Remember those resolutions you made last January 1? I can almost guarantee they centered around diet, exercise, or both. Now, after the year has come and gone, it’s time to look back and see whether you kept those promises to yourself.
"I’m going to lose 10 pounds this year if it kills me."
How many people make that exact resolution on January 1, after a week (a season, a year) of too many calories, too little exercise, and an abundance of self-indulgence? Yet how many people, after 365 days, can say, “Yes, I weigh 10 pounds less now than I did last year at this time?”
Not “I lost 10 pounds,” either. Becuase many of us lose (and then gain back) those same 10 pounds, month after month. But to actually lose 10 pounds, and keep it gone? Not so many can claim that.
Perhaps it’s because that resolution wasn’t the right one to begin with. Rather than say, "I’m going to lose 10 pounds,"** vow to do what it takes** to lose that excess weight.
Break the process down into parts, and make a plan to accomplish each part individually. Accomplishing those separate goals can add up to your desired weight loss.
The two main components of weight loss within your control are diet and exercise. Sure, you can lose weight when you’re sick; or when you’re heartbroken, and stop eating. But the "agony diet" isn’t good for either body or soul. So let’s just think about the more standard components of a program to lose 10 pounds.
Discover Your Miracle Diet
First, diet. Despite claims to the contrary, a gluten-free diet won’t necessarily make you lose weight. Stop eating cookies, cake, and doughnuts? Yes, you’ll probably lose weight, but not because you’ve cut out gluten - because you’ve eliminated the sugar and fat in those cookies, cake, and doughnuts.
When it comes to diet, there’s no magic bullet. It’s mostly a simple matter of calories in, calories out. A lower-calorie diet will help you lose weight. And how do you eat fewer calories, yet still feel satisfied and healthy? By consuming fresh fruits and vegetables, which are almost always fairly low calorie. And by eating whole grains, which are fiber-rich and make you feel full.
Did you hear me say "eliminate X, Y, and Z?" No, you didn’t. That’s because I don’t believe in "elimination" diets; they’re too hard to stick to. Instead, vow to ADD fruits, vegetables and whole grains; in so doing, you’ll be able to reduce the amount of junk calories you consume.
Work for What Works for You
Next, exercise. You know you need to exercise. I mean, you KNOW it. So what’s stopping you?
Probably your inability to find a schedule that works on a regular basis. Yes, there are those who love to exercise and will do what they must to get their treadmill or elliptical time in every day. But the rest of us - those who find exercise a necessary chore - MUST find a workable schedule and stick to it. No time off for good behavior
If you’re an early morning person, exercise first thing. Getting up at 6 a.m. (or even earlier) doesn’t bother you, so go ahead, lace up your sneakers and get it over with. Gyms can be less crowded during the early hours, which is a plus. And if you really have it all together, you can hit the gym, shower and dress right there, and head off to work.
If you’re a naturally late riser, don’t force yourself to get up and exercise early in the day; that’s setting yourself up for failure. Instead, think about midday exercise (if only a brisk 30-minute walk at lunchtime); and/or hit the gym on your way home.
Just as important, figure out an exercise regimen you kind of enjoy. If you view exercise as horribly boring or relentlessly painful, trust me, you’ll never keep it up, despite your most serious resolutions.
Instead, cobble together a series of classes - Pilates, yoga, maybe once-a-week spinning. Or if you’re at a gym, alternate time on the various machines. Just because you know how the treadmill works but haven’t yet figured out the Stairmaster is no reason to hop onto the treadmill six days a week!
Find the Right Balance
Be sure to add weights to your aerobic routine, too. Especially as you age, lifting weights is critical to overall health, improving not only strength, but balance.
So a typical weekly routine might find you at an hour-long Pilates class Monday, logging 45 minutes on the treadmill Tuesday, spinning Wednesday, doing a combination weights/elliptical workout Thursday, regrouping with a gentle yoga class Friday, and lifting weights again Saturday, with half an hour on one of the aerobics machines for good measure.
And what about Sunday? Your body needs rest; I recommend a good, long walk outdoors. Having a dog along and listening to iTunes helps pass the time.
So, how did you do with your diet- and exercise-related 2014 New Year’s resolutions? If the answer is "not so good," maybe now you see why. And what to do to make 2015 the year you actually DO lose those 10 pounds - and keep them off!
PJ Hamel is senior digital content editor and food writer at King Arthur Flour, and a James Beard award-winning author. A 16-year breast cancer survivor, her passion is helping women through this devastating disease. She manages a large and active online survivor support network based at her local hospital and shares her wisdom and experience with the greater community via HealthCentral.com.