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Stop and think about it: What is it, really, that gets in your way? What things typically distract you, dampen your spirits or throw you off track? Is there anything you can identify that prevents you from staying the course? Perhaps you struggle with unrealistic goals, work addiction, or self-defeating beliefs. All of these are familiar and powerful momentum busters. But there are some other, equally challenging unidentified fitness obstacles (UFOs) that I see as even more common and perhaps less readily understood.

In an effort to help you build and maintain maximum momentum this year, I’ve sketched out my top three UFOs, along with some tips for tackling them head on…

1. Healthy Boundaries

Weak boundaries can make getting in shape especially challenging. For example, I’ve heard many people say, “I’m influenced by my friends. They often persuade me to drink too much and overeat fattening foods.” I’ve heard others comment, “My spouse sabotages my success. She always buys things that I can’t resist, like sweets and sugary foods.” Or, “My husband makes fun of me whenever I go on a diet.”

If someone you know often undermines your efforts to get in shape, it’s time to stand up for yourself. Make it clear that you are determined to succeed and you would like the support of the people around you. Keep in mind that it is up to you to explain exactly what will (and won’t) help. Specify what kinds of support you wish to receive, then stand firm and refuse to allow anyone to disrupt your resolve.

Here are two keys to keeping your boundaries strong:

1. Identify those who undermine your self-confidence and commitment.

Keeping a journal can help you determine who (or what) brings you down. By writing down how you felt and what was going on for you emotionally just before you consumed a fattening food, or whom you spoke with just before you decided to skip the gym, you’ll begin to see the patterns that sabotage your success.

Once you’re clear about this, consider the steps you need to take. For example, if your journal reveals that a certain friend often tempts you to binge, you can either ask this person to stop, or you can make him or her an “ex-friend.” It may sound harsh, but it may be the best thing you can do to take care of yourself. Often we’re not fully conscious of how our relationships keep us stuck. Once you know the situations that wear you out and the people who bring you down, you’ll find it much easier to deal with them.

2. Let all your boundary bashers know that the jig is officially up.

Learn where to draw the line and then commit to holding your ground. Send a clear message to people whose needs tend to take precedence over your own. For example, you might say: “I’ve made a commitment to take better care of myself, so I’m not going to be as available as I’ve been in the past.”

Let people who are frequently critical or unsupportive know that you have no interest or investment in hearing their criticisms. Keep in mind that what other people think you should do is not your concern.

If they don’t approve of your choices, it’s their problem; don’t make it yours.

2. How Seasonal Affective Disorder Affects Health

If you tend to feel glum in the fall and winter months, you may have SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). Symptoms include depression, increased appetite and excessive sleep, as well as weight gain, increased carbohydrate cravings and daytime fatigue. You can find out if you have SAD by taking the Seasonal Pattern Assessment Questionnaire (SPAQ), which most practitioners use to diagnose SAD.

It’s important to understand that SAD Is not just a state of mind. It involves very real biochemical changes in your body and brain, and it has been known to derail even the most dedicated fitness fanatics. The good news is that it often responds well to treatment with light therapy (exposure to high-intensity, full-spectrum light).

Light therapy involves employing a dawn simulator, bright-light visor or light box to expose yourself to very bright light on a daily basis for a specific period of time. The variable parameters for light therapy include wavelength and intensity (lux), time of day and the duration for which the light is used. The intensity is generally 2,500 to 10,000 lux (up to approximately 20 times brighter than normal room lighting) and a typical exposure time is one to two hours a day, although 30 minutes can provide a good response for some people. You’ll need to experiment to determine what works best for you.

If you can’t afford a specialized light-therapy device, using full-spectrum bulbs in overhead lights or lamps in your bedroom, office and home may produce beneficial results. (For more information about light therapy and related products, see the Resources sidebar.) You will probably notice some response to light therapy within two to four days, with a noticeable improvement observable within a week.

3. Sleep Deprivation

When you are sleep deprived, you’re much more vulnerable to stress. Stress can manifest throughout your body, causing pain in your head, back and neck. In addition, you’ll have less energy and be prone to sickness, which will keep you from making headway with your diet or exercise plan. If you’re not getting the sleep you need, consider the suggestions below.

  1. Listen to peaceful music before you go to sleep. (I suggest you use a timer so that your stereo shuts itself off.) Or try a relaxation tape.
  2. Develop a sleep routine. For example, choose to read, journal, meditate or take a bath prior to going to bed.
  3. Soundproof your room. Wear earplugs, if necessary, and make sure doors and windows are closed.
  4. Don’t eat anything for three hours before you retire. Also avoid intense exercise directly before bed.

(See “Sleep Tips: Top 10 Sleep Mistakes and Their Solutions” for more ways to on improve your sleep.)

How to Keep It Going

Here are some steps to take when you feel your momentum waning:

Retrain Yourself

Reprogram unhealthy reflexes by changing the way you respond to stress. Overdue bills, sick kids and an irksome ex are just some of the obstacles that can sabotage your success by making you crave comfort foods or convincing you to skip your run. Instead of resorting to self-sabotage when you’re confronted with stressful people and situations, do something that helps you blow off steam and boosts your health. For example, the next time you get a bill and you’re stressed about making ends meet, get on your bike or go to the gym to get centered and clear your mind. If your spouse makes you angry, instead of raiding the fridge, take a long, brisk walk or jump rope until you’ve got your perspective back.

Find the Fun

Identifying activities that bring you joy will strengthen your resolve and help you sustain momentum as you strive to improve your health. Try doing something new and exciting:

  • Run on the beach or along a river at sunset (or sunrise) with your friend or dog.
  • Learn to golf, Rollerblade, ice skate, rock climb or cross-country ski.
  • Join a baseball, hockey, soccer or basketball league for adults.
  • Train to enter a race or to improve your performance in a particular sport.
  • Take dance classes (aerobic, ballroom, tap, line, folk, salsa or swing).
  • Play jump rope, street hockey or capture-the-flag with your kids.
  • Row a boat or paddle a kayak or canoe on a scenic pond or lake.
  • Play tennis, pickleball, racquetball or Frisbee in the park.
  • Cook a new, healthy dish.

Getting Back on Track

If you’ve been derailed by weak boundaries, a seasonal slump, lack of sleep or other momentum busters, don’t despair. And don’t let inertia get the better of you. Take time to identify the biggest problems you’re facing, then make resolving them a top priority.

See the following articles to spark your fitness inspiration and get moving:

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