When it comes to fitness, how do you make change in your daily life, change that sticks? That’s the core question I put to an Asheville fitness expert I’ve gotten to know over the past few years through my interest in Crossfit.

I sat down with Nadia Zebouni, a coach at Summit Crossfitand we talked about what it takes to get started, and keep going with, a fitness regime that’s approachable, in whatever form that takes.

It starts with a mindset, and acknowledgement that “something isn’t working for you,” Zebouni says. Sometimes that means recognizing the emotional roots of what’s going on. The next step realistically picking a simple goal and building from there.

“Let go of the guilt and stress and know that this one small effort will lead to other things,” she says.

Here’s more from our conversation:

Start with drinking more water

As you’re starting with a workout program, commit to an achievable goal. A good example is increasing to set a goal of drinking at least half your body weight in ounces of water, Zebouni says.

“I’ve seen that create some of the biggest improvements in people. It’s something everybody agrees upon, it’s something simple and it’s something you’re adding, rather than taking away, when it comes to your diet. It improves your mood an sleep and stops you from overeating and gets you energized and cushions your joints,” Zebouni says.

“I think people get a sense of reward from it really quickly, and you get addicted to that,” she adds.

Find a fitness community that supports you

The “it takes a village” phrase is trite, but when it comes to making change, people need support. So find a fitness community that will be there for you, Zebouni says.

“At some point, people come to realize that their life is their responsibility, and they’re the only ones who can change it. That can be very heavy sometimes, and I’ve seen people go through these ups and downs. Whether it’s divorce or job loss or cancer, people feel vulnerable at times, but your community will sense that and circle around and lift you up.”

Inspiration is all around

Real inspiration can be found in the people sweating and working out right next to you, Zebouni says. Tap into that.

“I look to people around me and see how they strive and struggle, and that’s where I seek inspiration. I used to look up to people and i would create a story about them, but you don’t get the full picture when you do that. There’s a guy in the gym who’s been battling testicular cancer, and his response has been so real and genuine and raw and he’s fighting the good fight. That’s who I look up to.”

Downplay distractions

Distractions are everywhere, so to make change, you’ve got to cut them out, Zebouni says.

“I have to set up systems that force good habits on myself. I make appointments to meet people in the morning so that it forces me to get up and get going. Otherwise, I’d just sleep in. Another thing I do is that I use an app called Freedom that blocks all social media accounts, because social media is a big distraction for me. I have a dog, and that forces me to get outside. I pre-pay for things like competitions, because I now that if I’m paying for something, I’m more likely to follow through. I have a little white board and write different things on it and it’s the first thing I see when I wake up. If I see that I want to apply for the Fire Department in the summer, seeing that immediately gives me the sense that oh yeah, I’ve got stuff to do,” she says.”

“I’ve tried the willpower thing, and it doesn’t work for me, so I make those bad habits just not an option.”

Just have fun

It’s another easy thing to say, but it’s real: to make change, you’ve got to set your mindset, Zebouni says.

“I really encourage people to come in and have as much fun as possible. Enjoy the community and being with an optimistic group of people. There’s so much more to it than just your performance, and being really hard on yourself is not going to work,” she says.

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