Wednesday, January 26, 2011

New Year's Resolutionaries: Soon departing a gym near you

Here's a test. I tried both these cereals recently. Which is healthier?

Both are filled with healthy ingredients, a very low 6 grams of sugar, and almost no fat. On fiber--the key factor I look for--the bran has 5 grams, which is quite high, but Kashi has 10, the most I've ever seen. Kashi also has four times as much protein, a whopping 13 grams, which it says is as much as an egg.

So clearly, the Kashi is the healthy choice.

Not for me. The bran is much healthier. Because I'll eat it.

I'll eat lots of, and enjoy it, and won't feel deprived and be dying for something more satisfying at lunch.

I find this brand of bran flakes quite tasty, and crunchy, too--even without the imaginary blueberries, which you have to add yourself. The Kashi is like a bowl of twigs and stems. Yuck. I'm sure some people like it, but not me.

So I'll try to finish the box because I'm frugal, but it will be my last. Healthy foods and workouts only work when we actually use them. For long periods.

I like broccoli, hate grapefruit. So only one goes on my plate. There are so many delicious foods to choose from in the world--why would you ever put something you dislike in front of yourself? And how could you believe that's going to work out in the long run?

Which brings me to the real subject of this post. Last January, I complained on my facebook page about all the resolutionaries making it tough to get a locker, parking space or workout bench at my gym.

A lot of people chimed in to second my frustration, and then came some push-back, from friends making a new go of it. They could use a little encouragement, they said. The sniping felt nasty.

Point taken. My apologies again.

And this year, a little help, hopefully.
First, it helps to understand the frustration, which is widespread, and real. Here's why:

Most gymrats are actually happy to see new faces. Everybody starts somewhere. It's actually uplifting to see someone arrive looking and feeling bad, and watch them pull themselves together over the course of the next several months. Often, you can see their whole attitude and posture change.

But that's not what happens in January. A zillion people make New Years resolutions. Every gym sees a huge membership spike. Almost none of the newcomers are visible by February.

It clogs the gyms, frustrates everyone, helps no one.

So my rather obvious advice:

Quit working out so hard. Slow down, ease into it.

You're going to be sore two days after your first workout. And after your second and third, if you're hitting different body parts. A little sore is OK. If you can barely walk, or you wince just reaching to click your PC mouse, you have sabotaged yourself.

There is no way this fitness plan is going to take hold in your life if it makes you miserable.

Your goal is to work out for at least six months, or a year, or preferably indefinitely, right? (How much did you just pay for? Probably at least a one-year membership.)

So you've got a lot of time there. If you look back at the first year next January, will three killer workouts the first week have made any discernible difference in your results?

I understand the eagerness to get there quickly, and to really turn it on and make this new plan work by giving it everything you've got. But that nearly always backfires. You've got the drive and energy while you are at the gym, but you haven't considered the sluggish days at work afterward.

And if you've got beach season in mind as a goal for a better body, you've got five months. You can make a hell of a change in that time. (And it's a good goal. Visualizing a payoff helps.) 

Drop the weight and the reps for a couple weeks. Ease into it. Enjoy it a little. If you hate an exercise, forget it for awhile. Add it back a month or two from now once you've got some momentum behind you. Or more likely, you'll discover an alternative.

That's really the whole freaking secret to why most people at your gym in March, June and September are still there. Because we actually come to like the gym. Or at least not dislike it.

BTW, I've been working out pretty regularly for over 20 years. I've been rigorous about it again--three to four hard workouts a week--for the last four years. My cholesterol is not far over 100, and my bodyfat is about 13%, with the outlines of my six pack, but a thin layer of fat messing with that.

The most weight I ever lost was four and a half years ago, when I dropped 25 pounds over 26 weeks. Slow and steady: a pound a week, for half a year. It was also the easiest weight I ever dropped, so when I was finished, I didn't ease up much. I kept more than 20 of it off, and now I'm embarking on re-removing that last five.

Other patterns I see in the people making it a habit:
  • Find stuff you like. Don't choose abs class or the elliptical or a basketball team because it's the "healthiest" choice, choose the one you're going to enjoy the most.
  • Try a lot of stuff. Most gyms offer all sorts of classes. Have you tried a class? I never took advantage of these until the last year. In Denver, I was shocked to discover I actually liked Pilates. Then I disliked the version at my new gym. But I tried an abs class, and liked that a lot. Last month, I added a "Guns" class and like it even more.
  • Find the right gym. Yes, it makes a difference. A huge difference. I was at a dying Bally's in Denver four-plus years ago, and it was such a slog to get myself there. I thought I was kidding myself that the problem might be the gym rather than me, but I humored myself and changed to 24 Hour Fitness. Wow. Energy is everything. Overnight, I found myself eager to go. (This coincided with my 25-pound weight loss, and helped propel me.) When I moved to NYC last summer, I tried several, and David Barton felt right for me. I like a full gym with people enthusiastic about being there. Some people prefer it quiet. Try different times and places to discover what works for you.  
  • Start the gym a few weeks before the diet. I learned this on Oprah from her long-time trainer Bob Greene. He pointed out something obvious in retrospect: Working out gives you energy--after the break-in stage--but dieting saps it. (Any diet has to put you in calorie deficiency.) The low-energy from the diet makes you sluggish, so it's hard to find the will to go to the gym. That's a cost you have to pay to lose weight, but don't do it while you're trying to get started. Get a gym routine down, get the energy benefits, and then add the diet.
  • Don't do anything you hate, at the gym or on your diet. No one thing is critical. Don't chug wheatgrass if it disgusts you, and don't do the lunges if they hurt your knees. There are substitutes for everything.

Ninety percent of it really is showing up. Which makes it pretty easy in the long run.

I'm fine with carrots, but they're so damn bland if I eat them very often. I like the idea of healthy snacks between meals, but find them completely unsatisfying. I finish a stack and my stomach feels barely filled and my mouth barely acknowledges it opened.

Dipping them in ranch dressing is yummy, but pretty unhealthy. And not all that filling. I experimented with a lot of things, and discovered I loved them dipped in humus. I actually enjoyed the humus more that way than with bread, because of the crunch. Two healthy foods, complimenting each other, making a snack I really enjoy.

I have pretty much the same rules for diet and exercise: Experiment to find healthy things I love and healthy ones I'm OK with. Mix those together, and write off all the ones I despise. Find a combo that's much better than tolerable, but actually pleasing, overall. And stick to it indefinitely.

Works for me. Good luck with yours.


  1. Newbies seem to expect/fantasize overnight results. When they don't begin to see it in 30 days they get discouraged and most often quit. What they don't realize; how long it took you to get out of shape is how long it should take you to get into shape.

  2. I don't really push things for a good result. Everything takes time and you need a lot of sacrificing to do to achieve what you really want.

  3. I want to try to have a workout and see what is the best result for me. This is really exciting and very nice to see what will be the result of the gym for me. Can you post more surprising updates? Anyway, Thank you!.

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