One of the biggest culprits of causing overwhelm is simply starting from the wrong place, and assuming you are better at things than you are (which is a very common human condition by the way – it’s not just you). This leads to taking on more than you’re actually capable of changing in a long-term way.
Most diets and quick fixes focus on higher level strategies, while ignoring the underlying fundamentals that help create sustainable change (I’m thinking of things like carb or calorie cycling, or even individualizing macros).
When I’m working with clients I try to cut through the noise and simplify it right away. I do this by exploring their existing skills and habits with them, and putting their goals in the context of those skills.
It’s sort of like triage. I’m essentially checking their skills and goals against three different “levels” of complexity.
As I’m working through this process I follow a pretty basic rule: don’t level someone up until the fundamentals are consistent.
Big Hint #1: almost everyone, even serious amateur athletes, are a level 1 (myself included).
Here are some (not all) level 1 criteria I work through with clients. Feel free to use it for yourself. Do you struggle with:
– Food choices like eating too many processed foods, drinking too much alcohol or sugar-sweetened drinks, or not eating enough nutritious whole foods?
– Eating behaviors like eating too quickly while distracted, recognizing your hunger cues, or using food to manage your feelings?
– Exercise and activity, such as getting in enough regular exercise, or the flip-side, overtraining?
– Recovery, such as getting enough sleep, and incorporating recovery activities like yoga and massage?
– Life skills like basic food prep skills, shopping and reading labels, or avoiding impulse choices due to being “too busy” or “too rushed”?
– Mindset and psychology issues such as all-or-nothing thinking, a fixed mindset, or busyness and stress?
– Environment issues such as an environment that requires too much “willpower” and mental strength to stay on track, or an unsupportive social network (family, friends, coworkers, etc.)?
Those are all level 1 problems (and that’s just some of them). If you’re checking all the boxes here and are at least 75-80% consistent, then you may be ready to jump up a level, but even that may be temporary.
The complexity, extra work, and physical demands of higher levels often make it a shorter-term strategy geared around a specific event or competition.
In really general terms, I break it down like this:
Level 1: General health, wellness, and performance. The fundamentals that really drive health and wellbeing.
Level 2: High level recreational and amateur athletes who want to improve body composition and athletic performance beyond what level 1 approaches can do.
Level 3: Elite/professional athletes and physique competitors who really need to alter body composition in specific, and seasonal ways.
Like I said, 95% of people are level 1 and will be fine just staying there.
Big hint #2 – if you have at some point felt overwhelmed by the changes you’re trying to make, you’re probably trying to do too much, too soon. You’re reaching past where you’re at, and need to get back to the basics.
It’s not flashy. Starting small and moving slowly can even feel a bit boring at times, but…
The fundamentals drive the results and give you a place to fall back to when life gets crazy.
Admittedly “fundamentals” have never been a super sexy thing which is why they don’t get talked about much. No one likes practicing simple, practical skills. But I’ll tell you what, even NBA all-stars started out doing simple drills. They didn’t get there overnight…it took them years!
So here’s the deal (and the challenge). Take a solid 30-60 minutes and critically evaluate where you’re at. Level this up by bringing in a trusted friend or spouse who truly knows you well. What level are you at? What areas do you struggle with most?
Then, take a good look at what may be your biggest limiters may be and work towards finding a small, behavioral solution that you can start with and grow as you go.
Example: taking at least 20 minutes to eat slowly, and mindfully at one meal each day (so you can dial into your hunger cues and adjust your total caloric intake).
You can then work that up to two meals or more as you feel more confident and competent.
If you do this, I’d love to hear how you shake out in the comments below!
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