How to learn to be less rigid to find your real health

This post is not a judgment nor a prescription. It’s merely my thoughts and my story. Please enjoy …

There’s a whole thing in the wellness world today about saying “no” and having strict boundaries. How saying “no” to things as your default will help you to protect your free time and mental space and your health. And well … I’m not really into this idea for everyone. You see, being open and accepting and trying new things and putting yourself out there can pay off. I feel like the same goes for the food you eat and the workouts you try and your life in general. And that’s definitely the case if you tend to be a rigid person who needs a little kick-in-the-butt to veer off your picture-perfect daily routines.

How do I know? Because I’ve been there. So hear me out …

How to learn to be less rigid to find your real health

How to learn to be less rigid to find your real health by A Lady Goes West

There was a time in my life when I fell to the “no” side. In fact, it was often a “no” when someone asked me to do something or eat something new. In fact, Dave had a fake “no thanks” in a high-pitched voice he would do FOR me on my behalf if he offered me something, like say … a bit of fried chicken or to go out on a mid-week dinner date. Heck, no. That didn’t fall into my routine, so I skipped it.

I had made-up standards in my head about what I would do and not do after work each day. I also had made-up standards about what I would eat and wouldn’t eat, which I kept religiously. I assumed it was healthy to eat Lean Cuisines and non-fat yogurts — so that’s what I did. I did not think it was healthy to eat burgers, so I didn’t. I also thought it was healthy to keep your routine down to a tee, never missing a scheduled weekday workout and never modifying planned daily meals at just the right scheduled meal times. Rigid much?

This was a time when I was working in a corporate job in Orlando. My days were busy and stressful, so I controlled things how I could — keeping my meals planned and at particular times, and working out immediately after work every weekday (which eventually changed to every weekday before work in the early morning). I ate almost exactly the same things every single day and never veered from them — except on the weekends, when I went out to a couple meals and had a bit more fun. 

While I thought this pattern was “working” for me, because I felt okay, I also longed to be a bit more free, but wasn’t sure how to do it, so I just kept on my routines. But little by little, I started to chip away and loosen up a bit. (But not too loose, because I’m still a structured person at heart.)

I started out on the path to change by getting a new job. I switched into a corporate writing job with a hotel company, where I was able to wear jeans every day, from a very conservative and formal communications corporate job for a huge company, in which I was in suits and heels. This was a big thing for me to “loosen up.” I also started working out in the mornings, which freed up my evenings to be less rushed. I bought a fun brand new Mini Cooper. I started making once a week happy hour dates with friends on Wednesdays. And this was good stuff for me.

I think having Dave was helpful in breaking from my routine too, because I knew that sometimes he wanted me to come to activities during the week, so I obliged. Yet, while I was relaxing a bit on my schedule, I still never missed a workout (except for my once weekly Sunday rest day), and I still ate nearly the same things every day — for instance, a typical day of eating was like this: oatmeal for breakfast, yogurt for snack, PBJ and crackers for lunch, yogurt for snack again, whole wheat pasta with turkey meatballs for dinner. Almost every single weekday.

The thing is — when you are a type-A perfectionist controlling-type person, you sometimes control yourself so much that you don’t even realize you are doing it. I had so much willpower to keep my routine, because I had zero decision fatigue with food/fitness/routine. I made decisions at work, but everything else was so planned and consistent in my days, I just had to stay on autopilot. And for some people and for some things in life, this is GOOD. (For instance, how many successful entrepreneurs wear the same thing every day as a uniform to free their mind to be creative? THAT works.) But it’s not good when your strict routine is a crutch. And it’s not good when you are ALWAYS a no person.

The longer I write this blog the more I understand that so many of you, my friends, have struggled with and are struggling with being too strict, too rigid, too restrictive or too closed off as well. And you are where I was when I started to see that maybe there was a better way, but wasn’t quite sure how to head there. So here I am to share more about my past.

After Dave and I picked up and moved to San Francisco (coming up on six years … wow), things totally changed for me. While I ended up getting in over my head with my fitness endeavors, which led me down a terrible hormonally imbalanced path, I also started to operate on a freer schedule. Leaving behind the corporate world (except for another stint in it just a couple years ago as a blog editor for a fitness company), helped me a lot to see that I could work out at different times, eat at different times, try new restaurants and also go to activities that I didn’t know much about at times I normally wouldn’t go. I also soaked up the wellness scene in the Bay Area and began making green smoothies and learning about superfoods — a far cry from my daily PBJ of the past.

So much of my first couple of years in San Francisco were full of firsts, and those firsts were so darn good for me. And it was right around that time that I started this blog. My “nos” were sometimes becoming “yeses.” And slowly but surely, I left my rigid lifestyle behind (mostly) — and I’m so much better for it. 

I’ve learned so much about my health, my fitness, my body, my hormones and my life over the last six years, and I will continue learning. But because I’ve come out of the other side of living that limiting no lifestyle, I feel so much more free. I stroll the grocery store and pick up new-to-me foods all the time. And if I want to do an activity on a weekday, I’ll do it. If I want to have a dessert during the week, I’ll have it. But if I don’t want to do either of those things, I won’t. And no, I don’t necessarily default to yes on all invitations, but I do consider everything now. However — don’t get me wrong — I’m still a structured person by nature, and that’s likely never to change.

Chocolate chip cookies by A Lady Goes West

These days, my “nos” are much more centered around Brady and childcare than they are around stepping out of my comfort zone or veering off my routine. And so many times my yeses lead to awesome things … Trying new workout classes and learning to LOVE fitness rather than just feeling like I have to work out. Trying new and weird foods and learning to LOVE preparing new healthy meals. Going to blog events in different cities without having any idea what I am in for. Putting myself out there. Writing an ebook about the most embarrassing and rough time in my life. Letting my body rest when it needs it. Listening to my body instead of just going with my planned routine. 

I stand here today someone who is still a creature of habit and a routine-oriented person, but in a much looser and healthier and successful way, and it feels pretty awesome. I must admit, it does open me up for mistakes at times. It does mean that I make the effort to do things that don’t end up being all that worth it. But that’s life.

How to move away from being a rigid “no” person

Now, while I only know what I know, I do know that I like to share what has worked for me, and being more flexible, open and accepting has worked for me and has led me to a wonderful life that I’m so happy with — in it’s still fairly structured way. But being open comes with some caveats …

If you are on a mission to find your health and lose weight, then clearly you can’t just eat everything you want and work out only when you want to and be a “yes” person to everything. You need to find a reasonable routine that feels good and works for you. Perhaps you are one of those people that actually needs MORE of a routine — one that feels doable and takes you in the right direction to your health and wellness goals. 

However, if you are on a mission to find yourself and feel good, then maybe what you really need is to veer OFF from your routine to see how it goes. But you need to make smart choices. Staying out all night at a party on a work night may not be a good idea, however skipping your daily run and trying a community yoga class with a group of friends may be a great idea. 

Ask yourself …

If you have a very strict health and fitness routine and are starting to feel a little stifled by it. Then ask yourself —

  • Why am I so strict?
  • Why do I keep this routine?
  • What about it is working for me?
  • What about it is not working for me?
  • Do I have a health reason that leads me to be so strict?
  • Do I feel exhausted from my routine?
  • Do I enjoy the foods that I eat? Or do I eat what I think I’m supposed to eat?
  • Do I avoid food groups just because I think it will be easier to say no to things?
  • Do I skip social outings so I can do workouts and eat my planned meals at home?

Try something new …

If you’ve answered yes to some of these questions, there is a chance that you may be more than just a creature-of-habit routine-oriented person, but someone who is perhaps so strict that you’re missing out and not living to your full healthy potential.

  • Try rotating your foods a bit and adding in new veggies and new complex carbs outside of your usual. And if you’re always eating SUPER healthy, maybe put a treat into the rotation too. (Adding new foods will give you new nutrients and get your palate excited!)
  • Consider taking yourself out to a weekly lunch date to a new place every time.
  • Find a workout buddy and come up with a plan to try one new workout video or class a week. Also try working out at a different time, or dropping one of your tough workouts for an outdoor stroll.
  • If you’re unhappy with your job, consider researching new opportunities and see what it will take to get there. What training do you need? How can you get it while continuing to make an income at your current job?
  • Find ways to move that make you feel GOOD and find foods to eat that make you feel GOOD. Rather than focusing on what you think you “should be” doing and eating, take the time to identify what seems to work with your body and go from there.
  • If you are a home-body, force yourself to get out for a social activity or community event at least every other week. Nothing too crazy, but just something. And while you’re out, smile at people. 🙂 
  • If you’re too hard on yourself, lighten up a bit. I bet you are WAY too hard on yourself, and maybe you need to read this.

Take baby steps …

You will not just wake up day and NOT be a type-A person. That doesn’t happen — and you don’t need to change who you are at the core, because it’s made you be as successful as you currently are. But what you can do is realize that if your health and fitness and mentality are not where you want them to be, you can modify things little bit by little bit to live a freer life, in a smart and healthy way — perhaps even discovering a whole new world of activities, people and foods that you enjoy. (And by free, I don’t mean you can just leave your corporate job and float around, I mean you can be mentally freer with your strict food and fitness and routine daily decisions.)

What I want you to know is that you probably won’t be able to change something in your life, unless you MAKE a change. If you are unhappy where you are and how you feel, then you’ve got to do something about it. Putting yourself out there and trying new things may not be easy for you, but once you feel a little taste of satisfaction from doing it, you’ll crave it more and more.

Ashley at Levi's by A Lady Goes West

I started to feel like being too rigid wasn’t for me any longer, and now I live a much better life — which is far from perfect, but is perfectly fine for me. And yes, I eat mostly healthy food and love to work out most days of the week, but my routine is no longer so strict that I can’t get out from under it — it’s just how I want it — and that’s true health. 

Thank YOU for reading. I’m here for you, friends.

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Questions of the day

What’s something about your routine that you’d like to change?

What’s something that you have said “yes” to that’s been good for you?

18 Comments

  1. This is great! I’m such a planner/schedule oriented person so straying off of that can be tough, but totally necessary. I’m thankful my husband is more spontaneous than I am, so it rubs off on me! I think moving to a new city and having toddlers has forced me to be less rigid. Some days don’t always go as planned but that’s okay! It’s easy to get stuck into a rigid workout routine, but I love that there are so many different exercise classes these days so there is always something new to try!

    1. Hi Marielle! Moving DEFINITELY helps —- there are so many reasons I’m glad we moved and helping me to make some changes to my rigid routine is one of them. And of course — I can only imagine how having toddlers helps too heheh! Keep up the great work, Momma! 🙂

  2. I identified with this so much; thank you for sharing your thoughts. It is so difficult to let go of the rigid ness but you are so right, little changes over time add up to big changes❤️

    1. Erin! Thank YOU for reading! And if you know you’re identifying with it — that’s important. Hopefully you can find small changes here and there that feel RIGHT and doable for you to be more free. It’s not easy to break free from that rigid-ness. But you can do it, lady! 🙂 I’m here for you!

    2. I agree. I can identify with this a lot as well. In college, finishing my accountomg degree and studying for my CPA, i was VERY rigid about my diet. I got down to 95 lbs (i am 5’6″) bc if my need to control my diet. Looking back, i didnt understand why….my actions/habits were a gradual obsession that blossomed. I wasnt anorexic or bulemic, just wanted to control. It has been a long gradual road over the past 7-8 years (and 35 lbs later), but have greatly improved. I do still lobe fitness and sometimes struggle with old thoughts…as a type A that is hard to rid completely. BUT i can have a drink with friends, enjoy chocolate cake once in a while….learning balance is a process.
      Thank you for sharing and putting this into words perfectly. Helps me gain my own personal understanding. Xoxo

      1. Hi Jen! It’s probably more common than we think — but no one wants to talk about it because the rigid folks are succeeding in life on the outside. I’m so happy to hear you have made gradual shifts and are in a healthy place. It will always be a journey, and hopefully when things come up now, you can recognize them and move on! Thanks for sharing, lady. Here’s to wine and cake and workouts too!

  3. thank you for sharing this. it really hits home for me. I need to work on this as my routine even stresses me out sometimes, but its so hard to just “let go”, even a little bit at a time. it is somehow comforting to know that it’s not just me like this, and other people go through similar experiences and have similar feelings.

    1. Hi Tracy! You are soooo not alone in this! It’s common, but sometimes we don’t want to even think of being too routine and strict as a problem. But you sort’ve know deep down. If you even take tiny tiny steps, you will be moving in the right direction, lady! And you will feel so much better each time!

  4. I can certainly understand and appreciate this post. And in many areas, I think I have changed for the positive on this. However, for me personally, being rigid with my eating seems to be more and more necessary. Every time I veer off even slightly I experience a LOT of bloating and a LOT of pain. I have food intolerances and for some reason, at least right now, my body is highly sensitive to anything gluten or dairy. Or preservatives. Or some (ugh a lot) of restaurant food. The old me would have stayed in my bubble and in a lot of ways, I suppose I do live in a bit of a bubble. But the new me is trying hard to be as healthy mentally and physically as possible, while saying yes to as many things that I can where I know I will have some control over what I am ingesting.

    Thanks for sharing this post and for giving us all of your thoughts and perspective on the matter because it totally is a very fine line and one that many of us in the fitness world struggle with.

    Xoxo.

    1. Hi Courtney! It sure is a fine line between being a structured and committed person and someone who is stuck in their routine — so fine. As far as the foods — I’m sorry to hear you are still having a lot of issues. Have you tried digestive enzymes before eating other things that don’t sit well with your tummy? Also, I have heard that when people go on certain diets and start reintroducing food — they can do a little at a time and it gets easier as their bodies get more used to it even if it’s tough at first — like just a little bit of dairy every couple of days and then you’d be able to tolerate it more? I have NO idea if that would apply to you and if you’ve tried it (you probably have), but just figured I’d mention it. I’m glad to hear you’re making positive changes when it comes to some strictness — I think that’s awesome! And you know I’m your fan, lady — so you keep on being positive and putting yourself out there and I hope great things continue to come your way!! Love ya, Court!!

      1. Thanks so much, Ashley! Who cares about my tummy struggles when I have you telling me you’re a fan?!!!

        I definitely appreciate the suggestions, but yes I have tried those things. I take digestive enzymes before every meal and I have done elimination diets where I eliminate foods then slowly reintroduce. For some reason, I am a medical mystery! Maybe I should try out for one of those weird shows or go on The Doctors. Hehe. Anyway, my journey continues, but I for sure am committed to staying positive, hopeful and healthy inside and out.

        Xoxo.

  5. Ashley,

    This post is so amazingly and very applicable, for me! I try to remember that being type A is a blessing and has so many good traits which go along with it. However, it can also lead to much stress and anxiety in trying to keep up the routines, structure, and so forth. I am working to be less rigid, and when i do, I am always glad I make the changes.

    I do have a question, did your rigidity and routine cause any tension between you and Dave? If so, how has your relationship changed. This might be too personal to share, so please feel free to skip this question. I would totally understand!

    Much love Ashley!

    1. Hi Laura — You are SOOOO right about it being a blessing and a curse to be one of those type-A people who GETS stuff done. You can always be relied on to succeed and handle everything, because you are true to your word. But then sometimes, you take it too far on your own self, which is why we have to be extra careful to treat ourselves kindly and not like just another project hehehe. I’m glad to hear you are making some positive changes, and I hope you keep doing it little by little, because it will continue to feel GREAT! Also, as far as the Dave/tension question — he knew from the beginning what he was getting into with me — and at that time he met me — I was so darn busy and stressed all the time, that being with him was my only stress-free time, so I was able to loosen up a lot around him. He has never been mad about my ways, although would make jokes here and there in the past — but nothing that has caused tension, thank goodness. I could see how that could happen between couples though, and it’s probably best to just talk through it and know that it’s hard for people to change, and some understanding from the other person can go a long way! 🙂 Thanks, lady!

  6. Oh man this is something that took me sooo long to learn and still a work in progress. I was so rigid in my workouts (heaven forbid I try something different) or fear of ‘gaining’ weight so I’d eat very similar foods which lead me to Orthorexia. Now with Sully around , I never want him to see me say NO to anything ( well maybe a few things because I don’t like them) but I want life to be enjoyed and I’m learning daily how to just be open to trying something and seeing if it works! Love this post!

    1. Hi Fiona! It’s so amazing what being a role model can do to help you make the right and healthy choices! I’m sorry you dealt with orthorexia, which is getting more and more common in this wellness-obsessed world — but I’m SO happy to hear you are growing and recovering and making changes too, lady. It’s not easy! I applaud you! And you said it — LIFE should be enjoyed — that means eating what you like and moving how it feels GOOD! 🙂 Thanks for weighing in, my friend!

  7. This. This this this.

    This, actually, is the precise reason I started to see a therapist again, about a month or two ago. Basically, this encompassing feeling that I just wasn’t happy how I was living my life – with all these routines and habits that I have been living for so long now – that I wanted to change – but that I just really didn’t know HOW to get there! Its amazing how we can actually feel so stuck and confused and almost helpless when it comes to knowing how to make that change we want. Just shows how powerful those comfort zones can be.

    So many things here I resonate with. “I must admit, it does open me up for mistakes at times. It does mean that I make the effort to do things that don’t end up being all that worth it. But that’s life.” —> I think THIS is what keeps me, and many of us, stuck for so long. We want control! We don’t want discomfort, or conflict, or to make mistakes and feel all those uncomfortable hard feelings. Trying something new has so many risks to it! I’m totally scared of putting myself out there, or trying something new, and having it not turn out. But I’m learning that if this happens, it is so not the end of the world. And I’m learning that breaking free of this stagnant, routine life and putting myself out there to get known, and learn, and explore, is so much more worth it. But holy its proving to be a lonnnnng process.

    Sorry for the novel. I do read your blog all the time – I just don’t always comment. Thanks for writing these posts.

    1. Cora — thank YOU for such a thoughtful comment. I truly appreciate you telling me that this resonates with you and even choosing the statement that was most powerful. It’s such a hard thing to realize that your “healthy and strict winning routines” may not be the best for you. I totally applaud you for seeing a therapist about this — it is SOOO smart to talk to someone, certainly a third party who does not have any judgment. Props to you, and I hope it is helping you to get to the root of it (sounds like you know — scared to fail, scared of discomfort). Every little bit of change you make happen is good for you. I’m here for you, friend! Thank you for reading!

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