With a new year come New Year’s resolutions. At the top of many lists will be some combination of losing weight, exercising more and eating healthier.
I’m sure most people intend to take these lists seriously, but the truth is, if you keep up your resolutions until February, you’re doing better than the vast majority of people. So if you do want to embrace a healthier lifestyle, there’s your first goal. Don’t worry about losing more pounds than your friends or exercising more than anyone ever has. Your first step is to set some realistic goals you can actually achieve during the month of January.
Remember, you’re a creature of habit. If the changes you make are too dramatic and sudden, you’ll return to your old ways in a very short amount of time. A healthy lifestyle requires 24-hour maintenance, because let’s be honest, you can be perfect for 23 and a half hours of the day but ruin all that work (and then some) in the remaining half-hour or less. The people who succeed at making a dramatic lifestyle change do it slowly and patiently. Here are some keys to keep in mind.
Picking goals that work for you
Preventing burnout is the key. You’re creating new habits, eating new foods, and beginning new exercises and activities. Start slowly. You don’t have to starve yourself or overdo your workouts and cause an injury. Generally, it isn’t healthy to lose more than 1 or 2 pounds a week, so don’t expect to lose 10 pounds in week one. To achieve this, you’ll either have to severely reduce your calorie count (essentially starving yourself and bringing your metabolism to a screeching halt) and/or exercise so frequently that you’ll probably end up injuring yourself. Want to know what your body hates? Trying to repair sore and damaged muscles on an empty stomach. Your body will not recover properly without enough fuel.
Dealing with your screw-ups
You’re going to eat too much one day. You’re going to skip exercise every now and then. You’ll spend too much time on the couch one Saturday or snack before bed. I’m not saying it’s a good thing. I’m saying you’re not perfect, and it’s probably going to happen sooner than you would like. It may even happen the first week you start. The important thing is that you deal with your screw-ups properly. If you try to ignore them and pretend they never happened, you’re letting yourself off easy and setting yourself up for failure again.
Instead, own up to your mistakes. Admit that they happened. And then ask yourself why they happened. Were you starving all day and you couldn’t go any longer without a snack? Did you just feel like crap and needed a cookie to feel better? Did you absolutely hate running or whatever weird new exercise you tried at the gym?
Whatever it is, there are always solutions. There are different diets you can try, and each one affects each person differently. You may find that adding more protein or fat (but not necessarily calories) to your diet helps you stay full during the day. There are always new exercises or ways you can burn calories. Maybe you’ve got bad knees from playing sports as a kid, so don’t try and “power through” the pain. Just pick an exercise (like an elliptical or biking) that’s not so hard on your joints.
Lots of people sign up for gym memberships in January that they end up almost never using. If the nearest gym is 30 minutes from your house, how often do you really think you’ll be up for that kind of drive? Maybe you won’t mind the first few times, but after that?
Be realistic about a gym and understand a few things. Some of the regulars will probably roll their eyes at you and the other newbies, at least at first. Not everyone will be all that helpful or knowledgeable. Regular gym-goers will be used to seeing new faces at the start of the year, and they probably aren’t going to spend a lot of time helping someone they expect they’ll never see again. It’s elitist, but it’s the reality. However, it’s easy to get past this. How? Kill them with kindness and keep showing up. They’ll come around.
However, not all advice is made equal …
Guys and girls with great bodies can still have absolutely awful habits. You should read up on proper form before you hit the gym, but reading about it or watching a video isn’t the same as doing it yourself. When you have questions, you should definitely ask for help from a trainer/instructor/dietician/doctor who makes it his or her job to know the answer. If they’re not around, that’s OK, but I would say ask around for more help or double-check the information you’ve been given online. Good intentions won’t always bring you good results. Be safe with your own body.
Shortcuts aren’t the answer. You can try a juice cleanse, diet pills, fasting or other extreme measures to help you lose more than 1 to 2 pounds a week, but those are terrible ideas for a lot of reasons. You’ll wreck your body and feel awful all the time. You’ll mostly be losing water weight, and I can guarantee you will gain back all your old weight after you’re back on your regular diet. Fast results might be uplifting and a fun thing to mention to family and friends, but they just don’t last. That goes with any resolution you make this year. If you want it to last, make a plan you can actually follow, persist through adversity and failure, and keep going until you reach your goals.
Jay McKenzie loves soccer, history and feeling great. He’s on a quest to eat better and exercise more, and he wants to share his experiences along the way. You can email him at [email protected] with comments or questions. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.