Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what the cornerstone of my health and wellness viewpoints are. For those of you who have followed this blog for years, you know that I tend to write and share about many different things: fitness, food and recipes, mindset, body shaming, product and/or apparel reviews, general tips for health related things, the list goes on. I don’t like limiting myself to just one topic! However, as I’ve recently started doing more self exploration as to what I really want my niche to be and the Achieve with Athena brand to stand for, an underlying theme that keeps coming up is stress, or in my case, stress free. If you follow me on social media, you may have even noticed me using #stressfreefitness and #healthydoesnthavetobehard lately! These little phrases and hashtags really do define my approach to wellness, tie together all the things I tend to write about quite nicely, and they are at the core of how I coach my clients to think during our sessions together.

I truly believe that in order to succeed with any health related behaviors for the long haul, what you are doing has to be stress free. This isn’t saying that you won’t bump into stressful times or different situations along the way as you experiment and hone what works best for you individually, but the way you approach exercise, nutrition, sleep, etc. simply cannot feel like a huge burden to you. If any of it does, it’s likely that your approach may need some tweaking, which is totally normal. Remember that this whole wellness thing is a journey, and it takes time to figure it out. Fitness should also enhance your life, not control it.

To help show you how to achieve a simpler path to a healthy mind and body, I’ve developed what I’m calling my four key pillars to stress free fitness. These pillars, or concepts, are what I always fall back to when making a change to my own diet and exercise. They keep things simple for me, especially with information overload nowadays and so many programs out there that just over-complicate things and promise unachievable end results. I promise that if you keep these four ideas in mind when it comes to your own wellness, your journey will be a lot more enjoyable during your process and successful long-term.

The Four Pillars to Stress Free Fitness 

1. #StressFreeFitness behaviors are… REALISTIC.

Your wellness goals or behaviors first and foremost have to be realistic. Ask yourself if what you are trying to do is possible, given your current available resources. For example, if you want to get to the gym for an hour a day, seven days a week, but between your work schedule, childcare duties, and church volunteer group, there is no way you’d be able to make this work, then this goal is just not realistic for you. I’m not saying to throw in the towel here and give up on fitness, but consider how you can tweak what you are going to do so that it sets you up for success. Perhaps getting to the gym three days a week for a 45 minute spin class and supplementing with two thirty minute at home strength training workouts is more feasible for you right now. That seems like a more realistic option to set yourself up for success.

Your realistic pillar should also be toward objectives which you are willing AND able to work toward. For example, I don’t want to set a goal of running a marathon for myself right now because I know it’s not realistic. Sure, I know I’m able to train for one, but I am simply not willing to give up my strength training routine for endurance running, at least at this point in my life. It’s just not a realistic priority for me!

January 2016 Fitness

When considering whether something is realistic or not for your #stressfreefitness routine, keeping the following words in mind may help you:

  • Practical
  • Simple
  • Reasonable
  • Doable
  • Attainable
  • Rational
  • Feasible
  • Positioning for success
  • Relevant

2. #StressFreeFitness behaviors are… SUSTAINABLE.

When it comes to sustainability, ask yourself, “could I move or eat like this forever?” Sustainable actions are ones that you will be able to continue doing for the long haul. Consider whether the methods you are using today are ones you can see yourself doing thirty years from now even after you’ve achieved your short-term fitness goals. For example, I used to do a million group exercise classes up the wazoo, sometimes multiple classes a day. Remember my Two A Day Tuesday phase? For me, working out in a double session like that back to back from 6:30-8:30 every Tuesday night week after week was perhaps realistic for me at the time, but it most definitely was not sustainable. I realized that I didn’t want to be spending my life in the gym for hours at a time like that pushing myself to exhaustion. There had to be an easier, more efficient, and more manageable way.

The same concept applies to food. There are soooo many different diets out there that promise fast results, and don’t even get me started on all the cleanses and five-day fixes. There’s no way I could ever restrict myself from eating anything forever. Sure, I’ve gotten to a place where I don’t struggle with limiting things like pasta intake or enjoying sweets moderately for the most part, but I know there is just absolutely no way I could ever maintain a no carb diet forever or drink a juice everyday as an entire meal replacement. I’d give it three or four days, max.

Caramelized Pear and Raspberry Crumble

Some other words you may want to keep in mind when focusing on this pillar of #stressfreefitness include:

  • Bearable
  • Livable
  • Sane
  • Manageable
  • Endurable
  • Supportable
  • Long term
  • Maintenance
  • Forever

3. #StressFreeFitness behaviors are… SHAME FREE.

Ahh, I love this one. Shaming ourselves is probably something that adds the most stress of all, don’t you think? Calling ourselves failures, beating ourselves up, saying we can’t, comparing ourselves to others, thinking that nothing we do is good enough, yikes! What good does all this do? For example, if you are working on allowing yourself smaller treats throughout the day to prevent larger binges later, but have a binge, calling yourself a failure will likely lend itself to you throwing in the towel and eating more anyways. Or perhaps you skip a planned weekday workout during a week you know you won’t be able to get to the gym. What good is beating yourself up about it going to do? Add a whole ton of stress, worry, and anxiety, that’s what!

Also, accepting where you are right now on your journey with grace and self compassion is so important. That’s not saying you can’t have things you want to work on or physique goals that are important to you, but they need to come from a place of self-love. From a place of being gratitude for your ability to move rather than from a place of self-hatred to get rid of trouble spots. This is easier said than done, but it just takes some mindset work. I suggest coming up with some alternative actions when you start getting hard on yourself, calling yourself fat, saying you are unworthy, or whatever your self shaming might look like. Whether that be going for a quick leisure walk, journaling, meditating or breathing, reminding yourself of some of the things you HAVE accomplished, finding something to take your mind off of the shaming or guilting is key. One thing that’s always worked for me is to say out loud, “Athena, would you talk to a friend the way you are talking to yourself right now?” It sounds kind of silly, but it works.

Shame Free

Words and phrases to think of when working on cultivating a shame free attitude include:

  • Guilt free
  • Proud
  • Self respect
  • Body confident
  • Self love
  • Self compassion
  • Affirming
  • Gratitude
  • Accomplishments

4. #StressFreeFitness behaviors are… FUN.

Finally, the things you do need to be somewhat enjoyable, don’t they? To me, this means just moving and eating sensibly without worrying so freaking much about all of the different tips you see and hear out there about what you are supposed to be putting on your plate and what you are supposed to be doing in the gym. Stop stressing about the calories in and calories out, the number of workouts done, and the number on the scale. Simply focus on the things that bring you joy.

To make exercise fun, move in ways that you look forward to and that make you smile. If you hate spinning, but love Zumba, go to Zumba. If you really love your leisure walks and prefer to cut out one day of strength training a week in order to have more meditative time outside, do it! If deadlifts are painful for you, don’t do them. Your likes, dislikes, and abilities will change over the years, and that’s perfectly okay! Yes, I stand by my beliefs that strength training and more efficient types of cardio will help you achieve a leaner physique (because science), but is a little extra definition really that important if you absolutely hate strength training and interval work and dread your workouts every single time? Probably not… because not sustainable. 🙂

May NBGNO: Shake It Up

To make nutrition fun, eat in ways that are enjoyable to you and make you feel good. For example, just because someone tells you that you have to eat carrots in order to be healthy doesn’t mean you have to eat carrots if you hate them! There are plenty of veggies in the world of veggies to choose from. As for foods that make you feel good, there are definitely a lot of things out there that can make us feel good in the moment (emotional eating), but I encourage you to focus on the foods that make you feel good before, during, AND after you eat them. Sure, ice cream is fun, so enjoy it here and there as cravings hit, but stuffing yourself silly with your favorite flavor of ice cream might not feel as good after the fact. Eat fruits and vegetables that energize you, prioritize your protein and foods that will fuel performance, and enjoy your treats moderately. Stay away from foods that promote guilt or shame. Don’t deprive. Get creative with cooking if you want, meal prep if you want, fly by the seat of your pants if you want, but don’t do any of these if they just stress you out.

When thinking about how to add fun to your current healthy lifestyle to ensure #stressfreefitness, think about the following words:

  • Happiness
  • Joy
  • Enjoyable
  • Smiling
  • Positivity
  • No hassle
  • Gratifying
  • Satisfying
  • Pleasant

This stuff really isn’t that difficult once we strip down all the confusing layers from everyone else and take all the gimmicks away, so I hope that these four pillars will help you achieve what I’m trying so hard to promote via the Achieve with Athena brand. Take the over thinking out, take the worrying out, take the dwelling out. There’s already so much other stress to deal with surrounding work, family, friends, household chores, money, and more. The way you move, eat, and think shouldn’t have to be stressful too.

I want to encourage you guys to join me as I continue to evolve my own #stressfreefitness journey! Show me how you are keeping things realistic, sustainable, shame free, and fun for YOU by posting on social media with this hashtag! You can also leave a comment on this post telling me how some of your current actions align with my four pillars.

Looking for a fitness program that’s realistic, sustainable, shame free, and fun?

Consider joining Wellness Your Way, my new 12-week group coaching program that kicks off on January 16th!

Wellness Your Way is simple and stress free lifestyle coaching for people who want to lose fat and get lean without all the rules and restriction. There’s no set meal plan, no off limit foods, no grueling workouts that will beat you dead into the ground. Wellness Your Way is not a diet. It’s a program to help you get back to basics and transform your relationship with food, fitness, and yourself.

Enroll in Wellness Your Way here. Registration closes Friday 1/6/17!