A Simple Health Plan Should Be Intuitive

What does intuition have to do with your health, diet, and fitness plan?

In my humble but accurate, non-medical, check with your doctor first opinion, intuition has everything to do with the eating and exercise plan you cobble together for yourself.

Here’s how my mushy principle of intuition looks:

You know what works for you. You know when you’re stretching yourself or giving yourself a pass.

Your plan must be intuitive and honest. Be honest with yourself if your plan is working or will work or is sustainable. Be honest if you need to push yourself or let off the gas.

Your plan is your plan. You know you. Do the thing that works for you.

Your intuition will tell you if you’re being a lazy bum or if you’re working yourself too hard.

Using myself as an example, I know that when I eat a paleo-based diet (preferably modeled around Whole 30 rules, including no rice, legumes, and soy) I have more energy, fewer gut issues, and sleep better. I’ll obviously take any doctor-related information into consideration if any tests show too dang much egg yolk in my blood, but for now, my intuition is telling me that I should stick to this plan as well as possible.

Further, I know that when I’m weight training, my body is more efficient. I’m glad I’m walking all of the time, but I know that strength training is vital for me. I’m not listening to my intuition in this area at the time I’m writing this post. Just being honest.

How Can Your Intuition Guide You?

Your intuition guides you in two ways:

  1. Intuition uses your past experience to tell remind you what works for you.
  2. Intuition uses your present experience in your own body to tell you when you’re being too lazy, going too hard, or engaging your food and exercise just right.

Frankly, we often know we can handle more. And we should listen to that inner high school football coach that is calling us out on our temptation toward laziness.

I do realize this all sounds flaky.

But I nearly guarantee you that if you gave yourself a 5 minute sit-down talkin’ to (as we say down here in the south), you’d be able to coach yourself up as to what exercise you should do and how you should eat. You’d at least know where to start looking and who to ask.

There you have it… the 5th principle of a Simple Health Plan.

Here are the others:

A Simple Health Plan Should Be… (drum roll)… Simple

A Simple Health Plan Must Be Intentional

A Simple Health Plan Can and Should Be Fun

A Simple Health Plan Needs to Be Sustainable

And A Simple Health Plan Should Use Intuition

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What say you? What helps stick to your diet, eating, and exercise plan?

A Simple Health Plan is Sustainable

I had a workout plan before I got married that required me to be in the gym every morning from 5:00-6:30. I dropped 22 pounds in 3 months and looked like I might actually be able to change a tire or chop down a tree or carry a couch up three flights of stairs with the help of a couple friends.

Right now, that plan is not an option. It’s not sustainable.

While you do need to stretch yourself, I recommend that a simple health plan be more sustainable than it is hardcore (sorry CrossFit junkies). Make it a plan that you know you’ll execute while stretching you a smidge. Err on the side of starting small.

Your calendar and your atrophied, unused muscles will thank you.

What makes a simple health plan sustainable?

I came up with 5 characteristics of a sustainable fitness and eating plan. I won’t divide the eating from the exercise here because you’re smart and can do that yourself.

A Sustainable Health Plan Fits Your Current Season of Life

You have a bazillion demands on your time and energy and finances.

Make sure you can be intentional about your eating plan and exercise plan in such a way that won’t rob time from your family and work and that fits in your current financial situation (you might not be able to shop full-on Whole Foods right now if you’re trying to keep babies in diapers).

Don’t force yourself into a plan that you can’t keep up due to your commitments to other areas of your life. Start small and build.

A Sustainable Health Plan Won’t Get You Injured (more than likely)

If you’ve not done barbell squats since you were a third string football player, don’t walk in and slap two 45-lb plates on both sides of a bar and walk into the squat rack. You’ll never exercise another day in your life.

Start with an exercise plan that might even be too easy for you and quickly move into more challenging programs as your body (and health pro, of course), allows.

A Sustainable Health Plan is Enjoyable and not too Complicated

See my post on simplicity, the first principle of a simple health plan.

While you’re at it, check out the post on keeping things fun.

I can’t overemphasize those two items enough. These principles build on each other. Simplicity and fun are keys to sustainability.

A Sustainable Health Plan is Something You Can Do Forever

At least for the foreseeable future.

Make sure to include exercises that you see 75 year old folks doing. Tennis, low-impact cardio, weight training, golf. Most of these are age-agnostic.

A Sustainable Health Plan Will Grow with You

While you want to be able to execute your plan with intentionality forever, you also want to be challenged here and now.

Make sure you won’t get bored and plateau too easily. My 10,000 steps a day is a respectable effort, my fitness won’t grow all that much if that is the only thing I worry about doing.

Challenge yourself.

Let it be sustainable, but don’t be a wimp. You know who you are. Quit being a wimp (as he looks at himself in the reflection of the computer screen as he writes).

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How do you keep your exercise plan sustainable? 

Drop me a note or leave a comment here or on your favorite social media channel

A Simple Health Plan Must Be Fun

The Third Principle of a Simple Health Plan: The Plan Must Be Fun (on some level).

(Read: The first principle – It Must Be Simple. The second principle – It Must be Intentional

Some of you love working out – the process is naturally fun.

Others hate it.

For those folks who hate long hours on the treadmill and can’t stand the thought of doing bench presses in a stinky gym of preening divas and muscleheads, find something that you will enjoy doing on a regular basis.

And do that thing.

If it’s tennis, play tennis and find a workout plan that supports your tennis game. If it’s golf, do the same.

You like ultimate frisbee? That’s some good exercise. Go do that (on a regular basis).

Get outside. Include your kids or spouse or significant other or a bunch of friends.

You can also gamify otherwise blah exercise like walking the neighborhood. Just ask my wife about getting the Trail Shoe Badge on her Fitbit app. It was like she won an Oscar.

fitbit helps keep accountability

Check the Trail Shoe Badge – impressive!

Having Fun is the Ultimate in Simplicity and Makes Intentionality Easy

Your Workout Program

When you make your workout plan fun, you are keeping things simple. You will naturally and easily do what is fun. It makes creating a habit that much easier.

Three ways to keep your workout fun:

  1. Join a community (offline or online)
  2. Pick a sport or activity that you simply love to do
  3. Gamify

Also, one of the ways to make your exercise fun is by joining some sort of community offline or online or by having a workout or playing partner.

CrossFit and other training houses are all over the place. Running groups, cycling groups, and adult sports teams abound. At the local elementary school here in the suburbs of Atlanta, I even ran into a full on hurling team getting all Gaelic on the soccer field.

The built-in accountability can be powerful. And most sports, as mentioned above related to tennis, have associated exercise programs that can help you improve your game.

If you’re a loner, then finding something fun to do by yourself should be simple. I, personally, love to take a brisk walk by myself. It clears my head, helps me think, and is gentle on these youthful, yet aging, bones.

Even my loner walks are supported by my little band of Fitbit brothers and sisters challenging each other everyday to hit our step goals. Fitbit gamifies what might be a drudgery without the silly badges and whatnot. Somehow it works. There are a host of online and mobile apps that bake gamification into their exercise advices and programs.

Your Food Program

On the eating side of things, you can keep things fun in at least these two ways (maybe more):

  1. Learn to cook in keeping with your meal plan.
  2. Take advantage of the communities on social media.

Since it’s my current experience, I’ll mention Whole 30. While some might think it tedious to figure out how to cook solely with meat, veggies, fruits, tree nuts, spices, and oils – no grains, rice, legumes, flour, sugar, I enjoy the challenge.  Making Whole 30 mayo and concocting dips and sauces is actually a blast (after you ruin your first batch or two).

We tend to appreciate food we make more than food that we buy. If you make your own meals, you’ll be more inclined to enjoy them – even if they are all nutritious, healthy, and free of additives.

Another benefit: If you get your kids involved, they’ll also start expanding what they eat. If they help make it, they’ll at least pretend it’s good.

One other way to keep eating fun is to leverage social media.

Learn how to use Pinterest or Instagram.

If you’re worried that your friends will be annoyed by your constant photos of your food, then create a separate account for all of your delicious food creations and find your community out on the world wide web.

Even your friends in real life won’t mind so much (so long as you don’t blast them on their Facebook feeds all day long).

That’s what I’ve done. I get overly excited about getting ‘likes’ on my Instagram pictures of Whole 30 meals (go ahead and click to see my delicious and nutritious creations).  I’ve also created a Pinterest board featuring Whole 30 recipe finds.

In addition to posting my own photos, I get inspiration by the community of Instagrammers who are posting their own recipes and food ideas.

Post pictures using the hashtags of the community that eats like you (paleo, vegan, Weight Watchers, gluten free, etc.), and you’ll start finding a bunch of likeminded individuals and some natural, built-in accountability. It’s actually fun.

If you need help with these social media platforms, sign up for my newsletter, get one of my emails, and shoot me a reply (or leave a comment below).

In Conclusion….

Keep your simple health and fitness plan fun. We don’t need to drain our self-discipline by powering through our exercise and eating gag reflex. Life’s too short. But make sure you get out there!

A Simple Health Plan Must Be Intentional

Photo Credit: eflon via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: eflon via Compfight cc

A plan, by definition, is intentional. Most of our approaches to fitness, eating, and overall health are NOT intentional.

A simple health plan includes some measure of planning, goal-setting, and forethought. You must make conscious decisions to move yourself in the right direction.

The second principle that should guide any simple eating and exercise plan is intentionality. (Read about the first principle here)

Lack of intentionality gives way to procrastination. Procrastination gives way to the couch, Netflix, and a bowl of popcorn. The couch, Netflix, and bowls of popcorn has the capability of destroying momentum (although they can also be a fine reward at the end of a day when you were able to knock out your main health habits like a boss).

A definition –

Intentionality: the fact of being deliberate or purposive.

I love the word intentional but frankly I’ve never stopped to consider its meaning.

To be intentional is to be deliberate and to have purpose.

Deliberate means to be calculated, studied, and, well, intentional.
Purposive means simply that you have good reason, a strong ‘why’ behind your efforts.For a simple health plan, here are elements that make your efforts ‘intentional’

  1. A Goal Orientation
  2. A Plan
  3. A Schedule
  4. The Ability to Say No

Have a Goal Orientation

I’ve never been successful when I’ve tried to make improvements that aren’t driven by a some sort of goal. Even if your goal isn’t structured in the most effective way, a strong picture of what the purpose behind your efforts are is vital.

For instance, if you are getting older, yet your children are still younger, then your effective ‘Why’ might be to make sure you can play sports with your children in their teenage years. That is a very clear picture of a preferred future. That can drive you.

Others might be shooting for a specific weight, an event like a 5k, 10k or marathon, a weightlifting personal best, or some other clearly defined, easily measurable, time-bound goal.

Regardless of what your purpose is, an intentional health plan needs to have a clear one in order to sustain itself over time.

Have a Plan

Even if it’s only a plan to walk 4 times a week for 30 minutes. Being intentional requires a plan.

The plan can be simple or it can be somewhat involved (I’d work up to complexity or else you’ll violate principle number one of a simple health plan: Simplicity).

From Couch to 5K to Weight Watchers to Whole30 to sitting down with a notebook and pen and writing out what you know works for you and what you know you can accomplish for the upcoming week, pick a plan and go for it.

Iterate as you need to, but you must have a plan in order to keep your efforts intentional and to avoid procrastination.

Don’t be overly elaborate, but have a plan.

Put It in Your Schedule

If it ain’t in the calendar. It won’t get done.

Don’t just wait for exercise inspiration to hit you upside the head.

You must schedule it.

My wife makes a mental note for each day the night before as to when she will go on a walk or schedule or weightlifting time with her workout buddy.

Others know that every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, they will hit the gym at 5:30am.

I, currently, am kind of a wimp and just want to make sure I get 1500-3000 steps in before doing anything else in the morning.

Learn to Say No

I won’t drone on about this, but if you are trying to start a new push toward health, wellness, and fitness, then you will have to say ‘good-bye’ to some stuff.

You might have to stop the 2-3 glasses of wine a night. You might have to decrease the sitcom consumption. You might have to put a hobby on hold for a bit while you build a new, more vital habit.

You know where you need to say “No” with emphasis and commitment.

How do you keep your workouts intentional?

Are you committed to a plan and a schedule and a goal or do you allow your fitness to just kind of take care of itself (and have found this hands-off approach ineffective)?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments (or in a reply email if you get this by email).

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Who else realizes that all of these ideas are plagued with a blinding case of the obvious? This guy knows.

But if you keep your plan simple and intentional, my last 3 principles might not even matter.

The Principles of a Simple Health Plan: Simplicity

One of the biggest hurdles I face in maintaining a consistent fitness and eating plan is complexity.

For instance, Weight Watchers, to me, has just enough administrative stress to confirm that I will not keep up with it for longer than a week. And workout plans that involve a long commute to a gym and confusing workout equipment create just enough friction that I’ll struggle making it out of week two.

Therefore, I’ve created a set of principles that help me stay on task without depleting that natural human resource known as self-discipline (you do know we have a finite amount of the stuff each day, right?).

I won’t draft out a specific plan that I think all people should follow Rather, over the next few posts, I will lay out common sense principles to guide you in creating your own simple health plan.

The First Principle that makes an eating and fitness plan a Simple Health Plan: Simplicity

Simplicity means that your plan must require the fewest number of decisions possible. 

The more you have to think about, less likely you’ll execute.

You should not have to decide each day what exercises you will do or have to stress about some overly complicated meal plan.

Keep it simple

Keep it simple

Simplicity in Your Exercise Plan

Simplicity in your exercise plan can benefit from one or more of the following…

  1. Basic Exercises: You might need to start with walking, push-ups, and body weight squats. You can remember that. The exercises are easily doable whether you have a gym or not or whether you have kids and a full-time job.
  2. Planning: My wife and her workout buddy buy and use relatively complicated plans. But… They are plans. The plans take the confusion and guess work out of the equation. You can also create your own plan. That way you know exactly what you will be doing the next workout. These plans can include elaborate equipment and difficult exercises – as long as you have the resources easily available. The fewer decisions the better.
  3. Hire a Trainer: A trainer can keep it simple because you’ve delegated the task of creating a plan. You simply have to show up at the right time and work out like a boss.
  4. Easy Access: We were a member of the YMCA for a while. It was a 10 minute drive to get there in the morning and an additional 20 minutes if I went after work. Too much friction. Make sure that you are able to easily access the equipment and location for you to do your exercise.

Again, the key element is to make sure that you have to make the fewest number of decisions each day around how you will approach your exercise.

Right now, I am focused on 10,500 steps a day and three sets of push-ups, squats, and lunges. Simple. I’ll build from there.

 

Simplicity in Your Eating Plan

A simple eating plan also should require few decisions.

This idea is the principle behind why I love eating according to the Whole 30 plan.

This plan requires that you eat whole foods (meat, veggies, fruits, nuts, etc.). Basically, you have to skim the outer edges of your grocery store.

While some individuals (you know who you are) feel such a plan is burdensome, with it’s no grain, dairy, or sugar, I feel liberated by it because it makes my food choices simple: meat, whole veggies and fruit, tree nuts, and most oils.

More meal prep is involved, but I don’t have to count anything, log anything, or measure anything. Simple (to me).

What would make a meal plan simple for you? Here are some ways that might mean ‘simplicity’ for you and your eating plan:

  1. Easy Tracking: Some folks love to count calories and Weight Watchers points. That is their ‘simplicity’. Portion control = simplicity.
  2. Decrease Your Choices: This is why I love Whole 30. My choices are limited. I can focus in on what I like and easily say no to the others (well, unless I’m craving a beer or pizza… but I’m not a legalist. We’ll get to cheat days later.).
  3. Meal Delivery Services: Such services are booming right now. If you can afford it, there are plenty that delivery high quality, healthy foods right to your door step, complete with recipes. How simple is that?

Again, you know what works for you. Generally, I would say that a common element would be to avoid purchasing stuff that kills your progress. That is one way to keep things simple.

And by simple, I do not mean easy. Eating well is the hardest thing I do. I know, drama, but still…..  Do the thing that you know you can do over the long haul. That will normally be the easiest, simplest solution.

 

Wrapping It Up

Think through your exercise and eating plans.

Have you ever struggled to maintain consistency solely because your plan was way too complicated?

While self-discipline might help you keep a commitment for a while, I say you should give yourself the best possible chance to win.

Keep it simple!

We’ll be hitting on the other principles in the next few posts:

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