As a personal trainer, coach, mother, and woman I am very familiar with the tendency of women to put the needs of others first. It is an admirable quality and speaks to the strength and deep caring nature of women. I think, unfortunately, it is also a major stumbling block in the way of women becoming their best selves in the arena of their own health and fitness.
In order to make a significant change in our lives it becomes necessary at some point to be “selfish.” That is to say we will need to let our needs come first. This can be very uncomfortable territory. In day to day life it means putting your workout time ahead of last minute requests from family members. It means taking the time on the weekends for meal prep rather than attending all the kids’ sports activities. It means declining lunch out with co-workers in favor of a nutritious sack lunch and brisk walk. Maybe you can even get them to join you?
Why is it so hard to keep the needs (usually wants) of others in balance with our own needs? It is absolutely essential to eat nutrient-dense food, exercise, and relieve stress in order to be healthy and energized. Yet, I am frequently challenged by my female clients in terms of getting them to establish these important habits. My clients are as motivated and resolved as anyone. Yet, the week begins and it doesn’t take long before our best laid plans start to fall by the wayside. Small decisions start being made that undermine their goals. A workout is skipped because the repairman has to come fix the dishwasher. A mom doesn’t take time to prepare her own lunch in the morning because of a last minute request from her child to help find their favorite red sweatshirt. Plans to attend a yoga class are cancelled because a friends calls with an invite for coffee. These micro decisions add up to derailment. They block true progress.
Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying caring for family and friends is a negative. I’m not saying don’t spend time with them. The problem is the mindset that leads to the automatic "yes" to others. The mindset that it is wrong if you put your plans ahead of their requests. The mindset that triggers the abandonment wellness priorities. You may not even be aware you have this mindset because you are so used to acting and responding in this manner.
The truth is you don’t need to sacrifice your fitness goals. It doesn’t really serve anyone for you to neglect your health. The daily issues that arise can be negotiated to a win-win for you and your loved ones It is very possible to care deeply, take care of business and stick to your commitment to yourself. You can say “no” in the moment and most of the time your family and friends will do just fine. The task can be done another time. But you have to figure that out. Think it through rather than being on automatic superwoman pilot. Be willing to bear the discomfort of saying “no” in the moment. Think about that. It’s true, right?
The selflessness that makes your loved ones so much more important than you isn’t good in the long run. It causes pain. The pain of not losing the weight, feeling tired and overwhelmed, feeling self-conscious about your body, and not having the health you desire. It might even mean you won't be around as long to be with them.The only way to make significant progress in nutrition and fitness is through creating positive sustainable habits. This takes time, thought, and planning. It is a form of stress (albeit good stress) because it is a change. So you need support and a reduction of pressure in other areas when you take it on. Change is hard! But, it is totally possible if you can make being leaner and healthier a PRIORITY. To do this you must shift your mindset to believe and understand that this is a good and right thing that will ultimately benefit yourself and the people you care about.
If you are tired of the cycle of starting and failing then commit to yourself again. But, this time, talk to your family and friends about it. Get a trainer or coach if you need extra support. Let the important people in your life know you must put yourself first to lose weight, get stronger, eat better or whatever it is you need to work on. Prepare them for the growing pains that may accompany this journey. Then stop compromising your goals! Decide for your health in those moments of challenge. Once you have done this long enough you will begin to feel comfortable setting boundaries. You will finally be able to create some healthy habits and see positive change! This will mean having more energy and feeling better physically. You will experience the pride that comes from the accomplishment of your goals. Ultimately, you will have more to love about yourself and more to give your family and friends. Your cup will be full.