I decided the best way for me to tell you how to know when it's time to make changes for a healthy lifestyle is to tell you all about what I've actually experienced. This is a little vulnerable for me - with embarrassing pictures and all, but I'm hoping it will help you. I'm basically turning myself into a science experiment so we can dissect what I've done and help you learn (so try to go easy on me when I show you how ugly I can get). Here's my case study.
At this point, I recognize a need for change because I’ve had to see that ugly beast come out of me so many times. Don’t think for one moment that because I’ve sustained a healthy lifestyle for 5+ years that I never have hard days or I never fall off the wagon. I absolutely do! I’m human too. But the key to sustaining a healthy lifestyle is getting better and better about recognizing when you need to make a change – so you can start changing before you hit rock bottom. The faster you recognize the need for change, the sooner you can make changes, which means the less time you spend in that black hole of disappointing unhealthy habits. You learn to pick yourself up again – and again – and again. You start to do this so often that even picking yourself up becomes a habit. Every time you do it – it becomes easier to do it again next time.
We all react differently to healthy and unhealthy habits. Each of the consequences I’m about to write about can probably have over 100 causes. However, I've learned that if several of these things start happening, my "healthy" lifestyle is probably out of whack. Usually I’ve started eating out more, or eating too many sweets, or neglecting my workouts. It's rare to go from total fit athlete to full-fledged couch potato (or vice versa) overnight. Since we typically make poor choices one at a time, it's important to recognize them before we've blown all of our healthy habits. I hope this case study helps you recognize similar indicators you may have in your life. If you're ready to find those indicators, download the free worksheet I made just for you.
How did I realize I needed to change?
First of all, I tried to wear my old clothes. Not only was it a harsh realization that nothing fit the way I wanted it to, but I just didn’t feel confident wearing anything I had. It all made me uncomfortable. To be totally honest, I’m not exactly sure what made me look in the mirror and say “I’ve got to get myself back.” What I do know is that looking back, feeling uncomfortable and lacking confidence when I looked in the mirror is the thing that stands out the most. However, as I mentioned before, I still catch myself slipping and realize I need to improve a few habits yet again. As I've gone through that process time and time again, the following are the negative indicators that make me realize I've started slipping. A healthy lifestyle has a positive domino effect in my life, whereas an unhealthy lifestyle has a negative domino effect in my life. Let's dive in:
Constantly uncomfortable in your own skin/clothes
I already touched on this above, but seriously - I had gotten to the point that I didn't like how anything fit me. I didn't feel comfortable in my own clothes and nothing looked right when I looked in the mirror. Honestly, it's still hard to look back. I cringed a little when I saw my old photos, but I thought that was the best way to show you how far I've come (so please be nice in your judgments).
I still have bad days every now and then, but it's not constant anymore.
I say constantly because we do all have bad days. I’ve had days where I’m in fantastic shape and I’m eating right – I’m pretty happy with how I look, yet I just can’t find the right outfit. And it’s discouraging. And sometimes that discouragement snowballs into full-fledged “I hate the way I look.”
We do not want that.
I don’t ever want you to feel like that. I’m sure you don’t want that either, but we have to be realistic, right?
We all have bad days and that’s ok. The goal is to have more good days than bad days. If you notice that you’re look at yourself in the mirror multiple times a week, think “ugh,” and see your face drop, that’s a problem. Have you started avoiding mirrors altogether?
Or is it just the one day - the one bad outfit, the one bad hair day, the one sad day?
Do you get where I’m going here? It is totally ok to have bad days, but if you’re having bad days almost every day – and I’m talking physically – if you have several days where you just don’t like the way you look or feel, it’s definitely time for a change.
Unfortunately, I've had times when everything seems to be going wrong. It really doesn't matter what "it" is -- something's not right about it. The email isn't formatted the way that I like, someone's reasoning is absolutely asinine, my meeting was bound to be canceled, the dishwasher was loaded wrong, the couch pillows weren't put back the way I like them - it's amazing how many things we can find "wrong" when we're looking. (And not in a good way)
I totally get a negative attitude when I’m not exercising and when I’m not eating right. We’ve all been hangry before, right? Don’t lie. It happens to the best of us. I don’t know about you, but when I don’t exercise, my mind just isn’t as clear. Somehow, regular exercise helps me be more positive, get less overwhelmed and let things roll of my back a lot easier. Similarly, when I’m eating the wrong foods (or not eating at all), I definitely become a crazy hangry monster. Nobody wants to be a monster. When I'm not eating right AND not exercising, picture hangry times ten. It gets bad.
When I’m not treating my body right through my eating and exercise habits, it’s difficult for me to react positively to anything – almost like my attitude is a reflection of the way I’m treating myself. If I’m treating myself well, it’s likely I’ll treat others well too. If I'm not, well, watch out for the hangry monster.
Eating the wrong foods
For me, exercising comes before eating right. We have to make changes in stages, right? (The answer is yes. You should NOT try to do everything at once -- it's way too overwhelming.) Usually if I'm exercising, I'm naturally inclined to eat better. When I'm done at the gym, sugary cereal doesn't sound good, but eggs do. When I eat a good breakfast, I get hungry throughout the day and I crave real food, not just snacks.
When I find myself eating a lot of sweets or feeling bad about my food choices, it usually means I've cut back on my workouts. When I'm not exercising, it's more difficult to listen to my body. Instead of eating the foods my body needs, I grab whatever's closest because all I know is that I'm hungry and need something edible. Sound familiar?
When I get like this, I'm not even trying to listen to what my body wants or needs -- I'm just stuffing it. I also get out of an eating routine when I'm not exercising.
When I exercise regularly, I'm burning calories and using energy which means I need to eat calories and find a source of more energy (food). When I'm not exercising, it just doesn't seem as urgent to replace my energy because I haven't been doing anything a.k.a. I don't eat as often as I should, which means when I do eat, I'm either grabbing whatever's closest or eating way too much.
I've said before that success begets success. Healthy habits beget healthy habits. If one of your healthy habits is slipping, check to see if another one has already started going down the drain.
Even when I am checking off several items on my to-do list, I usually don’t feel productive when I've slipped into poor eating/exercise habits. I get into this slump where it’s easy to procrastinate.
When I workout first thing in the morning (my favorite time of day to workout), it sets a tone and a pace for my day. When I get home from the gym, I have a routine. I’ve already been awake and moving around so it seems like no big deal to start killing my day just like I killed my workout (figuratively of course). Exercising also clears my mind which makes it easier for me to focus on one thing at a time. When I’m able to focus, I accomplish much more because I’m only thinking about the task at hand, rather than trying to write a proposal and think about the emails I haven’t responded to, oh and did I remember to buy milk? It just so much easier to hone in and have tunnel vision instead of trying to spread myself thin. When I get in this mode, I'm like a machine. I accomplish task after task.
However, when I stop working out, I just don’t have the same feeling. My mind gets foggy. It’s harder to stay focused but easier to get overwhelmed. Instead of focusing on one task at a time, I tend to think about everything I have to do – even if it’s not urgent. Like my laundry, reorganizing my closet or booking my next vacation.
The truth is, most tasks can be put off for a short period of time. Not only that, but even if you worry about your closet or your laundry or your emails while you’re in the middle of a project, nothing is going to change. Worrying doesn’t make those tasks go away and it doesn’t help you finish your project any faster. Instead, it actually prolongs the process. I don’t know exactly what it is, but I know that when I’m working out regularly, it’s easier to stay focused, which means it’s easier to be productive. When I start feeling unproductive for long periods of time, it usually means I’ve been slacking a bit with my exercise.
Want help finding your unique indicators? I got you covered.
Just don’t feel good.
This is the big kicker for me. When my healthy habits start to slip, I just don’t feel good. I really wish I had a better explanation. It’s a combination of my stomach and my brain. Several of the above topics describe how I don't feel good mentally - I get groggy and grumpy.
But my stomach also doesn’t feel good. I never know what I want to eat. Nothing sounds good, or I feel sick to my stomach every time I eat. My food doesn’t seem satisfying. I know I’m hungry, so I eat, even though it’s kind of a numb process. Nothing even tastes good. Or, I eat so much that I'm stuffed and feel horrible afterward.
Does this sound familiar at all? Do you have moments, days, weeks or months where you just don’t feel good? At times, it can extend beyond just your appetite. Are you getting a lot of headaches? Is your brain clouded? Are you having a hard time focusing?
When I generally just don't feel good, that's one of the biggest indicators that I've started making poor eating and exercise choices.
Hard time sleeping
Ah, sleep. Sleep is definitely part of a healthy lifestyle, but unfortunately, it’s not one I’ve mastered yet. I've had far more restless nights than I'd like to admit. My mind is always racing, I don't get tired enough early enough, or I have a hard time waking up (usually because it took me so long to fall asleep). However, I do know that when I’m exercising regularly, I fall asleep easier, I sleep longer and I get better rest.
If your brain is racing at the end of the night, about important topics or not, it’s not healthy. Sleep is so important. It revitalizes you. It helps you focus and think clearly. You get physically weak when you don’t get enough sleep. I know because I struggle with this constantly. If you’re staying up too late, not getting enough sleep or having a hard time staying asleep, a regular fitness routine might help. I know it helps me.
Impatient (like all the time)
Similar to being unproductive and negative, I've noticed that I get very impatient when I'm not eating right or exercising regularly. EVERYTHING is a big deal. I stress like no other and feel anxious all the time.
When I stop keeping healthy habits, it's like I lose time for everything. All choices should be made immediately. I don't want to hear any fluff. Get to the point. Do you have something useful to tell me? If not, I don't have time.
Horrible, right? I'm honestly embarrassed by how impatient I get when I start making unhealthy choices.
Needless to say, I absolutely notice a big mental shift anytime keeping a healthy lifestyle stops being a priority. The positive is that when I am eating right and exercising regularly, I see the positive side of all of these indicators I've been talking about -- and that's pretty awesome.
It's been about 5 years since I made that "time for change" realization, so I really had to think back about what my experience was. I realized that although my "big" realization was about 5 years ago, I continually recognize a need for change in my lifestyle -- and that's all part of having a healthy lifestyle.
Start paying attention to the positives and negatives that come as you start or stop exercising. The more familiar your attitude and results are to you, the easier it will be to recognize them (and then implement changes).
A healthy lifestyle doesn't mean you create habits that you keep for 3 months and then requires zero effort. A healthy lifestyle means you create habits which make it easier for you to make healthy choices. You strive for a balance but you have to pick yourself up every time you fall down. Eventually, because you've picked yourself up so many times, you're able to fall down 100 feet instead of 1000, then 50, then 10, then maybe 1. The point is this: I've sustained a healthy lifestyle because I've learned to quickly recognize when I need to make changes. And because I've recognized my bad habits so often, I also know how to change them so I get back on track quickly.
What about you? Do you already know some of your triggers? What do you notice when you stop working out or eating right? Do you see yourself change? How have you been able to recognize it? What do you do about it? Leave a comment and let me know!
Don't forget your free worksheet. It'll help you track your indicators, recognize when to make changes and start transitioning toward healthier choices.