Good habits around diet and exercise are difficult to build and sustain. But there’s a saying: Give someone the right tools, and they can do extraordinary things. Wouldn’t it be extraordinary if this were the year in which you created an unshakeable habit of healthy eating and regular exercise?
I know it will be hard. (I didn’t say it would be easy.) I know you’ve probably tried before. I know it can feel impossible. But with the right mindset and strategies, you can make healthy eating and regular exercise lifelong habits. I’ve seen it happen in thousands of meQ members and coaching clients. In fact, one of my clients was able to lower her cholesterol by 91 points.
If you’ve been following along with the Resilience Retreat for the last several weeks, you’ve already learned powerful techniques—how to sustain motivation, master your mindset, and manage stress—for achieving goals and facing life’s challenges with strength and resilience. These resilience foundations are important pieces of the puzzle when it comes to making habits of healthy eating and exercise.
At the same time, physical well-being, including healthy eating and exercise, is another important foundation to resilience. Countless studies show that exercise helps improve your mood, boost energy, promote better sleep, and more. And a healthy diet not only helps protect against certain diseases, but it has been connected with improved mood as well.
So get started right now—and make diet and exercise unshakeable habits—with this three-step plan.
Step 1: Address sneaky, sabotaging beliefs.
You’ve probably heard the saying “you are what you eat.” But you also are what you think. And what you think affects what you decide to eat and how you decide to move, or not move, your body. Said another way: We don’t give up because we can’t do it; we give up because we believe that we can’t do it.
Powerful limiting beliefs, which meQ calls Iceberg Beliefs, about our self-worth and ability knock us down time and again. So any plan to boost diet and exercise habits must uncover your limiting beliefs as a first step. Get ready, because these beliefs are strong. They feel like laws that we must live by, and they tend to run on repeat in our minds. Formed early in life, these beliefs also are usually outdated or untrue and will block your progress.
Reflect on the Iceberg Beliefs that get in the way of your diet and exercise goals, such as:
“I’ve tried before and failed.”
“I can’t lose weight.”
“I’m not athletic.”
“I don’t have time.”
“I shouldn’t focus on myself.”
“We just don’t do healthy in my family.”
“I can’t change my eating patterns.”
“I’m too old for that.”
Recognize those negative, unhelpful thoughts. Then rewrite them to remind yourself of the positive truths:
“I am strong.”
“I can do hard things.”
“I have overcome obstacles in the past and am better for it.”
“I deserve to focus on myself.”
“I deserve to be healthy.”
Step 2: For the last time, let go of the all-or-nothing mindset.
Oftentimes, we feel like we have to do everything immediately: replace all unhealthy food in the refrigerator with healthier options, find a gym and a trainer, spend all day Sunday preparing meals, work out for 30 minutes or longer, etc. If we can’t do it perfectly, we won’t do it at all. So we do nothing, because it feels too overwhelming. Or one inevitable slip-up, and we quit.
The next biggest saboteur when it comes to diet and exercise is the all-or-nothing mindset. I see this time and again. Here’s the truth. You WILL slip up. You WON’T do it perfectly. And you DON’T have to do everything at once.
Let’s make a resolution to stop going to unsustainable extremes. Slow and steady wins the race every single time. Long-term transformation happens when you take small, consistent steps. It does not happen with crash diets, working out hard for a week (and then stopping because life became too busy), or taking on too many changes at once.
What does this mean if you’re working to improve your diet? Instead of trying to drastically overhaul how you eat, which isn’t realistic or sustainable, begin with a few healthy meals. Come up with several nutritious “anchors” to your week. Aim for three dinners rich in vegetables and lean meats and two snacks that are high in protein and low in sugar.
What does this mean if you’re striving to exercise? Start small in a way that makes sense for you. If you haven’t exercised much, for example, begin by committing to walking for 10 minutes two to three times a week. That’s it. The key at first is to make the exercise a habit—showing up for yourself. Then you can work on refining the program and taking microsteps to build on your foundation.
Step 3: Schedule it and make it non-negotiable.
“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” I love this famous quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Scheduling and planning are key to creating new habits. So is getting really specific about what, how, when, and for how long you plan to do something.
For example, you’ve anchored your meals in step two. Now schedule them. Which days will you eat them, and for which meals? For exercise, pick two mornings or lunches or evenings when you’ll do something physical. Plan what you’ll do, put it in your calendar, and be as specific as possible.
What does this look like if you’re working to improve your diet? On Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, I will eat my planned anchored dinners. Monday will be turkey chili, Tuesday chicken and broccoli stir fry with brown rice, and Thursday roasted sheet pan chicken and vegetables.
What does this look like if you’re striving to exercise? On Monday, I will walk for 10 minutes in my neighborhood at noon after my meeting ends but before I eat lunch. On Wednesday, after my morning coffee but before my shower, I will do 10 minutes of weight training with the leg workout in my workout app.
Finally, throughout this three-step plan and beyond, have patience with yourself. So often we give up before we have a chance to succeed, because we feel like we’re not making progress quickly enough. Diet and exercise changes shouldn’t be overnight—quick change almost never lasts.
I love author James Clear’s plane analogy for how small changes over time can have a big impact. Imagine a plane is flying from Los Angeles to New York. But then the pilot decides to change course just a few degrees to the south. The plane’s path will shift only slightly, and none of the passengers will feel that change mid-flight. But the impact of that small change will be huge—the plane will land in Washington D.C., a totally different city.
The same is true when it comes to change. You probably won’t “feel” or look different immediately. But one day soon enough you’ll wake up and realize that clothes are fitting more loosely, or you no longer have to push yourself to get out and walk. And you feel totally different. Better. Stronger. Stay with it, stay committed to you, and here’s to your most resilient year yet!