The following is an excerpt from our Sustainable Nutrition self-study course. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.
I want you to answer these two questions before reading on:
- Why is nutrition important to you?
- Why are you taking this course?
Write down your answers or simply take a few moments to reflect. Read on when you’re done.
We all have an underlying meaning to exercise and nutrition that determines whether or not you dread it or desire it. Having a Why that resonates with you can be the difference between exercise and nutrition feeling like a chore… or a gift.
- Are you interested in nutrition to impact the scale? To lower your cholesterol and get your doctor off your back? Because it’s good for you?
- Or are you interested in nutrition because it’s fun? Are you wanting to improve your overall well-being? Do you enjoy food and want to learn to be more independent and confident in the kitchen?
You might start to see how much of an impact this might have on your motivation and follow-through.
Proven to Make a Difference
A study published in 2014 had one group of women go for a walk for exercise but told the other group to walk as part of a fun activity. The researchers found that the exercising group and fun group ate about the same number of calories at a meal served afterwards, but the exercise group served themselves and ate larger portions of a dessert or snack than the fun group.
The researchers then followed this by conducting a study during an actual race. They asked participants if they preferred a relatively unhealthy snack bar or a relatively healthy one and then asked them to rate their experience during the race. The runners who had more fun consistently chose the healthier option over the lesser one.
Across the three studies, age, gender, BMI and perceptions of fatigue, exertion, or progress towards being fit had no bearing on whether or not people compensated by eating more hedonic (pleasurable) foods. The only factor that seemed to make a difference was whether participants rated their experience as fun or not.
If exercise for the sake of exercise is a poor motivator, health-based outcomes don’t seem to work any better. Women who exercised to improve body composition, age healthfully, or maintain a current level of health were shown to exercise 15% to 34% less often than women who exercised to improve their daily quality of life.
Finding The “Right Why”
As you can see, framing your Why in way that makes it interesting to you can make or break you. If exercise is a chore, you’ll not only struggle doing it but you’ll likely reward yourself with food. If cooking feels like work, you’ll probably avoid it and settle for takeout.
So let’s replace the Wrong Whys with the Right Whys, ones that actually resonate in your very soul.
To do this, focus on the immediate benefits you enjoy from healthy habits.
Focus on The Immediate Benefits
For regular exercise, immediate benefits would be having more energy, better sleep, less stress, less depression, enhanced mood, improved memory, less anxiety, a better sex life, greater life satisfaction, more creativity, greater independence, improved self-esteem, and the ability to easily perform daily activities… just to name a few. Exercise can also be your “me time.” It’s a time focused on yourself, for yourself. It’s okay to be a little selfish in your motivations. For busy people like entrepreneurs and parents, exercise might be the only time you have where you don’t have to make decisions and can just shut off your brain. It can be incredibly freeing.
For nutrition, immediate benefits include more energy, improved physical performance, better sleep, less depression, significantly enhanced mood, improved memory, less anxiety, better focus, better digestion, less joint pain, improved learning, and better overall sense of well-being.
Learning to cook more nutritiously can become a time that you enjoy. It’s something where you begin with raw ingredients but by the end, you have made something with your own two hands. There’s a sense of discovery in creating a dish for the first time. Preparing and cooking a meal can be almost meditative and serene. Your hands are busy, which allows your mind time to think and review. If cooking with your partner, the conversation and teamwork can be refreshing. The satisfaction that comes from making a meal from scratch is often rewarding in and of itself, before you ever even have a bite to eat.
Crafting Your Why
Don’t focus on the things that might happen eventually, like avoiding cardiovascular disease or living a long, healthy life. Instead, focus on things you can feel and experience today. This is the secret to motivation.
Make your Why personal. Make it emotional, visceral, and real. Avoid labeling exercise and nutrition as things you “should” do. If you’re like me, you automatically hate any task you feel you must get done. Instead, transform the meaning from a chore into something that is a gift to yourself.
Work on crafting your own meaning for exercise and nutrition. You might end up with something like this:
“Eat well today to feel good today.”
It’s simple, but oh so effective. You might even find that your meaning changes from day to day or in different circumstances. That’s fine. Just make sure whatever it means it’s important to you today.