How to Stay Consistent With Exercise and Diet?
The number one question I get from my online clients and social media followers is this – How do I stay consistent with exercise and diet? Here is a secret you must know — MOTIVATION IS OVERRATED. Motivation comes in spurts and eventually disappears. If you rely solely on motivation, then your desire to exercise or stick to a healthy diet will likely disappear eventually. It’s one of the reasons why the majority of new gym subscribers drop out after the first month.
My Consistency Story
Before I get to some practical ways to staying consistent with your workouts and nutrition, let me share a bit about myself. A few years back, in Oct 2016, I suffered a slipped disc injury. It was so awful that I wasn’t even able to walk more than 200–300m and lifting anything beyond 2–3 kgs was quite a challenge. I was on partial bed rest and daily physio for eight weeks. It took me about 18 months of consistent effort to build myself up and get to where I am now. It was like starting from scratch. I just kept going and did not GIVE UP. It was during this time I realised the power of consistency and self-belief.
This is me (see photo below) three years later, hanging out at a movement facility in Aug 2019. The only reason I have been able to not just recover but thrive after a chronic injury is because I was consistent throughout. Through this article, I will share some practical tips, with examples, to help you stay consistent with your exercise regime and nutrition.
The Consistency Dilemma
Staying consistent with exercise and diet may seem daunting especially to those who are not fitness enthusiasts to start with. It is similar to how I find it difficult to motivate myself to stick to a book and finish it. I want to read it because I know reading will benefit me. But I find it hard because the thought of reading one book for so long makes me go to sleep. So, I procrastinate for days until the guilt swallows me whole. Let me explain what others like me, who are not avid readers, go through.
- You come across an amazing non-fiction book and decide to purchase it.
- As you read the first few pages of the book, you find it interesting and finish a few chapters.
- After a few days, you feel saturated and lose interest. Every time you pick up the book, you end up getting distracted with something else – a new TV series, household chores or another hobby. You don’t have time anymore.
- A Few weeks, or sometimes months, later you remember the book. So you pick up where you left off only to realise you have lost track and need to skim through previous chapters again
- After reading few pages, you are distracted again and move onto something else. And the cycle of procrastination continues.
Do you realise what’s happening here?
On the contrary, voracious readers go through a completely different experience.
- They have a specific reading routine, e.g. reading a few pages before bedtime or during lunchtime or few hours set aside over the weekend.
- Voracious readers consistently read the book even when it gets boring because they believe that it is a good book.
- They trust that it will give them the knowledge, expertise and perspective to widen their horizon and allow them to learn something new.
Something similar happens when you try to stay consistent with your exercise and diet. Most people start with an expectation to transform their body and achieve amazing results quickly. The motivation is at its peak in the beginning. As time goes by and things get harder, it gets difficult to trust the process and keep going. Here are three practical steps to keep yourself accountable and stay consistent with your exercise and diet.
1. Define Your Purpose and Set Goals
The first step towards being consistent with exercise and diet is to clearly define your purpose and set goals that you can track regularly. Ask yourself why you are doing this and if you are prepared for the long term game. The people who achieve long-lasting results are the ones who have a definite purpose in mind.
You are not lazy, you are just procrastinating because you lack purpose and well-defined goals.
I usually get my online coaching clients to define their purpose and set goals initially. Here is an example of purpose from one of them:
“I want to develop a system that I can follow for the rest of my life. A system that will allow me to take charge of my health and stay consistent with my workouts and nutrition. I believe results will be a by-product of that system.”
Once you have a clear purpose, the next step is to set goals that will guide you towards your purpose. Read this article to learn about setting SMART goals that you can track to stay consistent and constantly have something to look forward to.
2. Develop Long Term Habits and Routine
Make exercise and healthy eating habits part of your daily routine. It should be like brushing your teeth and taking a shower, non-negotiable and embedded into your lifestyle. As an example, if you know that your usual diet doesn’t have enough vegetables, make it a point that you eat one big salad every day.
Motivation is what gets you started, long term habits and routines will keep you going
How do you build habits and routines consistently and stick to them?
By taking small steps towards building a habit. Here is a simple example of gradually building an exercise routine for someone who has not exercised for a long time:
- Start with walking for 10 mins for a week. Increase it to 20 mins in the second week.
- During the third and fourth week, add 1 set of three exercises to your routine that takes roughly 5–6 mins.
- Increase it to 2 sets of 3 exercises, along with 20 mins of walking, during the fifth week.
- Build upon this gradually to find a sweet spot of exercise intensity and duration that is feasible enough to reach your goals.
The key is to break down each goal into smaller, attainable goals and consistently achieve them. Accomplishing those small goals regularly and acknowledging the small wins will also help you release dopamine (the feel-good neurotransmitters) which will, in turn, motivate you to stay consistent.
3. Devise a System That Works for You
Devising a system is critical to ensuring continuity and holding yourself accountable at every stage. One cannot have a single plan and work with that forever. You have to keep iterating and modifying your plan as you achieve your small goals and make newer ones. That is where hiring a good coach can make a world of difference in setting you up for long term success. You may not need to work with a coach forever, but it helps during the initial learning phase. Here are few things a coach can assist you with:
- Defining your purpose and setting goals
- Learning the right exercise progressions and technique
- Making lifestyle and dietary changes to identify what works for you
- Collaborating with you to create a structured plan
- Experimenting with the plan and fine-tuning it to create a long term system
- Holding you accountable at regular intervals
Having a structured plan will give you the confidence to trust the process and focus solely on execution. With time you can identify what works for you and create a system for yourself. So, work with a good coach or an experienced trainer who can help you prepare a structured plan, so there is no guesswork and you can focus on building long term habits.
While I was recovering from my slipped disc injury, my physiotherapist was my coach who guided me throughout the recovery journey. He gave me a progressive rehab plan to work with and I followed it to a tee. It gave me the patience to stay persistent and focus on execution.
Get Out of the Downward Spiral of Inaction
Sometimes when you get derailed from your usual routine for more than a couple of weeks, you may find it hard to get back on track. You may encounter phases when you feel that you have plateaued and anything you do leads to the same results with close to zero progress. It is normal to get into a downward spiral of inaction during those times.
When this happens, take a break for few days and then work on getting back on track. Remember, action precedes motivation. Get out of your comfort zone and get going. If you have your purpose and smaller goals in check, then taking actions will, in turn, motivate you to be more consistent.
Taking action leads to progress that motivates us to take more actions. And the cycle of taking consistent actions continues. Execution leads to motivation.
Motivation is overrated, the secret to long term health is in staying consistent with your exercise and diet. Clearly define your purpose and set goals that you can track regularly. Work towards building long term habits, and make exercise and healthy eating habits part of your daily routine. Hire a coach and work with them to devise a system, through experimentation, that you can follow long term. A well-planned system will give you the confidence to trust the process and focus on doing the work.
If you ever get derailed from your consistent routine, try to get back on track by getting out of the downward spiral of inaction. Remember, taking action leads to progress and that motivates us to take more actions. Stay consistent and nothing can stop you from reaching your fitness goals.
Feeling tired all the time even though you sleep enough? Read this
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My recommendations for protein supplements:
Whey Protein – Option 1
Whey Protein – Option 2
Vegan Protein – Option 1
Vegan protein – Option 2
Protein for Women
Other Option – Sattu
Other supplements I recommend (Confirm with your doctor before consuming):
Multivitamins for women
Read these amazing books to learn about mindset, what motivates us and how to form good habits, and break bad ones.
Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
Old Path White Clouds: Walking in the Footsteps of the Buddha
7 Habits of highly effective people
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