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Jul 26, 2009

5 tips to starting a fitness routine and healthier eating (Week 1)

Let’s admit it, getting the momentum to start exercising regularly and also eating well doesn’t always come easy.  Some of us can be at points where the other option (unhealthy habits) are just to painful to continue and that alone pushes us to change.  I personally have started many times over the past year only to quit after a few days.  It happens to many of us.

I heard recently that researchers concluded that January 24th is the most depressing day of the year.  They had theories on why that might be:

- It’s the winter and the winter can be depressing to a lot of us.  There’s less sun and more cold and darkness.

- People make new year’s resolutions and around the 24th they have normally already broken the resolutions.  They might have gone to the gym for a week or two, they might have stuck to a strict diet for a week or two… but FAIL!

- It’s around that time that you will be getting bills for things that were used or spent around Christmas.  Ouch!

- You realize (with all of the above) that this new year might be exactly the same as the past one.

Now, generally when people want to make a drastic change in their lifestyle, they do it drastically… I have 5 tips for that first week of change to help you get through it.

1) Don’t be drastic or extreme in your changes in the first week. Changes can come over time, not in one day.  Let’s say you plan on eating healthy: an extreme diet that is completely different from what you are used to eating is just not the best way to do it.  The best way to lose weight and keep it off is by changing your eating habits in the long term (as in for the rest of your life), but to be able to do that, it’s way easier to do it step by step.  Changing eating habits means that you also have to learn a whole new array of recipes, get to know what healthy foods you like best, see what’s easy and convenient, etc.  In your first week make three small changes, you choose.

For example: if you use mayonnaise on sandwiches, replace it with something else, or just take it out completely.  If you feel the bread is too dry, then add some kind of vegetable that is juicy, like a tomato.  Mayonnaise packs A LOT of unnecessary fat and calories.  It’s totally unnecessary.  If you eat just one sandwich everyday, then just taking out the mayonnaise will reduce your daily calorie intake by 200 calories!

Another example: Sodas.  They are just terrible, but if you can’t initially live without them, then get diet soda at least.  Sodas are packed with empty calories and there just isn’t a good side to them except that tingling sensation when you drink them.  Really… sodas, in the end, really aren’t that hard to give up.  Carton juices are just as bad.  A good substitute is getting a natural herbal tea that tastes good, like raspberry tea, or any fruit that you might like the taste of.  You can put a couple of tea bags in boiling water for a minute or so, then put that in a jug in the fridge with ice and you get a nice fruity ice tea (don’t add sugar).  It doesn’t take that long to get used to drinking juices or teas without sugar.  You’ll find that they taste better without it because you actually get to taste the tea instead of the sugar.  Later (as in months maybe) you can just be drinking water and occasional teas.

Last example: When it comes to exercises, be realistic.  It’s important to take care of your body and not strain it.  If you haven’t been doing any exercise at all in the past 6-12 months, then you can’t expect to be running on a treadmill everyday for 30 minutes.  You’ll be sore and it will completely drain you of all your motivation.  Start easy.  Read about the exercise you plan to do and look for advice from experts (online, in books, or at your gym).  There is so much information out there.  Just adding a 30 minute walking routine to your daily life (or just 3-5 times per week) is proven to reap HUGE health benefits. (My husband majored in Sports Science.  I have the statistics and information on this but at the moment I can’t be bothered to look through his text book to find the data.  I might post it in the reply!)

2) Start a log to track progress to the tiniest degree.

Progress is progress, but to be able to see progress, you have to track it.  Don’t make hard to reach goals because that may make you ignore the tiny steps you are taking to become more fit and healthy.  There are several ways to track your progress:

- Start tracking what you eat.  It’d be good if you could also track the calories too, including how much protein and carbs you are consuming.  I personally use the “Lose It!” app on the iPhone.  It’s really handy.  I just put in what I eat and I can see how many calories I’ve consumed during the day.  I now have a 1,111 calorie limit per day.  The app is great because if I do exercise then it can also tell me how many calories I’ve lost, so if I’ve consumed over my limit but done exercises that burns those calories, then I will definitely lose 2lbs per week.

- Track your exercise, no matter how insignificant it may seem.  You can start out by just deciding to walk 30 minutes per day (which is a great way to start).  Walk for 15 minutes and turn back.  Track the distance your walked and the next time you walk you might find that you were able to walk further during those 15 minutes.  That is progress and it’s important to track it because it’s a major motivation.

-If you want, you can start a journal to track your mood, motivation, diet, etc to see what might be contributing to better states of mind and a better general feeling of healthiness. The thing to remember is that the progress comes in small increments and that by tracking what works and doesn’t will eventually lead you to understand what is working.  We are all different, so tracking your own state makes it all that more personalized.

3) Take a break and be easy on yourself.

You just can’t work out everyday from the beginning.  You’ll wear your body out and that will affect your mind.  You don’t want to tire yourself out because that will kill all your motivation, and without motivation, you have nothing. Three to five days of exercise in the first week is a good amount.  For someone who is out of shape, walking three to five times the first week, for 30 minutes, will be enough.  No need for a gym membership, just walk in your neighborhood.  Remember, your body is a machine and it’s best to treat it as such.  Listen to it.  Days of rest are needed, so don’t overdo it.

4) Don’t forget about your mental health.

One thing that helped me change my attitude towards my mental health was realizing that the negative thoughts are created by my body… that being said, if you work on your body, it’s important to work on your mind.  I’ve found that being quiet or practicing some kind of meditation helps.  Clearing your mind, focusing on the positive, helps you recover and reset.  Think about things that make you happy and do them.  For everyone it’s different: it could be talking with friends, connecting with people you care about, doing something you enjoy… but the point is: make sure you make time in your schedule for this.

5) Don’t think about how far you have to go.

Looking at the long term goals can be depressing, especially if you see you need to lose 30lbs or much much more and for the first week you might have only lost 1 lb.  That’s why it’s important to focus on the small steps, because they are significant.  We don’t expect babies to walk as as soon as they crawl, so just relax and track the small steps you make.  Be loving to yourself, keep that motivation, see what works for you… track it all…even the setbacks, so you can see what does and doesn’t work.  It may take a year to get where you want, it may take two, but remember that you are on the path.  It’s kind of like deciding to walk from NYC to L.A.  You do it one step at a time.