I have to come clean.
The mind games and chitter-chatter jingle-jangling around in my head while I’m working toward a health and fitness goals are completely exhausting. If you’ll indulge me for a moment, I’m going to brag on myself—which is something I don’t do very often. Here goes. I just achieved something awesome: on October 9th, 2016, I completed the Chicago Marathon. If you’d been in my head during the hours leading up to the race, though, you would’ve thought I was planning to run clear across the country without food, water, or sleep. My mind wouldn’t quit messing with me. Thoughts like “you haven’t trained enough” and “except to cramp at mile 20” were spinning through my brain non-stop. This kind of thinking is horrible and self-defeating. In fact, all those negative thoughts were downright silly and didn’t get me anywhere. I stewed in my own worry. Thankfully, about 30 minutes before the gun went off, I got a handle on my thoughts, calmed myself down, and allowed myself to soak up the amazing vibe at the start of the race. It definitely took quite a few deep breaths. To be honest, it took several good long minutes to breathe in the positive and breathe out the negative.
But I did it. I stepped up to the start line and went for it.
I ran the entire course and finished strong. Sure, it hurt. Absolutely, it was challenging. No doubt, I experienced my share of aches and pains over those 26.2 miles—just like everyone who has ever run a marathon, ever. But I beat the pains; I beat the doubt; I beat the negative self-talk. My self-awareness allowed me to visualize the big picture and overcome every obstacle in my way.
The reason I share this is because I’ve noticed something at Skyterra. There are various quotes, sayings, and phrases about fitness, weight loss, and weight management our guests keep telling themselves that are just like my negative self-talk: counter-productive and self-sabotaging. They keep popping up. Week after week, guest after guest. I’m stunned because people from all over the country who don’t know one another have these same scripts running through their heads.
Where do they come from? There must be something in our culture reinforcing all this negative self-talk, but I’ll leave that for another article. For now, I want to list some of the most common things I hear from guests and expose some fallacies around dieting, fitness, and all things health and wellness-related. Then I’ll break down how to turn these ideas from negative, self-defeating mechanisms to positive and worthwhile tools you can apply to your life.
Disclaimer: I fully disclose that I struggle with negative talk. I’ve beaten myself up for no good reason on numerous occasions. That’s why I don’t judge anyone for thinking any of the following thoughts. It’s the opposite: when I hear these things, I hear myself. I’ve found ways to counter the negative self-talk, and my goal is to share my strategies with you.
Top Ten Diet and Fitness Doozies Debunked
- I don’t have enough time. Time is the number one obstacle people cite when they talk about why they can’t achieve their fitness goals. They say they don’t have enough time to do everything health professionals say to do: 2-3 strength workouts per week; 150 minutes of aerobic work per week; daily yoga/stretching; 30 minutes of HIIT training per week; you get the idea. Here’s my reality check for you: we all have the exact same amount of time, every week of the year. 168 hours. Every single one of us. If anyone can do it, everyone can do it.
- Why bother cooking my own meals when someone else can cook them for me? If you really want to make a positive health change, you have to start cooking more. I truly believe this. The art of cooking is something our culture has somehow left behind. We leave it to restaurants and all the fancy executive chefs out there. Don’t get me wrong: I love myself an executive chef. Shoot, some of my best friends are extremely talented chefs. However, you’ve got to take ownership of the food you consume. Do this for yourself: cook 75% of your meals at home. Cooking is fun. Do it with friends. Do it with family. Make a commitment to do it. Your body will thank you for it. I promise.
- I can’t do squats. One of the scariest words in the fitness world: SQUAT. Ahhh! Run away! I’m willing to bet every single one of you reading this can do a perfectly good squat. If you’re sitting down right now, do something for me. Pull your shoulders back. Sit upright. Chest up. Put your weight in your heels. Drive your shoulders to the ceiling while pressing down through your heels and keeping your knees out. Eh voila! You’re now standing up, right? Woohoo! Next, keep your chest up, keep your knees out, and reach your butt back down to the chair. Congratulations: you’ve just performed a squat. You just let your action and behavior change your mindset, as opposed to letting your mindset tell you what you can or can’t
- Sleep? What sleep? I can function with 5 hours a night. This is nonsense. Cortisol, an essential stress hormone, goes all out of whack if you consistently get only five hours of sleep per night. Cortisol peaks in the morning, then tapers off throughout the day. By the time the evening hours roll around, prior to bed and sleep, your levels of circulating cortisol should be low—they’re supposed to be at their lowest around midnight. The problem with getting too little sleep is that it puts too much strain on your adrenal glands, which produce most of your cortisol. Remember, you’re human. You’re not invincible. You need to aim for 7-8 hours of sleep per night. If you have problems winding down and getting to sleep, do some research on mindfulness-based relaxation techniques. Find something that works for you, then make it into a calming routine to decompress before bed every night. Think about it this way: sometimes you never know how bad you really feel until you start feeling better. Sleep is one of those variables that can be a real game changer for weight loss, weight management, and breaking through fitness plateaus.
- Cooking healthy meals costs too much. Again, nonsense. There are ways to minimize the cost of high quality food. Frozen vegetables, farmer’s markets, and moving to a plant-based diet will absolutely cut down on your weekly food costs. Two suggestions you can use this week: hit the local farmer’s market and make at least 1-2 vegetarian-based meals for dinner in the next seven days. You can’t beat a happy belly and happy wallet.
- The only way I can be successful is by counting calories or logging my food intake. Scientific research on the long-term effectiveness of counting calories and tracking food intake for weight loss is inconclusive. I will say this: logging for a few days to get a baseline awareness is great; however, total obsession with points, macros, and calories can be overwhelming and quite tiresome. Mentally, this is not the ideal way to go. Counting and tracking will neither decrease your body fat nor increase your muscle mass. Counting and tracking—for a little while and with perspective—can lead you to implement positive behaviors that open the door for your body to change. But they are not the change itself: that’s all you and what you do.
- I don’t have enough time to eat at work. Make time. Enough said. Get away from your desk for at least twenty minutes for a midday meal. Make a lunch date with yourself somewhere between 11 am and 1 pm. Put it on your online calendar and set a reminder: recurring event, Monday through Friday. If that’s not do-able, then find a time that is. The thing is, skipping lunch often results in eating two dinners. You know what I’m talking about. The late afternoon snack that becomes a meal. Then after a couple of hours, you have the real dinner. Not good. Meal timing matters; now is the time to set clear boundaries at work. Listen up—you gotta have lunch. Your body and mind will thank you for it.
- I deserve this dessert. The “I deserve it” and “I’ve earned this” mentality creates internal chaos. Think about the thoughts you have after you eat something you think of as bad or cheating. Be honest. You beat yourself up. I know because I hear it all the time from my clients. I tell them this: avoid being the food police and avoid thinking of food as good or bad. Savor and enjoy certain delicacies and know you can indeed learn moderation. We serve dessert twice a week at Skyterra and we love it. We emphasize it’s something to truly savor and enjoy. And boy, do we ever do both.
- I’m sooo not giving up my wine. Alcohol actually has some health benefits. Oh, man. This has got to be my favorite. I’ve heard this one so many times. I agree the French are on to something, but we’re not the French. We drink differently. The problem with drinking in our American culture is that we typically drink to unwind or get away from our problems. We don’t pair it with meals intentionally or serve it only with dinner. The casual evening glass of wine quickly becomes two or three. Then we’re like, shoot, let’s just finish the whole bottle. You know I’m right. Here’s the deal, though. Drinking too much too often messes with your insulin levels, blood sugar levels, cortisol levels, and gets in the way of your fitness goals. One of the worst side effects is poor sleep. One drink can disrupt the REM stage of sleep, which is the most important part of your sleep cycle. Awareness is key, here. When it comes to alcohol, you need discipline.
- I’m so gross. I’m so fat. Ugh. It kills me when I hear people say this. And it’s mostly women. Honestly it saddens my heart. Please. Women. Stop the madness. You’re more than a number on a scale. You’re not gross. Nothing about you is ugh. You are worth every moment you spend on yourself. Negative thoughts like these do not help you lose weight, even as negative motivation. You are not a science project. You are a special and unique human who needs time to make positive lifestyle changes.
Rewrite Your Script
Perhaps some of these hit home with you. If they do, I hope you can start treating yourself a little better. I hope you can create room for positive change. Positive self-talk and self-care is key to moving forward with your health, especially when it comes to preventing chronic disease, recurring conditions, and long-term illness. If you engage in counter-productive self-talk, I want you to know you have the power to change it. You can rewrite the scripts inside your head. When the negative thoughts come up, don’t give them power or energy. Let them go. Replace “I can’t,” with “I can.” Instead of “This is never going to work,” say to yourself “I’m worth the effort.” If you hear a voice saying “Oh forget it. I give up,” counter that with “Look at the big picture. I’m worth it. My family is worth it.”
You get the idea? You can turn every one of those thoughts around. You can get a handle on this stuff, just like I did the morning of my marathon. You can start right away. You can practice every day. Before you know it, your self-talk will be what propels you forward rather than what holds you back.