Fitness: Starting Out Sustainable, by Pranada Devi

Another new year is here, with its invitations to make big changes in our lives. Fitness memberships are one of those things people buy in their New Year’s resolutions, with great intentions that rarely seem to stick. As a long-time gym-goer, I see the crowds swell, the classes fill and the cardio machines in constant use beginning around New Year’s Day. By the end of January, though, the crowds have thinned out.

Who benefits from this state of affairs? The gyms certainly do – they’re getting long-term money for short-term use. What of the people who made resolutions that aren’t sticking? They remain in the same shape and a few dollars poorer, guilting themselves about the expensive outfits or gear gathering dust in the closet, likely feeling unhappy or even ashamed that, yet again, they have not kept up with the change they meant to make.

Albert Einstein is often quoted as saying, “You can’t solve a problem with the same mindset that created it.” This is true with fitness as it is of anything else. If you habitually skip the gym, overeat, stay up late, and feel lousy about yourself, a gym membership is not going to change that – no matter how many extras you buy like a personal trainer, or exhortations you put on yourself like “don’t screw it up this time!”.

Pursuing any fitness activity with a feeling of dread, shame or aversion is creating an experience of self-punishment that sets you up for failure. Stress – and that includes self-punishment – boosts the body’s cortisol levels, which trigger it to store more fat around the abdomen. Self-love and self-compassion are part of shedding the weight of negative thoughts, which then allows us to naturally release physical weight as well.

Healthy, balanced and permanent changes can start small. Perhaps today you go out for a walk around the block. No big deal, no changing your clothes or buying a bunch of fancy running gear, just go walk around the block. Tomorrow, go for a longer walk. This weekend, treat yourself to a walk in nature. Start to get your heart pumping. Feel the fierce vitality of exertion that is within your healthy range. Go to some gentle yoga classes that help you to feel grounded and connected in your body. Then, maybe you will want to start riding a bike, or jogging a little, or going to the pool, or taking a dance class, or hitting up the squat rack at the gym. But you build up to it – not only in terms of your fitness, but in terms of making it a sustainable habit. You don’t go from 0 to 60. (There’s a reason the gradual build of “Couch to 5k” is a popular program for people taking up running, and “Couch to Marathon” is not.)

Similarly, you make changes in your diet incrementally. Maybe you cut back the mochas from daily to three times a week to weekly to monthly. Maybe you add more green veggies to your meals and slowly scale back the refined carbs. Maybe you move back your evening eating so you do not normally eat after 9pm, then 8:30, then 8, then 7:30. You never set yourself up for feelings of starvation or deprivation by making drastic changes in your intake. At each stage, you allow yourself to integrate the change into your life so that it feels healthy and realistic, before you make further changes. Create conditions for your success.

Above all, thank your body for bringing you this far. It is not your enemy but your friend and partner. Thank yourself for the practice of self-compassion as you make positive, sustainable, healthy changes. Enjoy the gift of this year as an opportunity for self-love and increased vitality through movement.

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Pranada Devi is a communications professional living in Toronto, Canada. She is the Managing Editor of Parvati Magazine, and serves as an advisor on marketing communications for Parvati’s various projects. In between times, she enjoys being active at the gym, on her bike, in the pool and on the running trail. She was competitive as a teenager in distance running, badminton and ringette. 20 years later she built her running back up from scratch and has finished races up to and including the marathon.