YOUR GOALS SHOULD BE SPECIFIC AND REALISTIC
Get crystal clear about your goals, and don’t be afraid to be as specific as possible. Instead of setting a vague goal to “look better” or “lose weight”, define what this means for you. Does it mean to lose 20 pounds, does it mean to lose 3 inches off your waist, does it mean to put on lean muscle, to decrease your body fat percentage by 3%? Be specific about your goals. It’s difficult to work towards something when we don’t know exactly what it is that we’re working towards.
Once you’re clear about what your goals are, set a realistic timeline. Many people new to exercise set unrealistic goals, largely because they’re unaware as to how much time, effort, and consistency it takes to lose “x” amount of weight. Know that it takes time for our bodies to change, and just as it takes time to gain weight, it also takes time to lose weight. Set yourself up for success by setting goals in a realistic time frame. For example, wanting to lose 1 pound per week or 10 pounds in 3 months is, for most people, realistic. Setting out to lose 40 pounds in 4 weeks is, for almost all people, unrealistic. So, if you’re looking at your goals and thinking “this just isn’t realistic”, simply readjust them. Be clear about your goals, and flexible about your methods and timeline.
SET BOTH SHORT TERM AND LONG TERM GOALS
Setting a long-term goal gives you something to work towards, while setting short-term goals allow you to feel a sense of accomplishment along the way, as you work towards your “big” or long-term goal. A long-term goal may be to lose 80 pounds, whereas a short term goal may be to do a push-up on your toes instead of on your knees, or increase the weight of the dumbbells you’re using by 2 or 3 pounds. You can also set short term goals with your schedule, set a goal of making it to the gym twice in a week. Once you do so, you’ll feel confident in your ability to make it to the gym again next week, and the week after that. Short-term goals are a great way to stay encouraged and motivated while you work towards larger, long-term goals.
SELF-LOVE VS. TOUGH LOVE
Both are important, however the key is to understand the difference between the two. Though seemingly contradictory, it is possible to practice self-love and tough love at the same time. Self-love is essential no matter where you are in your life or in your journey. It’s the backbone of how you feel about yourself, and something that many people need to practice and work on (myself included) much like we work on a muscle group at the gym. I’ve been meaning to do a full length blog post about the importance and complexity of self-love (I’ll try to do one soon), but in the meantime I will say this: It is possible to love ourselves while also wanting to improve ourselves physically, mentally, and emotionally. Love yourself while you work toward change. Exercise because you love your body and you want to feel good in it, rather than exercising because you hate what it looks like. Eat well because you want your body to feel good, not because you want your body to decrease in size. Learn to love yourself throughout the process, rather than trying to use self-hatred as a tool to spark change.
Tough love too has its place, and sometimes we need to give ourselves a little kick in the rear. Tough love is NOT berating or belittling yourself by calling yourself fat or convincing yourself that you’ll never be good enough, that’s self-deprecating and it serves no positive purpose in your life. (As someone who spent 24 long years self-deprecating, please trust me on this.) Tough love is heading to the gym instead of binge watching Netflix. Tough love is tossing your excuses to the wayside (“I’m too tired…the gym will be too busy…I don’t have any clean gym clothes…I don’t have time”) and following through with what you said you were going to do. Tough love isn’t about being unkind to ourselves, it’s about holding ourselves accountable. It sucks, but giving ourselves a little tough love is just what we need sometimes.
TRY WEIGHING YOUR FOOD FOR ONE WEEK
If you’re new to portion control or serving sizes, a great way to get an idea of how many calories (and macronutrients) you’re consuming daily, is to weigh/measure and track your food. Apps like My Fitness Pal allow you to scan the barcode on any packaged or labeled food you consume, and also allow you to manually enter foods that do not have a barcode (fruits, vegetables, etc.) You can also weigh your foods using a food scale (they are generally inexpensive and can be purchased at places like Target and Walmart.) Weighing your food is the most precise and accurate way to measure, however it’s often impractical and time consuming. While you don’t need to track long-term (unless this works best for you), do try tracking your meals for one week to get an idea of serving sizes and how many calories you consume in a given day/week.
SCHEDULE YOUR WORKOUTS
When I first started working out, I hadn’t exercised in nearly 3 years. To hold myself accountable and organize my workouts, I scheduled my workouts on my calendar just like I would a doctor’s appointment. I scheduled 3 resistance training workouts a week – on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and wrote down which body part I would be training each day. That way, there was zero confusion about what, how, or when I would train that week. Instead of saying you’ll try to make it to the gym 3 days in a week, schedule your workouts. Set a date and time for each workout, and approach it with a plan, already knowing which body part or which type of workout you’ll be doing that day. It may sound silly to schedule your workouts as if they’re appointments, but having a set plan will help ensure your success, and leave out any room for error or confusion.
PLAN YOUR MEALS
Whether you choose to meal prep and cook your meals for the week ahead of time, or whether you choose to cook them each day, the important thing is that you have a plan for your meals and your diet. While I personally don’t meal prep, I do have a general plan for what I will eat during the week, and I make sure that I have all of the foods and ingredients that I will need. This way, I don’t find myself stuck when dinner time rolls around, and I don’t end up ordering in because I don’t have the food that I wanted to eat on hand. Plan ahead of time. Before you go grocery shopping, make a list of all the foods or meals you plan to eat that week. This will help ensure that you eat according to your “diet” and that you don’t find yourself having to order in or hit up a drive-thru on your way home from work because you don’t have the foods that you need to make dinner.
While your diet is unlikely to ever be perfect or go 100% to plan (mine included), preparing ahead of time will help ensure that you stick to your plan, and your goals, the vast majority of the time.
FIND YOUR WHAT AND REMEMBER YOUR WHY
Motivation is fleeting, it’s rarely ever a constant in our lives. Throughout the journey to reach your goals, your motivation will, at times, lack, which is where your what and your why come in. Find your what: What drives you, what encourages you, what fuels your passions and desires, what gives you a sense of purpose. Remember your why: Why you want to accomplish something, why you got started in the first place, why it’s important to you, and why it matters in your life. Whether we realize it or not, every goal or ambition in our life begins with a why. So, why do you want to lose weight? Why are working towards earning your degree? Why are you starting your own business? Your why will fuel your purpose, and keep you moving forward towards your goals – whatever they may be.
STRIVE FOR BALANCE
On paper, eliminating junk food entirely and swapping out all of your social events for the gym may sound like the right thing to do when it comes to losing weight. However, not only is this likely unrealistic, it’s also not maintainable long-term. And while you may be able to adhere to this lifestyle for a few weeks or months, the chances of you adhering to it long-term are slim to none. In my opinion, and from my own experience with weight loss, the more restrictive you are with your diet and fitness routine, the more likely you are to “fall off the wagon” or quit altogether. This is why I always preach balance. Some people call it the 80/20 rule – eating well 80% of the time, and allowing the other 20% to be for treats (in moderation.) Others use the phrase “cheat days.” I simply call it a balanced lifestyle. Regardless of what you call it, remember that finding a balance will help you achieve success (and sanity) in the long run. And remember that one bad meal or poor week of eating will not destroy the progress you’ve made, just like one workout or one week at the gym will not get you instant abs. B-a-l-a-n-c-e is key.
SEE YA LATER LIQUID CALORIES
Smoothies and cold-pressed juices (not store bought pre-packaged juices) aside, liquid calories should be reduced or eliminated completely. Things like soda, high-calorie juices, 400 calorie lattes and cappuccinos, and alcohol should be consumed in moderation. Wouldn’t you rather eat your calories than drink them? One of the easiest ways to reduce your caloric intake is to limit the amount of liquid calories you consume. Swap your soda and juice for water. Instead of drinking a 200-800 calorie frappacino (yes many Starbucks drinks have hundreds of calories – search their nutrition facts) every day, stick to a regular coffee. If you have an alcoholic beverage or two each evening, try to limit yourself to a drink or two per week instead. If you’re someone who consumes a lot of liquid calories, you’ll be shocked by how many calories you can save (to consume as food instead) by simply swapping or eliminating those beverages.
TRACKING YOUR PROGRESS
I’ve written several posts about why you shouldn’t rely solely on the scale to measure your progress. (You can find one here: Why You Should Ditch the Scale). Long story short, there are so many factors that affect your weight – sodium intake, fiber intake, water intake, time of the month, etc. So, relying only on the scale to track your progress can leave you feeling defeated, especially when the scale goes up or fails to budge completely. This is where progress photos, measurements, and the fit of your clothing comes in. Take progress photos (preferably in the same position and in the same clothing) monthly. Record your measurements (chest, waist, hips, thighs) and remeasure every month (or every couple of months.) And pay attention to how your clothing fits, if your jeans fit you better but the scale shows you’ve gained one or two pounds, the fit of your clothing is a far more accurate depiction of the changes that have occurred. While you don’t have to avoid the scale completely, keep in mind that there are other (in many cases, far more reliable and accurate ways) to track your progress.
DON’T OVERLOOK THE IMPORTANCE OF REST AND RECOVERY
Our bodies need sufficient time to recover in between workouts, and time to recharge while we sleep. Failure to allow for proper rest and recovery can lead to a high secretion of cortisol (often referred to as a “stress” hormone.) High levels of cortisol can be brought on by overtraining, excessive stress, poor sleep, and nutritional deficiencies, and can lead to the breakdown of muscle tissue, along with many other symptoms. (These symptoms can include fatigue, hormonal imbalances, mood disturbances, reproductive disorders, and decreased immunity.) As someone currently experiencing (and being treated for) high cortisol and hormonal imbalances, I can tell you firsthand how often we overlook the importance of rest and recovery. More isn’t always better. Allow your body to rest when it needs to, and pay attention to any indications of overtraining.
While I certainly don’t consider myself an expert of any kind, having undergone my own weight loss and lifestyle change, I always try to share the things that I wish I had known when I first started out. I hope that this was helpful for you, and as always, if you have any questions please feel free to reach out.