What's the 'secret' to leading a healthy lifestyle? Spoiler alert - there is no secret. In my opinion (based on my personal experience reversing the downward path of my own health), it comes down to three words :
Preparation - are you setting yourself up for success, or are you putting yourself in situations where you might be tempted to 'grab something quick'? Do you have a plan for the week? If you are going to be away from home, are you packing snacks and meals so you aren't stuck eating junk? Do you make your own coffee at home, or do you stop by the latte stand for a sugar-loaded mocha? Do you set aside time in a day to move and exercise? If you're out of town, did you pack your gym clothes and/or sneakers to take a walk? You don't have to do a 300lb bench press - just 10 minutes a day of walking will make a difference. It is SO EASY to be prepared, but also so easy not to be prepared. It's a choice.
Sustainable - is what you are doing a lifestyle, rather than a DIET? If you are restricting yourself severely (i.e. starving and/or eating in an unnatural, unenjoyable way), are you going to be able to maintain that for the long haul, or will it cause you to yo-yo? What is your past track record with "diets"? The idea is that you need to do something that is manageable and sustainable all the time, so that you can enjoy going out to dinner on occasion, or you can eat a cupcake without it turning into an all out sugar bender. If you aren't enjoying your food or feeling good, you will eventually revert back to your "old ways" - because you haven't learned how to create a healthy LIFESTYLE - you've only temporarily deprived yourself of things that you love, without giving yourself the opportunity to create new habits.
Example: years ago I was COMPLETELY ADDICTED to ice cream. I would try to stop eating ice cream, and I just simply could not do it. Over the past few years, as I changed my lifestyle, I swapped my Dreyer's 1/2 gallon of ice cream for more expensive pints of ice cream that were made with better quality ingredients. Since I was spending more money on the ice cream, and buying smaller quantities, I ate less of it. Sometimes I would eat just a few bites. One night I tried making ice cream with a frozen banana in the food processor - it was delicious! Slowly but surely, my ice cream habit had less and less power over me. Now, I can have some ice cream, and I won't instantly revert back to eating it every single night, but to be honest, I rarely have it anymore. I love it, but I don't need it. The habitual nature of sitting down with ice cream has been replaced by healthier habits. It took time, but the TIME was worth it, because it was a lasting change - not simply a temporary hiatus.
With regards to exercise - if you haven't exercised in a long time, DO NOT try to go to the gym and do 1.5 hours on an elliptical trainer. You will hate it and quit (and honestly, I think I would hate that and quit anyway because it sounds so boring). Do something that fits into your life - do something that you enjoy so that you continue doing it.
Consistency - this is key. Eating healthy for a month every year or a week every month won't cut it. Success is a progression of small steps towards your goal. Again, it is very easy to take small steps - it is also very easy NOT to take small steps. If you take SMALL steps each and every day, but you are consistent about them, you will see change. Cutting out all sugars, fats, carbs and quitting coffee on the same day might work for a few weeks, but this isn't about making a quantum leap towards being healthy - because it simply won't stick. Start by giving up soda or sugar-laden coffee drinks. Substitute fruit for ice cream. Don't drink alcohol in excess. Look at your current lifestyle and make little tweaks. Then, don't stop. Make it a hobby - make eating healthy FUN. Make it delicious!
Move daily. This sounds obvious, but how often do you get home and plop on the couch in front of the television? Turn off the TV - and go for a 15 minute walk. Start doing a 15 minute walk every day for a month. Gradually increase it to 20 minutes. By month two, it's a habit and you won't be able to go WITHOUT your walk. You don't have to climb mountains on day one - the key is doing it every single day. Doing a 15 minute walk every day is SO easy to do, but it's also so easy not to do. The key is doing it - your success, health and fitness abilities will start to compound over time.
True story: In addition to my ice cream addiction, I used to drink 1 tablespoon of honey in my hot tea SEVERAL times per day. That's a lot of honey. I always said that I would NEVER give up honey in my tea - I absolutely believed that I could not do it. As part of my personal lifestyle change, I started to experiment with less and less honey. Incredibly, over time, I stopped using it completely. Now, putting honey in my tea makes it taste so sickeningly sweet that I can't drink it. There are other things that I said I "couldn't do": drink black coffee, drink a healthy smoothie for breakfast, give up a glass of wine after dinner, go for a walk everyday, do a pull up, stop eating bread and pasta. And guess what? I've done every single one of those things that I SWORE up and down that I couldn't do.
When I decided to get in really shape about 12 years ago, I literally could not run for 10 minutes - so I ran for 5 minutes. And then I walked for 5 minutes. And then I ran for 10 more minutes. In a week, I was able to run for a full 10 minutes. Within 3 months, I ran a 4 mile race. It might take you less time or it might take you more time, but you WILL get there. Being consistent - taking small steps each day towards my goals, that has been the key.
The other thing that comes into play is a question : How badly do you want this? What would it mean to you to feel great? What would it mean to you to have your energy back? What would it mean to you to feel good about yourself? What would it mean to you to be able to climb a mountain? To go for a bike ride? To play "full out" with your kids? Preparation, Sustainability and Consistency don't have a CHANCE if you don't want it. But if you're ready - and do not wait because there absolutely IS NO PERFECT TIME in life to "become healthy" (it's a successive progression!) - everything you want and more are waiting for you. I have been on the other side - the side where I felt horrible all the time, where I felt bad about myself, where I struggled to find the motivation to do anything - and that side is not a good place to be. It is an uphill climb to change deeply rooted habits and behaviors, but most good things in life take some effort. I promise you - the journey will be worth it.