“Stick with something long enough, and it’ll become a habit. It’ll be second nature.”
You’ve heard that before, right? It’s what all the fitness gurus say about starting an exercise regimen. “It’ll only feel like a chore for so long.”
Well, the truth is that it takes a long time for a habit to form–more than two months of dedicated, consistent effort–and if it’s something you don’t want to do in the first place and feel a lot of mental resistance toward, it may never become second nature. How many times have you tried working out or changing your diet and done pretty well until you caught a cold, then failed to get back into it after you recovered?
Staying motivated isn’t just about putting in the hours. It requires a conscious effort to focus on the positives, to shift your mindset so that “chores” become “opportunities” or maybe even “fun”.
For example, I began a strength-training regimen a bit over two months ago. Four weeks in, I was seeing some actual muscle definition and I was able to lift heavier weights for longer. That felt pretty good and having a habit I was proud of kept me going back. Then I caught a stomach flu and was out of commission for two whole weeks. I completely lost that strength and muscle definition. It was disheartening. But: I also gained the knowledge that I can have those things. I learned how to safely do squats and dead-lifts and all kinds of exercises and I still have that experience. Getting back up to where I was–and beyond–will be much easier this time around precisely because I’ve already been there. Getting sick is a completely natural, inevitable part of life and now I have the opportunity to really make myself proud by bouncing back. What I did once I can absolutely do again.
Not that it’s easy to get back in the saddle–it just has to be done. Here are some other shifts in mindset that can make make it easier to stay motivated on the autoimmune protocol or other lifestyle changes:
- It’s okay to put your needs first. Without your health, it will be much more difficult to take care of your family, friends, and career. It’s not selfish to look after yourself! To go to bed when you need to to make sure you get a full night’s sleep. To say no to drinks after work or to avoid restaurants where you know you can’t get any safe food. To take a hot, relaxing bath instead of doing the laundry after a stressful day. Or whatever else it is you need to do to be your best self.
- Take it slow if you need to. Educate yourself on the changes you’re considering and implement them in the simplest, most sustainable way for you. If the thought of starting the whole AIP tomorrow is too overwhelming, try just removing coffee first before moving on to the next food. Embrace the journey and don’t push yourself further than you need to. For example, a lot of people do the AIP plus GAPS plus anti-candida plus the low-FODMAP diet believing that if one of these diets is good, all four will be extremely healing. While some people may in fact need to make additional restrictions beyond the scope of the AIP, it should only be done at a healthcare provider’s recommendation. If you don’t have SIBO or IBS, adding a low-FODMAP restriction on top of the AIP may be needlessly depriving yourself of nutrients while adding unnecessary stress.
- Cooking isn’t a burden. I know it’s often not the most enjoyable way to spend your time, but cooking has a lot of positives to offer: It’s a skill you can teach your children; you don’t have to worry about ingesting something that will make you sick; it can be valuable “me” time where you listen to your favorite music, shows, or audiobooks; it’s a great opportunity to try new things and customize your meals to your liking; and it’s usually cheaper than eating out. Make meal plans, keep your pantry and freezer well-stocked, and find a few recipes you like that are simple enough to turn to time and again.
- Don’t focus on the things you’re giving up. “I miss breakfast cereal” or “I could have done so many other things with that hour at the gym” are natural thoughts to have, but they aren’t helpful ones–let them pass as soon as they form, then turn your thoughts to the positives and spend some time exploring them. “My new breakfasts are so much healthier and they’re tasty in their own way” and “I feel great after a good workout and I’m so proud of myself for every minute I invest in my own well-being”. The more energy you invest in positive affirmations and gratitude for your wins, the more resilient you’ll be to the stress and effort involved in attaining them.
- Stay hopeful and practice optimism, but be realistic. It’s easy to think you’re not making any progress in this world of instant gratification. The unfortunate truth is that life with autoimmune disease is just that–life with autoimmune disease. Progress takes time and there may be inevitable downturns as we age, have kids, catch a virus, or experience other stressors. Hope is believing that your efforts can and will pay off and that taking care of yourself will result in better outcomes than if you did nothing. But it’s important to have realistic expectations. For example, someone whose Hashimoto’s is diagnosed early in life may be able to get by without thyroid medication, whereas someone whose thyroid has been destroyed by the disease will require medication for life. Hoping you’ll be able to stop taking thyroid drugs may or may not be a realistic expectation, and if it isn’t realistic, the disappointment you’ll feel when it doesn’t happen could be extremely discouraging. So make sure your hopes are tailored to your unique situation.
- Seek help. Having a helping hand in the kitchen or a partner at the gym can be a huge relief, easily turning a chore into a social event. It’s also important to have a healthcare provider–whether it’s a doctor, functional medicine practitioner, nutritionist, or personal trainer–that respects your efforts and can help you troubleshoot any plateaus or setbacks you run into. Even if it’s just someone to watch the kids or help clean the house, a helping hand can go a long way toward easing your burdens.
There’s a really great resource to help with all of this if you’re thinking about starting the autoimmune protocol (or struggling to stick with it). It’s a program called SAD to AIP in SIX and it comes from my friend Angie Alt, who was one of the first people writing about the AIP online and has had decades of personal struggles with autoimmune disease. With compassionate coaching from Angie and her team, access to a supportive online community going through the same lifestyle changes, and reference materials that simplify the AIP as much as possible, it’s an invaluable resource–and the price is a steal for coaching and support of this quality!
The short version: The more a lifestyle change becomes something you actually look forward to, the less motivated you’ll need to feel to stick with it. And while we all have different ideas of what constitutes “fun”, turning it into a social situation and having a supportive community can make a world of difference.