Many people make -- or at least talk about making -- health and fitness resolutions at the start of a new year.
I am certainly in favour of anyone trying to adopt a healthier lifestyle. What I am not in favor of is when New Year's resolutions become synonymous with finding the "perfect" miracle weight-loss program. I hate that the underlying assumption behind most quick-fix diet programs that people need a "whole new" them.
These programs are sold by making people feel crappy about themselves -- the idea that someone needs a "whole new" them is predicated on the fact that something is wrong with the original version.
No matter what weight I am (and I have been different weights throughout my life) I would never want my goal to be a "whole new" me. I like me.
Yes, I like exercising. And yes, if I stopped exercising, my New Year's resolution would be to start again, but my resolution would not "be to be a new person." My goal would be to be me, just a version that was more regular about her exercise routine.
Don't fall into the trap of believing that how much you exercise makes you a good or a bad person. Be proud and respectful of who you are. If your goal is to be more active (and I hope it is), aim to be you, just a version of yourself who exercises more regularly.
The other reason I am not a fan of quick-fix diet and exercise programs is that they don't set you up for long-term success. There is no such thing as a "miracle" diet. Making long-term sustainable health and fitness changes is a process that takes conscious effort. You can't change habits overnight.
Tips on how to make long-term, sustainable lifestyle changes:
1. Don't keep your goals a secret. Tell your friends and family what you want to accomplish. Stating the goal out load, so that other people know about your plans, can help keep you on track.
In addition, write your goals down. Writing your goals down will help you be more accountable to yourself. Revisit this process every few months to asses your progress. If you have not been successful, brainstorm why. Then form new goals based on the new-found knowledge.
2. It is important to have both long-term and short-term goals. Breaking goals down into smaller, more manageable pieces can help you avoid feeling overwhelmed. For example, your long-term goal may be to lose 20lbs. If so, a possible short-term goal would be to lose one pound per week for a total of 20 weeks.
I like to break my goals into long-term yearly goals as well as monthly goals. For example, my 2013 goal is to improve my cycling time at my triathlon in August. One of my December goals was to follow an intense interval bike program. The intervals will help to strengthen my legs, helping me to achieve my long-term goal.
3. Make sure all your goals are realistic and specific. Don't plan to workout for two hours everyday if you know your schedule will not allow it. Take the time to plan how you will successfully implement the goal. For example, instead of stating a non-specific goal such as "I will exercise", re-frame the goal so it is more specific. Instead say, "I will workout three times per week for 45 minutes."
The next step is to plan in advance how you will achieve the goal. Part of how you will know if your goal is realistic is if you take the time to plan in advance how you will make it happen. A plan of, "I will workout three times per week" is specific, but you will not know if it is realistic until you plan out when during the week you will workout.
A specific and realistic goal would be to say, "I will arrange for my kids to be picked up from school by their father two days per week so I can walk home. The walk will take 45 minutes. On the weekend I will go for a 45-minute walk when my child is at swimming lessons."
4. Don't try to implement multiple changes all at once. Instead, introduce the changes gradually. Try picking one new goal per week. Maintain that goal for the week, then add in an additional change the following week. For example, start by planning to drink enough water everyday for one week. The following week make your goal to drink enough water as well as to eat three to five servings of vegetables per day.
5. Get an exercise buddy. Working out with a friend will make the activity more enjoyable and will help keep you accountable.
6. Whenever possible, pick exercise activities you enjoy. You are much less likely to skip the workout if you actually find it fun. Try joining a sports team or taking adult dance lessons.