So you decide to start exercising. Your reasons may range from wanting to lose weight to getting fitter, looking better, running a marathon or perhaps your last visit to your doctor didn’t go too well and you’ve been told you have to knock off the pounds, cut down on your food and so on.
With all good intentions and some trepidation you take yourself to the gym, hire a trainer, perhaps meet a dietician and get started with your newfound virtuous purpose.
You are enthusiastic initially. You want to lose that weight and get with the program. A few weeks to months down the road the initial enthusiasm starts to wane. You start skipping workouts, that diet plan is making you ‘hangry’. (a newly coined word for ‘angry’ because you are hungry!). It’s frustrating and does little for your self esteem.
The most common reasons for lack of compliance with an exercise or healthy eating program
Whatever your reason for starting an exercise program, once you start; you have to – Trust in the process.
– Eat clean
– Exercise smart
– Make good choices through the day
– Address other aspects of your life
– Be patient
– Reward yourself
Most people falter in one or all the above and still expect spectacular results. The science behind weight loss is such that it simply cannot happen overnight. The body has to go through the process of changing gradually. It often plateaus; weight loss stalls and you could get discouraged. This is especially true for those inclined towards instant gratification.
Eat clean – If there were two things you should eliminate from your diet it would be sugar and processed food. Eat mainly whole foods, plenty of vegetables and fruit, including enough protein (especially plant proteins like legumes, lentils, beans, nuts and seeds) and some high quality fats.
While many fad diets abound, you have to find a healthy ‘eating plan’, not necessarily a prescribed, rigorous ‘diet’ that will suit your lifestyle. It has to be adapted to your palate, work hours, travel and recreational activities. It goes without saying that encouraging the entire family to eat clean most days of the week, (with occasional treats) goes a long way in supporting weight loss and health for everyone concerned. Women often tell me that they sorrowfully, stay away from the family dinner table to ‘avoid temptation’. That’s a hard way to live and considering this is supposed to be a lifetime commitment, it doesn’t make much sense. Of course there will be times when you eat out, eat on airplanes or at office lunches. Over time, given enough time, you will learn to eat sensibly even on these occasions. You learn to make the right choices. Eating Clean becomes a lifestyle.
Exercise Regularly – Regular exercise has to be a lifetime commitment. It also has to suit your lifestyle. Planning to workout seven days a week with an already hectic work and family schedule is bound to fail.
Your exercise routine has to include cardio, strength training and flexibility in appropriate proportions to suit your needs. It also has to be of adequate intensity that is gradually increased with time, as you get fitter. Doing the same thing, months on end will cause stagnation and boredom. If you miss a workout, or a couple of workouts, get right back on the saddle and keep going. The mistake many people make is to fall right off the saddle and stay on the floor. They give up too soon at the first signs of trouble.
Exercise smart – You have to be strategic in your exercise. Longer or harder is not always better. There is a time and place for low intensity, long duration exercise. There is also a time and place for high intensity interval training. An exercise routine that you can fit into your day may mean a quick workout on some days and longer ones on others. We have to also think about getting the best out of our investment of time.
Don’t forget the weight training to build muscle mass. If there is one thing that will help you sustain fat loss it is building muscle. I’ve elaborated on this in my book ‘Gain To Lose’.
Make good choices through the day – An hour of exercises does not entitle you to be sedentary through the rest of your day, neither does it warrant eating with abandon. Making good, conscious, mindful choices through the day goes a long way in helping you achieve your goals. Even small interventions like walking as much as you can, taking the stairs, not sitting for long periods of time, managing stress with the appropriate tools like time management, meditation, breathing and maintaining healthy, supportive relationships are important. Stay mindful through the day.
Address other aspects of your life – Sleep deprivation, uncontrolled stress, lack of authentic social relationships, loneliness, depression and presence of toxic relationships can contribute to weight gain or the prevention of weight loss. All the aspects of wellbeing need to be considered if you want long-term solutions. Of course life is never perfect but being cognizant of these things and how they may be playing into your weight and therefore your health is the first step to overcoming a weight issue. Learning to deal with our imperfect lives is more important than trying to make it perfect.
Be patient – The body has to adapt to the new lifestyle of clean eating and regular exercise. A new lifestyle takes a while getting used to not just physically but psychologically and emotionally. If you are accustomed to eating a bag of chips in front of your TV everyday, then, stopping this habit will create cravings that have to be managed with appropriate tools until they can be overcome.
Weight loss takes time. This may vary.
Initial weight loss can be quite drastic and no doubt thrilling, only to find, it stalls. This is the time to increase the intensity of your workouts, change them around, revisit your eating and keep moving.
Keys to maintaining patience & staying the course –
Reward yourself appropriately –The human body appreciates reward. So you have to set up a system whereby when you achieve small goals you reward yourself (not with a sweet treat, because that would be self-sabotage), on a regular basis. It has been found that by doing that you establish motivation to continue. Perhaps a massage, new workout clothes and so on.
You have to stay on course. A couple of detours are inevitable and to be expected. It does take effort and a willingness to commit to a lifetime of lifestyle change. Many people go right back to their old habits after they have lost their weight only to find it creeping back. How can you expect it not to?
All of the above may seem rather mundane. Where is the magic pill you ask? Where is that solution for an instant and permanent fix? Truth is, there isn’t one! You have to trust in the process and wait for your body to respond, which it will, if you do it right.
Dr. Sheela Nambiar MD, Obgyn
Lifestyle Medicine Physician Dip LM BSLM
Fitness Consultant NAFC