Over the past 7 years of business at The Lyons’ Share Wellness, I’ve completed over 8,000 hours of 1-to-1 coaching. 8,000 hours of sitting face to face with a person sharing their struggles and insecurities and goals and aspirations – that’s a lot! While every person, every situation, every backstory, and every goal are unique, there are strong common threads. These are gems that I’ve said over and over again, thousands of times. It never gets boring or old to teach them, because I’m continuously learning many of them myself, right alongside my clients. These are lifelong principles that will help anyone on a health journey of any kind, and I can’t wait to share them with you today. Here are the top things I would shout from the rooftops to anyone looking to begin – or continue along – a health journey:
- If it’s too fast, it won’t last. The pictures you see on Instagram of someone losing 50 pounds in 2 months, or beating their cravings overnight, or taking a magic pill that led to all of their answers … they’re eye-catching, even to those of us who know better. But if your results come too fast, they’re very unlikely to last.Not only are you more likely to lose muscle, not just fat, when you lose weight quickly, but because you haven’t had time to focus on behavior change, your behaviors aren’t likely to continue for the long-term. What does that mean? You’ll go right back to eating and living how you always did, which will get you the results you’ve always gotten. And the up-and-down yoyo pattern that many Americans tend to follow is frustrating, damaging to your metabolism, and detrimental to your long-term health.Slow, steady, sustainable change might not be as initially appealing, but when you do it this way, you’ll only have to do it once, and the behaviors you learn will sustain you through the rest of your life. Your struggles didn’t develop overnight, and they won’t disappear overnight, either. But if you’re in it for lasting success, and have patience with the process, you can find freedom from those struggles permanently.
- Your own worst enemy often lives right between your ears. The vast majority of people I work with know that a salad is healthier than fried chicken, or that diving into a pint of ice cream each night isn’t helping them feel amazing. But there’s a giant difference between knowing and doing, and one of the main reasons we self-sabotage is that we’re driven by and frustrated with the negative voice in our heads. I have dozens of strategies that I use with clients to improve their self-talk, but this post, this podcast episode, and this book are good starts.
- The sexiest answer isn’t always the right one. When it comes to nutrition, people get attracted to the trendiest, “sexiest” option, but that’s rarely the right choice. We have a $60 billion nutrition industry for a reason – trendy diets don’t last. In the moment, sure, it can be easy to think, “well this time they’ve found it – the magic answer to our health problems!” but I assure you, there’s no magic answer. Let’s face it, my dad bought pallets of grapefruit juice from Costco to drink before each meal when it was the magic fat burning trick, and we all overconsumed Snackwells cookies and fat-free treats (that tasted awful and made us fatter) in the 90s. We’re no longer doing either of those, and for good reason.When it comes to nutrition, the basic answer is simple – more veggies, more water, less sugar, less processed food. Of course, there are intricacies and complexities for each person and their unique situation, but the basic premises have been proven over and over again.Still, the “more veggie, less sugar” principle is a lot less “sexy” than the “magic pill” promise, so people stay on the prowl for the latest and greatest. I assure you, now is the time to pick that partner that will treat you right, respect you, and make you feel good, not to go for that attractive “one-night-stand” that you know will never last. Balanced, basic, healthy eating is the right answer.
- Nutrition is far more important than exercise for your results. The number of times someone has said to me, “I ate several extra cookies, but I was at the gym for over an hour!” or something similar is, sadly, a lot. When it comes to feeling great and maintaining optimal weight, I promise, nutrition is far more important than exercise.In fact, those 3 small slices of thin crust pizza, 2 beers, and a cookie would take the average person 12 miles of running to burn off, which most people are unwilling to do. Even if they were willing, it’s not so simple. The less healthy food is far more than just the number of calories – it comes with a metabolic cascade of effects that makes us crave more, feel sluggish, and store fat.Exercise is amazing – there are numerous benefits for stress relief, sleep, quality of life, heart health, and so much more. But when it comes to the results that many of us want to achieve, mastering nutrition is far more important.
- When you act the way you want to feel, your actions become easier and more effective. Research shows that when we can visualize the person we want to become, and really connect to the identity of that future healthy self, we’re far more likely to achieve the results we want. Thinking about the future version of yourself, and how he or she would act in your current situation, provides a built-in gauge for whether or not that action will help you reach your goals. Plus, it’s exciting and motivating to think about how amazing you’ll feel when you continue these actions!
- Healthy eating is not a punishment. No one is forcing you to eat broccoli, and you’re not getting a slap on the wrist if you eat French fries instead. But the way we talk to ourselves about food (“I have to order the salmon and asparagus,” or “I can’t eat cookies”) often makes healthy eating feel like a punishment. It’s human nature to rebel against restriction, so you’re far better off if you tell yourself you’re proud of yourself for choosing the healthy option or prioritizing what makes you feel best.
- You are only lying to yourself. Most of my clients don’t count calories, weigh their food, or follow any specific “rules,” but I often have clients take pictures of certain meals, or tell me about how many snacks they had, or something similar. When I do, and they lie, they’re not lying to me – they’re only lying to themselves. If you’re using a food journal or a tracking app or anything else, and you’re not being completely honest with yourself, it’s detrimental. You may wind up frustrated because you’re not making the progress you expect given the numbers you see tracked (which aren’t accurate since you’re hiding), but even worse, you’re perpetuating the idea that “treats should be hidden” or “eating this food should make me feel guilty, so I’ll hide it.” The mental detriments are huge – if you’re tracking anything at all, be honest with yourself.
- You know your body best. With a Masters in Holistic Nutrition, a Board certification in holistic nutrition, a health coaching certificate, and several other credentials, I know quite a bit about nutrition. But I am not an expert in you or your body. YOU are. So if I, or Dr. Google, or your human doctor, or your friend, make a recommendation that just doesn’t feel right in your body, trust yourself. YOU know your body best.
- It’s all connected. Even if your goal is just weight loss, paying attention to any signals your body is giving you does Many clients wait for weeks or months of working with me to tell me that they deal with constipation every day, or that they’re exhausted in the afternoons, or that their anxiety feels like it’s spiraling out of control. Your body is one system, and the hormonal clues we get from any symptoms you’re experiencing help paint the entire picture. If something feels off, pay attention – it’s all connected.
- Celebrations are not trite – they amplify success. If a child makes his mother breakfast in bed, making delicious eggs and fruit and coffee, works so hard, carries it up to her, and ends up spilling a few drops of coffee on the white carpet, I’m sure it’s tempting for the mother to get upset and frustrated by the spill, and maybe even scream at the child in frustration. But if that happens, the child beats himself up, feels unmotivated to help out again, and feels like a failure. If, instead, the mother bites her tongue and celebrates the child’s efforts and delicious breakfast, then goes and cleans the spill later, the child is beaming, wants to help out more, and will get better and better at carrying the tray as he practices.It may seem like a silly analogy, but our brains work the SAME way. Even if you have to bite your tongue to overlook an error, strongly encourage yourself to focus on celebrating your successes. Your brain associates the behavior you’re celebrating with a rush of positive neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, which makes you want to perform the healthy behavior more often and will increase your likelihood of success. Celebrate Be your own cheerleader. And watch your successes add up!
- Hating yourself into action only works for a little while. Many of us have gotten frustrated by a week of overeating and tried to “punish” ourselves by eating very strictly afterwards. Getting mad at yourself and hating yourself into action might work – for a day, or maybe a week. But over the long term, if your actions are driven by hate for yourself, you will rebel and lose focus. The only way to lasting change is to set goals driven by compassion for yourself, believe that you can achieve them, and trust that you’ll feel better when you achieve them.
- “Good” and “bad” should never be used with food. Even though we don’t truly mean that we’re a “good person” for eating a salad or a “bad person” for giving into that Snickers, our brains hears the connotation, and the vicious cycle of negative self-talk begins. Some food decisions are health-promoting, mindful, or aligned with your goals; others are more for enjoyment, mindless, or detracting from your goals. It’s fine to assess things like this, but the words “good” and “bad” shouldn’t go with it. Here’s more on that topic.
- Moderation is the hardest – but most valuable – skill to learn in nutrition. Look, if there’s a trigger food for you that just isn’t serving you in any way, and you know it’s best for you to give it up, more power to you. I did that with my husband’s Goldfish – it was too tempting not to take a handful every time I walked by the pantry.But if you’re drawing rigid lines over broad food categories or things that feel too restrictive to you, you’re setting yourself up for a lot of agony and suffering. Even though I don’t feel my best when I overconsume sugar, the idea of a lifetime without sweets, or not eating dessert on vacation, or not mindfully enjoying a square of dark chocolate while relaxing in front of the fire … it’s just not a vision that I can feel happy about. So even though it might have felt easier to draw a hard line, I chose to teach myself moderation with sweets. Being able to enjoy them mindfully and in balance with other healthy foods is a giant gift to myself, and I think it can be for you, too.Unless something is depleting your quality of life (as in a true addiction, allergy, or otherwise), moderation is a skill that will allow you freedom and enjoyment over the long term. Put in the work to acquire that skill!
- Your body is on your team. Over and over again, I hear things like “I don’t understand why my body won’t ___,” or “I’m trying so hard; it’s like my body hates me,” or even, “I hate my body and would do anything to change it.” This is literally tear-inducing for me.Your body has been with you every single second of your life. Your heart has given you millions (if not billions, depending on your age) of beats. Your lungs have taken hundreds of thousands of breaths. Your body does not want to be unhealthy, or overweight, or in pain. It is on your team.If you keep fighting against your body, you’ll spiral deeper into emotional turmoil, and your physical results will slow as well. I call it energy, but scientifically, it’s the activation of the amygdala, which puts your body into “fight or flight” mode and makes body composition, digestive, and other health improvements more difficult.Stop using harsh language against your body and recognize that it is on your team. It’s doing its best to support you and fight for your health and is not working against you. You might have communication issues from time to time, but if you work on talking to it lovingly and truly treating it well, you have the potential to feel better than you ever imagined.
Now it’s your turn … Which lesson was your favorite? What’s another health lesson that you think applies to many?