Ultimate Guide to Fitness
Whether you’re looking to drop a few pounds, tone up or maintain the current figure you’ve already worked so hard for, this is your ultimate guide to fitness. Discover the basic vital knowledge you need to get started and learn more about goal-setting, how to stay motivated and what to do when life gets in the way of your health and fitness aspirations. Once you’re ready to make the first step, find out how much you should be working out, what you should be doing and how hard you should be working to get the body you’re after.
A healthy workout regimen includes cardio, strength-training, flexibility and balance but find out how to divvy up your time between all of these areas of fitness and why each is so important. Of course, to lose or maintain weight is impossible without addressing diet so make sense of some diet basics and, finally, figure out what food labels mean and how to navigate the restaurant scene so you can actually avoid ‘dieting’ all together.
In addition to diet and exercise, learn how to address other areas of your life so that you not only get slimmer and trimmer but healthier and happier to ensure lasting results. Last but not least, discover everything you’ve ever wanted to know about maintaining your results once you’ve reached your goals to stay motivated and avoid backsliding into yo-yo dieting and other previous poor lifestyle habits so you can enjoy those results for years to come.
The ACE (American Council on Exercise) Transtheoretical Model (TTM) of Behavioral Change refers to initial motivation as the ‘Contemplation’ stage. In this stage, you’re considering new healthy lifestyle changes including starting a new exercise plan and/or diet. Although you haven’t taken action at this point, this stage is just as important as the rest. If you find yourself losing motivation or slipping back into the ‘Precontemplation’ stage, here are a few fun ways to get and stay motivated:
Create a Vision Board
You can keep things fresh with a Pinterest board or go old school and get out the crafting supplies including glue stick, scissors, a big piece of cardboard and a stack of magazines. Make sure you are pulling pictures that drum up emotions related to the why behind getting healthy and not just images of fit bodies. Keep the board somewhere you’ll see it each and every day so you can’t forget about your goals.
- Put Your Money Where your Mouth Is
If you’re a runner, this is probably all too familiar to you. You talk about every popular upcoming 10K or Half-Marathon but, when it comes down to it, you probably aren’t really racing unless you have some cold hard cash on the line. In a similar fashion, some find success in gathering a group of friends who each donate to a fund and he or she who loses the most weight (or percentage of weight) wins the total.
- Buddy Up
Find a friend with who is also working toward a goal and vow to be each other’s support system. When you start slipping, he or she will be there to talk you up and vice versa. It doesn’t matter if your goals are similar or not but it might be an added bonus if you can also workout and meal prep with a healthy partner in crime.
- Plan a Trip
Planning a trip to a sunny and warm destination is an obvious motivator, especially if wearing a swimsuit will be involved, but planning a trip of any kind can be a motivator to get in shape. If you plan a winter ski trip, you’ll need to have some strength, balance and cardio under your belt to last on the slopes all day and if you plan a reunion trip of any sort, you want to look your best when you run into old friends and family.
Automate your Motivation
Sign up for one of many Quote of the Day apps, text or email lists so you wake up to motivation daily or weekly. Sometimes the simplest of quotes can keep you from stopping for that donut on the way to work or skipping your evening workout because your ‘too busy.’
While goal-setting isn’t a sure fire way to success (you still have to put in the grunt work), it does give you a leg up on the competition.
The difference between a pie-in-the-sky daydream and a goal comes down to the details. To keep you even further ahead of the pack, set SMART goals:
Spend a little time to get a clear picture of what you want. Rather than vaguely stating that you’d like to lose a few pounds or sign up for a race, try something more along the lines of: “I will lose 15 pounds” or “I will sign up for my first 10K and run for the entire length of the race.” Notice that you should also use assertive language in your goals. “I will” is a much stronger message than “I want to.”
This piggybacks on making your goal specific. If you want to lose weight, specify an amount of weight or if you would like your clothes to fit better, pick a size in a specific brand and a specific article of clothing so you can truly track your progress. For example, “I will fit into a size (size #) pair of (brand) jeans.” If your goal isn’t measure able, there’s no way to track your progress or know when to celebrate your victory.
While in some cases ‘anything is possible,’ you also want to make sure you can physically or mentally attain your goal or you are setting yourself up for failure. Think about New Year’s Resolutions. Often they are so lofty and outside of one’s norm that the chances of success are quite slim. For example, losing a healthy 1-2 pounds per week is attainable for most people who have a little weight to lose and are willing to put in the effort while dropping 20 pounds in one month isn’t healthy or attainable for almost anyone. Also, take your schedule into account. If you have several big work projects coming up or a brand new baby, maybe now is not the time to pick up a side gig for additional income or to train for your first full marathon. On the other hand, this does not mean you should make your goals easy. Just make sure they are attainable, even if it’s going to take a lot of time and hard work.
If you do a little soul-searching to make sure your goals align with your interests and that they are something your really, truly want, you’ll have no trouble making sure they are realistic. If you hate running, vowing to run 5 miles daily is not realistic but aiming to lose weight, gain strength, clean up your diet or even earn more money is realistic for almost anyone (with a few specifics, of course). Although many of our goals include a shift in lifestyle and attitude, make sure they are at least something you really want and you’ll be more likely to commit to achieving them.
Once you’ve made sure your goal is specific, measurable, attainable and realistic, it’s time to set a deadline. This is another way to track your progress and ensure additional chances of success. You’ll also have the opportunity to set smaller, stepping stone goals which can help you experience little achievements along the way and keep you on track. Without a deadline, your goals are left open-ended and you could look back, years later with disappointment so make sure each of your goals are time-bound.
Getting Started & Creating a schedule:
After you’ve found your motivation and set your goals, here you’ve moved from the ‘Contemplation’ stage to the ‘Preparation’ stage of change which is all about planning. Here are a few tips to get you started on a healthier and more active lifestyle:
Getting Started with Diet:
Even experienced dietitians will say it’s a challenge to eat healthy without some planning and prep work. Take as many of the following steps as you can to set yourself up for diet success:
- Each weekend, plan your meals for the week ahead to avoid hunger-based meal decisions and to more efficiently use what you have in the fridge or pantry so you waste less food.
- Shop with a grocery list to prevent impulse purchases.
- Don’t avoid the middle of the grocery store. Do most of your shopping around the perimeter of the store but frozen fruits and veggies are great, healthy options and they are picked and packaged during peak season so they’re also a great way to access out-of-season produce.
- Pre-cut veggies and fruits for snacks throughout the week and for quick, after-work meal preparation.
- Hard-boil eggs for easy at-home snacks and portion out nuts for a protein-packed on-the-go option to keep in your purse, desk or car.
Getting Started with Exercise:
- If you’re nervous about getting started with a new exercise routine because you’re afraid you’ll get hurt, hire a personal trainer. Even if you don’t plan to work with him or her long-term, they can show you the proper form for several exercises and give you a rundown on how to use the equipment in your gym.
- If the gym intimidates you and knowing that you’re not alone isn’t enough to get you in the door, try at-home online workouts until you build some confidence and you’re ready for a new challenge. FitnessGlo offers several online classes with top instructors at differing lengths and intensity levels for a low monthly subscription fee.
- If you’re social and want to have fun while you workout, try group fitness classes and make sure you sample different instructors and class types to find what works best for you and to keep your body guessing so you can maximize calorie-burn.
- Book an appointment to exercise. Schedule time in your calendar for exercise and treat it just like a work meeting that you cannot miss and set a reminder on your phone. If you’re attending a group fitness class or meeting with a personal trainer, you obviously need to pay attention to the clock but even if you workout at home, pencil it in.
- Just like booking an appointment for your actual workouts, set a reminder on your phone, work computer or fitness tracking band to talk a walk, stretch or even just stand up every couple of hours. All of these little bits of movement really add up will make your body feel better at the end of the day.
- Skip the conference room and take ‘walking’ meetings at work. Again, simply moving is better than sitting and the total number of minutes you exercise per day counts the same whether it’s all in one block of time or you break it up into smaller segments.
Tracking Progress & Staying Accountable:
Tracking progress is going to look a little different for everyone. Try different methods until you find what works for you. Here are a few common questions when it comes to tracking diet and exercise:
Do I need a fitness tracking band?
Only if it works for you. When they first gained in popularity, fitness tracking bands seemed like little miracle workers that would finally fix America’s obesity epidemic by getting us to move more. Now we realize, just like with anything else, the success of these small but mighty contraptions depends on the person. If you are data-driven and analytical, you’ll likely enjoy viewing and comparing your numbers with yourself or with friends and family.
Should I keep a food journal?
Yes. At least at first. If you’re new to food labels and calorie counts or you haven’t tracked your diet in a while, a food journal is a dramatic eye-opener. Once you’ve recovered from the initial shock of what you’re really eating (‘I eat that much sugar?’ or ‘I only ate one serving of veggies yesterday?’), you’ll start to notice that you might question that second cupcake if you have to write it down or enter into your app of choice. Keeping a food journal long-term is a big commitment and not always feasible or necessary so once you’ve gotten back on track, you can usually set the journal aside and revisit it when needed for a few weeks at a time.
How often should I weigh myself?
If your goals include weight loss, you should weigh yourself but realize that weight fluctuates, day-to-day, for many reasons including water consumption and even the weather so you should weigh yourself often enough to keep track of your progress but not so often that you put too much weight on each and every movement of the dial. Usually once-per-week is sufficient.
Should I take measurements?
Yes. If your goal goes beyond just seeing the number on the scale go down and you would like to increase muscle tone, decrease body fat or fit into a smaller size, the measuring tape is your friend and sometimes a better measure of progress than the scale. Just make sure you hold the measuring tape at the exact same location and with the same degree of tightness each time. A mirror can be a handy tool to help with accuracy and once per month is a good way to gauge changes.
No matter your good intentions, we all have slip-ups and change isn’t easy for anyone so here are a few of the most common roadblocks on the path to health and wellness and detours for each:
According to the American Council on Exercise, lack of time has consistently been the number one excuse not to exercise and eat right for more than 30 years. The facts remain and we all have 24 hours in each day to manage work commitments, family, friends, our health and hopefully have a little fun. Once you use the tips above to get clear on your goals and make a plan of action, you will have an easier time prioritizing your time for what really matters to you and you can save the ‘I don’t have time’ excuse for less important things. “Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem. We all have twenty-four hour days.” – Zig Ziglar
When it comes to exercise, injury can be a real downer whether you’re a weekend warrior or a professional athlete. If your favorite form of cardio is running and you experience a foot injury, it’s easy to throw in the towel and give up completely but rather than give up on yourself and your goals, get creative and work around your injury instead. Look into other forms of cardio or strength to keep your body moving while you heal so when you do get back to your favorite routine, you’ll find your setback wasn’t as great.
Family & Friends
Although this one sounds the same and is similar to the ‘I don’t have enough time’ excuse, it’s specific to using others as your excuse. This is a classic for moms who say they are prioritizing their children over themselves but what’s a better influence on children than a healthy parent? If commitments with family or friends are what’s holding you back, don’t sacrifice your time with them, just do something active when you’re together! Instead of happy hour, invite a few friends to a barre class and take a walk with the family after dinner.
This is no longer a good excuse. Well, maybe it never was but now more than ever, we have options galore when it comes to fitness away from home. Airports are offering more and more healthy snack and meal options and there are several workout apps designed with travelers in mind. The Johnson & Johnson 7-Minute Workout app was specifically created so that busy business travelers could squeeze in a quick workout in their hotel room before or after meetings and Class Pass allows travelers to take group fitness classes in cities all over the country! Even Hyatt hotels will bring a yoga mat and workout shoes to your room if you forget or don’t have room in your carry-on for all of your fitness gear.
Cardio is Vital, Regardless of Goals:
Running, cycling and other cardiovascular activities can seem like a great way to lose weight but even if you’ve met your weight-loss goals, cardio is vital for your well-being so be sure to include this type of movement in your workout routine. Cardiovascular exercise trains your cardiovascular system and since heart disease is still holding strong as the number one killer of Americans, it’s not optional, no matter your size or goals.
The American Heart Association recommends either a total of 150 minutes of moderate cardio per week or 75 minutes of higher intensity cardio. This is just to maintain fitness levels so expect to commit to more movement time if you’re looking to drop any weight.
Why crunches alone will never lead to a 6-Pack
Again, cardio plays a role in any well-rounded exercise routine, no matter your goals. Even if you’re looking to add muscle tone or even to attain a much-desired ‘6-Pack,’ you’ll need cardiovascular exercise to help get you there.
“If sit-ups and crunches alone worked to get that 6-pack stomach, everyone would have one,” says Mike Deibler MS, CSCS, SGX and Owner of San Diego Premier Training, “There is just too much evidence to show that it will not work that way.”
Deibler admits that abdominal strength work is important for stability, performance and potentially even overall size reduction but “Just training a muscle underneath the fat doesn’t lead to increased fat loss in that area so crunches do not necessarily lead to decreased abdominal fat.”
Several studies including one published by Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and a joint study through both University of Massachusetts and University of Kansas support that you cannot ‘spot reduce’ your midsection so Deibler recommends a healthy diet and the inclusion of cardio workouts to reduce body fat and attain that 6-pack or achieve muscle tone anywhere else throughout the body.
How to Gauge Intensity Levels: Heart-Rate vs Rate of Perceived Exertion vs Talk Test
Although knowing your resting heart rate and monitoring your heart rate can be useful information (and perhaps vital for certain heart conditions), we’re learning more and more that it’s not always the most accurate. For one, the most common method of heart rate training is based on the classic ‘220 – your age = your maximum heart rate’ model when it is clear that people of the same age can vary dramatically when it comes to fitness levels and even medications can impact heart rate. Another problem with heart rate training is that most people don’t actually know their true resting heart rate, they just take their pulse when they’re not exercising and call it good.
To get an accurate reading, you need to either wear a fitness tracking band that monitors sleep and heart rate (and, therefore, will take your pulse throughout the night) or you can take your pulse when you first wake up and are still lying in bed and preferably haven’t been startled awake by an alarm. Count your heart beats for 10 seconds and multiply by 6 for your resting heart rate. Take this reading at least three times in one week and use the average for your most accurate resting heart rate.
Now, to determine intensity levels, use the Karvonen Method (which still uses age) but also takes fitness level into account:
If math isn’t your strong suit or you aren’t motivated by numbers, base your level of intensity on feel instead and there are two ways to do this. With the Borg Rate of Perceived Exertion Scale, you simply assess how hard you feel you are working on a scale from 6 to 20 as follows, below. Why 6-20? Dr. Gunnar Borg worked primarily with athletes who had resting heart rates of approximately 60 beats per minute and who worked up to a maximum level of 200bpm.
Another way to monitor intensity by feel is by using the Talk Test which doesn’t require as much of a time commitment as heart rate training, isn’t as subjective as RPE and works for all ages and fitness levels. Not only is the Talk Test a much simpler and more universal way of gauging intensity but a University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Study found that it can also be just as accurate.
Comparison of all three methods:
How to Monitor Calorie Burn
First thing is first, completely ignore the numbers on your favorite cardio machine. Even when you enter your information, the calorie burn output tends to be inaccurate and often inflated, especially in the case of elliptical trainers. If you have a fitness tracking band that takes into account your height, weight and heart rate, it still might not suffice for an Olympic athlete but it will be accurate enough for an active adult with typical fitness and weight-loss goals. If you don’t wear a fitness tracking band, plug your numbers into your favorite app or website to calculate calories burned. MyFitnessPal is the most popular online and app-based food journal and they have a comprehensive exercise calorie calculator. You can use the same process for both cardio and strength-based workouts.
Just like we need cardio in our lives, regardless of our goals, the same holds true for strength and conditioning. If you’re still holding onto the stereotypical picture of a 1980s weight room full of macho dudes, over in the ‘scary’ section of the gym, read on to get inspired to pick up those dumbbells. Make sure to check out our beginners guide to weightlifting as well.
Top Reasons Why You Should Include Strength-Training in Your Exercise Routine:
- Weight-bearing exercise is better than milk at building strong bones
Drink all of the milk you want but weight-bearing exercise is the number one defense against bone density loss and osteoporosis. The International Osteoporosis Foundation has even been known to recommend daily weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening exercise.
- Weight-training prevents injury
A varied strength-based exercise routine increases the energy capability of muscles, makes them more equipped to handle stress (for example: cardiovascular activities) and less susceptible to overuse injury. In addition, by strengthening the muscles that surround a joint, you increase that joint’s stability and decrease the risk of injury in that area.
- Real life tends to mimic the movement patterns of strength-training
Perhaps, many years ago, cardio played a more functional role in our everyday lives when we were, quite literally, often running for our lives. Now, the reverse is true and strength-training tends to mimic everyday life movements like picking up kids, placing something heavy on a shelf or, everyone’s favorite, moving. When we train our bodies in various movement patterns, we’re less likely to experience soreness, discomfort or, even worse, injury when we complete these tasks in real life.
- Muscle burns more calories than fat
Muscle tissue has three times the calorie-burning power of fat tissue so while one pound of fat will only burn 2 calories per hour, one pound of muscle will burn 6 calories in the same amount of time so, with regular weight-training, you’ll watch your overall calorie burn and metabolism pick up speed, even on rest days or when you’re just lounging on the couch!
- Muscle takes up less space than fat
While a pound of muscle and a pound of fat obviously weigh the same, they don’t take up the same amount of space so two people can have drastically different body compositions at the exact same height and weight. Five pounds of muscle is about the size of 3 tangerines while five pounds of fat is roughly the size of three grapefruits.
- Weights provide instant gratification and lasting confidence
There’s a reason why guys will do a few push-ups before a date in the movies. Immediately following a strength-based sweat session, there is a lot more blood pumping through your muscles and it almost looks like you’ve achieved instant results which can also lead to a confidence boost!
Debunking the #1 Strength-Training Myth
Strength & Conditioning: True or False?
Now, test your knowledge to see what you know about weight-bearing exercise.
“Muscle Tone’ is the term to describe that lean, trim figure most of us aspire to replicate
Technically, muscle tone is the tension in a muscle at a resting state. “When people say they want to tone up they are really saying they want to improve body composition,” says Mike Deibler MS, CSCS, SGX and Owner of San Diego Premier Training, “ They want to lose fat over the muscle and develop the muscle underneath so you can see the muscle.”
I can eat more if I include strength & conditioning in my workout routine.
“This is not an excuse to eat anything you want but you will be able to get away with more than someone who is not exercising in this manner,” says Deibler, “Strength training research has shown that regular resistance training leads to better glucose metabolism and increase insulin sensitivity.”
A regular strength-training routine might make the scale go up not down.
If you are building muscle and burning fat, you might notice the scale go up before it goes down while you also notice you’re fitting into smaller jeans so don’t let it discourage you. Just don’t depend solely on the scale. Try various methods of tracking progress, including body composition testing and/or measurements to track fitness progress.
I should only lift heavy weights if I want to ‘bulk up.’
If you haven’t yet, view the video above to dispel this myth which is the most common fear among women who avoid strength-training. Deibler adds that it’s actually very difficult to dramatically increase muscle size for both men and women whether lifting heavy or light weights.
I can prevent age-related falls and injuries with weight-training
In addition to preventing bone density loss, strength-training will both prevent falls and in the unfortunate case of a fall, it will prevent injury because muscles and joints will be more equipped to handle unexpected movements and stress.
The benefits of strength-training extend far beyond physical
“Strength training can improve your attitude and reduce depression,” says Deibler who admits that it’s best to seek the help of a professional in cases of depression but notes that strength-training can provide “great supplemental therapy.” He adds that additional benefits include “improved self-esteem, improved memory and cognition, lessened chronic fatigue, improved sleep, and reduced anxiety to improve overall quality of life.”
Weight-Training is more important for men than women
Muscle tissue is the same for both women and men but Deibler acknowledges that resistance work is usually associated with men. “Men will typically have higher anabolic hormone levels like testosterone and growth hormone so men tend to gain muscle about twice as fast as women but men also tend to lose muscle mass with detraining faster than women,” says Deibler who add that despite any differences, women need strength training as much as men because, regardless of gender, “it will improve overall strength, increase muscular endurance and boost athletic performance and those who are stronger tend to have a better body image and higher energy levels to get more things done throughout the day.”
Weights are the quickest way to lose weight
Cardiovascular activity is actually the quickest way to lose overall weight but this means both fat and lean muscle mass while most people are looking to burn fat and either maintain or gain muscle. A study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology followed three groups of overweight and obese adults on three different fitness plans – one cardio-only group, one strength-only group and a combined exercise group. The cardio-only group lost the most weight (but also lost muscle), the strength-only group gained muscle mass (and weight) and, not surprisingly, the most successful group was the combined cardio and strength group who both lost weight and gained lean muscle mass.
To completely round out your healthy exercise routine, you should not only include cardiovascular exercise and strength-training but you should also stretch and balance on a regular basis.
Ways to stretch
Methods of ‘Stretching’ can include:
A) Traditional static (held) stretches
B) Dynamic movement-based stretches
C) Foam Rolling
- This releases both muscles and fascia (the body’s connective tissue) and is ideal after a workout but is also effective as a warm-up.
- This classic style is safest at the end of a workout so make sure muscles are already warm and hold each position for at least 10-30 seconds.
- Depending on the style, this might also include some strength and balance work but, no matter what, expect to practice flexibility.
- One of these sessions or classes will likely include a little bit of stretching but expect to focus on a core-based strength workout.
- This is typically incorporated into warm-ups or when muscles are cool but more research has been published recently that supports doing this at the beginning and at the end of a workout.
Answer Key: 1-C 2-A 3-D 4-E 5-B
Strike a Pose (or at least a Stretch):
Here are some of the benefits of a regular yoga practice and, if yoga isn’t your thing, you can achieve the same benefits with a full-body stretching routine.
- Increases Flexibility
Perhaps the most obvious but a surprising number of people question whether or not they can even do yoga if they aren’t already flexible. The only way to improve flexibility is to stretch your way there. Yes, it should feel slightly uncomfortable but not painful and you will notice results over time.
Relieves Physical Stress
Stretching makes the body more comfortable is a great way to counter any activity. You probably know you should stretch after a workout and lengthen the muscles that you contracted during that activity but you can also stretch after daily activities to relieve habit-induced or occupation-induced discomfort or pain. Stretch your psoas and hip flexor muscles (the front of hip/hip crease) in a lunge position after sitting at your desk all day and open your shoulders and stretch your chest by interlacing hands behind you after cooking dinner.
Reduces Mental Stress
This is another stereotypical benefit of yoga but that doesn’t mean it’s untrue. That also doesn’t mean you have to chant or practice any funky meditations to experience these benefits. Because the body isn’t a sum of it’s parts but, rather, an interconnected network, releasing tension in muscles will lead to a release tension in the mind as well.
- Helps with Sleep
According to the National Sleep Foundation, there is an extensive list of reasons why people have trouble sleeping but the most commonly self-reported reason is anxiety or stress. This is usually mental stress but, sometimes, insomniacs are dealing with some type of physical stress or injury and yoga or regular flexibility exercises can help cope with all of the above.
- Eases Effort in Sports & Activities
Because yoga or stretching will reduce stress in muscles and joints, you’ll find you move with more ease in your other workouts and activities. With a regular stretching routine, you’ll also find that you need fewer rest and recovery days and that you can handle longer workout sessions or run/swim/cycle faster than before you made flexibility a priority.
The most straight-forward way that yoga and stretching prevent injury is by loosening muscles so they are less susceptible to strains and tears. Now, this might seem counter intuitive because a strain is the result of an over-stretched muscle but this typically occurs during sports or other workouts, so regularly stretching will increase flexibility and can actually prevent over-stretching. More flexible muscles will also cause less stress on nearby joints and can also prevent twists and sprains.
The spine is made to move in all directions but our typical computer-using, car-driving, sedentary lifestyle doesn’t allow for much variation of movement. When you regularly stretch or practice yoga, you’ll experience all directions of spinal movement, including forward, back and side-bending and rotation. This will reduce tightness in the spine itself and ease muscles of the core and back. In addition, hip stretches will assist with ideal seated positions and lumbar (lower back) placement while chest and shoulder openers will ease the thoracic (mid- to upper back) and cervical (neck) spine into proper alignment.
Why Diets don’t Usually Work
There are rare exceptions but, for most people, diets are unsuccessful. Let’s explore why we tend to either have problems sticking to a diet or maintaining the results post-diet.
All or Nothing
Perhaps the most destructive thing about diets is the ‘all or nothing’ mentality attached to most of them. If vow not to eat a single cookie for 6 months, what happens when you indulge in just one? Well, you’ve ruined your diet so you may as well eat the entire batch or box, right? ‘All or nothing’ doesn’t really apply in real life. What if you ate just one cookie but skipped the dressing on your salad at the next meal? That’s probably against the rules of most diets but it’s a perfectly healthy way to approach food.
This is very similar to the ‘all or nothing’ mentality. We treat diets like they are temporary so once the diet is ‘over,’ we’re back in the Wild West, eating anything and everything without abandon. A temporary approach is pretty much always going to lead to temporary results and then, there we are, on the next diet and looking for the next quick fix.
Diets are restrictive in many ways. First of all, one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to nutrition and sometimes, the guidelines are so specific that dieters feel they have to miss out on social occasions and important events just to adhere to a diet. In addition, our calorie needs go down as we lose weight so the same exact diet requirements and restrictions won’t apply to your body at various different weights.
Exercise is irrelevant
Of course, exercise is very relevant for weight-loss and general health and wellness but most diets throw exercise on the back burner. They might encourage you to exercise but might not take into account how exercise will impact your calorie needs. Or they might prioritize exercise but in an unhealthy way by treating it like something you do just to ‘earn’ more food.
The number one reason for skipping workouts or grabbing unhealthy drive-thru food is lack of time. If we already feel pressed for time, it isn’t realistic to expect that we’re all of a sudden going to weight out our portions of food or meticulously track the grams of protein we’re eating each day, long-term. Some of these tracking methods are valuable but best left as temporary eye-openers.
The Science Behind Dieting
To dive deeper into the science of why diets don’t usually work and how they can actually be more harmful than helpful, long-term, watch the following TED Talk:
This is where most diets go off the rails. The restaurant business is just that, a business, and they want to serve food that tastes good to keep customers coming back for more. If you were to prepare the same meal at home and order it at a restaurant, expect the restaurant portion to be larger and contain more salt, fat and/or sugar. Many times, the added ingredients aren’t vital to the dish but they add more flavor and taste trumps health by a landslide in the restaurant business. Does this mean you’re stuck on house arrest if you want to eat healthy? No but you do need to pay attention, choose wisely from the menu and maybe even do a little research before heading to your favorite spot. Here are a few eating out tips, courtesy of Keri Gans, RDN, nutritionist and author of The Small Change Diet:
Food Labels: True or False
One package = One Serving
Even Grab & Go foods that you would assume are one serving could actually contain 3-4 servings per package so pay attention not only to amounts per serving but also servings per package. In addition, pay attention to the serving size itself. If a serving is 3 crackers and there are supposed to be 15 crackers per package (or 5 servings), this is often measured by weight so the package could actually contain 7-8 servings.
‘Natural’ means the same as ‘Organic’
When a package states ‘Natural,’ that doesn’t really mean anything at all since there are currently no regulations on this claim. If you prefer to avoid GMO (genetically-modified organisms) ingredients, look for the ‘NON GMO Project Verified’ label.
Look for ingredients you can pronounce
Look for a list of ingredients that you can pronounce and that you can identify. If you don’t know what it is, search for it on your phone in the grocery store to decide if it’s a simple shelf-stabilizer or a completely unnecessary chemical ingredient.
Pay Attention to Percentages
The % daily value you see on packaged foods is based on a 2,000 calorie diet so unless your nutritional needs line up with this total, ignore percentages and pay more attention to the actual amounts per serving on the left such as how many grams of fat and milligrams of sodium are in the food..
Watch the wording of ‘Organic’ on packages
When a food contains the USDA Organic seal on the front of the package, that means it must contain 95% organic ingredients while the phrase ‘100% organic’ means just that and ‘made with organic ingredients’ means it must be 70% organic. It is expensive to earn the USDA seal so small, local companies might truly be organic but don’t’ yet have the means for the label.
Ingredients show up in the list from most to least amount
Pay most attention to the first few ingredients in the list since the majority of the food is made with these. The ingredients toward the end of the list are still important but much less so because there is much less of these in the food.
If the label reads “Trans Fat 0g,” the food is Trans Fat-free
False. A food must contain at least 0.5 grams of Trans Fat per serving before the manufacture is required to list it and remember that there can be several servings per package. Look for hydrogenated oils in the ingredient list to determine whether or not a food includes Trans fat and avoid when possible. Many recent studies, including this one from the Harvard School of Public Health found that Trans fats have a direct correlation with coronary heart disease.
The Food label is more important than the ingredient list
Because percentages are based on a specific 2,000 diet and because there are politics involved in what must be labeled, the ingredient list is your best bet to figure out what’s really in a packaged food.
Gluten-free, dairy-free, low-carb, low-fat, etc. It’s too much to keep track of the latest popular food restriction and whether or not you should be following course. Unless your doctor has diagnosed you with a food allergy or digestive disorder that requires you to avoid certain foods, it isn’t necessary to eliminate any food group from your diet all together. Of course, you should aim to limit sugar, salt and processed foods or anything in excess but it’s very easy to still eat ‘unhealthy’ even when you cut out gluten or dairy so, once again, there’s no quick fix.
-Mike Deibler MS, CSCS, SGX and owner of San Diego Premier Training
While food allergies and digestive disorders are no joke, many people are treating food restrictions like the newest fad diet. Apparently, the same is true in Australia and videos like this one present a few facts and use a little humor to discuss the gluten-free trend:
What to do instead of Dieting
If diets don’t work for you (as they don’t for most of us), eating healthy isn’t a lost cause. Here are a few things you can do to improve your diet without so many rules and restrictions. Select whether you should practice this technique Always, Most of the Time, Sometimes or Never to reveal the results. (Each answer may appear more than once)
This can be a great temporary eye-opener to reveal how many calories you’re consuming in a day, especially if you can’t seem to drop a few pounds, but it isn’t feasible or fun long-term.
Read Food Labels
Most of the time.
Again, not realistic all of the time (what if you’re pressed for time or a at a friend’s house for dinner?) but strive to be aware of what you’re eating most of the time.
Eat when you’re hungry
You should always eat when you’re hungry and don’t when you’re not unless you mistake boredom for hunger or you’re battling an illness that limits hunger (in which case, seek the advice of your physician or registered dietician).
Aim to eat more fruits and vegetables
Always. Especially fresh produce and especially vegetables and frozen fruits and veggies are packaged at peak season so they can work as a great substitute for fresh when your favorite ingredients are out-of-season or unavailable.
Most of the time.
Aside from fresh and frozen fruits with naturally-occurring sugars, try to limit your intake. Experiment with baking recipes with a little less sugar and always attempt to avoid added sugars in packaged or prepared foods.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most Americans consume more than the recommended amount of sodium and more than 75% of the salt in our diets comes from packaged and restaurant foods. Because high sodium consumption can contribute to high blood pressure and increase heart attack and stroke risk, we should all aim to eat less salt.
Eliminate Dairy & Gluten
Avoid completely eliminating food groups unless you’ve been told to by your physician.
Purchase fewer packaged foods
Because this will lead to lower sugar and salt consumption and likely lead to the purchase of more fresh produce, aim to reduce pre-packaged food purchases.
Most of the time.
This is a great way to stay on track and make good decisions so practice prepping for meals and snacks as often as possible! Check back to Section 1: Motivation, Goal-Setting and Getting Started for some great Meal Prep tips.
– Joel Kahn, MD, Professor of Medicine and author of The Whole Heart Solution: Halt Heart Disease Now with the Best Alternative and Traditional Medicine & Dead Execs Don’t Get Bonuses: The Ultimate Guide to Survive Your Career With A Healthy Heart
Diet & exercise is the obvious path to fitness and your goal weight but to truly be healthy and feel your best, that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Sleep and stress-management not only prevent disease and help you achieve optimal function but they can assist in getting you to (and keeping you at) that goal weight. In addition, sleep and stress go hand in hand and impact one another.
“Adequate and sound sleep lowers cortisol and stress to lower blood sugar, blood pressure and tendency to hold onto weight,” says Joel Kahn, MD, professor of medicine and author of The Whole Heart Solution: Halt Heart Disease Now with the Best Alternative and Traditional Medicine & Dead Execs Don’t Get Bonuses: The Ultimate Guide to Survive Your Career With A Healthy Heart.
Both quality and inadequate sleep impact stress. Conditions like sleep apnea and snoring create stress and drive inflammation higher and “short or interrupted sleep leaves the body unprepared for daytime stress and more prone to toxicity and weight gain,” says Kahn who adds, “treat the sleep, lose the love handles.”
Kahn also recommends managing stress to prevent weight gain, obesity and battle bad habits because “stress is the culprit for (among other poor choices) returning to smoking, a poor diet and skipping the gym.”
What if lack of time is your main source of stress? When the alarm clock goes off, should you sleep that extra hour or spend it at the gym? According to Kahn, you don’t have to choose.
“I would sleep in for 45 minutes then do a 15-minute HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) routine which can provide the same benefits (if you work hard enough) as 50 minutes of steady bike or elliptical workouts.”
How Much Sleep Do I Need?
The typical, average adult needs between 7-9 hours of sleep per night but that can increase with a lot of exercise, pregnancy or illness. Here are the general recommendations from the National Sleep Foundation:
Why Lack of Sleep can lead to Weight Gain
Sleep impacts so many bodily systems and several of these impacts can lead to weight gain. Click to reveal whether lack of sleep leads to an increase or decrease in function:
Sleep deprivation lowers the hormone Leptin which works to notify the body of satiety and according to a recent study published in the Journal of Sleep Research, there is a direct correlation between the amount of REM sleep you get and how much Leptin is in your system.
It’s not your imagination. In a recent study published by the medical journal, Obesity, they found temporary lack of sleep led to higher levels of the hormone Ghrelin (the hunger hormone) and that study participants ate approximately 188-468 additional calories, mostly from sweets, the day after not getting enough sleep.
Decision Making Ability
Several cognitive functions, including memory and reason, are less efficient with less than a full night of sleep so when the body and mind are tired, it’s easier give in to comfort cravings, reach for unhealthy convenience foods and skip healthy habits.
This isn’t immediate and isn’t a guarantee but lack of sleep, over time, can lead to higher blood pressure which can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.
This might be an obvious one but when you don’t get enough sleep, even just for one night, lack of energy can cause your chances of working out or even just being productive the next day to greatly diminish.
Inadequate sleep reduces the body’s ability to control blood sugar. Pair that with less activity and increased comfort cravings and the body’s metabolism all but screeches to a halt.
10 Tips for a Better Night’s Sleep:
After overhauling your diet and increasing your frequency of exercise, the work isn’t done. To maintain the results of a healthy diet and fitness routine, you must also maintain your new lifestyle habits.
Tips to Maintain Weight
Studies reveal that although diet may have more of an impact on initial weight loss, exercise plays more of a role in keeping the weight off and de-conditioning begins after only a few days of skipped workouts.
Revisit your Motivation
It’s always a good idea to reconnect (link back to Motivation section) with why you wanted to get fit and healthy in the first place and it can be a great motivator when you’re reminded that old habits die hard.
Limit Electronic Usage
The less time you are sitting at your desk or on the couch means the more time you’re moving and any amount of movement burns more calories than sitting.
Your initial weight-loss or fitness goal likely came with a prize attached. As long as the prize doesn’t set you back into old habits, this is a healthy way to get and stay on track.
Get Zen & Sleep it Off
Notice when lifestyle gets in the way and address sleep and stress as quickly as possible before they impact other areas of your health.
Often thirst disguises itself as hunger and if you were used to overeating in the past, it’s a hard habit to break so, if you feel hungry but might actually be bored or thirsty, drink a big glass of water before you reach for any snacks.
Avoid an ‘All or Nothing’ Attitude
Remember that ‘All or Nothing’ approaches don’t often work in the real world so avoid this attitude, especially with diet, and check out the tips below for how to navigate between the extremes.
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– Keri Gans, RDN, nutritionist, author, The Small Change Diet