Maybe you want to lose weight. Maybe you want to create healthier eating habits. Or maybe you want to sleep better at night. If you’ve been unsuccessful in your efforts in spite of an array of loving, supportive strategies, perhaps some tough-love advice from Oonagh Duncan will do the trick. She is the hilarious and inspiring fitness expert whose unique formula has been helping people ditch the excuses, change their bad habits and get in shape at last. 

Lose the “all or nothing” approach to eating. Maybe you eat healthfully all week, forgoing even so much as a sip of wine, and then you go crazy on the weekend. It’s a constant pattern of one step forward, two steps back. Or you consciously allow yourself to overeat, promising you will “work it off” later. Reality check: To burn off an order of French fries, you may have to be on the elliptical for an hour or more. 

Instead: Banish thoughts like I’ll start over tomorrow or I’ll eat healthy next week. This is mental garbage! The idea that you can “work off” a binge with a cleanse is just not the way the body works. You won’t see results, but you will do damage to your metabolism. You know that you can’t get strong arms by doing 1,000 push-ups in one day, but  you can get injured that way. You can get strong only by doing 10 push-ups for 100 days. That’s because your body loves consistency and hates extremes.

It’s the same way when it comes to food. Many people try to force themselves into strict regimens where certain foods are forbidden. If you try to banish all carbs—or whatever the current “baddy” is—you’ll eventually fail because an all-or-nothing approach never works. Instead, go ahead and eat proteins, carbs and fat. Just do it in reasonable amounts. 

Tame the tiger. Do you go all out, no matter what you do? Then you’re a tiger. Tigers work hard and look very successful, but they tend to go overboard. Because it’s hard to sustain their ­extreme level of effort (showing up at the gym every day at 5 am, for example), they fall off the wagon fast, stop seeing results because they can’t keep up with such a rigorous plan and end up feeling terrible about themselves. 

Instead: Be a turtle. Turtles make one small change at a time. They give themselves the time to get used to each one. Some turtles feel bad because they don’t have dramatic weight-loss results. But turtles are so much better than tigers at developing good habits and achieving long-term results. Slow and steady change may make you feel like nothing’s happening, but that’s what’s going to form new habits that will get you lasting results.

Remove temptation from your home. Many people have their daily rituals. They pour themselves a glass of wine or have a bowl of ice cream as a way to make an ordinary day feel special. But that nightly treat has a creep effect. One glass of wine turns into two glasses, and one scoop turns into two…which turns into I might as well finish the whole carton

Instead: Banish foods from your house that later tend to make you feel awful. Be honest with yourself. If it ended up in your mouth before, it likely will again—even if you claim the cookies are just there for the kids. It’s not forever. Those foods and drinks are always there to revisit at the occasional party or in a restaurant. 

Go ahead and clean out your cabinets and throw away your trigger foods. Don’t feel bad about tossing that half-eaten bag of chips. If you eat it rather than throwing it away, it’s still a waste…but it’s a waste that can hurt your body and make you feel bad. 

Get rid of anything in your closet that doesn’t make you feel good. Many people have clothing in three different sizes cluttering their closets (and their lives). They think it’s motivating to keep the stuff that once looked great on them. But if those same pants now are cutting into your stomach, you’re making life harder than it has to be. You’re only going to feel bad about yourself. And no one has ever hated themselves into a body they love. In fact, studies have proven that the more shame you feel about yourself, the more likely you are to gain weight. 

Instead: Next time your jeans don’t zip, stick with facts, not emotions. Give yourself an honest assessment of how you got here—as in, OK, I’ve gained weight. My portions have been kind of big, and I’ve been drinking more than usual. But I’m excited to get fit again and to start reigning in those portions. So yes, they may fit again soon…but for now, get them out of your closet. Stop “futurizing” your life, and concentrate instead on feeling good about yourself now. By building positive thoughts, you are more likely to succeed at your goals. 

Recognize the weasel words. Everyone has heard that tempting voice that tells them not to get out of bed when the alarm goes off for gym time. That’s because we all are so good at making weasel-y excuses, such as I just don’t feel like it today…I’ll exercise later, after work…I can skip just one day! The reason that this voice is so seductive is because it helps us postpone the discomfort of change. 

Instead: Remember that one of the most important muscles you need to strengthen is the “Do it even when I don’t feel like it” muscle. Think about it—you probably also don’t really want to pay your phone bill or go to work when it’s raining…but you do it! Because you’re an adult and know that when you do what’s right, it feels good. 

Tip: To call yourself out on your excuses, try meditation. It trains your brain to see your thoughts more clearly. And it will stop you from believing in old, unhelpful thought patterns such as, I must have low metabolism or I’m just not good at exercising. With meditation, you can separate yourself from some of your favorite excuses and look at them from a more detached perspective. ­Example: Say to yourself, There I go…thinking that thought again. 

Small Wins with Big Payoffs

Think of something that you find hard to do, whether it’s going to bed on time or cooking healthy meals at home. Then try to imagine the teeniest, tiniest version of that better habit. Keep thinking smaller until it would be ridiculous to think that you can’t do it! Now you are armed and ready for battle. To get started, here are some examples of “small win” ideas to counter some of the big excuses we all make…

I don’t have time to make a week’s worth of healthy meals in advance! 

Could you chop up some veggies to have on hand for snacking?

I can’t handle another salad, and I want something yummy.

Could you throw a few spinach leaves into a blueberry smoothie?

There’s no way I can get seven hours of sleep at night. 

Could you go to bed 15 minutes earlier than usual?

I can’t survive on one portion. I’m still hungry! 

Could you wait five minutes before getting a second helping? 

I need my glass of wine every night. It’s how I relax.

Could you try a half-serving for one night and see how that feels?