In the past few weeks I’ve been so focused on living a healthy life by eating a nutrient-rich diet and beginning a yoga practice at Bikram Yoga that the new regimen itself can, at times, threaten to encroach upon the peace and happiness of any success that I might enjoy. How does one relieve the stress of a health transformation?
The Key Questions
Here are the questions that run through my mind when dealing with this kind of stress:
Should I cheat on my diet?
Rationalization: “I can get right back on track tomorrow, and, surely, one meal won’t make much difference.”
The problem with cheating on a nutrient-dense diet, or most any diet, I presume, is that we give up way too much real estate in our advance against bad health habits. Unhealthy eating habits are so difficult to break that the risks of losing a lot of ground in one’s dietary journey very quickly are way, way too high when cheating is a planned dietary excursion. It’s not worth it.
Diets fail in the mind more than in the body. What I mean is that the rationalization may seem…well…entirely rational — that’s why they call it “rationalization.” Recognizing that the power of the mind to influence our dietary behavior is greater than we are aware can bolster us to resist the risky behaviors that can ultimately defeat us. This is no way to reduce stress; indeed, it multiplies it. Surrendering to a temptation may relieve stress momentarily, but when it leads one back to the old ways of thinking and eating, stress is heaped up higher and higher. Also, see my blog entry, “Cheat Meals Work Against Us“, for some more thoughts on this.
Should I take a day off from my workouts?
Rationalization: “I’m tired and really need to chill for a day.”
There are certainly some physiological reasons that give weight to this rationalization. Fitness trainers will tell you that the body needs time to repair itself, and I would not dispute this. It makes sense.
However, if one is coming out of a sedentary life, or even the life of a slug (as I have), taking a day off poses some of the same dangers of cheating on a diet. If it means you are going to lie down on the couch all day and watch the television, avoiding any physical strain whatsoever, it won’t take long before you think being a slug sounds like a good plan, especially because you’ve worked so hard to get there, and you “deserve” it.
This kind of thought process is poison to one who is still in the process of transformation.
Since I’ve reached my goals, can I just call the whole thing off now — I mean, I never intended it to be a life sentence!
Rationalization: “I’m healthy, happy, and looking good. I’m calling it a success and moving on with my life.”
Yikes! How many times has this tape played in my mind the past few weeks!
The biggest problem with this rationalization is that it denies the tremendous and healthful paradigm shift in one’s thinking about the purpose of the diet and exercise program. When we started it, we knew we were trying to make a life change — it’s what it was all about! We changed our diet, our activity, our whole way of thinking about health! To engage in a recessive paradigm shift in which we think of life change as a temporary means to accomplish a short term goal — weight loss — is to say the whole journey was based on false premises and is a farce! If it is indeed a life change, then it’s not temporary — it’s a complete and permanent transformation.
Oh, how the mind is tricky! Rationalizations are super strong. And, they are killers…literally! Don’t use them!
How does one relieve stress from the process of transformation?
Stress is caused by repetition and getting caught up in the whirlwind of demands that mount up over time, with no end in sight.
Knowing this, we can disrupt the repetition in other ways besides the unhealthy ones. Instead of doing the same kind of workout every day, take a day off from it, and do something different. Instead of going to the gym, take an hour-long walk with the dog…be active in a different way.
Instead of preparing the safe foods the same way over and over again, prepare the safe foods a different way. I never use recipes word for word, for instance. I usually change them to the way they sound good to me. But, on occasion I will relieve the ordinariness of my diet by getting a really fancy recipe that calls for ingredients I do not have. I make my shopping list, go to my favorite grocery store, and come home and prepare the food exactly the way the recipe calls for. It’s a lot of fun, especially if you’re stuck in a rut. It also contributes to your own creativity and imagination about the foods you prepare and eat.
Choose one or two things you can do to get out of the ordinary, repetitive mindset, and stress relief will come. We can’t let ourselves be distracted by the chirping of others around us or the thrill of our own successes that we would risk cashing it all in for a temporary payday of bad health habits.