Linda came rushing in, 20 minutes late for our training appointment, extremely apologetic. When she was ready to leave her home, with plenty of time to arrive promptly, she realized her sneakers were not in her gym bag. After searching frantically, she found them in the back seat of her car. Today’s tardiness was a variation on a regular theme.|
John had a goal to eat a healthy breakfast at home before leaving for the office every morning. When I asked John to tell me how the week had gone, he replied, ''The first day went fine. I did eat breakfast at home but then ended up late for my morning meeting. Then I had to stay up very late that night to complete a project, which caused me to hit the snooze button the next morning—not once, but several times. And of course, that meant no time for breakfast. Eating a healthy breakfast at home is a lot more challenging than I thought it would be.''
After 30 years of working with clients, I often see a strong correlation between disorganization and difficulty with sticking with a weight-loss plan—and the inverse, too. The more organized my clients are, the more apt they are to reach their weight-loss goals. For overweight individuals who desire to take off the extra pounds, no matter how good their intentions are, overhauling their diet and activity might not be the best first step.
Losing weight requires motivation, determination, and will power, as well as changes to eating, exercise, sleep, and stress-management habits. But what we seldom hear about is how important it is to be organized. It’s extraordinarily difficult to prep healthy food and get to the gym if you don’t have an organized schedule to fit it all in. For the chronically disorganized, creating a more orderly lifestyle might just be the best first step toward changing habits in all of these areas.
If you are reading this and thinking about the many areas of your life that are disorganized, it's easy to feel overwhelmed and discouraged. But don't panic. There are many small steps you can take to regain control of your life—and your body. One small change will often have a criss-cross effect on other areas in your life. By spending a small amount of time getting more organized before embarking on a weight-loss journey, you will find the weight comes off more easily. Here are some ways to create a calmer life to support your weight-loss efforts.
Organize Your Time
Whether you keep a strict schedule or not, you are probably more organized about time than you realize. You know when you must be at work, and what time you can leave. You are aware of what time the kids have to be picked up from school, what days they have sport practice, and when they need to be at the orthodontist. If you’re a sports fan, you know what day and time the next game is on and where you'll be watching it. Now let’s take those same skills of scheduling and fine tune them for weight loss.
1. Schedule your workouts, and treat exercise time like any other appointment. Pick a specific time each week to review your calendar for the days ahead and schedule your workouts accordingly. Don’t forget to factor in transportation time if you travel to and from a gym. Take into consideration as well if you’ll need time to shower and change before the next activity. I ask my clients to anticipate any unexpected obstacles that might arise, and come up with strategies around them, just in case. In other words, always have a plan B.
2. Plan meals, grocery shopping, and time for cooking once a week. Reviewing your schedule for the upcoming week will help you to figure out where and when you’ll be eating meals, what foods you’ll need to have on hand, and when you’ll have time to cook. Be proactive, not reactive. Don’t find yourself without a bagged lunch on the days you have meetings that usually run late, leaving you no time to go pick something up. If you tend to hit the vending machine in the afternoon, stock your office with healthy snacks for when hunger hits. Plan when you can go to the grocery store to buy what you’ll need and schedule shopping into your calendar. Do not plan elaborate meals for the days you usually get stuck working late. Grilled chicken and frozen veggies will always trump takeout Chinese food or pizza when it comes to weight loss.
3. Organize your evening to establish a bedtime routine that keeps you well rested. There are so many reasons why sleep deprivation interferes with weight loss. Research shows that people who stay up late consume more calories than those who go to sleep at a reasonable and predictable hour each night. Sleep deprivation messes with the hormones that signal hunger and fullness levels. Plus, when you're tired, you're more emotional and your will power wanes. An organized and consistent sleep schedule won't just make you feel better—it'll keep you focused and help you reach your weight-loss goal.
Organize Your Environment
Without a doubt, living or working in a chaotic environment is stressful. When you can’t find the keys, you’ll be late for appointments. If the kitchen is a mess, the cabinets are overflowing, and you never have the right tools, you’ll certainly not want to prepare and cook meals at home. When closets and drawers are in constant disarray, it’s hard to find your sneakers or workout clothes. And if papers are piled all over your desk and counters, trying to pay bills on time is enough to turn anyone into a bundle of nerves.
Couple that kind of environment with a propensity toward emotional eating, and you can understand how being disorganized can be a major obstacle to weight loss. Here's how to begin organizing your surroundings to support your weight-loss goals.
1. Organize your kitchen and stock it with healthy staples and weight-loss friendly cooking tools. If the thought of getting your kitchen under control has you shaking in your boots, fear not! Pick a place to start, and work on one small piece of the picture at a time. Throw out any foods that have gone bad. Any unopened (and unexpired) foods from the fridge or pantry can be donated to a local food pantry if they don't support your healthy lifestyle. Wipe out the interior of your fridge and cabinets, and get ready to stock them with healthier eats.
Once your food is organized, it's time to look at your cooking tools. Consider tossing or donating duplicate utensils or items you haven’t used in years to help streamline your cooking area. Good knives, cutting boards, some non-stick pots and pans, and a set of cooking utensils should be easily accessible and in good working condition. (Here's a list of the basic tools a healthy kitchen needs, as well as the best types of cookware to support your lifestyle.) Organize your drawers, keep the utensils you use most often at arm's reach, and stow away the seldom-used appliances to keep the things you use most easily accessible.
2. Organize your workout gear. If you always know where to find your sneakers, headphones, water bottle and workout clothes, heading out the door for your workouts is a much easier process. Keeping a packed gym bag ready to go at all times saves time and stress. Don’t forget to empty dirty clothing into your hamper and restock with clean stuff as soon as you return. A ready-to-go toiletry kit is a great idea if you’ll be showering at a gym after working out (rather than always packing and unpacking your gear or forgetting something at home). As a bonus, this small task of organizing your exercise gear may just inspire you to begin cleaning out the rest of your closet and drawers!
3. Create a calm home and office environment. Begin noticing other areas of your environment that tend to raise your blood pressure on a regular basis. If you feel a negative emotional response every time you pass your desk, cleaning your workspace might be the best place to start. Perhaps it’s the medicine or linen cabinet that starts each and every day with frustration and irritation as you look for the things you need. Know that calm on the outside helps create calm on the inside. And a calmer, happier you will be less prone to stress eating!
Organize Your Mind
It’s hard to concentrate on cultivating healthy habits when your brain is constantly on overload. Like it or not, weight loss requires time, energy and focus. If you are also listening to a harsh inner voice filled with criticism, pessimism and sabotaging messages, your chances of success are slim. As much as you need to organize your time and environment, you will also need to organize your mindset for successful weight loss. Start here.
1. Make a decision—not just a wish—to lose weight. A decision is coupled with strong inner motivation, commitment to do the work, and an attitude that you will be successful. Figure out what has to change in order for you to see results, and then set small, manageable goals to focus on each week. You might need to create organizational goals before you set your health-related goals in order to build a foundation for success.
2. Silence the negative voice in your head. Instead of reacting like a self-critic, can you talk to yourself like you would a friend—with patience, compassion and enthusiasm for the hard work you are undertaking? Henry Ford said, ''Whether you think you can or you can’t, you are right.'' Listen carefully to the messages you give yourself and change the negative ones into more positive mantras.
3. Manage stress. You're bound to feel overwhelmed, frustrated or out of control along your weight-loss journey, so keep a list of stress-management techniques at your disposal to calm down. Practice deep breathing, relaxing your muscles, or breathing deeply while counting to 10. Make time for relaxation, whether it’s a yoga class, a soak in a warm bath, or curling up to read a novel. Learn to manage your emotions in positive ways, rather than resorting to a junk food binge.
4. Be more mindful of why you're eating. Pay attention every time you reach for food. Ask yourself if you're truly experiencing the physical sensation of hunger, or are simply looking to procrastinate, fill time, or stuff down negative emotions. Be your own food detective, and start to notice how you feel, both physically and emotionally, after eating certain foods. Are you satisfied, energized and feeling good that you’ve nourished yourself well, or are you bloated, experiencing indigestion and feeling guilty about your choice? While eating meals and snacks, savor the flavor, aroma, and texture of your food. You’ll only appreciate your food if you are fully focused on it, so put down the phone, step away from the computer and turn off the TV while you eat. The more mindful you become, the better your choices will be. The first step toward change is awareness.
After Linda spent a few weeks organizing her home and car, she started getting to her appointments at the gym on time, and noticed the weight beginning to come off. John pledged to stop work at an earlier hour in the evenings and began following a bedtime routine that got him a consistent eight hours of sleep a night. He was delighted to see the scale moving in the right direction with these organizational changes, despite very little change in his eating habits.
Which areas of your life could have the biggest impact if they were a little more organized? Start there, and take one small step at a time. You, too, may find that disorganization is slowing down your weight-loss efforts, but a few small tweaks can make a world of difference inside and out!
Hammerness, P., Moore, M. (2012). Organize Your Mind, Organize Your Brain. Canada: Harliquin Press.
HuffPost Healthy Living. "Too Little Sleep and Weight Gain: It’s a Brain Thing," accessed February 2014. www.huffingtonpost.com.
WebMD. "Sleep and Weight Gain," accessed February 2014. www.webmd.com.
Well: NY Times. "How Sleep Loss Adds to Weight Gain," accessed February 2014. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com.