June 16th, 2023
Have you ever done an exercise or diet challenge in order to “kick-start” your journey towards a healthier lifestyle? If so, we’re willing to bet that one of two things happened:
- You couldn’t keep up with the time, intensity or degree of change it required – and gave up, or
- You succeeded… but have since settled back into your old, comfy ways.
You may have even marked your finishing of the task—whether through quitting or completion—with a week off of exercise and an extra rich meal! Though taking a break from exercise or treating yourself to indulgent foods is more than ok, there are significant issues with the “yo-yo” effect. This involves pouring all your energy and willpower into an ultra-strict regime, only to completely flip into the opposite extreme when it’s over. It’s important to remember that quick, extreme fixes are usually unsustainable.
Below is our best advice (courtesy of wonderful trainer Liz!) on how to avoid the “yo-yo” effect and create healthy, sustainable habits for the long-term.
Why good health is a marathon, not a sprint
First of all: when it comes to healthy eating, everyone’s diet is going to look a little bit different. Our bodies are unique. They come with individual sets of strength and weaknesses, which means we all thrive on different foods.
For example: a person with type 2 diabetes may do very well on a low-carb diet, while a college track and field athlete may benefit from strategic carb-loading. How about veganism and alternative proteins? The average desk-worker may have no problem ensuring they’re consuming sufficient amounts of complete protein on a vegan diet, while a plant-based power-lifter will have to carefully plan their meals to ensure they’re fulfilling their fueling needs for optimal performance. In short: diets are not one size fits all.
Secondly: restrictions only lead to rebound. If a diet or health challenge is asking you to completely cut out sugary foods or starchy carbs, you may be able to last a short while. However, unless you’re planning to give up those foods indefinitely (which we would never advise), you’re going to lose any results you may see as soon as the challenge is over.
So how should you approach healthy eating? Well, we know you’ve probably heard this a million times, but it’s all about balance and moderation. This starts with taking the time to listen and understand what feels good for your body and what doesn’t, which takes patience, practice and awareness. For example: maybe you’ve always heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and you should eat first thing in the morning. But what if you like to hit the gym before work, and exercising with a full stomach makes you nauseous? There is nothing wrong with pushing that first meal back a couple of hours.
What about eating your kale? It’s a “superfood,” right? But maybe you can’t stand its bitter flavour and rough texture. That’s okay! There’s no specific food that you absolutely need to eat in order to be healthy. Again, we return to sustainability: healthy eating is about finding the smart food choices that you enjoy and make you feel your best. Don’t worry about what anyone else is doing.
Longevity in fitness is not much different than sustainable nutrition: it’s about figuring out what works for you for the long-term. The best piece of advice any good health and fitness professional will give you is that you have to find what you enjoy.
Exercise will be a part of your life forever, so it’s important to select your version of it wisely and intentionally. It’s like finding your career path: you’ll enjoy your life a lot more if you choose a job that provides fulfillment and happiness. Your career may grow and change along the way, and that’s okay too! You can adapt as you go.
This is reflected in a fitness routine through the stages of life: you should choose what is right for you at this time. Maybe you were a long-distance runner in your early 20s, but now raising three children limits your free hours. You can still train! Just drop the high mileage and maybe opt for a quick and efficient HIIT cardio session a few times a week. Maybe you were a power-lifter in your 30s, but now sciatica is affecting your lower back in your 40s. No problem! Simply lower the weight and maybe select strength exercises that are more supportive of your pelvis and lumbar spine. In short: you have to adapt to what will most benefit you.
Lastly, don’t forget that exercise is meant to keep you moving, and feeling good doing it! If a fitness challenge is asking you to do 100 burpees, 100 push-ups, and 5 kilometres of HIIT sprints every day, you’re going to feel wrecked and ready to quit within the first week. This will only lead to feelings of incompetence or failure, which will directly affect your relationship with exercise.
At Nielsen Fitness, we pride ourselves on our ability to help clients learn to love fitness! If not for the enjoyment of the movement, at least for the wonderful feeling it provides after the fact. If you’re still struggling to find your version of health, reach out! We’ve got a free first workout with your name on it and would love to help you start your fitness journey.