Getting healthy is hard, especially when you started at such an unfit condition as I did. It takes discipline, effort, and commitment. It also takes a long time, so you have lots of opportunities to screw it up. Most people can probably keep up with any kind of fitness regime for a few weeks or months.
After a while you may eat the wrong things more often, or neglect to exercise as much as you probably need to, or consume too many calories a day. You may start to plateau in your weight even though you’re eating right and exercising. Heck, you may start gaining weight back again. All of these things are extremely frustrating and hurt your long-term progress.
I’ve had some setbacks that I had to correct. My “every once in a while” foods became more frequent in the Winter, when it was also cold enough outside to make it hard to walk and otherwise be active as often as I needed to. I found myself craving high-calorie “comfort” foods. I stopped going to the gym as often. My daily feedback cycle was causing me to get even more discouraged – even on days when I did everything right I wasn’t losing weight, or wasn’t losing as quickly as I’d hoped.
What Causes Diets and Exercise Plans to Fail
As I’ve been having some success at losing weight and staying on track even after some setbacks, I’ve thought a lot about what factors contribute to my failure so I can figure out how to avoid them. I have problems with seasonal depression, and the changes I’d been making to my body only exacerbated my condition once the cold Chicago Winter came.
I was making a list of these factors when I had an epiphany and realized that they all stemmed from the same root cause. What causes people to abandon clean livin’ and start doing the wrong thing is despair. Despair about such minuscule improvements after putting so much hard work into exercise. Despair about those times when you didn’t have the self-discipline to eat as healthily as you know you should. Despair about how long it’s going to take to get healthy, and whether or not the effort you’re putting into the process really feels like it’s paying off.
Physical fitness is fueled by the hope of a healthy and attractive body; despair is the loss of hope. It’s the opposite of hope – giving into weakness and taking the easy route toward a harder life.
You’d think that everyone would eat healthily considering the benefits – looking and feeling better, living longer, being able to perform physical feats, and being the best version of yourself that you can be. So why doesn’t everyone always do the right thing?
The fact of the matter is that getting fit is going to take a lot of time and effort, and you’re going to slip because you’re human. You’re supposed to slip and do the wrong thing from time to time. It’s like holding your breath – eventually you’re going to have to take another. You can’t torture yourself or you won’t stick to the process. I’ve found that it doesn’t even help to build wrong days into your schedule, because it’s hard to tell when that craving for chocolate brownies is going to strike, and if you plan to eat one anyway when you don’t really even want one, well, that’s just working against yourself.
So the only trick to dealing with despair is to not give into it. In other words, don’t despair about despairing. Remember why you’re trying to be healthier in the first place. Here are some tips to avoid the trap of falling into despair and staying on your path to a fitter and healthier body:
- Get regular feedback about your progress. If you’re weighing-in every day you can’t gain that much weight by eating one bad meal. Or even a few. If you see the scale go up in the morning, you can reaffirm your goals for the day on the day that it matters.
- Reassess your goals at least once a week. How are you working toward getting healthier? What could you do better? What stumbling blocks are standing in your way?
- Look back. How much progress have you made so far? Look at photos of yourself from a few months ago. Do you want to go back to that?
- Remember: you’ve been doing this, which means you can do this. If you can do it for one month you can do it for another month.
Anything less than forward progress means that you did all that hard work for nothing. There is no option but success.