“Not I” said the voice inside your head as you prepared to embark on a new year with nothing but the best intentions for eating healthier and maintaining..er..I mean, starting some sort of regular fitness routine. That being said, the following is a list of things you should be aware of as you dedicate yourself to developing healthier, life-changing habits:
20 Things to Be Aware of:
- Your Goals-Do you have them? Like buying a car or filing for divorce, it’s best if you have it in writing. More importantly, make sure that the goals you set for yourself are actually within reason. An example of an unreasonable goal would be: “losing 50 lbs in three months”. Good luck with that; I’ll meet you at the hospital. If you need help with your goals, sit down with a friend or nutritionist.
- The Scale- is a liar. Ok, so sometimes you really, really wish it was lying to you. But the fact remains that while most scales are somewhat accurate about your weight, you shouldn’t use your scale as a crutch when it comes to trying to shed those extra pounds. Instead, rely more on your intuition…and the mirror. If you think you look great, does the scale really matter as much?
- Your Friends-“Does this fat make me look fat?” Most friends will answer ‘no’ either because they don’t want to hurt your feelings or because you’re their ride home later. Either way, take what your friends say with a grain of salt and use their false positives to help boost your drive to continue with your dietary goals.
- The Gym-provides a plethora of equipment not to mention a cozy, warm spot to work out when the temperature is only supposed to reach 31 degrees outside. However, it is easy to become complacent while working out. If you’re combining strength training with cardio at the gym, do your strength training first followed by your cardio. Your body will thank you!
- Cardio Machines-As much as I would LOVE to believe that I have just burned 400 calories by walking at a brisk pace for thirty minutes, chances are that it’s far from accurate. The fact of the matter is that everyone burns calories at a different rate (i.e. your metabolism). When you use one of the cardio machines at the gym, the machines are rigged to calculate how many calories you will burn within a given amount of time by using a metabolic equation (hence when you are prompted to input your age, weight, etc.). However if you are already athletic and are mostly muscle, you will burn more calories than someone who is trying to lose the baby weight. Check it out.
- Food Labels-can be deceiving. This is definitely one area that you’ll want to devote a little more time to, which is why I recommend going food shopping alone. Too often, it is SO easy to read the nutrition label on your favorite brand of food and actually will yourself to believe that it contains fewer calories than you expected. However, the thing that most people miss is the serving size. For example, I picked up one of my favorite guilty pleasures: a neatly wrapped package of chocolate chip cookie dough by Pillsbury, and when I glanced at the nutrition label (on the one rare occasion), I thought to myself “Hmfph- this isn’t so bad!” Later I realized that the calories were for ONE serving. I had eaten the entire package.
- Diet Sodas- may seem like a godsend because they supposedly contain zero calories and [gasp] zero sugar (I swear, it tempts me to believe that magic is real). However, what most people fail to notice is that there is usually quite a bit of sodium with some of these delicious beverages, and I don’t have to tell you what the side effects of too much sodium are…
- Hot Water-may feel really really good when you hop in the shower to unwind and de-stress. However, studies have shown that too much of a good thing is actually bad. Apparently, immersing myself in what is probably the equivalent of a pot of boiling water actually dries out one’s skin and can actually contribute to all sorts of skin irritation problems. If you must have the hot water, be brief about it or pay the price..literally..as hot, lengthy showers can also increase your water bill each month. Both your skin and your bank account will be grateful.
- The Mirror-is often a better judge than the scale. You can often see the results of your fitness efforts by simply taking a glance in the mirror. Besides this, scales can make you slightly more neurotic and ‘number obsessed’, which isn’t necessarily a good thing.
- Your Jeans-My mother used to have a saying about knowing whether or not she needed to lose weight based on whether or not she could fit into her favorite pair of jeans. Feel free to borrow this bit of knowledge. If you’re 30 years old and you can still fit into your jeans from your senior year in high school, two things here: 1) you’re probably good to go on the weight thing but may still be interested in toning up some areas and 2) why do you still have jeans that are over a decade old?
- Your Refrigerator-is begging to be your best friend if you just give it a chance. Just like your stomach, you should want to fill your fridge with healthy and nutritious things. Not only will this cut down on the temptation to snack on crap, but it will help to encourage you in your healthy eating habits.
- Your Grandmother-may have loved the cute, chubby little 3 year-old that you used to be; but is it really that cute when you’re chubby and 33 years old? While you don’t want to offend grandma by refusing her famous casserole at dinner, opt instead to do some grocery shopping for her while you’re visiting and maybe pick up a few healthy items for yourself while you’re out. If all else fails and you’re trapped in front of dish with delicious fumes penetrating every taste bud in your body, then do yourself a favor and eat a smaller portion instead, politely refusing seconds on account of being “overwhelmed by the deliciousness of the meal”.
- Fat versus Muscle- Muscle weighs significantly more, pound for pound, than fat. Remember this! Someone who weighs 120 pounds and is made up of mostly fat looks drastically different than someone who weighs 120 pounds and is comprised mostly of muscle; so don’t let the scale fool you.
- Personal Trainers- are great cheerleaders. And while some are actually relatively knowledgeable and can recite the names of all the different bones and connective tissue in your body as if it were the alphabet, is it really worth the amount of money that you’ll wind up spending? For next to nothing, you can borrow a few books from the library, call up some friends or join a meetup group of other like-minded individuals like yourself in order to get a great workout in.
- Your Stomach- always speaks out of turn when you want it to be quiet. Instead of shhh-ing it, eat something! Ideally, you should try to shoot for small, more frequent meals throughout the day. However, you have to use your judgment here, because for some people, eating more frequently only makes them think about food more- but not in a good way. Space out your meals according to how your day-to-day life actually is. Remember; what works for one person doesn’t necessarily mean that it is the industry standard. Fuel up on healthy foods that will help to sustain you throughout the course of the day. For instance, fiber is a great start for the morning because it provides your body with nutrients and gets your digestive track moving, which is important for maintaining a healthy weight as well as great health overall.
- Sweating-“Chances are, if you’re not sweating, you’re not working hard enough.” Eh..this is kinda’ true and kinda’ not. Your internal body temperature is usually set to somewhere around 98.6 degrees. When your body is working out, this core temperature increases, creating heat. Your veins and capillaries expand, your heart tends to beat faster, and blood flows to your epidermis (hence the flushed faces you often see at the gym). Due to the number of sweat glands that you may happen to have, you may sweat more or less than some people around you. Also factoring into this is your fitness level. Comparatively, someone who is out of shape will more than likely sweat more running at an 8-minute mile pace than someone who is used to running a 7-minute mile pace (in which an 8-minute mile pace may feel like a walk in the park).
- Too Much Discipline-It’s ok to be disciplined about your eating habits, but geezus! Allow yourself a little cheating every now and then. Not only is it good for you, but it will help to balance the overwhelming desire to stuff your face with those jelly donuts as if you were being timed in an eating contest. Also, this is a good time to remind yourself that you are eating for your health, which is a lifelong sort of thing- not some sort of 6 month crash diet.
- Water– The human body is made up of approximately 70 percent water. To break this down even further, muscle is comprised of around 75 percent water, while fat and bones are made up of around 50 percent water. Water is important for many reasons. For starters, your body needs water in order to regulate its core temperature so that nutrients can travel to your organs. Also, just like Drano is used to flush out clogs in your bathtub, water acts to flush your body of toxins and other waste while transporting O2 to your cells. As an added bonus, it also protects your joints and organs. You can obtain water by drinking the recommended 8 glasses a day, but you can also contribute to the intake by eating fresh fruits (which contain water) as well as other beverages, soups, etc.
- Fad Diets-are exactly that: something that is popular for a very short amount of time. In other words, it doesn’t last forever. Where diets are involved, you should never diet just to lose weight for a brief period of time. Common examples of this range anywhere from the “Oh crap- my 10-year high school reunion is coming up in a few months..” to the infamous “I don’t want to look like a beached whale on my wedding day…Help!” You should always want to put your health first, which means adjusting to a ‘diet’ that will consist of developing healthy eating habits to last you a lifetime.
- Your Quality of Life-is important. When you begin to change your diet for the better and throw in the occasional fitness routine on a regular basis, it is inevitable that you will see positive changes in yourself that will make you (and possibly others) smile. Revisit your goals for wanting to eat better and look better. Remember that golden rule of “In order to take care of others, you first have to take care of yourself”? Well, it’s true. Fitness and overall health is something that is ok to be selfish about. Before you dive into that bag of potato chips, ask yourself whether or not there is a healthier alternative or whether this is your time to cheat a little. If you’ve been cheating a lot lately, perhaps there is something larger than yourself (no pun intended) that’s going on and is worth a trip to the doctor to discuss. Proper nutrition and fitness can have monumental, life changing effects for people. From improved self esteem to decreased health risks, the possibilities are endless if only you give yourself a chance to succeed and feel great.
To begin, begin. -Peter Nivio Zarlenga