40 Life Lessons I Learned In One Long Year Dedicated To Getting Fit
It’s 2 am, and, for the umpteenth time, here I am, watching "Seinfeld" reruns in my underwear, covered in Doritos crumbs. When the impending shame spiral hits, I’ll think to myself, "That’s it; I’m going to get fit now." I’ve told this lie to myself too many times to count.
Truth be told, it’ll take a bit more than that to finally give me the kick in the ass I need — a breakup, viewing a few too many good-looking people’s fitness blogs and my worried mother’s sage advice, to be exact.
A year later, things are starting to look different. I’m fit and I'm really, really happy. And, while I’ve shed a lot of blood, sweat, tears and made a lot of errors, this has been, without doubt, the best year of my life.
So, if you’re running behind on your New Year’s resolutions, don’t despair. Here are some tips to ensure you make the most of your 2015 by finding a healthier, happier, fitter you:
1. Track everything
Seriously, I mean everything. Start off by downloading a fitness app like MyFitnessPal, Jefit or Fitocracy. Get into the daily habit of plugging in your weight and tracking your lifts.
Not only will this keep you accountable to yourself, but it’ll also show — in observable terms — just how far you’ve come.
2. Take pictures
You’ll feel like an absolute tool standing in your underwear taking mirror pics with your jiggly bits majestically on display, but trust me, it’ll pay off.
While that picture will sit in your camera roll as a painful reminder of how incredibly unready you are for your eventual career as a Victoria’s Secret Angel, it will be incredibly helpful in the months ahead as you look back on how far you’ve come — and what you never want to go back to.
3. Find your reason to get out of bed
Okay, so like I was, "You’re fat and you need to do something about it." That much is clear.
So, what gets you out of bed in the morning? No, I’m not talking inspirational Instagram quotes. Work out whatever it is that lights a fire under your ass and draw from that.
4. Keep a food diary
Research suggests people underestimate how many calories they're consuming by up to 34 percent. Keeping a food diary via the likes of MyFitnessPal is easy and will ensure you’re keeping your calories under control.
5. Learn to cook
This one’s a no-brainer. You’ll save cash eating in, learn about the content of what you’re putting in your body and be the envy of your workplace with your next-level lunches.
6. Set achievable, measurable goals
No, “being aesthetic” or “looking good enough naked that Ryan Gosling will want me” aren’t measurable goals, but outcomes of the goals.
Start out with the basics. Having a number in mind will set a benchmark for you to strive for and give you an idea of where you’re heading.
7. “Toned” isn’t a thing
While muscle tone is a valid concept that refers to the tension a muscle maintains at rest, what people generally refer to as “toned” just means having enough muscle mass and low enough fat that your muscles are visible.
People will try and convince you they’ve cracked the elusive code to “getting toned” using a program or supplement. But, be warned: They sit on a throne of lies.
8. Exercise is the only free mood booster
Exercise is a surefire method with which to ease depression if you’re unlucky enough to suffer from it like one in 20 people do. There’s extensive literature on how exercise improves moods, but for most people, it's more so a matter of whether you can get out of bed to exercise in the first place.
9. Don’t tell people about your goals
While it might seem counter-intuitive not to tell your friends and family about all the great stuff you’re going to achieve, keep it to yourself.
Research shows voicing your goals leads to psychological satisfaction, which deters you from actually achieving said goals. However, once you’ve moved mountains, feel free to tell everyone what you’ve achieved.
10. Caloric intake matters more than diet
Caloric intake, not nutrient composition, is what determines how much weight you lose. Rather than focusing on eating “clean” or “dirty,” stick to a caloric deficit alone.
11. What’s this macro thing I keep hearing about?
The commonly-used term “macro” just refers to macronutrients — that is, the makeup of carbohydrates, protein and fat in your diet. While macro and micronutrients are important elements of your diet, calories are much more important.
12. No drastic diets
Consistency is king when it comes to getting results with your diet plan. Make changes to which you can stick. Select foods that you enjoy and can eat regularly with solid nutritional content.
Us Weekly might’ve told you Keira Knightley miraculously lost 80 pounds by drinking the fermented juice of a mangosteen during a full moon, but the truth is that fit people have consistent meal plans.
13. Meal timing isn’t the end of the world
The idea of eating more frequently or within certain windows is, by and large, not important. Focus more on your caloric intake and macro and micronutrients.
14. No, your metabolism isn’t really slow
While you might have convinced yourself that you have the metabolism of a lethargic sloth, realistically, people’s metabolisms tend to fall within the same 200 to 300 calorie range.
Despite that sounding a bit depressing, on the flip side, it means you’re very unlikely to be at a substantial disadvantage for fat loss (genetics aside).
15. Starvation mode isn’t real
“Starvation Mode” is an idea popularized by the Minnesota Starvation Experiment. The experiment observed that people lost weight when they were given 50 percent of their caloric needs until they had no more weight to lose.
In other words, until they were quite literally wasting away. You won’t go into starvation mode on a slight caloric deficit in the same way that eating an extra piece of chocolate won’t make you instantly balloon to enormous proportions.
16. Watch videos
If you’re unsure of how something works, videos are your best friends. Make use of the plethora of health professionals who spend their time sharing knowledge online. A quick Youtube search will usually reveal exactly what you’re wondering.
17. You won’t fail without a PT
While a personal trainer can be an incredible asset, you’re just as easily able to set up your own meal plan and select an exercise plan online without forking over exorbitant amounts of cash. Use PTs when you stumble or can’t utilize online resources to work out where you’re going wrong.
18. You can’t reduce fat in one area of your body by targeting
Contrary to what’s said by the “thigh toning” aerobic workouts that your mom has on VHS, you simply can’t target where to burn fat from on your body. Your genes alone determine where your body stores fat.
19. Not getting enough sleep will make you fat (for real)
There is considerable research to show that people who sleep five or fewer hours are at a much greater risk of weight gain, heart disease, strokes and diabetes. Ensure that you spend enough time sleeping for optimal muscle growth and weight loss.
20. Drink heaps of water
Like most reasonable people, the idea of going to the bathroom more frequently than an incontinent 5-year-old probably doesn’t sound particularly appealing.
However, drinking plenty of water greatly assists in losing weight. And, while the “eight glasses per day” theory has largely been disproven, make sure you drink enough that your urine is clear-to-light-yellow).
21. Super foods are mostly just clever marketing
The term super food gets thrown around a lot. While mainstay super foods like kale and quinoa have noted health benefits, your body will receive just as much love from ancient dietary staples, like meat, vegetables, fruit, lentils and dairy.
22. Fats aren’t making you fat
The myth that eating fat makes you fat has been going around since Jesus said, “Like, ew, that high-fat potage will go straight to your ass, Mary.”
In truth, dietary fats have very little to do with the body fat you store, and actually improve satiety so you stay fuller for longer and can eat less.
23. Fit people in the gym don’t care that you’re unfit
This is something that I feared every time I stepped inside the gym. “They’re laughing at me,” I’d think. “I look stupid.” The truth couldn’t be further.
24. In fact, most people think it’s awesome
What you forget is that every fit person had to start somewhere. Sure, some people have been fit for longer than others, but unless they physically bench-pressed themselves out of the womb, ready to compete in the Arnold Classic, at one point, we were all just starting out.
You can guarantee that if you’re getting looks at gym, people are either admiring your perseverance or they’re just too focused on their workout to care about what anybody else is doing.
25. Instagram isn’t reality
This one’s fairly logical, but don’t get hung up on what your Instagram feed looks like. Good lighting, filters and angles are the friends of would-be Instagram fitness messiahs around the globe. Just do you and let the rest fall into place.
26. Moderation is key
This one goes both ways. While moderating your caloric intake and alcohol consumption are helpful, don’t indulge in the other extreme either.
Working out four times a day, eating a single almond or drinking 19 liters of water won't get you a bikini body that will last. Apply common sense liberally.
27. Build a playlist for your workouts
Einstein once said something like, “the key to scoring killer abs is a great Spotify playlist.” I wholeheartedly agree.
28. Detoxes are only good for cleansing yourself of extra money
Our bodies naturally remove toxins of their own accord, no thanks to the juice cleanse you saw advertised by an ex-star of the Real Housewives of Somewhere.
However, if you’re feeling overstocked on money, a detox is a great solution to cleanse yourself of anything green left in your wallet.
29. Sweating doesn’t affect weight loss
There is no significant literature to suggest that sweating plays a role in weight loss, unless you are quite literally made of ice. If anything, sweating will simply dehydrate you more quickly and adversely affect your performance.
30. Covering yourself in saran wrap won’t shift the weight
I’m not sure why this is a thing, to be quite honest. Unless you’re intent on looking like a human sausage casing, stick to the basics for losing weight.
31. Moderate your alcohol intake (I know, I know)
When you’re a 20-something, being told to moderate your alcohol intake is akin to being told to moderate your social life. Unfortunately, alcohol is calorie rich.
It’s in your best interest to take it easy with the bottle while you’re losing weight (and also so you don’t text your ex Nickelback lyrics at 3 am).
32. If you can’t afford a gym, that’s cool
If, like me, you’re a starving student, it’s not the be-all and end-all if you can’t afford a gym membership. Create a program that allows you to run around your neighborhood, or if that’s not a viable option because you don’t like running or you live in a submarine, grab a sack of potatoes from the supermarket and use it for weight training at home. The possibilities are endless.
33. Protein won’t eviscerate your kidneys
We’ve all heard it before: A friend-of-a-friend’s brother-in-law’s dog’s twice-removed owner’s wife suffered kidney failure from a protein powder overdose. Or something.
The reality is there is no substantial evidence to show a link between protein intake and renal failure in healthy adults. If you’re unable to make up protein in your diet with food, protein powder is a perfectly fine substitute and won’t cause your internal organs to self-destruct.
34. Dairy isn’t the enemy
If you’re lactose intolerant, you’re understandably not very fond of dairy. But, for the rest of us, dairy isn’t the villain it’s made out to be.
Full-fat dairy has been linked to lowered inflammation, lower triglycerides and a 62 percent lower risk of type 2 diabetes.
Unlike what you’ll be told about people not being able to digest milk, humans have been consuming dairy for thousands of years and our genes have adapted adequately to deal with it.
35. Gluten (also) isn’t the enemy
Gluten has been heavily vilified in the last few years. Like many people, I used to think “gluten-free” offered some sort of health benefit, but the reality is that’s just not true.
Research shows people with self-reported, non-celiac gluten sensitivity show no observable effects from consuming gluten.
36. Read product labels
If you’re not quite sure about the content of a product, check the label. It’ll save you heartache later when you realize that that low-fat, “healthy” chocolate pudding came with a generous serving of love handles.
37. Sugar substitutes will change your life
If you’ve got a crippling sweet tooth, make the switch to sugar substitutes instead. They’re often sweeter than sugar with a fraction of the caloric content. And, no, aspartame won’t give you cancer.
38. If you fall off the wagon, that’s cool
Overturning your entire diet and exercise regime means you’re bound to hit some bumps in the road. Don’t sweat it if it happens; we’re all human.
39. But, failure is what creates winners
No fit person ever looked into a crystal ball when they were starting out, divined every step of the way in dieting and exercising perfectly and stuck to it.
Failure isn’t a dead end, it’s a momentary detour.