Excuses are awesome, aren’t they? Letting you get away with doing nothing about a problem and still feel self-righteous about it. What’s not to love?
I’ve heard them all: I don’t like vegetables, I can’t cook, my husband is too picky, my kids won’t eat it, I work too hard, my knees hurt, my friends are jerks, I love McDonalds, it’s too expensive, I’m too busy.
Yes, yes. Of course you are. But aren’t these still just excuses, illusions we create to mask the real reasons we’d rather watch TV than do something to improve our own lives?
STOP (***Record scratch sound effect***)
If you aren’t getting mad yet, you should be. I didn’t say it, but the implied message is clear: You’re really just making excuses to be unhealthy because you’re lazy.
But that isn’t your experience, is it?
You know you work hard. You know health is important. You’re doing your best. You try to make good decisions. But things come up, you have to improvise, and your best intentions unravel. It isn’t because you’re doing too little, it’s because you’re doing too much.
Still, isn’t laziness the message we hear every day?
It’s almost impossible to find someone offering health and fitness advice that doesn’t insist effort is the missing piece of the equation. If you’ve watched The Biggest Loser you might even think you need a drill sergeant as well: You want to be thin and healthy? Drop and give me 50, Loser.
It is true that we make excuses when our actions fall short of our goals, but let’s take a closer look as to why that is.
Effort + failure = guilt (thank you, fitness gurus)
Guilt + more failure = less effort
Less effort + excuses = less guilt
Problem solved. Sort of.
Excuses allow us to mitigate the guilt we feel for failing to make ourselves healthier, which we’ve been told is due to our own lack of effort. It’s tempting to focus on the last equation (Less effort + excuses = less guilt) and continue to blame ourselves. Maybe we are making excuses so we feel less guilty. Maybe we are trying less than we used to. But we’ve tried harder in the past and it didn’t work. Maybe we just don’t have what it takes….
But you and I both know that lack of effort is not the problem. Or at least it didn’t start that way. Heck, even most of The Biggest Loser contestants gain the weight back eventually. So if effort isn’t the problem, then why haven’t we conquered this health thing?
The problem is that we’ve been trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. We’re relying on brute force to deprive ourselves of things we need and love, and it’s a losing battle. You aren’t too lazy or weak, you’ve just been given a method that doesn’t actually work in the long-term.
Escaping the guilt-excuse loop is possible, but it first requires accepting that the problem isn’t you. You don’t need to make excuses for not trying harder on something that doesn’t work. You don’t need to feel guilty for not accomplishing the impossible.
When you drop the guilt, you can drop the excuses. When you drop the excuses, you can once again prioritize your health. There is no doubt that getting healthy will require some extra effort. But unlike with restrictive dieting, the effort you invest won’t be wasted.
As in any meaningful journey, the most difficult part is getting started. Once healthy habits take root, the difficulty and discomfort dissipate and are ultimately replaced by familiarity and contentment. Your effort will be rewarded with results, health will stop feeling like a chore, and your excuses will disappear. Yes, you really do have time to eat better.
To learn more about how to lose weight without dieting, check out my book Foodist.
Originally published July 17, 2013.