This article originally appeared in “Chicago Tribune”
The other night, as I threw a frozen Trader Joe’s pizza into the oven and steamed some (also frozen) broccoli for dinner, it occurred to me: I used to try way too hard.
A few years ago, my countertop would have sported a paleo cookbook, open to a pizza recipe involving sweet potato crust, homemade tomato sauce and fresh veggies. Tasty? Sure. Healthier than my frozen TJ’s dinner? Maybe. Worth the two hours spent rinsing, peeling, chopping, mixing and assembling? Not for this mama.
I’ve done my fair share of planning meals, often around “restricted” foods (whether because they were high in fat or because they contained some ingredient I’d deemed off-limits). I’ve also spent much of my adult life scheduling exercise and stressing out when I missed a workout.
The crazy thing is when I look back at the times in my life when all of those things were working out for me – when I was eating “clean” and fitting in all of my workouts – I don’t miss them. I sigh out of relief that I got off that wagon. I may have been leaner (and maybe even healthier) during those times, but when I think about what it took for me to sustain that lifestyle, I wouldn’t recommend it.
Going all out with diet and exercise is like cramming for an exam so you can get an A+ in the class. You’re not sure what to study, so you memorize everything. You’re constantly cramming and the exams keep on coming.
Moderation is like slowing down and absorbing the material that matters so it sticks with you for life. You may not always earn an A, and maybe you’ll get a few Cs, but you’re happy, relaxed and balanced. You could keep this up forever.
What do I recommend? Stop trying so hard! Be a lazy cook. Hit snooze on your alarm. Tell your Fitbit to leave you alone. We’ve managed to complicate concepts as simple as eating mindfully and moving our bodies. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Instead of: Always cooking entire meals from scratch.
Try: Adding heaping amounts of frozen veggies to a pre-made entree. Not all processed food is evil. If you look at the ingredients and they are all real foods, don’t feel bad about taking a shortcut.
Instead of: Driving to the gym, parking, leaving your kids in child care and getting on a treadmill.
Try: Running or walking to the park with your kids and playing with them. Hang on the monkey bars. Play tag, do some squats while you push your toddler in the swing, move your body and have fun.
Instead of: Making a no-sugar, no-flour cake that tastes like crap but is “clean.”
Try: Eating a small slice of the real thing and moving on with your life.
Instead of: Waking up early to work out when you’re exhausted.
Try: Sleep. It does a body good.
Instead of: Working muscle groups on alternating days so you can hit every muscle.
Try: Climbing a tree. Cleaning your floor on hands and knees. Going for a walk. Doing some exercise in the backyard.
Instead of: Letting your Fitbit dictate your steps.
Try: Walking when it makes sense to walk (like that trip to the post office a mile from home) and remembering that other types of movement besides walking and running count, too.
Instead of: Stressing about a night out with friends because you know there will be nothing but bar food and beer.
Try: Eating a healthy meal before you go, so you can enjoy a beer (and maybe bum a few fries off of a friend).
Instead of: Thinking you can’t get the results you want without giving up the things you love.
Try: Loving your body a little bit harder. Maybe the result you want is closer than you think – or maybe you’re already there.
Nicole Radziszewski is a freelance columnist. She lives in River Forest and is a certified personal trainer and mother of two. Check Nicole out on Facebook at Facebook.com/mamasgottamove.