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A healthy lifestyle starts with a healthy mindset

‘Summer is coming!’ is one of the recurring magazine headlines displayed from supermarket newsstands at this time every year. Articles about ‘the new miracle diet’, ‘foods to make you thin’ or ‘the one-week detox to make you bikini ready!’ are on a constant rotation, recycling the same claims that often fail to provide lasting results. I’m sure we’ve all at some point been fooled into thinking that these fads could possibly be the solution to our healthy lifestyle struggles, only to be proven wrong by falling back into our old habits. In a world where we want instant overnight changes, the reality remains that leading a healthy life involves so much more than fad diets.

When it comes to being healthy, it’s easy to only focus on the outside – your clothing size, the number on the scales and how you look in that unflattering Facebook photo someone tagged you in (we’ve all been there). So many of us think that the only way to do something about this is to adopt a strict diet and exercise regime.

But when it comes to weight loss, the fact is that that diets don’t work in the long term. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that dieting has been proven to be ineffective by several independent studies. A 2011 study by the University of Melbourne into diet and weight loss found that dieting can actually fail because of weight regain and a greater obsession with food in the long term. The study took 50 overweight men and 50 overweight women and put them on a 550 calorie diet for eight weeks. Over the next year, participants were given counselling to encourage healthy eating habits. Though participants typically lost weight over the eight-week diet, most regained a substantial amount of it over the next year and many reported feeling hungrier and more food obsessed than before.

Change starts on the inside

The truth is, the way we look is a symptom of our habits and lifestyle, but we shouldn’t become so caught up in this superficial element that we forget about the bigger picture. Let’s face it; there’s nothing fulfilling about starving yourself to reach a goal weight that you’re not going to maintain, or over-exercising to the point where it’s unsustainable and causing injury. It’s vital to look beyond superficial short-term changes and recognise the core reasons behind your desire to be the healthiest version of you. I’m talking about your mindset.

We need to understand that weight loss management has to be part of a total life change that incorporates achieving life balance, psychological health and a positive self-image. The real key to losing fat has less to do with calories, cardio or carb counting and more to do with developing the right mindset for health. It’s about taking the time to get your mindset straight by getting more of a balance in your life. The rest will come more easily.

Your habits are a symptom of your happiness

Too often, unhappy individuals use food as an outlet to repress unwanted thoughts and feelings. Many turn to food at the end of their day as a way to combat boredom, anxieties or temporarily relieve the unhappiness brought about by an unhealthy work/life balance. Human beings are driven by pleasure and if your life is fuelled by stress and responsibility, a quick chocolate fix at the end of the day can appear to satisfy this drive. It’s important to recognise these habits as a symptom of a deeper unhappiness and find ways that these cravings can be satisfied by something more beneficial, productive and fulfilling.

The best thing to do is understand is that addictions and compulsions are a signal that there is something bigger going on beneath the surface. Become more aware of your behaviours and what is driving them and try to take the mask off and be more open to experiencing your emotions.

Look for pleasure in your life. What is it that makes you happy and makes you come alive? Explore these pleasures, instead of replacing this with food. If you adopt this mindset, you will no longer look to food as your lone source of pleasure.

Lasting change comes from your core values

Humans are emotionally driven and our biggest life goals are usually linked to more than just the way we look or whether we fit into our jeans – our core values are the drivers behind the challenges we overcome. In this way, simply wanting a bikini body will never be enough to give you lasting healthy habits because it doesn’t engage with your inner desires and ambitions. However, if something like family comes into the picture, with statements like ‘I want to be fit and healthy so I can set a good example for my kids and grandkids’, then the goal will become more valid and important than something that will burn-out when bikini season is over.

Instead of agonizing over that number on the scale or bullying yourself into losing weight, try taking a different approach and thinking about the long term. Viewing food as nourishment instead of an enemy, treating exercise as a reward instead of a punishment and healthy food preparation as an activity instead of a chore will help you form a long-term positive mindset that’s centred in self-respect and the desire to embrace your life.

As a naturopath, I take a detailed patient history with all of my clients before embarking on a health program – so make sure you consult a health care professional to ensure that this is right for you too.

Take home summary:

  • Remember that long-term health is much more achievable if you first develop the right mindset

  • Try to be more open to feeling your emotions that lie beneath the surface, rather than trying to solve them with food

  • Align your health goals to your values


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