I do not live in a perfect world where everything falls into place inside the boxes and lines of my day planner. Few of us do. So many of us can relate to the day-to-day chaos that requires quick decisions made in the heat of battle. I don’t keep the same schedule for more than 7 days at a time. Just as soon as I adjust to day shift, I rotate to midnight shift, then afternoons, then back again. It seems like I am always scrambling to adjust, to regain my balance only to have to adapt again.
Many of us can tell a similar story. Maybe you are someone constantly devoting your time to the care and nurture of others. Maybe you are on the road a lot. Every person has a unique set of challenges that seems to get in the way of their goals.
So how did I do it? How did I manage to overcome all of that, lose 100 pounds and train for a marathon? These are my top must-dos to gain traction on a demanding schedule.
Hopefully, the strategies that worked for me can help you on your road to weight loss and fitness. If I could do it on my insane schedule, I know you can, too. This is your life, and it might be crazy, but you do have some control. With a little bit of planning and a lot of motivation to get you through the speed bumps, those goals are in your reach: just jump up and grab them!
- The first thing I had to do was to realize that, although I was in a tough situation, I still had control over some things. The key for me was to separate the things that I could not control from the things that I could, writing it out on paper if necessary to see it more clearly. That way I was not wasting energy wallowing in anxiety, and was able to focus on the things I did have control over. I had to identify windows of opportunity and then exploit them. If that window was only 15 minutes wide, then I could make it a good 15 minutes and pat myself on the back for a job well done. You can feel a lot of resentment toward work and life in general if you feel like you are totally controlled by your schedule. Focusing on what you CAN do rather than what you CAN’T will really help you gain a more positive mindset.
- Success in the insanity that is loosely defined as life is a matter of commitment over perfection. All or nothing has no place in losing weight and getting fit on a demanding schedule. Maintaining momentum is the most important thing. Momentum undergirds motivation. Without momentum, all the fitness equipment, gym memberships and other tools are null and void. Momentum is created by simple commitment. Don’t wait for a feeling before acting: it will never come.
- Goal cards – I used 4X6 index cards folded in half like a book. On the front I put my daily goals and on the inside my exercise and food log. Keeping a continual food diary is awesome, especially for troubleshooting problems, but keeping it on an individual card that I keep in my pocket and refer to often keeps my goals in the here and now. I ask myself: “What do I want this card to look like at the end of the day? What if someone were going to review it?” I look at it at the end of the day, pat myself on the back for a job well done or forgive the goof ups, then toss it. The day is over along with its successes or failures. I don’t dwell on yesterday’s failings: I focus on TODAY.
Your long-term success depends on how you wind up at the end of the day, not 2 weeks from now and certainly not “someday”. Frustration results when what you are doing does not line up with the direction you feel you should be taking in your heart. Even if life gets in the way, making small steps toward what you feel is important is a big morale booster. Every day is another chance to get it right. By putting out small goals everyday, or as much as possible, and working toward them, you will feel more in control. The main thing is to keep the momentum going in the chaotic, rough patches that are sure to come.
- When I first started my weight loss journey, I had to make exercise feel like an easy option. If you don’t make it easy for yourself, you probably won’t do it. For example, when I was on my 7-midnight shifts, where I was in zombie mode, I got my workout clothes laid out and my bike or treadmill set up. All I had to do was just wander down the hall, slide into my clothes, and hop on. Doesn’t sound like much, but when your mind is a fuzzy mess, it makes all the difference in the world until your blood starts pumping and you can think again.
- I had to learn to expect the unexpected. It is a must to make a mental list of emergency go-to strategies that you can turn to when life gets in the way and you have to think on your feet. For the shift worker, that is almost all the time. It takes time to get in the routine of making consistently healthy choices in the face of life’s hurdles. Be patient with yourself and keep researching and experimenting. Only you can craft a plan that will fit you. Always research your options.
- Changing your dietary routine is a lot like jumping from one speeding train to another going in the opposite direction. From day 1, your decisions are typically made on the go. This is where consistency rules over perfection. There is no reasonable way you or I are going to undo years of bad choices or deprogram ourselves from an ingrained, unhealthy routine in just a few weeks or months any more than we can dump out a puzzle and have it fall together into the picture on the cover.
What worked for me was to start with foods I was already familiar with and found ways to make them more healthy. I didn’t do anything too extreme or exotic. My plan wasn’t perfect, but it was a good start. For me, starting where I was and making healthier substitutions as I got more educated was the way to go. Nothing is more stressful than taking the core of your daily routine and turning it on its ear, especially when your schedule is not forgiving. Slow changes are far more lasting. It takes a lot of committed effort to hone your routine to a sharp, effective edge.
- I treat my exercise routine like a second job, not something that is done “in between the commercials” of life. At work, I punch in if I don’t feel like it, if I’m having a bad day, or am just sagging or dragging. My duty to my job isn’t up for negotiation, and neither is my exercise routine. It has to be that way for me to succeed. Exercise is survival, not a hobby. Treat it as such.
- When training for an athletic event on a demanding schedule, consider this. Divide your training into blocks. Identify blocks of time that you can devote to training and make it happen. Don’t condemn yourself for lapses in time that are beyond your control. Unfortunately, it is next to impossible for a shift worker to follow every square on a training schedule. Like the picture on a frozen dinner that says “serving suggestion”, I had to take my training schedule and treat it as a basic outline and do the best I could. It doesn’t pay to put yourself through the anxious thoughts of, “Oh my goodness, I missed week 3, day 2 of training. What will I do?”
If you are on a 12-week running program, give yourself more than 12 weeks before your event just in case you experience a life-induced lapse. Don’t ever double up on training or do extra miles, etc. There is no making up for lost time. That is the fast track to injury. On days you miss a scheduled training session, focus on diet. Every time you sit down to eat, you are training. You always have control over what you put in your mouth. To get good nutrition is just as important as getting in that long run. Healthy eating IS training and you can do that on any shift. That helped me eliminate a lot of the frustration over an irregular training schedule.
*Weight loss results will vary from person to person. No individual result should be seen as a typical result of following the SparkPeople program.