Many people, once they've decided to shift their lives for the better and adopt exercise and healthy eating take an "all or nothing at all" approach to both.
What exactly does this mean? It means they want everything to be perfect. Every meal must be perfect and they must stick religiously to their eating plan.
Their exercise routine must be done religiously without excuse. This might work for a few days … possibly even a few weeks for the "die-hards" but in the end, this "strict" approach will eventually sink any valiant efforts.
This "all or nothing at all" approach to both exercise and nutrition eventually leads to failure and a repetitive vicious cycle of starting again with the best of intentions - "I will start again and this time I will succeed and follow things perfectly" - only to stop again a short while later because of "broken rules".
Once again, life gets in the way … maybe it's a birthday party, or a special night out with friends or the holidays have hit and the temptations were just too great. You end up eating or drinking something that was way out of bounds and off-limits to your "plan".
You've broken your own rigid rules. And, since there is no flexibility, you've opened the door for your negative voice to chime in. "Oh well, I screwed up again."
Now, you rationalise your actions. What was an innocent human slip-up that should be instantly forgiven, ends up leading to an entire day of "bad eating". Once you've broken your own agreement, defeat sets in and the "why not eat whatever now" attitude takes over and the vicious "start again, stop again" cycle continues.
In truth, life is not black and white and neither is sticking to your diet and exercise routine. What happens to rigid stiff items when they are bent? They break. There is no flexibility to allow movement. Humans operate the same way. Remain rigid and stiff with your intentions and they will break you.
Adopt flexibility with your health and fitness routine and when something comes up or you "have that moment" of weakness (and you will at some point) this flexible attitude allows you to bend to accommodate and adapt to your new conditions or circumstances.
This kind of flexibility is especially important when beginning a new exercise routine or adopting a new healthy eating plan.
It's way too easy to forget that lifestyle changes are not a single "quick-fix" process. Huge changes do not happen overnight no matter how rigid and stiff you are with yourself. Success is the result of hundreds of tiny steps day after day, workout after workout and healthy meal after healthy meal.
The truth is, the road leading to health and fitness is a life-long journey, not a "quick fix". They must fit into your life because you must "live" life as it happens … rather than demanding your life revolves around them.
Pressure yourself to be perfect and life will soon "get in the way" with defeat not far behind. There will be times when you miss a workout or days that you don't eat well. It's at this point that you must practise compassion … self-compassion. Accept your short-comings, embrace your humanity, and move on to positive actions whenever possible.
Maybe you have to work late one day and you miss your exercise routine. It does not mean that you have blown your whole regimen or that you are a weak person … it simply means that you are human. As a member of humanity, you are not perfect now, nor will you ever be.
Rather than turn "faltering moments" into defeat, when you do falter, allow your supposed "missteps" to help you create an even better plan that is more suitable to your life. Something that takes you forward.
If you truly want to succeed and have great results with your health and fitness plans, then the "all in or all or nothing at all" approach must be ditched. Pouring yourself into extreme change and demanding perfection only undermines your potential for long-term success.
Healthy eating and fitness has never been about being "perfect". Your actions are over a long period of time is the only thing that counts.
If you really want to experience success, stick to proven methods of healthy eating and fitness that are sustainable. You'll reduce your stress levels and break that vicious cycle caused by rigid thinking, dieting and workout routines.
And remember … when it comes to your health and fitness, "something" always trumps "nothing".
■ Carolyn Hansen is co-owner of Anytime Fitness.