Make healthy living your passion

Ali Roff explains that when you find a way of exercising and cooking healthily that you enjoy, your lifestyle becomes long term, sustainable and, importantly, more pleasurable overnight


Make healthy living your passion

4 minute read

Despite forcing myself to go jogging for years, I actually find it dull to the point of dreading
it. When I was jogging a lot, it felt to me like running was the only way to exercise and be fit. Even when I joined a gym, I found myself on the treadmill. It’s as though subconsciously I believed that exercise had to be painful, mentally as well as physically, in order to work. And the same applied to diets. If I wanted to eat healthily, it had to be in order to lose weight, and it had to be the foods I didn’t find satisfying; plain salads and tasteless fat-free cottage cheese.

It was through cooking that I realised that to be truly healthy, enjoyment must go hand in hand with nourishment. I love making delicious meals out of healthy ingredients; to wow my husband and friends with my healthy creations that taste better than their not-as-healthy counterparts. I challenge myself to make cakes with less sugar and more fruit, to create yummy desserts from interesting new ingredients like chia seeds. And over time, eating healthily has become a passion rather than a punishment.

What I was experiencing was ‘the psychology of optimal experience’, also known as ‘flow’. Psychologist and expert in this area Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes flow as ‘a state of peak enjoyment, energetic focus, and creative concentration experienced by people engaged in adult play, which has become the basis of a highly creative approach to living’.

Pleasure seeking

So what if I could find a way to bring passion into my fitness, similarly to how I found a way to make cooking and eating healthier foods more enjoyable?

I began by giving myself permission to let go of that pressure I had put on myself to run, and try some new fitness trends. I thought about what I loved doing, and about why I hated running. I felt bored and disengaged, so perhaps more focused activities would be more enjoyable. I tried varied HIIT circuits, weighted sets, timed sprints, yoga and hiking. I realised that what I enjoy today or this month or this year, might be different to tomorrow, next month or next year. It might be different for you, and for me, for the personal trainer at the gym, and the fitness guru with her new book. There’s no right or wrong, but what I do know is this – if we don’t enjoy doing something we’ll never look forward to it. We’ll try to put it off to another day, we’ll try to cut short our time doing it. When we make something our passion, we’re able to move into our state of flow, and time doing it passes quickly and painlessly. It becomes fun, we look forward to it, and we keep it up on a regular basis so that we see transformation and change. An ‘optimal experience’, you might say.

Feel the flow

  • When it comes to your attempts at a healthy lifestyle, what isn’t serving you?
  • What do you love in other areas of your life – when are you in a state of flow? How could you incorporate this flow into the way you live when it comes to keeping healthy?
  • What will you give yourself permission to let go of, now you are ready to make a healthy lifestyle your passion?

Image: Laura Doherty