Despite being quite accepting of the way I look, carrying extra weight doesn’t sit comfortably with me. I find running harder, I have less energy and feel tired all the time. So, over the past five years, I have tried on numerous occasions to lose weight. I’ve ran marathons and an ultramarathon. I’ve tried diets including weight loss shakes and even a high tech Modius headset designed to reset the way you think about eating. To be clear, the diets did work. The marathons did get me fitter. But over time, things go back to normal. Weight creeps back on and fitness levels drop. Over the past eighteen months though, I have noticed that small changes and healthy habits are easier to maintain than big commitments like diet. I’ve used that to my advantage and suddenly, everything seems a little easier.
The psychology of small changes
Recently, there has been a lot of information in the media about why forming habits is better than relying on motivation to stick to something. There’s a useful article about it on the Women’s Hour section of the BBC website. Something from the article that sticks with me is a comparison between new year’s resolutions and normal daily habits. They make the point that most of us drift away from our new year’s resolutions, but few of us forget to brush our teeth. Not because there is some underlying motivation to brush daily, but because it’s what we have always done.
For me, the first small change happened in December 2020 when I started to run every day. This may sound ambitious but I was already training for a marathon. I had been walking the dog every day since first getting a dog around 15 years ago. Running every day wouldn’t require any extra time input, I simply stopped walking the dog and ran daily with her instead. Once a week I’d do a long marathon training run and on the other days, it would be a minimum of a mile but realistically at least two and usually more.
By the time my marathon was postponed in late February, running every day had become a habit. Incidentally, scientists think that we need at least 66 days to form a habit. I’m not sure exactly how many days I’d done by the time the race was called off because I didn’t start recording my runs until January 2020. But it must have been around the 66 day point. With the marathon off, this was make or break. It would have been an easy time to stop running every day, or even stop running all together. But stopping didn’t cross my mind.
One small change leads to another
Running every day changed things for me in ways that had nothing to do with running. My experience reinforced the fact that small changes seemed to be a much easier way of integrating things into my life. When I’d been on diets or trained for runs or triathlons in the past, I had been all in. Until I wasn’t. The diet plan would end or I’d get fed up of living on gritty shakes. The race would take place and afterwards, there was no reason to train anymore. Soon enough, I’d be back to square one. Running every day was different. There’s no end point, it’s just what I do now. Better still, I love it.
So, the next step was to integrate another small change into my life. Whilst I felt better for running every day, I wasn’t losing weight and didn’t want to embark on another diet. Constantly watching what you eat and counting calories works for lots of people, but not for me. It just makes me miserable. So instead, I tried out intermittent fasting. This isn’t as scary or difficult as it sounds and I chose the type of fasting that worked best for me, 16:8. I also chose to only do it on weekdays. So on those days, I don’t eat after dinner and I have breakfast late. There’s no calorie counting and it worked; I lost weight.
With intermittent fasting now part of my lifestyle, it was time to look at other areas. Most recently I’ve started to have a healthy smoothy for brunch or lunch to improve my diet and nutrition. I’ve also taken to integrating 10 minutes of upper body workout into my day, straight after my run. Again, this is only on weekdays, I give myself the weekend off to recover.
Plans for the future
The more small changes I make, the more I realise that this really works. Even on days when work is incredibly busy and I’ve got loads to do at home, I make time for the small, healthy habits. They are my version of self-care. Beyond continuing with what I’m doing, there’s not much else I want to change at the moment. I feel healthier than I have done in years and full of energy. When the most recently adapted habits seem to have set, there is one more thing I’d like to have a go at though.
For years on and off, I’ve dabbled with playing the piano. Now, my girls both have lessons and they are becoming too good for me to help them. Whilst I can’t imagine finding the time or money to have lessons myself, I might just find five minutes a day for piano practice. Who knows, perhaps I’ll even dig my old violin out of the loft one day and find time for that too.