It’s January 1, and with the new year comes new resolutions; many of those resolutions will be about weight loss. Unfortunately, only 8% of Americans accomplish their New Year’s resolutions (Prossack, 2018). As someone who always had a resolution to lose weight, I feel like it’s an appropriate time to share my struggles with you and let you know that it takes more than a resolution to lose weight and be healthy – it takes a true commitment to a lifestyle change.
I’ve struggled with my weight for most of my life. As a young girl, I had severe asthma which led to a long course of steroid medications. That was followed by hormone and menstruation issues that also required medication that caused weight gain. I was always active, but my life was a constant yo-yo of mostly weight gain and a little bit of weight loss. Doctors and nutritionists assumed I was eating too much, but when I tracked what I was eating during the day, I was not eating enough. I exercised regularly, but I never found a workout routine that helped me lose weight.
Eventually, at 35 years old, I decided enough was enough. I was at the heaviest I had been in my life, and I felt terrible. I knew it was time to have serious conversations to find better ways to manage my health problems, and it was time to get serious about finding a workout and nutrition plan to lose weight. I set a goal to look and feel better at 40 than I did at 35. I’ve since lost 50 pounds and counting, I have a better handle on my health and nutrition, and I’m already achieving my goal at almost 38 years old. It’s been a long, slow journey, and it’s something I manage every day. I know I will never be incredibly thin, but that’s not the goal of my fitness journey. I just want to be a healthy weight and have a healthy lifestyle. Here are some tips that helped me along the way that can help you on your fitness journey.
Before You Get Started
- Check for underlying health issues. Talk to your doctor to see if you have any underlying health issues that cause weight gain. If you do, come up with a plan to manage those health issues. You should also see if any medications predispose you to weight gain. While you may not be able to change medications, knowing this will help you set realistic weight goals.
- Make a plan. Don’t just say you will get healthy; commit to it, and plan how you will do it. Have some ideas of different workouts to try. Also, make a healthy eating plan and find some recipes that look good.
- Set small, realistic goals. When you start small and you achieve your goals, you’re motivated to continue with the hard work. If you set unrealistic, grand goals and fail immediately, you will be tempted to give up immediately. Your small goals can be related to the number of days per week you exercise and the amount of weight loss you hope to see at specific intervals. A healthy weight loss is one to two pounds per week (Mayo Clinic, 2021). But also understand your body may lose weight more or less easily, so you need to adjust your expectations accordingly. Also, you can’t expect to lose a large amount of weight quickly if you’re unable or unwilling to change your nutrition habits and exercise most days of the week.
- Discipline yourself. If you don’t keep up with your exercise routine or your nutrition, you won’t see results. It’s easier to stay disciplined when you find a workout you enjoy and a time of day that works best for you. There is ongoing debate about what types of workouts are best and what time of day is best to work out, but there is no debate that something is better than nothing, especially when you do it consistently.
- Do a program. Before mixing and matching and coming up with your own routines, do a program or, if you have joined a gym with access to a personal trainer, have a program developed for you to meet your goals. You need to know you’re doing work that allows you to progress and is organized in a way to hit all body parts and integrate different types of exercises.
- Know your body, and work with it. Know your body’s limits, and don’t fight them. For example, if you have bad knees (which I did for a long time), don’t do unmodified plyometrics (jump training). Take the exercise modifications when you need them. Also, modify programs as needed. If a program doesn’t have a rest or active recovery day in the middle and your body needs a break, give your body a break. As you become fitter, listen to your body and test your limits.
- Again, set small, realistic goals. Your body needs to adjust to reducing calories. Gradually reduce your calorie intake so you don’t get super hungry and end up overindulging with meals. Also, your body may need to adjust to any kind of dietary changes. For example, if you’re used to eating red meat most days, don’t cut it all out at once. Start by reducing your red meat consumption slowly so you can fight cravings and avoid overeating when you do eat it.
- Don’t diet, and remember you MUST eat. Focus on eating healthy, not on dieting. Crash diets and fad diets where you focus on deprivation don’t work. You must eat — your body needs food to function. Not eating can actually cause your body to store fat. Eating small, healthy meals throughout the day can help you stay energized and satisfied so you don’t overeat.
- Portion control is key. A balanced diet means you eat a variety of foods in moderation. That moderation means you control your portion sizes of both unhealthy and healthy foods. It is possible to overeat healthy foods. Portion size containers or measuring spoons and cups can help you with food serving sizes. You can also estimate portion sizes with your hand, as explained by Hackfort (2019).
- Meal planning and preparation helps. Each week, I plan my breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, and I make a grocery store list. When I go to the store, I buy what’s on the list for my planned meals that I cook at home. Planning meals out in advance and knowing what to buy at the store allows me to stay on track with healthy eating. It also makes my shopping trips more efficient and cost-effective.
Mental Health, Motivation, Inspiration
- Focus on getting fitter, not losing weight. It’s easy to focus on weight loss because we can step on a scale and see change or put on clothing and see and feel change. But being thin doesn’t mean you’re completely fit and healthy, and being heavier doesn’t mean you’re completely unfit and unhealthy. If you focus on getting fit, weight loss will eventually follow.
- Measure inches and pounds, but don’t measure every day. Your weight fluctuates throughout the day every day regardless of how much you work out, so stepping on the scale every day can be more depressing than it is motivational. If you step on the scale after a particularly intense workout, your muscles may be inflamed and your weight will be higher. Muscle also weighs more than fat, so it’s possible to get leaner (lose inches) and see the same or heavier weight if you’re developing lean muscle. When you check your weights and measurements, be consistent regarding time of day and the day of the week or the spot you’re at in your workout cycle so you have some benchmark, but still expect some up and down fluctuations.
- Manage stress. Being stressed hurts your fitness. Sometimes it makes you lose too much weight, other times it makes you gain weight or even stress eat. Unfortunately, stress is unavoidable so you must find a way to manage it if you hope to achieve your fitness goals. Working out regularly can help you manage stress in a healthy way.
- Find accountability buddies. This helps you stay disciplined and stay committed. If you belong to a gym, there may be a tracking program to help you stay motivated and accountable for your workouts. If you don’t have that, then friends can help. Fitness programs may also have social media groups that allow you to check in each day. Those groups may also be filled with people who can share motivation, tips, recipes, etc.
Fitness and Nutrition Information
Remember, a fitness journey is a lifestyle change, not a New Year’s resolution. Here are some resources that can help you learn more about healthy fitness lifestyle changes so you can get started on your journey.