How not to make FAIL one of your New Year’s Resolutions
It’s the beginning of January and it is time again for New Year’s resolutions. Judging from the 200% increase in treadmill prices and the gyms being so crowded they look like they’re the last bastion of hope in some sort of Zombie Apocalypse (sorry, almost time for the next episode of Walking Dead), I think it’s safe to say that getting fit is a popular resolution this year.
I think this great. I’m not only a triathlete, but also a physician, and I whole heartedly support healthy lifestyle changes, even if it takes the arbitrary turning of a year. Unfortunately though, despite good intentions, people all over the world make New Year’s resolutions that set themselves up for nothing more than failure.
You know what I mean. Think of all your friends and family members. They don’t say, “After this last glass of champagne, I am going to go out and improve my cardiovascular fitness tomorrow!” They don’t proclaim “I can’t wait to begin improving my cholesterol or lowering my risk for diabetes.” What they say is “I want to lose weight”
Why “I want to lose weight” = “I want to fail.”
Let us use an example, namely Joe. Joe is overweight. He needs to lose some pounds and he hasn’t exercised or had a healthy diet for years. After getting the OK from his doc, he starts exercising on January 2. First day, he walks around the track for an hour in his new tennis shoes. He gets some weights in. He sweats up a storm. He weighs himself the next morning. Holy guacamole! He lost three pounds overnight! This exercise stuff is great!
He goes back to the gym the next day. He’s a little sore from the new exercise. He pushes himself to walk the track again. Even throws in a little running. No weights today. He sweats up another storm and is parched. On the way out of the gym, he grabs a large Gatorade and gulps it down before he gets home. The next morning, he weighs himself and….he gained 4 pounds! WTF! Joe is confused.
If he is really dedicated, he doesn’t throw in the towel quite yet. He gives the gym a few more tries but unfortunately, his weight keeps fluctuating all over the place and after two weeks, he has lost only one pound…. as far as he can tell. To hell with this thinks Joe.
I have seen more patients than I care to remember relinquish their resolutions secondary to setting weight loss as a solitary goal. Why is setting weight loss as a goal a bad idea?
#1: Based on fluid intake and output, your body weight can fluctuate a few pounds on a daily basis. As for myself, my weight yesterday was 143. Today, with doing nothing in particular other than usual, it is now 139. Did I burn 4 pounds overnight studying or playing Call of Duty? No. I haven’t been drinking nearly enough water lately but I have had plenty of caffeine. My 4 pounds went the way of urine. Pinning your motivation to small, daily changes on the scale will be an experiment in frustration.
#2: Focusing on weight alone masks the other benefits of regular exercise. Regular exercise can lower cholesterol, decrease your risk of diabetes, improve the conditioning of your heart and increase energy levels. Sure, achieving ideal body weight is important also, but while it may take time for the pound difference to show, these other effects start from the get go.
So, what should you do?
How to set New Year’s Resolutions That Work
#1: Set an exercise goal, not a weight goal.
Instead of saying you want to lose ten pounds in a month, set a goal of exercising a certain amount. For example, say that you are going to do at least 30 minutes of exercise 5-6 days a week for two months. This is a much more concrete goal to achieve and I think you will be happy with the results over time.
#2: Put an event on the calendar.
I tell everyone this and I will say it again. One of the hardest parts of doing an Ironman is just signing up for the dang thing. Monetary issues aside, putting that X on the calendar is tough. But once it’s there, it’s THERE. It will be much easier to focus on exercise when you have something to aim for over time versus on a day to day basis. I’m not saying go sign up for an Ironman if you haven’t exercised in a long time, but there are plenty of other events out there. My first event was a 10k. It took me forever to build up the guts to do it, and it was as just a thrilling adventure as Ironman. A good place to look for an event in your area is Running In The USA.
#3: Don’t weigh yourself daily.
As I said above, that weight can fluctuate worse than the US stock market. Forget about daily weights. Go for a long term measurement, like once a week.
#4: Eat healthy.
This is a big one. You will not be healthy and you will not be able to exercise unless you eat properly. Most Americans try one or the other. They go and run 20 miles with no preparation and then eat a rib platter at Famous Daves, or they eat nothing but one rice cake with a side of air for a week. As I mentioned in my previous post, the Lose It phone app and internet program is a fun way to track your caloric intake.
Pay attention to portion size also. A plain salad with light ranch dressing is not healthy for you if it’s the size of a VW Bug. Oh, and don’t get too used to sipping on those post workout smoothies and shakes that lots of gyms are pushing these days. My vigorous cycling today used about 450 calories. If I had taken in a smoothie or something similar afterwards, I could have easily negated the caloric benefits of my exercise. You would be surprised how many calories are in a smoothie. Some of the components, like whey protein, can be helpful in recovery and building muscle, but save those kinds of supplements for later in your exercise career.
#5: Take notice of how you feel.
While the scale may not show it at first, your body is getting healthier with every minute of exercise. You should notice your energy levels improving. Your mood may be better. You should feel stronger. These aren’t just in your head. They are the results of your hard work.
#6: Give it time.
Do you know what a pound of fat looks like? It looks like this:
Yep, that. It can take a long time to lose that, let alone ten of those, and there is no way around it. Mentally prepare yourself for the long haul. I have been exercising routinely for about four years and I have lost 40 pounds from when I started. That’s with all the crazy Ironman and other smaller races. This is not a quick fix program.
Hopefully with these tips, you can start 2012 with a healthy set of resolutions that gets you the results you need. See you at the gym and best of luck!