In my last post, I talked about a light-bulb moment that I recently experienced at the 12th Annual Exercise and Nutrition Symposium at Western University. In his talk about how different types of exercise affect our appetites. Dr. Tom Hazell referred to the concept of “exercise snacking,” which has totally changed how I view movement and activity between my gym workouts.
However, there was another session that day that really opened my eyes to a new way of looking at fitness and nutrition while also confirming what I’ve always believed – that (as my site tagline alludes to) – perfectionism should not be our goal when it comes to living a healthy lifestyle.
Dr. John Berardi, co-founder of the hugely successful online nutrition and coaching program Precision Nutrition, returned to his alma mater that Saturday to talk about what he calls the “pause-button mentality” and how it’s affecting our health and fitness.
Basically, Berardi points out that waiting for that perfect time in your life to pursue your health goals – e.g. I’ll eat better after the weekend/Christmas/my vacation, I’ll start exercising regularly after I start my new job next month/after we move in the spring – is actually the fastest way to sabotage yourself.
Instead of taking an all-or-nothing approach, we should always be trying to do something – anything. Something is better than nothing.
Because those events – the vacation, the new job, Christmas – these are just real life. And if we keep pausing our goals and wait for that perfect, stress-free moment in life to finally do something, then it’s never going to happen. Life is always going to put obstacles in our way; there are always going to be challenges. Putting your health on pause each time that happens is only teaching you how to pause; it’s not teaching you “the ability to get fit under real-life conditions,” as John explains in his article on the same topic.
I can tell you first hand that it’s hard to do but so worth it. While my mother was in the hospital for several weeks in 2015, and I was visiting her almost every day, I consciously chose to not take on this pause-button mentality. I was stressed out, sad, and tired, but I continued to do what I could to stay the course, while also forgiving myself if I veered off. Like, really forgive myself. I just did what I could. Some days that meant choosing just two Timbits instead of a whole donut when I took breaks in the hospital cafeteria (trust me, I could have eaten all of my feelings using an entire box of donuts most days). Other days it meant squeezing in a much shorter-than-usual workout in my basement so that I could release a bit of stress and do something…anything. And that might have been my only workout that whole week. But it was enough for that time in my life, and it was still something.
Let’s accept that life has no pause button…like it or not, the game of life keeps going. There’s never going to be a moment when things are magically easier.
– John Berardi
Turning Up the Dial
To combat this pause-button mentality, Berardi told us to think of our fitness, nutrition, and wellness as dials. Depending on where you are in your life and the capacity you have at that time, you can turn those dials up or down. But no matter what, you are always doing something.
This was a beautiful light-bulb moment for me. The dial model confirmed that it’s ok if every workout or meal isn’t perfect. It’s ok if I only had the energy and capacity to do two small workouts this week, or – if life was particularly challenging – maybe just a few long walks. Or even short walks. As long as I was doing something.
Conversely, seeing the movement dial projected on a ten-foot tall screen in front of me made me realize that many days, when life is going smoothly and I have the time and energy, I could be doing more. I could be working harder to turn that dial up.
Last week, for example, was a good week. I would say I hit a 6 on the movement dial. I had time to fit in three good workouts, I took daily short walks, and enjoyed an hour-long brisk walk with my family. Next week, though, might not be the same, depending on what life throws at me. And that’s ok.
How about you? Can you find yourself on the movement or nutrition dials? Can you think of ways to turn those dials up a notch? Can you forgive yourself when you need to temporarily turn the dials down?
By always keeping these dials in mind, and always committing to staying on the dials (and also adding in as many exercise snacks as possible), we can be confident that we’re still on the path to good health. Some days the mindset is as important as the action.