Christmas is a time of indulgence. Office Christmas parties, festive dinners, chocolate treats, mulled wine… all of these indulgences mean that we all gain a little (or a lot of…) extra “pudge” during the holiday period. Dry January is a chance for many of us to detox our livers and press that Reset button on our bodies. For much of the world’s population, January is all about losing the holiday weight and getting back to a more “normal” routine. For some, it’s about beginning summer prep. And for a few, it’s about creating a completely new lifestyle that will promote healthy living, fitness and happiness for the long-term. We all have the intention of making it a long-term lifestyle change but many of us don’t make it past February. Why does this happen and what can we do to create a sustainable plan for the future? Below are my top tips on how to make a New Year’s Resolution into a long-term lifestyle change.
(1) Set Realistic Goals: if your goals are too ambitious, you are only setting yourself up for failure. Rather than setting one huge, momentous goal, set lots of small ones. Rather than saying, “I will lose 25 lbs by July,” why not change that to “I will lose 1-2 lbs a week for 12 weeks.” It’s probably not wise to sign up for a marathon in mid-2017 if you’re not a runner. Start with a 5K race, then a 10K race, then a half marathon and build up to doing a marathon at the end of the year. Find training plans online, join a running club, read Runner’s World and take baby steps towards your end goal.
(2) Create a Timeline: if you set goals but don’t have a timeline, you will find it harder to stick to your new plan. Instead of committing to training every day, why not start with training three times a week in January, four times a week in February, five times a week in March and see how you go from there. If you’re changing your diet, why not commit to cutting out soda in January, candy in February, fast food in March and take it one step at a time so that the changes stick. Buy a physical calendar and stick it on your wall so you have something visual to guide you. Use apps to help you track your goals and progress (iCal, Day One, MyFitnessPal, Notes, etc.)
(3) Choose Three Motivators: if you choose too many motivators, you risk putting too much pressure on yourself and failing. If you don’t choose any motivators, then why are you doing this in the first place? Three is a good number; choose three key motivations for your new lifestyle change and make sure they are ones that will endure. These could be very general or very specific but I would recommend keeping them simple. Your motivators could be based around how you look and feel, or around specific events like an upcoming wedding or vacation but make sure you have at least one that will be long-lasting (i.e. to feel confident, sexy and strong).
(4) Build a Support Network: if your friends and family aren’t making the same lifestyle changes as you, this will make your commitments harder to keep. Don’t lose your friends or isolate yourself simply because your friends aren’t adopting the same new lifestyle as you. Create a separate support network of gym buddies or health-lovers who share your values and passion for health. This network may be online; Instagram is a great platform to find other people on the same journey as you who are super supportive and willing to share their own experiences; both good and bad. Some of my favourites accounts are @ohfitness_ie, @clean_eating_alice, @healthy_little_lifter, @kev_webb85 and @tom_thepbkid. Warning: the latter two fitness blogs will have you drooling over your iPhone. Check them out for yourselves!
(5) Ask the Experts: taking advice from bloggers is great but are they really certified to advise you on nutrition and exercise? Remember that anyone can become a personal trainer after competing a brief crash course and it’s even easier to become certified as a nutritionist. Hiring a qualified personal trainer was one of the best decisions I made; she helped teach me what exercises I should be doing to target certain muscles and how to keep my form correct to reduce the risk of injury. Speak to doctors, dieticians and qualified trainers about your food and fitness plan. There is a lot of free advice on the internet and if you can’t find it, invest in the help of a professional. What would you spend on a new outfit? A night out? A posh meal? Well, your health is far more important than any of those things so don’t scrimp on it.
(6) Treat Yourself Wisely: if you are rewarding yourself with food, you risk getting stuck in a cycle of exercising for treats like a hamster on a wheel. Your treats could instead be a sports massage, a yoga class, a manicure, a hair appointment, a trip to the cinema or any number of non-food treats. And if you feel you really want a treat, make it yourself. Bake a healthy version of your favourite cookies or muffins and take them into the office to share. Get some FroYo instead of ice-cream or a nice coffee instead of booze. Be careful a treat doesn’t turn into a binge and steer treats away from food and towards fun activities instead.
(7) Stay Organised and Prepared: when I don’t meal prep, I end up eating too much or not enough and my healthy diet falls to pieces. When you’re starting a new plan, meal prep and food prep is so crucial. Invest in tupperware, buy a spiralizer, get a smoothie maker, revamp your wardrobe with cute workout clothes and do whatever you need to do to stay organised in the kitchen and the gym. Plan your workouts ahead of time, sign up for classes in advance, stay on top of your laundry (!!!) and know what’s on the menu if you’re dining out. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.
(8) Sign Up for an Event: having a fitness-related event in the calendar greatly increases your chances of sticking to a new plan. If you have something to train for and to look forward to (or fear!!), you will know that skipping a workout or falling off the wagon simply isn’t an option.
(9) Reward Yourself at the End: if you have signed up for an event, reward yourself after. This could be a sports massage, a trip to the spa, a day off work or a weekend away. You deserve to relax and feel good! You did it. You smashed your goal, stepped outside of your comfort zone, tried something new and pushed yourself hard. Take some time to enjoy your achievement and feel good about yourself. And if you want that glass of pinot noir, then damn well have it and enjoy it! After completing my first Tough Mudder in 2012, I had a burger and a beer on the finish line followed by a hot bubble bath, wine and a delicious Indian meal later that evening. After four hours straight of running and obstacles, I needed to refuel and deserved a night off.
(10) Plan for the Future: what will you do once the event is over? How will you make the new lifestyle last into the next month, next six months or the next year? Try a new type of fitness plan like Crossfit, Cycling, Running, Triathlons, Yoga, Power-Lifting or something outside of your normal routine. Keep trying new forms of exercise, new events and maybe take the odd cooking class for food inspiration too. Don’t get bored. Don’t let this become mundane. When life gets busy and stressful, it becomes harder to stick to your plan so make sure you keep things interesting so it’s easier to stay on track. You can do this!