It’s All Around You

So you’ve been eating better, exercising more, and doing all the right things to be healthy and lose weight. That’s great.

But there’s one simple thing you’re overlooking that will do more to ensure your success than all your other healthy behaviors combined. And by not paying attention to it, you may actually be canceling out your progress.

It’s your environment. And if you don’t proactively use it to your advantage, it will passively sabotage you.

Your environment sets you up to succeed or to fail. It has a powerful influence on what you think, how you feel, and what you do. But you’re probably so used to seeing what’s around you that you don’t realize how much it hinders your ability to successfully make changes in your life. And when it comes to food, eating, and weight loss, your environment may unfortunately be pushing you to say “Whatever” and eat anything that’s in front of you.

Your environment has a structure, and your energy forms to it. What you look at shapes your thoughts, your thoughts set your mood, and your mood dictates what you do. So if you’re looking at a cluttered kitchen that has a fridge full of expired condiments, you’re probably not going to feel motivated to cook a healthy meal for yourself. If your kitchen is usually a mess and you constantly think, “I’m so sick of cleaning this kitchen,” you’re probably going to feel exhausted or irritated, which means you’re more likely to eat.

Also, if your environment is working against you, you’ll waste a lot of energy trying to overcome it — energy you need to keep yourself motivated and stay on track. This is why controlling it will do more to help you than all your other healthy behaviors combined: because it affects every single one of them, and it will help you without expending any energy whatsoever.

Take a look around your kitchen right now. Is it set up to encourage healthy habits? Here are some ways you could improve your eating environment:

  • Clean out your refrigerator: wipe down the drawers and shelves, throw out expired items, and organize it by category (dairy, fruit, vegetables, beverages, etc.).
  • Ditto for your pantry.
  • Wash and pre-cut vegetables to have as snacks or to use for cooking.
  • Get a magnetized meal planner for your fridge and plan meals for at least two days.
  • Buy a special notepad (ie, not some cheap sticky notes that are too small and get lost easily) and keep a running grocery list.
  • Organize your plastic containers: recycle the mismatched ones and buy some that are durable and stackable.
  • Make your kitchen pretty: put a bowl of lemons or fresh flowers on the counter, get a plant for a windowsill, light a candle, or play relaxing music. Making your kitchen a place that feels beautiful and peaceful makes you want to spend time in it, cook more, and enjoy eating the way it’s supposed to be.

You want to set up your eating environment to make engaging in healthy habits practically automatic. That way you can use your precious energy to make more difficult changes.

Just the act of making these kinds of improvements makes you feel confident and in control. That’s another reason why this one tactic is so powerful, because you need to feel confident and in control if you want to make changes that stick and ultimately transform your life.

Always remember that your environment affects you, whether you realize it or not. It can be a silent helper that will multiply and amplify your results — but only if you take charge of it. Use it to your advantage.

An Unexpected Benefit of Exercise

I’m sure you know that you need to exercise if you want to stay healthy, and you’re probably also aware that exercising elevates your mood. But there’s another mental benefit of exercise no one talks about that you can use to your advantage to lose weight.

It has to do with goal setting.

First let’s go over some exercise basics. When you exercise, your body produces endorphins, otherwise known as the feel-good hormones. These are serotonin and dopamine. When these hormones hit your bloodstream, you feel relaxed and happy.

However, it takes time for them to take effect, so you have to stick with your workout long enough to get them going. And this is where we often fall short.

A lot of times we approach exercise as something we “have” to do and, therefore, dread. This is a problem because when you feel resistance like this, your body releases the opposing stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline. These have the opposite effect on your body — they make you feel agitated, stressed, and constricted. Feeling this way increases your desire to binge, which obviously negates the benefits of exercising, even if you push through your resistance and do it.

By the way, dieting makes you feel the same resistance and increases your stress hormone levels. Which again makes you more likely to binge, thus negating any progress you may have made on your diet.

So here’s where the goal setting part comes in. The feel-good hormones you release when you exercise also make you feel optimistic and motivated, which can help you achieve goals. You can start setting small goals — add fruit to your meal, order a side salad instead of potatoes or French fries, skip the bread. As you achieve these, you will be motivated to set larger ones. Run a 5K or start learning the foreign language you’ve always wanted to.

When you start achieving goals, you feel self-confident and accomplished, which goes a long way toward eliminating your binge eating habit. First of all, you will be so busy being busy you won’t be sitting around trying not to eat. And the resistance you feel when you diet will go away when you have better things to do with your time than constantly try to lose weight. Then you will lose it naturally.

The key is reversing your mentality toward exercise. You have to feel excited rather than resistant. Here are three ways you can change your perspective:

1. Pick an activity you enjoy. You won’t want to exercise if you’re doing something you don’t like. Even if it’s something you do like but you’ve been doing it so long it’s become a chore, switch it up. For example, if you’re a runner like me, go for a walk instead or buy a rebounder to bounce on while you watch Netflix.

2. Don’t push too hard. Going into a workout with the attitude of forcing yourself to do it only increases your resistance. And if there’s a day when you truly don’t have the energy or the motivation to exercise, by all means give yourself a break and skip a day.

3. Don’t go too long. Even though it takes a good 15 to 20 minutes for the feel-good hormones to kick in, it’s more important to not feel resistant. A trick I use is my “just get on the treadmill” mantra. Once I get on, I usually find myself having a really awesome workout. Because I don’t dread it if that’s all I have to do.

Eliminate the resistance you have toward working out to keep yourself motivated to do it. Use the feel-good hormones you get when you exercise to set small then big goals for yourself. Use the excitement you feel by accomplishing your goals to stay active and feel even better about yourself.

Use these tactics to stay motivated to work out, and take advantage of this unexpected benefit of exercising. Set goals for yourself and achieve them, increase your self-confidence, improve the quality of your life, and lose weight naturally.

What’s the Problem?

It used to make me really angry when I had no help around the house. I would seethe as I folded laundry and loaded the dishwasher. My anger was directed toward my husband, since I obviously didn’t expect my young children to help.

Once everything was clean, my anger dissipated. But it always returned when I had to do it all over again without any help.

I finally realized that I was only hurting myself by staying in a place of anger, so I started asking myself questions. Why does having no help make me so angry? Because I feel overloaded and no one notices. Why does it make me angry that no one notices? Because it makes me feel unappreciated. Why does feeling unappreciated upset me? Because it makes me feel like I’m not even here.

And then I finally figured out the real reason for my anger: feeling invisible made me feel disconnected from my husband.

It turns out my real problem was feeling disconnected. So instead of feeling rage every time he walked past me while I was breaking a sweat vacuuming, I started addressing the real problem. I told him I felt disconnected, and we came up with ways to feel more connected. All of a sudden, I felt less resentment cleaning and it became something that was less of a burden and that made me happy to do for my family.

When you constantly try to fix a symptom (no help around the house) of the real problem (feeling disconnected), you stay stuck. When you solve the real problem, the symptoms take care of themselves.

What does this have to do with losing weight? It means that the weight you keep trying to lose is not your real problem. It is only a symptom of it. And as long as you keep trying to get rid of the weight, you will stay stuck.

But sometimes the real problem is not obvious. You have to get past the surface and to the true source to change things. How do you do this? You keep asking questions until there are none left to ask.

Here’s what that may look like (my actual scenario):

Why am I overweight?
Because I binge eat.
Why do I binge eat?
Because it makes me feel better.
When do I eat to make myself feel better?
When I’m stressed out or bored.
When did this start?
When I was a teenager.
Why did it start?
Because if made me feel less alone.

When I dug down to the source, I figured out that my binge eating was a means of self-medication. Understanding this meant that I could eliminate shame from the equation.

This is critically important, because you can’t change anything when you feel shame. I think a lot of women carry tremendous shame about having excess weight on their bodies. You have to get to the real reason you are using food as a means of self-medication. When you do, you can understand yourself and stop feeling shame about your body and about how you eat.

Shame disempowers you. And if you feel powerless to change something you will be desperate for a solution, which in this case means dieting. Dieting reinforces shame, because it focuses you on the very thing you’re ashamed of — weight.

Once I uncovered my real problem, I started taking small steps and making progress. I figured out how to fix my triggers of boredom, loneliness, and stress. I did something fun when I was bored, I called a friend when I felt lonely, and I worked on eliminating stress from my life. Once I did these things, I felt better and more in control, therefore less likely to binge eat. And the weight came off by itself.

Keep asking yourself questions until you get to the root of your problem (which is not the weight). Break the shame cycle that dieting perpetuates and empower yourself. Start making steady, incremental changes that build on themselves and compound.

The allure of a quick fix by crash dieting to get rid of the weight is powerful — but it never works. It takes inner work on the front end to make true progress, and this takes patience.

Remember what Albert Einstein said: “If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute solving it.”

So Not True

It’s hard to lose weight the older you get.
It’s hard to find time to exercise when you have children.
It’s hard to lose weight when being heavy runs in your family.
Losing weight is hard.

Do you ever say these things? I know I did. It made me feel better to justify my inability to lose weight by making excuses. But when you repeat these statements, they become beliefs. And when you believe them to be true, your brain will look for evidence that they are.

Also, entrenching these false statements by constantly repeating them with your friends creates collective beliefs that eventually become fact. They permeate the entire discussion about weight loss among women who are perfectly capable of making massive changes in their lives — one of which is losing weight. These false beliefs prevent you from taking action and keep you stuck.

Justifying your lack of progress in any area means that you will continue never making progress. And making excuses prevents you from taking responsibility for your life. You make yourself powerless, when you are anything but.

So how do you stop doing this? Especially when everyone around you is reinforcing these beliefs? Change the statement to a question. Doing this challenges its legitimacy and leads you to a series of very different conclusions.

Let’s take, for example, “Losing weight is harder the older you get.” By turning it into a question, you may get, “Is it inevitable that I’ll gain weight the older I get?” What’s your answer? If it’s “I don’t know” or “Maybe, but maybe not,” you then have to find evidence to back up the fact that the statement may not be true.

So then you might ask yourself, “Has every single woman I know gained weight as she ages?” or “Are there women out there who are still active, fit, and healthy into their 40s, 50s, and 60s?” Then you know the answer is yes.

More importantly, if other people are out there doing it, why can’t you?

Let’s take “Losing weight is hard.” When you constantly say this (which almost every woman I know does), you come up with all kinds of reasons why losing weight is hard.

But when you change it to “Is losing weight hard?” your answer may be “It feels hard, but is it really?” Then your brain starts looking for evidence to back up the possibility that it may not be as hard as you think.

I think the reason we don’t question these statements is that we’re afraid of what the answer might be. If you can admit that a belief you cling to may be false, then you’re left with nothing but taking responsibility and taking control of your life.

But the good news is that taking control eliminates that feeling of desperation that leads you right back into another diet — because of your limiting belief that you can’t make changes yourself.

The simple act of challenging these kinds of negative-focused and limiting beliefs makes you feel empowered and therefore less likely to make excuses for not making your own changes. And a sense of empowerment is what you need to believe that you can change and that you are willing to be patient with yourself as you make slow, steady changes over time. Over a lifetime.

Question everything you say that you know deep down is an excuse for not trying. Yes, trying opens you up to the possibility of “failing,” but trying and failing is way better than not trying and staying exactly where you are.

There is no better feeling than taking control of your life. And making a firm decision that you will no longer accept excuses from yourself gives you the confidence you need to continue working toward any goal — including losing weight and living the life you deserve.