How to Stop Making Excuses and Start Making Changes


This article was originally published as the excuse-busting series of posts in Jan-Feb 2008.

I’m great at coming up with ways to wriggle out of commitments that I’ve made to myself. There’s a lot of popular excuses around, especially when it comes to facing the need to change an unhealthy lifestyle.

Do any of these sound familiar?

(Tip: Click on any excuse to go straight to the relevant “answer”.)

“I can’t eat a healthier diet because …”

“I can’t lose weight because …”

“I can’t exercise because …”

This article shows you how to break through the mindset behind each of those excuses, giving practical tips on storming ahead with your new, healthier, lifestyle.

What are your excuses?

It’s important to acknowledge those excuses that have held you back in the past. Get a piece of paper and write down any reasons which you use to convince yourself that you don’t want to change, or which make you feel you can’t change.

For example, “I’ve tried diets before and they never work.” That was my excuse as a teenager.

When I was seventeen, I realised why diets had never worked for me: I’d start a new one every Monday then give up and turn to food as soon as I was bored or upset. And I saw dieting as something I should do rather than something I wanted to do.

But I realised I could turn this around. I wanted to lose weight for myself – because I knew I’d be healthier. I wanted to take care of my body by eating proper meals and nutritious food rather than constantly snacking on crisps and chocolate. And this time, I wasn’t expecting instant results. There was nothing wrong with the diets I’d tried before – just my attitude towards them.

Take a good hard look at your excuses. Can you find a way round them? Is it worth letting them hold you back from achieving the best you can for yourself? If you’re not sure how to start tackling them, read on…

I can’t eat a healthier diet because … I’m too busy.

There’s a huge range of calorie-counted products available in shops, from sandwiches to ready-meals. These can be very useful if you’re in a real rush, but no-one needs to live on them to lose weight. Healthy, diet-friendly meals can be quick and easy to prepare.

Lunch
Get up five minutes earlier – hardly a huge challenge! – and make a sandwich for lunch. Go for granary bread and low-fat fillings (ham, cream cheese, salad or prawns all work well.) Grab a couple of pieces of fruit and a cereal bar to go with it, either from home or from your stash of snacks at work.

If your lunches are starting to get monotonous, check out my lunch tips or the suggested lunches on the recipe pages.

Dinner
Plenty of tasty, healthy, meals take only ten-fifteen minutes to prepare. Pasta is ideal: just make sure you weigh out your portion (50-80g dried weight, depending how many calories you’re eating). You don’t need to tip an artificially sweet shop-bought sauce over your pasta – try chopping onion and mushrooms, frying them with just a spray of low-fat oil, and adding a small tin of shop bought tomatoes. By the time the sauce is done, the pasta should have finished cooking.

Rice or noodles are also great options – especially with vegetable stir-fry. You can even buy ready-chopped veg, most supermarkets do a range of these.

I’ve got more detailed instructions for pasta with tomato, bacon and veg sauce and vegetable stir-fry with noodles on the recipe pages. – along with a few other quick and easy dinner ideas.

I can’t eat a healthier diet because … I don’t like fruit/vegetables/“healthy” foods

I was a horribly picky eater as a child and teenager, and – for a very long time – my excuse was “I can’t eat a healthy diet because I don’t like fruits and vegetables and ‘healthy’ food.” My parents are probably still surprised that I voluntarily eat (and avidly enjoy!) carrots. So if you are a self-confessed picky eater, I’ve got a few tips:

  1. Make a pledge to try a new food each weekIt took me several attempts to bring myself to try cottage cheese – I kept buying tubs of it and chucking them away unopened. It’s now one of my favourite snacks! If there’s something you’ve not tried before, buy a small serving and give it a go.Even if you aren’t too keen the first time, try it again the next day – it can take your taste buds a while to adapt.
  2. Order something new when you’re eating outIf you’re not very confident how to prepare or cook a new product, eat it at a restaurant. Don’t base your entire meal around something you suspect you might hate, or you’ll have a rather disappointing time – but try a out different starter, or an unusual side dish.
  3. Have a taste of someone else’s mealWhen you’re eating with people who are family or close friends, persuade them to let you have a bit of their meal! You might discover a food you love.
  4. Prepare your vegetables differentlyLots of people grow up “hating” vegetables because they’re used to bland, overcooked veg at school dinners. If you boil veg, don’t overcook them, leave them slightly firm – carrots and broccoli are much nicer this way. Try roasting sliced carrots and courgettes (with a little olive oil and black pepper, if you want); it really brings out their sweetness.
  5. Buy in-season fruitThe flavours of fruits such as strawberries are much stronger when the fruits are at their best. In-season produce also tends to be cheaper. Ordering an organic box (such as from Abel & Cole) is a great way to try out some new fruits and vegetables.

Challenge yourself to try one new food, either something you think you “don’t like” (prepare it differently) or something you’ve not ever eaten before.

I can’t eat a healthier diet because … I’m on a tight budget

The first myth here to banish is that losing weight involves eating “diet foods.” It might involve eating less chocolate and more vegetables, but you do not need to go out and buy Weight Watchers’ ready meals, Special K cereal, Slimfast meal replacement bars or any branded products at all.

Think of one food-related expense which you can save money on: that mid-morning coffee from Starbucks? The chocolate bar from the vending machine every afternoon? Expensive diet shakes that don’t fill you up?

Save on sandwiches

If you really think you can’t afford to lose weight, take an honest look at your weekly menu. Do you buy your lunch out? I was shocked to read in the Guardian today that someone starting their working life now should expect to spend over £70,000 on lunches before they retire – an average of £4.37 a day.


Try taking packed lunches instead: one of my favourites is a pitta bread stuffed with ham and lettuce, which works out far cheaper (and tastier) than plastic-packaged alternatives.

This is what it costs for a week’s worth of lunches:

  • 5 pitta breads (35p)
  • ½ tub light cream cheese (35p)
  • 200g pack wafer-thin ham (£1.35)
  • ½ iceburg lettuce (38p)
  • 1/6th jar Branston small chunk pickle (19p)

= a grand total of £2.63

You could easily spend that on a single sandwich.

Fresh, tinned or frozen?

Don’t skimp on your five-a-day just because you’re on a budget. Many fresh fruit and vegetables are impressively cheap – carrots cost about 6p each, for example, onions about 10p. Smallish apples are about 25p. Potatoes are always good value, especially if you buy in bulk.

For out-of-season or exotic fruits, buy tinned. A small can of pineapple rings will set you back 25p, compared to £1-£2 for a fresh pineapple. Tinned peaches are also good, especially as a base for a fruit salad.

Bags of mixed frozen vegetables are also excellent value: they require no chopping or preparation, and won’t turn to mulch in the bottom of your salad drawer.

Vegetarian value

Meat is much more expensive than vegetarian sources of protein. Try having a couple of meat-free evening meals during the week. A tin of mixed beans can work well in chilli, and tofu can replace chicken pieces in a stir-fry. Many (though not all) meats tend to be high in fat, too, so you’ll be helping both your wallet and your diet. If you’re not sure what to cook, there’s several vegetarian options (V) on the recipes page.

I can’t lose weight because … I’ve been fat all my life

It can be incredibly difficult to change your life if you can’t envisage yourself in the new life which you want. Lots of successful dieters struggle to change their mental image of themselves – if you’ve been overweight for most of your life, the new slim you in the mirror can come as a surprise. I am still startled when new friends and acquaintances describe me as “slim” – though of course, I am, and they didn’t know me when I wasn’t!

Will losing weight mean changing who you are?

To change, you need to establish not only new eating habits but a new way of thinking about yourself. For some people, being overweight is a large part of their personality and self-image, and not always in a negative way. Especially for men, being “Big John” can be part of who they are. Or perhaps you’re known amongst friends as “fun”, or “bubbly” or “someone who makes the best cakes” and you’re worried that losing weight will change the way they think about you.

And if you’re like me, you’ve probably spent years telling yourself you’re happy with your weight. Perhaps your weight means you can confidently insist (to yourself, to others) “I don’t care what the world thinks. I’m happy with who I am.” Great! Good for you! But there may come a point when you decide that for health reasons, you want to lose some weight. If so, read on…

Working through your feelings about your weight

Step One:
Find somewhere you won’t be disturbed for at least five minutes. (Lock yourself in the bathroom if necessary.) Sit down with a piece of paper, and write answers to the following questions. Be as honest as you possibly can – no one will see this except you. Even if you think your answers are “wrong”, be honest about your feelings.

  • How I feel about my current weight
  • Why I want to lose weight
  • Why I’m afraid of losing weight

Step Two:
Look at what you’ve written and decide: Do I want to lose weight? It’s absolutely fine to decide not. But if you do want to – and your fears and your past are holding you back – then take another piece of paper and write “This is how I envisage my life in three years’ time.”

Include details of how you look, what you’re eating, your family and friends, and your day-to-day activities. Keep this piece of paper somewhere safe, and look over it every week (maybe at your weekly weigh-in, or first thing on Monday morning). Revise and add to it when necessary.

Step Three:
Each week, take the steps that lead you closer to that lifestyle. If you’re not sure where to start, try browsing the archives and the longer articles here on The Office Diet.

I can’t lose weight because … I’ll have to buy new clothes

Especially if you have several stone to lose, the journey to your goal weight can be daunting for many reasons – and “I can’t lose weight because I’ll have to buy new clothes” is often an unvoiced one. You’ll either be slopping around in clothes several sizes too big while you’re losing weight, or you’ll need to constantly fork out for new outfits. Even if treating yourself to a whole new wardrobe is your idea of heaven, it’s likely to leave a sizable dent in your bank account.

(Clothes pegmage by Square_Eye)

Keep the cost down

  • Scour e-bay for cheap, new or nearly new clothes. It’s a great source of bargains. If you know some clothes are invariably a poor fit for you, go with jumpers, t-shirts, or anything under a fiver…
  • Sell your old clothes on e-bay, if they’re in good condition; pocket-money for some new ones!
  • Wear belts with baggy jeans to avoid the risk of “builder’s bum”… belts can easily shrink with you.
  • If you face a special occasion while you’re en route to your goal weight, consider hiring something rather than buying a new outfit. That size 16 ball-dress won’t be much use when you’re a size 12…
  • Try charity shops, both for donating your cast-offs to and for buying clothes for yourself.

Keep your motivation up

  • You don’t need to give up shopping altogether whilst losing weight. How about buying accessories rather than clothes: scarves, hats, ties, belts, gloves, etc.
  • Treat yourself to one or two nice pieces each time you’ve dropped a size. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of trying on a pair of size 12 jeans in the changing rooms for the first time – and finding that they fit!
  • Don’t overhaul your entire style too soon. If you’re a “work in progress” as you march on towards your goal, don’t feel obliged to start dressing in a radically different way. Of course, if it helps your self-esteem, shed those baggy t-shirts and shapeless jogging bottoms. But you might feel most comfortable if you adjust slowly; buy the same brand of jeans but in a size down, and try one or two new pieces rather than a whole new look.

I can’t lose weight because … I’ll be hungry all the time

We all recognise that losing weight will involve some changes to the way we eat, but some people have strong associations between dieting and deprivation. Those who’re used to hearty meals (and who have the figure to match!) are often reluctant to “go on a diet” because they think it will mean living on salad: “I can’t lose weight because I’ll be hungry all the time.”

In fact, a healthy, sustainable diet should definitely not have you ready to gnaw your own arm off in hunger. The best way to lose weight is to cut back by 500-1000 calories a day, allowing you to lose 1-2lbs per week. The first few days may be harder as your body adjusts to less food, but you should only be feeling rather peckish before mealtimes, rather than suffering hours of hunger.
How to cut down on “expensive calorie” foods
Keep a food diary for a week and look for any obvious ways to reduce calories without unhealthy diet practices (such as skipping meals, or surviving on a single apple for lunch – you’ll be trading short-term gains for long-term yo-yo dieting.) This means cutting out foods which don’t fill you up and which “cost” a lot of calories.

Easy targets to zap from your diet are things like:

  • Bags of crisps: a packet of Doritos or Kettle Chips has 200 calories.
  • Chocolate bars: a standard mars bar has 260 calories – as much as many low-fat sandwiches.
  • Dessert: have a bowl of stewed fruit or fruit salad instead.
  • Shop-bought sandwiches: these often have 500-600 calories. You can cut this in half by buying from a low-calorie range, or by taking your own lunch into work (if the latter, you’ll save money too.)

Good “calorie bargain” foods to fill you up
There are plenty of things which are filling and “cheap” on calories. Some of my favourites are:

  • Apples: 50 cals for a small apple. If you tend to overeat in the evenings, try having one before dinner to take the edge off your appetite.
  • Cereal bars: a great mid-morning snack to fill the gap between breakfast and lunch. Also a good biscuit-substitute (many are quite sweet and some even have chocolate in…)
  • Crispbreads (such as Ryvitas): 30 cals a slice. Four of these seem just as filling as two thick slices of bread, but for far fewer calories.
  • Rice cakes: like crispbreads, about 30 calories a slice. Eat the flavoured ones plain for a quick snack if you’re starting to get hungry long before a meal is due.
  • Stir fries: I’m particularly fond of vegetable, prawns and noodles. This is really filling for about 400 calories.

I can’t exercise because … I’m too fat and unfit

If you’ve been overweight for a long time, or if you feel very out of shape, the thought of exercising can be daunting. Have you ever claimed “I can’t exercise because I’m too fat and unfit?”

Gym membership
Don’t be put off joining a gym because you think it’ll be full of waif-like supermodels and men with ripped abs: it won’t! I guarantee the others will be normal people, just like you: some skinny, some chubby, some only there to flick through the free papers…

And the staff will be friendly, helpful and not at all judgmental. They’ll help you work out an exercise programme to suit you – whatever your current level of fitness. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice or help; get your money’s worth!

Take a walk

However unfit you are, you can go for a walk. Half an hour a day can make a real difference – and the more you walk, the fitter you’ll get. If you already do a fair bit of walking, try interval training where you jog for a minute then walk for two minutes.

There’s plenty of exercise ideas for lunchtimes and before or after work on the Articles pages of The Office Diet.

Value yourself

Never put yourself down by saying that you’re “too fat” or “too unfit” to do something. You can do anything that you put your mind to. Other people in the gym or jogging past you in the street have their mind on their own workout rather than on yours. Don’t worry about whether they’ll notice you or judge you. If I see new members in the gym who’ve got a lot of weight to lose, I don’t think “You’re too fat to be here”, I think “Good on you! You’re already on your way to being healthier and fitter.”

I can’t exercise because … I don’t have any time

This is an especially popular excuse: “I can’t exercise because I don’t have any time.” We all lead hectic lives with little “me-time” and we couldn’t spend hours each day in the gym even if we wanted to. We have significant others and families to spend time with, jobs which require long hours and lengthy commutes, as well as other commitments in the evenings and at weekends.

But it is absolutely vital that you find some time, even if it’s only a few minutes, to squeeze some exercise into your daily routine. You’ll not only get fitter, it will do wonders for those ever-soaring stress-levels, and will make losing weight much easier.

So, how do you find an extra half-hour in every twenty-four that you won’t miss?

The Active Commute

If you possibly can, build exercise into your daily commute. Especially if it takes you longer than the national average (which has risen sharply in the past five years, from 35 minutes to 1 hour and 5 minutes). This is valuable time that you can spend more enjoyably than crammed onto sweaty public transport, or stuck in crawling lanes of traffic.

Split Exercise Throughout Your Day

Sometimes it’s tricky to find a half-hour chunk of time when you can exercise. How about doing three ten-minute sessions instead?

  • Get up ten minutes earlier, and do some stretching and weight-lifting exercises while you’re still in your pyjamas
  • Escape from the office for a ten minute brisk walk at lunchtime (just don’t make it a trip to the pub or newsagents…)
  • Spend just ten minutes in the evening doing something active: pick your two favourite tracks and dance enthusiastically to them, jog on the spot during the advert breaks, or dust off that exercise bike in the garage.

It might not seem like a lot, but over the course of a week, you could burn over 1,100 calories – equivalent to a whole day’s food allowance for some dieters – just by doing the above exercises every day (figures based on an 11 stone woman)

Exercise Duration Calories
Stretching/weights 10 mins 40
Brisk walk 10 mins 46
Jogging 10 mins 82

This comes to:

  • 168 cals/day
  • 1176 cals/week

So what’re you waiting for? Get up now, and do something active, for just five minutes. And make sure you find half-an hour every day (either on your commute or in a spare ten minutes snatched here and there) to fit in exercise without it filling up your precious free time.

I can’t exercise because … I hate exercise and always have done

A lot of us have very negative memories from our school-days; communal changing rooms, nasty comments, bullying, unflattering kit … it’s hardly surprising that some of us have the excuse “I hate exercise and always have done.” I spent my late teens being as inactive as possible because I’d hated the compulsory games sessions so much when I was younger.

But I now cycle seven miles a day and go to the gym most lunchtimes, and many other people who start out exercising to lose weight find they really miss it when they have a few inactive days.

If you don’t want to get hot and sweaty…
Exercise doesn’t have to mean a five mile run. You could go for a gentle walk locally (it counts even if it’s just to the shops and back), or a longer ramble in the countryside.

If you’re very out of shape, swimming is a great option. Go to the pool at quiet times, or for adult-only sessions if you’re not confident about your body (there’s nothing worse than having to run the gauntlet of shrieking kids from the changing room to the pool). Once you’re in the water, no-one will be able to see what shape you are! Also, swimming is great if you have joint problems that impact-based exercise (such as jogging) might exacerbate.

If you find exercise tedious…
Try thinking of activity rather than exercise. There might be some things you already enjoy which you could do more of:

  • Long walks exploring your neighbourhood with friends or family
  • Cycle rides down quiet country lanes
  • Playing football in your local park with the kids

Or there might be some more adventurous things which you’d love to have a go at. It’s not just kids who are allowed to have fun! Can you join a local trampolining club? Or take up a sport such as fencing or boxing; look out for beginners’ classes at bigger leisure centres. You just might find a whole new hobby…

Credits:
Intro photo by jk5854
Cooking dinner photo by astrangegirl
Fruit photo by Daryl Fritz
Coins photo by riverwatcher09
Fat kid photo by Beth R Watkins
Clothes peg photo by Square_Eye
Empty plate photo by mdavidford
Gym interior photo by ario_j
Clock photo by abhinv
Trampoline photo by Andy Field (Hubmedia)