Taking small steps to reach your big goals; What is the fitness and nutrition continuum?
A common mistake when deciding to take the leap and ‘get into shape’ is thinking that it’s not worth doing anything unless you are making radical changes to your life straight away. We all know someone who’s said many times that on Monday they will start going to the gym 5 days per week, run at weekends, give up drinking alcohol, stop eating ‘carbs’, perform Yoga before breakfast, and mindfulness before bed. Four days later that person is hobbling round with an aching body, cream cake in hand, and arranging a massive night out for the weekend! Let’s be honest, that person could quite easily be you – maybe not exactly the same, but overall the scenario of trying to change too much too soon and failing miserably is familiar for many people.
Why do we continue to act this way?
It doesn’t help that the fitness industry is bombarded with promises of overnight abs and quick fix body transformations that are much more tempting to try than boring old consistency and sustainable lifestyle change. But just like the fabled tortoise racing the hare, a successful lifestyle transformation is going to take a long time so there is no point sprinting ahead to the end.
What can you do?
Start off by analysing your situation:
What isn’t working for you and why? This could be many things, but we’d recommend looking at;
· How often you exercise;
· How much time you can dedicate to exercise;
· Eating patterns (WHAT you are eating and HOW MUCH you are eating);
· How much alcohol are you consuming;
· Organisation and time management skills;
· Cooking skills;
· Your knowledge of exercise and nutrition;
· Your ability to manage stress;
Also think about what stage of life you are in and if you have had any major life changing events that could be affecting you right now.
Who is in your support network? Look at the people around you; who is a good influence on your healthy choices and who isn’t? Do you have people around you who will actively or emotionally support you changing your lifestyle?
Where do you want to be in one year? This could be simple physical or aesthetic goals, but also think about how you want to be as a person (with family, friends, work etc.).
This task will hopefully give you some clarity on why you may be unable to stay committed to any healthy lifestyle change you make. It may also reveal some uncomfortable truths about your life and what needs to change – either way, you will have plenty of time to start making a difference.
What is the fitness and nutrition continuum?
The fitness and nutrition continuum is a concept that will help you step away from viewing health and fitness as ‘GOOD vs BAD’ or ‘ALL or NOTHING’. In short, it’s a way of structuring incremental improvements over time to avoid having to repeat doing total overhauls every few weeks. The beauty of this concept is that whether you are a beginner or consider yourself more advanced in health and fitness knowledge you can make improvements to your process.
The continuum in action
Let’s look at how it could be applied in nutrition. In this example we are going to look first at someone’s breakfast choices that they want to change.
Current breakfast routine for Kate:
· Large bowl of chocolate flavoured cereal and slice of toast with jam
· Large latte with sugar and extra syrup
· Breakfast eaten whilst getting ready
· Latte bought on the way to work to have in the car
How can we move this breakfast from a rushed sugary overload that sets Kate up for a day of overeating and eating patterns that leave her feeling unsatisfied to a more optimal breakfast?
Step 1: Create more time for breakfast in the morning. Maybe start going to bed a bit earlier so you can factor in an extra 30 minutes into your morning routine. This will allow you to sit down and actually taste what you’re eating, think about what choices you are making, and begin to get back in touch with your hunger cues. Try this for a week or so and take notice of how the food you choose for breakfast makes you feel throughout the day (appetite, energy, lunch choices, etc).
Step 2: Swap the latte for black coffee or a simple coffee with milk and start having it with your breakfast rather than on the road. This will save you even more time for your morning routine. Do this for one week and continue tracking appetite cues, etc.
Step 3: Swap your chocolatey cereal for a something that is lower in sugar and higher in fibre. If you are a cereal person and can’t face breakfast without it then go for something like muesli. Lose the toast and instead add a serving of high protein yoghurt on top of the muesli. Have a smaller cup of coffee. Do this for a week and keep monitoring the hunger, appetite cues etc.
Step 4: Begin to reduce the portion of muesli and increase the portion of high protein yoghurt, add some fresh berries on top. Replace the coffee with herbal tea.
You can see how over the period of 4 weeks (take longer if needed) the breakfast has been transformed from a rushed, very sugary, processed meal to one that has a nice balance of carbohydrate, protein, and fat, is less calorific, and is eaten in an unrushed way at home rather than on the go. The aim of this exercise was not to create a ‘perfect’ breakfast, but one that fitted into Kate’s routine and left her satisfied and set up for the day. She can still improve this further over time if necessary.
Now let’s apply the continuum to Bill who is trying to sort out his fitness regime.
Current routine for Bill:
· Has gym membership, goes once or twice per month on average
· Gets out for a run at the weekend when he isn’t hungover
· Avoids strength training as his back hurts afterwards
· Usually attempts to perform bouts of intense exercise in January and September
What does Bill want? He would like to have a more regular fitness regime but doesn’t really know what he’s doing at the gym and is fed up of getting injured when he pushes himself.
Step 1: The first thing that Bill needs to do is become more active in general. This doesn’t mean working out every day; but adding in a daily brisk walk would be a good start. As he travels on public transport, factoring in getting off at a different stop to incorporate a walk either side of work is an easy win. Do this for a month.
Step 2: Seek some professional help to address the back issue. This would probably go something like this; movement assessment followed by advice to mobilise tight areas of the body, strengthen core, and improve posture; Home programme to do rehab exercises. The goal here is to become body aware and pain free – this could take a few months.
Step 3: Seek help with a gym programme that can improve both muscular strength and cardiovascular conditioning. The goal is for Bill to be able to use his gym membership without fear of injury. Spend three months getting comfortable with the feeling of structured exercise and begin to see improvements in fitness.
Step 4: Find a workout buddy. Making the workout part of a social calendar will make it a more regular occurrence – this could be at the gym, the weekend runs, or both! Enjoy the fact that you are now generally active most days, can do structured exercise pain-free, can enjoy exercise as part of your social calendar, and have learned how to care for your body.
You can see that over a 6 to 8 months period* Bill has gone from someone who didn’t really know what he was doing inside a gym, to being able to enjoy it regularly and feel the benefits of exercise without the fear of injury.
* 6 to 8 months is an example, not an exact timeline for progress
Both these examples show that the fitness and nutrition continuum is a very useful to see sustainable change and long-term results. We know it doesn’t sound glamorous, it’s not going to create sexy Instagram marketing posts, or sound impressive to the people in the office who are starting another celebrity endorsed diet – but it works time and time again, trust us 😊