You’ve likely changed since your last big fitness accomplishment. Do you have new responsibilities or a new job? Are you more fit or do you have less weight to lose? All of these factors will affect your workout schedule and how you incorporate healthy eating. It’s important to adjust your new goals to who you are now, not who you were then.
Start with what worked.
What has been your secret to success in the past? Does waking early ensure you get in your workout? Does cooking make-ahead meals ensure healthy eating? As you revise your goals to match your current lifestyle, keep those practices that have always worked for you. Give them another try before completely revamping your plan. They will likely help you reach your goals once again. If they don’t, you can always revise as you progress.
Revise what didn’t work.
Have you always disliked weight lifting at the gym? Or maybe you choked down kale despite detesting its flavor? If you are going to stick with healthy changes, you have to be able to live with them. Weight lifting can be incorporated into muscle conditioning classes, circuit training, and even Pilates and yoga. There are plenty of vegetables that offer nutrients besides kale. Find things you enjoy and your new healthy lifestyle will be much easier to maintain.
Choose the right challenge.
There is a sweet spot when it comes to goal setting. Choose something that is too easy and you will get bored. Choose something incredibly hard and you may get discouraged and injured. Set goals based on where you are now. Did you just walk your first 5K? Train to run one, or to walk your first 10K. Focus on losing the next 10 pounds, not the next 40. Once you accomplish a short term goal, assess its difficulty. Set your next goal based on how you feel about the challenge.
Get the timing right.
Most people approach fitness goals with enthusiasm, but they fail to consider factors that make it difficult to reach that goal at the current time. The peak of summer heat or the dead of winter may not be the best time to start training for a half marathon. When the weather restricts your workouts, you might give up altogether. Consider a race later or earlier in the year. It’s also difficult to lose 20 pounds in the midst of the holiday season. A 5 pound weight loss is a big accomplishment with such a busy schedule and endless food temptations. Set yourself up for success and choose a timely goal.
A non-stop schedule makes getting the rest you need difficult while also pushing stress levels to the limit. You might think you will recover once the holidays are over, but at that point the damage may be done. Research shows that both sleep and stress are linked to your weight loss success. Keeping rest and stress relief at the top of your priority list will ensure you get through a hectic period while still hanging onto your health and your waistline.
Sleep is often viewed as a luxury rather than a necessity. This encourages squeezing more tasks into the day at the cost of a restful night’s sleep. Many people operate on five to six hours per night, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most adults need seven to nine hours to function at their full potential.
Lack of sleep has bigger consequences than tiredness. Research shows that sleep influences the hormones that regulate appetite, preventing weight loss and often resulting in weight gain. There are three main appetite hormones – ghrelin, leptin, and cortisol. Ghrelin and cortisol stimulate appetite giving you the urge to eat more. Leptin suppresses appetite signaling fullness. When you don’t get enough sleep ghrelin and cortisol production increases and leptin production decreases. This results in increased cravings and hunger which can lead to a higher calorie intake that causes weight gain.
Stress and lack of sleep often go hand-in-hand. Stressful situations can keep you up at night and tiredness and irritability can make daily tasks more stressful. High stress also causes a spike in cortisol further triggering food cravings, especially for high-calorie carbohydrates. This constant increase in appetite can make it difficult to resist unhealthy snacks and grazing between meals.
Set Your Priorities
Making sleep and stress control a priority will better prepare you to accomplish your endless to-do list while keeping your weight in check. Follow these tips for increasing sleep and reducing your stress levels.
Set a regular schedule for the time you go to bed and wake every day.
If you sometimes experience insomnia, get your workout in at least four hours before bedtime and avoid caffeine in the afternoon.
If your mind races at night, keep a notebook and pen by the bed. When a thought or task pops in your head, write it down, forget about it, and get some sleep.
Exercise, even if you can only fit in 10 minutes. Every little bit will help to reduce stress.
Add stretching exercises and short walks throughout the day to give yourself a break from stressful work.
Delegate your to-do list. Are there things that family and friends can assist with like cleaning, shopping, or cooking? Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
If cravings and hunger increase, take time to evaluate your sleep schedule and stress level. Make changes to gain control before you start seeing the evidence in the form of extra pounds on the scale.
There is nothing wrong with choosing a few special treats during the holidays, but going overboard can undo weeks of healthy eating and exercise. Before you make the decision to cave into a craving, use this guide as a reminder of how hard you will have to work to offset the extra calories.
Candied Sweet Potatoes (1/2 cup)
Burn it off: Walking at 3.5 miles per hour for 60 minutes.
Lighten it up: Serve baked sweet potatoes topped with 5 mini-marshmallows. 172 calories
Gingerbread (1 slice)
Burn it off: Fast ballroom dancing for 45 minutes.
Lighten it up: Choose 1 to 2 small gingerbread cookies instead. 150 to 200 calories
Peppermint Mocha (12 ounces, made with 2% milk and whipped cream)
Burn it off: Weight training for 50 minutes.
Lighten it up: Ask for skim milk and no whipped cream. 220 calories
Eggnog (1 cup)
Burn it off: Shoveling snow for 52 minutes.
Lighten it up: Choose light or low-fat eggnog and cut your serving to ½ cup. 140 calories
Homemade Pecan Pie (1 slice)
Burn it off: Jogging 5.2 miles per hour for 48 minutes.
Lighten it up: Have only half a slice or choose a slice of pumpkin pie instead. 228 calories
*All calorie expenditures are based on a 150 pound female.
Research shows that reducing calorie intake alone is slightly more effective for weight loss than exercise alone, but combining these approaches leads to long term success. It can be tough to fit exercise into an already busy schedule, but the boost in metabolism you get from burning extra calories and building muscle makes it worth the effort. If the scale is stuck despite your healthy eating, add walking, jogging, dancing, or strength training to your routine to boost the calories you burn each day. (See How to Lose Weight: Diet or Exercise?)
You aren’t eating enough.
It’s true that weight loss results when you eat fewer calories than you burn through activity, but your body needs fuel for energy. When you drastically reduce your calorie intake, you can send your body into starvation mode which causes it to conserve energy and stall weight loss. Other symptoms include a loss of muscle mass and feelings of exhaustion. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) advises that women should consume no fewer than 1200 calories per day, and men no fewer than 1700 calories per day. It’s important to find a balance of food intake and exercise that keeps you full and energetic while also creating the calorie deficit you need for weight loss.
You are dehydrated.
Research shows that dehydration can cause a drop in metabolism. Drinking plenty of water keeps the series of reactions that support a healthy metabolism running smoothly. If you are unsure of how much water you should drink each day, see our post for calculating your daily recommended water intake.
You eat a low-nutrient diet.
Your metabolism is composed of a series of chemical reactions that rely on a variety of nutrients from the foods you eat. When you are trying to lose weight, it is easy to focus only on calorie intake. Unfortunately, some foods that are low in calories provide very few nutrients. Popular diet foods like rice cakes, diet sodas, packaged diet snacks and desserts, and sugar-free candies may help you lower your calorie intake, but they do little for your nutrition and health. Focus your meals on low-calorie, nutrient-rich foods like fruits and vegetables and include high-protein, fiber-rich foods like beans, nuts, and seeds. You will feel fuller and more satisfied with plenty of energy for activity, which will also help boost your metabolism.
You sit too much.
When you are sitting, your major muscles aren’t moving, which slows your metabolism. While regular workouts help, it is also important to avoid extended periods of sitting. This can be challenging if work requires you to sit at a desk all day, but aim to squeeze in movement when you can. Stand up often, stretch at your desk, take an extra lap around the office during your break, or climb a flight of stairs every hour or two. Regular movement will keep your metabolism from slowing and stalling your weight loss efforts.
Carbohydrates are a major fuel source for exercising muscles, the brain, and the central nervous system. When you drastically lower your carb intake, your body lacks the glucose necessary to produce energy. Without adequate carbohydrates, the body enters a state of ketosis where it begins to burn its own fat for fuel. This may sound appealing at first, but the process also produces ketones, a byproduct of breaking down fat stores. Ketones have been linked to gout, kidney stones, and kidney failure.
How will a low carb diet affect my exercise?
The side effects of ketone production include nausea, headache, and mental fatigue, which may disrupt your exercise routine. Research results are mixed from studies analyzing a low carbohydrate diet, exercise, and fatigue. A study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that a diet low enough in carbohydrates to cause ketosis resulted in increased fatigue in untrained, overweight adults. The study suggested that this could lead to a reduced desire to exercise. In athletes, however, studies have shown that after a two to four week adaptation to ketosis, exercise performance can improve.
Should I eat a low carb diet?
The goal of nutritious eating and exercise should be improved health without unnecessary dangers. The build-up of ketones in the body is not without risks, and it is especially dangerous to those with diabetes. Most health professionals agree that carbohydrates are needed in the diet to adequately fuel the body.
According to Mayo Clinic, daily diets with fewer than 20 grams of carbohydrates can cause ketosis. Consuming 50 to 100 grams of carbohydrates per day helps prevent it. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that carbohydrate intake make up 45 to 65 percent of your total calorie intake. The Harvard School of Public Health recommends choosing healthy carbs, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables instead of aiming for a no-carbohydrate diet.