Is perfectionism preventing reaching your health goals?

Today I wanted to talk about perfectionism. It’s day 22 of this 30 day Real Health January series and I am proud of myself for writing and sharing an article every day so far! But today I had a lot to do so I missed my morning writing window. It’s now 9pm and I very nearly didn’t post anything because it is late and I don’t have time to write something as in depth as I usually do. Then I realised that this is perfectionism rearing it’s ugly head and the false belief that I should do everything well or not bother at all.

This is definitely a trap that myself and the women I have coached have fallen into on our journeys to better health. The idea that if we can’t follow the a diet perfectly and we don’t have time for the perfect exercise routine then why even try? The truth is that you don’t have to be perfect to reach your health goals. No matter whether your goal is to lose weight, improve your fitness, balance your hormones or get your period back, it’s what you do majority of the time that counts.

Are you approaching your health goals with perfectionism?

For those of you with perfectionistic tendencies, even if 90% of your actions are aligned with your goals you will focus on the 10% that you did “wrong”. This can lead to negative self-talk, beating yourself up, self-sabotaging behaviour and often giving up all together. You can find yourself spinning in circles, constantly starting new diet plans or fitness regimes with the hope that this time it will work. At the start you feel super motivated and follow the program to the letter, but as soon as life starts to get in the way you quickly lose motivation and end up back where you started. Then you feel frustrated because you never see results you are looking for. I don’t mean to criticise, I am saying this from experience!

Perfection and procrastination go hand in hand. Know the feeling of spending weeks researching the perfect way to eat or the specific combination of exercises to achieve your dream body? Often perfectionists can get stuck in this phase, over-thinking and over-analysing to the point of paralysis. What is the anti-dote to this procrastination? It is to just start. Even if you’re not sure it will work, start making healthier choices for yourself. Make some simple changes that feel achievable for you right now and don’t worry about the details.

Eat some more vegetables. Move your body more. Spend time relaxing. Try to get to bed early. You don’t have to do everything at once. Be kind and compassionate with yourself and be your own cheerleader. If you eat healthily all week, don’t obsess over the takeaway you had on Saturday night. Focus on the positive changes you have made and give yourself the freedom to “slip-up”. If your healthy habits get in the way of you living your life, they aren’t going to be sustainable long term. Life will always get in the way.

Yes you can enjoy souvlaki and cake and reach your health goals!

Perfectionism and your health

And not only can perfectionism prevent you reaching your health goals but it can actually be harmful to your health. Perfectionism has been linked with anxiety and depression as you are constantly comparing yourself to an exceptionally high or even impossible standard and feeling like you don’t measure up. You feel like you are constantly being judged by others as well as by the negative chatter in your head. Living with this harsh inner-critic and feeling like you are never good enough can be totally exhausting! Perfectionism can lead to insomnia, fatigue, stress and burn out just to name a few. Overcoming perfectionism, or at least learning to recognise and manage it is a key step on the road to becoming your healthiest self.

Letting go of perfectionism is something that I really focus on in my health coaching programs. Often women come to be expecting a detailed meal plan setting out exactly what to eat to lose weight or to fix their hormones. But what I aim to do is put you in charge, giving you the resources and a structure then guiding you to listen to your own body and your intuition when it comes to how to eat and move your body. You really don’t have to be perfect, it can be easy and natural to find your ideal, healthy body once you have the basic knowledge and set off in the right direction. I can teach you about the power of certain foods and how to build your plate and set up your day for maximum success but at the end of the day it is you that is in charge. Consistency and compassion for yourself are the keys to success, NOT being perfect.

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How to enjoy exercise and healthy eating

Today’s topic is how to enjoy exercise and healthy eating and make getting healthy fun. It will be a short post today as it’s Saturday and we have been out all day enjoying nature. It’s getting late and I am tired and hungry. We drove down to Saronida this afternoon and went for a walk on the beach even though it was pretty cloudy and windy. We just needed to get out of Athens and get some fresh air. This lockdown has been loooong! Even though we managed to get out for a hike and to see some friends over Christmas it is really starting to drag now and there’s still no end in sight.

Anyway, I thought that today is as good a day as any to remind you to have fun as you work towards your health and weight loss goals, in case you forgot! And give you some tips on how to enjoy exercise and healthy eating so that you can stick to your healthy lifestyle and reach your goals. Wherever you are on your health journey. Whether you are just starting out changing your lifestyle or you have been focusing on health and fitness for years.

Don’t forget that the purpose of improving your health is to enjoy your life more. Getting healthy really doesn’t have to be a chore. If you hate your diet and your workout routine feels like hell, try something different. If you hate yoga and meditation, you have to don’t do it! There isn’t one road to health so experiment and find what works for you. Find how to enjoy exercise and healthy eating and make getting healthy fun and it will be much easier!

I used to believe that controlling everything from restricting the foods on my plate to sticking to the same, high intensity workout regime was what I needed to do if I wanted to reach my health goals. I never really thought about whether I actually enjoyed it or not it was just something I had to endure. Nowadays my approach is definitely more fun! I practice yoga because I love it and dance because I love it. And I eat in a way that I genuinely enjoy. If I’m not enjoying something and my body is sending me a hell no signal, I listen rather than push through it.

Of course I still challenge myself. For example, right now me and my boyfriend are working up to running 5km in 30 minutes. But if we had planned a run and I am feeling exhausted on the day, I won’t feel like a failure if I skip it. I know when to push and rest. And I remember how to enjoy exercise and healthy eating!

I always recommend to focus on building healthy, sustainable habits that you enjoy rather than a quick fix. You don’t want to lose weight and also lose your sanity. Even if your goal is to lose weight, focus on health first and your body will find it’s happy place. If you focus on weight loss alone and you just might lose health in the process. Remember that health doesn’t always equal weight loss. On that note, here are a few of my tips on how to enjoy eating healthy food and how to make fitness fun!

How to enjoy eating healthy food

  • Get creative and take the effort to make your plate look pretty, even if you’re eating alone
  • Have plenty of variety in your diet
  • Try out a new food or recipe at least once a week. Even more if you have the time and the energy
  • Get your family involved and share your healthy meals with them so that you don’t feel left out
  • Don’t feel like you have to deprive yourself of all treats, remember the 80:20 rule!
  • Remind yourself that your taste buds adjust over time and you will genuinely start to crave healthy foods

Fun ways to improve your fitness

  • Try out a dance class, learn salsa, street dance or ballet
  • Experiment with gymnastics, acro-yoga or rock climbing
  • Get fit with friends, join a running group, cycling club. Or try out group exercise classes (as long as you can social distance)
  • Mix things up, if you normally exercise in the gym then get outdoors or vice versa
  • Listen to music or a fun podcast as you walk
  • Try out a yoga or fitness challenge at home to keep you motivated

And finally, remember that even though things might feel difficult and impossible to enjoy at the beginning, it does get easier! Once you start to eat healthier foods on a regular basis, your taste buds will change over time. I promise, there will come a the point where you actually enjoy and even crave them. As you improve your fitness you will start to enjoy moving your body more and more. Keep things simple, have fun and be kind to yourself.

Today’s challenge: Reflect on your own health regime

I hope you enjoyed these quick tips on how to enjoy exercise and healthy eating. Your challenge for today is to reflect on your own “health regime”. Ask yourself whether you genuinely enjoy the things you are doing. If not, how could you make it more fun?

Over to you…

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What is self sabotaging your health and how to stop

What is self sabotaging your health? Ever wondered why you just can’t seem to that new diet, exercise regime or self-care plan? Have you set yourself hundreds of goals for your health. Then just when you seem to be on the right track you do something to mess it up? Do you find yourself falling into the same patterns of destructive behaviour again and again? This is called self sabotaging. And it might just be the thing that is getting in the way of you reaching your health goals!

What is self sabotaging?

Self sabotaging patterns include procrastination from healthy habits. It can also be any form of addictive behaviour such as binge eating, substance abuse or over-using social media. It is defined as behaviour that deliberately causes you harm and gets in the way of you reaching your long term goals. Self sabotage is YOU preventing YOU from becoming the person you want to be. I say deliberate meaning that the behaviours are often things you know aren’t good for you but you do them anyway.

Often the thoughts that drive self sabotaging are unconscious meaning we aren’t even aware that we are having them. All we know is that one minute we were enthusiastic and motivated to reach our goals. Then the next we have given up and are back to square one.

what is self sabotaging your health

What is self sabotaging caused by?

Psychology research says that self sabotaging is a pretty common phenomenon. We all have that critical inner voice that develops during our childhood. For some this voice is harsher and louder than for others. The voice might say that you are lazy, that you are unworthy of success. Or that you’ll never reach your goals so you might as well give up. Whatever it is for you, we all have a dark, destructive aspect of our psyche that just wants to destroy things.

This was labelled by psychoanalysis founder Sigmund Freud as the “death drive”. It is that part of us that doesn’t seem to want happiness and seeks to disrupt anything that seems good. You might be thinking why would I ever destroy my own health and happiness?! But so many of us do it. Think of all the times you have stopped doing something that made you feel great. Or when you have carried on with bad habits that you know don’t make you feel your best.

As humans we like the familiar, things that we know and understand. Our brains are wired to think and act in a certain way in the world. Our neural connections get stronger with repetition like thousands of hikers walking the same pathway across a field until a deep muddy path forms. So when we want to change our habits and develop ourselves, it takes work to form a new pathway!

What is self sabotaging and fleeing from health?

When we start out, it’s very easy to fall back into the groove of our old ways. Most of our actions during the day are done on auto-pilot without us even thinking about it. It takes much more energy to make decisions about our behaviour and take conscious action. Our brains are energy conserving machines and they like to take the easiest route. So it’s totally understandable that we will slip up more than once when we are trying to change our behaviour.

I recently watched a video by Irene Lyons, a nervous system expert talking about “fleeing from health”. This was her term for repeating the same unhealthy behaviours again and again. She explains that procrastination and self-sabotage and is even more common in those who have had a traumatic or stressful childhood. Because this feeling of stress or lack of safety has become a normal state of mind, anything else feels alien. Then the unconscious mind acts quickly to disrupt things.

She says that the origin of self-sabotage is stored trauma or trapped survival stress in the body. To overcome self sabotaging, this needs to be processed and released.

How to eliminate self sabotaging and reach your health goals

I don’t think it’s possible to fully eliminate self-sabotaging behaviour. We aren’t robots and we can’t expect ourselves to behave logically and rationally 24/7 according to the rules we set for ourselves. But there are ways we can try to minimise self-sabotaging. We can definitely make it easier for us to work towards our goals.

Have self-awareness

Being aware of your destructive thought patterns and self-sabotaging behaviour is the first step to overcoming them. Depending on how severe a problem this is for you, you might need the support of a therapist. But you can always start by spending some time in silence and solitude each day, without the distraction of technology, to tune into your inner world. Listen to the repetitive thoughts and observe the feelings that come up and reflect on how these could be contributing to your self-sabotaging behaviour.

Start small

Forget about setting yourself a massive goal to go from couch to marathon in 6 months. This is ok as a long-term vision but you also need to set smaller more manageable goals. See my previous post on how to set health goals. If there is a huge gap between your current self and your goal, it can feel intimidating and overwhelming. You will be much more likely to give up and sabotage any progress you have made. It’s better to focus on the actions rather than the end goal. For example, “meditate for 5 minutes every day” than “be able to meditate for an hour”. Start small and over time gradually increase the time that you practice. Make your goals achievable so that you can be boosted by your success. Instead of falling into patterns of critisising yourself for not reaching the high standards you have set for yourself.

Plan for failure

First, accept that self-sabotage is a normal part of behaviour change. You can then start to plan for those occasions when we are likely to fall into the unconscious self destruct trap. Think of this as the “if, then” approach. You can think of situations which are likely to trip you up. Or common scenarios that occur when you are trying to create healthy habits. Then create an “if, then” strategy. For example, if I binge eat at night then the next morning I will have a healthy breakfast and go for a walk. If I forget my running shoes for my lunchtime jog, I will go for a walk instead. If I skip my morning yoga and meditation practice I will have a gentle stretch before bed instead. Or if I arrive home hungry after a stressful day at work, I will order a healthy stir fry rather than eat a whole pizza.

Have self-compassion

This goes along with planning for failure. Learn to expect yourself to fall back into old behaviours rather than expecting perfection. When slip ups inevitably do happen show yourself kindness and understanding rather than beating yourself up over it. This way you avoid the inner critic running the show. This only keeps you stuck in negative thought loops and self-sabotaging behaviour. We can see self-sabotage as a normal part of the process. See it as an opportunity to learn more about yourself and the funny ways your brain works. Learn from every slip up and use it to make your healthy lifestyle more robust and personalised to YOU.

Relax into health

Stress and living in an anxious, fear based mindset is going to make you more likely to sabotage yourself and fall into unhealthy coping mechanisms. This includes stress from putting pressure on yourself to take certain actions or reach your goals. To reduce self-sabotage, it’s important to try to relax and allow your nervous system to move out of flight or flight mode. This could be through a dedicated meditation practice. Or by simply taking breaks during the day to focus on your breath and consciously relax tension that has built up in your body. The key is to not make relaxation another task that you have to do. Rather a way to come back to the relaxed inner state that you want to feel.

Today’s challenge: What is self sabotaging and how does it show up in your life?

Your challenge for today is to take a few moments to reflect your own behaviour. Observe whether self sabotaging is a common pattern for you whenever you are trying to improve your health. Try to identify any repetitive thoughts and feelings that could at the root of your self-sabotaging behaviour. Then this week but these 5 strategies to reduce self sabotage into place!

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Masculine energy and the over-controller in goal setting

Yesterday’s post in this real health series was on how to set health goals for the new year. I explained how to set SMART goals to help you to move towards your vision of health. I do believe that setting goals can be a great way to give you motivation and direction. Goals also create a framework for your actions and keep you moving forward. However, setting and achieving goals is a masculine energy trait.

What do I mean by masculine energy?

Thrive Global describes masculine energy qualities:

“The masculine energy is stable and more predictable. Its strengths are willpower, clarity, and focus. The masculine energy likes to create structures and rules, so it knows how to apply the logic correctly.”

Is achieving goals really the way to ultimate health and happiness? Today I want to talk about how being too focused on goals can move you away from health rather than towards it. How the over-controller can cause more stress than it is worth. And to explain how balancing masculine energy with feminine can be helpful when trying to make positive, healthy changes in your life.

Goal setting is a very masculine energy approach to getting things done. By this I don’t mean it is for men. I mean that it is a very focused, purpose-driven, logical, left side brain approach. Setting and achieving goals involves a lot of mental energy for planning, taking specific actions, tracking and analysing your progress. This isn’t always a bad thing! But we always want to make sure we are balancing this out with a more feminine free-flowing energy. Otherwise, we can become too rigid, pressurized and stressed out.

How too much masculine energy affects your health

Our bodies can become tense and tight because our nervous system is constantly in fight or flight mode. Everyone knows nowadays that high levels of stress can causes all sorts of health issues. This can be anything from high blood pressure and weight gain to insomnia and anxiety. For women, living too much in the masculine energy can also lead to hormonal imbalances. This can affect our menstrual cycles and our fertility.

Is your overall goal is to become healthier, reduce your risk of disease and feel happier and less stressed? Then the masculine energy trait of setting yourself strict goals might actually be more harmful than helpful!

Signs of masculine energy i.e. the over-controller

One of the signs of being too much in your masculine energy with your health goals is the presence of the perfectionist or the over-controller. This could look like micro-managing every aspect of your life, excessively planning or monitoring your actions. It could also look like being focused on your health goals at the expense of enjoying life. Or feeling guilty and beating yourself up if you slip up or fall off the wagon.

Nowadays with smart technology like fitness watches and apps it’s possible to collect more data about ourselves than ever. We can record how many steps we do in a day, measure and track the calories and nutrients in the food that we eat and monitor our heart rate, hours and quality of sleep. Again, I’m not saying that these habits are bad things but when they become obsessive and we are trying to control every aspect of our health then is it really healthy?

Or maybe you are feeling frustrated because you are doing everything right but you aren’t getting the results you expect. By this I mean the results according to whatever logical formula or calculation you are using. Maybe your goal is to lose weight so you eat the recommended calories to lose 1kgs a week. Then, oops, you actually gain 0.5kg in the first week. Maybe you start a strength training program and you aren’t seeing any muscle gains. Or perhaps you have started to meditate for 10 minutes a day but you are still feeling anxious and stressed.

Why the over-controller is unhelpful

Unfortunately our bodies are not machines. There are so many things that can affect the way you look and feel in your body and how you respond to lifestyle changes. This includes your genetics, metabolic health and quality of sleep. Also the climate you live in and how much stress and responsibility you have in your life. If you try to control things and become fixated on a certain outcome, you will only end up disappointed. And this is assuming that you are able set reasonable goals and stick to them!

But another problem with setting goals is that we don’t always consider how life can get in the way. How despite us doing everything right, life can turn things upside down. Look at this year! Who would have expected that we would spend nearly the whole year stuck at home in lockdown?! How many of us set goals at the start of 2020 to go to the gym more? Or planned to spend time with friends and family that quickly went out of the window?

And on the less extreme end of the scale. What about when life events get in the way of your health goals? It could be a holiday that interrupts your training schedule. Or a wedding or birthday celebration with lots of yummy foods that are off your diet plan. You want to be able to go with the flow and be more flexible and intuitive. You don’t want to feel like a failure if living your life means you don’t stick exactly to your plan.

Balancing masculine and feminine energies

So am I saying that you should totally give up, surrender to life and not set any goals? No. You always want to find balance between masculine energy traits and the feminine. This means setting goals to work towards that will challenge you and guide you into the person we want to be. But also giving yourself freedom to change things that aren’t working. Plus remaining flexible and being willing to adapt to whatever life throws at you. This is the feminine energy in it’s element!

You can track our progress against our goals without becoming obsessive. You can use data to guide your journey without becoming obsessive. When you set goals you can be reasonable and build in wriggle room. You can allow yourself room to breathe and be more intuitive and still make progress. It’s important to have self-compassion and acceptance when you don’t do things perfectly. Remember, you aren’t the same person on a day to day basis. Especially us women as we move through our hormonal cycle each month. So we can’t set goals expecting ourselves to be like robots.

Today’s challenge: Reflect on the masculine energy and the over-controller in your life

Your task for today is to reflect on your goals and actions. Look out for the masculine energy traits and see whether the over-controller is leading in your life. Take a few moments to focus on your breath and let go of any tension in your body. Notice how it feels to be relaxed and focused and try to approach your health goals from this energy.

Over to you…

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How to set health goals for the new year

In yesterday’s post I asked you to think about what it means to be healthy. So you now have an idea of what true health means to you. Hopefully you also tried the visualization exercise and you now have an image of your healthiest self. Today I want to share my tips on how to set health goals to work towards making this a reality!

Goal setting is like creating an action plan to get us from point A (where we are now) to point B (where we see ourselves in the future). Setting goals is not for everyone but it can be helpful to give us direction and give our actions meaning. Making progress towards our goals can give us a sense of purpose. It also makes us feel good about ourselves and boosts our self-confidence. But it is important to understand how to set health goals if you want them to be a helpful tool rather than a waste of time.

Why is it important to learn how to set health goals?

Often you come into the new year with crazy ideas of all of the ways you are going to change. You are determined to better yourself. And you have decided on the new actions you plan to start and all of the old habits you want to let go of. Have you ever committed sincerely to giving up alcohol completely after new year? Or planned to exercise for an hour every day and cook all your meals at home? Only to find yourself the next Saturday night having a takeaway and beers with friends and spending the whole of Sunday lying on the sofa watching old episodes of Peep Show??

Oftentimes we can set so many health goals for ourselves that we become completely overwhelmed. It then simply feels easier to go back to our old ways. If you want to make lasting changes to your health you have to be more realistic. You need to be aware of your less than perfect human nature and the challenges of living in the world. You have to learn how to set health goals for yourself that give you direction and act as a positive motivator.

How to set health goals. The vision!

So where do you begin with setting goals? Start by going back to your visualization of your healthiest self. Think of the overall vision of what you want to achieve in one area of your health. For example:

  • I want to eat healthier
  • I would like to exercise more and become fitter
  • I want to reduce my stress levels
  • I need to improve my relationships and my social life
  • I want to drink less alcohol
  • I would really like to improve my confidence and self-worth
  • I want to spend more time outside

These are all great examples of “New Years’ Resolutions”. If you want to make these a reality, you need to set more specific health goals. From there you can decide how you are going to achieve these things.

How to set health goals using the SMART technique

I’m sure some of you are familiar with the idea of SMART goals in business. This can also be useful tool for how to set health goals too!

how to set health goals smart

Psychology research shows that setting yourself goals which are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound makes you more likely to achieve what you want. What does this mean in practice? It’s easier to explain with an example. Imagine your overall vision is the first point above to “I want to eat healthier”.

We will look at how to set health goals based on this vision using the SMART acronym:

Specific

What do you mean by eat healthier? Do you mean you want to eat more fruits and vegetables or less processed foods? Do you mean you want to stop skipping breakfast and eat more regular meals? Do you want to include more vegetarian or gluten-free meals in your diet? Do you want to aim for a certain calorie or macro-nutrient target? Be as specific as you want. If it is relevant, also think about how, when and where you are going to do it.

Measurable

How are you going to decide whether you have achieved your goal and how will you measure your progress? Maybe you want to aim for a 5 of portions of fruits and veg a day. Perhaps you want to prepare 3 home cooked meals each week? Do you want to limit takeaways or chocolate to once a per week? Do you want to drink 5 glasses of water a day? You can keep track of your health goals in a journal or in an app like Habit Share.

Achievable

Are you being realistic with your goal? Think about where are you now vs. where you want to be. How confident do you feel that you can achieve this goal on a scale of 1-10? If it seems like too big a step, would it be better to break it into smaller mini-goals? For example, your vision is to prepare dinner at home every night but right now you eat ready meals daily. Maybe it makes more sense to start cooking 3 times a week and build it up over time.

Relevant

For this one go back again to your visualization of what health means to you. Reflect on your goal and whether it will help you to move towards this vision. Health is multi-faceted so you don’t want to set goals in one area of health that limit other areas of your wellbeing. As you are deciding on the goals it’s pretty likely that it will be relevant but its worth a check. For example, your you see health as being free of diet rules and being able to enjoy food. Setting yourself the goal of avoiding takeaways or sweets is probably not relevant right now for you!

Time-based

Lastly think about when you want to achieve your goal by. Also think about whether this is a good time to start? Reflect on your personality and whether you prefer shorter term mini-goals or long term bigger challenges. Then think about how to set health goals for yourself based on this. You could set goals on a weekly, monthly or even yearly basis. Always choose a time frame and set a reminder in your phone or diary to review progress towards your goals.

Some examples of how to set health goals using SMART

Eat healthier → For the month of January I will prepare a healthy breakfast at home every day before work

Exercise more and become fitter → I will go for a 30 minute walk in the local park at lunch time 3 times this week

Reduce my stress levels → I will spend 10 minutes focusing on deep breathing in bed before I go to sleep every night this week

Improve my relationships and my social life → This month I will call an old friend to reconnect at least once a week on a Sunday night

Reduce my alcohol intake → By the end of January I will cut down drinking from 2 bottles of wine a week to 1 by replacing weekday drinks with flavoured water

Improve my confidence and self-worth → Every morning this month I will look in the mirror and say 3 things that I like about the way I look, my personality or my skills and abilities

Spend more time outside → First thing in the morning, at least 3 times a week, I will sit outside for 5 minutes

You can repeat this process with different areas of your health but remember not to overwhelm yourself and think about what is realistic for you. It’s much better to change 1 habit a month for a year than try to change 12 habits at once and give up completely. I think setting 3 goals at a time is probably the maximum if you want to stay focused and on track but only you know what is best for you.

Today’s challenge: Put into practice these tips on how to set health goals!

So your challenge for day 2 is to write down your goals for the month of January. Three goals I am setting for myself this month are:

  1. Practice yoga for at least 10 minutes a day. Whether that is a full practice or 10 minutes of stretching before bed
  2. Start every day with a glass of water, juice or herbal tea. I will also avoid caffeine when I am on my period
  3. Practice menstrual cycle awareness. This includes tracking my cycle and writing in my journal at least 3 times per week

Over to you…

  • Comment: share your SMART health goals and commit to your success!
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