So you're trying to do the whole "healthy living" thing, but for some reason, you have trouble sticking to a workout routine, you can't find a diet you can stick to for more than a week, or you're doing everything that you think you should be doing but feeling worse than ever? Good news: That's a normal feeling. We're so over-saturated with advice on how to lead healthier lives that, often, we end up layering too much advice together or trying to tackle too much, too soon. Here are a few ways we *think* we're helping ourselves but are instead digging a bigger hole from which to dig ourselves out.
Going keto one week, raw vegan the next, and hitting Whole 30 the week after that? Not only are you spending tons of cash buying all new groceries, but your gut is working hard to catch up and figure out what's going on, so you're much more likely to be dealing with weird gastrointestinal issues, from diarrhea to constipation to severe gassiness. Your better bet is to focus on making small changes: Try adding one more serving of vegetables to your diet for a month, and commit to drinking enough water during the day, or sticking to one glass of wine per night instead of your normal two. These smaller changes, done over the course of a few months, lead to more sustainable results.
You know that feeling when you go super-hard in a CrossFit or barre class once and end up sore for a week? That soreness is your body's way of telling you that you're trying to do too much, too soon. "Not only is going HAM at the gym unnecessary when you are first starting out or coming off of a break, but it can also lead to injury by increasing your time under tension too quickly," says iFit Trainer Mecayla Froerer, NASM, CPT. She's a fan of focusing on maintaining good form while lifting or doing endurance work like running. If you haven't been exercising regularly, stick to two harder classes per week, and add in some lighter activity like yoga or walking on the other days. Do that for at least a month to let your body adjust to the harder efforts.
This is a big one—often, right around our workout, we're either feeling virtuous about what we eat (or don't eat) or we're feeling rushed because we need to get back to work/to the kids/to organizing the apartment. "One of the most important things to remember when trying to increase performance, build muscle, or have an effective workout is that you have to be eating enough calories in order to have the energy available to achieve your goals," says Froerer. "Significantly restricting calories or not hydrating properly can have a negative effect on your ability to perform, interferes with muscle contraction, and can be counter-productive to your objective."
This doesn't just apply to running! We all have the tendency to jump into whatever new health regimen we're excited about and go all-in on Day 1. "Keep this in mind when starting any kind of workout or workout regimen: Your body takes time to adapt. Going into a workout with full-out speed and increased intensity will greatly increase chances of injury," says Froerer. "By taking the time to walk and gradually take up the speed, your muscles will be warmed up and prepared to take things a step further. Motivation to workout is awesome as long as you aren't absorbed by the mindset of "faster or harder is better." Some of the biggest changes come by small and gradual steps. So take time to build up, so you don't have to pay the consequences of taking multiple days off between workouts."
If you're a weigh-in-every-day kind of person, you likely spend a lot of time despairing over that pound that seemingly came out of nowhere, or wondering why your weight just won't drop. Not only is body weight not the best indicator of health (since it ignores body composition and how much fat versus muscle you're carrying), it can fluctuate huge amounts in the course of a day, depending on what you've eaten and drank, and how often you've gone to the bathroom. If you feel the need to track your progress, find a way that doesn't leave you anxiety-ridden or disappointed.
Skimping on sleep to sneak in a workout will hurt you in the long run. Once in a while, it's fine, but if you're regularly getting sub-seven hours of sleep per night for the sake of sneaking in a spin class, you may be doing more harm than good. Studies have shown time and time again that around seven to nine hours per night is the amount of sleep your body wants. Sleep is when our bodies repair and actually make those changes we're striving for, and if you're consistently depriving your body of that sleep, you run the risk of getting sick more frequently, hanging onto those extra pounds of fat, not being able to push the pace in your workouts, and falling behind at work.
Whether you feel like you need an entirely new workout wardrobe as you decide to take up cycling, or your newest commitment to juicing requires a thousand-dollar blender, it's easy to quickly make a list of gear and tools that you "have to have" before you can get started living that healthy life you always wanted. But no gear can buy your way to healthy. Spend that cash, and you'll end up more stressed than ever, having spent money on stuff you didn't need yet. The best general rule for buying wellness-oriented swag is to do your best at whatever new habit you're hoping to start for at least a month before making a purchase for it. For example, running doesn't require all new clothing and shoes: Grab an old pair of sneakers, shorts, and a tank top and start walking every day for a month. If you manage that, splurge on new running shoes.
This isn't to say that supplements can't play a role in a healthy lifestyle, but consider it like a pyramid. At the bottom are the basics, like sleeping enough, moving our bodies, hydrating well, and eating healthy fuel for our bodies. Those are the pieces that aren't sexy but need to get done before supplements can do any good. And if you think you need a certain supplement, it's a great idea to check in with a doctor or functional medicine practitioner to get tested to see if you actually need what you think you need.
Yeah, it's annoying to spend five minutes before and after your workout doing slow, easy movement, but it really does lower the risk of injury, decrease soreness, and help you ease into and ease out of your workout. "Warm-ups and cool-downs are an excellent way to steadily increase or decrease your heart rate in a safe way. By taking the time to ease into your workout, you are also giving your body adequate time to increase blood flow to your muscles, which can help prevent injury," says Froerer. "By taking the time to cool down properly, you are letting your body slowly decrease your heart rate and blood pressure back to a resting state. Remember, warm-ups and cool-downs should be done at a lower intensity than the described workout."
There are a few ways this can sabotage your healthy lifestyle. Maybe your partner is an avid runner, so you decide you'll start running with him every morning before work… But you're not really an early bird, and his pace is killing you. Maybe your best friend swears by hot yoga, but every time you try it, you feel nauseous. What works for someone else may not be the right thing for you.