Seems like I am hearing a lot of people talk about and ask about balance lately. Not the, how to stand on one foot kind of balance, but the life kind of balance. There is much written on this topic concerning so many areas of life – balancing kids, spouse, school, job, career, church, charity, and on and on and on! Everyone has an idea of what balance is and how it is achieved. Having jumped into the nutrition and fitness world with both feet, I often hear people say of me that I am obsessive or a slave to the gym. I don’t eat real foods or that I eat “special” foods. Clients I work with will ask, “When can I have pizza or chocolate?” or “Do I have to workout everyday?” The answer is really quite simple, you can eat whatever you want, and you don’t have to workout at all if you don’t want. However, we do have a problem. We are an unhealthy people with very bad habit because of this kind thinking. People want to look and feel different but they don’t do what is needed to achieve their goals for fear that they will be obsessive about it. They fear a lack of balance in their lives. As a general rule, people have developed this mindset that healthy, active people are obsessive about having to eat special foods and live in the gym and most people just don’t want to do that. They fear they will be controlled by what they have to eat, when they have to eat it, and how hard they will have to work to burn off what they’ve eaten. That is not a very inviting way to live and it certainly does not exemplify balance!
I would like to look at the idea of balance a little differently. I think balance equals flexibility. When I was a new mom, I wanted to do everything right. I put my baby on a schedule. I could set the clock by his eating, sleeping, and wake times. It was not hard to achieve that level of structure, and it was easy to become a slave to the schedule. It was not a balanced approach. When my second son was born, I decided I was going to make him flexible. I was not going to be a slave to the schedule. I very quickly had a cranky, miserable baby! My very wise mother-in-law told me, “You can’t be flexible if you have nothing to flex from.” Hmm. She was so right. Again, I structured our day and set a schedule, but this time I allowed for flexibility. Very quickly, I had a much happier baby and a much less stressed out life. I found some balance in our day, which was a very good thing since son #3 came along 15 months later. I was a busy mom with 3 little boys under 3 years old. I fully understand what it means to find balance in a busy household.
Flexibility equals balance. In order to have flexibility, you must have something to flex from.
That same principle applies to health and fitness. Flexibility equals balance. In order to have flexibility, you must have something to flex from. I find that my diet (clean, consistent eating habits and portion control) and my time in the gym is my standard. Most days, I go to the gym (or exercise at home) when my kids leave for school. It is just part of my schedule, it is a normal part of my routine. Most days, I eat a combination of lean protein, nutrient rich, clean carbs (fruits and veggies and whole grains), healthy fats, and virtually no sugar. I also drink a lot of water. This has become my norm, my habit, and my standard and because I have these standards in place, I don’t have to even think about it any more. I don’t obsess over it; it is just what I do. Now, because I have a standard, I can be flexible. I can have a meal out with my family and not freak out over the menu (even if that includes dessert). I know I can enjoy that meal, not stress, and the next meal will be right back to my standard. If I have to take my son to the orthodontist at 7am before school instead of going to the gym, I don’t have to freak out! I can flex from my routine and either go later that day or take that as a rest day. I have a standard to fall back on. The standard, schedule, routine, structure (whatever you want to call it) is the norm! From that, I have something to flex from and that doesn’t need to cause great stress or anxiety.
We all have what we would consider norms in our lives. For some, it is the norm to grab a Starbucks on the way to work. For some, the norm is donuts in the morning and fast food for lunch. Your norm may be to come home from work or school and park it on the couch to unwind from the day. You get the idea. These unhealthy norms in our life are what got us into the state we are in. Often that means overweight, under-active, little energy, stress, illness, depression, and on and on! The norm does not have to be any of these things. The norm can be healthy eating, proper portion sizes, and an active lifestyle. When a healthy diet and an active lifestyle become your norm, you can be flexible and not be obsessive. You can stop the yo-yo dieting and the good food/bad food mentality. You will see that regular physical activity feels good for both your body and mind.
Establishing a new set of norms is not easy and takes time. It’s a process. Often it’s changing habits that you spent 20+ years developing. While this process takes time, effort, and energy, it is well worth the effort!