With Christmas well and truly tucked back in it’s box and shoved back in the attic, the New Year has begun. But what does this New Year hold for you, and how is it starting?
I think we can all resonate with the thought that we are now dealing with the ‘fallout’ from Christmas, too much money spent, too much alcohol consumed, too much food eaten, and not enough time off work/reality. Does that sound about right?
This is the usual story when it comes to post Christmas blues, we eat, drink and be merry, and then suffer the consequences, whether purely psychological, physical or both. Overconsumption of party type foods, or just food in general can make us feel bloated, sluggish, and sometimes our clothes a little snugger than they were before the month of December. Enter New years resolutions, vows to become slimmer, fitter, and healthier are uttered on mass as people gear up to focus on feeling better about themselves and eradicate the guilt of Christmas overindulgence.
So where do you start? Diet? Exercise? Both?
Do you throw everything away in your cupboards? Do you find a meal plan to follow? Do you eat cabbage soup for the next 7 days? Do you change just about everything you eat and drink in the belief that this is it, this is now your time to shine, you are going to change everything and do it effortlessly? The usual route of losing weight consisting of reducing calories, sometimes excessively, and increasing exercise, also sometimes excessively, is a circular route. This path will undoubtedly get you results in the beginning, but the path is circular, and it will almost always lead you right back to where you were, or worse. It can also take it’s toll psychologically, driving obsession on counting calories, or counting how many calories have been burnt whilst exercising, it is overall a less than desirable headspace to be in, and it’s not what I would want for anyone. My conclusion from years of experience with people, temporary weight loss is relatively easy, long term fat loss is far more difficult to achieve, this needs something more.
Give me a week or two and I could easily get you down a dress size or a good few pounds. In truth, pretty much any change in diet will produce some results. Going low carb, vegetarian, paleo etc etc will all produce some results, and can often help us in health. But ultimately the effectiveness of said diet boils down to individuality and a number of other factors. Low carb diets have been proven to be effective short term, however lets think about why. Cutting out a whole food group, (carbohydrates in this case), will undoubtedly reduce calories, it is a no brainer to suggest that it is a drop in calories that really makes the difference and produces the results. There are of course other considerations in play. Low carb diet’s help stabilise blood sugar, which in turn helps with cravings, and can therefore help with the drive to overeat and thus over consume calories. However women, especially active women, can sometimes find low carb diets detrimental to their energy levels, it is evidently a very individual thing.
So you can get results without too much thought and some changes. BUT, do you want to focus purely on what happens over the month of January, only to let the rest of the year possibly slip by with an ever demising pool of motivation/willpower, or do you want this to be the year that things change slowly but sustainably? Where what you do, and the effort you put in really truly makes a difference to your future health and happiness. Sounds good right?! So lets talk habits.
The Power of Habit
Changing Habits is becoming the new buzz word in the weight loss industry. I can see the noticeable shift from people discussing which foods are best for weight loss, or what diet may or may not work, to discussing how habits play a part in our success, and how changing habits can actually be the key to long term weightloss, and healthier practices.
There really is no one thing which can help with weight loss, without getting other areas dialled in. You can exercise like a beast, but if your diet isn’t great you are sabotaging yourself. If your diet is great but you get little sleep you will struggle to keep it up etc etc. So where does habits fit into all this?
Our life is a sum of habits, throughout the day we rely on habits to function, if we had to put conscious thought into everything we did we would be using far too much energy and life would be very difficult. Habits are at the very cornerstone of daily living, so then it makes sense to work on habits to create a better way of living, better health and allow us to reach goals we may hold dear.
Habits are generally created in a three loop process. There is a cue, followed by a routine, closed with a reward. For example, the cue is drinking a cup of coffee, the routine is to eat a biscuit alongside your coffee, the reward being the sweet tasting treat. Another example of a daily habit would be, getting out of bed in the morning, (the cue), having a shower, (the routine), feeling clean and more awake, (the reward). This can work on very small, daily habits where the pattern has been etched into our subconscious, and it can also be on a much larger scale.
Daily tasks such a brushing your teeth, eating breakfast, driving etc etc are all made up of sets of habits, which are so engrained we pay little attention to carrying them out. So, if these habits are so engrained that they become effortless, why can’t we make habits which are good for us, (eating healthy, exercising), a similar process?
The truth is there will always be more thought process involved in doing something like going to the gym, it’s a far more complex task than brushing our teeth for instance. But this is where we can use existing habits to help us in a plight to make better, sustainable habits for health. Lets use an example of coupling or pairing habits. Picking a habit or ritual which you do daily, a habit which is already strong and set in your daily routine, and then pairing it with a new habit can be useful to help create new, lasting habits. I’m going to use the example of having your morning cup of coffee, a ritual that many people keep each morning. How about pairing this habit with a new habit of 5 minutes of meditation, (which can prove beneficial to stress levels, and aid you on your fat loss journey). Another example could be leaving work each night, you have a set pattern, a set route you take home right? How about making that set route to the gym, making leaving work the cue, (and regular habit you want to pair with), going to the gym the routine and feeling great after the reward, (plus the longer term benefits which come along with a regular exercise pattern).
Sometimes being aware of what our cue is for certain habits can be helpful to make or break those habits. If your habit is to go and get a biscuit when you have your morning coffee/tea, you may need to evaluate what the cue is. Is it having the hot drink? is it boredom? is it that you need a distraction from what your doing? or is it that your hungry? Working out the WHY can sometimes help you to change the HOW. If you found it was a distraction you actually needed, then you could experiment with different things to distract, if it was actually hunger then you may need to eat a protein rich snack, (as protein will satiate more than something sugary). This can be an experimental time trying to bring your subconscious habits back into conscious thought, but if you find that another distraction works and provides the reward, (distraction/a break), then you will feel satisfied with this and adopt a new habit instead.
There are many ways in which building habits into our lives can be beneficial. It also helps breakdown the bigger picture, putting things into smaller, more manageable steps, which research suggests are more sustainable than just a new diet or exercise regime alone.
Theres no arguing that diet, exercise and lifestyle are the main components to any fat loss programme, however, without strong keystone habits these things are difficult to start, or maintain. With this in mind it makes sense to start with amending habits, one at a time, prior to embarking on any hardcore diet or exercise plans. January is just a month, just like any month, (with a little more rain, dark and cold). If you want to start changing, the best thing you can do is plan, prepare, and take it slow. Changing habits can be cornerstone to long term success, making a difference months down the line when other people’s starvation diets have wained because they are just not sustainable long term. In fact, very restrictive diets will generally cause a rebound both physically and psychologically, you will be much more likely to overeat if you go through a period of perceived starvation, not to mention many other detrimental aspects of embarking on such a diet.
So, setting some longer term goals, feeling ok about slower, (more sustainable), progress, and having faith that making small changes in the form of creating lasting habits will get you where you want to go, and more importantly keep you there. Rather than making this January about short term changes, take this motivation and make it into something that really counts toward your health and fitness goals for 2016 and beyond.
Happy New Year, may this one be full of awesome.