“I’m going on vacation and will start when I get back… I’ll start once my baby is born…I’ll resume after my Mom gets out of the hospital…or on Monday…or once I’m done school.” It all seems very reasonable. But it also could be what’s ruining your health and fitness. Here’s why and what we can do about it.
I get asked VERY often “Can I just pause my membership for a couple of weeks so I get X sorted out?”
After all, what’s the harm in letting clients/patients take a break from a nutrition and fitness plan when they’re:
leaving for vacation, completely swamped at work, pregnant, or just after delivery, injured, or caring for an ailing family member?
For a client, the thought process boils down to:
If I miss some workouts, eat the wrong things, skip the homework… I fail.
Aren’t I more likely to succeed if I take a break, just until I have the time to do it right?
This is what I call the ‘pause-button mentality’.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I think it’s normal—even commendable—to want to do your best. To consider taking time to regroup and then resume (or start over) when life feels easier. At the same time, this completely natural and well-meaning impulse is one of the fastest, surest, most reliable ways to sabotage your plans for improved nutrition, health, and fitness.
Here’s why—and what to do instead.
Starting fresh after you lose your way is a really comforting thought.
It’s an opportunity for you to “cut yourself some slack” with a plan in sight. That’s why New years resolutions are so popular, especially after a week of over-indulging. We give ourselves permission to eat and act in a way that’s not entirely in line with our goals because at least we have a future plan.
As coaches, we’ve learned that the idea of a “do-over” is actually so alluring that you don’t even need to mess up at all for the “pause button” mentality to take over.
So often we get women around the 2-month mark in the program coming to us saying something like, “I’d love a break so I can start over. If only you’d let me start over, I’d really nail it this time!”
But here’s the problem: The pause-button mentality only builds the skill of pausing.
It does not matter when, hitting that imaginary pause button gives you some sense of relief. It gives you a bit of a break from what can seem overwhelming or maybe even giving you a really hard time. And we all know a health and weight loss journey can give us a hard time. And the reality is that it doesn’t matter what you’re working on, the middle is always going to be the toughest. I’m in the middle of writing a book right now and it’s the last thing I want to do. I’m really struggling to get through it.
This perceived relief is compounded by the illusion that if we “start fresh” later we can find the magical “right time” to begin.
Listen, I get it.
It can feel absurd to try to improve your eating and exercise habits while you’re in the midst of chronic stress / looking for a job / starting a new job / going on vacation/caring for aging parents / raising small children.
That’s probably why there are so many 21-day this and 90-day that. What adult has more than 90 days to go after their fitness goals with an all-out effort?
But what do these intense fitness sprints teach you?
The skill of getting fit within a very short (and completely non-representative) period of your life.
What don’t they teach you?
The skill of getting fit (or staying fit) in the midst of a normal, complicated, busy, and sometimes overwhelming sort of life.
This is why the yo-yo diet thing has become such a phenomenon. It’s not about willpower. It’s about skills.
In most fitness scenarios, you learn how to get fit under a weird, confound and most times unsustainable circumstance. A challenge you decided to take on with a co-worker, or a new fad diet you wanted to try that eliminates your favourite foods.
You build the ONE non-transferrable skill of slamming down the gas pedal and going all in on something that eventually just leaves you feeling burnt out and ready to give up.
What you don’t build is the ability to get fit under real-life conditions. That’s why it doesn’t stick. Not because you suck. But because the natural consequence of having a limited skill set is short-term progress followed immediately by long-term frustration.
What will be different next time?
I had a conversation with an old friend of mine who swore that she had found the secret to losing weight - cut out all carbs and only eat before 5pm. I was nodding my head trying to take in what she had just told me but then I eventually had to ask “So why aren’t you happy with your weight or health right now?”. She had reached out to me about a week earlier and expressed that she had “fallen off track”. She looked at me and said “Well, work is really busy right now so I’m just waiting until that calms down and I’ll resume.”
This story illustrates the point perfectly.
Here’s someone who’s built her success on an incredible unstable platform. She knows only one thing: How to get in shape by following a very restrictive diet when the conditions are perfect.
And whenever life isn’t perfect, which is most of the time, she hits the pause button. She waits for a better time all while the fitness and progress she’s gained is slowly disappearing.
That’s why, when our clients ask to press pause, we usually ask them: “What will be different when you come back?”
Nine times out of 10, the honest answer is nothing. Nothing will be different.
Life is just… happening. And it’ll happen again in January, or after the baby is born, or after Mom gets better, or at any other arbitrary point you pick.
And what then?
I’ve wanted to press “pause” myself.
If you’ve ever felt like pressing pause, or you feel this way right now, it might help to know I’ve felt exactly the same way.
At one point in my life I was quitting one job, transitioning into committing full time with BODZii, moving cities, renovating a house, and hiring 2 team members. I was absolutely jam packed. At first, I thought there was no way I could exercise. My schedule was completely packed, and my eating was all over the place.
But after a couple of weeks I realized that something was going to be better than nothing.
The renovations would continue. Running a business would only get more demanding. And we were settling into our new house.
I realized I couldn’t wait. I couldn’t press pause. Because, if I didn’t continue, there’d never be that “perfect time” to hit play again.
I needed to find a way to squeeze in some kind of workout, however quick, easy, and unglamorous.
Let’s accept that life has no pause button.
There’s never going to be a moment when things are magically easier.
You can’t escape work, personal, and family demands. Nor can you escape the need for health and fitness in your life.
Here’s a thought experiment: What if you tried to hit pause in other areas of your life?
Imagine you’re up for a big promotion at work. For the next two weeks, all you want to do is focus on mastering an upcoming presentation, and winning over your boss. Trouble is, you’ve got two young children at home. “Honey,” you say to your spouse, “I’m just gonna press pause on being a parent for now. I’ll be staying at a hotel. Don’t contact me.”
You can’t really press pause—and you definitely can’t hit reset—on being a parent. (You’ve thought about it, though. I know you have.)
Just like you can’t stop showing up for work and expect not to get fired. Or “take a break” from being married and not wind up divorced.
Generally, when it comes to life, we know we’re not always going to be on our A Game.
So why do we expect it to be any different with health, and fitness?
The “all or nothing” mentality rarely gets us “all”. It usually gets us “nothing”.
That’s when I propose a new mantra: “Always something”.
Instead of pressing pause, adjust the dial.
Nowadays I like to think of my fitness and nutrition efforts as a dial.
There are times when I want to dial my efforts up, and times when I want to dial them down. But I never want to turn the dial off completely.
If we can just keep moving forward, no matter what happens, we’ll be exactly where we want to be in no time.
Asking for a restart because you don’t want to mess up is deluding yourself that somehow, next time will be easier. Next time will be perfect. No interruptions, no distractions… no… life.
Unfortunately, there is no perfect time.
We may have magical moments, of course. Short periods of time when things seem to “click” and come together.
But then the dog poops on the rug. Or the kid throws up on the couch. Or both…
You keep pressing pause, and your progress looks like this.
Here are a few strategies for getting out of the pause-button mentality and into a more realistic, effective, and sustainable way of thinking.
1. Try the dial method. Think of your fitness like a dial that goes from 1 – 10.
If you were to dial it up to “10”… What would your workouts look like? What would your nutrition look like? What other actions/habits would you practice in that scenario?
If you were to dial it down to “1”… What would your workouts look like? What would your nutrition look like? What other actions/habits would you practice in that scenario?
Giving thought to your life right now, where is your dial set? Would you like to make any adjustments? Could you move the dial up a channel, or even half a channel?
If so, what would that look like? On the other hand… Should you move the dial down a channel so you can stick with health and fitness even during a difficult time?
2. Aim for a little bit better. An all-or-nothing approach usually doesn’t get us “all”. It usually gets us “nothing”.
You know what actually works? Small improvements done consistently over time work. You might be trying to make a meal out of hospital cafeteria food, or gas station food, or airplane food. You might be spending hours awake with a newborn in the middle of the night, or stuck in yet another full-day meeting. These aren’t ideal scenarios, but they’re not necessarily hopeless either. Look around. Get creative. See if you can find some small improvements.
3. Anticipate, strategize and plan. Since we already know that stuff is going to go wrong, the best thing we can do is anticipate and make plans for how to deal when they do.
A simple way to do this is by answering two questions: What’s likely to get in the way of what I hope to accomplish? What is something I can do today to help me keep going when I face those obstacles?
For some people, that might be a Sunday ritual where they prep food for the week so they won’t be scrambling for healthy meals on busy weeknights. For others, it might mean having a healthy meal-delivery service on speed dial. Don’t be surprised and dismayed when things go haywire. They will at some point. Just arm yourself with the best tools and strategies so you can stay in the game when you’re thrown a curveball.