My 2-year-old is learning to ride a bike. But not in the same way I learned to ride a bike. Have you seen balance bikes? These things are amazing! Seriously, so genius! The idea is that the kid learns the hardest part first—the balance—and then can easily transition to a real bike because the pedaling is the easy part. It’s the opposite approach to the traditional training wheels, where you pedal along, never worrying about your balance, and then you crash over and over once the training wheels are off because you can’t balance at all!
As a mother of five, I know this process all too well. I can’t believe the amount of time I spent holding the back seat of the bike while my child, in panicky screams, begged me to not let go yet! For my oldest three kids, the decision to ditch the training wheels and go for it was not one I looked forward to. Sometimes they crashed hard and wanted to just put the training wheels back on. They didn’t have any confidence in their ability to ride a bike without those precious wheels to hold them up.
And then, one summer, I saw my sister’s boys on strider bikes. At first, I was pretty skeptical. How could a kid learn to ride a bike without even pedaling? But then I noticed something. They could balance! They would stride along for a while, and then pick their legs up and coast along effortlessly. They had already mastered the part of bike riding that my kids had struggled so much to learn. And so I went out and got a strider bike for child number four. He was just two years old, and my older kids hadn’t started that early, but I was so excited for him to get going and learn how to ride a bike in a better way. I was not disappointed. Before he even turned four years old, he jumped onto a regular bike and pedaled away without a thought. And as I’ve watched my baby learn to balance his bike this summer, I fully expect him to do the same thing next year.
One day this summer, as I was watching him learn to balance, it occurred to me that just as there are two different approaches to learning to ride a bike, there are also two different approaches to learning to create a sustainable, healthy lifestyle. Just like riding a bike requires the action of pedaling along with the skill of balancing, being able to maintain a healthy lifestyle requires action (like eating right, exercising, and getting enough sleep), as well as the more difficult, but crucial skill of loving your body.
Most people, when wanting to learn how to create a healthy lifestyle, turn to the equivalent of training wheels: a diet or exercise program. These programs typically offer their customers a quick fix and amazing results by simply following their program exactly. And as long as the customer follows along, they often get the results promised. But then it is time to take the training wheels off, and sadly, they crash. They don’t have the skill of balance, or the love for their body that gives them the balance needed to continue pedaling without the diet plan holding them up.
Sure, some people are able to get back up, dust themselves off, and figure out how to love their body and move forward. But they are the minority. Most decide that they just aren’t cut out for bike riding. It’s too hard. It doesn’t come as naturally for them as it does for others. Or they blame the training wheels and decide that if they can just find a better set, then they will be able to figure it out. What they don’t realize is that they are ignoring the skill they need most if they are ever going to maintain a healthy lifestyle: love. When you have a healthy relationship with your body, when you love it and want what is best for it, then the healthy habits are the easy part—the pedaling.
I suppose you could continue to ride a bike with training wheels. It gets you around, and you do stay upright. You could keep using the same set of training wheels, or even experiment with lots of different sets. And living a “training wheel” sort of healthy lifestyle, if you never take them off, may even help you be pretty healthy! But do you remember the freedom you felt when you rode a two-wheeler for the first time? And how much fun it continued to be? To be able to ride fast, to ride over all kinds of terrain, without anything holding you back? I have found the same kind of freedom from living a healthy lifestyle that isn’t limited by a bunch of diets, plans, rules, and restrictions. By learning to balance first, I have been able to pedal in a way that suits me best. The longer I ride, the more confidence I gain. And when I crash (because I still do on occasion), I know that I can just jump right back on and get riding again.
And so my advice for somebody who wants to learn to live a healthy lifestyle—one that you can truly maintain, and that even feels easy once you get going—is this: Invest in a balance bike. Make the effort to truly love your body. This may take time, but it will be the exact investment that will get you where you want to be. Take baby steps. Accept your body. Come to peace with it as it is. Look for things you appreciate about it. Notice its beauty. Practice gratitude. And finally, love it. Love it so much that taking care of it becomes second nature to you. And then, without even realizing, you will have made the transition to the real bike, and you will never need another set of training wheels again. It will be, in fact, like riding a bike. Once you learn, you just always know how.
Ditch the training wheels. Jump on your balance bike. Learn how to ride. Love your body, and your body will love you. ♥