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Most of the advice we get about weight loss today is somewhat negative: Don't eat processed foods, steer clear of carbs, avoid meat. Tape a picture of the body you want to the fridge for motivation -- otherwise, you might slip up and start appreciating the body you have.
We've even had researchers tell us not to be friends with overweight people. And Colorado just launched a new campaign to educate residents on their fatness, because if you think you're merely overweight, you'll get complacent, but if you realize you're actually obese, you'll feel so bad, you'll finally diet.
Whenever I get depressed about all this meanness I check in with my friend Michelle Segar, PhD, an exercise pyschologist at the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at the University of Michigan. She reminds me that research shows starting any new healthy habit (eating well, exercising more, even flossing!) from a negative place is a surefire recipe for disaster. Sure, feeling fat might inspire one feverish bout of Spinning. But you won't stick with it (because it's like committing to yell at yourself). And then you'll feel worse.
Dr. Segar's approach (which she calls Smart Women Don't Diet -- see why we love her?) is to ditch all those negative rules and find the positive in physical activity instead. Forget about "I have to lose 10 pounds," or "if I can't get in at least 30 minutes on the treadmill, I might as well not bother." (I used to be big on that last one.) Instead, try Dr. Segar's tips to make your next workout a happy one:
*Decide how you want your workout to make you feel. Relaxed? Energized? Peaceful? "The purpose is not to burn calories, it's to give yourself a gift," Dr. Segar explains. "So think about what kind of experience you'd enjoy the most."
*Pick an activity that will give you that experience. "If you want to feel expansive and peaceful, you may want to walk in the woods instead of heading to the gym," she notes. If you want a social experience, plan something you can do with a friend that day. Don't worry if it's not your usual workout -- just pick something you'll enjoy.
*Anticipate potential barriers to this experience. Most of them are going to be the voices in your head saying your chosen activity is "too easy," or "too hard," or otherwise doesn't fit the usual definition of "working out." Ignore those. If you're encountering practical barriers -- like a crazy schedule -- think about breaking the experience up into smaller pieces you can do over the course of a day or week. "Exercise has to fit into our lives, not the other way around," says Dr. Segar.
The best part? "A lot of my clients ultimately decide to kick up the frequency or intensity level of their workouts and see real benefits," says Dr. Segar. "The key is that they're directing the show -- they aren't forcing themselves to exercise because they think they 'have to.'" Because once you find an exercise experience that makes you happy (for me it's hiking or yoga) you'll want to do it. A lot. Like, enough to improve your health.
And you didn't even have to yell at yourself once.