As a personal trainer, I often have to remind my clients not to rush through the movements. Why? Because when you move quickly through the motions, you start to use momentum and not muscles to complete the exercise. Momentum can be bad for exercise because you’re not getting the full benefit of the move— you want to move slowly to increase time under tension, using your muscles, not momentum, to get the best outcome.
Your body naturally wants to cheat its way to the path of least resistance; you have to fight that tendency. Momentum makes things easier, which can be detrimental for exercise results but can be great when applied to nutrition.
If you can build momentum with your nutrition habits, it’s easier to make the healthier choice.
HOW DO YOU BUILD MOMENTUM TO MAKE BETTER CHOICES?
My kitchen sink was overflowing with dishes. Grease layered the stove top, and crumbs were having a gathering party on the countertops. My kitchen was a disaster zone. It was overwhelming. I resisted the urge to go back to bed to ignore it altogether. Could I get a cleaning service here in under 30 minutes? Maybe I could burn down the house and start over (kidding!).
It was going to be a big job. I reluctantly started with the dishes, rinsing off the big chunks of food before loading in the dishwasher. I put an end to the crumb party on the countertops, emptied the trash, and de-greased the stove top. I polished the dog hair off of the wood cabinet doors and swept the floor. Things were looking up.
I looked around my kitchen with cleaning spray in hand. What could I clean next? I eyed the top of the fridge; maybe I could get hubs to help me move the fridge so I could clean under it? What else? I looked for something else to clean. The inside of the refrigerator? The pantry? I was armed and ready to tackle any mess. What happened here?
How did I go from feeling overwhelmed to feeling ready to tackle big clean projects like sweeping under the fridge? Momentum. My brain was resisting the idea of a big project; it was too much. But when I got started with small things, one at a time, I built the momentum to take on even bigger tasks.
Nutrition works the same way. Overhauling your entire diet can feel too overwhelming. You can attempt it, but often our brains and bodies can’t handle too much change at once, and we revert to our old comfortable habits. That’s normal.
So we start small — one thing at a time. Often we think nutrition is an all-or-nothing endeavor. If we’re not eating perfectly, we might as well eat all the junk we can until we can get our act together once and for all (Monday!). But that rarely works because life doesn’t cooperate with our plan for perfection.
HOW DO YOU START?
Start with the low hanging fruit. What’s the easiest way to begin? Start with something that seems like it will be simple to execute. Once you're successful with one healthy habit, the momentum will give you the desire and motivation to add on another.
Ask yourself this question: On a scale of 1-10 (one is not confident at all, and ten is completely confident). How confident am I that I can complete this habit every single day? If your answer is between 8-10, you’ve come up with your first habit change.
For example, if you decide to go on an egg white and tuna fish diet, how likely will you be successful for two weeks? Honestly? Most people will need to choose something less challenging. Remember, the goal is not to change our whole life and all our bad habits in one day —- that rarely works. Choose one habit to start.
Keep in mind that the result we are looking for in our first habit is to build momentum so that we are ready to tackle our next habit. It’s the habits built on each other over time that produces results, like the snowball effect.
MOMENTUM BUILDING HABITS
A momentum-building habit is an equivalent of rinsing dishes to put in the dishwasher. It’s relatively easy, and it gets us started. Are any of these an 8-10 confidence on a scale of 1-10 for you? If yes, choose one to start.
Walk one mile a day (or 15 minutes; or five)
Meal prep on Sundays for the week
Eat lunch at home or bring a healthy lunch to work or school.
Eat a healthy breakfast at home each day.
Avoid all drinks with calories (sugar in coffee, soda, fruit juices, wine)
Eat at least one piece of fruit every day.
Eat dinner slowly, without your smartphone nearby.
Choose one of the above, or come up with your own. The only criteria is that it is an easy to execute healthy habit that builds momentum. When you’re successful with one habit every day for a week or two, then layer on the next one. This how you use momentum to build habits towards a healthier lifestyle.
If it seems too easy? Too boring? If you’re feeling particularly motivated, try two at once. If successful, try two more. The idea is that you execute your new habit(s) every day without fail. Use the momentum of the success of your first easy habit, to add on another. Before you know it, you’re living a healthy lifestyle.
MOMENTUM WORKS THE OTHER WAY TOO
Momentum can be our friend to maximize results, but be aware that it works in the other way too.
You’re on the right track, eating healthy foods at each meal, making real progress — then something happens. You go out with friends on Friday night, and they guilt you into just one glass of wine (Live a little! You’ve been so good! You deserve it!).
Once the wine starts flowing, the chips and spinach dips are irresistible. You already are off to a poor start; you might as well order something indulgent from the menu. Now you feel like you royally screwed up and it’s only Friday night. Might as well enjoy the whole weekend and start over fresh on Monday! So it’s pancakes on Saturday morning, another bottle of wine Saturday night and pizza on Sunday!
Ever been there? I have. It is an example of momentum in the wrong direction. You make one bad choice and get on an easy path to overindulgence.
One meal does not make or break our results, but when negative momentum builds, a poor choice at dinner can turn into a weekend of poor decisions, and our results can be sacrificed.
Don’t allow negative momentum to take over your day. Look at every meal as a fresh start, no matter what you ate at your last meal. Make the best choice that is reasonable at the moment, which may look different depending on the situation. The best option at a restaurant with friends looks different than the best choice at home for lunch. Perfection is not the goal; just the best you can reasonably expect at the moment.
DON’T JUST READ: TAKE ACTION
What’s one positive habit could tackle with a confidence level of 8-10 this week? Complete the habit each day and mark in on the calendar, share it on social media, or track it in an app (or tell me on Twitter). Build momentum by not missing a day.
Think of a time that negative momentum has stalled your progress. Make a note to recognize when your thoughts start to lead you towards negative momentum (I already messed up, I might as well…). Put an end to negative momentum by starting fresh at each meal.
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Questions? I’d love to help!