Category Archives: Healthy Behavior Basics

How Will You Fare Downstream?

Many of us give our future selves the shaft on a regular basis. We spend money we don’t have, eat sugar we don’t need, and procrastinate to the point that stress is inevitable.

We’re human. How can we manage to change our behavior for the better whemultnomahfallsn our best intentions don’t match what we do?  This: Be proactive. Start thinking upstream.

In business, “upstream” refers to the process of searching for and procuring raw materials. For our purposes, upstream behaviors encompass gathering all of the tools and support needed to be successful in making healthy changes.

First, ask yourself: what is the specific behavior that you want to do?  “Eating healthier” is a good goal but the target is too broad.  Start with one behavior, like eating one serving of greens per day, or drinking a glass of water when you wake up.  Then break it down: what resources do YOU need to make that behavior happen?

The answer to that question is driven principally by two things: motivation and ability*:

Here’s how to approach each one to maximize your success:

Motivation: 

  • Prepare your mind.  Create a mental picture of how you’ll look and feel when you reach your goal.  Alternatively, consider what not taking action will lead to in a month, six months, a year, and down the road.
  • Get social support.  Enlist as many people as possible to champion your efforts, especially those closest to you.  Reach out to them for encouragement when you need it.  Ask them to remind you why you’re doing this.
  • Be accountable and reward yourself.  Track activity with an app or paper log to see progress.  For every X number of workouts completed, put $5-10 aside for a treat like massage, mani/pedi, or new fitness gear.

Ability:

  • Try something new to build knowledge, experience, and confidence.  Go to a group fitness class that’s new for you.  Try strength training, or rock climbing, or a challenging hike.  Attend a healthy eating or stress management talk, or read a related book or reputable source online.
  • Get professional coaching.  An effective trainer is worth their weight in gold and more.  A good trainer can help you reach your short-term goal, and a great trainer will teach you everything you need to know to stay as healthy as possible over the long-term.
  • Set up an environment for success.  Make it easy to eat healthfully and work out.  Set a calendar alert to remind you to drink water or try a salad for lunch.  Block off time for a workout.  Make it harder to eat unhealthful food by not buying it at all or hiding it behind something that’s better for you.  Plan to only eat dessert twice a week, and do so away from home.

The more sources of influence you incorporate, the higher your chance of success in completing your goal.  Addressing at least 4 of these thoroughly “upstream” has been proven to boost your future (“downstream”) achievement.

Keep these guidelines close and figure out what’s going to work for you by trying different things.  Will writing out your plan work for you?  How much flexibility and professional support will you need?  Stay curious and be persistent.

What do you need to do now in order to reach your goal downstream?

[Photo: Multnomah Falls on a foggy day outside of Portland, OR]

*For further reading: Change Anything.

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What comes to mind when you hear “healthy person”?  What do you think a day in their life looks like?

I ask my clients this because I want to understand their thought process. I hear all kinds of answers: “someone who eats right”, is “at the right weight” and “works out a lot”.  Women often say “thin” or “skinny”, and men envision “cut with a six-pack”.  Others tell me, “I want to lose thirty pounds in six weeks!”.  Clearly, many of the answers I get are non-specific (or unrealistic!) and involve physical appearance only.  Physicality is a significant part of fitness and wellness, because you essentially ARE your body and I want you to feel good in it—yet, you are SO much more than a sum of its parts.  There are much deeper factors at play determining how you look and feel than simply eating certain foods (“dieting”) and doing cardio and weights a few times a week (“exercising”).  We’ll be defining—and redefining—what these two terms mean.  Food and activity are important.  But we’ve got to start somewhere else, and that’s in your mind.

In your mind, is healthy living a burden?  Is it a short-term project?  Is it about a number on the scale?  Is it an undertaking in which you’re set up to fail, committing yourself to live up to an impossible set of ideals?  Is it something you haven’t cared about until now?  Whatever the case, you might be asking yourself, “What are the most important things I need to know right now?

In my experience, the following five principles are the basic behavioral pillars that define healthy people:

  • Healthy choices are their default priority.  The mindset is: “Don’t think about it, just do it.” – This is key and one of the first things I share with clients.  Avoid arguing with yourself and sapping mental energy – “will I go to the gym today?  Will I park my car further from the store and walk an extra two minutes?  Will I skip the drive through and stop by the grocery store for a rotisserie chicken and salad greens instead?”  Your future self wants you to say YES!!! Do what you can, and start with what I call a “bite-size behavior”, like working the stairs instead of riding the elevator.  We’ll be going into great detail later on this blog about changing the environment around you to engineer better choices.  For now, onto the most important healthy defaults.
  • Unprocessed food makes up most of what they eat. Vegetables, fruits, high quality meats, eggs, beans, and nuts are a few examples.  Generally, “Food” that comes in a bag or a box and has changed form in some way is avoided.  The reason is simple: unprocessed food tends to have many more nutrients, which actually help you feel and function better, not worse.  Unprocessed food = healthy body that feels great.  Crap in a box = feeling like crap.  Does that mean no splurging on stuff that tastes delicious but isn’t so nutritious?  Of course splurging is part of the plan!  More on that later.
  • Physical activity is part of their routine. Again, they just do it.  Whether it’s going for a walk, a swim or a hike, or cranking out some bodyweight exercises, or lifting weights at the gym, the healthy-living crowd finds a way to stay active.  Some people naturally love to break a sweat, and others don’t.  That’s completely okay.  Either way, the truth is that you will function better with regular physical activity.  It’s a fact of human life, and once you make it a habit to move more, it becomes an intense reward in itself : better mood, less stress, more energy, higher quality sleep…the list is a long one.
  • They find as much social support as possible. If you prefer more social activities, ask a friend to come with you to try a walking Meetup or Fitmob group workout in your area.  Join a local fitness class inside or outside of a gym and get to know the people.  Have your partner go grocery shopping with you and help you pick out some health-promoting options that you’ll both eat.  Ask a friend who’s into cooking to share their favorite “light” recipe with you, or use the power of the Internet to Google something delicious and highly-rated (or try here).  Make your healthy living goals public and know that while some people may not understand, it’s important for you to take care of yourself, and you might influence them to make better choices while reinforcing with yourself what makes you feel your best.
  • They sleep enough! Most people need at least seven to eight hours per night, according to my primary care doctor.  Most of my clients get between five and seven, just short of what’s needed for prime functioning.  The best tip I have is to turn off the TV, laptop, tablet, and phone at least one hour before you go to bed.  Ideally, keep electronics out of the bedroom.  They’ll be there tomorrow, and with adequate refreshing sleep, you’ll be ready.

Taking care of yourself is a responsibility, an exploration, a source of true joy when you make a choice and recognize that your future self will thank you for it.  It’s a personal journey, one in which you’re naturally searching for what works best for you.

These pillars support a process, played out over time.  It doesn’t happen at all once, but in some natural stops and starts.  Bookmark this list and come back to it often to refresh when needed.   Master the basics and do them consistently.  Healthy habits equal results!  We’ll talk more soon about keeping the motivational fire burning.

[Photo: Autumn tree @ dusk; Sunnyvale, California]

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This is a blog about fitness: the new primary care.  It starts with you.

In the modern world, self care is more important than ever.  Overweight adult Americans will be at 75% of the country’s population by 2020 (CDC 2013).  This is a national nightmare that we have yet to wake up from.  At this rate, if we don’t snap out of it soon, we’ll all be struggling with our health in a matter of years.  What kind of a life is that?  I’m not suggesting you go on an all-out juice diet, or spend hours in a gym.  I’m talking about your health: all of it, everything that you believe and do.  I’m telling you that being strong physically carries over into everything else in your life.  We’re going to talk about how you can find what works for you and re-define the terms “diet” and “exercise”.  I’m going to guide you through the fitness forest and share with you ways to eat and move and take care of yourself that will leave you happier and more energetic in the moment.  This isn’t about short-lived fads or unsustainable deprivation.  You’re going to be empowered to attain and maintain your healthiest body forever.

Why haven’t we all been able to do this already?  A major factor is the external world and its lack of support for healthy habits.  The American environment today has changed radically in the last several decades along with the technological boom.  The car, the TV, and the computer have created a world where we can easily sit over eight hours a day (in the car, at your desk, in the car, on the couch, repeat).  Just a generation ago, this was unthinkable, and there were relatively few chronically overweight and ill Americans.  Today, most of my clients fall into one of these categories when we talk for the first time:

A) Happy with their bodies, which are strong and capable, with plenty of energy to complete everything they want to accomplish in life and as clean a bill of health as possible

B) Approaching or in middle age and starting to notice weight gain and lack of energy; may have had blood work come back with newly diagnosed pre-diabetes or other concerning news

C) Dealing with significant weight gain or unhappy with their bodies, frequently sick and tired, on one or more prescription medications, and/or barely keeping it together with all of the tasks they need to complete in a given day

D) Suffering from one or more health conditions; having given up on ever attaining a healthy body or living the life they want and are coming to me in a last-ditch effort to get healthy and save their lives.

It’s time to exit the revolving door of weight ups and downs, forget needless “diet” deprivation and ditch the joyless drudgery of “exercise”.  You will enjoy food, movement, and life by learning and using a few simple tools that I’m going to teach you.  You’re going to use your external environment to engineer better health for yourself and those around you.  You’re going to free your mind from the burden of never feeling thin enough, productive enough, or good enough and become your healthiest self (at every age).  Keep reading and embrace the ideas and tools that you find here.  Come with me and with dozens of clients that have successfully adapted their lifestyles for optimal health and happiness.  I’m so excited to assist you along the way!  You owe it to yourself to find your A game.

[Photo: Bamboo Forest; Maui, Hawaii]