Most of us have a bad case of the shoulds. You know what I am talking about.
“I should save more money.”
“I should be further along in my career.”
“I should clean my refrigerator."
“I should exercise more.”
“I should go on a diet.”
Sometimes it sneaks in as a shouldn’t. “I shouldn’t feel this way.” “I shouldn’t eat that…”
Here is the problem with these S-Words. They are ripe with guilt, meant to make us feel inadequate and less than. And they really serve no better purpose than do a number on our self esteem. Diet culture knows the power of shoulds/shouldn’ts and has done a phenomenal job tapping into our deep wells of guilt and self doubt to sell us solution after solution claiming to cure us once and for all of our shoulds. “You should weigh less? Great. This diet will get you there. You should have a beach body in 6 weeks?- We have a solution for that too.”
Here’s the thing though. The joke’s on us. Diet culture isn’t selling us the answer, it’s keeping stuck.
Listen, there is no doubt you can go on a diet, work out seven days a week and lose weight. BUT when the motivation is driven by a feeling of guilt or fear that you somehow don’t stack up to the image you’re being sold, the likelihood of sustaining that weight loss is slim (no pun intended.)
If you want to define good health as a measurement of what you weigh or how much you workout by all means, keep doing what you are doing. But if you want to expand your idea of health to also include your well being consider this; research shows that counting calories you consume along with the number you burn does not translate to reliable results after about 6 months. (Mann et al., 2007)
So what does translate into sustainable good health and well being? How about starting with this idea. No matter what you weigh there is nothing you can eat that deserves punishment either through a negative thought pattern or exercising it off. See when we take that path, we miss so much fulfillment that comes from the experience of truly enjoying our mom’s famous apple pie or what it feels like to go for a run on a beautiful fall day, experiencing the colors, sights and smells. We operate from a place of inadequacy, guilt and shame and frankly those make for terrible motivators. When we start to ignore what we should be doing, we free ourselves from this place of restriction that leaves us desperately wanting more. Let’s face it- restricting certain foods means we are MUCH more likely to overeat them than if we’d just said yes in the first place. And who is going to stick to a workout routine that feels like punishment?
Creating a healthy lifestyle requires flipping the switch. Rather than relying on the latest diet trend to tell you what, when and how much you should be eating, start listening to what YOU hear your body telling you. What foods give you more energy, make you feel less bloated, keep you full until lunchtime or help you finish the workout strong? What exercise gives you that great feeling of accomplishment? Allows you to get outside and see the world around you?
There is no question that this is easier said than done. We have been inundated with this idea that we don't know ourselves and therefore shouldn't trust ourselves to know what we need. It takes a great deal awareness to challenge these thought patterns and not panic when they sneak back in. I am still a work in progress and likely will be for a long time to come. But I can tell you this. Going out to eat with dear friends is a lot more enjoyable when I am not fretting about what to order or how I will feel about it later. My body began to have less running injuries when my motivation was about feeling accomplished and not trying to undo last night's dinner. And it is a LOT easier to make healthy choices when I give myself permission not to from time to time.
This is where healthy living starts. By learning to trust yourself and your own ability to know what your body needs to feel its best.