Changing your mindset can change your life: How my friends helped me be my healthiest self
Disclaimer: This article includes terms like "weight loss," “fitness,” and “diet” that can be triggering for some people, and if they do- I would not recommend reading this.
The purpose of this article is not to make anyone feel bad about their lifestyles or advise them on what they should do- it's what I did because I was tired of years of complaining without making the changes I wanted.
Most people are tired of the unrealistic expectations regarding appearances that social media can ingrain in our brains. Scrolling these feeds for hours can make many people feel worse about themselves. You could limit your social media intake or try not to let it affect you personally, but it's easier said than done. It’s important to realize that what we see on social media is what people want us to see, and often it’s edited, so what we see isn’t how things look in real life, but it does take a toll on many people. That said, just because we see perfect bodies on Instagram and TikTok doesn’t mean we give up or go to extremes to achieve that.
There’s a balance that we can train our minds to accept with time, age, and guidance.
Like many people, I have read countless articles on “how to be healthy” and “how to lose weight quickly,”- the second title is very misleading because, most often, it's not quick. I can say that because it took me about three months and some change to gain over 44 lbs (20 kgs) and over two decades to lose it. That’s not to say it will take you years, but if your goal is results, you must do the work, which will take time for most people. I must add that I didn’t gain weight due to illness; it was my lifestyle.
About two years ago, I reached out to my friends, who had remained the most constant over the years physically and emotionally. I asked them about their lifestyle rather than what they ate and how much exercise they did. While all of them looked healthy, they also complained the least about how they looked- nor did they criticize other people, so I knew they were doing something I wanted to incorporate into my life.
Here's what they all had in common, so I decided to adapt a few of their lifestyle tips to my life:
1. Food is a source of nutrition
We all know eating whole grains, fruits, and vegetables is good for the body, and we can't say the same about fast food, processed food, and extra greasy foods. However, we also learn from social media that treating ourselves is essential. While treating myself, I was overtreating myself regularly when I was younger.
I asked one of my girlfriends, who has never had weight problems since I have known her, and it's been 20 years, how she sees food. “When I eat, I eat for nutrition and what it can give my body,” she said. She added that she could tell that certain foods make her feel good, and some make her more lethargic and sleepy, so she chooses food that makes her feel good. “I don’t eat a lot of something just because it tastes good,” she added. She grew up with that mentality, but that’s what I try to think of when I choose what I feed my body now. Is this just a fun food that will make me want to nap or feel bloated, or will it help my health? Contrary to most beliefs that nutritious food doesn’t taste good, it's all in the mind. Once you stop and think of how anything you eat can contribute to or hinder your health- it's easier to make that decision.
Someone will always have a problem when you make changes, but you must realize it's your life, not theirs.
2. Don’t underestimate the power of strength training
I grew up pretty active, but thanks to social media again, I started to hate exercising because I saw it as a punishment. Plus, when you see super lean and toned people working out all the time, it's hard to make yourself go to the gym because you can be self-conscious, which was my problem. I am not a gym person, but I exercise at home where I feel most comfortable.
Going back to my friends, I asked them if they exercised, and they all did. None of them use terms like fitness or are obsessed with it. They all do it because it helps them mentally, and the physical results are a bonus.
They all worked out as a part of their daily routine and did strength training. “Nothing will change and strengthen your body more than strength training,” said one of my friends. Her dedication to strength training wasn’t just to have abs but to lift things more efficiently, be stronger and be less dependent on others. I have been strength training for a year, and I agree that nothing strengthens your body that easily. I am stronger than I have ever been, and being a woman- I was always aware that women lose bone density, which can make us more prone to falling, losing balance, and getting weaker as we age, so if you want to do something for yourself for when you get older- take up strength training because you’ll thank yourself. Consistency is key.
3. Having a buddy always helps
I started exercising regularly when covid started, and I knew I had to do something to get healthier because I lived alone, and if something happened to me- I wouldn’t have anyone to care for me as I would if I lived at home. We all have that one friend who is more active than us, and for me, it was one of my college friends who had been a runner and swimmer since her teenage years.
I knew she exercised no matter what- as a mom and a teacher, she would wake up at 5 AM to work out. “I work out to feel mentally sane, and the side effects are being physically healthier,” she said. Though we live in different states, we text each other daily after exercise to be accountable. We allow time off when we’re sick or on vacation, but we text each other emojis of what we did that day, even if it's just walking.
Even better if you can find a friend to exercise with, but that's not always possible. There will always be someone who will say, “You looked better before,” but none of that should matter since you’re the only one whose opinion about yourself should matter.
4. Always have something to look forward to
You need something to look forward to in life to continue working on yourself. This might not be food or exercise-related, but having something to look forward to always helps. Whether it’s a vacation, a new project, goal weight, how far or fast you can run, or how much you can lift- the possibilities are endless. The fact that there is something you want to achieve, gain or do in the future can be a great motivation to take care of yourself so you can do it when the time comes.
It's become somewhat trendy to say, “I am busy,” and honestly, I hate it. Don’t get so busy working that you forget to live life. That’s not to say work isn’t necessary; it defines you in society and helps you save so you can do the things that genuinely make you happy.
5. Results take time
This is one of the first reasons people give up on anything: it takes time. If I could count the number of times I had started and stopped to exercise when I didn’t see results- it would be way too many times. There’ll always be people who will see results faster than you, but that’s life- everyone is different. It took me almost 20 years to lose the weight I gained in 3 months. That’s when you need to keep going because you can't give up on yourself. After all, no one can do it for you, and you have to want it.
“I gained weight in college, and I wasn’t happy with it, but I didn’t do anything about it, but when I turned 30, I decided the longer I am healthier- the longer I will be independent,” said another friend. She lost her college weight more quickly than me, but she was much more dedicated and disciplined. Everyone has their journey that shouldn’t be compared because they all look different.
You can give yourself a day or two off to wallow, but you must work at it if you want changes. I spent years complaining about getting nowhere till I was sick of my complaints and knew the only way to get where I wanted to be was by doing it. Trust me, it's not easy, but if it's important to you- you owe it to yourself. If it's not important, you don’t have to do it. It's not just about changing what you eat and how much you exercise but adopting the mindset and lifestyle you want.
This isn’t about vanity but about how you want to feel about yourself. This isn’t about how society expects you to look but how you want to look and feel and how much you’re willing to do sustainably. This is about making changes in your life that will help you in the long run.