If the holiday season makes visions of sugar plums dance in your head, the caloric austerity plan you have in mind for the new year will feel like a rude awakening. Between snacks, drinks, and the main meal, the average American consumes over 4500 calories on Thanksgiving Day alone, and with a calendar full of holiday parties, this over-indulgent lifestyle usually persists until January 1.
For anyone who’s planning to pursue a fitness- and health-related New Year’s resolution, it’s important to start preparing before the clock strikes midnight on December 31—it’s nearly impossible to make a drastic lifestyle change at the drop of a hat. Use these expert tips to get a head-start on your fitness goals in order to maximize your success.
1. DON’T UNDERESTIMATE THE DEDICATION NEEDED TO MAKE A CHANGE.
It takes a lot of patience and persistence to follow through on your fitness goals. “The problem that most people run into is that they don’t think through what they’re getting into,” says Dean Gavindane, a certified personal trainer and CEO of SuperMe Performance.
Gavindane says that underestimating the level of commitment needed to stick to a new fitness routine is common because people see their fitness goals “as a sprint instead of a marathon.” Understanding that your new diet and workout routine won’t achieve results overnight is the first step to shedding pounds and toning up.
2. START COUNTING YOUR CALORIES.
Losing weight is a simple math problem: Eat fewer calories than you burn each day. In order to count calories effectively, you therefore need to know how many you are taking in through your food as well as how many you are expelling when you exercise. Use a fitness tracker and a calorie-counting app to help you make smart snacking choices during the holidays.
3. KEEP A FOOD DIARY.
Jen Hazzard, cross country coach and adjunct chemistry and physics professor at Fulton-Montgomery Community College, has her clients keep a food diary where they record what they eat on a daily basis, using each day as a benchmark for the next. She says the diary is a way to be honest with yourself and to change the way you think about your nutrition changes. “I avoid the term diet,” says Hazzard. “It suggests giving up things you love for things you don’t like. You should never make fitness about denial, but about finding a middle ground. A good start to finding that middle ground is treating certain meals like rewards.”
Hazzard also says that by cutting out processed and junk foods, you’d be surprised at the quantity of healthy food you can consume without gaining weight. There’s no shame in filling up the pages of your food diary as long as they’re healthy foods.
4. STICK IT OUT FOR 66 DAYS.
Hazzard has also worked as a consultant for a wellness program called Commit to 66, which is based on a 2009 study that showed the average length of time it took participants to form a new habit was 66 days [PDF]. It’s important to remember that 66 days was the study’s average, so it may take you more or less time. What’s important is setting a long-term goal to help you curb your impulses as well as keep from getting discouraged.
5. DON’T BE AFRAID TO EXPERIMENT WITH FITNESS.
It’s easy to get in a rut at the gym (do you head to the elliptical every time you’re there?), but keeping an open mind about your physicality and trying new things is an important part of shedding weight. “Simple yet effective exercises and workouts can be done in several different ways depending upon the time allowed and equipment provided,” says Tiffany Tatlock, a certified personal trainer, meal planner, and competitive bodybuilder.
6. INCORPORATE BODYWEIGHT WORKOUTS INTO YOUR ROUTINE AT HOME.
If a gym isn’t available for you (or if it feels sub-Arctic outside and you can’t bear to leave the warmth of your home) it’s still possible to get in a great workout, no equipment required. Here are some body-weight circuits that Tatlock has suggested that can be performed at home and aren’t very time-consuming.
Completing sets one through five marks one round, and Tatlock advises performing up to five rounds in your workout session. “Effective and great workouts are all about giving it your all,” says Tatlock. “Typically, three to four of these sessions per week can be effective when the gym isn’t achievable.”