We turn over a new leaf to welcome the New Year: We dye our hair red, commit to the newest diet trend and swear our home will remain spotless until the flowers bloom. The list is endless.
Many of us vow to lose those dreaded pounds we put on over the holidays (or from working from home the last two years due to a pandemic, perhaps?). Even amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a December 2020 survey conducted by YouGovAmerica showed 50 percent of Americans made the resolution to exercise, 48 percent wanted to lose weight and 39 percent wanted to improve their diet at the start of 2021.
Let’s journey back to Jan. 1, 2021: You made the resolution to lose weight. You spent hours on Pinterest researching the best Tupperware, belly-blaster exercises and workout wear. You meal prepped Sundays, woke up painfully early and went to the gym five days a week, all while sporting your new Nike trainers. But after a while, the excitement wore off. Sunday afternoons were taken over by the children’s sporting practices, you hit the snooze button because you stayed up late working (and you really didn’t like that aerobic step class anyways). The scale wasn’t dropping as quickly as it did in the beginning. You lost the motivation, returned to old, comfortable habits, and eventually canceled the gym membership and stored your Nikes in the back of the closet. Sound familiar?
Discontinuing our exercise and dietary changes is not uncommon; academic research shows dropout rates (even in a controlled intervention groups) average between 20-50 percent across various demographics and exercise types. It is tough to soldier on and make sustainable change, and frankly, the fitness media does not empathize with our daily life struggles. If we are not giving 110 percent 100 percent of the time, then we are considered lazy, undedicated, and obviously don’t care enough about our bodies and our health. This is not necessarily true: The key is not to be intense; the key is to be consistent.
I once heard from a friend and colleague that the best exercise is the type you can consistently do. This holds true for weight loss — finding what movement and dietary changes are sustainable will foster the most successful (i.e., maintainable) weight loss.
We often get caught up in what is flashy and exciting, but at the root, losing weight is about showing up and doing the best you can with what you have available to you. Movement does not have to be structured in large blocks of time to be beneficial; taking 10 minutes of your 30-minute lunch break to walk and talk with a coworker, playing with your children and walking the dog are all enjoyable, physically active daily life tasks. As you increase daily life activity and continue these habits with a content body and mind, you can trickle in structured physical activity.
Keep your options open: the HIIT class at a local gym, a jog with a friend or Zumba at your neighbor’s church are all activities you could do one or two times per week. Remember: The best exercise is the type you consistently do.
Perhaps you find you move joyfully and well and often, but your diet leaves something to be desired. Adding a healthy food (e.g., a side salad) in addition to an otherwise typical dinner spread is an easy way to gradually induce change.
Food is not sinful, something to be cheated on or the enemy. Food is primarily your fuel to live, but food is also celebration, culture, holiday tradition and sometimes comfort. Having a healthy relationship with food starts with healthy dialogue in your head about food and eating habits. By reframing the negative dialogue from, “I ate nothing but bad food last night, so I’ll restrict my calorie intake today to make up for it” to “I enjoyed a nice dinner out with my husband last night and deserve to fuel my body today,” you reinforce having positive relationship with food, thus staying consistent in your dietary habits.
Finally, find a support system. It can be your mom, friends, spouse or children — new behaviors, specifically physical activity or exercise, are best kept when we have someone we trust to hold space for our growth and development. Healthy accountability is sending a text, “Hey! Going for a walk to clear my head after work. See you at dinner, xoxo;” telling your children that Saturday mornings are for playing at the park with mom; or having your partner do the weekend laundry so you can do “Yoga with Adrienne” on YouTube.
The bottom line? Consistent, enjoyable physical activity + sustainable eating habits + support system = success. Now get out there and move!
Blake Goodman is an exercise specialist at the Sam B. Cook Healthplex. She holds a master of science in kinesiology from Kansas State University and has a background as a fitness instructor and Level 1 CrossFit coach.