So January 1 came, 2020 ended (finally!), and you set some goals to get healthier this year. But you know how resolutions go: by February or March, your well-intended resolutions will have become a thing of the past. Or perhaps you’ve been hibernating all winter (or all of 2020), and healthy habits were the least of your concerns. No matter how on track you feel now, there will be times when your motivation waivers and workouts fall by wayside. You might even find yourself complaining to your mom or best friend about how you’re out of shape, as if there’s a “shape” that defines whether you’re healthy or not.
First of all, let’s rebrand this “in shape” idea to mean your healthiest self, which looks and feels different to everyone. Being in shape is not a number on a scale or even a six-pack of abs. After all, a dress size could never be powerful enough to give you limitless energy or radiant confidence. Instead, being in shape is a way you feel. When you don’t feel in shape (thanks to that aforementioned lack of motivation or, you know, 2020), here are 10 habits to adapt to get back in shape and feel your best.
1. Fit in more non-exercise movement
You don’t need a 60-minute workout session or access to a gym to get in shape. Instead, live a more active lifestyle overall by fitting in non-exercise movement into your routine. Even if you have a typical desk job, there are many ways to move more. For example, walk your dog more often, stand while working, try gardening if you have a yard, clean your house more frequently, walk everywhere you can, dance while cooking or getting ready, stretch while watching TV, and get outside to take conference calls. Change your goal from fitting in workouts to just living less sedentarily. For more ways to fit in movement, click here.
2. Don’t ignore cravings
Cravings are not mistakes or punishments, and they’re not there to sabotage your health goals. Cravings are actually one of the ways our bodies try to communicate with us. Plus, if we have a major craving for pizza and force ourselves to eat another boring salad instead, it can lead to bingeing, restrictive eating, and an unhealthy relationship with food. Instead, find alternatives with nutritious whole foods to nourish your body, like dark chocolate squares (for your sweet tooth) and sweet potato fries (for your salty cravings). If that pizza craving strikes again, score a frozen cauliflower crust from Trader Joe’s to top with tomato sauce and organic cheese, or try spaghetti squash in your favorite pasta recipe. For any other craving, check out these recipes to find a healthier alternative.
3. Make exercise enjoyable
Maybe you think those always-in-shape women are the rare breed that came out of the womb loving jumping jacks and jogging, and you just happened to miss out on the magic workout-loving genes. But guess what: that isn’t true. You may not innately enjoy exercise, but you can find joy in exercise. For example, try a workout like dance that feels more creative, notice how centered and peaceful you feel after going on runs, or maybe even fall in love with the stability and routine of moving your body every day. Don’t work out because you have to; work out because you want to. Focus on how exercise makes you feel, and if you don’t enjoy HIIT circuits or weight lifting, find a new workout you’ll look forward to.
4. Keep a routine
Getting (and staying) in shape is a series of simple habits. That’s it. Turning healthy practices into habits is helpful because you won’t have to debate whether or not to follow through with each healthy habit; you make like Nike and just do it. If a yoga flow is part of your daily routine, you don’t think about whether or not you should fit it in on a busy day. You’ll prioritize it because it’s a non-negotiable, just like brushing your teeth or scrolling through Instagram (guilty). To build habits, start with something even easier than you think. Even two push-ups a day can turn into 60-minute workouts. Also, designated morning and nighttime routines are crucial for an overall healthy life because they set your entire day up for success.
5. Utilize your calendar
Working out takes more than just deciding you’re going to work out. Making a plan and then adding it to your calendar ensures you’re not only setting realistic expectations, but you will follow through on them. When it comes to figuring out a workout routine, begin with what you know will work for you, not with a challenge. You can’t get to five or six workouts a week if you don’t master one, so start with whatever feels doable. Whether it’s Monday morning or Saturday afternoon, find a time that works for you to exercise. Write it on your calendar and treat it like any other work meeting or appointment: show up on time, be prepared, and don’t skip.
6. Eat more vegetables with every meal
Hoping to make some diet changes but not sure where to start? Or maybe going clean feels overwhelming because you’re so used to takeout? The answer: don’t worry about changing, transforming, or taking away food groups. Instead, eat more vegetables. Adding veggies can not only make you crave vegetables (yes, really), but it can also subconsciously crowd out processed and sugary foods (totally guilt-free). Do you love eggs for breakfast? Instead of forcing yourself to have a smoothie, add spinach to an omelet or put avocado on top. Do you eat pasta regularly? Throw in some kale and asparagus for nutrients that keep the body healthy without feeling deprived. When you focus on adding in more of the good stuff, you see food as fuel, rather than in categories of “good” or “bad” (and just like bad boys and the cookie jar, we want it more when it’s off-limits).
7. Be flexible
Reality check: there will be times when you’re too tired to work out, or you want to enjoy a glass of wine and an entire box of mac n’ cheese. Maybe you sleep through your alarm and miss a morning workout, or you’re not in the mood for a smoothie. Those times don’t mean you’re out of shape; they mean you’re listening to your body. Have an easy and flexible backup plan so that you don’t give up when your plan doesn’t pan out. If you’re exhausted or busy, go on a walk after dinner or do a yoga flow before bed instead of a workout. Likewise, have a wide range of healthy meal options so that when you’re not in the mood for the meal you had planned, fast food isn’t the only alternative. Have back-ups, be flexible, and listen to your body (even above listening to your workout plan or schedule).
8. Invest in your health
There’s a reason pricey programs work (even if only temporarily): when people invest money, they’re more likely to stay on track. Try investing in an online subscription, a new pair of leggings, or a pretty yoga mat, and see if your motivation changes. Likewise, invest in healthy produce. Because fresh produce goes bad much quicker than a frozen pizza, you’re more likely to go for a meal incorporating the fruits and veggies, if for no other reason than you don’t want your money to go to waste. Also, think of how you can invest time and energy too; the more you invest in yourself, the more you will become a priority. After all, there’s nothing more worthy of time, energy, or money than your healthiest, happiest self. Invest accordingly.
9. Focus on each individual choice
When it comes to health, we often think we have to be all in or all out. Have you ever thought, “I’ll start eating healthy again on Monday,” or “I’ll work out once this stressful week is over?” Maybe you had a few slices of pizza one night, and your diet spiraled the next few days (might as well eat the whole carton of ice cream and get McDonald’s for breakfast since you already “slipped up,” right?). But all-or-nothing thinking automatically sets us up for failure. Instead of seeing “getting in shape” as a long-term project, focus on each individual choice. You don’t have to wait until the next day, week, or month to start over. In fact, you don’t ever need to “start over.” Some decisions will be out of pleasure (you deserve that slice of pizza!), but those decisions don’t mean anything other than you wanted a slice of pizza, and they shouldn’t impact future decisions.
10. Change your motivation
If you’ve skipped workouts for weeks or are ordering takeout more often than you’re cooking, your motivation might not be motivating enough. Reevaluate why you want to get in shape in the first place. “Going to the gym every day” or “running a marathon” are fine resolutions, but you need to look at the bigger picture to stay motivated. Will getting in shape help you live a longer, healthier life? Will running a marathon increase your confidence?
When you identify the true motivation and find a purpose for staying in shape that has nothing to do with the way you look, healthy habits not only become sustainable, but become enjoyable. You’ll no longer feel like you have to exercise. Instead, you’ll want to exercise because it will make you less stressed throughout the day, or because being active now means you’ll stay healthy as you get older, so you can live a long life with the people you love. Now that’s more motivating than a number on the scale.