It’s the new year. You’re feeling exuberant, renewed, inspired, and making a list of ways you’ll change. 2011’s gonna be different. Massive life makeover. P-90x will kick your ass and you’ll never touch another cookie again. You’ve set a deadline for weight loss. 30 pounds in three months. 15 pounds by spring break. No more love handles by bikini season.
It’s not going to happen.
I wish you all the best with your plan, but you can’t change like that. You can’t suddenly go from couch potato to athlete. You can’t consume gallons of soda and piles of pepperoni pizza for days on end and then instantly become a raw low-fat vegan.
What you CAN do is make incremental changes. Focus on tiny goals. Say, “This week, I’m going to cut down to two sodas a day.” Then the next week, you’ll be down to one – or if you’re feeling good, one every other day. You’ll stop craving the sugar and you’ll start feeling cleaner – and before you realize it, you’ll find soda to be disgusting.
Learn about why the “bad foods” are not the best choices. How does your body break down fat? With the help of complex carbohydrates. What provides the best energy for your brain? Carbohydrates! Where does your body store excess sugars? In fat cells! Thinking about the science and reality makes it easier to face those free cupcakes at work, or that taco dip at the party.
If you make it into a morality game – “bad” foods vs “good” – it becomes a complex emotional issue. You might have a difficult day at work and want to reward yourself with “bad” foods, thinking you deserve them. Or you go overboard and banish everything “bad” – leading to obsessions and desires that, I promise, will overtake your brain.
Pushing yourself into a workout that exhausts your body and makes you feel broken the next day — that’s just not going to be sustainable. You want those 15 lbs to stay off, right? Then start easy. Go to the gym and spend 15 minutes on the elliptical. Do 10 laps on the track. When was the last time you jogged up a flight of stairs? It put you out of breath, didn’t it? Clearly, you’re out of shape. Getting into an exercise regimen WILL take time and effort; but if you work up to it slowly, it’ll feel that much better.
Your body will also build up a tolerance to calories burned. It learns to use energy in the most efficient ways – so starting with a 5-mile run or an upper-level spinning class just means you’ll have to challenge your body that much more in the future. Start small so you can build up to the maximum that you can handle. You’ll be able to handle more, eventually, too.
It’s great to have the goals – the 20 lbs by a certain date – because that gives you something to work for. But the only way to do it is by making those incremental changes.
How do I know? I lost 47 lbs from April to August this year.
And I have kept them off. I have fibromyalgia, which means I have to take it easy with exercise anyway – so I started swimming. It’s gentle on my joints and great for a full-body workout. The first time I went, I had no idea how many laps I was capable of before getting in the pool. I hadn’t been swimming in years. So, I started slowly. I think I did sixteen laps (which is about 1/4 mile) that first day. The next time, I was able to do 20, and slowly worked my way up to half a mile.
I also stopped eating pizza. This was an enormous money saver, and had an unintended side effect. My migraines – once a twice-weekly phenomenon – dwindled to a minimum never experienced. Probably something to do with the processed cheese. My stomach aches less, and I hardly ever feel nauseous anymore.
In short – I beg of you: if you really want results, if you want to achieve your goals – take a good long look at yourself, and take small steps along the way. Make every new thing you do something you can see yourself maintaining for life. Can’t do an hour of kickboxing every day? Then don’t, but do park your car six blocks away and walk to work. Can’t walk to work? Stand at the stove and prepare a meal for twenty minutes instead of standing in front of the microwave for five.
Also: drink a whole lot of water. All day long.
I didn’t think I could do it. I’d been paying for a membership at the Y for two years without going ONCE, why would I suddenly start exercising more than once a week? I’d been eating cheeseburgers like it was my job (well – working at a BBQ restaurant, it could be considered…), what would make me stop eating meat entirely?
But I did it! I have faith that you can do it, too – it’s not magic, and it does take effort. Pills won’t work. Self-blame doesn’t work, either. But really? It’s all about diet and exercise – and focusing on a healthy lifestyle.