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For the past 28 days, I've been sharing some of my favorite fitness / eating / motivation tips on Instagram. Since I'm a person who likes to keep lists, I thought it would be fun to compile all the daily tips onto one page. (Apologies to those who have already seen these tips a million times on Instagram.) You'll see that a few of these tips are of the practical or how-to variety, but most of them are more mental and emotional. From incorporating more healthy foods into my meals to seeking a calmer way or life to motivating myself to work out, these are the tips I use to check in with myself and work toward my goals.
I started with Don't Overthink Things as my number one tip because I think it's something we all mess up a lot. We try to make simple things complicated. We have a very difficult time trusting in the fact that there doesn't need to be a complex algorithm for us to meet our goals. Sometimes it's as simple as putting one foot in front of the other and taking a step, but we don't take the step because we're so wrapped up in the idea that there must be a thousand other steps behind it.
I get so many questions about how much of this ingredient should go in that snack and how many hours of that workout should I do for the best results and how do I structure my meals and how much of this, how many of that, etc. Sometimes I just want to remind everyone that this process was never meant to be stressful. It's meant to be fun. If you're not having fun, make some changes. Make life a little easier by not overthinking everything. Yes, it's okay to make ingredient substitutions. Yes, it's okay to modify your workouts. Figure out what works best for you. Skip the meals you don't like and make something else instead. Find out what your favorite workout is. When you find yourself at a restaurant, it's okay. Look for healthy choices. Little things throughout the day add up. If you don't have time for a huge workout, do a small workout. Don't spend all your time fretting. Make a choice, move on, and allow yourself to have a good time. This is supposed to be fun. Let it be fun.
If you're still someone who equates getting healthy with torture, it's time to step into the light. Getting healthy isn't about deprivation. Getting healthy isn't about restriction. If you hate to run, you don't have to run. If you hate spinach, you don't have to eat spinach. Find the joy in making healthier versions of delicious foods. Find the joy in moving your body in a way that feels good to you. Find the joy in being silly. Stop telling yourself you have to do things you hate to get what you want. Enjoy the process. If you're not having fun, what's the point?
Hunger and thirst feel the same, so if you're not drinking enough water you might think you're hungry when you're not. Before I focused on clean eating and fitness I was lucky if I drank 24 ounces of water a day — and I had the chronic headaches to show for it. Your body can't function fully when you're not properly hydrated. Plants don't survive without water, animals don't survive without water, and neither do we. Never let yourself run on empty either food-wise or water-wise. Keep drinking water throughout the day and your body, mind and skin will thank you.
If getting on a scale and seeing the number makes you miserable, guess what? You don't have to get on that scale! I am a huge proponent of weighing yourself as minimally as possible because that number tells part of a story and you are not part of a person; you are a complete person. Occasional weigh-ins can be helpful for tracking progress only if you remember that the number you see doesn't show your determination, your drive, your heart, your willingness to work hard, your ability to take care of yourself, the efforts you're making to improve your life, or anything else. A number is just that: a number. You're more than a number, so don't let yourself get weighed down in it.
This is real life. Real life includes a few meals out here and there. Don't be scared about deviating from "the plan" if you find yourself at a restaurant. Learn to make healthier choices no matter where you are. Seek out clean ingredients. Be wary of salad dressings and toppings. Order a side of veggies instead of fries. Opt for brown rice over white. Make vegetables the focal part of the meal. Limit your pre-meal chips or bread. Say no thanks to mayo. Choose one fat — either the avocado or the guacamole or the sour cream OR the cheese. Don't be afraid to customize your order. And if it's an occasional night of celebration or even just an I'm Feeling Alive and Want to Eat Whatever I Want Tonight kind of night, go for it. Literally order whatever you want without worrying about being clean or healthy. As long as you watch your portion sizes, an occasional meal like this won't impact your overall progress. You're allowed to live a real life in the real world, so don't be scared of meals out. Drink plenty of water, don't walk into the restaurant super hungry, use a clear head when scanning the menu, and you'll be fine. Don't use meals out as an opportunity to say, "Screw it, I ate two pieces of bread from the bread basket so I may as well order an appetizer and fried entree and several rounds of drinks and a huge dessert." Use them instead as a chance to split a delicious dessert OR order 1-2 drinks OR go all out with a special entree. Make little healthy choices throughout the meal and you may be amazed by how good you feel by the end of the night.
You're not bad if you ate a cookie. You're not naughty. You didn't cheat. You don't need to feel guilty. You just ate a cookie. The wonderful thing about living a healthier lifestyle is that it empowers you to make choices for yourself. You get to DECIDE if you want a cookie or not. You may decide you'd rather spend your calories on some fruit, or you don't want to deal with a sugar crash, or you just don't want a cookie right now — and that's great. Or you may decide that you've been sticking to an 80% clean diet and working out every day and taking care of yourself and feeling great and what you want most in this world is a delicious cookie — and that's great too. Where the trouble comes in is when you eat a cookie, feel like you've "ruined" something, and then decide you may as well eat ten more cookies since you screwed up your day anyway. Learn to eat a cookie, savor every bite, and then move on with your clean lifestyle. Learn to occasionally enjoy a treat or drink without feeling like you've committed some sort of crime. Nothing is ruined if you eat a cookie. You're the same beautiful person you were before eating the cookie. Move on, drink plenty of water, and make your next choice a healthy one.
Stop thinking of eating as cheating. Cheating is what you do when you lie to win a card game. Cheating is what you do when you sleep with someone other than your spouse. Eating is a way of fueling your body. Sometimes we choose better sources of fuel than others. On the days we choose less-than-ideal fuel sources, we didn't cheat. We made a food choice. Our next food choice can be a super healthy one — no guilt required.
To me it's so infuriating when people say you "can't" or "shouldn't" eat certain foods if you're trying to get healthy. Whether it's pizza, grilled cheese, lasagna, ice cream, cupcakes, tacos, nachos, candy, macaroni and cheese, or truffles, there is absolutely a way to make a healthier version of it. Hint: Fit Girls Guide has healthy recipes for ALL the foods I just listed and there are cookbooks and web sites with even more ideas for cleaning up your favorite recipes. Stop believing you have to give up your favorite things in order to live a healthier lifestyle; that's simply not true. You can have your cake and eat it too if you're willing to look for ways to strip down the unhealthy ingredients and amp up the healthy ones.
I didn't get enough sleep last night and I am DRAGGING today as a result. Everything seems more difficult than it should: my reflexes are slower, my body feels sluggish, and my brain feels like it's operating in slow-mo. Give yourself a fighting chance by making sure you get enough sleep every night. You want to attack your workouts and your daily activities with as much energy as possible. Not getting enough rest deprives you of the chance to do this. Cut your TV or social media time down by an hour. Skip the complicated meal prep that takes hours and opt instead for simplicity. Do whatever you need to do to make sure you're getting enough sleep each and every night. When you don't, take it from me: You feel it. And t feels terrible. And it affects everything. So just do it.
Sometimes we get so overwhelmed looking at all the huge things we feel like we need to do, we lose sight of all the little things along the way that can quickly add up. If you're looking at your day and it seems impossible to squeeze a 30-minute workout in anywhere, you can squeeze in tiny bursts of activity throughout the day instead. Doing 10 of something (10 squats, 10 push ups, 10 crunches, whatever) takes about 10 seconds. Do 10 of something every hour of your work day and you're only giving up about 80 seconds of your day. Or try this: After your breakfast, lunch, snack and dinner, walk around the block once. By the end of the day, you will have walked a mile. Don't tell yourself there's no point in doing anything if you can't do everything. The little things add up.
Our goals are different. Our circumstances are different. Our bodies are different. Our abilities are different. There are things I can do that a person with a demanding office job and several kids can't do just by virtue of the fact that I work from home with a flexible schedule and I have no children. We don't all have to have six-pack abs and raised booties. There are so many different reasons why we're all here. Training for a competition drives one person and wanting to have more energy drives another. Some people are gearing up for their weddings and babies and others are years beyond that, looking to get back into a healthier lifestyle after a period of neglect. We all have different body types and we won't all look the same after eating the same meals and doing the same exercises. Nothing sucks the joy out of life like jealousy. Don't worry about her story. She probably works harder than you realize. Don't mistake seeing snippets of her life on Instagram for knowing her life. Worry about you. What can you do right now to get a little closer to your goals?
Food can seem like a really complicated thing. Aren't we supposed to eat these foods and avoid those foods and isn't it best if we eat these foods in certain combinations? Are there times of the day when it's best to eat certain foods over others? Does this food count as clean? Is that food that seems cleans really processed beyond belief? Is sugar or sodium worse? Which fat is the good fat? And so on and so on and so on. If you're ever feeling confused, make things easier for yourself by just choosing real food. You can't go wrong with a piece of fresh fruit or roasted veggies or a tablespoon of raw nuts. Get as many one-ingredient foods as you can: the only ingredient in spinach is spinach and the only ingredient in eggs is eggs. If you get frustrated by all the extra ingredients added to foods, try making your own instead. Look for foods with a handful of ingredients that are all recognizable. Remember that most nonfat products have been processed to hell and have loads of extra sugar, whether it's dairy products or snack bars. In most cases you're better off getting the real full-fat version than the nonfat one. Keep your foods as close to their natural state as possible. Choose cherries over cherry pie. Choose homemade cookies over store bought. Choose blocks of cheese over pre-sliced versions. Choose baked potatoes over French fries. Choose dark chocolate over milk chocolate. Choose a smoothie you make with natural, fresh ingredients over one you buy from Jamba Juice. Keep your food choices real and you'll be fine.
From where I see it, there are two common reasons we skip meals. 1.) We're running around so much that we feel too busy to eat. 2.) We overate during our last meal and are now restricting ourselves to "make up for it." In my book, neither of these excuses are legit. When you prep your meals ahead of time, you should always have something available to grab and go, no matter how busy you are. Absolutely no time for meal prep? Spread peanut butter or Greek yogurt on a whole wheat tortilla, wrap it around a banana, and call it a day. Meal prep doesn't need to be complicated or time-consuming. Add some veggies and greens to a whole grain (bread, tortilla, rice, pasta, quinoa), add some protein and a little bit of fat (cheese, avocado, etc.) and be done with it. As far as skipping meals to make up for an overeating transgression: Don't. Torturing yourself this way can set up an endless starvation / binge cycle. If you don't want to eat a heavy meal, have a smoothie. Have a snack. Have a piece of fruit and a handful of nuts. Just don't skip meals. Starvation doesn't work from a mental, physical, emotional, or weight loss standpoint. It sets you up to overeat later. Just eat a small meal and refuse to deprive/ torture yourself.
Whatever happened happened. Every day and every moment is a new chance to make a healthy choice. The extra drinks you had last night don't matter today. Today is today. Move forward. Don't let one moment become something bigger. Eating cake for a coworker's birthday on a Wednesday afternoon reflects a moment on a Wednesday afternoon, not an entire week. Don't let a moment of eating too much pizza on Friday turn into a weekend of debauchery. It's just a moment. Now it's a new moment.
Spending my Sunday evenings prepping meals for the week is not what I desire most in this world. (I'd rather spend my Sundays snuggly on the couch with a cozy cup of tea and a movie.) But guess what I hate more than Sunday evening meal prep? Waking up Monday morning and having nothing ready to eat. Even worse is when it's mid-day, I'm in the middle of work, and I have to halt everything and fix myself lunch because I didn't take a little extra time to prep it the night before. Meal prep can be time-consuming, but it ultimately SAVES TIME during the week. Making every meal from scratch in real time is too time-consuming for me to even think about it. Even just having vegetables pre-sliced can make such a difference in both time and sanity. It can also save you from making less healthy choices. If you don't have a lunch ready to go and you're hungry, busy, tired, and your coworkers are getting fast food, of course it's going to be tempting to join them. Thinking straight when you're hungry and crunched for time is nearly impossible. Dedicate a few hours every Sunday and Wednesday (or whatever days work for you) to meal prep. The rest of your week will go so much smoother as a result.
The best thing you can do with your feelings and emotions is to let yourself feel them — even the scary and sad ones. Masking them with food or anything else doesn't make them go away. They'll still be here when you're done eating, waiting for you. So let yourself feel your emotions and respond to them accordingly. It's tempting to think the answer to boredom, heartbreak, frustration, anger or loneliness is ice cream or Doritos. For the real answer, you'll have to dig a little deeper. Ask yourself what you need. Do you need to meet up with a friend, go for a long walk, and talk about a work situation that's frustrating you? Do you need to curl up on the couch, watch a sad movie and let yourself cry? Do you need to combat your boredom and/or loneliness by seeking out ways to meet new people, like a group exercise class or art class? Honor your feelings by letting yourself experience them. It's part of being human. When you mask your feelings with food or other means, you deprive yourself of part of the human experience. We're meant to feel things. A pizza doesn't make you less sad and cookies don't make you less stressed. Find better ways to deal with emotions. If you're angry, exercise. If you're sad, watch a comedy. If you're lonely, call a friend. If you're bored, do something fun. If you're overwhelmed, ask for help. If you're tired, take a nap. If you're frazzled, get a massage. If you're stuck, find a therapist. Eat when you're hungry. Eat to fuel your body. Find something other than food to satisfy your emotional hunger.
My body requires more sleep this time of year than it does during summer. This is a fact I've learned about myself over the years. Your body is a super smart machine and if you learn to listen to it closely, it will tell you exactly what it needs. Some days I eat my normal foods and still feel insanely hungry, so I realize I need to add in an extra hearty snack or two. Some days I do my regular workout routine and feel super exhausted, so I realize I need to take things a little lighter that day. Your body lets you know when it's thirsty or hungry or craving sleep but so often we don't listen to its needs. We try to tell ourselves we're not really hungry or we just need some more caffeine when what we really need is a hearty, healthy meal and an early bed time. Listen to what your body tells you. It lets you know if you're pushing too hard. It lets you know if you're not feeding it enough. It lets you know when you feed it too much. It lets you know when it's dehydrated. It lets you know everything, so make sure you're listening.
In my opinion, THE most important thing you can do is learn to love, respect, and take care of yourself. You can't get there by hating yourself. You can't get there by putting yourself down every day. Treat yourself the way you would treat your daughter. If you make a mistake, forgive yourself. If you're not where you want to be yet, be proud of how far you've come so far. Focus on the things you're doing well. You caved and ate some pizza? You skipped your workouts twice this week? It's okay. You're okay. I've said this before but I'll say it again: Refuse to look in the mirror and hate what you see. Refuse to hate your body. Refuse to hate yourself. Be as kind to yourself as you would be to your sweet grandma. Be as forgiving as you would be to your best friend. Shower yourself with kindness, pride and respect every day. Respect what you're doing on this journey. Refuse to bash yourself. You don't magically become a happy, satisfied person by beating yourself down every day. You get there by appreciating your hard work, acknowledging you're doing the best you can, and quickly forgiving yourself and moving on if you get off track.
I'm obsessed with the idea that little things throughout the day add up to make a big difference. So whenever there's an opportunity to be active, I seize it. That means parking far away at the grocery store. That means taking the stairs instead of the elevator. That means walking 20 blocks to get my groceries instead of driving. That means doing 10 lunges here, 10 crunches there, 10 tricep dips here whenever I get the chance. That means taking a walk around the block whenever I need to clear my head. At the of the day, whether I had an official workout or not, I like knowing I was as active as possible.
Don't wait for anyone to give you permission to lead the life you want to live. It's wonderful to be supported and encouraged by others, but learn how to support and encourage yourself and you'll never be dependent on anyone. If no one's applauding you, applaud for yourself. If no one's offering you a hand, lift yourself up. Tell yourself that you're strong and capable. Believe in yourself. If you have people in your life who aren't on board with what you're doing, don't worry about them. Focus your positive energy on yourself. Once you start believing in yourself and your capabilities, you become unstoppable. Instead of asking someone else how she does it, decide you're going to be the person who does it, too.
Jillian Michaels often says "If you have a why to live for, you can tolerate any how." Sometimes it's not easy or fun to squeeze in a workout on a busy day, or to make a healthy choice at a restaurant when everyone else is enjoying nachos and margaritas, or to make time to prep meals for the week, or to get up early to hit the gym before your work day. If you don't have a "why" or motivating reason/reasons to continue, it'll be tempting to stay in bed and get the nachos and skip the workout today. Remember why you started. It doesn't matter what your reason is as long as it's something that's important to YOU. Focus on your "why" and the hard work will seem worth it.
Don't wait for a big milestone to celebrate. If you do, you might lose motivation along the way and never get there. Celebrate all the small stuff along the way: the daily choices that add up to weekly choices that add up to monthly choices. Each completed workout and every healthy meal is a reason to be proud. Getting enough sleep and water, making a healthy choice at Happy Hour, choosing water over beer, taking the time to prep your meals for the week, choosing the stairs over the elevator: these are all reasons to celebrate. So celebrate. Don't wait to have a perfect month of eating or to lose ten pounds or to fit into a certain outfit to feel proud. Feel proud along the way. Results don't come from one big thing, but from lots of little things added up over time. Celebrate the little things.
If your daughter or niece knocks over a glass of juice, do you berate her for it and remind her of it every day for the next week? Hopefully the answer is no. Hopefully you tell her that people make mistakes and it's okay. Hopefully you give her a hug, help her clean up the mess, and move on. And hopefully you do the same for yourself when you make a mistake — which you will, because you are human. Whether you ate too much, skipped your workout, made an unhealthy choice, or whatever else you did, don't waste your time on guilt and regret. If you want to feel guilty, feel guilty for not calling your mom enough. Don't feel guilty for eating a slice of pie. Want to regret something? Regret not chasing your dreams. Don't regret missing a workout because you needed to get caught up on life. If you ate too many cookies, forgive yourself. If you said yes to the fries, forgive yourself. If you skipped the gym, forgive yourself. None of these things are crimes against humanity. Don't waste your time feeling bad about them. Spend about as much time feeling bad about them as you would feeling bad about a spilled glass of juice that's quickly cleaned up. Move on. Life continues whether you went to the gym today or not. Continue with it.
I know we've reached a point where all my tips are starting to sound redundant, but that's because I don't think getting healthy/eating clean/ being fit should be super complicated. You don't need to remember tons of things — just a few basic things. One of the most basic is this: whenever there's a chance to move your body, move it. Take the stairs. Park far away. Walk or bike instead of driving. Get off the bus or subway a stop or two early. Run around with your kids. Do squats and push ups during commercial breaks. Do calf raises while brushing your teeth. Take a walk around the block to clear your head. Get up every hour and move around. Don't do it for the calorie burn (or do if that's what drives you, but personally I don't want to live a life where I'm constantly thinking of calories). Do it for the rush to your brain. Do it because it feels good to move. Do it to remind yourself you're still alive during an otherwise dull work day. Do it because it's an easy, small thing that can add up to make a big difference.
You don't need flat abs to be successful. You don't need a raised butt or a certain size or shape. For every woman chasing six-pack abs there's another who's trying to increase her walks to a mile. For every woman trying to eat a 90% clean diet seven days a week there's another woman trying to make a few small, healthy choices every day. You don't need to lose weight to be successful. You don't need to tone your arms. You don't need to fit into a specific size. You don't need to go four months without a single dessert or drop of alcohol. You just need to figure out what's important to YOU, work toward YOUR goals, and define YOUR own version of success. A's version of success might be to make it through one day without eating chips and B's version of success might be to run 100 miles a month. Both are completely valid. Neither has anything to do with the other. Her success has nothing to do with your success. You're different people with different goals and different stories. Honor your own story. Celebrate the accomplishments of others, but realize they ultimately have nothing to do with your story.
I used to think perpetually positive people were just ignorant. I mean, do they not see how many terrible things happen in this world? But now I realize being positive is a means of survival. I can't accomplish things if I'm dreading them, so I HAVE to put a positive spin on things in order to be a productive member of society. This applies to all facets of life, but in the case of fitness I've found it's especially helpful. I'm not going to do that workout I hate. I'm not going to set aside the time to prep my meals if I look at is as a chore. I HAVE to give myself a reason to look forward to doing things — and to celebrate them afterward. When I get caught up in all the reasons to feel defeated, I want to quit. It's not my natural state to be positive about everything, but I've trained myself because I think a life of dread and worry is exhausting. So here's what I focus on: the feeling of accomplishment. The feeling of strength. Improvement. Clarity. Time to myself. A chance to zone out and listen to music. A body that feels good when it moves. A body that feels powerful and nourished. Endorphins. Vindication of a goal met. Cute workout clothes. Rewards. Surprising myself. And here's what I try not to focus on: How tired I am. The amount of time it takes. The slow process. All the things I'd rather be doing. The absence of cake and chips with sour cream and onion dip. Obstacles. Setbacks. Etc. If I'm dreading it, I won't do it. So I choose to tell myself I love doing it. And then my body follows suit and it turns out I actually do love it. Hating everything is actually kind of easy. Finding the strength to find the good in everything is hard but worth it.
Let's take Thanksgiving as an example. When it comes to meals like this, we often think we have two options. 1: Eat everything in sight until we feel physically sick. 2: Nibble at a side salad and veggies and skip the stuffing, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, gravy, rolls, pie, and everything else. So often we forget there's a third option: MODERATION. We can try all the yummy foods if we keep our portion sizes reasonable. Or we can focus on a few yummy foods and skip the rest. We don't have to eat to the point of physical discomfort and we don't have to deprive ourselves, either. There's a middle ground. There's one glass of wine instead of three. There's one slice of one kind of pie instead of four desserts (or small bites of each dessert). You can serve yourself a spoonful of something without it becoming a heaping, giant spoonful. It's totally possible to have reasonable amounts of everything. Don't throw your arms up. Don't say, "Screw it, it's the holidays!" and throw yourself face first into a bowl of mashed potatoes. Don't sit in a corner not eating anything, either. Trust that there is a middle ground. There IS a middle ground. Find your middle ground. Enjoy yourself — not by gorging, but by eating reasonable amounts of delicious foods while enjoying the company of your friends and family.
Committing to a fitness journey is wonderful, but like everything else it's all about balance. If you're constantly missing out on quality time with the people you love, celebrations, and general life moments because you're so invested in your workouts and meal prep, it may be time to rethink things. Fitness should be a part of your life. It shouldn't be your life. Learn to merge the two: instead of skipping Happy Hour with friends to go to the gym, suggest your friends meet up for a hike you can do together. Instead of skipping the party because you're worried about the lack of healthy options, bring your own healthy dishes and share the recipes when people inevitably love them. Don't think of fitness as something you have to pile on top of your regular life. Weave it in. And if there are days when you miss the gym because your family is in town and everyone is celebrating the holidays together, it's okay. There's more to life than fitness.