Waking up on January 1 with a Godzilla-sized hangover and dragging your butt to the gym because “this is the year you’re finally going to get in shape” is not a good plan. The night before you had a booze-to-blood ratio that would tranquilize a rhino, and now you’re on your way to a place you hate in an attempt to white-knuckle your way to weight loss. This ‘all or nothing’ thinking can last for a couple of months, but you can’t sustain something you hate long term.
Instead of focusing on pain and suffering, here are 10 ways to tackle a New Year’s fitness resolution that can get you in shape and help you lose weight while really keeping it off.
1. Don’t get started right away
Take your time rather than jumping into things. Spend a few weeks planning and experimenting to figure out a plan — what are you going to do, when, how often, with whom, and where? By the time you actually get started you’ll not only be better informed, but actually excited for your first workout.
2. Embrace winter and don’t be SAD
Have you heard of seasonal affective disorder? SAD is often caused by lack of exposure to natural light. If you drive to and from work in the dark and spend all day inside, then you’re not getting any natural light to perk you up. Lack of natural light is also bad for sleep, because it helps set your circadian rhythm. During the day you need bright light to tell you to be awake, and then at nighttime the darkness tells your body it’s time to sleep. Artificial lighting simply isn’t bright enough to provide a suitable contrast between day and night, so our brains don’t know when we’re supposed to be awake or sleeping.
In order to remedy this you should embrace winter. Spend your lunch hour outside. It’s the perfect time for a walk and encourages you to bring a lunch because you won’t have time to go for a greasy, high-calorie restaurant lunch.
Spend as much time outside on the weekends as well. If it’s cold outside, move faster! That’s what will keep you warm.
3. Choose four-legged fitness
A dog is not a Bowflex. You can’t buy one and dump it in the corner, ignoring it or using it as a coat rack. You’ve got to be a good human. Dogs need exercise because they feel like they’re unemployed. Going for a walk is like giving them a job. It makes them happy. If you’re only ever going to be interested in shorter walks at a slow speed, smaller dogs are fine. However, if you’re more ambitious, consider a sleeker dog with long legs and a longer snout. They can run for very long distances. Having a dog is like having built-in motivation. Those puppy dog eyes can guilt you into going outside for exercise even on days you don’t want to. You’ll always have a willing workout partner and studies show people with dogs are 35 percent more likely to hit the recommended 150 minutes of walking per week.
4. Stick your plan on the fridge
Make a list of activities you plan to do, put it in a monthly calendar format, and stick it to the fridge. Relish in ticking each one of those workouts off and know that with every day you’re getting fitter. An added bonus is seeing how this workout schedule can prompt you to make wiser food choices when opening the fridge door.
5. Ask yourself the apple question
Constant snacking is a leading cause of weight gain. The next time you feel like a snack, ask yourself, “Am I hungry enough to eat an apple?” If the answer is no, then realize you don’t actually need a snack, so don’t eat one. If the answer is yes, then just have an apple. Apples can last for a long time in the fridge, so you can always have them on hand and they’re easy to throw into your bag to have at a moment’s notice. Read this to see how apples can reduce belly fat.
6. Sign up with a group
There are a wide variety of programs and fitness classes that create positive peer pressure. Being part of a group, where it’s the same people all the time, can create a cohesive support structure that encourages you to stick to your workout routine. This can be done with a group of friends, by signing up for a running clinic like a “couch to 5K” or registering for boot camps or other fitness classes, like zumba, with some friends. It’s a great way to catch up with your social circle without the added calories of gabbing over snacks and wine.
7. Reward yourself right
You are not a dog, so don’t reward yourself with food. Instead, read this to find new and positive reinforcements to use as rewards for your fitness efforts. Examples include new clothes, fancy coffees and even sex!
8. Go public
Letting people close to you know that you’re focusing on making positive lifestyle changes can create a sense of obligation, as well as a support structure. Family members will be encouraging and more accommodating of healthier food choices in the house, friends will be supportive and not try to tempt you with treats and they may even wish to join you.
9. Don’t have junk food in the house
This one is simple — if you have constant access to it, you’re eventually going to eat it. Go to the grocery store with a full belly and stick to the outside aisles, avoiding all the junky, processed crap. If you only have healthy food in the house then that’s what you’ll eat.
10. Plan a fitness vacation
There are many ways to have an exotic vacation that don’t involve poolside margaritas while turning your skin into a leather jacket. You could plan for a sea kayaking trip, a multi-day hike, a ski trip or even a big-city marathon. Planning a trip like this means training for it which is a great motivator. Check out these five hotels that are great for a fitness vacation.
The most important advice I can give is to be patient. Forget this “lose 10 pounds in 10 days” nonsense and just focus on adding in healthier behaviours. Weight loss happens as a happy by-product in its own time.
James S. Fell, MBA, is a certified strength and conditioning specialist in Calgary. He writes the syndicated column “In-Your-Face Fitness” for the Chicago Tribune and consults with clients on strategic planning for fitness and health. Get your free Metabolism Report here.
-This article was originally published January 2013.