This is part 2 of a 5-part series on Losing Weight For Good After Fifty. Here we explore why healthy habits are hard to stick to. Part one is an overview of the missing key to permanent weight loss.
What makes healthy habits so hard to stick to? Nearly everyone says they want to be healthy. But most people are overweight, at least in the US where I live.
Recent statistics from the CDC say 40% of the population over the age of 20 is obese. Not just overweight (that’s OVER SEVENTY PERCENT), but obese. It’s an epidemic.
Then why do you find it so hard to stick with some healthy habits? There are likely lots of reasons, but the big mama of them all is that healthy habits suck.
Say what? That’s right, they suck! Let’s just admit it.
Who the heck wants to eat an apple instead of a donut? Or go for a run instead of watch Netflix? Or get up early and go to work instead of sleeping in your nice cozy bed a little longer?
Sure, you can and often do choose the healthy or responsible thing, but you probably have to fight some inner demon, OR just do the sucky thing because it’s tied to one of your core values.
And that’s true even if you drag yourself out of bed every weekday morning to go to work. Even if you hate your job!
You obviously value something, or you wouldn’t be working there. Maybe it’s responsibility to yourself or your family, maybe it’s independence, maybe it’s survival, but there’s definitely a value in there somewhere.
It could even just be the paycheck. But it’s something that you value more than sticking with the more comfortable status quo.
You Do Difficult Stuff All The Time
Just getting up for work every morning when you detest your job is proof that you can do difficult things. And you can see that you do it in service to at least on of your values (this is true even if you didn’t realize that before).
If you are a parent, you’ve done difficult things in the service of being a good parent, like sucking it up when they did something wrong and following through with a consequence.
Or frantically rearranging a schedule so you can attend some school function. And the other thing was something you really wanted to do!
Here’s how this can work with your healthy desires. Even if health itself isn’t one of your core values, probably something related to it is.
Say for example that one of your core values is looking your best. First, let’s get this out of the way. That’s totally okay. It’s not vain. Maybe it means you have attention to detail or a flair for design, and you feel, work, and play your best when you look good.
You value feeling put together, organized, clean, and attractive.
Part of looking good to you is having a trim athletic body (let’s say…it doesn’t have to mean this).
Because of this, you make time for a workout several times per week even though you almost never feel like exercising. You may like how you feel after the workout, but your primitive, instinct-driven brain always wants the easy way out.
And just like getting up in the morning for work (because of something you value) you can do this hard thing too, because you value something (health, looks, longevity) more than you love being lazy.
Being Lazy is Normal
You may already know this since you’ve likely lived for 50 or more years. You know yourself, you know people around you.
Even if you know someone who lives on hyperdrive, the default for humans is to conserve energy, rest, and do the easier thing.
The hyperdrive person just values something more than the default state.
These people are sometimes known as “adrenaline junkies.” Many theories exist about why some people crave risk more than others, but suffice it to say this trait is likely at least 50% genetic.
Just in case you haven’t read much of what I write in these pages, I am NOT an adrenaline junkie. I don’t think I got much of that genetic material. Consequently, I, like most people, tend to like the status quo.
Not completely, totally boring status quo, but if there’s a bell curve of risk-taking, I’d be more on the left-hand side.
I do have a theory for why people have different levels not only of risk, but of all sorts of other traits and qualities, but that discussion is for another day.
In any case, I’m definitely more risk-averse and don’t thrive on a lot of change. Maybe you’re that way, too, which is one reason you’ve struggled to lose weight and keep it off.
Or stick to any other “good for you” habits! Not because you’re lazy or a bad person, but because you didn’t have the right tools.
But the point of all that is, if you don’t WANT to do hard things it’s normal. Don’t beat yourself up about it, DO something about.
That’s what I’m arming you with: tools to overcome your natural tendency to be lazy, not follow through with new stuff, and not do the things that your logical mind knows are good for you.
Make Healthy Behaviors Your Goal
If healthy habits basically suck, how do we get ourselves to engage in them? Focus on health behaviors instead of heath goals.
Why focus on health behaviors instead of specific goals, like lose 10 pounds? Or exercise for an hour 3 times per week?
First of all, you don’t really have control over weight loss. You do, however, have control over your behaviors.
Think about it. So many factors influence your ability to lose weight. Things like your age, activity level, hormone level fluctuations, the type of job you have, your access to healthy foods, your time and ability to cook your own food just to name a few.
In addition, if you’ve lost and gained a lot of weight in the past, your metabolism may need time to adjust.
But if you consistently engage in healthy behaviors, chances are you’ll lose weight, or get stronger, or whatever goal you have in mind.
How NOT To Start A Diet And Exercise Program
Let’s look at an example.
You want to become stronger and more flexible because you’ve recently moved to a neighborhood that has beautiful hiking trails that you want to take advantage of.
And you’d also like to lose 20 or 30 pounds.
You’ve been way too busy to fit exercise into your schedule, but think maybe you can manage 30 minutes at first.
So you search for some books, check out Youtube videos, ask around, and finally settle on an intense cardio & strength training routine. Plus a strict diet, eating only whole ingredients and cooking every meal.
The next day after your first go round, you’re so sore you can barely get out of bed, let alone stand in the kitchen for hours fixing meals.
This is NOT how to begin! Trying to take on too much in the beginning is one of the quickest ways to burn out. And signal your primitive brain that you’re not cut out for exercise and healthy eating.
Trust me, your mind will give you all sorts of excuses for why you can’t, or shouldn’t even try again.
So you have to–more or less–outsmart your lazy lizard brain. The oldest, most entrenched part of your brain is where feelings and emotions reside, and they’re going to overrule your logical brain every time if you don’t have some tools up your sleeve.
One of these tools I spoke of in the first post of the series, and that’s tying your desired health behaviors to your core values, which we’ll explore in detail in part three.
To recap: in part one I talked about the missing ingredient in every weight loss program you’ve ever tried.
In part two (here), you learned why it’s so hard to stick with healthy habits…because they suck! They go against your instinct to conserve energy, eat sweets and fat, and stuff yourself whenever you have a chance.
What healthy habits have you tried and failed to stick with? Let’s get better at this thing!