Let me ask, who experiences inner turmoil when words like “diet” and “exercise” are thrown around? After all, exercise = physical distress and diet = restriction, right? As a fitness professional, I definitely fall into the category of “exercise enthusiast” and “healthy eater” (I guess it goes with the territory!) but it wasn’t always this way. I can certainly remember a time in my life where diet was a struggle and working out was “choring” (a mix of “chore” and “boring”… See what I did there?). Well, it turns out I was doing “healthy” all wrong, so as I began to learn what that means for me, I made a point to help my clients discover how feeling truly “fit” isn’t just about chiseled abs – it’s about feeling happy with your regimen, too.
As it turns out, people have quite the negative association with what it means to be fit – restrictive, highly disciplined, physically punished day-in and day-out, etc. Not to mention, there are numerous “quick fix” programs out there that offer INSTANT results if you take a pill, follow a DVD every day, or drink a bunch of oddly-colored veggie juice. Clients came to me after years of yo-yo dieting, failed exercise attempts, and, worst of all, defeated emotions, which led me to the question: Where did the HAPPY in being healthy go?
What I’m here to discuss today is finding your fitness – your TRUE fitness – and how to experience being “healthy” as successful, attainable, and – dare I say it – pleasurable? It all comes down to three simple things:
- Find your mood
- Find your food
- Find your groove
Do this, and you can easily rediscover what it means to be truly “fit” for the long haul. Let’s break it down here:
Our brains happen to love exercise. Why? When we move, in as little as ten minutes, our brain begins to release neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and GABA – all of which contribute to feelings of relaxation, happiness, excitement, and joy. Sure, you may not feel like one big Pharrell song when you’re doing burpees, but the “post-run high” exists (and its effects can last hours after a sweat fest, further decreasing stress and anxiety). This, of course, works on the flip side too – the minute our brain recognizes something as unpleasant, anxiety-provoking, or stressful, a chain of command sets out through the body making us more alert to unpleasant experiences and even heightens sensations like fatigue, pain, soreness, or agitation (ask any runner you know who has gotten “into their head” during a race!)
But enough with me geeking-out about brain science & exercise, let’s get back to mood, food, and groove:
- FIND YOUR MOOD: Identify how you initially feel about food and exercise: Does the very thought of putting on gym shoes make your cringe? Has food been the enemy? Once we come to terms with how we truly feel about ourselves in the context of fitness, it will be easier to pick a start point. Helpful tips?:
- Try a simple language shift from “I can’t” to “I could, and I’ll try”. This can produce a ripple effect from your mind through your body, increasing feelings of confidence, capability, and helping your brain tell your muscles “This may be hard, but I’m okay!”
- Find workouts that feel reasonable for where you’re at in order to feel successful. Keep in mind MANY forms of exercise have modifications, and if you have to use them you’re not alone – we all start somewhere!
- Be proud of the little successes instead of harping on what feels difficult.
- With food, start with small, easy changes – something as big as a “diet makeover” may feel overwhelming and frustrating (especially if a “quick fix” leads to pounds being put back on in the end!).
- FIND YOUR FOOD: I love pizza. Like, a lot. In fact, I really like food, in general which is why I don’t focus on “deprivation” when it comes to diet. Food is fuel. You can’t expect healthy results living off KFC and ice cream, but if you don’t find meaning in your food, you’re going to end up caving into cravings more often than you find yourself eating right. “Healthy”, to me, equals something sustainable – something that helps us live a long time. So why diet in a way you can’t sustain? Find a healthy balance of what sheds pounds but promotes happiness in the process (a.k.a., that slice of pizza won’t hurt you and you’ll probably enjoy it more!)
- FIND YOUR GROOVE: Spin class? Yoga? Do you enjoy group camaraderie and a “we’re in this together” vibe? (Fact: our brain ALSO latches on to other people’s emotional energy, and I’ve had clients reflect that in a positive group exercise experience they feel increased confidence and capability, even if they aren’t at the same level as others in the class). Whatever the case may be, it’s important to find what speaks to you. Chances are you are not going to get up for that 6:00 AM workout if it doesn’t stimulate you. Don’t let working out be “choring” (yup, I’m making this a word!). Things like biking outside, walking the dog, and playing tag with your kids also count!
The biggest thing to take away here is that anybody can achieve “fitness” and “joy” simultaneously. Explore what makes fitness yours, paying special attention to the thought & emotional patterns that have stopped you in the past. The shift came for me in 2011 when I completed my first half-marathon after barely being able to run 4 miles without fatigue. I NEVER thought I’d be able to achieve such a thing, but it was the right combination of personal support and a fitness challenge that spoke to me. This catapulted me into trying new exercise programs, feeling increased self-confidence, and a discovering a new joy in what it meant to eat right and stay active. With the proper ingredients in your “fitness recipe” from the steps above, I truly believe any athlete can find his/her groove, and most importantly, what it means to put the happy back in healthy!
Caitlin Langan is a Conshohocken-based personal trainer and fitness instructor with CoreFitness, LLC. and a licensed therapist. If you are interested in “finding your fitness”, please contact Caitlin at Caitlin@core-fit.com for more information on personal training services. For a fun, engaging, group class experience, CoreFitness invites you to try a free outdoor bootcamp in Conshohocken, and a schedule can be found here: http://www.core-fit.com/schedule.php