It was very cold and very dark at 5:30am on a typical Melbourne morning this winter. I know this because for a little while I was hauling myself out of bed and to the gym at this godless hour. On the mornings I did this, I felt it set up my day perfectly. The sense of accomplishment was immense and my energy was better. The rest of the day was wide open and I was free of that awful, “I really should work out today” guilt shadowing me.
But before long, the cold and the dark got to me. Added to this, my two-year-old was still waking each and every night which meant when that alarm squawked at 5:30am, I wanted to throw it at the wall. With the relentlessness of preschool and school drop-offs and pick-ups, as well as a toddler to manage, finding a window to get to the gym later in the day wasn’t easy. And by the time the kids were in bed at night, it was all I could do not to collapse into a coma on the couch.
The Workout Slump
So I suspended my membership for winter. I was making it to the gym once a week and sometimes not at all. I couldn’t justify the expense. It just wasn’t worth it, I told myself. Instead, I would work out at home.
Here’s the number of times I worked out at home: 0
That’s right. A big, fat NEVER.
Apart from the nagging guilt of not exercising, I didn’t expect to feel any different during my time away from the gym. After all, I was only getting there once a week – and sometimes that class was Body Balance! Not even an intense cardio workout, I thought. But within weeks, I began to notice the changes. My body felt weaker and my stomach, though never home to a six-pack (and never will be – I like curves), seemed extra jiggly. More than anything, I was exhausted. I felt unwell.
It dawned on me – everything counts. Every little bit of exercise I do is working in my favour. When I choose to park further away and walk, it counts. When I take a small flight of stairs over a lift, I’m expending energy. Of course, if I want big results, I need to intensify my physical activity. I can’t expect to dramatically transform my body with only a small energy output, but I now know I can expect to feel better even when I only exercise once a week.
This mindset has been a revelation. If I’m having a crappy week and I don’t smash out some cardio-heavy sessions at the gym, IT’S OKAY. But if I can get to one class and keep up my incidental exercise, I am still making a valuable contribution to maintaining my health and my goals. Understanding this may just be the key to avoiding the sabotage trap. One stumble, hell, five stumbles – it’s always possible to jump back in there and finish what you started.
Same Goes for Diet
The same principle also applies to food. Energy in, I am sad to report, is even more important than energy out. They say diet is 80 percent of weight loss success. So you know that broken biscuit in the packet that you mindlessly eat before getting your actual serving? Yeah, that biscuit totally counts. And while one half biscuit won’t torpedo a diet, a day spent eating with a half biscuit mentality can add up to a massive calorie blowout. I struggled for the longest time with a terrible soft drink addiction and it shocks me now to think that I was sucking a major portion of my daily calorie intake through a straw in a can. What you choose to drink counts. Everything, simply EVERYTHING counts.
Making Healthy a Way of Life
Does that mean I have to stay stuck in a cycle of calorie counting and endless measuring for the rest of my life? Because that doesn’t sound fun. In a way, the answer is yes, but I’ve realised that after a time, what initially feels like harsh discipline becomes second nature. Once portion sizes and the calorie counts of frequently eaten foods is learnt, you get a feel for it without needing scales or books to guide you. And the motivation to make good choices becomes stronger the better we feel about ourselves.
So I am still in the initial phase of this new mindset. It would be easy to slip back into old habits which is why I think a period of more rigid discipline is necessary in the beginning, just to recalibrate our mindsets and shake off bad habits that are old and die hard.
My goal is to achieve that fine balance. Everything counts – including that wonderful feeling of treating yourself to a favourite dessert sometimes – although don’t be surprised if it doesn’t thrill you quite as much as it used to. It’s amazing how quickly your body learns to crave the things that give it maximum energy and vitality. And how quickly it forgets it ever depended on the things that were destroying it.