Friday, November 17, 2006

When Being Good To Your Body Feels Right

One of the greatest paradoxes of modern life is that we've reached a place where treating our body right feels wrong. Our culture and our media epitomizes exercise and eating right as the things we "should" be doing, but they make it sound like a difficult, and almost unattainable goal, one we will struggle to meet and perhaps never entirely achieve.

The question I hear asked most often when I talk or correspond (email, bulletin boards) with others about health and exercise is "How do I get to that place where doing the right thing feels right? How do I get to where I want to do it?"

Here's an answer I wrote recently for a discussion on a Health board. I thought it might be worth sharing:

I think the single biggest key is this:

Meaningful Change is Slow and Incremental

I think when we look for big, immediate change, we set ourselves up for disappointment. Our entire culture points to immediate change as the path of success, but instead it is most often the path of at the very least failure, and at the worst self-destructiveness.So when we immediately embrace (or think about embracing) some new diet or exercise regime, we are either in that place of euphoria, where we are actually doing it, or we're in that place of despair where we can't keep up with it, or we're euphorically planning the next big change. These steps both work against us and keep us from dealing with the real day-to-day issues that our thoughts about food and our thoughts about our bodies are hiding.When we throw this whole notion out the window that change will be immediate and all-encompassing, we begin to live in the here and now. We begin to have to exist and deal with whatever is happening to us now, today, this moment. We can also begin to make small, incremental changes that will carry us on a path to health and wellness and emotional stability (instead of the wild rollercoaster).

One of my mantras is "Walk in the Direction You Wish to be Going". Every day, we're faced with lots of choices. Which direction do we wish to be walking? In the direction of health? Or the direction of unhealth? Personally, I would divorce this decision-making from any notion of fat/thin. Thin is not necessarily healthy, fat is not necessarily unhealthy. Instead, think of good health.

So if I'm facing the refrigerator with an overwhelming desire to eat something sugary and fatty. Where does the desire come from? What will I gain from eating it? What thoughts am I trying to avoid by focusing on the notion that this food will make me feel better? What is the healthy choice, right here and right now? Sometimes the healthy choice might just be the piece of cake on the bottom shelf. That's okay, it's not a loaded gun. It won't kill you to eat a piece of chocolate cake if the rest of your steps that day are toward total body and mental health. If you can examine what is going on, and start to make choices toward health, if you can stop beating yourself up when you make a choice that takes you in an unhealthy direction, but instead just make the next choice for health, you will be walking on the path of health.

If you take one step today toward health, and if you don't beat yourself up for any other steps you take, if you can stop thinking in terms of fat or thin, stop making everything a loaded weapon to shoot yourself with (metaphorically), if you do those things, then I will bet that the next step you take toward health will be easier. And the next even easier. And some time in the future, probably not today or tomorrow or the next day or even the next week or month maybe, it will be easier to take a step toward health than a step toward unhealth. The healthy choices will become the ones you want to make. I am 100% convinced of this.

Be gentle on yourselves. The path always has detours and setbacks. Just start choosing health, because you deserve it, because it will feel good, and don't be harsh with yourself if you don't think you've chosen right. Remember that making yourself miserable is also a step toward unhealth, even if you eat carrots instead of cake.

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