A few years ago, I realized I had developed a fairly large Pot-belly. I was averaging more than 120 flights a year, exercising irregularly and eating a lot of junk food in airports, flights and restaurants. I knew that if i didn’t sort out my eating and exercising habits, I would land up with serious health problems. Today, I still average more than 120 flights a year, but I’m happy to report that the pot belly hasn’t made a re-entry into my life. What has changed now are habits.
Staying in shape is a process. It is about instilling habits that become internalized and easy to sustain. The tough part is to instill a new habit. Once the habit is instilled, it can be sustained with minimal effort.
Crash diets and short-term hacks might help for a brief period, but, if habits aren’t internalized, people rebound to their old ways very quickly and find it difficult to stay in shape.
To develop healthy habits, one needs to take firm (and sometimes outrageous) steps. For those who are busy professionals and are struggling to develop habits that help you stay fit, here are 5 steps that might help when trying to make a transformation.
1) Developing the right mindset: This is the first step. Creating a self image of who you are makes you want to live up to that image. Why do you want to be in shape? What is the motivation? How do you define yourself? Are you the kind of person who is comfortable being a bit overweight? Are your priorities different? Write down the answers to these questions. Not everybody wants to be in shape and that is perfectly okay. If you aren’t genuinely motivated about being in shape and are doing something just to please some one else, it is unlikely that the habit will stick. Once we have a certain self-image, we will fight to maintain that image. As Nietzsche said; He who has a “why” to live can bear almost any “how”.
2) Getting the right advice: There is so much noise about fitness out there, that one can easily get caught in a whirlpool of wrong information. In my experience, most free advice found online doesn’t help in total transformation. I would recommend finding and paying a professional with plenty of (verifiable) experience in transformations to give you customized individual advice. Most personal trainers in gyms are good at pushing you to exercise, but very few have proper knowledge about nutrition and preparing customized diet plans. This is the reason why we find many who exercise regularly with the same trainer for years, but have no demonstrable physical change. Find the right professional to help you.
3) Being accountable to another individual: When making a transformation and attempting to instill good habits, one cannot rely on self-motivation alone. One needs to rely on systems instead. One of the best tools is to take the accountability partially away from yourself and transfer it to another individual. In my case, I took online advice regarding diet and exercise from Kumar Mannava, a fitness and nutrition expert based in Hyderabad. At that time, I thought he was very expensive (for my standards), but, because I felt I was paying him good money, I took him seriously. However, Kumar was in Hyderabad and I was shuttling between Bangalore and Dubai. I could easily lie to him and skip training sessions. I had to instill more systems locally to make sure i wasn’t skipping any gym sessions. My solution was to hire a personal trainer at a fixed time every day in advance. Because I knew that an individual was waiting for me at the gym, I was forced to go to the gym even on days when my mind and body pleaded with me to stay back in bed.
4) Controlling your dietary environment: If your goal is weight loss, and you don’t have a proper diet plan, spending hours in the gym is unlikely to be effective. When trying to change dietary habits, one has to have systems in place. A transformation diet that relies on personal will power alone has a very high failure rate. One needs to have very rigid rules regarding what to eat and what to avoid. It is best to plan what food to eat, prepare this food in advance and carry it wherever you go. Diets tends to go haywire when we are hungry. If we plan ahead and have healthy food on standby when hungry, then the tendency to binge on unhealthy food gets eliminated. During the habit-forming phase, I would carry packed food every where. In-flight, at work, and even in malls. There were even occasions when I would land up for dinner at a friend’s place with my own food box. Once the habit got established, I stopped carrying food. I now have the self control to choose what to eat and what to avoid at lounges, buffets or family functions. If I don’t find food that suits me, I prefer to fast. Do not allow the environment to control you. Create your own environment.
5) Surrounding yourself with the right Company: During the transformation phase, one needs all the motivation that one can get. This includes avoiding situations where your diet and exercise routine could potentially get compromised. It might mean skipping all those drinking sessions with your friends for a while and surrounding yourself with people who are already following good habits. Keep pictures of your role models on your comp and phone. Follow social media pages of people who are fitness icons. You are the company you keep.
All the above steps are helpful during the phase when one is making a transformation. Once good habits are instilled and we start experiencing their positive benefits, they can be sustained with very little effort. At that stage, we can afford to be slightly less rigid.
Once good habits are instilled, they alter our thought process. If we eat an unhealthy meal or two, a voice within us will complain and we will be forced to get back to healthy eating. If we don’t exercise for a couple of days, there will be that voice within us urging us to get back to the gym.
But, until then; for those who are struggling to get to that stage, the steps mentioned above might help.
To know more about Habits, read the following books:
The power of Habit: Charles Duhigg.
Atomic Habits: James Clear