Is One of These Limiting Beliefs Preventing You From Getting Healthy?

by | Apr 12, 2016
Photo by donnierayjones

Photo by donnierayjones

One of my hobbies is asking every random person I talk to how they feel about their health. The stories I hear range from super sad to downright hilarious. Yet despite the diversity, a few common themes emerge.

Most people agree that health is important. And while answers may vary about what actually constitutes “good health,” few people believe they have achieved it or are satisfied with where they are at.

Where things really get interesting though is when I ask someone what stops them from being healthier. Surprisingly few people give hedonistic reasons such as “I love junk food too much” or “I just don’t want to cut back on TV,” although I do hear it occasionally.

Instead, the majority of people I speak with give one of two answers:

  1. Family responsibilities take up too much time and energy
  2. Work (or school) responsibilities take up too much time and energy

Sometimes they say both.

Caring for your loved ones and building a career, whether for passion or money, are understandably the most important things in your life, and it is normal to assume that these responsibilities take priority over everything else.

Compared to family and business, focusing on your own well-being feels selfish. Like if you’re creating time and energy for yourself you are taking it away from someone or something else that needs it more. And you, obviously, are not a selfish person, so your needs are just going to have to wait.

This logic is so pervasive in so many cultures that few of us ever stop to question whether it actually makes sense, let alone step up and challenge it publicly. But if you’re being crushed under the weight of all your responsibilities and watching your health deteriorate year after year, it is time to do just that.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to argue that your health is more important than your family. Even if it were true, I know a losing battle when I see one. Instead let’s examine the logic directly.

The first basic assumption inherent in this reasoning is that caring for family or work and focusing on your health are mutually exclusive, or can’t be done at the same time. That there are only so many hours in the week, and you couldn’t possibly stretch them any further.

Certainly this feels true, particularly when you’re trying to figure out how to get food on the table after a long day. But there is evidence to suggest otherwise.

I’ve learned from talking to people who do manage to take care of their health that family and career are no less important to them. Somehow they’ve found a way to make room for everything.

These people aren’t aliens from another planet, they’re simply using a different strategy. They understand that health, family and work are not zero-sum, and this is the key insight.

When you assume that work and family take priority and ignore your health, it’s easy to believe there is no room for anything else. But when you ask people who manage all these things together how they are able to do it, their answer is that they couldn’t possibly have the energy for everything they do without making time for self-care. That fueling, maintaining and resting their bodies is essential for having the energy for everything else they do.

The flawed assumption is that making time for health takes time away from other things, when in reality it makes greater things possible by increasing your focus and energy. It doesn’t increase the number of hours in your week, but it makes those hours easier and more productive.

Making the transition to a healthier life is a big, long-term change that requires dedication, and the first step in the journey is believing that it is worth it. Not for selfish reasons (although those are perfectly valid), but so you can be the best version of yourself for all the people in your life that depend on you.

It doesn’t help anyone for you to be exhausted, stressed, run down and constantly scrambling to barely get by. Your family and career need you to be present, calm, effective, and physically able to do all the things you’ve signed up for.

If you aren’t healthy you’re doing the least you can do, not the best you can do.

Once you’ve internalized this truth it’s possible to start making the small, gradual changes that add up to a healthier life. You can make the slight effort to eat a few more vegetables each day and be just a little more active. You can skip that last TV show you’d like to watch and start getting ready for bed a little earlier. As your energy builds you can then make bigger changes, like cooking dinner or starting a workout program.

But until you see that your health is essential and not a luxury, getting started will be nearly impossible. Taking care of yourself is essential for taking care of others, and ignoring this is the truly selfish act.

Have you been sacrificing your health for the sake of helping others?

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19 Responses to “Is One of These Limiting Beliefs Preventing You From Getting Healthy?”

  1. Colleen says:

    I think people are just lazy and unmotivated, but it sounds better to use business as as excuse.

    Nobody LITERALLY has NO time.

    • Sunny says:

      Colleen, its best to reserve negative, unfounded judgment to yourself when you simply cannot comprehend various scenarios people may have to deal with.

      • Rebecca says:

        Or, people are lazy and unmotivated… AND they are overworked and want to spend time with their families, and also, changing habits is difficult.

        It just doesn’t do anyone any good to say it’s from laziness and lack of motivation when our society is filled with overweight/obese people who have gone on countless diets and have used tremendous amounts of willpower to change only to fall on their face and feel like it’s just too hard or requires too much sacrifice to make it happen.

        The problem isn’t that most people are lazy and unmotivated, it’s that they don’t know or don’t have the tools to go about the process of change in an effective way. Fortunately, we have Darya to write books like “Foodist” and this blog to show us that self-care is possible and it doesn’t have to make you miserable. 🙂

  2. Sean says:

    I had my kids a little older so I figure I’ll be much more useful to them later in life if I am healthy. I’d hate for them to have to be caregivers to a decrepit old man when they are in their 20’s and 30’s.

    The inconvenient truth about life these days is that our bodies are meant to move way more than today’s work environment allows and unless you are rich enough to afford healthy prepared food eating good food takes planning, preparation, and lots of time.

  3. gena and greg says:

    take it from someone that is overweight and with a husband in the same position we are lazy. we spend most of our time in front of tv and computer screens.

  4. Nancy says:

    Nailed it. Again. Thanks for the reminder.

  5. Sara says:

    I struggle with this post a little. I live a very privileged life (private school educated/grad degree) in a two income one kid household, and weeks when my husband is on a trip and it’s just me and the kid all week? SOMETHING has to get sacrificed and it’s not just extra tv before bed. So that means treadmill at 430am or 9pm (so there goes some sleep!) Cooking dinner? It’s that or do homework. I’m a manager in my profession, someone on the team didn’t make a deadline? Guess who is up late after kid goes to bed trying to make sure we don’t miss a billable milestone. And let me repeat, my life is pretty much ideal. I generally work a hassle free 40 hour week, I have money to belong to the CSA and local gym, and a life partner that pitches in on hte daily drudgery. For families who are single parent or poor or uneducated or have multiple kids….it’s just a different story. So all of the above is FINE, but the article should seriously start with a big old asterisk that this advice is only applicable to the privileged few. (Switch out business/career in the article with 12 hour minimum wage shift and you’ll get the point)

    • Polly says:

      All she’s saying is to find time to do little things/build small habits towards taking care of your health. That’s it. I really doubt you don’t have time to steam some vegetables/go to the park with your kid/etc, etc. We’re really not talking about training to become elite athletes here…
      I do agree that it gets progressively more difficult the less means you have – totally valid point!!

    • Mo says:

      I totally respect the compassion in your points. I guess one thing I’m compelled to share is that these ideas are potentially MORE important for those struggling, than those with “easier” circumstances. I think taking care of ourselves is a challenge that crosses a broad spectrum. Whether financially struggling, time poor, etc.

  6. Mo says:

    I think this is brave and true. Every time I am able to take just a little bit better care of myself, I realize how much more present I am for my family and my work. Encouraging small changes isn’t flashy or glamorous, but it’s honest and appreciated. We might have to give some other things up to make it work, but it’s worth it.

  7. Bonnie says:

    I used to struggle with this but I decided to make myself a priority. My family didn’t expect me to sacrifice my health for them but somehow my needs always ended up at the bottom of my priority list. I moved my health to the top of the list and, somehow, everyone else still gets their needs met. My kids, and parents (I take care of both) are happy for me and everyone wins.

    • Koko says:

      And this is what life is about!!! Everyone else, if they truley care about you, will manage. Nobody is unreplacable, but you to yourself – remember that!

  8. Randee says:

    I love this post and I agree! My problem is that I don’t see results very quickly. So I understand that it’s good to eat veggies and take 10,000 steps a day and cook my own meals and drink lots of water, but when I get on the scale after doing those things for a few months and it hasn’t moved AT ALL then I have a really hard time staying motivated! I do feel better and have more energy when I take care of my health but I’d sure love to ditch this lingering pregnancy weight. 😒 I think we all feel like we need to live in the gym to actually see results. The healthy lifestyle plan feels like a pipe dream that sounds great but doesn’t really work. But it works for you and others so what are the rest of us missing??

  9. Terry says:

    I think all the suggestions are good, a little more compassion would be nice, however, my problem is partly laziness about exercising, got the food thing OK, but I live alone, I’m 76 and no-one to encourage me and I’m not a good self starter. I also tend to think, who cares except me? Having just read that, people do care and I am just being self pitying!

    • Martha says:

      You might find motivation from message boards geared toward healthy eating and exercise. I can’t get enough of reading success stories.

    • Erika says:

      Thank you, I can relate! I am only 56 and realize that exercise will give me more energy but… I’m not a self-starter, need a workout partner, and love food!

  10. Martha says:

    I really do love junk food too much. That said, I have learned from this site about making better substitutions and trying to form new habits so that I am not relying on willpower.

    • Erika says:

      Exactly! I have no willpower. I have to keep sweets out of the house and grocery shop when I’m not hungry. I’m using the my fitness pal app and it’s helped me want to eat better.

  11. Greg says:

    Such a wonderful article and relevant to so many people. I felt uplifted and encouraged after reading the article until I read the comments (maybe it should be titled “complaints”). I’m in the same boat as everyone else that complained in the comments (hence why it took me so long to read the article) but I have such a different take on it. The main goal is to help us make gradual, meaningful changes in our lives so that we can better take care of everything else we have in our lives. You read the article because you are looking for help, so why not accept the advice instead of making excuses as to why the advice is ridiculous for you?

    Darya, thank you for the great article. From now on though, I’m skipping the comments.

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