Guest Post: Making Health a Habit

I’m sure that at some point, someone has reminded you that it takes three weeks to make or break a habit. Want to quit biting those nails? Keep them away from your face for three weeks and more than likely you’ll forget all about chewing on your fingers. Want to make drinking more water part of your daily routine? You got it…three weeks. Try to get in half of your body weight in ounces, or just shoot for a gallon. Water is your best friend anyway…so make it a habit to hang out every day!

A habit normally is looked at in a negative light, mainly because we as a people have a ton of bad ones. We willingly inhale poison in the form of cigars and cigarettes, we drink alcohol in excess, and to save time…we wait behind ten other cars for twenty minutes to trade our hard-earned money for things in a bag that someone hands us through a sliding window that wouldn’t even be good to feed to our dogs. We also have a horrible habit of making excuses for why we don’t take care of ourselves. It is so much easier to flop on the couch, shoot a pound of ketchup on tepid, flimsy fries, and mindlessly catch up on a couple hours of reality TV or cable news (the fast food of news) than it is to cook a meal and put in at least 30 minutes of exercise. Or is it?

Since this is a guest post, I guess I should introduce myself…the guest. I’m Ryan, and a few years ago, I was the guy with the bag of soggy ‘food’ and the date with the TV. Netflix and Chill was more like ‘Ancient Aliens and Wendy’s Chili.’ I spent a lot of money on doctor co-pays and trips to the pharmacy to get Crestor. I was also eventually put on allopurinol because something horrible-sounding like ‘hyperuricemia’ manifested itself into a shorter but equally painful word: ‘gout.’ I was 260 lbs and could sweat standing in a cooler. Now, let’s get one thing out of the way, and that’s that weight is merely number. It’s not an indicator of health. There are heavy people based on build that are in great shape, and there are really light folks who don’t weigh a thing that are in equally good health. Me, on the other hand…I was 260 on a 175 frame. I’m 5’-10” on a tall day. I was in bad shape. I agreed to write a post on this topic because in the past 36 months, I’ve done something I never thought I would ever achieve; I broke the 200-lb mark before my 2014 wedding, and now I’m staring at breaking the 180-lb barrier. I’m off all of my medications, and my arteries are no longer made of concrete and there aren’t shards of uric acid-glass in my joints. I now provide motivation, accountability, and coaching to anyone willing to make the changes I did in order to better themselves. My passion now is helping others kick their prescription bottles and cut those doctor bills. I love being a motivator for people. All of this forward progress in my life is due to three things:

1) A commitment to changing how I ate

2) A commitment to exercising

3) Waking up every day with a positive attitude

It was HARD. The first few months, I was impossible for my wife to motivate to even get out of bed. I said things like “I’m not wasting my Saturday morning at the gym…it doesn’t do anything for me anyway.” I had it in my mind that I wasn’t in that bad of shape and that I didn’t *need* to go to a cycling class, or a circuit class, or go for a jog to get in better shape. I could motivate myself. The problem with that was not only was I dead wrong (obviously), but I had gotten in that habit of going to the gym, doing 20 minutes of some sort of cardio, and then doing curls and calling it a day. Did I sweat? Yeah. Was I pushing myself? No. I was also leaving the gym and ‘rewarding’ myself with food. It was a vicious cycle that kept me out of shape and overweight, even if I tried to diet (more on this…keep reading!). It’s the same cycle that I imagine a lot of people experience every single day, and NOTHING is more discouraging than feeling like you are trying for something and never seeing a result. This lack of results is why so many people get gym memberships yet so few actively use them.

So how does the cycle get broken? How does that difficult and seemingly endless cycle of trying to exercise, eating the wrong things, and never taking a step forward get turned into a habit of doing what it takes to make a positive change in your body, mind, and health?

Well…it’s HARD. But only the first step. The first step is a commitment. It takes a willful, conscious choice to make a change and stick to it. “Hey wait a minute…it’s hard?” you might be saying at this point, and yes, honestly breaking out of that mentality that you may currently be feeling is not some magical epiphany that rains down out of the sky and all of a sudden you’re enlightened. It’s a choice. It’s choosing your HARD (don’t giggle). ‘Choosing your hard’ is a theme I visit a lot with people whom I coach. Is it hard for you to wake up early and get in a workout…or get it done when you get home from work? Yeah? OK! Is it hard to eat what you’re supposed to every day? Yeah? OK! But flip the coin…is it hard to get out of bed because your joints hurt? Is it hard to keep paying co-pays and pharmacy bills? Is it going to be hard later in life to travel, or watch your kids play sports, or extend the good years of your life? If you’re on the road I was…your HARD is going to be those later-in- life things…the health issues.

Maybe they won’t come so late though; my gout attacks happened at age 28. I was faced with choosing my hard before age 30. We have a huge issue with diabetes, heart disease, obesity across the board in every age group, stroke, high blood pressure and cholesterol, cancer…and it’s not showing signs of slowing. Choosing to make a change NOW is going to prevent those statistics from rising even further.

After choosing your hard (hint…it’s the one that involves exercise and eating right), you’ve taken that step in the right direction. Realizing that you need to eat better and exercise more, however, is not going to solve your problems immediately. Remember me mentioning trying to diet? Don’t diet. Chicken and brown rice and suddenly increasing your body’s exertion level through exercise is going to have horrible effects. Your body doesn’t need ‘food;’ your body needs ‘nutrition.’ You may notice some weight loss at first, but pretty soon a nutrient-deficient body is going to start slowing the metabolism and relying on what the body has stored. At that point…the brain has an ‘oh crap!’ moment and guess what? You get hungry for a Gordita. You leave the gym and tell yourself you EARNED that stuffed crust hotdog bacon ranch double cheese pizza, and then you’ve blown your diet. Cravings are killer, but they are inevitable when your body is not given the nutrition it needs. Dieting only ‘works’ for so long, and that’s why so many fads have made so much money over the years, because of the cycle of failure and repeat. Failure and repeat. It gets a lot of people nowhere.

Changing your brain to understand how to give your body the proper nutrition and eliminate cravings isn’t the easiest thing in the world, but it’s 80% of the total equation. Don’t fall for front-of-package marketing tools like ‘healthy,’ ‘organic,’ or all-natural.’ George Carlin did a bit about ‘natural.’ Toxic Nuclear Waste…is ‘natural.’ It comes from nature. But that doesn’t mean you should eat it. Eating things that don’t come in packages is a great way to start. Most grocery stores are mazes where people get paid a lot of money in a corporate office to figure out what to put at eye level, and how to lay out the store to keep you wandering around, putting things in your cart. Take note next time you shop; the outer perimeter of the store is usually where the good stuff is. It’s not even hidden! Produce takes up a huge chunk of the real estate in the store. Shop the perimeter, and anything with an ingredient label…READ IT! If it’s full of words that look like the back of the alphabet threw up, put it back. IF it’s got artificial sweeteners or flavors…put it back. If it’s got high fructose corn syrup…YEP! PUT IT BACK! Another hint: after the colon that follows the word ‘Ingredients’ is the ingredient which is the most concentrated in whatever item you’re holding. IF you are holding a plastic bag of Fuji apples, the main ingredient is Fuji apples. If you’re holding a bottle of barbeque sauce, that is probably going to be high fructose corn syrup…or if it’s ‘all natural,’ it’s going to be sugar. Sugar is bad, stay away. Shop the perimeter and buy as many vegetables and un-processed meat as you possibly can.

Once you’ve bought your groceries…go home and cook them. 80% of them. Save 20% for spot meals during the week, but cook 80% of them and portion them out to take for lunch. Eating subway is killing you. Eating McDonalds is killing you. Your portions should be about the size of your fist, and taking your lunch is going to save you a TON of money, and a TON of unnecessary ingredients in overly- processed food. Does it take a bit of practice to train yourself on making meal preparation and controlling your portions a habit? YES! It’s that HARD you chose. But it’s also the realization that food, at its very basic definition, is fuel for your body. Our ancestors ate to stay alive. Today, we can go to an all- you-can- eat-buffet. That’s why we have a health crisis, because we do not view food as a fuel, but as a reward. We love to feel full because it makes us feel good…but we are overly-full all of the time. If we weren’t, we wouldn’t have a problem with obesity and heart disease. Your food is your nutrition and your fuel.

The other 20% of this equation is your exercise. You have to train your body. Your body is not meant to be sedentary, and it responds in kind to how you treat it. If you exercise, your muscles and joints respond by staying toned and healthy for a long time. If your lifestyle is sedentary, as so many are, muscle fibers break down and give way to fatty tissue, and joints begin to deteriorate. Blood sugar escalates, arteries harden, triglycerides creep up in number, and pretty soon your body starts to turn on you and the doctor bills rise. Pushing your body to around 80% of your maximum heart rate for 30 minutes a day can help prevent this. Cardiovascular exercise works the most important muscle: the heart. Cardio is extremely important, but so is resistance training. Resistance and weight training doesn’t have to mean powerlifting. Hitting various muscle groups with resistance exercises, and adding cardiovascular moves and exercises for the heart for 30 minutes a day, paired with fueling your body with healthy, clean nutrition is the key to getting in shape. It’s the HARD that you choose with the most rewarding payoff: your life. You get to live longer with fewer problems.

Pick your HARD. Make that commitment to yourself to put better things into your body, get good things out of your body, and do it with a positive outlook. Know that making the decision to do right by yourself is going to bring you a positive outcome. Maintaining that attitude and that air of positivity is going to keep you motivated and become that good habit. Is it easy at first? No. But nothing worth having comes easy or happens overnight. That’s why ‘fast food’ is fast. It’s not good for you; you don’t have to work for it. That’s why diabetes is essentially free: Do no work to better your body, you get problems. Work to better your body, and you get rewards. Do this with a positive outlook and you’ll end up helping someone else, which is a reward and a feeling unlike any other. Make ALL of those things habits…and you’ve set yourself up for a great future.

I want to thank MegAnne (or Meg, as I’ve known her for over twenty years) for this opportunity to share her blog space and convey this message. I tried to hit as many highlights as I could as to my theory behind getting yourself healthy, without penning the next great American novel in length. My job is to motivate, and I hope I did that for at least one person with this information. I would LOVE to speak more with you if you have a health and fitness goal, or even if you have no idea where to start. I needed a push in the right direction, and you might too. I’m easy to find at www.healthyhammels.com or at ryanhammelfit@gmail.com. I’d love to be your coach; I’d love to talk about your goals with you. Meg has a great platform for health, and I’m thrilled that I get to be a part of it. Thank you for reading!

 

-Ryan Hammel