Sticking to New Year’s Resolutions

BLOC Head Nutrition Coach, Gillian Ward, gives us her tips for making it out of January without letting our New Year's goals collapse before we've really started to make progress. She advocates long-term, sustainable changes, a measured approach, and the involvement of a support community. Read this and finish January strong.

Sticking to New Year’s resolutions: 5 Tips to Help You Survive January With Your Goals Intact

By: Gillian Ward, BLOC Head Nutrition Coach 

Late January is upon us. The winter doldrums are here. Many of us made New Year’s resolutions a few weeks ago, and it’s starting to get tough. The training program that we started is “too demanding” to keep up. The weather is not conducive to outdoor exercise. Schools are canceled due to the weather leaving our schedules in disarray, and our gym time interrupted.  Cold and flu season is here. High fat/high-calorie foods provide the comfort that we seek when daylight is short, days are cold, and we are trapped at home. Football is on—what better excuse for wings, chips, and beer?

It sounds like a pretty big list of potential obstacles, doesn’t it? Well, it is. Our success at sticking to the plan is determined by how we manage many of the factors above. We often set ourselves up for failure when making resolutions because we expect that, on January 1st, we will be able to give unlimited time and resources to our training and diet. Additionally, we believe—or should I say hope—that we can change habits, patterns, fitness level, body composition, and so on overnight. 

Many of us will come out of the gate too hard and crash and burn. I see this every year as a former gym owner and coach. New people come into the gym and sign up for the biggest, most expensive training packages, hoping to go from total inactivity to multiple days per week of grueling exercise. Most of those same people put themselves on a very restrictive diet at exactly the same time. The result? By the end of January, these folks are back at the McDonald’s drive-through and sheepishly calling and asking for a refund on their gym membership, or they just disappear quietly never to be heard from again.

We know that we didn’t put on 50lbs of excess weight or go from being the high school quarterback to a severely deconditioned, overstressed workaholic overnight.  These things took time, and they take time to reverse.

The following is a short list of tips from my many years of experience and observation of those things that help people stick to their resolutions and make real, long term sustainable changes. Many of us, as members of the Barbell Logic community, already do these things under the expert guidance of a coach, but it is helpful to have them reinforced. If you already practice these strategies, share them with a loved one that may be struggling. It is likely that there is someone in your own home that is starting to lose steam and motivation. 

1. Start Small with Exercise. 

Instead of planning to exercise 5 days per week, start off with 2 days per week in the month of January. Then, go to 3 days per week  in February. You can add more training volume as your body adapts to the exercise and the changes to your schedule. It helps to think of exercise as medicine. If the medicine is new to your body, it is likely that a small dosage will yield the desired effect. As your body adapts, you will require a higher dose. If you start the dose off too high, you may “overdose,” resulting in extreme soreness, disinterest in continuing, and ultimately a cessation of the plan altogether.  If you are new to a lifting program, do only what your coach instructs you to do. Do not add more exercise because you feel like it’s not enough. Resistance training is highly potent. Quality trumps quantity. 

2. Don’t Starve. 

Many of us came off of a holiday eating season and have been consuming hundreds of extra calories beginning around Halloween and stretching into the New Year. We have trained ourselves to eat more. The trick to long term fat loss and lean muscle retention is to eat slightly less than we need for maintenance. This will produce a steady rate of change and keep our metabolisms fired up.  Why would anyone choose to eat 1,200 calories per day when we could optimize fat loss at 2,00 calories?  

Instead of starving, clean up your diet by making healthy selections and starting off with two weeks of weight maintenance.  Slowly, from there, you can ratchet down the calories slightly each week over the next several weeks until you get into a groove that optimizes your performance and fat loss goals. Determining maintenance calories is one of the most important tools for optimal results. This requires diligent tracking and being honest with yourself about your intake. 

If you are a healthy, active individual, steer clear of all diets that are less than 1,500 calories per day. Very low-calorie diets will backfire by wrecking your metabolism, causing loss of muscle tissue, resulting in low energy levels that inhibit your ability to train, and making you an all-around grumpy and miserable person. If you can’t sustain it, it’s not worth it. 

For some of us, the caloric deficit required to elicit fat loss is as simple as cutting out soda, cutting out processed junk food, and choosing to eat at home more often than going out. 

3. Pick a Goal that Has a Short-Term Time Frame.

If you started in January, choose a goal that extends no later than late March. Most of us do not have the bandwidth for much longer than that. College runs in semesters, books in chapters, TV programs in episodes.  These are all ways that we process information in small chunks. This will also allow us to re-evaluate our direction periodically and not fall off the wagon. The goal can be anything that you wish, but the point is to have a tangible and measurable goal. Goals such as “lose weight” or “get in shape” are too vague. We need to be able to quantify it for it to have meaning and to serve as continued motivation. Here are a few examples of reasonable goals for the first quarter of 2020:

  1. My goal is to drop a dress size.
  2. My goal is to lose 2” off of my waist.
  3. My goal is to compete in a strength lifting meet in March.
  4. My goal is to go on vacation with my husband and have the confidence to wear a bikini.
  5. My goal is to get in 3 days per week of training, no matter what life throws at me.
  6. My goal is to do a pull-up.
  7. My goal is to reduce my blood pressure before my next Dr’s visit.

With the exception of #4 (the confidence goal), all of these goals have metrics and can be tracked. Once you reach the goal, give yourself a pat on the back, re-evaluate and move on to the next one. 

4. There is No All-or-Nothing With This. 

Every meal and every workout is an opportunity to succeed. Do your best, and expect some slip-ups. Slipping up is okay once in a while as long as you get right back on the plan. If you adhere to the plan 80% of the time, you will be pretty astounded by the results that you achieve. If you eat a donut for breakfast, make a better choice at lunch rather than deciding that the day is ruined already and continuing along a destructive path. Let the guilt go.  Instead, focus that energy on putting systems in place to avoid the same pitfall.

5. Don’t Go It Alone; Support is Essential. 

Group programs work well because of the support of and accountability to others. Start by making your friends and loved ones aware of your goals and how you plan to achieve them. Ask that they be respectful of your wishes to improve yourself and not sabotage your efforts. Tell them to get on you if you start slipping. Recognize that when you make significant life changes, there will be people that are upset by this. Focus instead on the people that are willing to help. 

Most of you reading this have already taken this step by becoming part of the Barbell Logic community and enlisting the ongoing guidance and support of an expert. 

Now take these tips and re-focus. Results are achieved through consistency. There are no secrets to expedited results. No short cuts if you want lasting changes. Chip away one day at a time, stay focused on the goal, and give it your best.  

Homework Assignment:

Write down your goals for the first quarter of 2020 and put it somewhere that it will be a constant reminder. Also, share those goals with at least one important person in your life. 

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