I am back after a wonderful, and much needed, 2-week vacation. Like so many others, I have dived into the new year with anticipation of success. I got back on the horse and have hit the gym every day since the vacation ended. While I did not make any health or fitness resolutions this year, I know many people have, which is why the first post of 2012 is dedicated to them, healthy-style.
Traditionally, most people think of something they wish to change about themselves. For a lot of people, resolutions pertain to weight loss, exercise, and bad habits. The number of resolutions has grown in correlation to the overweight and obesity populations, I believe, which is why you hear so many of your friends say, “I resolve to lose 20 pounds” or “I’m kicking out sweets from my diet.”
These, and other resolutions, are not bad in and of themselves. It’s the journey to the goal that usually does not turn out the way we imagine it would. It’s harder, much harder, than anticipated. Without the tools for success, it can even be impossible.
Why? Because we get discouraged when we start seeing things that we perceive as counterproductive to our goals. The scale is perpetually stuck…or the numbers begin creeping up. That dingdong on the pantry shelf is calling your name…and you succumbed to the sweet temptation. These sorts of things happen, and happen a lot sooner than we think they will. As a fitness instructor, the gyms fill the first week of January but are relatively empty again by mid-March. It is estimated that only 10-20% of people actually accomplish part or all of their resolution goals, which is sad because I believe that the number could be higher.
Here are some tips to help yourself succeed at your health and fitness goals for 2012:
The most important thing to remember is that any health behavior change you want to make needs to be permanent. How you make it permanent is to make it habitual. Habitual needs to be easy. It needs to be planned. It needs to be mindful, meaning that you must purposefully choose to do the habit over and over and over again until it becomes easy and the first thing you do.
1. Keep a food log on everything you eat, the amount you eat, and how you feel before and after you eat it, for 14 days. Do not cheat. Do not judge yourself during this time. Merely note your current eating habits. Do they stem from emotional mood swings? Do they stem from skipping breakfast? Are you not consuming enough calories? Fiber? Protein? Too much sugar (a personal woe of mine)? Examine the log at the end of two weeks and set goals from the results you get.
2. Progress slowly through dietary changes. Don’t toss everything all at once. Pick one (maybe two) unhealthy food choices to cross off your list and substitute them with a healthy item. Also, remember that it is OKAY to have an unhealthy food choice every now and again. Total denial is not fun. It is not fulfilling. It is not enjoyable. It’s frustrating, which leads to bad moods and, possibly, bad eating choices.
3. Plan for cheat meals. If you know you’re going out with friends in the evening, eat light, healthy meals during the day so that you can enjoy the hamburger and fries then. You’ll feel less guilt and enjoy your time more than if you are the only one at the table nibbling on carrot sticks.
4. Drink plenty of water. Not only does water help prevent dehydration, the main cause of headaches, it also keeps you full. When you start feeling your stomach nibble at its lining, grab a glass first and wait 15-20 minutes. Also, if you want to eat less, trying drinking a glass before meal times.
5. Try to avoid snacking. Recent research suggests that snacking actually undermines your weight loss goals. Instead, plan 4-5 small meals full of fiber (fruit, veggies, and/or whole grains) and protein (fish is best, followed by poultry; legumes are excellent too) throughout the day. Avoid processed foods (white rice, white bread, quick-fix meals) as these cause your blood sugar levels to spike and drop, leading to more frequent hunger cravings. If you are busy, set time slots aside to have a small bite to eat.
6. Always try to eat breakfast within the first hour of waking. Your brain has used the energy stored in the liver during the body’s overnight fast and needs a fresh supply. It does not need much but it needs something. Not only will this make you more alert, it will boost your metabolism, which has also slowed during sleep.
First off, and this is so important, do not fear the gym. A lot of new exercisers feel intimidated by the fit bodies that wander around these places. The runners sweating gallons, the bodybuilders grunting as they lift an all-time personal record. Don’t fear them. Instead, use the energy of those dedicated people to drive you in your exercise goals. If you aren’t sure where to start, join a group fitness class or take a few private lessons from a trainer. Instructors and trainers have the tools to help you gain the knowledge you need to succeed.
1. Start small but challenge yourself. If you have been sedentary for quite awhile, an hour’s walk is probably too much to begin your regimen with. Instead, choose 20 minutes at a brisk pace that will get your heart pumping and body sweating. If 20 is too much to do at once, do two bouts of 10-minutes each. Work up to at least 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise a day, the recommended amount for healthy adults by the U.S. Surgeon General. If it’s weights you want to do, try lower weights and more repetitions until you get the hang of the exercises; or use machines (ask a trainer if you are not sure how to use them), again with light, manageable but challenging weights. You will feel sore but the soreness won’t be so great that it derails your intentions.
2. Be okay with the physiological side effects of exercise. We all sweat, breath heavy, feel our heart pound, and feel sore. (I currently feel sore. That’s what two weeks off does to you…but I feel great!) To combat these, drink plenty of water before, during, and after exercise. Also, be sure to set aside 10-15 minutes at the end of your routine to stretch. Flexibility is hugely important to an exercise regimen. It allows the body to relax, re-lengthens muscles, and (most importantly) prevents injury.
3. Join a group exercise class, or have a friend join you at the gym, if you know that you struggle working out alone. The feeling of support created promotes adherence to exercise goals.
4. Don’t freak out if the scale “gets stuck” or “creeps up”. If the numbers don’t change, it may be your body readjusting to its new weight–this is necessary so that you lose weight safe and effectively, without adverse side effects. Keep up the great work. The numbers will move again. If you gaining weight, stop and think. Are you working out on the days that you told yourself you would, for the time you committed to? If so, you may be gaining muscle mass, which burns more calories per hour than fat! For women, you may also be seeing natural weight gain that is associated with menstruation. Don’t fret! Keep up with the work. The most important thing to remember is that exercise is important to your health, and that the numbers aren’t the only factor. Next time you see weight gain, ask yourself these two questions: “How do I feel?” and “How do my clothes fit?” Clothing is, possibly, the number one way to tell if you are on track or not (loosening meaning good progress, tightening meaning get back in there).
5. Set small, reasonable goals to achieve your big, overall goals. Don’t say, “I want to lose 20 pounds.” Instead, say, “I want to lose 1-2 pounds a week (which is healthy weight loss) until I lose the extra 20 pounds that is stopping me from fitting into that great dress.” Give yourself a reward at the end of your hard work. A massage, that cute piece in the clothes’ store. Whatever it is, reward yourself for a job well done. Most of all, stop and see how you feel. Good mood and positive self-confidence are the greatest rewards of all.
1. Sleep more. Get that 8 hours in. In fact, if you can catch a cat nap, even better. Naps reduce stress and give you a boost of energy.
2. Breathe deeply when life does not go your way. Take deep breaths in and out through the nose, eyes closed, for a few minutes. This will help you clear your mind and deal with negative emotions. Stress is one of the leading causes of weight gain and bad eating/exercising habits and our lifestyles is full of it.
3. Take time for yourself. Always. 20 minutes. 1 hour. Whenever you can. Do it. You’ll thank yourself later.
Most of all, remember that all goals, small and large, take more time, energy, and resources than you originally think. Don’t be put off by this. Be flexible. Life is about living, not about having things done. Enjoy the journey. It won’t always be easy but it will be worth it.
Also, make sure that you journey for yourself. Resolving to lose weight or exercise because someone else thinks you ought to is the fastest way to fall off the wagon and hate, hate, hate what you’re doing. If you have started a regimen for someone else, take pause. Reevaluate. Be honesty with yourself. You may not be ready for the changes–or as many changes–as they want you to make. Do it for YOU!
I wish you much success in your short- and long-term goals this year. Write them down! Post them where you can see them. You can do it!!