One of the most quintessentially “January” things in our culture is the “New Years’ Resolution”. For most people, this means coming up with a goal that they want to accomplish in the coming year. While these range anywhere from “Saving more money” to “quitting smoking” to “give back more”, by far the most common resolution Americans make is to lose weight according to the Statistics Brain Research Institute.
I know that weight has been something I’ve struggled with throughout my college career, and it’s the resolution I made this year.
I know, I know— it’s February now. But I know that, personally, sometimes I’ve messed up and ‘lost my groove’ concerning my new years resolution after a month or two. But that doesn’t mean you should give up!
While it is a relatively simple concept, it can be daunting to actually formulate healthy habits and stick with them. Especially when there is so much disinformation (one of my biggest pet peeves in advertising is products that purport themselves to be ‘healthy’ when they really actually -aren’t-, such as the ever-popular ‘organic’ label on foods. French fries can be organic, after all).
So, I’ll share some of the things that have worked for me in the past that I’m planning to use in the coming year.
Don’t eat any form of junk food
Now, I know this one is pretty obvious. Clearly, you shouldn’t be eating potato chips or candy bars if you want to eat healthier.
However, as I mentioned earlier— food companies have gotten pretty savvy with their marketing to fool people into thinking their foods are healthy.
For example, let’s look at chips. Everyone knows that Doritos or Lay’s Classic chips are obviously “junk food”. But what about supposed-healthier alternatives? Popchips claim to be a healthier option to traditional chips— and they aren’t even subtle about it. With marketing slogans such as “love without the handles” and “spare me the guilt chip”, Popchips are very brazenly suggesting their chips are better for you than those “other” chips. However, Popchips actually have more calories per gram than potato chips. They mask this by claiming that since they are bigger in size, you are getting “more flavor and more chips”. But no one actually measures their chip intake by number— they just eat as many as they want until they feel satisfied.
Pop Chips are made with potato flakes, potato starch, oil, rice flour, and salt. Despite the fact that they are “real ingredients” these ingredients are still not ‘good’ for you. According to Dr. Walter Willett of Harvard University, “these kinds of starches— white bread, white rice, potatoes— are starches that are very rapidly converted to glucose, really pure sugar, and almost instantly absorbed into the bloodstream. And these are the kinds of carbohydrates that we really should be minimizing in our diets.
As the saying goes, “you can’t have your cake and eat it too”. This is true of all junk foods. There is no alternative that will mimic the taste while magically being healthy for you.
Stick to a few basic staples— even if it seems boring
A running trend in the difficulties of switching your diet to a healthy one is that of finding those secret dishes that tastes just as “good” as the burgers, pizza, burritos, etc.
The harsh truth is that there just isn’t any. Now, don’t think that I’m saying that there’s no way to make healthy food that “tastes good”. That isn’t true. But you cannot use the same barometer of “taste” as you do for the high-fat, high-sodium, caloric-dense foods you’re trying to avoid.
A big reason these foods taste “so good” is due to the way in which they are made (like frying) or ingredients (butter) that you’re going to have to just avoid altogether.
An easy way to minimize attempting to make and/or eat “healthy” food that ends up not being so health is to stick to tried and true basic staples.
Grilled chicken and fish. Boiled brown rice. Grilled/boiled vegetables. I know this sounds horribly boring and/or taste-less. But it doesn’t have to be— grilled chicken or fish can taste fantastic. Brown rice really isn’t so bad.
Something that really helped me when making these foods is using seasonings— Mrs. Dash is a range of seasonings that do not contain salt (so avoiding making your food too high in sodium in attempt to make it taste better).
There are also a wide variety of ways to “spice up” these seemingly-boring foods, like lemon-grilled chicken.
Another big benefit to eating simple staple foods is that it can save you a lot of money— chicken, rice and vegetables can be very inexpensive.
Be active— it doesn’t have to be at a gym or with an expensive workout program
One of the other annoying ways that companies try to squeeze money out of people trying to become healthier is by making it seem like the only way to exercise is by going to an extreme. Whether this is by making people think they need to sign up for expensive gym memberships or purchase $200 worth of DVDs where bulgingly-muscular people scream angrily at them.
While a gym membership can certainly be useful and cost-effective (Planet Fitness is very cheap) and some people may really respond to DVD workouts, it definitely isn’t necessary. Especially if you’re just starting (or re-starting) to exercise regularly, these things can be overwhelming and could potentially cause people to give up. I know that, personally, I’ve often used the excuse of “well I don’t have time to go to the gym today” or “I didn’t make it to the gym today” to forego exercising.
A much simpler way to incorporate exercise when starting out is to be active throughout the day using what you already have: Go for a walk in the morning or during lunch. Ride your bike to school or work (I will admit this one only works if you don’t live too far from either). Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Take the dog for a longer walk— heck, take him on multiple walks throughout the day. Park farther away from the front of the store. Clean your home or backyard much more thoroughly than you usually do. Do simple “body-only” exercises while you watch TV.
There are a multitude of simple things you can incorporate into your day that can make you immediately much more active without going very-much out of your way.
Make achievable goals and track them reasonably
It’s easy to make big goals that can seem daunting— especially if you’re frustrated with yourself. While it may be tempting to say “I need to lose 40 pounds!”, it can do you more harm than good in the long run.
While you may be making progress, you could end up discouraging yourself because you aren’t making the progress you’d like fast enough.
The truth is, there is no way to change your lifestyle and health in an instant. It takes time— but this shouldn’t be something you need to stress about it. Think about it this way: sure, 6 months may seem a long time right now. But think about where you were 6 months ago— does it seem like that long of a time?
Instead of thinking too much on the long-term goal, make small goals that you can feel good about meeting. Instead of the whole 40 pounds, make your goal 5 pounds. Then 5 more pounds. Then 10 pounds.
Better yet— don’t use pounds at all! Sometimes, depending on your individual body type and the sort of exercising you’ve been doing— you may not be “losing” weight, despite the fact you are making progress. Using measurements, pictures, or your own clothing are great alternatives to the scale in measuring your fitness goals.
Whatever sort of measurement you use to keep track of your goals, don’t obsesses about it and track it too often— our bodies can fluctuate wildly from day-to-day. A much better time-span for measuring yourself is once a week rather than once a day.
Remember— health is not always measured by weight or size
Try to consult your doctor before you jump to any conclusions about your health or fitness. While it is always a good thing to want to become more active and eat better foods, it can be possible to obsess too much about trying to meet an ideal that can actually be bad for your health.
If you think that you or anyone you know may be suffering from an eating disorder, please reach out to the National Eating Disorders Association at 1-800-931-2237 or on their website.
Good luck with your Resolutions, Renegades! Fitness-related or otherwise!