As a personal trainer and group fitness instructor I get excited for January. Every year I see new faces and meet great new people excited about taking their health into their own hands. The energy in the gym is palpable, even the annoyance of the veteran gym goers can’t overpower it.
And then April comes, or sometimes even March and the energy has died. Most of the January rush has disappeared with only a few strong willed health seekers continuing on. On social media my new clients or participants in my classes have gone from posting their accomplishments in the gym or in the kitchen to posting pictures of their nightly cocktail or their Netflix binge.
Having been in the industry for well over a decade none of this surprises me. Even in high school and college when I didn’t know any of this academically but just had a legit metabolism and participated in year ’round sports, I would have friends come to me for advice on how to get active and lose weight. I’ve wrestled with getting healthy, eating healthy and losing weight just like everyone else on planet Earth it seems so some of this advice is stuff I’ve learned personally and others are what I’ve observed from being in the fitness industry.
So here are some secrets to getting healthy in the new year. Some of these you’ve heard and some of these you haven’t because personal trainers keep them to themselves unless you pay the premium to work with us. None of these tips will seem like rocket science and that’s because finding health that’s sustainable is actually not rocket science (training for a fitness competition-rocket science. Training for professional sports-rocket science. Learning how to find and sustain a healthy weight-NOT rocket science.) So here you go. Accept these with the no judgement and no expectations with which they were written.
- Learn self love. There’s a reason this is #1 y’all. If you’re starting the new year in the gym because you hate your belly or you hate your flabby arms you will never, ever, ever make it to April. Very few people hate parts of their bodies enough to push through the pain and discomfort that comes with a new exercise routine. If, however, you are starting the new year in the gym because you realize your life is worth more than getting winded going up stairs or sitting on the couch while your kids play basketball outside-you will stick with it. I promise. This rule might require you seeing a therapist or developing a daily journal reminding you of what you mean to the world but it’s essential if you want to genuinely find health in the new year. Even if I don’t know you personally I’m here to tell you that you are loved beyond reason. And that anytime spent exercising or cooking healthier foods is not selfish. I can guarantee you, your family will get more from you when you feel good mind, body and spirit than when you don’t. You are worth it, promise.
- Develop a mindfulness routine. I’ve already lost some of you, right? I don’t mean this has to involve you sitting on a meditation pillow for 20 minutes in the morning (but take it from me-that’s the very best way to start your day!) This can be taking 2 minutes while your coffee is made to just sit in silence and breathe. You don’t have to chant or block out mental distractions if you don’t want to but just become aware of your breath for a few minutes. Try to do it first thing in the morning otherwise it’ll continue to be pushed back to make room for seemingly more pressing to-do items. How does this little few minutes make you healthier? It’s scientifically proven to lower blood pressure, boost immune function, decrease pain and decrease inflammation at the cellular level, amongst many other reasons. Go here for some of the studies. The biggest thing that has come from my meditation practice is compassion for myself and for those around me. Remember #1? Meditation has been the biggest thing to teach me how to do #1 relatively effortlessly. Try it. (If you’re looking for help, try the app Headspace. It’s a 10 minute daily practice but I love the guy’s voice and his direct approach to mindfulness.)
- Eat more fiber. Want to lose weight? There you go. This is a little secret I usually reserve for clients. There has been some push back on the benefits of fiber but for me the proof is in the pudding-or in this case-the weight loss. All of my clients who make a pointed effort to incorporate more fiber in their diets lose more weight than the ones who don’t make such a concerted effort. Fiber feeds the good bacteria in the gut in a way that carbs, proteins and fats can’t because they are absorbed by the bloodstream before making it to the large intestines. Changing gut flora is a big deal, one in which I’ll go into next, but for now focus on fiber. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes is where you’ll find your fiber. Try to go by the 1, 2, 3 rule if you can. 1 fruit and veg for breakfast, 2 for lunch and 3 for dinner. Most days I add a few for my morning and evening snack just for good measure.
- Gut flora. Perhaps the least sexiest thing to discuss when talking about weight loss and health for the new year but more and more science is coming out on this so it’s got me all kinds of excited. First, I want to urge you to listen to this podcast about gut flora with Doctor Robynne Chutkan, MD. Or check out her book at your local library. There was a study that took the feces from an overweight mouse and deposited it in a normal weight mouse and vice versa. Changing nothing else, the overweight mouse became normal weight and the normal weight mouse became overweight. Why? The gut flora. You may think that your brain controls your sugar cravings and your salt cravings but science proves it’s actually your gut flora. If you want to lose weight-you need to start with changing that. How do you do it? By feeding the gut flora nutrient dense foods as often as you can. The more you feed it healthy, nutrient rich foods the more it craves those and not foods that are bad for you. This doesn’t require you to stop eating sugar or salty foods altogether-though that would make the gut flora change quicker to be sure-this just requires small adjustments on your plate. A quick personal note: I used to be a huge sugar addict. Since learning about the gut flora and making small adjustments to our meals-I no longer crave the stuff at all. And since I cook the majority of the meals, that means I’ve changed the gut flora in my kids and guess what? We made batches and batches of cookies and breads for Christmas and I currently have a few bags left in the pantry as well as chocolates people had gifted to us. My kids don’t even ask for it. Gut flora may be unsexy to talk about but their ain’t nothin sexier than healthy gut flora. You heard it here first.
- Move. If your goal is to get a six pack and deltoids like LeBron it’s going to require more movement than if your goal is to get down to a healthy weight and be able to play with your kids on the regular. Let’s first address movement for health. Start with walking 15 minutes every day. I live in Michigan where the temps can get down to single digits so I understand how you might think this isn’t possible. Well it is. Bundle up and do it. Make it a family event and go after dinner to stimulate digestion. Also, stop making your house so convenient. If you’re enjoying coffee on the porch or at the table, don’t bring the pot to you. Make yourself get up to grab another cup. Same thing for dinner. Don’t bring everything to the table where you can help yourselves to seconds and thirds, keep it at the stove so that you have to physically get up. This small act can be enough to make you realize you aren’t actually hungry for another round. The reason so many of the fitness trackers (FitBit, Jawbone, etc) have a programmable alarm to remind you to get up is because it’s been proven that the people who live the longest just move more. Most of the time these people aren’t doing any kind of exercise routine but they live in areas that require them to get up and out to the garden to bring in their meals. They’ve de-covienienced their lives. We Americans could take a lessen from them.
- Find a workout that you like doing. This is for those of you who might want to find some kind of muscle definition in 2016. I’ve put this at 6 because if you don’t do the previous 5, I can almost guarantee that you won’t find any abs or triceps by the end of 2016. Harsh? Maybe. But if you’ve ever had me as a trainer, a friend, a partner or a mother you know that I’m not great at holding back knowledge when you’ve come to me for advice. You will read articles in the coming weeks that tell you CrossFit is the only way to get fit in 2016, you will also read articles that tell you that running will be the key to unveiling the abs you’ve always desired. You have heard me go on and on about Les Mills fitness classes and how they’ve gotten me in the best shape of my life (which is true). None of that matters if you don’t like doing it. Les Mills classes have gotten me in the best shape of my life because I freaking love doing them. I love the music, I love the moves and I love the people I’ve met through the classes who do them all the time too. This is why CrossFit works for some folks and why people will talk your ear off about their run group. But do not listen to anyone. You need to find what works for you which means trying everything under the damn sun. Spend a little money and time to discover it. And give them time, a few weeks a least to grow on you. You’ll need to push past the soreness and the awkwardness that comes with developing muscle memory to be able to actually gauge if you like the activity or not. NOTHING will be 100% fun at first because it will probably hurt and be too confusing initially. Give yourself a little grace and get back in the saddle as quickly as possible. Once you find what you love doing, stopping no longer really feels like an option.
- Be patient. For God’s sake be patient. Nothing is harder to hear than “I don’t think it’s working, I haven’t seen results.” after 2 weeks of trying something. You guys, it can take 8-12 weeks. You might feel your jeans loosen by week 2 or get a few comments by week 3 but for the real “ah ha” kind of physical results, settle in for a grip. Here’s what I want you to do differently in 2016 than you ever have before. Notice how you feel. You will feel differently right away. The first day you feed your body nourishing foods instead of pre-packaged shit you will feel so good. Check your energy levels, do you notice how easily you got up and out of bed? Notice how much easier it was to go to sleep? What’s going on with your poop? Yup, check that too. Maybe you’ll notice your constipation is gone and your BMs take that ever-lusted after S shape. Good on ya buddy, that right there is results. This is another secret to sustainable weight loss and health-if you can start to feel good mentally and emotionally, the physical takes care of itself. Why? Because you have the energy to try new things and for longer. Plus, you start to notice that when you don’t exercise or move-you feel pretty dumpy mentally too. Once you’ve hooked into that mind/body connection you are good as gold. Welcome to the healthiest you have ever been.
- Stare at yourself in the mirror. Naked. The first time I told a client to do this she started crying. She told me that it was her very worst nightmare. And look, I get it. I spent far too many years avoiding the mirror myself. But you know when you’re laying in bed and have this weird fear that you left the door unlocked and are convinced someone is going to come in and do something terrible to your family? You know how if you continue to stay in bed because the sheets are warm and it’s bedtime how you can’t go to sleep because you convince yourself it’s legit going to happen and then you’re going to never forgive yourself because you knew it and did nothing to stop it? But if you go and check the door you’ll realize that 1) it’s locked or 2) it’s not locked but hasn’t been all week and you’ve all been just fine. It’s the same with the mirror. You need to just face the music, sister. I promise if you do you’ll notice your belly isn’t nearly as big as you imagined it was in your head. You’ll also probably notice your breasts are quite beautiful and that you actually have a pretty well defined quad. So just do it today after your shower. Take 5 minutes to just check every inch of you out. I will no longer allow you to be your own monster lurking in the corner. If you tell me you want to lose belly fat I want you to be able to describe in vivid detail what your belly looks like because if you don’t know then you’re just running from the imaginary monster. Running from anything won’t get you the health you seek, running towards something will. So instead of losing fat around our triceps we are going to chase arms that allow us to throw up our grandkids when we’re well into our 60s. Instead of losing weight in your thighs so that they stop rubbing together (thighs are meant to rub together. Just enough already with that nonsense.) we’re going to chase legs that have us going on hikes or walking the streets of Paris for hours without complaint. We’re going to face who we are head on so that we can have a better picture of what we actually want to change and not what we think needs to change just because we’ve been too scared to look.
- Stop dieting. I have no earthly understanding of why we are still doing this when every bit of science and anecdotal evidence proves it does nothing in the way of sustainable health and weight loss. Here’s what you do instead: throw away all the shit in your cupboards. Commit to not buying chips, cookies or processed food for 1 week. Your kids do not need macaroni and cheese. Your kids do not need chicken nuggets. There is not a human on earth who needs that so just get rid of it. Buy bread for sandwiches (Ezekiel bread is my personal recommendation. My kids eat it too. Don’t make excuses for your kids. Have them eat it and change their gut flora too. Soon enough they won’t like the sugary, processed breads they were used to eating. Promise.) and as much fruit as you possible can fit in your cart. This way when you’re tempted for something quick and easy the only thing at your disposal is fruit and sandwiches. Once you’ve successfully made it to one week without processed foods in the house stretch it to two weeks and so on. I don’t care how dedicated you are-we all have days when we’ve been working, the kids are crazy and we’ve been fighting with our spouse and the last thing we want to do is cook a healthy, nutritious meal for us all so we throw in a few frozen pizzas and call it a day. This doesn’t make you weak or lazy it makes you human. If you don’t have access to frozen pizzas, however, you have no choice but to make something healthier. Want to know what I do? I make large batches of rice and quinoa and keep them in the fridge. On days when I have 0 effs to give I make it a “Chipotle” night and throw some black beans in a pan and some cilantro in the rice. I grab our salsa and guacamole and done. It takes me all of 4 minutes which if you’re keeping track is actually quicker than frozen pizzas anyway. Don’t buy the crap food and you can’t eat the crap food. See? Not rocket science.
- Make the commitment for your whole family. Here’s a little secret I’ve learned in my time as a personal trainer-I can tell you with 100% certainty whether you’ll reach your goals or not with one question- I ask how your family feels about you getting healthier. If the significant other “is supportive but wants no part of it him/herself” Nope. If the kids “will keep eating what they always do and I’ll make myself the healthier meals.” Nope. I don’t know how else to say this-if getting healthier is important to you this year then you need to make it important to your significant others as well. Because otherwise no matter how sweet, caring and kind your family is they will end up becoming saboteurs. They will take a family vote one night and go out for pizza. And then the night after that they’ll all decide that what you cooked just wasn’t enough and they’ll go out for ice cream. This doesn’t make them terrible people, it makes them human. But I know you, mama, because you are me and I am you. You want your kids to outlive you and you want to be doing fun and adventurous stuff with your husband well into your 80s. You cannot do that if you’re all unhealthy. Oh. Heartbreaking words to hear. But true words. So have a family meeting or sit down with your husband. Don’t make the conversation about weight because who gives an eff about the weight on your scale. Tell them your goals for the future and ask them theirs. Really evaluate if those are possible with the way you’re currently going. If they are-awesome, if not-time to change as a family. This generation of kids is the first generation predicted to have a shorter life span than their parent’s generation because of obesity. What a horrifying truth. You getting healthy isn’t selfish anymore-it’s a gift to your family and to your friends. We can do hard things. And for our families? We can do seemingly impossible things. I believe in you.
- Engulf yourself in the health and wellness community. Don’t buy Shape magazine or any magazine that even hints that your self worth is at all tied to your waistline. Instead invest in magazines and books that encourage you to learn more about your passion or your mindfulness practice. My husband is obsessed with Outside magazine. He went on his own health journey in 2015 and I’m so proud of him. His excitement about Outside magazine is one of the things to which I attribute his success. There are so many great articles on movement and health in general that have peaked his curiosity and led him to try new and different ways of getting healthy. I’m a big podcast listener and I’ve found that when I’m feeling “eh” about eating healthy or exercising, listening to one of my health and wellness podcasts always re-inspires me. The reason I like magazines is because it’s a monthly dose of inspiration that often comes just when you need it. Most libraries have a decent amount of magazines you can peruse before you commit to the monthly subscription so try a few out first. Or even better, once you’ve found the workout that’s got you feeling some kind of way-google “magazines great for runners, weight lifters, cyclers, dancers”, etc and go from there. Even though my day job is literally to exercise, I still have days or weeks that I just don’t feel up to it-cough, all of November-cough. Immersing myself in these knowledge-based communities is easily the best way to re-invigorate me.
- Don’t wait until you find a “workout buddy” to start. I guarantee this is a piece of advice you will hear every day for the next few months but I’ve found it to be wholly untrue. Here’s more typically what happens: a few women or men come to the gym together. Typically one is more passionate about being there than the other. After a few weeks, the less passionate one stops coming and a few weeks after that so does the one who was so ready for a change. Here’s what you do instead: just begin. If you’re joining a new gym just head on into that weight room or group fitness room. If you’re wanting to try running, try joining an already established running group. Every run group I know has runners from novice to expert so you won’t be the only newbie. Instead of starting with a gym buddy, just start! Your workout buddy will be found when you are doing what you love doing. They will hold you accountable and be there to encourage you when you feel like giving up. The people you find once you’ve already started are also already committed so you won’t have to be convincing yourself and your best friend. This way you can just focus on you-the rest takes care of itself. I just did some quick math in my head and realized that every great friend I’ve made after college has been made in the gym. There might be a few exceptions to that but not many. We aren’t some hulking, roided out group of protein shakin women-we come in all shapes, sizes and abilities. You will find your people when you start to get healthy. And they will be awesome. Just like you.
A quick hard truth about your health journey-not all of your friends or family members are going to be supportive. Man, this is tough. If you continue to allow negative thought patterns and negative friends to have a say in your life your life will be exactly the same as it is now. This doesn’t mean you have to write nasty notes or say hurtful things to any friends that don’t support you. The further you get in your journey, the more you will see there’s nothing wrong with them, they are just at a different place. If you are serious about your health, make sure you evaluate who you are letting into your heart space just as much as you are evaluating what you are letting onto your plate. It can have an even bigger impact so this little piece is a vital step. It’s a hard step and will feel impossible at times. But anyone who doesn’t embrace, support and encourage you when you’re trying to be better than you were yesterday just isn’t ready to handle your light. Find the ones who are wielding their own light instead of hiding in the darkness, they’ll be the ones who will celebrate your success and remind you that your failures don’t define you. That’s exactly what you need always, but now even more so.
I come to you as someone who vividly remembers being unhealthy and unmotivated. I can’t believe how much better of a mom, wife, friend and human I am when I’m healthy (still acknowledging I muck it up on the daily). At times I’ve been fit enough to see my abs and quads but I can tell you honestly that it didn’t make me any happier than I am when I’m simply at a healthy weight eating healthy food and associating with positive people. I totally get it if your goal is shredded arms but my hope is that you hook into health first. Because being in the fitness industry I’ve seen my fair share of shredded arms and abs on people who are just unhappy and unhealthy.
My wish for you in 2016 is that you find that sweet spot where you like how you look in your jeans but you love how you feel even more. Get in touch if you have any questions or just need someone to give you that initial “You can do it!” Because you can, and you will. I totally believe in you.