There are countless excuses for failing to exercise or eat right, from "I don't have time" to "It's too expensive" to "I'm too old/overweight/tired." But there's one unspoken excuse that you probably won't see on the message boards, but could very well be the biggest obstacle of all:|
Seems silly at first, right? Why would anyone be afraid to lead a healthy lifestyle? But think about it: Change is scary, even when it's good for us. Embarking on a promising new career path, ending a toxic relationship, joining a new group or club—it's all daunting at first, but it's outside of our comfort zone where the real growth happens.
The same holds true in the nutrition and fitness arena. If your creature comforts include fried foods, drive-thrus and cozy, couch-bound nights with Netflix, it can be tough to let go and take the leap into healthier territory. For many people, the land of mindful eating and working out is unchartered territory that promises some pretty awesome rewards, but also poses an unnerving risk of the “F” word.
If you're feeling uncertain or downright terrified about taking that first step, know that you're not alone. By acknowledging the things that make you wary about taking that first step toward health, you’ll start a conversation with yourself that could change your entire life.
10 Healthy Living Fears
1. "I'll leave my spouse (or partner) behind."
If you're ready to make a positive lifestyle change but your unhealthier half would prefer to polish off a pint of ice cream on the couch every evening, it can be tempting to bandwagon onto their bad habits for the sake of the relationship.
Desima Dawdy, the director and owner of Pilates Performance & Rehab, sees these cases of "spousal sabotage" quite often. "If someone really loves you more than they love themselves, they will always want the best for you and will be your biggest cheerleader," says Dawdy. "A healthy relationship should support, not undermine, a healthy lifestyle." If your loved one seems jealous, controlling or even vindictive in response to your healthy efforts, arm yourself with some strategies for staying on track in spite of adversity.
Dani Singer, personal trainer with Fit2Go, tells his clients to start their journey for themselves, and not to worry about reactions from family and friends. "It doesn't make sense to let your health suffer because of a look or comment that you might get," he says. "You need to be the reason for starting your weight-loss plan. If your new diet and exercise regimen is only to appease a nagging spouse, or to get a positive reaction out of a friend, the success rate isn't in your favor."
2. "I'll be hungrier if I start exercising."
Lisa C. Andrews, registered dietitian with Sound Bites Nutrition, hears this a lot from new clients who are just starting a fitness program. If you've been laser-focused on calorie counting, it may seem counterproductive to engage in activities that are likely to ramp up your appetite—but the benefits of physical activity far outweigh any increase in food consumption. As long as you're refueling your body with the right amount and type of carbs, protein, fat and fluids, you can stay satisfied and keep cravings at bay.
3. "People will look at me and laugh."
For someone who is overweight or obese, the prospect of donning exercise clothes and working out in public can be petrifying—especially in front of uber-buff fitness fanatics. Although it's natural to be a little self-conscious when trying something new, ACE-certified personal trainer Shane McLean assures his clients that this concern is usually unfounded.
"In my experience, gym goers are usually too wrapped up in their own workouts to pay any sort of attention to you," he says. "Remember that it's in your head, not theirs. If anything, they will respect the fact that you're taking steps to improve your health."
To help boost your confidence and motivate you to keep moving, consider investing in a few pieces of flattering exercise apparel that complements your current physique. Also, consider grabbing a friend who will make you feel more comfortable and confident in the new space.
4. "I don't know how to exercise."
For someone who's never worked out, the hardest part is taking that first step. Experts recommend choosing an activity you enjoy, but what if you don't even know what you like to do?
To find the right type of exercise for you, start by identifying your goals and then match them up with a workout designed to help you achieve those specific goals. For instance, if you want to build muscle mass, consider scheduling a trial session with a personal trainer to learn how to use free weights and machines. If you want to lose weight, try a spinning class or start a walking program.
Brooke Taylor, trainer and founder of Taylored Fitness, emphasizes the importance of setting attainable goals. "Pushing too hard, too quick can have adverse effects on your success level," she says. "Start small and create mini goals each week, such as waking up 30 minutes earlier two days a week to do cardio. Then the following week, aim for three times." Remember that the most important thing is that you want to try—from there, it just takes a little trial and error to discover the workout that will make you fall in love with exercising.
5. "Healthy food won't taste good."
When you eat the same things day after day, it may seem impossible to give up those comfort foods in favor of healthier fare. The key is to not jump in with both feet at once. Depriving yourself of all your favorites will leave you feeling resentful toward your new way of life, increasing the chance that you’ll abandon healthy foods when cravings strike.
Instead, start out slowly with one or two smart swaps, such as green tea instead of soda or fresh strawberries instead of a mid-afternoon cookie. Look for opportunities to sneak in healthy additions, like adding veggies to pizza or sliced banana to oatmeal. As you slowly adopt more healthy eating habits, you'll notice that your hankering for sugary, fatty foods will gradually diminish, as your body starts craving the clean, whole foods that serve it best.
6. "I'll gain back the weight if I don't work out as often."
Although this is a legitimate concern—some research estimates that up to 95 percent of people regain lost weight—it's not a justification to jump off the wagon before you even hop on board. There are plenty of smart strategies that can help you prevent weight regain, such as setting realistic goals, foregoing fad diets in favor of long-term nutrition changes, avoiding mindless eating, understanding the difference between hunger and appetite, and adopting a weight maintenance program once you've reached your goal.
"Many of my clients are afraid that if they skip a day of exercise, they'll immediately start gaining back what they lost," says Maurice Williams, owner of Move Well Fitness. In reality, rest days can actually help you achieve and maintain weight loss. It’s all about balance: “Rest” doesn’t mean binging on Cheetos and attaching yourself to the couch for 24 hours, but just taking it easy on your body and giving it time to recoup from the demands you’re placing on it. And when slip-ups do occur, learn to embrace the ups and downs instead of being hard on yourself.
7. "I want to take a class, but I'm afraid I won't be able to keep up with everyone."
Trying a new fitness class is always a little intimidating. There are lots of unknowns: How tough will the instructor be? Will the other participants be in much better shape? What if you don't know how to do the techniques or use the equipment?
Taylor suggests starting small to get your bearings and working your way up: "Start with a structured regimen at the gym, maybe two or three days a week, to build up strength, stamina and endurance for a cardio-based class." She recommends that first-timers start with a lighter class, like Pilates, barre or yoga, before jumping into a high-intensity bootcamp. You can also try some at-home workout videos to get a feel for the movements before going live.
Once you’re ready to check out a new class, ask around to find out if any friends or coworkers regularly attend your class of choice. If so, they can provide some insight into the intensity or atmosphere of the class, which will be helpful in calming any nerves. Also keep in mind that everyone in that class was once a beginner, too, so there’s no need to push yourself to the point of injury or dizziness. Go at your own pace, ask for modifications, stop if you need to and know that with a little determination, you can finish strong.
8. "I'm afraid I'll fail…again."
Singer has worked with many clients who have been enticed by the shiny promises of fad diets, only to be frustrated by sub-par results or worse. "Crash diets and extremely low-calorie 'cleanses' can damage a participant's metabolism, making it even harder to lose weight once the diet or cleanse ends," he warns. "But the damage isn't only physical—it's emotional as well. When a person repeatedly tries and fails to lose or maintain weight, she might start to doubt her own ability to succeed."
If you're stymied by fear of failure after being burned in the past, Singer recommends hiring a personal trainer or nutritionist who can help you establish the lifestyle changes that will lead to real, sustainable weight loss. In some cases, a licensed therapist may be needed to help address the recurring cycle of self-doubt.
9. "I'm afraid I'll push myself too hard."
If you don't know your body's capabilities and limits, how do you know how far to push it? Many new exercisers are afraid they'll overexert themselves, which can end up causing injury or burnout.
To avoid this, Taylor recommends investing in a heart rate monitor to help you gauge how hard to push yourself and when to back off. "If you haven't done any physical activity for a long time, chances are your heart rate will be naturally high from being deconditioned," she points out. "The heart rate monitor will help ensure that you're working out efficiently and effectively. Over time, as your body starts adapting to the new demands you're putting on it, it will take more energy to get your heart rate up." If you start to experience chest pain, lightheadedness, difficulty breathing or joint pain, stop exercising right away and breathe deeply until the symptoms subside. If they persist, contact a doctor.
10. "I won't be able to keep it up forever."
When you embark on a new fitness journey, your goal is like the light at the end of a long and sweaty tunnel, motivating you to keep pushing. But what happens when that goal becomes a reality? Once you're the better, fitter version of yourself you've been striving to become, how will you maintain the momentum?
McLean points out that it's normal to have a little drop-off after reaching your goal. "You've worked hard and you deserve to cut yourself a little slack and celebrate," he says. To refocus and stay energized, he suggests continually trying new challenges. If running is your thing, enter a three-mile fun race. If you prefer more intense competition, there’s no shortage of adventure races. If you've always lifted weights alone, get a group together for semi-private personal training sessions. "Exercise for exercise’s sake will get dull," says McLean. "When you have something to train for, it's easier to stay consistent."