Every year thousands of us make well- intentioned resolutions to eat healthier, lose weight & get into shape. The average lifespan of a New Year’s Resolution is about 6-8 weeks. By the end of February, most of us have exhausted our resolve and give up. We’re just destined to be fat and out of shape, or it takes more willpower and time than we have. Giving up leaves most of us feeling like failures and a little embarrassed, although we have plenty of company.
But the truth is we aren’t destined to be fat or out of shape and it’s not that we need more willpower. There’s nothing wrong with our resolutions either. Our intentions are great: it’s our execution that stinks! We try to make too many changes at once: giving up sugar, drinking more water, getting more sleep, exercising multiple times a week, eating more vegetables, getting 10,000 steps a day, etc. It’s the equivalent of walking into the gym and trying to deadlift 150 lbs! If you’ve never lifted before, you’d think I was nuts if I asked you to try that, but that’s what you tried to do when you tried making all those changes at once. It was just too much all at once so it’s no wonder most of us are overwhelmed but because it’s not actually trying to lift 150 lbs, we think we’re hopeless and give up.
Shortly before Christmas I did a post on resolutions but this is when the rubber meets the road and we’re in the thick of resolution- wrestling. We’ve made our resolutions and are putting them into action, however difficult it may be for us. So let’s make sure we give ourselves the best advantages that we can.
Quick Tip #1: Baby steps. This was my primary advice in the pre-Christmas post and it definitely bears repeating. Suppose you did make a long list of resolutions and are thinking maybe it was a bit much or you’re already starting to feel overwhelmed. Pull out your list and choose the one that’s most important to you, then rank the rest in order of importance. Get ready to make progress! Now that you’ve identified #1, focus on that one resolution only! You are going to make it a habit by devoting your energy only on that one behavior change. Once you’ve made it part of your regular routine, move on to #2.
Quick Tip #2: Break it down to bite size chunks. Some of you might remember that I used to be an English teacher and one of the things we’d tell our students-repeatedly- is when you’re choosing your paper topics, narrow your topic! “The death penalty” (a perennially popular choice) is NOT a paper topic: “Implementation of the death penalty in California since 2000” IS a topic. It’s specific and tells the reader what you’re writing about. “The death penalty” is way too broad: what are you going to focus on? Constitutionality? Implementation? State laws? Federal laws? Racial breakdown? You get the idea.
The same thing happens when you choose a resolution like “lose weight.” How are you going to do it? Do you have a plan? Like every overbroad topic, “lose weight” lacks focus. “Eating low carb to lose weight” has focus. “Getting fit” is also too broad; “building strength through weight training” has more focus. Being specific about your resolution/ goal helps you find and keep a direction. Even so, breaking your resolution into steps and a plan of action makes it more actionable and therefore achievable. It helps you plot and measure your progress towards your goals.
For example if your resolution is to lose weight by eating low carb, you can map out a plan like first cutting out processed foods, then move on to cut out starchy vegetables, then cutting out refined sugars, etc. You can do the same thing with the weight training goal: maybe getting some DVDs or meeting with a trainer to map out a safe timetable to move you forward.
Quick Tip #3: Give yourself the right tools. This has a little overlap with #2. Once you’ve figured out what you want to achieve and how you’re going to get there, you need the right tools to get there. This could include the trainer, DVDs, equipment, or the right resources for eating low carb, like a book or diet plan.
If you’re going to try eating better (whether it’s for getting fit or losing weight), a food scale is a great tool. Weighing your food isn’t the point but learning portion size is. “Portion inflation” is a major issue in our culture: restaurants routinely serve double or triple portions per serving and as a result, most of us think 12 ounces of meat is a “portion.” Depending on the meat, 3-4 ounces is a portion size. A portion size of vegetables is generally around 6 ounces or a cup, depending on the vegetables (fresh spinach is 2 cups; a sweet potato is about 6 ounces). A calorie counter book or app can help you figure out what the correct portion size is (calories aren’t the point) and a food scale can help you learn what the correct size looks like.
Another great tool is a journal. It doesn’t have to be to record your food (although that can be a great advantage); but if you’re trying to lose weight, you need a record; or if you want to change your eating pattern, keeping a record of what you ate and how you liked it is helpful. If you’re trying to build muscle, it’s also helpful to record your workouts and any measurements you’ve taken. (A measuring tape is an inexpensive tool.) You don’t have to use an actual book: an app is just as good, besides having other advantages, such as a food database and/ or a supportive community. Having a great support group is another important tool: not only does it keep you motivated, it can also be an information resource.
Joining a gym is also an option that tends to overwhelm people. You don’t have to join a gym but if getting fit is your resolution, then it might be something to consider. Most gyms have trial memberships. If a friend/ family member belongs, see if you can visit on a guest pass. I would suggest avoiding a contract until you are sure this is the gym for you. Don’t choose a gym based on what you plan on using but what you know you will use.
Other great tools can be things like a lunchbox kit, home workout equipment and a reliable bathroom scale. These tools help keep you motivated and make it easier for you to plan ahead. Knowing that you’re prepared really does make it easier to stay focused when it comes to making a lunch, or doing your workout at home and if you’ve got a reliable scale (or measuring tape), there’s no reason not to weigh/ measure yourself.
Quick Tip #4: Keep moving forward. This is extremely important because a lot of us give up when we fail to reach our first goal or milestone. We also have the “start over” mentality. We plan on losing ten pounds in the first month and when we come in at less than our goal, we want to start over or choose another strategy. This is why a journal comes in handy because we can see maybe we were eating too much or eating the wrong foods or maybe we were “off track” more often than we thought we were. The same goes if we plan on lifting X lbs by our first month: if we look and see we missed about half our scheduled workouts, we know what the problem is! Charting our progress helps us refine our program, whether it’s eating better or getting fitter.
Whether we use a journal or not, giving up or ‘starting over’ isn’t helpful. If we don’t hit our goals, we need to keep going forward. We aren’t markers on a board game because our life isn’t a game. If we mess up, we need to find out where we messed up, find a way to fix it and move forward! Our focus should be progress, not perfection. The more we keep making progress, the easier it gets! (Really, it does, because we keep practicing!)
Some of my favorite tools include a Dietminder journal (they do diet, exercise and maintenance journals). I have an Ozeri food scale (it’s an America’s Test Kitchen best buy) and an EatSmart digital bathroom scale. My lunch kit is from Lunchblox via Amazon. I’m also a fan of the My Fitness Pal app/ website. It’s got a food database and a great support community. (It’s like a fitness oriented Facebook!) I generally recommend Nutrition for Dummies, since it’s easy to read and it gives you the basics for healthy eating.
Final Quick Tip: Keep a positive attitude! Focusing on the negative will not help you move forward. If you’ve only lost 5 lbs instead of 10, telling yourself you fell short isn’t helpful. You need to be your own best advocate. If you gained weight, telling yourself you’re a loser or hopeless isn’t helpful either. If it’s really how you feel, this is where the support group comes in! Reach out for support or motivation because believe me, we’ve all been there! If you tell yourself you can’t do it, then you’ve already made the decision to quit. We all need support at times. There’s no shame in reaching out, but in giving up, you’re only hurting yourself.
You can do this! As always, I’m here if you have any questions and I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org