Some of you will no doubt have just endured your last gruelling weekend of ‘dry January’, or are feeling guilty after quitting your health related new year resolutions. Some will already be forming the attitude of ‘sod it, I’ll wait until the spring now and get in shape for summer’.
It’s a common cycle that so many people go through, only focusing on health and body shape when we’ve had a massive binge or have a holiday/wedding etc. coming up. People try all sorts of short term diets and exercise regimes to quickly lose the weight, only for it to all come back on after a few weeks. This causes people to give up hope and form the opinion that getting in shape is just too much hard work.
Most people are not interested in getting massive muscles or a rippling six pack. The majority would be happy with firming up the wobbly bits whilst feeling a bit stronger, fitter and healthier. There is a massive difference in effort levels and dedication required to get in good shape rather than great shape. Therefore I will start by explaining what is NOT required to get in good shape….
- A strict diet –
You do not need to eat a 100% perfect diet to get in shape. Healthy eating allows you to treat yourself and the good news is the healthier you become the more you can afford to have treats.
You also do not need to do anything drastic with your eating. All the ‘carb free’, ‘low fat’ and ‘detox’ diets out there are all unnecessary for most people. Following a well-balanced sensible eating plan is all that is required.
- A boring diet –
The healthier I have become, the more I have learnt to enjoy my food. I used to begin my day with boring cereal, followed by a boring sandwich and bag of crisps for lunch. However, I now enjoy a wide variety of meals for breakfast and lunch which are filling, satisfying and very tasty! After eating well prepared healthy meals for a few months you will realise that processed meals and takeaways are not that appealing!
- Low calories –
This is one of the worst mistakes people make when trying to get lean. Our bodies need a substantial quantity of food and wide variety of nutrients to survive and work efficiently. Low calorie diets only cause the body to enter ‘survival mode’, where metabolism slows down and the body holds on to stored fat to avoid starvation.
- Excessive exercise –
You do not need to pound the pavements for miles and miles or hit the gym every day. Many people would be surprised how little time you need to spend on strenuous exercise. Three to four hours a week is more than enough, provided that workout quality is good and it is supported by plenty of general daily movement (walking, household tasks etc.)
So if we don’t need to slave away in the gym or restrict our diets to lettuce and dust, why is it so hard to get in shape? There are many physical and psychological reasons for this, but here are a few key points that are needed to make that change….
- Quit the comfort zone –
We are all guilty of sticking in our comfort zone one way or another. Routines get built up over months or years and it is often difficult to break free from them, even when we know they are not good for us. We all have different issues, so getting out of the comfort zone will be a lot harder for some than others. However, there is no getting around this fact and you have to accept that becoming healthy will require some level of discomfort. This could merely be a matter of getting off the sofa in the evening and going for a walk. However it also applies to those already involved in exercise, such as a person who regularly goes out jogging but always runs at a comfortable place. It applies to diet as well, where the easy option is to buy a packaged sandwich or buy a takeaway instead of making the effort to prepare a meal. Unfortunately, getting healthy often involves the more difficult decision and you have to be prepared go grit your teeth and go for it.
- Be willing to change your lifestyle –
This follows on from the issue of being in your comfort zone. You have to realise that if you are unhealthy and overweight there is something wrong with your current lifestyle. Changes need to happen and nobody else is going to do that for you. People often complain that they don’t have time to exercise or prepare meals, but for the majority of us this is not the case. I often have clients tell me they struggle for time, but when we break down their daily activities there is always room for exercise and meal preparation. It’s more a matter of priorities, lifestyle choices and time management. Look at your lifestyle, assess where you are going wrong and find ways to change things.
- Be consistent –
One of the main problems with current attitudes towards health is lack of consistency. Stress is a massive issue with modern society and this can be both physical and mental. Regular fluctuations between bingeing and dieting or ‘detoxing’ have a serious negative impact on stress levels, leading to long term weight gain that becomes harder and harder to shift. The body reacts favourably to small changes, so going from one extreme to another will usually have a negative impact. This accounts for exercise as well – doing nothing for months then suddenly training for a marathon is just going to lead to injury and setbacks. Improvements come from consistent effort with regular training and a steady diet.
- Think long term and be patient –
Our current state of health has been built up over years, so why do we expect dramatic results in a few days?? In addition to being consistent we need to accept that positive changes will be slow and gradual. Yes it is possible to lose drastic amounts of weight in a short period of time. However, most of this weight will be water and muscle rather than fat. Research suggests that we can lose a maximum of about 2lbs of fat per week, so anything in excess of this is usually from tissue and substances that we want to retain. Surely you would prefer to take the extra time getting lean and then remain that way for the rest of your life, rather than fighting the constant cycle of weight loss and weight gain??
- Accept that you will have setbacks –
This is a key point for those who struggle psychologically with nutrition and exercise. As soon as things go off track for a couple of days all hope is lost, leading to bingeing and a return to old habits. Accept that at some point you will definitely have setbacks. This could be succumbing to unhealthy food or booze, picking up injuries, losing motivation or losing momentum toward goals. When this happens do not lose hope! Progress is never linear so you will always face ups and downs. Accept this and try to get back on track as soon as possible.
- Set yourself goals –
If we don’t have goals we tend to drift. It is easy to lose motivation when we have nothing to work towards. However, a SMART goal (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time scaled) provides focus and acts as a reminder whenever we struggle with motivation.
- Learn about your own body and mind –
Most people know very little about how their body and mind works. Modern lifestyles have made it too easy to drift along in a trance like state, paying very little attention to what our bodies are trying to tell us, or how our minds are affecting behaviours. However, the more in tune you become with your body and mind the easier it is to work out how to improve things. Next time you reach for the biscuit tin stop and take check of your emotions. Next time you eat a takeaway note the effect it has on your mood, energy levels and digestion. When you exercise, think about the muscles you are using and how they are activating.
If we can work out what our issues are it becomes a lot easier to start making improvements.
- Keep things simple –
Good nutrition is not complicated. Good training plans are not complicated. People devise all sorts of weird and wonderful diet plans and training techniques. However, a lot of this is just sales and marketing. Cave men were lean and muscular – do you think their diet and exercise regime was complex?? Their lives merely involved eating natural produce, moving all day long with some running and lifting of heavy objects. Simples!!
- Build muscle –
This one can be a tough sell to some people. Many are afraid that building muscle means looking big and bulky. However, to become lean and ‘toned’ you have to grow muscles. The toned look comes from developing muscles as well as losing fat. Contrary to what the general public still believes, the lean look is achieved more effectively through lifting weights and high intensity exercise than hours of cardio. Developing muscles improves metabolism so you burn far more calories when you are resting. Doing hours of cardio actually stresses the body and can break down muscles, leading to what is commonly termed as ‘skinny fat’. Building big bulky muscles takes extreme effort, a massive amount of food and quite often performance enhancing drugs. So stop worrying and get lifting!!
- Be generally active –
Going to the gym, attending fitness classes, playing sport and eating well all helps you get in shape. However, you also need to consider your overall activity levels. We are designed to be constantly on the move, so sitting around on our backsides for 23 hours then hitting the gym for 1 hour just isn’t enough. Add as much general activity into your life as possible, such as walking to the shops instead of driving, taking stairs instead of lifts etc.
Getting lean and healthy is really not that difficult. The barriers are usually ones we have created in our own minds. Developing a positive mindset and following the above principles should help you change bad habits into long term healthy ones.
Good luck and stick with it!!