Cleanse, crash, and repeat is an eating pattern that might hit close to home. And you’re not alone. When life is calm, it’s easier to eat well and make healthy decisions. But what happens when we get busy, distracted, or stressed out?
Some researchers at Oxford University looked at the relationship between mental stressors and food choices. They asked participants to memorize a series of numbers and midway through the experiment offered them two snack options: either fruit salad or chocolate cake. The cake was more emotionally rewarding but less cognitively stimulating and the fruit was the opposite. Participants who were under more acute stress (the ones who had more numbers to memorize) were more likely to eat the cake because they not only had less mental capacity to make a healthy choice, but it also felt more rewarding in the moment.
Staying healthy requires our attention.
So what can we learn from this? The more mentally preoccupied we are, the harder it becomes to make healthy decisions. Obstacles are an inherent part of life; we are all busy feeding our children, cleaning, sending e-mails, and staying on top of bills and appointments—not to mention trying to enjoy ourselves with travel, celebrations, and social occasions.
While some of these are more stressful than others, they all take up mental space, pushing those healthy choices to the back of your mind. And our impulses, which make us choose the cake over the fruit, tend to take the forefront when this happens. Living a holistic lifestyle takes constant practice, but creating space allows you to make decisions that make you feel lighter and more confident and helps you create the life that you want to be living. Here are four ways that I have found internal motivation and willpower. I hope they work for you as well!
Connect to your why.
What motivates you to make healthy decisions? Oftentimes when we focus on a number or how we want to physically look, it can be more challenging to find internal motivation when your attention is focused on outward appearances. Instead, ask yourself how you want to feel.
Investigating your why asks you to turn your attention inward and think about what you want in life beyond the number on the scale. How do you want to feel when you wake up in the morning or about yourself when you look in the mirror? Dream work takes a little imagination but can be powerful. What does your ideal life look like?
Get creative with it.
Start by writing freehand; write in the present tense and use only positives (rather than negatives or passive negatives). When you’re done read it back to yourself and determine whether you want to add or change anything. Over time you might refine it and type it up. Feel free to practice reading your "why" to yourself when you wake up in the morning or when you’re feeling low or apathetic. I have found this helps create motivation; after all, it will be much harder to "cheat" on an ideal vision you have of yourself than it is on a few hundred calories.
Become aware of your internal dialogue.
Feeling like it’s impossible to stay on track? Start writing down your excuses. Becoming aware of them helps you create a productive response. What thoughts creep up when you’re feeling unmotivated? These are some that I see pretty often:
- I had a bad day; I deserve (fill in the blank).
- I don’t have time to eat well.
- My partner doesn’t like to eat well, so why should I?
- Eating well is so boring.
- Everyone else is eating the pizza, cookies, and sweets; I guess I will too.
Challenge yourself to rebut the excuses. Part of this means reframing your thoughts (see below), and it also means getting creative. If you’re going out to eat with friends, scan the menu beforehand and choose a healthier alternative so you go in with a game plan. If you don’t have time to cook, order a vegetable-based dinner or prepare your meals ahead of time. Bored? Get on the internet to discover a new cookbook or recipes like this Black Bean + Coconut Red Lentils for inspiration.
Reframe your thoughts.
Our thoughts determine our behaviors and actions, so fake it till you make it. If we are constantly focused on how deprived we feel, making the healthier choice is going to feel like a really heavy burden. But what if you simply shifted the internal dialogue?
You are what you think; if you focus on limiting beliefs that make you feel small and powerless, that is the experience you will manifest for yourself. Rather, replace these thoughts with empowering ones. You can actually fake it till you make it because limiting beliefs and empowering ones compete for shelf space in your mind. If this feels really hard, try using positive affirmations to get you in the mindset—it’s almost like mental "power posing." Here are some examples of positive affirmations:
- Finding new and healthy recipes and restaurants excites me.
- Moving my body makes me feel confident and strong.
- I make healthy decisions with grace and ease.
- Every day my body becomes more energetic and healthy.
- I am my own creator and choose to invite wellness and beauty into my life.
Have fun with it.
What excites you about being healthy? Having fun with it is incredibly motivating and will help keep you on track. If you like to cook, experiment with new ingredients and recipes. If you crave connection, recruit a friend or your partner or join a local community health club (for example, gardening, walking, or running). Eventbrite, Conscious City Guide, and Wanderlust are great resources for finding activities on a local level. There are also amazing online communities all over social media where you can share your experiences and find support.
There’s no one-size-fits-all model because we’re all unique. You know yourself best. Focus on what will grow your motivation. Choose empowering thoughts and live your truth—it is contagious to those around you. Cheers to good health!