Making Diet and Exercise a Priority

The amount of time and effort you are willing to put into something is directly proportional to either (1) its importance to you or, (2) the enjoyment that is derived from it.  Since we know that the process of changing your body composition may not be so enjoyable, your motivation to eat well and exercise likely comes from the importance you place on either being healthy or looking good (or both!).

But with all we have going on in our lives today, how can we justify spending our already-limited time on something so self-absorbed as looking good? Isn’t it okay to get take out or go through a drive-thru as long as we eat from the menu of healthy items?  If you are content with the current status of your body and health, then sure, go ahead and keep doing what you’re doing. If not, check this out…

If it’s really important to you, you’ll make the time for it.

Look at all the things into which we put effort and time, even if it isn’t always enjoyable (so it must be important somehow):

  • Academics – Some people spend 12+ hours a day for up to 25 years of their life studying. That’s a long time!
  • Career – Whether you love or just tolerate your job, this activity takes up about 1/3 of your life, often more.
  • Money – If increasing your wealth is important to you, you will find ways to achieve it. People take high-paying jobs with long hours even if the lifestyle sucks because money is important to them. When we want to save money, we sacrifice our immediate wants or needs to set money aside for something we hope to acquire later.
  • Relationships – How much time did you spend going out, dating around, and kissing frogs before you found your mate? Or maybe you’re still on the prowl, meeting people online, in bars, at parties, or work. This can be a full-time job in and of itself!
  • Children/Family – Women make all kinds of changes for the well-being of their growing baby, changes they may not have made just for themselves.
  • Athletics, Music, or other activity – Even without the goal of being a professional, you must dedicate a significant amount of time in order to develop your skill.

Where does your own diet and fitness rank among these priorities? How much time are you willing to invest in building and maintaining a strong and healthy body that will ultimately support you in your life’s other endeavors?

Being pulled in so many directions, it may seem like there is no possible way to carve out more time and energy to pay attention to diet and exercise. Aren’t our jobs and family more important? It’s so much easier to hit the fast-food routine than it is to think of  (much less prepare) a healthy meal and actually cook it at home. And no way do we have hours to spend at a gym every day; the children need to be tended to, we have too much work to do, we are just too tired.

Actually, a well-designed diet plan and exercise strategy are probably the most time-efficient and results-yielding habits you can apply to your life. Don’t believe me? Read on…

Make Time for your Diet

By planning out your meals in advance, you will save a ton of time when it’s actually time to eat. Nate and I grocery shop and cook the bulk of our food twice a week. On these days we’ll spend about 90 minutes preparing the foods that takes the longest to cook: chicken, fish, potatoes, rice, veggies. With this, we have most of our food ready for the next few days.

An hour and a half? That’s a long time to be slaving over a hot stove! Actually, the only thing that is very labor-intensive is peeling the potatoes, so if you want to just bake them it would take less time. Since these aren’t the kind of dishes that you need to watch over – put the chicken or fish in the oven and turn on the timer, and throw the potatoes in the pot or rice in the cooker and let them go – you can still do other things while the food is cooking. Hooray for multitasking!

Then, each weeknight I cook the egg whites for my breakfast and snacks the next day; while they are on the stove I pack up the rest of my meals: rice cakes or potatoes to go with the eggs, and my lunch of chicken/potatoes or rice/veggies (which are already prepared). Sometimes I’ll hard-boil the eggs so that I don’t have to watch the stove so closely, or sometimes I forego the eggs altogether and have protein shakes. This daily prep only takes about 20 minutes.

All-in, it takes a total of 4 hours per week – just over 30 minutes per day – to prepare ALL my meals for the week.  How’s that for efficiency?

More Bang for your Food Prep Buck

More than just being efficient, it’s also more healthful.  By making meals at home, you are in direct control of what goes into your food, so you know there’s not a ton of salt, sugar, and fat – all the things you are trying to avoid. You are also in control of the portion sizes, so you know the exact amounts of calories and macronutrients you are consuming with each meal.

But wait, there are even more benefits to making your own meals at home:

  • You will save money.  We all know that eating out is expensive. Even if you are spending more money at the grocery store, homemade meals like these will always be more cost-effective than trying to find the same food at a restaurant (which you won’t be able to do). How about trying to find a “clean” snack? The cafeteria at my workplace charges 80 cents a hard-boiled egg. That’s $3.20 just for the protein portion of one snack, when I can buy a dozen eggs for less than that.
  • You will save time during the workday.  With your meals and snacks at hand, you won’t have to waste time going to a restaurant, waiting for them to prepare your meal, and then getting back to the office. That’s an extra hour you can use to do something else at mid-day, like sit outside, go to the gym, run errands, or schedule a lunchtime meeting so you can leave the office a little earlier.
  • You will have fewer decisions to make. No longer will you say to yourself “what do I want to eat today?” and then try to find a healthy option to buy somewhere, because you will already have your healthy lunch and snacks with you.

Make Time for Your Workouts

You’ve seen from our exercise plans that we’re not telling you to spend your life in the gym. (Haven’t read them yet? Go check them out!). Heck, you don’t even need to go to the gym; you can do workouts at home using dumbbells, resistance bands, or even just your bodyweight. Workouts never exceed 1 hour per day, and are never done more than 4 days per week. That totals – again – just 4 hours per week!

As a working professional, I know it’s hard to carve out time to get to the gym. I’ve had my own struggles, dealt with commuting, new jobs, meetings that start early and run late in the same day. I’ve tried to fit workouts in every possible timeslot: early morning, lunchtime, and after work.

You know what I’ve found to work the best? First thing in the morning. It is the only time of day that is truly mine, without interruption, and before the day can get away from me. I’ve heard the same from other people, from doctors to teachers to stay-at-home mothers. I think I once read that Oprah works out first thing in the morning for the same reason (and if she can make time to work out, surely we can too).  It’s painful at first, but once you get into a rhythm, it’s not that bad, and even has some merits. I find that the gym is less crowded at that time, so I don’t have to fight or wait for equipment, and I’m able to get through my workouts faster (more time-saving!).

I also like the sense of accomplishment I feel on my way to the office…I’ve done something good for my body, and won’t have to worry later in the day about whether I’ll have time to get my workout in (which is good for my mind!) One less thing to think about, and I’ve checked something off my to-do list before 7am. Man, this fitness thing is all kinds of efficient!

Adding It Up – It Doesn’t Take Much

Altogether I spend an average of about one hour per day on my diet and exercise COMBINED. Since this is an average, some days are even less; for example, on the days I don’t work out, I only need 20 minutes to prepare my food for the next day (I love those days).

Think you can’t find an hour in your day? How much time do you spend on Facebook, or watching Sportscenter, or Food Network? Okay not all of us waste time on that kind of thing but you see my point. While getting healthy and fit doesn’t take a ton of time, you do need to make your plan a priority and schedule it into every day. This is no 8-Minute Abs, but it sure is a lot easier than I ever thought it could be.