I see a particular kind of mindset in many of my patients, one that I suspect may be familiar to you. It’s about that dreaded-but-anticipated duo: Diet and exercise.
When women think about “diet and exercise,” we tend to think of them as things we should be doing differently, but aren’t, for one reason or another. The very words “diet” and “exercise” tend to make us feel slightly guilty, as if they’re a reminder that we aren’t doing something right. We look at a commitment to diet and exercise as a sort of obligation or mandate, often given to us by a book or website or exercise video or celebrity or maybe a doctor.
We see this mandate as something necessary for us to achieve better health, beauty, vitality, fitness, or whatever it is we desire and feel is just out of reach. The problem with thinking about diet and exercise in this way is that it obscures the true mission in favor of a misplaced sense of duty, almost as if we owe our allegiance to someone or something else. If we don’t follow those externally imposed rules, we have failed society. So we give up, feel ashamed, and dive back into the cookies. Does that sound like you?
It doesn’t have to be this way, and as a doctor, I believe it must not be this way. I have a different prescription for you. What I want women to understand is that “diet and exercise” are actually two routes to self-care, and self-care is really what it’s all about. It’s not about the cookie or the push-up. It’s about you.
To live a healthy life, you must nurture and nourish your being. None of this should have anything to do with anyone else. This is about what will make you feel better and what will help you live a happier life. Understanding this difference may be subtle, but it’s also revolutionary because it is the difference between being subject to someone else’s rules and owning your own life by demanding the best for yourself.
Maybe the diets or exercise plans you’ve already tried aren’t right for you. But – I bet there is a way to eat and a way to move that is right for you, that will work in your life, and that you will love and embrace in a way that helps you regain the health, fitness, even the beauty you desire.
This might require a bit of homework, a bit of trial and error, and certainly some self-reflection. The work really begins before the sweating and calorie-counting ever commences. The first steps begin in knowing exactly who you are – your strengths, your idiosyncrasies, your personality, and the way you truly like to do things. What motivates you? What makes you feel good? These are the true paths to consistently achieving the seemingly impossible: A healthy diet and regular exercise.
When I was writing my book, Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum’s Heart Book, I quickly realized that, just as with my patients, I could not give cookie-cutter advice to my readers about how to care for themselves. I developed a personality assessment, to help people begin to understand their individual tendencies, preferences, habits, and the things they need to realize they simply aren’t going to do (like exercise first thing in the morning, or give up coffee, or whatever it is).
I don’t have the space to include all the tests here, but let’s start at the beginning with just a few questions I’d like you to consider:
- How would you describe your personality?
- Do you prefer to be around people most of the time, or do you need your alone time?
- Does a regular schedule and structure make you feel comfortable, or do you prefer to change it up, enjoying a life full of surprises?
- Do you like the quantitative comfort of counting calories, or do you prefer someone to tell you exactly what to eat?
- Do you relish rules, or do you rebel against rules?
The answers to questions like these will help you determine many things about how you like to eat and move. Maybe you love a group exercise class, or maybe you would rather exercise at home without feeling like you have to impress anyone. Maybe you need to schedule the same exercise at the same time every day, or maybe you would hate that and you need to do something different every day. Maybe you need a meal plan to tell you what to eat, or you want to eat whatever you want but stay within a certain calorie limit. Or maybe you want to make your own decisions, thank you very much. If you just trust yourself, you will make good choices.
When you realize what you need, your chance of successfully sustaining a lifestyle that is right for you is much, much higher.
If we think about diet and exercise as tools to allow us to flourish, then it all seems less daunting and a lot more fun. It’s a change in your mind, and that’s all. You can do that, right? Let yourself be who you really are, and you will enjoy success.
So are you ready to take the leap? Get out there and make it happen for yourself! This is your little nudge. (You’re welcome.)