It’s 1:00PM and I just got back from the gym. I woke up early with all the best intentions of going to work out first thing in the morning. Then there were emails to answer, phone calls to return, and my own internal dialog about whether I could do it tomorrow instead as there was this great shoe sale at Macy’s...

Sound familiar? As much as I know about healthy behavior and do take pretty good care of myself, even therapists like myself sometimes struggle to do what they know in their gut (no pun intended) is the right thing to do. After going back and forth with several rationalizations like - the gym will always be there, but the shoes I need for next weeks’ vacation might not be, I made a conscious choice. I forced myself to go to the gym.

I knew that I would feel bad if I didn’t keep to the regular work out schedule I set as a goal. I didn’t want to feel bad, so I analyzed my resistances, acknowledged that I didn’t really want to go, but went anyway. I was glad I did.

Every year one of the most popular goals that people set is to lose weight, eat healthier and become more fit. Some people forge ahead, continuously stick to the goal and just do it.  Others start, stop and start again. Some just give up.

But it is possible to be successful this time even if in the past you have not achieved your goal. How? This time you will devise a plan dealing with potential resistances and increase understanding of your eating, exercise behaviors and the impact of emotions on destructive patterns. Most importantly you will have an action plan if you hit some roadblocks along the way.

First Steps

Set a clear goal for yourself.  Are you trying to lose weight? How much? Are you trying to eat healthier and keep to a regular exercise schedule? What does that mean? More fruits and vegetables? Less sugar? Going to the gym or doing some form of exercise 3, 4, 5 times a week? Be specific. Write it down.

Prepare a shopping list. If you work long hours, prepare meals in advance. Freeze them.  Microwave food when you get home from work instead of reaching for the quickest and easiest thing to eat that may be more caloric and less healthy. Remove items from your refrigerator or pantry that you know are not in the plan.

Set a specific schedule when you will go to the gym or do some form of exercise. Put it in your calendar like you would a dinner date, or an appointment with a friend.

For at least the first two weeks keep a food diary of every single thing you eat and drink. Potential resistances might include self-sabotaging thoughts such as, “Do I have to write down everything?” Yes. Water, a piece of gum- everything! This will increase your awareness and mindfulness of your behaviors and give you a way to chart your progress.

If you have a sugar addiction, one sabotaging thought you might have at the beginning is “Oh, one cookie, won’t really matter, everything in moderation.” However, it does matter, especially at the beginning as you are trying to break bad habits and have your body adjust to a healthier state of being. It doesn’t mean you never can have a cookie or two again.

Ask yourself – how serious am I? And what am I feeling as I reach for that cookie? Write down what you are feeling in your food diary. Delay having that cookie. If you break down and have it, make sure you write down what you were feeling before, during and after you ate it. Patterns will emerge that will be hard to deny when you see it right before your eyes. Initially, this might feel like a pain, or actually might be painful.  But it also will be educational and help you gain more control over destructive patterns.


Devise an exercise plan that you can make a commitment to follow at least three to four times a week. Research has shown exercising regularly for at least 30 minutes each time leads to the best results. Potential resistances you might encounter are rationalizations like- “I’m too tired”, “I have an unexpected business appointment”. The need to recognize these as self-destructive and avoidance behaviors is important even if there is some truth to them. Life happens. Unexpected appointments come up; a deadline for a project may arise, but have a clear cut plan in advance how you might handle it.

A Proactive Approach to Your Plan

1)    Start keeping a daily journal.

First page: Write down your three reasons for your decision to start this program now.  

Second page: Draw a line down the middle of the page.  On one side of the page write down what resistances you think you might encounter. Other side of the page - write down a plan to deal with that resistance.

For instance: Resistance- “I’ve tried to do this so many times before and failed.” Plan: Reminder: “I never thought I’d meet someone after so many bad dates, but now have a great relationship.”

2)    Keep a daily record of your emotional journey throughout this process. Every night write down what you felt during that day - stressed out, happy, sad, angry, proud, energized, proud, tired. The purpose of this is twofold – one to increase your awareness of your internal life. Secondly, this will help you become aware of any potential correlations between your emotions and staying on track with your program.

3)    Every day write down in your journal two things you feel grateful for - even if it is as simple as having a warm bed to sleep in.

4)    Every day write down two things you feel proud of yourself for – i.e. kept to the food plan, dealt with difficult situation at work well.

Most importantly, don’t give up, or beat yourself up if you hit a snafu along the way. I remember a joke someone told me. “What’s your favorite form of exercise?” Answer... “Jumping to conclusions.” Don’t let the conclusion be that you can’t do it, because you can.

About the Author

Robin Zarel LCSW

Robin Zarel, LCSW, is a New York-based therapist. She has been in practice for 30 years.

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