Tell me if this sounds familiar: we have a goal, so we pick a direction and a particular concept — whatever we figure to be the ‘answer’ to our success at that particular time. Maybe it’s a flawless workout regime, or a perfect diet, or relentless 5am starts to ensure we don’t skip a day at the gym in spite of our early starts at work, but whatever it is, we go for it.
Then, life happens, and things don’t go to plan. Social obligations throw us off our diets, leaving tupperware discarded with a lingering sense of guilt. That perfect fitness regime is gruelling, and late nights mean that making those 5am sessions cuts severely into our sleep. Less sleep means more stress, more catabolic hormones that diminish your results, which further affect your motivation. What’s 100% on paper turns into 20% of what you could have achieved, had you taken a more realistic approach.
Supposing we power through these obstacles? We stick to our plans without respite? Compensating by ditching friends and allowing our work to slip down the priority list, arriving late in the mornings and remaining a virtual recluse at night, until every last drop of spontaneity is squeezed from our daily existence. Our results may not suffer, but other important aspects of our lives do.
The key to good results is a healthy, balanced approach. A routine that works with your lifestyle and a diet that works with your tastes, preferences, and body type. It is possible, you can have it all, but you can’t have all of it, all the time. A program that’s manageable may yield slower results, but is more likely to be one that you can stick to long-term. Not to mention that when results come in slower it often means they’re here to stay. Fast results like rapid fat loss are (again) a shock to your system, triggering that same catabolic stress response that will slow and eventually reverse all your hard work and progress.
Here are some tips on taking a healthy approach to a new fitness plan without overdoing it:
Begin by Making Small Changes
Have you ever heard of the slight edge? Small and simple changes accumulate over time and become great successes. Changing everything at once is never the key; it’s overwhelming and pretty presumptuous, if you think about it, to assume you have all the answers before you even start.
If you’re new to health and fitness start by changing one habit at a time, adding something new only when you feel confident and happy with the previous one. If you’re a seasoned pro getting back on track, rather than starting where you left off, ease yourself back in! Going from 0 to 100 without the prep work is only going to leave you sore, disappointed, stressed and potentially injured. Gradually build up to where you were previously over a period of a few weeks time.
Tailor You New Plan to Suit You
If you’re the type of person who likes making lists, the first step is to look at your current lifestyle. Keep a food log. Keep an energy log. Look at how much water you’re currently drinking. Have a look in your diary and see what your daily routine actually looks like right now. Take a step back and ask yourself:
- What kind of training do I like to do?
- What do I want to achieve?
- How and where can I achieve this?
- What, from my current schedule, can I reshuffle? What do I need to work around?
- What do I actually like to eat?
- When do I have time to prepare food?
With the knowledge of what you actually want along with what you can realistically implement, you can create a plan and adopt an approach that can be incorporated into your life, supporting and improving your lifestyle rather than detracting from it.
You Don’t Have to be Perfect All the Time
One of my favourite analogies for this was from a good friend of mine, lifestyle and wellness coach Tiffany Savion. During an era when I was far more regimented and far less happy, I was on the cusp of a breaking point and in the depths of despair. Having inhaled a family sized chocolate bar, I was ready to take full advantage of my ‘ruined day’. Tiffany asked me, “If you drop your phone on the floor and the screen cracks, do you think ‘oh, okay, well I may as well keep smashing it on the floor until it shatters?' No, because that would be crazy. You pick it up, and you move on. So if something puts a dent in your diet or fitness regime, why does that so often mean to us that we should completely sabotage the rest?”
What seemed like a life-altering failure that undermined all my progress and jeopardised my results turned into a bit of a silly tantrum about a chocolate bar (which I’d rather enjoyed). I had a healthy dinner, went to bed happy, my progress wasn’t hindered and the world didn’t end — it was simply a pleasant interlude in my normal routine, which I then got right back into. I suggest, in similar situations, you do the same.
If it Doesn’t Work, Change It
Sometimes things just don’t work for you, and that’s okay. It’s a result of biochemical individuality - you are a unique individual and have a unique internal chemistry that won’t respond perfectly to each and every cookie cutter plan on the internet. Know the difference between failing / giving up, and simply needing to adjust. In the cases where results slow (or don’t pick up to begin with), assess what aspects you feel aren’t working for you and find something different or more inspiring to replace them. Often we learn more about our bodies and mindset through things that don’t serve us than things that do. See this as one step closer on your journey to figuring out what your body really needs and wants.
Stress Kills Results
We need to stop romanticising exhaustion. Work hard, by all means, but work smart. It’s true that changes exist outside our comfort zone, but just because you’re uncomfortable doesn’t necessarily mean you’re bound for success. The human stress response is the release of a hormone called cortisol, which you can consider a cell ‘activator’, stimulating target cells to get their job done. Your body has both resting and reactive cortisol levels, both of which need to be at moderate levels to function in a healthy, effective way that is useful to your body, giving it spurts of energy when and where it is needed. An excess of circulating cortisol levels, however, causes the breakdown of lean muscle tissue and promotes fat storage. Not what we want at all, and definitely something to bear in mind when we’re driving ourselves to our wits’ end to get the results we want.
Check in With Other Components of Your Wellbeing
Dare I say it? There’s more to life than fitness! Social, emotional, financial, spiritual and educational wellbeing are all important components of our lives that need time and attention too, and if you spend all of your time and energy obtaining ‘perfect’ fitness results, these other areas can suffer. Refer back to this wellness wheel periodically and make sure you’re devoting what you need to every aspect of your life equally.
This blog was written by Phoebe Wynn-Jones. In 2011, hit by a moderately-sized truck travelling at a less-than-moderate speed, Phoebe was told she would never walk again. Using holistic nutrition, yoga and boxing as a means of recovery, she went on to complete her education in Biochemistry and became a qualified nutritionist in 2012.
Phoebe has since consulted on, opened and developed multiple locations within the food and fitness industry in Los Angeles, London, New Jersey and New York. She is now working out of her fight gym MBOX and other venues across East London as a nutrition coach and industry consultant, specialising in nutrition for combat sports competitors and endurance athletes. Find her on the web at impressedhealth.co.uk or on instagram @phoebej_nutrition