I understand the urgency that people are feeling. So many of us are struggling with weight issues, fatigue and stress, and we want it fixed right now. Because there is an incredible amount of conflicting information about nutrition and exercise, it can be difficult to discern which recommendations are correct. Because I know you to be an intelligent group of people, you likely get the gist of what I’m going to say based on this blog’s title, but please read on for some encouraging words.
Could I do this for the long haul?
This is a great question to ask yourself when choosing a nutrition/food plan, an exercise routine, or career choice. If the action you are about to take is one that you could not carry out for the “long haul,” because it’s too difficult or it could cause you harm, don’t do it. I did leave the question a bit vague. What’s the “long haul?” Of course, it depends on what we’re talking about, and only you can know the answer to that question. Let me give you couple examples, with a couple personal notes included.
Could I eat this way for the rest of my life?
One of the more common diet recommendations I hear about is a low carb diet. Again, this is a bit vague, as one person’s low carb is another’s carb overload. Carbs are getting quite the bad rap lately, which I understand, but don’t fully support. Carbohydrates as a whole group are not bad. The primary function of carbohydrates is to provide the body with accessible energy. If we aren’t feeding our bodies with enough carbohydrates, our body will need to use a greater portion of protein for energy than it otherwise would. The problem with this option is then protein isn’t able to carry out its primary function which is cell repair (as in building muscles and gaining strength after hard workouts). Like anything else in life, there are good carbs and bad carbs. For most of us (there are exceptions to every rule), cutting out all grains (bread, pasta, cereal, etc.) has the potential of leading us to a point of constant fatigue, especially if you are doing a fair amount of cardio and strength training. My personal experience has been that reducing the amount of bread I eat has been positive for me (less bloating, better blood sugar control); however, bread and grains in a variety of forms remain an important part of my diet. My favorite ways to consume grains are sprouted bread and steel cut oats. On occasion, I treat myself to a good, old fashioned bowl of cold cereal, because it’s yummy. When I ask myself the question, could I live on a low carb diet for the rest of my life, the answer for me is absolutely not.
We can agree on this
The bad carb upon which we all can agree is refined sugar. I feel pretty certain that we could live the rest of our lives without ever having refined sugar, again. It is sustainable to live life without refined sugar, and we even could have sweet treats without it. The challenge is staying away from those hidden refined sugars. That’s where the whole foods idea comes into play. If we choose whole foods over packaged foods, we have much more control over what goes into our bellies. Over the years, I have greatly reduced refined sugar from my diet along with packaged/processed foods. However, there simply are going to be times when I choose to have a cookie or stuffing from a box (you know, the kind you make on the top of your stove). I trust these rare indulgences won’t shorten my life or make me fat, and I can see them as a fabulous treat (especially those homemade chocolate chip cookies – I’ll never completely eliminate these). To me, this approach is sustainable.
Here’s another one
The other dietary recommendation that is out there is the low-fat diet plan. I cringe at how difficult it is to find yogurt that is not 0% fat. However, I have written on this issue, recently, so please check out that blog, here. If you don’t feel like heading over there, in a nutshell, the no-fat or low-fat diet is not sustainable. As a country, it has failed us miserably, and we are paying the incredibly high price for it now. Dietary fat has some fantastic qualities such as helping our organs function properly, satisfying our hunger so we are less likely to go for a post dinner chip run, and providing a source for long-term energy. To learn more about healthy fats that are great for you, visit Why Fat is Fabulous.
Add to your diet
I like to tell my clients to add to their diet, instead of subtract from it. Add vegetables. Unless there’s some sort of food allergy involved, you pretty much can’t go wrong by increasing your vegetables. They provide much needed nutrients without a whole lot of calories. Vegetables can be fantastic! My favorite way to prepare, eat and serve vegetables is by roasting (or grilling) them with olive oil, garlic, onions, thyme and rosemary. Plus, if you choose red and orange peppers, yellow zucchini, green asparagus, and brown mushrooms, they will look fantastic displayed on a white serving plate. Fill half of your dinner plate with vegetables, then see how much room your plate and stomach have for less than optimal temptations. This is a sustainable meal plan.
The workout plan for life
How about your workout plan? Is your workout plan meant only for the time it takes you to lose 20 pounds? If so, be ready to welcome back 25 – 30 pounds after you stop working out. I encourage anyone who wants to experience overall strength and a sense of being fit to choose a workout plan that you could do for the rest of your life. Sure, the miles or the weights may be lower as you get into your most senior years, but you will continue to be able to walk around, jog, play golf, swim or do whatever you enjoy, because you approached your fitness plan with the long term in mind; you picked a plan that is sustainable.
If your workout plan does not include recovery, rest days, temporary time off from your workout routine, it is most likely that you will become injured or, at the least, burned out. The most sustainable workout plan is one that energizes you, makes you feel strong, and you even look forward to doing.
I have over-trained and am thankful that I recovered from that and have learned from it. I now firmly believe that I will run and strength train as long as the good Lord has me on this Earth. It took me awhile, but I learned to approach my running from a long-term perspective and I continue to have a passion for running. I lovingly refer to it as my free therapy sessions. Admittedly, I strength train primarily to make me a better runner; however, I find great satisfaction in getting stronger in the various lifts. It gives me an additional sense of confidence and satisfaction.
More is not necessarily better
Here are a few ideas on how to avoid over-training. One is to mix up your routine so your body doesn’t get too used to your workouts (I can’t help but hear Tony Horton’s P90X voice telling me about muscle confusion). If you need help with this, schedule just a few sessions with a personal trainer (like me!) to help you mix up your routine while still having it meet your strength and fitness goals. Another idea is to learn something completely new every once in a while. For example, I recently started an Olympic lifting class at my community center. I have done traditional full body circuit strength moves for years along with my running. Although I like this style of training, I knew it was time to jazz things up. Olympic lifting is entirely different from any other lifting I’ve ever done and I have a whole new sense of excitement about weight lifting, now. Finally, take a break every once in a while. Plan a week or two throughout the year where you do not have to do any workouts. You will not lose your fitness in that short period of time. I promise. Just rest, or go do something that is a whole lot of fun during your regular workout time. By the time that week is over, you will feel so refreshed, you will be ready to jump right back into your fitness routine with a whole new sense of enthusiasm.
The ideal scenario is to begin a nutrition and exercise plan when you don’t have an immediate, short-term goal (like your 20 year high school reunion, your daughter’s wedding, or your own wedding). Oddly, those motivations rarely do the trick. I recommend starting when you know this is what you want for the rest of your life. Begin at a reasonable, sustainable pace. Meet with a certified personal trainer who will help you identify your fitness goals and the strategy it will take to achieve them. If, however, you decide to start a workout routine in preparation for a big event in your life, remember to approach your new habit in a healthy way. The past is unchangeable, so do not be unkind to yourself. First, decide that today is the first day of a stronger, healthier you. Second, remember that the things in life that are of great value often take time to achieve but are worth it. Finally, you are totally worth the effort – right now. You do not become worth the effort in 10 pounds, 20 pounds, or more. Each one of us has been given gifts, talents, qualities and skills that are of great value. Improving your health and fitness does not make you a more valuable person, but it does allow you to maximize the life you live!