Too often health is framed as deprivation: Something you have to do rather than something you want to do, an existence based on the cake you can't eat and the social activity (such as drinking) you have to cut out.
It is no wonder so many of us yo-yo diet and exercise, develop feelings akin to adolescent rebellion toward healthy food and exercise, and adopt the all-too-common "I deserve" mentality (the "I have been good all week, so I deserve [fill in the blank]"). Who wants to feel constrained and deprived?
Break this cycle by reframing your concept of health. Instead of understanding health as all the things you have to give up, adopt what I call the "find your kiwi" approach. A kiwi represents something healthy that you truly love – or at least something healthy that you don't despise.
This approach stemmed from a conversation I had with a client. She was no longer motivated to stick to her plan because eating healthy and exercising had become simply yet another thing on her "to do" list. When I asked her what healthy foods and modes of exercise she actually liked, she couldn't tell me. No wonder she was demotivated! She had unconsciously framed every healthy choice as a punishment.
Her homework was to come up with two healthy things that she genuinely would be excited to eat or do. She decided she enjoyed kiwis (but never bought them because her family didn't like them) and gardening. I told her that whenever she wanted junk food she should instead have a kiwi (or another healthy choice worthy of the title of kiwi), and whenever she couldn't motivate herself to go to the gym that she should garden instead. That way she wouldn't feel constrained or deprived.
Finding your kiwis is about gradually learning to associate making healthier choices with positive feelings; one is always more apt to continue a program when it includes foods and activities one likes.
Start by putting together three kiwi lists. Fill the first list with nutritionally dense yet scrumptious food options. When you find yourself falling into the, "Poor me, I can't eat X" mentality, instead say, "What of my yummy kiwis am I lucky enough to eat today?"
Make the second list "exercise kiwis": activities that don't feel like a chore, such as going on a bike adventure with your kids, dancing around the living room, walking the dog or gardening.
The third list is "non-activity-based kiwis"; think having a bubble bath or reading a book. When you want to mindlessly eat something unhealthy, tell yourself that you have to do a non-activity-based kiwi for 10 minutes before you can eat. Most likely, once engrossed in the kiwi you will forget about the food you want to eat.
Then resolve to persevere. It takes time to change your taste buds and your habits. Learning to love healthy food and movement is a process – believe me, I have not always loved running, but now it is my bliss.
Really, finding your kiwis is all about flipping your mindset around health; learn to find the positive. Instead of "I can't eat cake," think: "How great is it that I can eat these delicious berries?" Instead of "I don't want to go for a run," think: "How great is it that I can run?"
Eating healthy food and moving is a privilege – embrace how lucky you are to have the power to make healthy choices; understand being able to move as something that is enjoyable, something we get to do.
Trust me, if you persevere, over time your preferences will change; your list of kiwis will grow and you will slowly begin to gravitate more naturally toward healthier options.