You probably already know that eating a nutritious diet with lots of whole foods like fruits and vegetables is an important part of getting fit and healthy, and it’s no secret that exercising is an important part of the picture, too. But too often these simple concepts are clouded with worries about a number on the scale or whether we went over our calorie limit for the day. When it comes to getting in shape, reducing stress is a component that’s often overlooked, and that includes eliminating anxiety about food, your body and even whether or not you’re working out enough. So, skip the stress and get in shape for good by avoiding these common habits that are really just a waste of time.
Counting calories may be an effective weight loss strategy for some, but as we’ve pointed out before, the way the body processes food varies greatly from one individual to the next. Plus, health and fitness isn’t just about how much you eat, but the quality of your food, too. Not to mention, when keeping your calculations, you’ll likely come across many imperfections. For example, perhaps you’ve heard that one pound is equal to 3,500 calories. It’s true in theory, maybe. But one study that overfed 16 male and female subjects by 1,000 calories for eight weeks (which, according to the one pound/3,500 calorie idea should have led each subject to gain 16 pounds) resulted in entirely different weight gain amounts for each of the participants. So, while keeping track of calories may be helpful for some, for many it could become a source of anxiety (feeling deprived if you’re still hungry after hitting your limit for the day, worrying about whether or not a food fits into your daily allotment, etc.). Instead of obsessing over the quantity of your food, place a greater focus on the quality and enjoy everything you eat.
For many, keeping track of weight using a scale creates a very bumpy roller coaster of emotions that no one should have to ride. Justine SanFilippo, health club owner and author of Lose Your Inches Without Losing Your Mind! 10 Simple Weeks to a Slimmer Waistline and a Healthier You provides a great example as to why. “We [did] a challenge where members had to work out three times a week for three weeks,” she said “We took their weight and measurements at the beginning and at the end of the challenge. What I noticed was that every single person lost inches, every single time. However, the number on the scale didn't always change to reflect the shrinking inches. It was truly fascinating. That’s when I discovered that tracking inches was a more encouraging way to show progress than the scale.”
Avoid picking a certain part of your body (e.g. thighs, abs, arms) that you want to “correct.” It’s OK to set aesthetic-based goals, but remember that you can’t target fat loss from a certain area of your body; so for example, doing tricep extensions everyday won’t make arm “flab” go away. Where you lose fat on your body first is determined by your genetics, which is why instead of focusing on a few exercises that target a certain area you should follow a comprehensive workout program that will exercise your entire body.
Obviously avoiding this habit is much easier said than done. Comparing ourselves to other gym members, friends and even celebrities is basically human nature, but it also doesn’t get us any closer to achieving our goals. This is especially important to remember because it’s impossible to change the natural shape of your physique, so saying “I want my arms to look like The Rock’s” or “I want legs like Beyoncé’s” will likely leave you feeling disappointed. Yes, you can work hard to improve your physique and it’s OK to use others as inspiration, but remember that your results will be unique to your body and reflect the best version of you, not someone else.
There’s no reason to get upset with yourself for missing a few workouts or to feel ashamed for eating a certain food; it happens to everyone. Leading a healthy lifestyle doesn’t mean making every workout and never eating decadent desserts. Remind yourself that it’s all about balance, not perfection. Avoid being pulled into a downward spiral. If you do miss the mark and you’re led astray from your goal, just let it roll off your shoulders and get right back in the game instead of feeling disheartened or guilty.
Almost everyone loves turning to their favorite foods as a source of comfort when they’re upset. Of course, this isn’t the worst thing you could ever do. But for those who have trouble controlling emotional attachments to food or struggle with sticking to a wholesome diet, it is worth noting that a recent study from the University of Minnesota found that our favorite foods probably don’t have the ability to improve our mood. If you’re upset and find yourself ready to reach for something that you probably wouldn’t have eaten otherwise, first let your mind cool down by taking a few deep breaths and drinking a cup of water before you make the decision to dig in.
As Psychology Today points out, fad diets, like juice cleanses or Atkins, all share one common ineffective aspect: they’re all centered around deprivation; meaning, whether it be carbs, fats or calories, they reduce some nutritional aspect to a very low level or take it away entirely. “These diets are designed such that a person can sustain this type of eating for a short time,” writes Nicole Avena, Ph.D. “…in general, you will lose weight in a short period of time, but chances are that you will gain back more weight than you had originally lost.” So instead of looking for the next best diet that will promise a certain amount of weight loss in a short amount of time, focus on adopting healthy eating habits that you’ll be able to sustain over a long period of time. It may take longer to see results, but at least they will last.
So your coworker brought in donuts for their birthday; just because you indulged doesn’t mean you’re entire diet is ruined for the day. It’s easy to adopt an “all or nothing” mindset that tells us to give up just because we made one mistake. But remember that the next choice you make can always be a better one, so remember to stay positive instead of getting down on yourself. And the same idea applies to exercise. Something is always better than nothing. Just because your schedule won’t allow for a full gym session one day, doesn’t mean you have to give up exercising all together. Do whatever works for you, even if it’s something as simple as 10 minutes of walking.
For some reason fitness culture loves focusing on how many calories a workout can burn. But it’s important to remember that burning calories isn’t the sole purpose of working out. In fact, you’ll probably enjoy your gym sessions much more when you forget about burning calories and focus on how your workout is improving your health and fitness instead.