When I started to work out regularly and to really pay attention to what I eat, I learned that the hard part is all mental as I make the change from a sedentary to an active lifestyle.

Paradoxically, however, at least part of the answer comes from paying close attention to the physicality of my body.

Last week I went to the middle school track, which has been one of my go-to workouts this summer. I have set myself a goal of running a mile—and so far I have not yet run a quarter of a mile. But I keep on trucking.

As we went around the track in the twilight and the cool of the evening, my daughter and workout buddy, who runs much more than I do, pushed me not to stop running when I wanted to quit.

And if I dig deeper I am positive I could run farther. What if one of my children was a quarter mile away and needed me immediately and urgently? Would I run that quarter mile? Would I run a mile if I thought the life of my child hinged on it? I believe I would. Well, my own life hinges on it, but for whatever reason, that doesn’t feel as pressing to me.

There’s a voice inside me when I work out, which says, “Quit. I’m tired. I don’t want to run any more. That’s far enough. My legs hurt. My lungs are burning. Quit.”

I’m working on training that voice to be my cheerleader: “Keep going! You can make it! You want this! You got this! You can do more than you think you can!” The voice is proving to be hard to train but I’ll keep at it.

On the eating side of the equation—because the changes I’m making are in diet and exercise—my best success has been in paying close attention to my body.

A few months back I wrote a column about mindful eating, which simply means eating when I feel physical hunger pangs, then stopping eating when I feel sated.

That seems like the simplest thing in the world, but it has been a real challenge for me. However, I have recently noticed a change there, and the more I pay attention, the more I see.

What has happened with eating is that I’ve cut my portion size by more than half, and even that reduced amount is often too much—when I am paying attention. If I’m distracted, say, scrolling through Facebook, reading a book or watching TV, then I just eat whatever amount of food I put on my plate, just like I always did before.

I see the results of my ongoing exercise and changing eating habits in my waistline, and in my face.

What I have started to do is to serve myself smaller and smaller portions, and to eat more slowly, and to really pay attention to what my body is telling me.

Those who have never struggled to lose weight or get exercise would point to that first. Just eat less. Duh. Right? If only it were that easy.

Back to running. Last week I ran a lot farther than I thought I could—by overriding some of that mental message to myself telling me to quit.

Also last week, I ate a lot less than I thought I would—by overriding some of that automatic actions I habitually take.

Putting all of the pieces together sometimes feels like an insurmountable task, and other times the pieces just fall into place. Slowly, oh so slowly, my habits are actually changing. It seems unlikely and I have a hard time believing it sometimes. Incremental change often feels like no change at all from the driver’s seat.

Incremental and long-term change is my goal.

In the same way that I realized some time last year that I would never reach a point where working out is easy, I realize that the effort has to continue daily for the rest of my life for the changes to be meaningful. So my oft-wished for magic wand won’t be coming. What will be coming is ongoing effort.

What is your strategy to keep working when you want to quit? You can reach me at 505-286-1212 or leota@lobo.net, or join the ongoing conversation in my Facebook group, “I’m Losing It!” I’d love to hear from you.

Leota Harriman
Leota Harriman

Leota started working for The Independent in 2006, working her way up through the ranks. An employee buyout in 2010 led to her ownership of the newspaper. Leota has served on the board of the N.M. Press Association, and is currently its First Vice President. She is passionate about health and wellness, especially mental health, and loves making art. She can be reached at news.ind.editor@gmail.com.