Things that I often hear my clients say about consistency:
I need more consistency with my workouts and eating.
I want to live a consistent, healthy life.
I’m normally consistent for the first couple of weeks and then it drops off.
Consistency is tough!
I want to be more consistent because it has always been a weakness for me.
I would like to focus on making better food choices on a consistent basis.
I am very knowledgeable about nutrition and exercise, but I need to be consistent in both areas.
I am feeling fatigued and that is frustrating because it keeps from being consistent.
When I ask women what consistency looks like for them, I feel despondent when I hear the high expectations they have for themselves that are full of deprivation rules and restrictions.
I am not surprised to hear all this, I have struggled with the same things after all. The mental struggle is compounded by information overload too. There is so much misinformation out there that I remember distinctly how it overwhelmed me 12 years ago when I had an office job like everybody else.
I was so confused about what I should eat and not eat, how much cardio or strength training is too much or too little that propelled me to earn a Personal Trainer certification as a hobby outside my desk job to find the answers I was looking for.
Did I find them in my personal training diploma? No, I didn’t. What works for you cannot be taught but needs to be lived and experienced in your body to find those answers. I spent too much time looking for answers outside of me and although I still have a long way to go to write my own “operational manual”, I have found everything I have been looking for within me.
I am telling you, learning to be consistent is probably one of the toughest things, I have been there, and I know how it feels to be spinning your wheels. I know what it’s like to want to shift weight and feel good about myself and the frustrations that come with it. I am writing this article to give you a clear focus on what will make the most significant difference.
If you are open to doing things differently, you may be surprised to discover your ability to define YOUR “operational manual” which will lead to the consistency you are looking for. I have been on a long journey to make this indeed a lifestyle for me, and I have seen so much anguish and struggle from other women that I want to give you a shortcut that will put you on a speedy and enjoyable path to achieve your goals.
If you are like most people I have worked with, you know what you want to achieve but perhaps fall short of accomplishing your goals because you are overwhelmed with everything you think you should do and trying to do too much at once.
I want to help you focus on doing less and achieve more through a series of strategic and sequential habits which help you build the skills required to achieve your goals.
Why do habits matter?
Setting a goal, such as losing weight, is not sustainable without establishing the practices to support it. Over time these practices build skills that become habits which will last a lifetime.
Think about it for a second, how many times have you lost 5-10 lbs to gain it all back again? There are pieces of the puzzle that are still missing, and I am here to help you find them.
It all boils down to this. If you want to achieve your goal you need to identify and build the skills that are required to make that happen. And the only way you will acquire those skills is with deliberate practice.
Think about it, you learned to drive your car by practising driving. There is no way you can drive a car for the first time without breaking down the skill of driving a car to smaller skills. Your driving teacher didn’t say just drive the car. He taught you how to start to the engine, work the clutch and the gearbox, turn the headlights, put the break on, accelerate, decelerate, overtake etc. Then you practiced those skills often enough to master the art of driving.
The principle is the same for every goal.
- You set a goal.
- You identify the skills required for it.
- You practice daily to build those skills until they become automatic.
The first time you drove, you had to put a conscious effort into every single move you took. The coordination was a bit clumsy, but after a while, you did these without thinking about each one of them too much.
Let me be more specific here about how could this apply to nutrition. Take for example the common goal I hear all the time about: “I want to eat better more consistently.” Before you read the answer stop for a minute and think about what skills are needed to do that. Do you know? Don’t worry if you don’t, my eyes glazed when I was asked the same question. All I knew is that I stop eating when my calorie counter or my preconceived idea of how much to eat told me so. You are not alone.
If you want to become a better intuitive eater and do that consistently, a fundamental skill you need to develop is hunger and appetite awareness. So you need to break down that skill further to the specific practices of 1) eating slowly and 2) until satisfied and not full. Not surprisingly, this single practice alone makes has made a lot of my clients lose weight even when they have gone away on holiday.
The 10 habits that actually work
The 10 habits that I will present here, ideally need to be practised sequentially because one builds on the previous one. Practice one habit at a time for a couple of weeks and notice how it feels. Then keep practising it until it becomes a habit.
Sure, have a goal of losing x amount of pounds. Then put it on one side and focus to building consistency in the behaviours that will help you reach your goal rather than on a number. That empowers you to know precisely what you need to do day in and day out even when the scales are not moving. It takes the focus away from the scale and directs to something specific that if you do for long enough will help you reach that tipping point. You can’t control the scales but you can control your behaviours and that my friend is something that will keep you focused.
- Eat slowly: It improves your digestion, and it allows you to check in with your hunger and fullness levels. It makes the eating experience more enjoyable. This can be applied not only to how you eat but how you drink too. See if you can notice the aftertaste of a good glass of wine or a premium quality chocolate. You can do this anywhere you go with anything you eat. I actually encourage people to eat whatever they want. Whether you are eating at a buffet, a work dinner or your mother in law’s house that you have been avoiding all year, you can put your attention to slowing down and experiencing the taste, texture and smell of food.
Eating slowly is a foundational practice, and the better you get at repeating it, the better you’ll feel and do overall.
- Eat until just feel satisfied: You will learn to eat the portion sizes that are right for you by respecting your hunger cues and bringing them in alignment with how much food your body naturally needs. It is essential to eat slowly first to help you build that awareness of hunger and fullness. I have written an article on portion sizes here that will guide you with a starting point.
- Eat lean protein with every meal: It promotes good health by building and repairing your muscles and bones, it synthesises essential hormones, and it supports your immune system. The biggest bonus of eating protein is that it promotes both satiety and satiation. Satiation makes you feel that you had enough during your meal and satiety helps you stay fuller for longer.
- Eat 5 servings of veg a day: Veggies contain essential vitamins, mineral and phytochemicals and are the foundation for good health. They improve your satiation during your meal.
- Choose quality carbs: They boost your energy levels, control your cravings, improve your performance in the gym and make your hormones feel happy. I know that there is a lot of fear around of carbohydrates and I get that. Instead of focusing on fewer carbs put your efforts into eating BETTER carbs. Choose higher fibre options such as fruit, beans, lentils and whole grains such as quinoa, amaranth, wild rice, barley etc., especially if you struggle with cravings and mood swings. Good quality carbs add value and make you healthier. Experiment and notice how your body feels after making good quality carb choices.
- Eat healthy fats: Fats keep your hormones healthy, your brain sharp, you will feel good, improve your performance and recover. Your skin will thank you for that too.
- Plan your meals: A meal planning ritual saves you time and money. It helps you be in control of your choices and feel confident and relaxed knowing that you will are more likely to stick to what you have planned. Look ahead of your week. Are there days that are busy and will need some preparation? One pot meals like stews or chilli are excellent meals for batch cooking and freezing. Make a menu, shop the ingredients and cook for the days that you will be busier ahead of time. Make sure you have containers to store them conveniently. I am not going to lie, I have found myself numerous times eating popcorn for dinner because I didn’t spend a bit of time thinking about what I am going to eat at a given day. You don’t have to plan for the whole week. Start from planning 1-2 days in advance.
- Get adequate sleep: It boosts your recovery an energy levels, so you make better choices in the kitchen and stick to staying active throughout the day. Aim to sleep between 7-9 hours consistently. Among other benefits, it’s one of the best anti-ageing strategies you could use. Sleep more, look younger!
- Use a recovery strategy: When you balance exercise with rest, you will be able to recover from your workouts and improve your stamina and endurance. Plan days yourself to recover. That could be going for gentle walks, foam rolling, stretching or anything that brings balance to your mind and your body. Self-care will make you feel well enough to make better choices.
- Move regularly: Movement keeps your muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints flexible and strong. It improves your mood and your well-being. Notice that I used the word move rather than exercise. If you enjoy structured exercise, go ahead and do it. If the word exercise fills you with dread, I get it. If you are not doing anything now, choose any activity that makes you move and do it as soon as possible.
All of these habits are individually important, but when you start layering up all these habits and dialing in each one of them consistently, you start to see things change because the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
HOW TO PRACTICE THE 10 HABITS
Focus on one habit at a time
Research shows that when people focus on more than 2 things at any time, their chance of success is less than 35 per cent. I want to encourage you to work on one essential skill at a time because when you give it your undivided focus that will guarantee your success.
Working on one habit at a time not only allows you to strengthen a specific skill set, but it also you keeps you doing something when life gets busy or when you are tired. In difficult times you don’t want to have too many things to think about. It’s easier to have a laser focus on one thing.
Tackle that one habit with deliberate effort frequently as much as possible and aim to improve by 1% at a time so that you can achieve it even when life gets busy. You can’t do a good job if you are focusing on too many things. Keep chipping away until it becomes habitual.
Make it super easy
Break each habit to the simplest and easiest component as possible.
Let’s say you want to practice eating slowly. If right now it takes you 3 minutes to eat a meal, can you add one more minute and make it 4? Can you add a breath or two before each bite? Can you focus on eating the first 2-3 bites slowly? Start from there.
Before committing yourself to any practice, ask yourself: ” on a scale of 1-10 how confident I am I can do this every day for the next 30 days?” If the answer is not a 9 make it even easier. Will that work? Yes, it will because when the first level is done the second one will be easier and so on.
Adjust the dial instead for each habit rather than flipping an on/off switch
I know that life gets busy and hard at times. Kids and parents get ill, deadlines need to be met at work, you get ill or injured. In those times what do you do? You adjust the dial.
Think of a dial that goes from 1 to 10 that determines how much effort you put into each habit. There are times that your dial needs to go up and times that it will go down. Depending on what’s happening in your life adjust the dial you are working along a continuum more or less rather than falling into the trap of all or nothing. Some days can you do your BAMs (Bare Arse Minimums)? For example, do you have only 10 minutes this week to do some kind of movement? Do that. You can’t eat slowly because you are running around like Benny Hill? Take one breath before you swallow your meal.
Doing something is always better than nothing. We can still make progress toward our goals and still improve our health and our fitness no matter what is going on in our lives. Compassion is key here. Instead of thinking “oh frap, I can’t do this the way I want to!”, say: “that’s ok I will just do….”
Develop systems, structures and schedules
When you develop Systems, Structures and Schedules you save yourself an enormous amount of energy and motivation required for each habit. Let’s be real. We don’t always feel inspired or motivated by anything that requires effort. So when you are busy or tired what’s the first thing that goes out of the window? Motivation. Relying on motivation alone to get things done is not going to see you through these times.
*Structures*– things and environments that surround us and the things we put in place to ensure that things get done: daily routines such as looking and planning ahead of a day, having the kitchen stocked with convenient healthy foods, putting you vitamins next to the kettle in the morning to remind you to take them etc.
*Systems*– processes and practices we use to make things happen: waking up 5 minutes earlier for breakfast, chopping vegetables and fruit in advance, having workout clothes ready from the night before, a convenient meal planning system, ordering food online.
*Scheduling* – committing time in the diary: create an online or paper-based diary, start with the minimums that are vital to happen to begin with such as school, work, kids activities and then based on what hours are available, schedule when you will commit to your habits. The best way you can do this is by attaching an action to something you are already doing. For example, after you drop the kids to school, you will go for a 10-minute walk. When you prepare dinner, you will pack your lunch for the next day etc.
Make it measurable and specific
Let’s say you want to start eating more vegetables. What does that look like? Are you eating one portion of vegetables right now and want to shoot for two portions? Be specific so you know when you are making progress. Whenever you feel confident and ready to do more adjust the dial a tiny bit up.
Make it enjoyable
Making a habit enjoyable is a big part of consistency. How can you make the process more rewarding? Can you train with a buddy? Can you learn new and tasty ways to prepare vegetables? Can you buy a new cookbook, so you don’t have to eat bland chicken breast every day? Can you set yourself a reward that you look forward to?
Accountability keeps you going because you have someone to report back to what you are doing. That can be another family member, a friend or a coach. We all need someone to cheer us and give us the strength to keep going. You don’t have to do this on your own. You never know, hearing how other people navigate choppy waters may spark your own big breakthrough!
What to do now
- Start from the first habit
- Define what and how you are going to do it
- Explore what feels like the most natural place to start
- Schedule that time when it’s going to happen
- Show up.
The precursor to motivation is action.
Be compassionate about what is possible and don’t look for perfection, there is no finish line here because this is a never-ending journey.
The biggest block to progress is to be stuck in the weeds of perfection which is a soul-sucking way to live. The remedy to perfection is always to aim to be “good enough”. An imperfect system that you follow consistently is better than a perfect system that you don’t follow at all.
These habits not only give you concrete ways to increase your consistency they also provide a way to self-regulate you no matter what’s happening in your life. They bring your mind back to safety when it wanders into dangerous territory.
I am hoping that this article not only laid out clear ways to be consistent but also helped you see that there are ways to experience a way of eating that is more intuitive and frees you from the diet mentality.
You deserve to live a way that comes more naturally to you.
I know you can do this
Just keep showing up