When people decide to change their health, they focus on trying to change too many things at once. This is a huge mistake since they become overwhelmed by these tasks and give up long before any success. Habits are hard to change, especially if you’re going at it with the atomic approach by changing your entire life at once. You need to focus on small steps and create helpful habits that will aid in your new healthy lifestyle change.
My experience shows me that by making small, but important changes, you can change everything! In 1986, I was recovering from a major eating disorder; I was struggling with anorexia and bulimia. I had been either starving myself or binging and purging for years. I spent most of 1985 taking baby steps with eating and my relationship with food. It was a huge challenge! By the middle of 1986, I had gone from being a size 2 to a size 12-14; I was desperately unhappy with how I looked. The good news was that I was eating! The bad news was that my metabolism was ticking along at snail’s speed.
That’s when I made the decision to start exercising. I knew I couldn’t risk dieting, so I decided to start swimming. I’d been a competitive swimmer all through school and it was something that I found soothing. Afterall, there are no mirrors at the bottom of the pool. I had never formally exercised in the 7 years since I’d left school, so initially, I had a real struggle with motivation. I’d made a commitment to swim for 15 minutes 5-6 days a week. It doesn’t sound like a lot, right? But it was what I felt I could do.
I could only swim one lap of freestyle and the next of breaststroke for a total of just 15 minutes. Sure, it was not a huge commitment but I knew I needed to create an exercise habit. There were many mornings when I woke up and didn’t want to go to the pool, but the fact that it made me feel so good was my carrot dangling on the proverbial stick. I had to remember that I wanted to feel better!
After a few months, I decided to quit smoking; at the time, I was smoking a pack-a-day. Three days after my decision to stop, I swam 20 laps of freestyle non-stop and I wasn’t out of breath! I was inspired. Then I gradually increased my distance until I was swimming 1 mile. I also began walking to the pool, which took about 40 minutes there and another 40 minutes back. I grew impatient with how much time that took, so I started running to the pool. That is when I fell in love with running! As I was swimming and running, I thought “Hey! You should do a triathlon!” and so I did! By this time, I was at a healthy size 6-8 (I’m 5’10”) and I liked the way my clothes fit for the first time in while.
After I did the Olympic distance triathlon, I ran my first 10k race. I was really enjoying the challenge of racing. The pool closed for winter and so I decided to try the gym and found that I loved it! The first class I took was a 90 minute advanced high impact aerobics workout! I wouldn’t recommend starting at that point…it took about 4 days before I could walk again! But I was hooked and I fell in love with aerobics. My favorite instructor told me about a course I could take to become an instructor and the rest is history.
I hope that you noticed that I didn’t start out exercising so I could become an instructor and I didn’t start by training for a triathlon at the beginning. I started with 15 minutes of swimming, which was a small manageable goal. My 15-minute swim goal ended up changing my life. My task for you is to set a small goal, just one, and create a habit around it. Perhaps it is to cut your soda habit down to 1 per day. Perhaps you promise to walk 20 minutes at lunch every day. Or your goal could be to start with 10-minutes of strength building exercises at home. Whatever it is, start small and the rest will take care of itself.