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How do you define health?

Three naked women. Four stories high. The advertisement loomed over me on my walk around Columbus Circle to pick-up groceries for a Thursday night dinner. The image instantly seared in my brain the moment I caught a glimpse of the models’ wide-eyed faces.

Four years later I can still picture the ad as clear as day.

The eyes of the models in stare straight out of the photo, full of confidence and grit. These bodies were not just skinny. They were strong. Their muscles were taut as if they might come to life and walk out of the picture at any moment. Their posture takes pride in the elegance of their curves – using their core strength instead of hiding their (albeit tiny) tummies.

The moment I saw those three exposed models looking down at me from that ad, the scales fell off my eyes. I felt a hot wave of shame. There I stood, looking at a pinnacle of beauty – a standard after which I had strived for most of my adult life – seeing not emaciated figures but strong bodies of women with the energy and strength to live fully.

The shift in my ‘model image’ changed my whole approach to health.

I was fed up with the mental and physical gruel of pounding the treadmill, salivating over a pastry and then turning the other way. The discipline of ordering my coffee black because it meant saving maybe 20 calories.

January is the month when our culture touts the phrase “New year, new you.” I don’t know about you, but I’m already tired of hearing it.

We decide to adopt new health regimes and diets, even though we know most new diets fail within 7 days. Ironic that this ‘holiday tradition’ comes hot on the heels of December, when it feels rude to see someone without bringing a box of cookies.

For many of us a “new you” means trimming our waistline with the goal of taking our bodies back in time to the image of our high school or college figure. I don’t know anyone who wishes they could relive the chaos and frustration of those young adult years, so why do we chase after that body image?

Something about seeing the figures of those three women completely illuminated the physique I was chasing after:

Strength. Energy. Vibrancy.

I would not spend the rest of my life comparing my own body, a marvelous wonder of creation, to the bodies of supermodels – or anyone else for that matter. Not even my 18-year old self.

So if you’re changing your health and fitness patterns this January, here are my two favorite ways to ensure that this time next January you’re driving a healthier “new you.”

1) Redefine what you mean by being healthy. Is your idea of health tied to a specific body image? Or does it mean feeling comfortable, confident and vibrant in your body?

If you’re at all like me, an ideal body image is not only unattainable but un motivating. Go back to your journal and redefine what your goal of ‘being healthy’ actually is.

Real health might look like…

  • Having more energy when you get home – instead of needing to flop down on the couch – to show up more fully for your family.
  • Going through the workday with more creativity and enthusiasm.
  • Strengthening your biorhythms so you get higher quality sleep.
  • Feeling calm and confident when you meet someone new.
  • Having more stamina for other bedroom activities.
  • Carrying two heavy grocery bags without having to take a break.
  • Being able to play and keep-up with children.
  • Moving with ease using your body’s full range of motion

When it comes to our bodies, we tend to be much more lenient with others and judge ourselves with exceeding harshness.

2) Imagine a friend came to you with his or her own body image concerns. What kind of advice would you give them? Eat more nutritious foods. Sleep more. Drink 8 glasses of water every day. Move your body.

The pareto principle – that 20% of the work will get you to 80% of the results – applies when it comes to a healthy lifestyle. These simple principles build-up over time. The trick is the integration of these simple health habits into our daily life, which leads us to the new point…

3) Health is not a goal. It is a state. It is a way of living- and there are no shortcuts for getting there. There are, however, short cuts for creating new habits with ease. Adding a habit onto an existing habit is an effortless way to retrain your body and brain. If you’re looking to adopt a new health habit, consider how you can integrate it into something you already do on a daily basis.

As someone with shifting work hours, I don’t always have time to go to the gym or commit to a full workout. Rather than worrying all day about whether or not I’ll have time for a workout, I’ve committed to get moving as part of my morning routine.

Every morning I wake-up, drink two glasses of water and start a pot of coffee. This time last year, I started doing a quick 4-10 minute workout while the coffee is brewing: a Tabatha set, core planks, body weight exercises or dynamic stretches. At first it was awkward (I’m usually in my kitchen) and I was fighting a sleepy haze. But our bodies are surprisingly quick to adapt, and now I wake up with a craving to workout. I don’t need to expend any mental energy in ‘pushing myself’ to workout or wrestle with a body that feels ‘too tired.’

So if you have a goal to get healthier, whip out your journal and take a minute to answer: What other habits you can use to turbo-charge one new healthy habit?

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