There’s a lot of hype about body image, and weight loss, and strength training. This time of year I can walk into any TJ Maxx or Marshalls and find fitness equipment on front display. I was just admiring the women in People Magazine’s annual Half Their Size issue. Oprah is on TV every 5 minutes promoting Weight Watchers. Planet Fitness is offering a $1 to join deal at the moment.
That’s a lot of media pressure to get in shape and lose weight, BEFORE you even see your general practitioner, who, if you’re outside of a healthy BMI, will ominously warn you that you need to lose weight to stay healthy.
How should you do it though?
The obvious answer to that question is: what does your GP recommend?
The less direct answer is: what works for you?
To be long term and successful, a weight loss program has to be sustainable. You have to be able to do whatever you’re doing every day and presumably forever without fail, be that maintaining a maximum calorie count, attending weekly Weight Watcher’s meetings, or working out. There also has to be enough wiggle room to allow for the unexpected: a project or PTA meeting that keeps you from the gym, a party, a vacation with only walking available as exercise, or even the occasional uncontrollable craving for Chinese Food. You will miss days of exercise. You will forget to count calories one day, or fall prey to Ben & Jerry’s. Your weight loss program has to be able to accommodate these things and still stay on track.
There is a lot of talk about discipline in weight loss and working out. There are whole websites devoted to portion control. Being able to have one peanut butter cup takes not just discipline and portion control. It takes a change in mindset.
Losing weight shouldn’t be the end goal of dieting. Getting healthy should be.
Six pack abs and a flat stomach shouldn’t be the end goal of exercise. Getting strong should be.
Below is a general, common sense, list to getting started getting healthy and strong. Always visit your physician before starting any sort of diet and exercise program – no, seriously. Get your joints checked, ask what your minimum calorie intake per day should be, and ask their advice.
- Do a body scan. Take a good look at yourself in the mirror. Sit in a quiet room, systematically bend every joint, and listen to what happens when you do. Close your eyes and focus on your body. Note what feels stiff or hurts. Decide in advance that you will treat anything that is stiff or hurting with care.
- Start slow. You have to walk before you can run, literally. Start with a treadmill and some 1 or 2 pound hand weights. When you start to feel things getting easy, increase the intensity. Do not attempt to be Jeff Cavaliere or Jillian Michaels, or even your yoga instructor, from Day 1.
- Make Gradual Changes. Don’t go cold turkey on things like caffeine and sugar. Reduce your intake gradually so your body has time to adjust. Ditching caffeine in a day, if you drink it in any quantity, is all but guaranteed to bring on a migraine. Spare yourself the agony by dropping a cup from your daily consumption every week or so, as you feel comfortable.
- Don’t Slash Calories. Cutting your calorie count below 1,000 – 1,200 a day will eventually result in cravings. These cravings will eventually lead to you snarfing down a pint of Moose Tracks ice cream or a jar of Nutella, undoing all of your hard work suffering through hunger pangs.
- Keep The Junk Food. While I don’t go all-in for Weight Watcher’s “Freestyle” approach, I do agree that even NJ Diner Disco Fries are perfectly acceptable from time to time. The same goes for Justin’s Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups or whatever your “poison” is. Pringles every day are going to clog your arteries. The every other weekend your gaming buddies bring the potato chips around is fine and probably will, in fact, probably keep you out of the junk food aisle during the intervening two weeks.
- Remember That Exercise is Only 80%. Jillian Michaels actually states outright in her One Week Shred video that you can “eat your way through any amount of exercise.” She is absolutely right. I successfully ate my way through a month of Orange Theory Fitness workouts on a 7-Day Caribbean cruise last year. Don’t risk injury by hitting the elliptical – or any other sort of exercise – for times or at intensities your body cannot endure just to burn off calories.
- Skip The Supplements. Multivitamins are fine. Protein shakes have their place. Fish oil, calcium, potassium, and glucosamine, as recommended by a physician, can be useful. You don’t need supergreens. You especially do not need – I just found this on the ‘net and therefore feel compelled to call it out. It’s so ridiculous – nootropics. Take an extra 10 minutes to chop some spinach and, if you want to increase your brain power, grab a book (paper, electronic, or audio), a jigsaw puzzle, or one of those fun memory game apps on your phone.
- Track Your Nutrition. I’m a big fan of MyFitnessPal for this reason. It isn’t exact by any means, but it does give me an idea of how much carbs, sugar, sodium, and protein I’m taking in at a glance. I can also get a snapshot of the approximate amount of other nutrients I am taking in. If you think you need a supplement to meet your nutritional goals, this is a great way to find out.
- Get a Crockpot. If you think you need a supplement, you probably need to hit the local grocery store. If you are trying to save money, you definitely need the local grocery store. For the same $30 you’ll spend on dinner for 2 at Chili’s or a supergreen supplement, you can purchase at least 4 meals for 2 at a grocery store. A crockpot will generally accept anything you throw into it in the morning while you’re blearily drinking your coffee. It will also, generally, serve up a reasonably tasting meal when you get home. Get a crockpot that has a timer and keeps food warm after the cook time ends.
- Do What You Have Time For. You really only need 150 minutes of exercise – 30 minutes a day for 5 days – according to the CDC. If you’re feeling superenergetic, you can try for 300 – one hour a day for the same 5 days. However, say you only have 20 minutes before the kids wake up, or you oversleep one day? That’s perfectly fine, too. Only decide to do what you know you will consistently have time for. Don’t join a gym if there is even a remote chance you won’t use it a couple days a week. You’ll end up hating yourself for the wasted money – even Planet Fitness’ $10 a month basic membership – and feeling guilty that you didn’t get there. Who needs that?
- If It Hurts, Stop Immediately. Soreness is one thing. Pain is another. A good workout – including yoga – shouldn’t hurt. If it does, stop. In a class or open gym environment, stopping is hard. You don’t want to be the person walking 2 miles per hour on a treadmill when everyone around you is jogging. You don’t want to be in child’s pose when your yoga classmates are doing cranes. Avoid the pressure to overdo it by focusing yourself on your mat, or your treadmill and zoning out everyone else. If you injure yourself working out today, you won’t be able to work out tomorrow.
My comments are not at all meant to replace your doctor’s advice. I am purely a layperson. Before you do anything whatsoever, you should see a physician first (I think I’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating). Listen to what they say, and then find an approach to being healthy – not losing weight or getting in shape, just being healthy – that works for you. That will not be what a YouTuber says works for them, or a television commercial says works for hundreds. You are unique.
If you consider all of the things that can be broken in some way: a car, a credit score, a home, a career, the one thing that cannot be easily (or, often, inexpensively) fixed is the human body. Use common sense when you approach it, and listen to what it says.