My weight crept up on me. Until one day my clothes stopped fitting properly. I didn’t really notice until it became an issue. The same with mental health. If I stop doing the things that keep me balanced and well, then slowly I begin to descend downwards. My thinking gets a little derailed. Eventually, it can become frantic. That’s when I realise I’ve forgotten the little things that keep me well. Maintenance is as important as the hard work of reaching a target. It’s easier to maintain than it is to start all over again.
The things that keep me sane are simple; walking in nature, talking to people, eating well, sleeping well, reading and playing an instrument… Prozac. They are all interlinked. I never slept well when I drank alcohol. I just fell onto my bed and slipped into the darkness of night. I would wake unrefreshed and hungover. It was the norm. It took a while after quitting before I had a good nights sleep. I woke one morning with energy. I couldn’t believe it. For years I’d fallen out of bed and fought the unearthly gravity of my hangover to get my work clothes on. But for the first time, I understood the importance of sleep. That sets me up for the day.
Even the smallest exercise can be hard when there is no energy. When the world seems dark and life seems hopeless. It can seem like a waste of time. Pointless. But the small steps are what lead to the long journeys. Slight changes make a huge difference. I’ve laid in bed in a low mood, staring at the mess all around, whilst thinking I really should do something about that. I’m so lazy. It just fuels the fire. Inaction breeds a low mood. Something as small as getting up and making the bed has a big effect. Slowly tidying up. Washing the pots. Doing the laundry. It may seem small but at times can feel like gargantuan tasks. By overcoming them it gives a small spike of achievement. The same as going a day without eating crap food. Or setting a target for losing 1lb in weight. Do it 14 times and you lose a stone in weight. The small changes lead to those milestones. But it is the maintaining of those activities that breeds contentment. By not only using those small goals to hit the life goals we can use them to maintain our weight and mental health.
I’ve seen people lose huge amounts of weight in a short time. Which is commendable. I have also seen many of those people put the weight back on. Why? Because they didn’t embed the behaviours to maintain a healthy lifestyle. If people are offering you a quick fix then they will sell you it twice. That’s why it’s important to take small steps. Instead of increasing the pressure by adding expectation in a short amount of time, it is important to nudge ourselves incrementally into healthy patterns over a longer period.
When I lost most of my weight, I was still a functioning alcoholic. I’m not saying that is a wise diet choice. It was a hindrance. I would eat healthily, exercise and then go to the pub and drink ten pints. It took a long time to lose weight and get healthy. It was still possible even in that situation but drinking copious amounts of alcohol would be the first thing I would stop if I was going to lose weight. I would cut down if I could. If I couldn’t I would stop altogether. I’d reward myself in other ways. After I quit drinking, I rewarded myself with a takeaway. Eventually, it didn’t feel like a reward. To be honest feeling good is a reward on its own. Slowly, I naturally favoured fruit and veg. I would drink water instead of drinking soft drinks. I used to think the soft drinks gave me energy. When I started to get healthy I had the energy to burn, naturally. I still enjoy the odd cake or chocolate bat but it is just in balance. I learned years ago by denying myself anything, it would just result in binge eating. So I stave that off by enjoying a protein bar instead of a Mars bar. If I fancy a Mars bar I will have one but not every day. Because it certainly doesn’t help me “Work, rest and play!”
It’s easy to check your weight, step on some scales or look in the mirror naked. That will give you an indication of where you are. But mental health isn’t so easy to check. This is why people usually seek help when the shit hits the fan and it all gets too much. The trick is to check in on ourselves often. Take stock of the inner weather system. It takes courage to approach ourselves. Many people would rather be distracted in bad company than left in their own. It is imperative to listen to the inner dialogue. It is those thoughts that control our decisions. So we must dare to venture to the inner place that often we seek to avoid. The key to this is through meditation. If there is something traumatic then professional help is a must. Or if there is constant chaos or low mood, then a visit to the doctor is advisable. Peace can be obtained. I have explained to people that the moments of inner tranquillity they have experienced in fleeting moments, is possible more often. It just takes a bit of work. A good start is here: Free meditations from Mindfulness – Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic World | Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic World
It’s difficult, to begin with. The mind can wander away. That’s fine. It takes practice. But it is the key to observing the distracting call of temptation. It is the start to mastering the inner chatter that stops us from pursuing the goals.
One trick I found useful in the early days when my life was a mess, was writing lists of goals. I would stick the lists to my bedroom mirror. This way, I was often reminded of the path I was on. It allowed me to remind myself why I couldn’t spend money frivolously. I would need that money later on to achieve something I had written down. I use the same method for losing weight. I would write a weight goal and then get weighed at the end of every week. If it stagnated then I wouldn’t give myself a hard time. I would just look at what I’d been doing. Had I been slipping? I would check it and keep going. It wasn’t an expectation to lose x amount in x amount of time. It was just to lose x amount of weight.
Maintaining healthy living isn’t as easy as cutting something out for a couple of weeks. It is an incremental change. It is changing the course of your life by slowly changing harmful behaviours. We are creatures of routine. All we have to do is change the pattern of the behaviour that dictates our routines. If it is too difficult to moderate the use of something then it may be a problem and seeking help would be advisable. For example, if you intend to only have a couple of alcoholic drinks but end up drunk more often than not. Then it may be a sign of something more sinister. But that doesn’t mean the spontaneity of life has to be eradicated. It is just about accountability for our own lives and what we consume.
There is an abundance of calorie counting apps and fitness trackers available now. By cutting down on 500 calories a day it is possible to lose 1lb a week. The trouble is people want to lose 10lb in two weeks so they are ready for the next holiday. It doesn’t have to miserable, dieting. It should be rewarding. It should reap positive returns. Not feel like a punishment or deprivation.
I’ve seen people on diets save up all their “sins” and binge drink on the weekend and then have a kebab. Then only to be perplexed by the fact it doesn’t work. Little changes reinforce the behaviours that are needed for the maintenance of a healthy life. And that’s what I am talking about here; a healthy balanced life. I have been on either end of the spectrum. I have been obsessed with losing weight and purely gluttonous. Neither made me happy. I am not talking about unrealistic expectations or setting false ideals for people. I am just advocating a healthy lifestyle for the people who can achieve it. And by embedding those behaviours it is possible to enjoy things in life without any negative feelings attached. “Everything in moderation… including moderation.”
If you are looking for some tips or a bit of motivation, I have written about my health journey here; A guide to #wellness
Thanks for reading,
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