For those of us in the fitness business, January is “tax time.” Gym memberships increase and fitness trainers fill up their schedules with new clients—all full of hope and resolve. My response to this influx of enthusiasm in January is the same as it is at any other time of the year—any day is a good day to start taking better care of yourself.
The difference between those who stick to their weight loss and/or fitness resolutions (at any time during the year) and those who are back to their old habits within days, weeks or months is the nature of the resolution itself. From my perspective, the focus needs to be on the process rather than the product or result. Vague notions about “losing 30 pounds” or “getting fit” in the New Year do not result in immediate reward or success and quickly become frustrating or overwhelming. I prefer what I call “roadmap” goals. These are process-oriented goals, which evolve over the course of the year.
For instance, if you can count how many times you exercised in 2017 on one hand, a practical and attainable fitness goal could be to do at least 8 minutes of deliberate exercise every day (or every Monday, Wednesday and Friday) for one month—January. You can enter this exercise goal into your phone and check it off every day for the month of January. If you miss a day, you do 16 minutes the next day. What would 8 short minutes of exercise entail? Here are some ideas:
When February comes, you can revisit and adjust your goal. At that point, the goal may be 30 minutes of exercise on Saturday and Sunday and 8 minutes each day during the work week. By the end of the year, as you keep adjusting your roadmap, you will be more fit—even if you do not actually measure it (although better if you do).
For those of you who already exercise and want to become stronger or more consistent, the plan may be to find a program that motivates you to work harder and/or show up more. Perhaps, you hire a trainer. Perhaps, you purchase a class pass and set a goal to try a new class each week for a month. Along the way, you may find something that inspires you at a new level. There is no perfect exercise program, except the one you show up and do consistently. Drag a friend along on the journey while you are at it. Connection with other humans is also good for your health.
Weight loss goals should similarly be focussed on process. While there are an infinite number of weight loss books on the market and eating protocols (e.g., Paleo, Keto, Whole 30), virtually all have one thing in common—sugar and other refined carbohydrates (the “white foods,” I call them) should be eliminated from our diets to the greatest extent possible. I like to start the weight loss process by working towards reducing the taste/craving for these sugar/white flour based foods. So, a starting goal might be to only eat breads, cereals or other processed carbohydrates that have 5 or more grams of fiber per serving. Very few refined carbohydrates will contain fiber at those levels (except for certain of those “diet” high fiber bars, which I do not recommend).
As an alternative, if chocolate (not the 80% real cacao sort) is something you tend to overindulge in, you might set a goal of giving up chocolate for the month of January. If that feels good and your scale or waistline moves, you may want to extend that goal another month and/or add all cakes and cookies to the list of foods you generally avoid going forward.
As an alternative to avoiding certain foods, another goal might be to ensure you eat some form of lean protein and a fruit and/or vegetable every time you have a meal or snack. This will ensure you are filled up with quality food and less likely to reach for the refined carbohydrates—which, frankly, you should eliminate from your cupboards and refrigerator to the greatest extent possible and as soon as possible. Even if your scale does not move as quickly as you would like, eliminating these foods from your diet will have plenty of other health benefits.
No matter what your roadmap is, you should keep track of your plans and progress in writing. I advise all of my weight loss clients to log their food daily—every bite, every sip. The research shows that food logging alone can be an effective way to be accountable for your food choices and can provide vital information to your doctors and/or other fitness and wellness advisors, should you seek professional input along the way. Photo logging works well too, as it can provide information on portion size, which we tend to underestimate. Logging your workouts will similarly keep you accountable and, hopefully, motivated. If you do not log directly into your computer, phone, or one of the many logging apps, logging both food and workouts on a calendar will allow you to adjust your goals and track your successes (adherence) monthly.
Finally, no matter what goals or roadmap you set, please be kind to yourself. Don’t call yourself names or obsess over any particular goal, resolution, or set back. Just keep moving forward and finding balanced and moderate steps to take care of yourself both physically and emotionally.
With wishes of wellness to you all for the New Year,