Sunday, January 4

Resolution Reminders

From the top of a mountain we hiked in Portugal!
It's that time again. The turn of the year gives us the opportunity to establish goals and mentally reset, start over, or reignite the motivation. It's resolution time! This means people will come out of the holiday food coma, shake off the cobwebs, and ramp up their diets and workouts.

Some will come out of the gates hard, committing to a strict eating regimen and an even stricter workout schedule. Some want to set PR's, others just want to look good poolside. While the efforts of these folks are valiant, they're often not sustainable. We've all seen the statistics -- a very small percentage of New Year's Resolutions are achieved. 

I realize you've seen scores of New Year's posts already, so I'll try not to belabor the point. While I can certainly understand the mindset of being "all-in" for 2015, or even kick-starting the year with some form of a program, allow me to bring up a few (perhaps inconvenient) reminders.

A resolution is not a plan

Resolving to make certain changes and accomplish certain goals is a great starting point. But the next step is to determine an actionable plan, one that is right for you. Consider outlining a daily/weekly routine, trying a program, joining an organization, or hiring a coach or trainer. 

You can't out-run (or bike, or weight-lift, or swim) a poor diet

"Oh, I'll just burn that off" is a statement predicated under the assumption that food and calories are like tokens you insert into your body, and for each mile, rep, or set you complete a token gets used up. If only it were that simple.

Consider the following illustration: If a 220lb male consumed half of an Oreo cookie, he would need to climb about 27 flights of stairs to burn it off. Whether or not this example is 100% accurate, the underlying point is undeniable: it takes way more effort than you'd think to "burn off" poor food choices.

While on the surface it may appear that you can out-exercise a poor diet, consider (if you haven't already) truly leveraging food as one of the single-greatest means to enhance your everyday performance.

You can't out-diet poor sleep and stress

Last year I was giving tips to a couple of friends on healthy eating. At one point they reached out to me unhappy with their progress. I inquired about their diet for a bit, and then moved on to other lifestyle habits. Turns out both were sleeping about four hours per night due to stress from work. Yikes. The science of sleep is outside the scope of this post, but for now, know this: being in a continual state of stress and experiencing inadequate sleep (quality + quantity) contribute to weight gain as well as being under-recovered from workouts. This sounds obvious and simple, yet as a society we are severely lacking in this area.

Bottom line: no matter how perfect your exercise and diet regimens are, forgoing quality sleep isn't without its consequences.

Following a decent plan is better than abandoning the perfect one

"I'm not going to eat any carbohydrates Monday through Friday." "I'm doing two workouts per day." "I'm not drinking until [date]."

I admire the ambition, there's nothing wrong with wanting to look and feel better. But that ambition teeters on being overzealous for some. My recommendation is to be realistic with how you execute your goals. I've heard it said before: "There's no such thing as crazy goals, only crazy commitments." Don't set yourself up for failure by handcuffing yourself from the start. Be realistic with your expectations. Try baby-stepping your way into a protocol that works for you.

For the past couple of years I had been focused on running, but earlier last year I wanted to start competing in triathlon again. I knew getting back into the pool was going to be difficult. If, at the beginning, I were to have said I was going to swim every day for an hour, I would have made it a few days, got burnt out and stopped. Knowing this, my plan was different. My coach helped slowly re-introduce feasible swim workouts I've been able to complete. 

Was it the perfect plan? No. Admittedly, I'd be a better swimmer if I was in the pool more often. But this assumes I'd actually follow the prescribed workouts of a lot more swimming. So in essence, following a decent plan is actually my perfect plan.

The perfect plan for you is naturally one that is sustainable for you.

Consistency over time is key

This philosophy is at the heart of what I believe and implement in most all facets of my life and coaching.

If your goal is a crash-course to rid yourself of some belly fat or PR a 5K in eight weeks, all the power to you. But allow me to pose the same question I've been posing for years: what happens after? In other words, wouldn't you want to at least entertain the idea of adopting a more sustainable model? Consider the idea that one individual meal will not dictate your overall health, but how you eat on average will. One workout will not make or break your PR goal, but the sum total of those workouts over the course of time will.

I'm a firm believer in maintaining an upward trajectory of overall health throughout life. The slope may deviate as life happens and we get off course, so long as the net change is positive over time.

Resolutions are fantastic, but keep in mind that this whole healthy living is a lifestyle. Embrace it as you begin setting actionable goals for 2015.

Here's to the New Year!

This post was adapted from a previous one entitled "Beach Body Shortcuts."

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