What is balance?
What does balance mean? In the dictionary it’s defined as…
‘a situation in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions’
‘to put something in a steady position so that it does not fall.’
Both are important in describing my concept of balanced living. My original PT business at the turn of the century was called motiv8; it was the in-thing at the time to use numbers in place of letters! I was young, keen to inspire people and I was very focused on high energy sessions with lots of encouragement. At my busiest point, I worked 16 hours a day Monday-Friday, 12-16 sessions a day on average, and I often worked Saturday and Sunday too. The 80-100 hour weeks took their toll, with me sometimes cramming in flapjacks or pasta whilst my clients warmed up, just to get some food on board, and often running 10-20 miles a day with clients too. I picked up injuries and eventually burned myself out, becoming completely exhausted. I’d lost my balance.
I learned a lot about my own body from this experience and my clients also helped to educate me through my work with them. I learned that what worked for one person didn’t always work for another, that different things motivate some but completely put others off. I learned that there were so many factors that went into whether someone succeeded or not and that my job was to be a sort of detective, listening out for the things that seemed like they may be important for that person. I also started to understand that each of our perceptions of health, fitness and wellbeing is different and that my job was to help someone achieve theirs rather than push my own or someone else’s belief’s onto them. I learned that exercising hard wasn’t always the best option; in fact I learned that sometimes exercise wasn’t even the best option! Clients who’d had emotional days were exhausted and needed a cup of tea and a chat rather than a workout. I learned that the recommendations for exercise are just guidelines, a framework on which to build. I had one lady who used to do 15-minutes with me every week, not hard but just something. She rarely did anything on her own in the week and a number of the PT’s used to ask me what the point was. I guess in my head the point was, that was what she felt she could do at that time and that something is always better than nothing. What was the alternative? To tell her not to bother doing any exercise at all? Or encourage her and gradually help her improve on it over time?
Through all of these experiences; with my clients and learning how my own body responded to exercise and tiredness and stress, the word ‘balance’ seemed to keep popping up. I’d talk about it in conversations about diet and exercise programmes, about sleep and workload. I started to work on some writing about it, which went on to form the majority of my book The Complete Guide to Weight Loss.
Over the years it developed into a sort of philosophy, with key pillars and principles and when I launched my second business in 2012, there was only one possible name for it. Ever since, I’ve used them to help many people get themselves fitter, healthier, happier and most importantly, stay that way. In that sense, just like the dictionary definition, it is very much about helping you not to fall, and also about how to help you get back to better balance if you do.
So what is it, and what it is not?
Let’s start with what it definitely is not. It most definitely isn’t…
Based on fads, gimmicks and quick fixes. There’s no 9-day, 21-day, 28-day or 12-week plan that suddenly comes to an end and leaves you wondering, ‘what now?’
Being on a diet you don’t enjoy, where foods are banned or restricted and you know you won’t stick to it. In fact. it’s not about anything that makes you feel bad or guilty or not worthy.
Treating foods and drinks as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, they’re neither. Some are worse for us if we have too much and some are better and we should have more of them. Genetics and the situation both impact whether a food is better or worse for you; for example, someone at risk of diabetes needs to eat less high sugar foods, but a Mars Bar becomes a good food 20 miles into a marathon
Doing exercises that you hate or feel uncomfortable with. There are many ways to get fit and as long as you follow the principles of a balanced routine, you can choose the one that works best for you
Getting fit or lean at the expense of health. No extremes required here
One size fits all. As you’ve seen in the previous points, we’re all different, so balance is more about general principles than rules. I’d look incredibly stupid very quickly if I told you that this definitely works and that doesn’t, because one of you out there would be able to provide evidence to the contrary from your own experiences.
Instead, this is what balance is…
It’s based on three key principles…
1) You are the sum of your most frequent recent behaviours
Certain things you should do more often, like exercise and eating your greens, whilst some need doing less, like drinking alcohol or sitting down, if you’re to achieve health, fitness and happiness.
Consistency is key. It’s about doing them day in, day out, as without this your health and fitness starts to fall away, and it’s why making small, gradual changes is better as it means you’re much more likely to stick to them. No behaviours are ‘good’ or ‘bad’, only better or worse. For example, smoking one cigarette isn’t great, but it won’t cause you much long-term harm if you never have another. Foods and drinks aren’t ‘good’ or ‘bad’ either, what’s helpful for one person may not be for another, we know this from the uniqueness of food allergies, as the saying goes ‘one man’s food is another’s poison’ and from how some achieve great success on one type of diet, whilst others find it doesn’t help them at all. As with other behaviours, eating one chocolate bar or cake, or even one occasionally, isn’t the problem, it comes down to the amount we consume and how frequently. All health behaviours sit on a scale, with better or worse alternatives. The aim is simply to do the better ones more often.
The behaviours encompass a holistic approach. For total wellbeing, you need to work on your mindset, nutrition, lifestyle and exercise, which is why I created the ‘think’, ‘eat’, ‘live’ and ‘move’ pillars that underpin the balance approach. Balance always uses the available research to provide information on all of these areas that is considered trustworthy and current best practice, but always ensures that it’s relevant to you, jargon-free and easy-to-understand.
2) You have the power
That doesn’t mean it’s easy, but there is always a way to change your behaviours. That way will be different for everyone and based on your situation, what motivates you and what’s within your capabilities at that time. The balance goal is to act like a sherpa, guiding you towards the right behaviours and helping you to understand the things you need to do to make them happen, but never being too prescriptive or telling you that you must do it this way or that. I know from experience that adults are the biggest children; they don’t do what they’re told! With the right guidance and support though, anyone can achieve better health, fitness and wellbeing.
3) There is no failure, only feedback
As there’s no right or wrong way, there can be no failure, only learning over time. It would be naïve to think with such a wide range of health behaviours and complex lives that the first thing we try will always work. What is absolutely true though is that giving up NEVER works; as you know it’s all about finding a way to carry out the better behaviours more consistently over time, that way lies the path to better balance.
How do you know when you’re well balanced?
Firstly, think of it like a scale, something that you move up and down rather than something that you either have or don’t. If you’re moving further along the scale towards better balance, then you’ll be in a place where:
you look the way you want to, feel good in yourself, have energy and self-confidence
both your physical health and mental wellbeing are good and you feel in control, able to maintain it and get back on track should something get in the way
you sleep well and wake feeling rested and energised on most days
you have the energy to do the things you love and spend quality time with family and friends
you eat what you want because you want it, not because you’re tired or stressed or feeling low. It’s about really enjoying foods free of guilt, knowing you can say no to food and understanding that you can eat and drink anything if consumed in the right amounts
you feel able to cope with the stresses in your life, finding ways to switch off from them and have mechanisms in place that relax you and keep you healthy
you have a good mix of exercise that you really enjoy and that fits into your daily life.
Most of all, you know when you’re well balanced when you have the right balance of behaviours that give you the outcomes you’re looking for and when those healthier behaviours begin to feel like a natural part of what you do, a normal and actually essential part of your routine and who you are as a person. When they’re not there you don’t like it and so getting back to them becomes easy.
I hope this was interesting and helps you to understand the philosophy I try to bring to everything that balance does.
Please do write in the comment box below to tell me what balance means to you and how you know when you’re feeling well balanced. Your thoughts and comments inspire me to improve what I do and come up with new and better ways to help in future.