A friend of mine recently sent me a message asking for help. She explained that she finds it difficult to try and break certain habits, and as a result, is struggling to achieve a healthier lifestyle. Unlike many health and fitness bloggers out there, I haven’t always been healthy, or fit! As my regular readers will know, I used to weigh 210 lbs and was binge-drinking, smoking, partying, and eating a diet that consisted predominantly of complete and utter junk food. The other day, I was recalling my first time on the treadmill at my heaviest weight and I truly could not even run for more than 1-2 minutes without having to stop to catch a breath. Last year, I ran my first half marathon. So, did I just magically change my lifestyle overnight and go from a fat, booze-guzzling overeater to a clean-eating gym-lover? No!!! My transformation began with some small changes, that gradually lead to bigger changes, and even today, I am still learning, improving and making better choices. But, I really want to write a post for those who are just beginning their journey; people who simply do not know where to start or how to begin. So, I am going to share 12 tips that will help you get well on your way to a healthier style of living.
- Get up earlier. When you lie around in bed until the early hours of the afternoon, you end up feeling sluggish and lethargic for the rest of the day. Set an alarm, even on weekends, and train your body to wake up earlier. During the week, I usually get up between 6 and 6:30am and on weekends, I’m usually up by 8:30am. If you start the day early and get moving, you will have more energy for the rest of the day and you will get more done. Make to-do lists, set yourself little goals each day, and have a plan. When you are organised, it is easier to stay on track and stay motivated. There is something about getting up early that is empowering and motivating. Try it!
- Work out in the morning. Exercise gets your blood flowing, increases the amount of oxygen in your bloodstream and gets those endorphins pumping as well. If you are just starting out, try going to the gym before you go to work and doing just half an hour on the cross-trainer at a high resistance, or 10 minutes of rowing, followed by 10 minutes of stair-climbing and a 10 minute jog. You could even do 30 minutes on the spin bike at a medium resistance. Get at least 30 minutes of exercise in the morning before you go to work and it will set a really positive tone for the day. You will see your mood improve, your energy levels improve, and you will be less likely to crave junk food as well.
- Swap your breakfast cereal for porridge. If you like your oatmeal sweet, then use frozen berries to sweeten it. You can buy a bag of frozen berries and then just stir them in while the oatmeal is hot. Add a tablespoon of flaxseed as it aids with digestion and will also keep you fuller for longer. If you like a big breakfast or have a long walk or cycle to work, then sprinkle some flaked almonds on top, a spoonful of peanut butter or some coconut. The healthy fats will keep you fuller for longer. Make sure you are eating raw oats and not the processed ‘Ready Brek’ or ‘Quick Oats’ that have added sugar and preservatives. If you want to be really good, make you oatmeal with unsweetened almond milk.
- Add extra green vegetables to your lunch and your dinner. If you normally eat a sandwich and crisps or chips for lunch, then swap the chips out for some broccoli, a kale salad or sprouts instead. Simply prepare some little baggies or boxes of veggies the night before and take them with you so you won’t be tempted to go to the vending machine for that mid-morning snack. For dinner, no matter what you are having, swap out one of your sides for a vegetable. If you normally have a pasta dish, then swap out the pasta for roasted root vegetables. Instead of having noodles with your stir fry, just eat the whole bag of stir fry veg. I am serious! Eat until you feel full and get those veggies into you.
- Healthy Snacks Only. If you need a mid-morning pick-me-up or an afternoon munch, make sure you have your own homemade snacks ready to go. Boiled eggs are fantastic little snacks. They are about 80 calories a pop and are packed with nutrients, as well as a good amount of protein and healthy fats. Boil 4 or 5 eggs at the beginning of the week and keep them in the fridge for snacks during the week. If you don’t like eggs, then have almonds and blueberries instead. Fruit like bananas and grapes are high in natural sugars and will spike your blood sugar levels, whereas berries have a much lower sugar content. You could even have some beef jerky or some cottage cheese. High-protein snacks will keep you full.
- Start exercising slowly and increase it bit by bit. If you have never worked out before, start by speed-walking for 30-45 minutes a day, five days a week. Once you feel comfortable, join a gym. Start with cardio machines like the cross-trainer, the rowing machine, and the spin bikes. Always make sure that for the last couple of minutes, you push it really hard. End with a sprint. If you have the confidence to go to classes, then I would sign up for circuits immediately. When I went to my first circuits class, I had to leave halfway through the class. And guess what? This is totally fine! To complete half the class is an achievement. So, sign up and take a friend with you if you don’t want to go alone.
- Meal Preparation. As I have always said, meal prep and organisation is key. Prepare your lunches at the beginning of the week so you aren’t tempted to go for a cheeky Nando’s or a Chinese buffet at lunchtime. Stuck for ideas? I post a ton on my Instagram and Facebook pages so check there. Or just keep it simple with grilled chicken, grilled turkey, baked salmon, brown or basmati rice, and plenty of green vegetables.
- Eating Out. If you are going out to eat with friends, check out the menu ahead of time. Make sure that there is something you can order and commit to choosing the healthy option. Drink a tall glass of water before you go to make sure you are hydrated (you feel more hungry when you are dehydrated and can risk overeating). There will always be a vegetable side option, even if it’s sweet potato fries. Make better choices and you will feel better for doing it.
- Quit alcohol for three weeks. When you drink, you spike your sugar levels and dehydrate yourself. That is how a hangover happens. When you are hungover, your body is tired and deprived of nutrients and electrolytes, so it tends to crave sugar, salt and junk. The hangover munchies can sometimes be even worse than the alcohol itself! Trust me, I speak from experience. So, cut it out for at least three weeks and feel your body change. You may find that you don’t even miss the booze, or the hangovers!
- Quit drinking soda and fruit juice. Soda is one of the worst things that you can put into your body. Most of it is packed with sugar and completely man-made ingredients. There is nothing natural about it and there is nothing nutritious about it! You do not need it. Switch to sugar-free diluting juice instead and mix it with sparkling water if you miss the carbonation. Once you’ve done this for a couple of weeks, see if you can go cold turkey. Fruit juices are pure sugar so stop drinking them and just eat a little of the fruit they are made of instead, or just drink water or herbal tea. You, and your dentist, will thank me for it!
- Plan your treats. If you don’t plan your treats, and you have a sweet tooth like me, you might find yourself succumbing to temptation on a daily basis. So, plan your treats! Make sure it’s not a binge, but rather something to look forward to. Plan to go out for coffee and cake with a friend, or plan on having candy at the cinema, or book a dinner reservation at your favourite burger restaurant. Don’t go crazy and eat your body weight in burritos, but treat yourself with something small and naughty if you have been good all week. Diets are hard and everyone needs a little “cheat” every now and then. (*Don’t have a ‘cheat day’ but rather have a ‘cheat meal’ or a ‘treat.’ An entire day off your diet will simply undo all the hard work you’ve done throughout the week.)
- Make yourself a motivation board. I have one on my fridge! Write down all your goals and all your reasons for changing on some multi-coloured post-it notes and stick them up on a board somewhere you can look at every day. Changing your habits and your lifestyle is not easy, and you are your best motivator. Be your own coach and if you struggle, then enlist the help of a fit friend. You will need to remind yourself why you started, especially on the days when you are tired or frustrated. Just always remember, you CAN do it.
When you start treating your body better, your energy levels increase, you sleep better, your cravings go away, your confidence improves, your mood improves, you are happier and life is good. So, if you are just starting out, begin by making small changes that will get you on the right track. As you achieve your goals week by week, keep making better choices and keep improving. Never stop learning and never stop trying. You will find that over time, baby steps lead to giant leaps and before you know it, you are fit, healthy and flying high.