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The One Question You Need to Answer to Really Make Healthy Change

If you're trying to change your nutrition and fitness for the better but seem to get stuck, you're not alone. Shifting your attention from how to why is the key. Time for a deeper dive...

Our youngest daughter has just begun her first year of college. About a month before her departure date, she had a more time on her hands than was good for her, and was looking up information about her dorm on the internet. She found some unflattering reviews (thanks, internet!) which, combined with the many unknowns ahead, was the tipping point for a major crisis of confidence. As in, “Mom & Dad, I’m not going to college.” After we recovered our composure (this took a while), we spent time listening. Then, we tried to rationalize her fears (you can’t trust everything you read on the net, there are resources for you if there are issues, etc.), while she vacillated between going/not going. Eventually we accepted that we needed to let her work through it, reminded her that it was her decision, and reassured ourselves that it would be fine, either way. (Okay, let’s be real. I’m making this sound way easier than what it was.) One day she decided to call the school to ask about her the concern that was bugging her. She didn’t quite get the information she wanted to know, and when I suggested she try again, she bluntly told me that she wasn’t calling back. I braced myself for what I thought was going to be her decision. Instead, she said that she realized this issue wasn’t the problem, and she needed to think about her real reasons for going or not going, so she could decide.

By now you’re probably wondering what any of this has to do with fitness or healthy eating. Stick with me, we're nearly there. I actually see a parallel with my clients’ attempts at changing their diet and exercise habits. When I meet a client for the first time, I ask them why they want to work with me. The answers generally sound something like:

  • I want to tone up/get stronger

  • I want to lose a little weight/gain more muscle

  • I need to get more exercise

  • I need to improve my diet

Whatever the goal, the client wants me to help them get from where they are now to where they want to be. Their expectation is that if I give them all of the details of how to do it, they will be successful in achieving their goals, and simply carry on from there. Typical questions are, "What should I do? (Running? Lifting? Cardio classes?" or "What diet should I follow? Keto? Low Carb? Vegetarian?". In the beginning, I too, used to think that if I equipped my clients with all the necessary information and tools, that would ensure a healthy transformation. But I was dead wrong. With experience, I realized that human behavior is much more complex, and we were focusing on the wrong question. I’ll let you in on a little secret:

How doesn’t matter half as much as Why

Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz or Kung Fu Panda, the answer lies within you already. To find it, you need to ask, “Why?” I’m talking about the big Whys. Not the “I know I should do this thing” or “I want to get rid of this arm jiggle” or “I want to lose x pounds” whys. It’s the bigger Whys, the uncomfortable stuff, that are easier to avoid. Those Whys bring up feelings you’d rather not deal with. Things that make you fearful, like seeing older family members struggling with diabetes from poor diet and lack of exercise, or physical limitations from being sedentary, and realizing you are on the same path. Things that are frustrating or painful, like not being able to fit into your favorite outfit or believing your inner critic.

When you focus on the surface stuff, it’s difficult to stay the course. You might be able to stick to it for a few weeks or even months, but wine/beer and desserts are darn tasty, and sleeping in or heading home after work to cozy up and binge Netflix is far more appealing than heading to the gym. And everyone's best intentions are challenged by real life on a regular basis. Diving into those deeper feelings are uncomfortable, but they will propel you forward and help you to consistently make choices aligned with your goals, even (especially) when going gets rough.

In case you’re wondering what happened with our daughter, she spent some time with All.The.Feels, and ultimately decided to give it a go. Here's hoping that she can keep remembering her Whys to get her through the transition.

If you’re interested in exploring your whys, I will be offering a small group mini-course on how to change your health and fitness habits. Click here for more info. If you know someone who can relate to this article, please pass it on.
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