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Sunday
Feb212016

6 Ways to Use Your Excuses 

No lie: as I sit down to write this article, the tag on my green tea bag reads, “You can go amazing places when you quit stepping on the brakes.”

How fitting... Making excuses without learning from them is a whole lot like stepping on the brakes.

Let's be honest. Excuses are like armpits. Everybody’s got them, and they generally stink. I’ve heard them, seen them, and even made them. Yet, nothing stops success quicker than a case of the excuses.

The sooner you acknowledge the natural human proclivity toward justification and stop your excuses from stalling your success, the sooner you can turn your attention to celebrating your accomplishments.

Anyone can make excuses, but few have the self-awareness to learn from them. Ask yourself what your excuses are really telling you. What "next need" are they pointing you toward? From there, they can be springboards to progress rather than stalling points. 

Let's apply this principle to the most common excuses I hear related to health, fitness and weight management.

“I didn’t have time.”

The drill sergeant in me might think, “You didn’t make time,” but I know there’s often more to the story. While your health and fitness may be priorities to you, your family's welfare and your workplace responsibilities often trump the “luxury” of investing in your own well-being

Schedule disruptions aside, not having time often means we’re mentally stuck in a cycle of responding to what’s happening to us rather than acting for our good. This orientation can easily slide into a victim mentality as if we’re powerless over our circumstances. 

Some things we can’t change. Certain obligations need to be met, and sometimes unexpected tasks pop up that require our action. That said, it’s imperative to maintain a focus on our priorities and to put them at the center of our calendar each day rather than the “possible” periphery. 

If you frequently “run out of time” to care for your health, you can consider this a call to work on time management. A good start could mean being more “plan-full,” setting better boundaries around your time (e.g. saying no to more), or ordering your to-do list to get "difficult" things done first. 

It seems counterintuitive, but slowing down to reflect on your priorities and to lay out a smart action plan will help you feel more in control of your day. 

“Having” time is a myth. Planning how time passes for your benefit takes long-term practice, consistent dedication, and mental resilience. 

A book I’ve used for myself and have recommended to clients is The Power of Less. It’s a great (short) read about cutting down on time-consuming tasks to focus on what really matters – which is in essence making time for the core priorities in your life.

“I’m just not sure what I need to do.”

Next to being careless with time, wallowing in general ambiguity or working with vague parameters is the next most inexcusable but workable excuse in my opinion. 

That said, it’s far too easy these days to be confused by mixed messages—even among the experts! Every day we encounter conflicting recommendations about diet, exercise and health. 

One week cardio is good for your heart, while the next week it’s the worst source of stress we encounter. One expert swears the butter on your toast is clogging your arteries and another claims the bread is to blame. Which is it? 

If you find yourself wondering what to do or if you frequently use the excuse “I wasn’t sure what to eat, how hard to train, or what exercises to do,” then understand that you’re simply due for some personalized guidance. 

To lose weight or body fat, there’s a general starting point I use for almost everyone. From there, it becomes more specific (less ambiguous) as we measure progress or uncover more details through laboratory and metabolic assessments.

Begin here, and seek out resources to help you implement these changes. 

  • Eat an abundance of non-starchy veggies. (Imagine a pile the size of your head each day—an easy to remember benchmark.)
  • Get adequate protein at every meal and snack to support satiety and lean body mass maintenance/gains.
  • Drink more water than any other beverage.
  • Pass on dessert or foods/beverages with added sugar as much as possible.
  • Do some light activity every hour you’re awake.
  • Lift and lower heavy weights until you’re tired at least twice a week.
  • Sprint a little each week—at least one short-but-tiring workout.
  • Sleep like a boss.

Follow these basics faithfully without excuses, and tell me you’re not healthier for it. If you’re interested in more personalized guidance or think you’d be more disciplined with personal support (most people are!), I’d suggest hiring a coach, trainer, or mentor to help you sort through all the details and firm up your confidence in your plan.

“I can’t stand vegetables/cardio/[insert your imagined nemesis here].”

Sure, few people find joy passing up a sandwich for a salad, swapping out a seat on their couch for intervals on a rowing machine, or turning off the late night news to catch twenty more minutes of sleep. In fact, a lot of people I’ve coached found some of these suggestions downright unreasonable when I first floated them

I get it. Change is about becoming accustomed to something that today might be outside of our comfort zone. It’s okay to dislike some of the factors that are standing between you and your ultimate success. It’s just not productive to give into that distaste—unless you use your sense of disdain to explore alternatives (like pursuing circuit training in place of treadmill intervals). 

If you hate broccoli or kale, pick another vegetable to hide in your meals. Overcome that detail and move on. Don’t give it more energy than it’s due. (When you create drama around a dislike, that’s pumping it into a full-blown excuse.)

The point is to stop using your dislikes as excuses and view them as minor logistical redirects toward other good choices you do like or at least can live with. 

“I was entertaining for work, and there weren’t any healthy options to choose from.”

First off, I’m calling bull on this one. There’s always a healthier choice – in any and every social situation. Even if that means politely avoiding the junk options with a crafty explanation like this—“I’m doing a little experiment to see what happens if I stop eating (whatever the crappy food is).” See what I did there? 

This is an excuse that teaches us we sometimes need to see outside the box we put ourselves in. Choosing a healthy lifestyle sometimes means we don’t do what everyone around us is doing. Sometimes it means we order something strange off the menu or even choose not to eat in that moment. 

You ALWAYS have a choice, and abstaining from making a bad food choice (meaning a choice not aligned with your goals) is always an option. If you’re a little hungry, that’s okay. Yes, being hungry for a few hours is truly fine. There’s another, better meal on the horizon.

Being the “healthy one” at a social gathering often attracts some unsolicited comments and questions (because people are inherently curious about the nonconformists around them). Embrace being the one making conscious decisions and practice politely saying “I don’t” rather than “I can’t” when referring to typically unhealthy party fare. Better yet, pick the menu or bring something you know meets your nutritional strategy.

“I know what I’m supposed to do, but I just can’t stay on track.”

When I ask prospective clients how they plan to lose weight or get fit, they usually give some version of this answer: “I’m going to eat better, work out regularly and cut back on desserts.” 

Great. How? I mean, in detail, how are all these moving parts going to fit into your already jam-packed week?

For fitness, fat loss, and health, it’s easy to come up with intent, but it can be mind-numbingly hard to spell out exactly how you’ll accomplish said intentions. No wonder people can’t stay on track.

So, what “next need” does this excuse point us to?

Figuring out how to set your plans in motion and keep them going enough to succeed is a special skill set. Rather than hiding behind the excuse that the pieces haven’t fallen into place yet, hire some help who specializes in simplifying grocery shopping, recipe prep, batch cooking, and other fitness or nutrition shortcuts. 

Once you feel how easy it can be (and how helpful it is to have some supportive accountability from an expert), you'll seldom feel like the wheels are falling off the bus again. You’ll be a master of staying on track enough.

I’m a coach, and I still rely on others for guidance, accountability, and a friendly nudge to get back on plan. Find someone to help you (or make you) stick with what’s important to you. 

“I messed up today, so I might as well just start over tomorrow!”

I call this the “all or nothing” excuse. Do you ever feel like digging into the ice cream at night because you had a weak moment at the candy dish around 3 p.m.? That’s what I’m talking about.

Why is that?

When we’re trying to be healthy, something weird happens. We can become obsessed with perfection and lose sight of solid progress. We throw up our hands at the “lost cause” of the entire day, ignoring the blank slate right in front of us that is our next choice…and the choices after that. This excuse calls us to lose the all or nothing mentality and to take possession of each opportunity for healthy living, including the next possibility.

Don’t “wait until Monday” to start (or re-start) your diet because you gave in to that piece of cake at your niece’s birthday party. Own the choice, commit to treating the next situation as a fresh start, and think about the progress you’re making in the grand scheme of things!

Thanks for reading, everyone. If you’d like more support or strategizing around the excuses you’ve used, talk to one of our registered dietitians or fitness professionals today. 

In health, Paul Kriegler - Corporate Registered Dietitian

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

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