I was at a wedding reception once, and as I was sitting and eating and chatting with another guest, she looked me up and down—watching me stuff my face—and said, “How do you stay so thin?”

I looked her straight in the eye and, after swallowing my mouthful of food, said, “I exercise. A LOT.”

I’m pretty sure this was not the answer she was hoping for.

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Improving Health and Fitness is Difficult

If your goal is to improve your diet, increase your fitness level, improve your health, or boost your performance, there is no getting around the fact that it requires a lot of work.

There is no easy button. Change is difficult. Period. Making changes in the first place, engaging in those new behaviours consistently, sticking with it when life throws you a curveball; all of this is decidedly difficult, and will require a pronounced shift in your life.

You will have to be willing to do the work.

Health and Fitness Involve a Continuum

We tend to think of our health and fitness level as binary. You’re either healthy or you’re not. You’re either in shape or you’re out of shape.

The truth is quite different: there is a continuum. You can be healthier or less healthy. Fitter or less fit. Your diet can be more or less nutritionally adequate. Your performance can be more kick-ass or less kick-ass.

It is never one or the other.

It is never all or nothing.

But, as I said, moving along this continuum, towards improved health and well-being, will require dedication, consistent effort, and a shift in your mindset.

Improving Health and Fitness Requires Sacrifice

Reality check: you will need to make some trade-offs.

That woman who asked me how I stay so thin, my guess is that she was expecting one of two things:

  1. A shortcut. Some quick fix to help her achieve her own weight-related goals. Or
  2. A claim that my body composition was genetic. It’s just the way my body is, which (disappointing as it may be) would relieve her of the need to make an effort.

All or nothing. Either it’s effortless, or it’s impossible.

It’s actually neither. There is no quick fix. But neither is improvement impossible.

You can improve your health and fitness level and your body composition, but you will need to make some sacrifices in your life if you’re going to get there. There is no getting around that fact.

What Change Looks Like

So what are some of the possible trade-offs of improving your health and fitness? Achieving your goals will require:

  • Planning and effort
  • A time commitment
  • Possible changes to your diet, sleep routine, and amount and/or type of exercise

You may need to eat less dessert, exercise more, or cut back on those weekend parties. You may need to change your schedule, skip the drive-thru, or reduce that coveted couchy-couchy time.

The Bigger the Goal, the Bigger the Trade-Off

And, more importantly, the bigger your goal, the more sacrifices you will need to make. More goal? More trade-off.

Remember that continuum. And picture yourself moving along that continuum. If you just want to huff and puff less while walking up stairs, this will require far fewer trade-offs than if you want to get jacked, get that 6-pack, and achieve a state of vibrant health. To achieve the former, you might need to just add regular, moderate cardio to your weekly routine. To get totally ripped? You’re going to have to do a complete overhaul of your diet, fitness routine, sleep routine, and lifestyle.

Not Changing Also Involves Trade-Offs

So, this might feel a little overwhelming and unachievable. But think of this: NOT changing has consequences. There are definite trade-offs to NOT making improvements to your health and fitness level. Sure, it’s easier. But that easy path comes with a potential risk. Poorer health, decreased life expectancy, risk of illness or disease, a need for medication, low energy levels, low self-esteem: these are some of the possible trade-offs of NOT changing.

So you have a choice: the trade-offs required in changing, vs the trade-offs required in not changing. It’s totally up to you.

Figure Out Want, Will Do, How Often, and Won’t Do

You’re still here, so you’ve probably decided that you’re okay with making those trade-offs. You’re ready to do the tough work to achieve improved health, fitness, and performance.

The next step is to figure out the following:

  1. What are your priorities? What is the goal that you want to achieve? Is it improved diet? Better stamina? A nicer butt? Take some time to clarify those goals. What is it that you really want?
  2. Decide what you’re actually willing to do. What will you do to achieve those goals, and why? Are you willing to make all of those sacrifices that are required to get jacked? Maybe you are, maybe you’re not. Be honest with yourself here.
  3. Decide how frequently you’re going to do those things. Say you want to switch to home-cooked meals. How often are you going to cook from scratch? How consistently are you going to do this? And how precisely are you willing to do this? For instance, completely from scratch, or a bit of pre-made food thrown in time and again? Take some time to figure this out.
  4. Figure out what you’re not willing to do. What sacrifices are you not willing to make? What trade-offs are you not willing to make? What are you not ready to give up? You want to move around more, but movie nights with your kids is a favourite activity, and you’re not willing to give up those evening cuddles for a run in the park. Be honest about that. There are other options.

Ultimately, you want to improve your health and fitness, but you also want to live an enjoyable life. Being honest with yourself will help you make decisions that will fit with YOUR vision: the level of health and well-being that YOU want, the body that YOU want, and the life that YOU want to live.

Take out a piece of paper and work through the four questions above. What do you want? What are you willing to do? How frequently are you willing to do those things? And what are you not willing to do?

Recommended Resources

Here is an awesome printable infographic* from Precision Nutrition to help you get started.

*(This content is used under license from Precision Nutrition Inc. and may not be reproduced, transmitted, or otherwise used or reused in any way without the express written permission of the owner. Copyright © 2020 Precision Nutrition Inc. For more information about Precision Nutrition, visit www.precisionnutrition.com.)