A year ago, I was the heaviest I have ever been and suffering from terrible pain caused by back issues (that were likely caused, in part, by my lack of physical fitness). Now, I have so much more energy, I look forward to getting my sweat on, and I actually enjoy shopping for clothes every now and again! Here are the six tips that helped me to truly embrace a healthier life.
1. Keep in mind that getting in shape isn’t an overnight process.
Working out is really hard, but it will eventually get easier and more enjoyable. You’ll get to a point where you aren’t working out because you know you have to, but because both your body and your mind want to. Results do not come quickly, and sometimes, there are huge setbacks. A little more than a month ago, I had to have emergency laproscopic surgery. I’m telling you, it was devastating when I realized that I was going to have to take it easy to allow myself to recover. Once I’d begun to “enjoy” not working out after taking a medically required break, it was a serious struggle to get back into my regular fitness regime, but I kept at it. Sometimes, life happens. You just have to keep going.
2. Don’t only measure your success by one metric.
This is absolutely crucial, especially if you’re super out of shape, like I was. If you only think the effort is worth it when you see a lower number on the scale every week, you’re not going to want to keep with it. I’ve lost almost 50 pounds in 7ish months but I’ve only gone down from a 2XL T-shirt to an XL. That is somewhat frustrating, but I feel a million times better when I can walk up a few flights of stairs and don’t struggle to breathe. And maybe I still weigh more than I’d like, but when I catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror and can visibly recognize the weight gone from my face, the reward is in the smile I see in my reflection.
3. Give yourself reasonable expectations when it comes to your nutrition.
A crash diet is not only torture, but probably won’t last and might even be dangerous. You know what’s not fun? Completely cutting out carbs or refined sugar. Sure, if you do, you might see dramatic results … but how easy will it be to keep that up? How quickly after giving up a strict diet will you see some weight come back on? Instead, just do what you’ve always heard you should do: control your portion size and make healthier choices more frequently. It seems so crazy to me now when I think about how terrible my diet was before my husband and I started our fitness journey. We had dessert with almost every dinner and had large portions at every meal. Now, we eat a smaller dessert once in a while and when we eat large portions of something, it’s roasted Brussels sprouts with balsamic reduction or grilled garlic asparagus instead of ice cream or cheesecake.
4. Utilize the buddy system.
My husband and I knew that we were in (worse than) terrible shape and it was clear that our health was (rapidly) deteriorating because of our (negative) fitness levels. When I had to do physical therapy exercises to recover from major surgery, I told my husband that I thought we should get a joint gym membership and hold each other accountable. Trust me when I say I KNOW THAT IS EASIER SAID THAN DONE. In the end, it took a lot of convincing and our fair share of arguments, but fast forward more than half a year and my husband L-O-V-E-S to work out now. We don’t always work out together, but we both encourage the other to keep going. And if your buddy is your spouse, this may have unintended benefits. My husband used to snore like a maniac and we both slept poorly because of it. A few months in, my husband completely stopped snoring! Now, we both feel so much more rested in the morning, which in turn makes it much easier to feel like working out during the day.
5. Don’t let yourself get bored with your fitness activities.
As I started out getting in shape, I was going to the gym frequently, three to four times a week. But then, the gym was stuffy and it was getting nicer outside, so I started going on high-intensity walks with my dogs. When the weather wouldn’t cooperate, I’d work out in our house on our elliptical or with a workout video. And just recently, my husband and I have been going on fun bike rides on paved trails. If this whole time I had only been going to the gym, doing the same routine every time, I can guarantee you that I would have given up very early on. And as my fitness level increases, I gradually start to introduce new activities that I never dreamed of doing even a year ago that make working out FUN and rewarding!
6. Make time for you.
This is probably the biggest challenge for a lot of people. My husband and I both work full time, but we have the huge advantage of being childless. When you don’t have kids to keep track of, there are so many more opportunities to keep active. Obviously, I can’t give out a lot of tips on this personally, but I will tell you I have young parents as friends that have been successful at making time for exercise. Some choose to tag-team the kids; one parent staying home while the other goes out for a walk or jog. Other friends utilize kid-friendly gyms that may even have a short-term day care option built into the membership while they’re working out. But I would say the best way to incorporate fitness into your life as a parent would be to include your children in your workouts when you can. I say this because I think that children learn by example when it comes to adapting a healthy lifestyle for themselves. If you never work out in any way as a child and your parents don’t emphasize the importance of staying active for themselves, you may not realize that keeping in shape requires activity as an adult. That probably seems crazy, but I’d bet a lot of money that a large number of obese people grew up in a relatively sedentary household and don’t even realize the deleterious effect that had on their lives.
I know I don’t have all the answers, and I know I’ve read articles like this in the past with a lot of skepticism and maybe a little eye-rolling. But seriously, I’m telling you it’s so worth it. I’m not even to what I would consider a halfway point on my path to a healthier me, but my quality of life has increased exponentially.
I genuinely hope my words give you the courage to take the first steps on your path to better fitness and an improved and healthier life. —McKenzie