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How To Stay Motivated to Eat Healthy and Exercise

Have you ever gotten off to a great start with a new exercise program or healthy eating plan and then, bam, three weeks later you’re back to your old self-destructive habits? Yeah, me too. In fact, I’m a bit of an expert on the subject. So, how do we stay motivated to eat healthy and exercise?

I struggled with my weight for most of my life. I went through phases of being lean and stages of being overweight until I found myself morbidly obese at age 37. That’s when I had my wake-up call and lost a whopping 104 pounds in just a few short months. And I’ve managed to keep it off, for the most part, ever since.

However, ever since we moved to Texas, I’ve struggled again. I still eat clean for the most part. I exercise five to six days a week. But I allowed a couple of former bad habits creep back in, and I’ve gained some of the weight back. I’m still a lot closer to my ideal weight than my heaviest, but I know I can do better. I know I can feel better.

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve implemented the following strategies to stay motivated to eat healthy and exercise. Most of these principles are included in my book, Fully Alive: Discovering God’s Heart and Design For Our Health. And they are working. I’m confident they will work for you too.

Find Your WHY-Power

You’ve probably heard it said that it takes 21 days to form a habit; and while that may be true, it sometimes takes months or even years to make the new habit permanent.

Think about it, you’ve been you for a long time. You’re not just adding something new—you’re breaking down strongholds in your life.

You’re going to face challenges. You’re going to fall down from time to time. The sooner you wrap your mind around that, the better. Willpower alone won’t last long enough for you to power through.

I love how Darren Hardy puts it, “Assuming willpower is what you need to change your habits is akin to trying to keep a hungry grizzly bear out of your picnic basket by covering it with a napkin. To fight the bear of your bad habits, you need something stronger.”

Grizzly Bear

The power of your why is what gets you through the daily grind, the temptations of that slice of pizza or cake, the mornings where you don’t feel like getting out of bed and working out, the days when you feel overwhelmed and just want to sit in front of the TV and eat a pint of ice cream. It’s what helps you stay motivated to eat healthy and exercise.

To bring it a little closer to home, allow me to share an analogy from Hardy that I use all of the time:

Why Anything’s Possible

If I were to put a ten-inch-wide, thirty-foot-long plank on the ground and say, “If you walk the length of the plank, I’ll give you twenty dollars,” would you do it? Of course, it’s an easy twenty bucks. But what if I took that same plank and made a roof-top “bridge” between two 100-story buildings? That same twenty dollars for walking the thirty-foot plank no longer looks desirable or even possible, does it? You’d look at me and say, “Not on your life.”

However, if your child was on the opposite building, and that building was on fire, would you walk the length of the plank to save him? Without question and immediately—you’d do it, twenty dollars or not.

Why is it that the first time I asked you to cross that sky-high plank, you said no way, yet, the second time you wouldn’t hesitate? The risks and the dangers are the same. What changed? Your why changed—your reason for wanting to do it. You see, when the reason is big enough, you will be willing to perform almost any how.

Your WHY will always line up with your core values—with the things that are most important to you. For me, it was my family. You have one too, all you have to do is write out a goal and then ask yourself WHY it matters to you. Which, of course, means you have to set a goal in the first place.

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How To Stay Motivated to Eat Healthy and Exercise

Set S.M.A.R.T Goals

“If you are not making the progress that you would like to make and are capable of making, it is simply because your goals are not clearly defined.” (Paul J. Meyer)

It’s impossible to stay motivated to eat healthy and exercise without having clearly defined goals.

There is a fun little dialogue in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland when Alice comes to a fork in the road and is trying to decide which way to go. It is at this point that she meets the Cheshire Cat, so Alice asks him for advice—she asks him which direction she should go from there.

The Cat tells her it depends on where she wants to get to. When Alice responds that she doesn’t care, the Cat wisely responds that in that case it really doesn’t matter which way she goes.

Alice tries to explain herself by saying that she just wants to get somewhere, to which the Cat responds, “Oh, you’re sure to do that if only you walk long enough.”

Where Do You Want To Go?

In his unique way, the Cheshire Cat was telling Alice that before you can know which path to take, you need to know where you want to go. That’s called a goal.

If you want to stay motivated to eat healthy and exercise, make your goal S.M.A.R.T., it needs to be: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely.

  • Specific – The more specific your description, the bigger the chance you’ll get precisely that. There is a vast difference between, “I want to lose weight” and “I want to lose 20 pounds over the next two months by eating clean and exercising five days a week.”
  • Measurable – Measurable goals mean that you will know when you achieve it. If your goal is to fit back into that pair of pants you haven’t worn in three years, you’ll know you’ve reached it when you can wear them again.
  • Attainable – Is your goal attainable? Make sure this goal is what you really want and worth the effort it will take to achieve it. And if you don’t quite reach it, that’s okay too. If your goal was to lose 20 pounds and you lost 18, that’s still a win.
  • Relevant – Is reaching your goal relevant to you? This goes back to your WHY? Why do you want to achieve this goal? What is the real objective behind the goal? Will this goal get you closer to what you really want?
  • Timely – Simply put, your goal needs to have a deadline.

How To Stay Motivated To Eat Healthy And Exercise

Mix It Up!

Variety is the spice of life. How does the thought of eating only steamed broccoli and grilled chicken every night for the rest of your life grab you?

What about running on the same treadmill every day or doing the exact same weight training routine every time you exercise? Pretty boring, huh.

That’s not motivating at all.

If you want to stay motivated to eat healthy and exercise you’re going to have to get creative. Look for new recipes online. Grab a new healthy eating cookbook. Browse through magazines.

There are literally tens of thousands of wonderfully delicious recipes out there that just happen to be good for you too.

Try a new class at your gym? Try out a new sport. Sign up for a martial arts or yoga class. Check out the myriad of workouts available online. Sign-up for a VIP All-Access pass to an enormous variety of fitness programs. Just mix it up.

Plan Ahead

There’s a famous adage often attributed to Benjamin Franklin, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Nowhere is this truer than when it comes to our health.

We are all busy. Life gets in the way. We fall victim to the tyranny of the urgent. If you want to stay motivated to eat healthy and exercise, you’re going to need to plan.

When I was going through my 100-pound weight loss journey, I planned my meals out a week in advance. Because without a plan it’s so easy for you to just:

  • Walk into the grocery store and get sidetracked entirely and suckered into buying processed “health foods” that you don’t really need.
  • Waste money on produce that goes bad in your fridge because you didn’t know what to do with it.
  • Give in to cravings when it’s late and you’re tired because you don’t know what to make and there’s nothing healthy around for you to eat.

Happy Couple In Kitchen

Meal Planning

Don’t let the idea of meal planning scare you. This is your life, so make it fit your goals. Schedule cheat meals. Make plans to eat out. What’s important is that you put some thought into it.

If you don’t like eating the same thing every day, planning is even more essential for you to save time, money, and make healthy choices. You can cook a large batch of chicken or other meat and eat it in various ways throughout the week.

Instead of giving up because you’re a little too picky, work a little harder to find ideas that fit your needs. There are a ton of articles on how to use one ingredient for various recipes.

A Time To Move

It’s also important to schedule a time to exercise. I’ve learned that I do better when I get it over with first thing in the day. There was also a time when I scheduled my workouts on my lunch break. Some people do better working out in the evening.

I get asked all the time what’s the best time of day to exercise. My answer is always the same, “Whenever you’ll do it.” So make a plan, and you’ll have a better chance of sticking to it.

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How To Stay Motivated to Eat Healthy and Exercise

Team Up With Friends and Family

“Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9–10 NLT-SE)

Nowhere is this truth more applicable than when it comes to your health. It turns out that healthy (or unhealthy) behaviors are contagious. Here are a few fun statistics based on more than three decades of research published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

  • You are 37 percent more likely to be obese if your spouse is obese.
  • You are 40 percent more likely to be obese if your sibling is obese.
  • You are 57 percent more likely to be obese if your friends are obese.

Turns out the company you keep is more influential than genetics when it comes to obesity. You tend to become like the people you hang out with the most. This wisdom has been around for millennia.

“Become wise by walking with the wise; hang out with fools and watch your life fall to pieces” (Proverbs 13:20 MSG).

Even our moms told us that, at least mine did.

The good news is, this principle works in reverse too. If you hang out with people who are also working to stay motivated to eat cleaner and exercise, it will help keep you track too.

And you don’t have to wait to find healthy friends. You can be the instigator. You are an influencer. As you start taking your health seriously and making better choices, it will influence your friends, especially the ones closest to you—your fellowship.

You will find the strength and the support to become healthier together. And your influence will extend to all of your friends, and your friends’ friends, and even their friends.

Never Give Up

“It’s not whether you fall or make a mistake, it’s what you do when you fall. And I say you stand up. You keep standing up. It’s not how many times you fall, it’s how many times you stand up.” (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa)

That’s the bottom line—never give up. The only way to stay motivated to eat healthy and exercise is never to give up. Health is a journey, not a destination.

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