Regular gymgoers hate the first week of January. The gym is suddenly flooded with Resolutionistas, those people who have resolved to get fit and lose weight in the New Year and who wander around the gym seemingly without a plan and take up the equipment and fill up the parking lot. Yet the gym veterans know from experience that almost all of the Resolutionistas will be gone by Super Bowl Sunday, leaving them to work out in peace for another year. If you have resolved to get fit or lose weight, you do not have to suffer the fate of the Resolutionistas. Instead, you can successfully keep your wellness resolutions.
Most people fail in trying to begin a wellness program because they try to do too much too soon. The new year is 365 days long. It matters more what you are still doing in May and August than what you do the first week of January. Our hunter gatherer body wants to maintain the status quo. After a holiday season of eating sweets and treats, if you suddenly start eating only salads, your body will notice the decrease in caloric intake and by the third day will go into famine mode. It will tell you to go find calories and you will be hungry and irritable and want junk food. After being inactive, if you hit the gym and road hard beginning on January 1, by the end of the week you will be sore and maybe injured. While you may have started your fitness regimen with the best of intentions, within two weeks you will be hungry and beat up and more likely to head back to the couch than to the gym.
A better strategy is to start slowly and ease into things so that your body does not feel shocked. Getting fit is all about adaption as your body adjusts to the stresses of exercise and a different diet to become stronger and leaner. As anyone who has spent too much time in the sun on the first day of a beach vacation will attest, it is much easier and more enjoyable if you allow your body to adapt gradually to new conditions.
Enjoy the New Year’s ball drop festivities and watch a lot of football the next day. On January 2, start to clean up your diet. Cut out fast food and aim to eat a balanced diet of protein, carbohydrates, and good fats. You can still have an occasional treat to appease your mind, but junk should not be a staple. Going forward, a few days a week, especially on workout days, substitute a whey protein drink for a 500 calorie grande latte. The protein will make you feel satisfied and will support the exercise you are doing. Eat a breakfast every day of protein, carbs, and fat such as eggs with toast or oatmeal and fruit. This will keep your blood sugar balanced and give your brain the fuel it needs so you won’t crave sugary junk later.
On January 2, go to the gym. Ignore the Resolutionistas, because you have a plan. A well-rounded exercise routine should include weight lifting for strength, stretching for flexibility, and some aerobic exercise for cardiovascular health. Start slowly with some stretching, body weight exercises, and a walk or light jog on a treadmill. Take January 3rd off and come back on the 4th and do the same thing. Over the next two weeks build up to exercising three days a week, moving to barbells and machines while gradually increasing the weight and number of sets as well as the distance and pace on the treadmill. Depending on your fitness background and knowledge, you may want to have a session or two with a personal trainer to set you up with a program to accomplish your goals and to teach you proper form and how to use the equipment. You should always use correct form to get the most out of each exercise and prevent injury.
As you move through January, set things up so that you are exercising at least three times a week. Weekend days are good, and during the week you can follow a sliding schedule in case you have pressing work commitments. For example, you can adopt a sliding Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday schedule. If you have to miss Monday because of a late meeting, go to the gym Tuesday. If you can’t make Wednesday because you have a brief due, go Thursday. Even if you are going to work all weekend on a deal, there is usually time Friday evening to go to the gym before dinner – you will be more productive over the weekend if you do. Sunday is always good to catch up.
Along the way, continue to improve your diet. To support the exercise and build muscle you should up your protein intake so that you are eating about 1g for every 2 pounds of bodyweight daily. This should come from lean meat, chicken, and fish spaced out over three meals and a healthful afternoon or post-exercise snack such as that whey protein drink.
To help you keep your New Year’s resolutions, break up your goals into smaller, more easily achievable ones. If you resolve to lose 20 pounds, break it up into smaller milestones such as saying you want to lose two pounds a month. While the Resolutionistas are getting frustrated because they cannot hit a big number, you will stay excited and motivated as you accomplish your two pound goal every month. The milestones will add up and you will lose 20 pounds. For a more complete discussion of how to carry out a well-rounded wellness program See Herbst, Attorney Wellness in a Nutshell, N.Y. St. Bar Ass’n J. 16-19 (Aug. 2019)
By starting slow and taking things step by step, you will allow your body to adjust and you will enjoy exercising and feeling fit. As the Resolutionistas begin to disappear, you will smugly congratulate yourself and keep going. When next January rolls around, the newer healthier you will join your fellow gym goers in complaining why there is suddenly no parking.
This blog was originally published on the New York State Bar Association website.