My 3 best pieces of advice for healthy living (they are really simple)
I have long been an advocate of healthy living. Eating good foods that nourish our bodies. Strengthening our bodies through movement and exercise. I have found though that the theory comes easy, the practice does not.
My difficulty with healthy choices comes not from a lack of information, or motivation, but through a lack of healthy thinking. I trip myself up with conflicting ideas about what healthy means for me. I take up new diet and exercise plans only to ditch them and get resentful and discouraged. At the back of my head lurks the horrid idea that maybe I can't live healthily.
So in this article, I'm talking about three things that have worked for me in my pursuit of a healthy lifestyle. My Myers Briggs type is ENFP. The P stands for perceiving. To me that 'P' stands for spontaneous and fluid. (Spelling never was my strong point!) To a ‘P’ the idea of too much structure inhibits all the creativity and fun. We like to ‘play it by ear’ as the English say. The idea of daily gym classes, a target orientated running program, or a rhythm of weekly Pilates causes 'P's' to feel overwhelmed. I like running, and Pilates and the gym. But I like to go when I feel like going. And I dislike going because I’m told to. (It’s amazing I didn’t get into more trouble at school.) It's true that spontaneity and freedom are a big turn on for 'Ps'.
While I admire my friends with fitbits, calorie counting apps and half marathon training programs, I’m not going to join their club.
So how does exercise work for a P? Here are my three best principles:
Know your why.
The health and fitness world is full of shiny objects. The next plan or supplement that will boost your health and vitality. While these things are great, they have never interested me. It’s too complicated and requires too much of my thinking. I need simple principles I can apply at will. 'Understanding my why' is one such principle. Having a sound reason for healthy choices has been the single biggest factor in my wellness drive. And it’s so simple. I love it. Let me explain.
My why is the reason behind the drive to become more healthy or fit. It's a focus on the goal I hope to achieve. For some, their why is about health in old age. For others, it’s about recovery from illness so they can enjoy playing with their kids. Exercise is not a motivating factor on its own. (Unless you happen to be Eric Liddell who runs for the sheer fun of it.) Exercising because 'I know I should' may get us to the gym a few times but it won't sustain healthy choices over the long run.
Health is linked to life. What do you want in life? And how will your health affect your ability to reach that goal?
My why is that I want to live consistent with my values. I love authenticity. Doing what you say you will do. It annoys me when I claim to like healthy eating and binge on Maltesers and red wine at night. It might sound a little odd but genuinely, this inconsistency in my life stresses me out. So my ‘why’ is to live my values of doing myself good. I like me. I like doing myself good. I like eating well and moving my body. The thought that taking a brisk walk, sautéing some broccoli with cashews or buying some dumbbells is doing me good gives me a real kick. An inner authenticity junkie dies a little dance every time this happens! It might not sound like a killer 'why' to you but I can't deny the result of focusing on my desire to be authentic. I am living more healthily.
So I found my why. It’s just a little thing but it makes such a difference.
Continuing on the simple theme, the “move more“ motto is at my level. It’s memorable. It’s easy to achieve and it’s super flexible. I don’t need gear or a special watch.
I have combined this motto with some affirmations I say out loud (when I remember). Stuff like: “I enjoy moving”, “I love getting out for a jog”, “I’m an active type”, “moving my body makes my brain work better”. When the motto is this simple, five minutes on the trampoline with the kids, or even just walking to the shop for milk gives me a sense that I’m achieving my dreams.
Then when the impulse comes to buy a fancy pair of leggings and get out for some runs, I'm still sticking to my simple motto. Or if it's a tired mummy day, I just boogie to my favourite Ed Sheeran track while cooking dinner and call it moving more too! I can manage that.
Eat lots, but eat clean.
It was a stunning revelation to me to understand that vegetables could be enjoyed without limit (I may be a bit slow on the uptake here!). Roasted beetroot, sautéed cabbage with a sprinkle of nutmeg, mushrooms heated with a dash of butter. These are all delightful. Even more satisfying if they are organic. Since the start of the year, I have tried to clean up my diet. Only natural sugar, no gluten and no dairy. I do really miss cheese (badly), but it’s amazing what smorgasbord of flavours you can achieve with humble vegetables. Surprisingly, I’m rarely hungry and I’m feeling great.
I should say that I have a caveat to motto 3 which is what I call the 'hospitality rule'. If someone has been good enough to cook you something, eat it! I'm fortunate not to have very many food intolerances. I think rules should serve us, as opposed to us serving the rules, so when my friends are in the kitchen anything goes. Pass me the camembert!
I have been really picky on my mottos for a healthy life. If the mantra does not fully convince me and feel sustainable with the rest of my life, then it gets axed. Being picky about mottos enables me to be relaxed about the details of eating and exercise. I just go about my life sticking to my simple principles. That’s about the only way I can achieve consistency. And in the end, it’s the things we do consistently that define us.
Here’s to simplicity and health!