Mastering a balanced lifestyle is often the most important goal according to health professionals the world over, myself included. A balanced life encompasses all areas of your health and happiness, and when applied specifically to the world of fitness and nutrition it will ensure great results and ongoing success. But finding a good equilibrium that works specifically for you can be a challenge, which is where some general rules and guidance can help.
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When most people feel inspired to embrace a healthier lifestyle the first thing they'll do is start cutting out every single 'bad' thing from their diet and envisioning a week of torture at the gym. But remember this - eating well and getting fit doesn't have to be the horrendous uphill battle most of us imagine. The trick is understanding your life - your time restrictions, preferences, budget, social calendar and work life. Then fit new habits in a around your other priorities.
Here are some of the tricks I use to help strike the right kind of balance for your lifestyle.
The 80/20 Rule
This is one of easiest ways I get new clients to start visualising their lifestyle as a whole, and start applying some new 'rules'. It's a simple one to follow: eat well 80 per cent of the time, exercise five days a week, then allow yourself treat meals and a couple of rest days. For most people, it's easiest to split the week into two blocks - Monday to Friday and the weekend - making Saturday and Sunday rest days with room for indulgent meals. But take a look at your own schedule and figure out the times you're most likely to veg out on the couch or head out for dinner and work these in to your balance.
What does this look like? 4-5 hard workouts a week about 40-60min each, including one long walk or more relaxed form of cardio + 1x breakfast, 1x lunch and 1x dinner 'treat' meal in which to completely indulge.
The 90/10 Rule:
If you've just hopping on the healthy wagon or want to shed a bit of weight quickly, starting out with a few weeks of more intense focus on your diet and exercise habits can be a good way to boost progress. However, keep in mind that following good health rules 90 to 100 per cent of the time is not sustainable. I generally recommend a one to two month limit of intense focus, with a vision for relaxing into a more realistic pattern from that point onwards. Remember, losing weight is one thing, but creating a healthy lifestyle means developing habits that can last a lifetime.
What does this look like? 5-6 hard workouts a week + 1 'treat' meal.
Treat meals are essential to both reward your hard work and help you to understand that there's no such thing as a 'diet', only a lifestyle. One week might look worse than another, and that's okay. But figuring out when you deserve to indulge and when you need to pile up your plate with veggies during the week will do wonders for weight loss and management. I try and keep mine for when I know I'm going to be out for dinner or having a lazy Sunday, and I won't hold back either; enjoying food I won't eat all of the time makes every bite taste like Christmas.
From a personal training perspective, exercise plays a big and essential part of creating a healthy lifestyle. But movement comes in hundreds of different forms and choosing something that you enjoy is all part of creating balance. Walking the dog slightly further than usual, getting outside with your kids, going for a swim, hitting the yoga mat or joining an indoor soccer team - anything you know you can commit to are all options that your body will love you for. Schedule your workouts in, stick to them and allow yourself two days a week to take it easy.
Always one of the first points to be raised by new clients, where does alcohol fit into a balanced approach? I'm a believer that like everything else you might consider a 'treat', alcohol can be enjoyed in moderation within any healthy lifestyle. Balance encompasses everything - not just your physical habits, but the social, mental and spiritual elements of life too. We live in a culture where enjoying a few drinks with friends over the weekends is the norm, and if you're enjoying a break from exercise the following day then allowing yourself to relax is okay. However, I recommend trying to avoid the greasy grazing that tends to go with drinking. And watch out for those 'hangover meals' the following day.