My New Year’s Resolution in 2013 is to lose weight.
Great – now what?
In my previous article I talked about the importance of setting a goal for your resolution which is both clear and realistic. In my case I said that I wanted to lose 25 pounds (just over 11 kilos) in 2012. In addition I described how successful it was when I set monthly milestones to keep track of my progress on a regular basis.
But as many of us know, it isn’t very helpful to make a resolution to lose weight and leave it at that. If only losing weight was as simple as just stating a goal! Losing weight requires effort and determination, and very likely requires some significant changes to our habits. This is where supporting goals come in – goals that are means to an end. In my case, my ultimate goal for 2012 was to lose 25 pounds, but I had to set two other goals to direct my activities in support of that end.
In its simplest form, weight loss is generally controlled by two things, and two things only: exercise (how many calories we burn) and diet (how many calories we consume). I set a single goal in support of each of these: for exercise I set a goal of doing 10 workouts a month, rising eventually to 15 workouts a month; for diet I decided to keep it really simple and set a goal of keeping my alcohol consumption below 10 drinks a month. This is very important for supporting goals: they have to be something you can directly control, entirely through your own efforts.
With exercise, it’s important to recognize the reality of your current age and condition. I played varsity soccer at university, for example, and I’ve run marathons and half-marathons. But I needed to remember that I did all those things in my twenties and very early thirties – approaching 39 as I was, I couldn’t expect my body to be able to keep up with what my mind thought it could do. This point was made crystal clear to me when, on a rainy January morning, I went for a 20-minute jog – and was so exhausted I actually had to have a nap that afternoon (I kid you not). So be realistic in your early expectations, and don’t be discouraged when you can’t do what you used to do. Setting the bar low also allows you to make significant gains in performance early on, which can be very rewarding and help you build the crucial new habit of exercising.
How did I define a “workout”? Since the workout was the unit I was measuring for my goal, I needed to be very clear on what this was. Everyone has to set their own definition, but here’s what I set for myself: one workout was either 30 minutes of intense activity (in my case a run or a workout on my punching bag) or 60 minutes of moderate activity (a quick walk or some intensive housework). I also allowed for a half-workout, which was a 30-minute quick walk, since I realized that I had lots of opportunities to do this, either on my lunch break at work or while I was waiting for the ferry. These half-workouts were extremely valuable, not so much for the additional units they contributed toward my monthly goals, but instead because they encouraged me to try and get some sort of exercise every single day – this shift in mentality was a huge boost toward changing my habit and getting me moving more easily.
What about my diet? First of all, I didn’t do a “diet” at all. No crazy foods, no shakes, no gluten/dairy/meat/grain/egg/protein/carb/fat-free regimes. I didn’t do anything extreme, simply because my intention was to change my lifestyle for the long-term, so whatever I did had to be sustainable. Forever. And I like food a lot, so cutting out entire groups of it didn’t appeal. I have done Weight Watchers in the past (where you can eat anything you want but everything is worth a number of points that you have to track) and it was very effective for me, but with my busy lifestyle I just didn’t want the bother of having to track and calculate every single thing I ate. As always, when you set your goals you have to make them as easy as possible to implement, even if the final target is challenging. Tracking food and calculating points was just too much trouble, I knew, and trying to go something-free would just be impossible, especially since I travel overseas so much with my job.
So instead, I looked at my consumption habits and spotted a clear source of calories that wasn’t in any way part of my nutritional needs: alcohol. My wife and I are long past the partying days, but we both like wine and enjoy having a relaxing drink together in the evenings. A single glass of wine here and there may not sound like much, but when I actually started to track it as part of my 2012 goal I was astonished at how quickly the numbers added up. Travelling, likewise, offered a horrific number of opportunities for free alcohol (aircraft, hotel happy hours, business dinners). So I made the goal very simple: eat normally, and cut down on the alcohol.
Your weakness might be chocolate, potato chips, sugary soda or fast food: whatever it is, take a good, honest look at your eating/drinking habits and pick the worst offender to your health. If you want to set a goal to reduce more than one thing that’s great, but in the beginning at least I recommend just choosing one item because it will be very easy to control and it will build your confidence that you can control it. Interestingly, I don’t have a sweet tooth and I didn’t think to track my dessert consumption because that had never been a big deal for me. However, as the months went on and my alcohol consumption stayed low, I found myself reaching for a donut or a cookie far more often, just to get that “little something” I craved. Interestingly, at the same time my sister-in-law was cutting down on sweets – and she noticed that she was drinking more alcohol! So as you cut back on your main consumption vice, be very mindful of any increases in other naughty foods, since you may not be technically tracking them.
One final bit of advice on annual weight-loss goals: don’t include December. I’m not saying go hog-wild in that final month, but I discovered that, no matter how hard I tried, with all the pre-Christmas and Christmas/New Year’s festivities it’s completely unrealistic to expect to actually lose weight in December. My suggestion is to aim simply to maintain your weight through this month: just gaining nothing is a triumph. Don’t give up on your practical goals (I still did my workouts and tracked my alcohol) but realistically allow some latitude in this most gluttonous of months. It would be a shame to work so hard all year and then feel disappointed with a perceived failure at the end.
My next article will look at a different kind of health that I made resolutions about in 2012.
Photos courtesy of the author
Recent Bennett R. Coles Articles:
- A No-BS Tour of Modern Publishing Part 4 – The traditional industry: the bookstores (and distributors)
- A No-BS Tour of Modern Publishing Part III – The Traditional Industry: The Publishers
- A No-BS Tour of Modern Publishing Part II – Making sense of the lingo
- A No-BS Tour of Modern Publishing Part I – Author Motivations
- Star Wars: The Next Generation