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With New Year’s upon us the focus gets turned back to our level of health in all areas of our life…our time, personal growth, finances, and of course, our actual health. Whether we like it or not, New Years creates an opportunity to stop and evaluate the year that’s passed and how we like the results that we got and then determine a plan for the year ahead, particularly in our health, our level of fitness, and our weight.

Each year, Nathan and I succumb to this process ourselves. Some years have been slightly more begrudging than others. But year after year, I started to find a common thread I would hear in conversations among my friends and family, in the media, and through all manner of marketing channels. That one common thread seems to continually bring us back to one thing: rules. With the purpose of drawing our attention to whether we are keeping the rules or breaking them.

I understand rules.

Every game has rules, every organization has rules, and even Clubs have their own rules.

When we created BURSTClub, our online fitness program, back in 2010 we decided it would be a club with a different sort of “rules.” Our club rules are really just healthy standards that Nathan and I found we had chosen to live, eat, and exercise by. These standards were guidelines and kept us on course. They gave us bondaries, but freedom within the boundaries.

For many of us, a rule often generates thoughts and feelings of fear, guilt, and the need to perform:

If I follow this rule, I am good. If I break it, I am bad.

We tend to associate our ability to keep the rule directly with our self-worth and even our identity. As we speak to groups around the country, we are shocked at how much guilt and shame surface when we begin to discuss the topic of health and fitness.

For example, when a woman hears a talk about nutrition or eating better or picks up a new health-related book, her thoughts might begin to sound like this:

Yesterday all I ate was a handful of goldfish as I ran upstairs to change the baby’s diaper. I had every intention of eating lunch but the phone rang. And dinner? 5:00 seems to keep coming sooner and sooner every day. We ordered pizza (again) because I’m too tired to cook. I feel like I’m killing myself and my kids. I am a horrible mom.

Does this barrage of self-loathing and critical thoughts sound familiar?

As you embark on a new health journey, or continue on your journey to better fitness or eating more healthy, I invite you to first and foremost –

 – leave guilt and shame at the door.

You don’t need either of these hindrances escorting you on your quest for lasting change. They make lousey escorts.

True: Implementing change is not easy.

Nor is it all that much fun to face your current health or fitness reality if it feels bleak and overwhelming. Because of that, I began recording my own personal journey of discovering keys to thinking and eating healthy that have radically impacted my life. My food philosophy and meal planning changed. I became less weighed down with abstinence, restrictions, or rules and much more free to make decisions not based in fear of failing or shame that I already had.

My journey has taught me that as human beings, we tend to respond better when focusing on what we can do, rather than on what we can’t do. In other words, we embrace change more readily when we give ourselves a guideline to follow, yet still allow plenty of room for mess-ups or bad days.

How many diets have you failed simply because they were focused on abstaining from and restricting certain foods?

This approach sets you up for disappointment; Deprivation leads to frustration, which results in you finally quitting.

My epic dieting failure included a four-year starvation diet where I dropped from 120 pounds to 85 pounds. I failed because I was trying to follow a set of rules that I had placed on myself. I lived under restrictions and a law of abstinence. I felt suffocated, dead inside, and like I was consumed with every single thing I put in my mouth.

Do you remember when your mom told you not to eat a cookie out of the cookie jar? What did you want to do? Eat a cookie, of course! It’s human nature. When we are told not to do something, we tend to want to do the very thing we were told to avoid.

So rather than focusing on all the “Thou shalt nots” of food abstinence—that will eventually lead to us hiding in the closet with a half-gallon of ice cream when we think no one is looking-I have changed my tune. Learning to focus on what I can do and giving myself grace instead of beating myself up with shame has been a monumental victory in my life.

Furthermore, these 3 secrets have helped me to learn to stay fit without killing myself (because Lord knows I had a major issue with killing myself to stay in tip top shape!).

What secrets would you like to share with us that help you to stay healthy and strong that avoid the pitfall of stress, shame, and killing yourself to attain it? I’d LOVE to hear below, and I’m sure our readers would love to hear your thoughts as well!