Want to lose weight in 2016?
Here are some tips to help you cash in on New Year’s mojo for long-lasting health changes!
Tip #1 – Don’t wait until New Year’s Day!
If you’re thinking about losing weight or getting lean starting on Friday, you can do yourself a favor by starting now. The reason? All-or-nothing thinking is the enemy of sustainable positive growth. Plus, some of the year’s biggest partying happens on December 31 – why would you give yourself such a setback right out of the gate?
If you feel motivated to make positive changes, start today. Start making healthier choices right away.
Anytime I’m going to “start something tomorrow” or “next week,” it rarely (a.k.a. never) happens. When I began to work towards a healthy weight in 2010, part of the motivation was seeing results. If you wait to start your new lifestyle, you will not have the benefit of being excited by watching your body gradually change.
The sooner you can see results, the faster you will be able to commit to a new way of life. Start now!
Tip #2 – Change your environment.
One of the biggest obstacles to weight loss for many people is that your home does not accurately reflect and support your desire to make healthy changes. The week before New Year’s Day, when many of us are enjoying a few days off, is a great time to go through your home and clean out everything. Give away clothes that don’t look great on you. Throw away broken things that are beyond fixing.
Most of all, go through your refrigerator and cabinets and give away or throw away foods that are not a reflection of your desire for health. Go shopping and replace those foods, so that you are able to start the New Year strong.
When your house is neat and organized and your kitchen is filled with healthy food, you have a refreshed sense of your own confidence and self-care. You are more likely to make new and more positive decisions for yourself.
This week, my husband and I have been going through every cabinet and every closet, filling bags for the thrift store and rearranging the storage solutions of our home. We bought new, organized laundry hampers, gave away books that haven’t earned spots in the “permanent collection,” and ordered a watch repair kit to fix my beloved broken Skagen that has been sitting in a drawer.
The energetic transformation in our apartment is unbelievable, and our home feels lighter and more magnetic. Trust me – small positive changes lead to BIG positive changes! Trust the process!
Tip #3 – Change your routine.
I say this quite a bit, both to my personal training clients and my online community: put exercise and/or cooking in your planner as an appointment with yourself, and then honor the commitment as if it were with someone else. Would you cancel on your boss or on a loved one? Probably not!
Treat yourself with the same amount of respect.
This week, I made a time grid for myself for the New Year. This grid is a schedule that accounts for every hour of the day, and includes all important routines of my life. Since exercise is primarily a habit issue, scheduling it so that it folds in with another part of my day (stopping by the gym on the way home from a client meeting, for example), is a surefire way to ensure that I will get the job done.
Self-care routines like exercise and cooking need to be non-negotiable anchors in your schedule. Write them down, then keep your commitments to yourself.
Tip #4 – Get a buddy or attend a group.
Community helps to strengthen commitments to change. Whether it’s just one friend who becomes your running buddy, or a support group for serious weight loss, it’s important that you don’t strike out in a new direction on your own.
Part of me hates the word “accountability,” because I don’t honestly believe that we, as rational adults, need someone checking up on us to make sure that we are sticking to our resolutions. However, accountability in the context of love, support, and maybe even a little healthy competition is a valuable scaffold that helps you to climb from one level to the next.
It’s best if you are consistently exercising with someone, as well as having your spouse/family on board with any dietary changes. Willpower is exhaustible, and having unhelpful snacks and treats around the house “for the kids” can derail the best of intentions. You can get your whole family on board, by being creative and including everyone in making new, healthy decisions.
A large component of the “stickiness” of my initial weight loss was twofold: my husband was diagnosed with gluten intolerance, and we started running together. Simultaneously, our diet was cleaned up (and I started reading the hell out of nutrition labels for the first time ever) and we had mutual support in exercise. If I had tried to lose weight on my own, I’m sure that – in some alternate universe – it would have been possible, but much more difficult.
Tip #5 – Get professional help if necessary.
There are people who literally have degrees in what you are trying to accomplish. If you need the extra boost, employ one of them as your coach and professional expert!
As a personal trainer, I know that exercise is not the whole picture, so I also offer packages to my clients that include sessions with a registered dietitian. The dietitian can help them make the best individual choices for their goals, with specific advice that far exceeds my nutritional toolbox.
Get a personal trainer. Get a nutritionist. Stick with a long-term program with one or both of these professionals, and trust that results will take them but that you will be supported in achieving your goals.
Tip #6 – Make realistic monthly resolutions with action plans.
Don’t think too broadly. Ever heard of a SMART goal? SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, results-focused, and time-bound. This model is used in education, fitness, business, and more. It’s an important concept because it helps you create practical, realistic goals that don’t discourage you.
For example, this is NOT a SMART goal:
“I want to lose 20 pounds.”
My advice: break down your goals into manageable increments, and have an action plan to achieve each goal. For example, this IS a SMART goal for exercise:
“I will measure my waist, thighs, and hips on January 1. I will do high-intensity cardio three times a week, and I will do an upper body and lower body weight training routine at the gym each week. After a month, I will re-take measurements of my waist, thighs, and hips on January 31. Based on those numbers, I will create a goal for February.”
Here is a SMART goal for eating:
“This week, I am going to measure my body fat percentage. Then I am going to throw out any junk food at my house, and go to the store and buy (1) an insulated lunch bag, (2) healthy snacks for the house, (3) a cookbook that emphasizes healthy cooking, and (4) glass storage containers for individual portions. I am going to make three recipes this week, and use the leftovers on the other days. I will try three new recipes per week until the end of January, with one healthy dessert recipe per week. At the end of January, I will write down which recipes were my favorites, and measure my body fat percentage again. Based on those numbers, I will make a body fat percentage goal for February and decide which recipes will be most helpful in achieving that goal.”
Tip #7 – Make a list of self-care actions that don’t include food or exercise.
One of the biggest changes to my snacking habit (which persisted for years after I lost weight) was getting my nails done regularly. It was simply an issue of self-care – getting my nails done filled a hole of comfort and small luxury that I had been trying to fill with fun food.
Mentally, I think of manicures as a sort of health regimen. It relaxes me, it looks nice and improves my mood, is calorie-free, and in reality is not more expensive (periodically) than grabbing sweet coffees and other similar treats on the go throughout the week.
What are activities that relax you? Reading? Writing? Feeding the ducks? Getting a massage? It doesn’t have to cost money, although it can. You may find that $100 for a massage once a month can be easily created by saving every penny that you would have spent on fast food. Small food and coffee purchases add up quickly, and the full amount that you spend per month could be redirected in an extremely luxurious way – a BIG treat that replaces all the small treats.
Tip #8 – Don’t weigh yourself. Ever.
I know this is a controversial tip, but there are other methods of measurement as you track your goals.
Why do I recommend not weighing yourself? Because it’s a mind game, especially for women. Your weight fluctuates constantly, and our tendency as humans is to use an increase in weight as justification for further junky eating (“Now I’ve blown it!”) as well as a decrease in weight as justification for further junky eating (“I can afford it!”).
When you actually stop for just a second and think about weighing yourself… Just for a second…
Weighing yourself… Stepping on a scale to measure how much gravity exerts pressure you…
… It’s actually a ridiculous idea. What are you, a piece of meat? Why are you weighing yourself? Are you a lab experiment?
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t track progress at all. For the average person, results from weight loss will be visible and can be felt through changes in clothing fit. However, the scale exercises a powerful, culturally-loaded, psychological pull on us that doesn’t exist in other measurements such as the tape measure or body fat percentage. The numbers from alternative measurements are not as scary for us because the methods are not as familiar or saturated with cultural meaning.
When I used to work at a commercial gym, one night I was assessing a potential new client, and I both weighed her and measured her body fat percentage. When I weighed her, she shook her head, looked sad and defeated, and made an excuse about getting older. When I measured her body fat percentage, she looked at the number with curiosity and asked, “Is that good?” She was completely detached from the second reading, and this is why I recommend using new and unfamiliar methods of measurement.
You probably don’t know your waist measurements from your 20’s, or your body fat percentage before you had kids. By using new and unfamiliar methods of measurement, you short-circuit the tendency to “compare and despair,” and you get to start with fresh territory.
Tip #9 – Treat exercise and healthy eating like an interesting experiment.
Every body is unique. Different methods work for different people. Some over-arching principles apply, but when you’re trying to lose weight, remember to take it easy and be open to trying new things.
Don’t get attached to your goals. Instead, distance yourself (somewhat) emotionally from the outcomes, and treat your efforts to transform your lifestyle as an interesting experiment. This prevents you from sinking into “reactive thinking,” and helps you cultivate “experimental thinking.” Here are some example:
Reactive Thinking: “I tried so hard to get to the gym this week, and it just didn’t work. I just don’t have time for the gym. I knew it.”
Experimental Thinking: “Hmm… That gym time didn’t work for me this week. I’ll try 8:00 next week and see if that works better.”
Reactive Thinking: “The kids didn’t react well to the healthy recipes this week. I knew it. I’ll just get some boxed meals for them and keep making my own food for myself.”
Experimental Thinking: “Wow. The kids really didn’t like those amaranth patties. I’ll let them go through the recipe book with me this weekend and let them pick recipes that they would like to help with.”
Tip #10 – Make it FUN!
Today, my beautiful, white, graceful ice skates are arriving by mail! I can’t wait to hit every rink in New York City with them in tow, and even though I’m not a great ice skater (I am one step above terrified, actually), I am truly excited about improving and being able to skate with my future kids without fear.
During the winter, you have to make an extra effort to make exercise fun. You don’t necessarily need to slog it out on the treadmill three times a week if you like group classes better, or if you like hiking, or if you love to skate. There many ways to “move it” and burn calories.
Try new classes. Get outside. Get a free pass from a friend to try her gym.
You won’t stick with something you don’t enjoy! So make it fun for yourself, and it will become an indispensable part of your routine.