Subtraction Vs. Addition

Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a math lesson.  Trust me, you don’t want me teaching you math.  Anyone who knows me will back me up on this one (right, Mom?).

No, this is going to be a comparison of two different mindsets when it comes to living a healthier life.  I find that there are two approaches to changing bad habits, the subtraction approach and the addition approach.  I’ve actually taken both approaches myself and in my experience find one is definitely better than the other.  Because I want you to be successful in living a healthier life, I wanted to share the tiny difference between these approaches that can make a huge impact on your success.

The Subtraction ApproachSubtraction Vs. Addition | Life Healthfully Lived

I am going to be healthier by taking away all of the bad things in my life.  

This is a common way to look at things, and technically it’s what you want to do.  In with the good out with the bad, right?

Almost.  This immediately sets up a feeling of deprivation and an “I can’t have/do that anymore.”  It makes you feel like you’re losing a part of what was your daily routine and that can make you feel a little uncomfortable and maybe even sad.

You keep trying to tell yourself that it’s good, you’re getting rid of what made you unhealthy.  You’ll be happier once this process is over.  So, you start subtracting:

  • The “bad” food you used to eat
  • The lazy habits you had formed
  • The time you used to sit around instead of exercise
  • The social settings where you maybe weren’t the healthiest
  • The friends or family who don’t fully support you

You might start to see a change in your health doing this, of course.  You might lose weight, start to develop a regular exercise routine, but it still feels like you’re depriving yourself of things that once made you happy.  Even if they weren’t good for you.  You can start to pine for the way things were, especially since they are “off-limits” now.Subtraction Vs. Addition | Life Healthfully Lived

And this can set you up for the relapse.  A night of binging.  A week of no exercise.  Cheat meals/snacks/days.  You know you’re being “bad” but you can’t seem to help yourself.  And then you can’t help feeling guilty once it’s all over.  It’s a vicious cycle and it’s no fun.  Trust me, I’ve been there.

Let’s look at the other approach.

The Addition ApproachSubtraction Vs. Addition | Life Healthfully Lived

I am going to be healthier by adding good things into my life to crowd out the bad. 

This might seem counterintuitive.  You want to put more stuff into my life so that I’m healthier?  How can I do that when most people/diets/health systems tell me I need to get rid of the bad?

It’s simple.  Start thinking of things to add to your day that make you feel better than your older habits.  You’re going to crowd out all the things that you used to do or eat so that you no longer have time or energy for those.Subtraction Vs. Addition | Life Healthfully Lived

Now your days feel full and like you’re actively doing things to turn your habits around.  You’re not taking anything away, you’re adding things like:

  • More fruits and vegetables to each serving, crowding out the overly processed
  • More activity in your day, life short walks, crowding out the time you used to sit around
  • More friends and family who like the same healthy things you do
  • More time focusing on what makes you feel good instead of what you used to do that was “bad”

At a glance, these two approaches might look similar.  And to be honest, you’re doing a lot of the same things but by telling yourself that you’re adding to your life not subtracting from it makes it easier and more fun to keep making changes.Subtraction Vs. Addition | Life Healthfully Lived

It’s just a tiny switch, but it makes a big difference.  I’m not forcing myself to get rid of my entire life, I’m adding to it and changing things for the better.  As you go, soon you’ll realize that the good has overtaken the bad and your lifestyle is healthier and happier.Subtraction Vs. Addition | Life Healthfully Lived

So don’t focus on subtracting as much as you can to be healthier, add in as much good as you can and your health will follow suit.

What can you add to your life to be healthier?

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2 thoughts on “Subtraction Vs. Addition

  1. Good article Katie!! I am slowly getting to clean eating. The cupboards are bare so now I can start (although I have been for about three weeks and lost pounds so that makes me happy). No more craving bad foods!!!

    • That is awesome! It’s really helpful once you get past those initial cravings and your taste buds change and real food actually tastes better. Keep up the good work!

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