Establishing health habits requires a bit of pain, and different types of pain. I’d be doing a disservice to you and my clients if I told you that making a major life shift is a breeze. It’s not. Changing our health requires a change in lifestyle. In doing so, we experience emotional and physical pain. The good news is, the more you improve yourself, the less pain you will experience. Take strength training for example. Lifting weights causes micro-tears in our muscles which in turn, initiates muscle repair and growth. These micro-tears hurt, it causes us pain, but good pain. Lean muscle mass is correlated with reduced disease risk and lower body fat. The more you lift, the more durable your muscles become meaning the soreness won’t be as bad as when you first started. Running is the same. A mile will seem daunting at first. You will feel sore and unnatural if you haven’t been running much in your life. However, after time and consistency, you will be able to tolerate more miles and end feeling less sore. Avoiding that donut at your work is tough too. It is emotionally painful to pass up, but the more you do it, the less painful it becomes and you see positive results from your pain.
Getting up the hill is the hardest part. Once you reach the peak, it all gets easier and the pain becomes a joy. I hated vegetables growing up. I hated running growing up. Through years of training, I now can’t live without either of them. I was quite picky and didn’t enjoy eating certain foods. The worst were tomatoes and mushrooms. I couldn’t stand eating them. It wasn’t until I began studying nutrition and learned the health benefits of the foods I disliked, that I started to change what was on my plate. I started eating tomatoes cooked, then raw in salads, I learned how I liked to season them, and now, I pop them plain in my mouth. I explored all the varieties. Heirloom tomatoes and cherry tomatoes have become my favorites. Mushrooms were a little harder. I had to incorporate them into soups, blending them up as to not have that terrible texture in my mouth. After awhile, I started enjoying mushrooms on my pizza. Now, one of my favorite lunches is a BBQ Portobello mushroom sandwich with arugula and tomatoes on top. What I painfully hated, became something that I enjoy now. I expanded my cooking ability, I learned how to enjoy new flavors and textures, and I include more nutritious vegetables in my everyday life than ever before.
In High School, I played rugby for a year. As a challenge outside of practice, our coach challenged us to run two miles on our own. I never did but one day my friend encouraged me to join him. I had never ran that far straight. I remember the painful side aches and the prolonged pain. I wanted to finish so bad. I felt as if I had run a half marathon. I hated it. Running was so boring. Once I started running on trails though, everything changed. I wanted to push myself. Now I run 100 mile races. It’s still painful for sure, but the side aches never come up anymore and I recover much faster than ever before.
These pains have shaped me as a person and have improved much more than just my fitness and health in my life. Getting out of my comfort zone has also improved my self-esteem, my drive, and my tolerance to other painful experiences. Do I still eat like crap sometimes? Absolutely. Do I still enjoy a nice off season when I don’t run at all? Absolutely. There is a balance in all things. Being in your comfort zone all the time in life is certainly not a balance and it won't really get you anywhere. Quick diets are a scam and they will only harm your self esteem. Doing something for a month and going back to your old ways has been shown by research to often lead you back to a worse place than when you started. Instead, take bite size chunks at a time. Change something small and make it consistent. Once you feel comfortable, change something else. This way you are actually changing who you are not just what you do.
Health changes are the most painful at the beginning. This is when most people quit. Get past the initial pain and you’ll see that it only gets easier. Your body and mind want you to be lazy and stay in your ways. You have to fight your own thoughts and feelings to do the right thing. You have to condition yourself to become someone better. So next time you go for that donut, feel the pain, don’t eat it. You’ll inspire yourself and others.