Lesson 1: Put Nutrition Before Exercise.
Isn't it true that when most people think about losing weight or getting in shape, they think about exercise? They get a gym membership, hire a personal trainer, or look to magazines or internet articles for tips to getting into shape. The fact is, exercise alone won't help anyone to lose weight. Think about all the people you see in the gym day after day who are working hard, but aren't making any physical progress. Why is this? Because they are failing to put nutrition before exercise.
Don't get me wrong, exercise is a crucial part to successfully lose weight and to get healthy. But, research shows that with exercise alone you can only expect to lose only about half a pound to one pound per month. I imagine that this kind of weight loss is NOT going to inspire or motivate many of us - especially for an extended period of time!
This is why first focusing on nutrition and your eating habits will be the key to your weight management success. Include exercise as well, but don't rely on it as the sole means to losing weight. By doing this, you can expect to lose five times more fat in the same one month period. I will repeat that...you'll lose five time more fat - not water and not important muscle! This means you are not just losing weight, but rather you are improving your body composition - losing fat and maintaining or building muscle. Muscle is metabolically active, meaning it will improve or keep your metabolism going. Body fat, on the other hand, is not metabolically active and will actually contribute to a decrease in your metabolism.
Bottom Line: Yes, exercise is a component of living a healthy lifestyle and is necessary for proper weight loss. On the other hand, you MUST put nutrition first in order to properly lose weight and improve body composition.
Lesson 2: Find a BIG Motivator.
In order for anyone to make big changes when it comes to their lifestyle, it is imperative that motivation come from inside rather than external motivators. Otherwise, the changes are only temporary and their is no "buy in" to continue the new behaviors. So how do you get this "motivation?" It's finding your "reason why" - the true and real reason(s) why and how these changes are going improve your life. What will be different? How will you feel? What will you look like? What will you be able to do because you've made these changes? Who will this positively impact other than yourself? The answers to these questions are going to be your true motivator. They are what will get you fired up inside and push you to do the things you never thought you'd do.
But sometimes you need extra motivation to actually start making change. You need a big motivator that pushes you into action. This could be in the form of a support group, working with a dietitian and/or trainer, or commiting to not buy anything for yourself or others until you reach your goals.
Bottom Line: Knowing your "why" is the key to getting and keeping the motivation to keep going. What is your BIG motivation? Does it keep you up at night? Does is make you mad or excited when you think about it? If not, you're not digging deep enough. Your why needs to be bigger than you. How can you make it even bigger? Make a list of ALL the reasons why living a healthier lifestyle is important to you and commit to reading it outloud EVERY day!
Lesson 3: Find Something to Lose.
Accountability is another key to staying consistent. Without this, we are unlikely to follow through with our intentions. There are just too many excuses why we "can't" do it that we literally get in our own way. In order to build in this accountability, there needs to be something at stake. Something to lose if you don’t follow through or if you drop out early.
In the beginning of your setting your goals, make sure to set-up a system where you have something to lose. Put aside a certain amount of money (maybe $100) that you would have spent on a weight loss program, personal trainer, or gym membership. Tell yourself that when you reach your goal, you can use the $100 for something special for yourself. If you give up or drop out, however, you forfeit the money and it will remain untouched until the next time you are ready to commit to yourself again. Don't have a lump sum of money to put aside? Each day, commit to putting $1-$5 aside. Don't touch the money, but keep telling yourself that when you reach your goal, that money will be yours to spend on yourself. The harder you make it to quit, the easier it is to succeed.
Bottom Line: Raise the stakes and put something at risk to keep you going. What are your ways to keep you motivated? Please comment - you never know who you'll inspire!
Lesson 4: Start Small, But Be Consistent.
If something is important, do it every day; if it’s not important, don’t do it at all. This statement is SO true. If you can focus on what is important to you and put it into action, your success will follow.
How many times have you made an effort to change and you try to do everything all at once? You wake up in the morning with the intention to eat well, exercise using your new and aggressive workout program and dozens of other changes throughout your day. This is called the all-or-nothing approach. It may work for a week or two, but it's only a matter of time until we fall back into our old habits - feeling more defeated than when we started. This is why it's critical to practice one small change at a time, rather than trying to accomplish everything all at once.
My challenge to you. Put your past behind you. Don't worry about the future. Simply focus on TODAY. We can't do anything about the past and our choices today will predict our future. What can you do today that will help you move closer to your goals?
Taking small steps towards your goals will, over time, build upon one another until eventually you have established a healthy mind-set when it comes to eating and exercise. Practicing these healthy habits will no longer be a struggle, but rather just "what you do."
Bottom Line: Commit to one simple change. What can you truly do today that will propel you towards your goal(s)?
Lesson 5: Be Confident that You CAN Achieve Your Goals.
As we just discussed, too many people attempt to change too much all at once. What ends up happening is that we get discouraged and end up not changing anything at all in the end. This is why, whatever you decide to do or change, you must be confident that you can consistently commit to doing it. Remember, everything we do in life is a habit. Working on establishing new habits doesn't happen by only practicing it a few times. This happens by consistently practicing a new behavior until, eventually, it just becomes "what you do." Ask yourself the following question to determine your readiness and confidence:
“On a scale of 1 to 10 — 1 being not confident, and 10 being very confident — how confident are you that you can do this one habit every day?”
If you say it's a 9 or a 10, congratulations! You can begin practicing your new habit immediately. If you answer anything other than a 9 or 10, you may need to make your new habit a bit easier in order to realistically be able to follow through with your intentions. You know yourself better than anyone, so commit to what you KNOW you can do. Remember, you can always build upon this once you have successfully accomplished it. That's what goal setting is all about!
Think of this example: Your goal was to eat more fruits and vegetables and you are currently only eating a few per week. Instead of making a goal to eat five servings of vegetables every day, you could start with eating 1 per day. Once that becomes a habit, strive to eat 2 per day.
Bottom Line: Make sure you have confidence in every goal you set. If you need to make your goal more realistic...do it! You can always build upon it in the future...
Lesson 6: Find Some Form of Accountability.
I'm here to tell you that accountability is the key to your success. We all need some form of accountability to get us doing the things we don't want to do or don't have the motivation to do. The best form of accountability is finding someone you can talk to. Someone who will hold you accountable and will pick you up when your motivation is low.
Here are some questions your accountability partner could ask you on a regular basis:
Did you practice your new habit today?
Did you do your workout?
Did you read your goals today?
This form of accountability will help you stay on track regardless of what is going on in your life. You can also find other ways to hold yourself accountable such as journaling daily, setting up a blog and documenting your day-to-day or week-to-week successes and challenges, etc.
Bottom Line: Accountability will be the key to your success. Without this, your likely to hang up the towel when challenges come your way.
Lesson 7: Measure Day-to-Day Actions, not the Scale.
Simply stepping on the scale isn't going to help you lose weight. It's your day-to-day actions that determine whether or not the scale and what we see in the mirror is going to change. In other words, you shouldn't focus on losing 20 pounds since just verbalizing this statement isn't going to make it happen. What you can control are your actions - the choices you make each day such as making healthy food choices or not, taking time to exercise or not, making an effort to go to sleep at a decent time or not, etc. Each day you step on the scale, you’re focusing on the one thing you don't have control over.
How many times have you said to yourself, “I still have X amount of weight to lose. I’m not even close to there yet. This is so frustrating.”
Stop doing this to yourself! Instead of focusing on the outcome, focus on your actions, the small, healthy things you can do consistently every day.
“I’m going to do my workout today.”
“I’m going to practice my new habit and eat 5 servings of vegetables.”
“I’m going to read my goals twice per day.”
The fact is, the actions that you practice daily will, over time, become habit. Healthy habits = the long-term results you are looking for. If you only focus on the outcomes, your apt to become frustrated and eventually, may quit.
Bottom Line: Track what you have control over – your actions.
Lesson 8: Let an Accountability Partner Track Your Results.
Your job is to stay busy and focused on your daily habits and new healthy behaviors. What you don't need to be doing is tracking your personal results - leave this to someone else such as a friend, family member, co-worker, personal trainer or dietitian. Doing so will enable you to monitor your progress, but only doing so every few weeks with your accountability partner.
This frees you to focus on the most important thing within your control: your daily behaviors.
Bottom Line: Find someone who can act as your accountability partner to monitor your progress and prevent you from doing any wondering and worrying.
Lesson 9: Find or Create A Support Group.
The key to ongoing success is to find or create a support group that will encourage you to continue working towards your goals. These individuals should cheer you on and encourage you when times are tough. Avoid spending too much time with individuals who pull you down, discourage your efforts or who are negative.
Did you know that you're the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with? This isn't just a theory. Research shows that people who have a strong network of friends, co-workers, family members, or even complete strangers on the Internet often have more significant results than someone who goes at it alone. This may mean for many of you that you'll need to do a social audit. If you can't change those around you, change those around you - if you get my drift!
By finding or creating a strong support network, you'll be able to push through the barriers that come up (as we know they always do). A good support network includes individuals who will be there for you when you're excited, confused about what to do next, frustrated and/or wanting to give up. These individuals will offer you support, guidance and encouraging feedback to help you on your way.
This may mean sitting down with your significant other explaining to them how they can support you. It could be starting a lifestyle management blog and inviting your friends and family to join. You may ask a close friend to give you the support you need. You may also want to consider joining a lifestyle management group, such as my TLS lifestyle management class I teach. Whatever you do, you need support around you from those who truly understand how important living a healthier lifestyle is to you. Without this, you're likely to slip back into old habits the next time things get tough.
Bottom Line: Remember, you’re the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with. Look at those around you. Do they mimick the person you want to be? Do they live a healthy lifestyle? Are they positive? Will they encourage you when times get tough? Choose wisely, and make sure to build a good support group.
Lesson 10: Do Something - Anything - Right Now!
The key is to make one simple change right now. Don’t try tackling everything all at once. Instead, decide what is realistic for you to begin changing RIGHT NOW. Do you have a support network? Do you have an accountability partner? If not, start there.
Next, go through the above list and determine what you don't have. Do you have confidence in the workout and nutrition plan you are going to follow? Do you need to simplify your plan in order for you to not get discouraged?
Again, pick one goal and start there. Every day is a new day. You can ALWAYS build upon your accomplishments. We all have to start somewhere, but doing something is the key. Getting started is truly the most important lesson of all.
Here's a recap of the top 10 lessons of 2012:
1. Put nutrition before exercise.
2. Find a BIG motivator.
3. Find something to lose.
4. Start small, but be consistent.
5. Be confident that you CAN achieve your goals.
6. Find some form of accountability.
7. Measure day-to-day actions, not the scale.
8. Let an accountability partner track your results.
9. Find or create a support group.
10. Do something - anything - right now!
Alissa Robertson, MS, RD