wreaks havoc on your hormonal and metabolic system, makes you stabby, and diminishes your quality of life - pretty much the exact opposite goals of what your "perfect" diet is trying to achieve. Furthermore, stressing about diet perfectionism can contribute to the vicious cycle of stress addiction.
This article from Whole9 makes lots of great points about stress, diet, perfectionism, and justification.
Furthermore, there is nothing that is perfect for EVERYONE - it is impossible to develop something so encompassing that it is specific enough for every person on the planet. There are broad guidelines, general notions, and broader foundations which people embrace and build their own unique plan from - a great example is the Paleo diet. There are people who are very strictly Paleo, those who eat grass-fed dairy and are considered more "primal", those that have small amounts of sugar, etc. My point is - you can ask 5 different people what their version of "Paleo" is and get 5 similar but different answers and those nuances matter.
Also, it's important to remember that everyone's ideal level of consistency will look different. Some people do well with a huge planned cheat meal, others do well with a small treat everyday, and some do well with smaller cheat meal 2-3 times a week. What matters is that it works FOR YOU and is sustainable FOR YOU.
That's enough rambling for one day - happy Monday!