January 17, 2011

Gaetan Richard, new fitness centre co-ordinator at Mount Allison University provides fitness tips

Shed some pounds for the new year
Published Monday January 3rd, 2011

Healthy eating and regular exercise can help you slim down in 2011 - and don't forget your beauty sleep
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by kimberlee bastien
Times & Transcript staff

So, you've decided to lose the extra weight once and for all. Now what?

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Losing weight is not only a popular New Year's resolution; it's a much-coveted goal many of us set several times throughout the year after failing time and time again. If you want 2011 to be the year you not only lose weight but stick to your resolution over the long-haul, forget about lofty goals and quick results. Success is found in what may seem like small, insignificant changes, the right attitude and maybe a little help from a supportive friend, dietitian or fitness expert.

Here are some key tips to help keep you on track all year long:

Set realistic goals

Instead of aiming to lose a whopping 50 pounds in six months or to exercise an hour a day when you haven't done any physical activity in years, start with smaller, more realistic goals. Strive to lose five pounds in six months or set your sights on swapping an unhealthy habit for a healthier one.

"One of biggest unhealthy habits is skipping meals," says Sharon Pitre, Registered Dietitian with Horizon Health Network. "When you skip meals you lower your metabolism and your body doesn't burn calories as effectively. In other words, you're starving your body. Instead, aim to follow Canada's Food Guide and eat healthy foods every four to six hours. Choose foods from at least three of the four food groups at each of your meals. As a result, your body will become a much more efficient machine, burning calories more effectively."

Another achievable resolution is to schedule time to plan and prepare meals and snacks.

"If you don't, you'll probably indulge in more unhealthy choices - eating out or choosing pre-packaged convenience foods, which are often higher in salt, fat and calories," says Sharon.

A weight loss related resolution you probably haven't considered is getting adequate amounts of sleep.

"We know sleep deficiency can undermine dietary efforts," says Rebecca Bilodeau, Registered Dietitian and Registered Holistic Dietitian. "It can make you hungrier in particular for carbohydrates and starchy foods. You'll also be less able to turn off your appetite." On average most people should aim for at least seven to eight hours of sleep each night.

These examples are the types of realistic New Year's resolutions you can stick with. Once you get a taste of success, it will be easier to make even more healthier choices, eventually leading to permanent weight loss.

For example, your goal may be to begin walking for 30 minutes three times a week. Once you've committed to that goal for several weeks, you'll be ready to take another step such as signing up for a gym membership or simply adding a few extra minutes of exercise to your workout.

"The biggest most important thing is to progress into it," says Gaétan Richard, Mount Allison University's fitness centre co-ordinator and offensive line football coach. "Don't try to do the biggest workout of your life your first day at the gym. Allow yourself to slowly change your habits over an extended period of time so it becomes an important part of your lifestyle. That's what's going to help you stay at it until the following New Year."

Here are a few other examples of mini-goals you may want to set for yourself:

* Drink enough water every day. On average women need nine cups per day and men require 12 cups per day.

* Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables. On average women should aim for seven to eight servings and men should strive for 10 servings.

* Switch from drinking calorie containing beverages to water with a splash of lemon, caffeine free herbal teas or ice tea made with herbal tea.

* Eliminate fried foods.

* Substitute high sugar convenience snack foods with fruits and veggies dipped in hummus or nuts and seeds.

* Bring a healthy brown bag lunch to work instead of splurging on high-fat, high calorie take-out foods.

* Go for a 30 minute walk during your lunch breaks.

* Take the stairs instead of the elevator.

* Use a pedometer to keep track of the number of steps you take and challenge yourself to take a few extra steps every day.

* Sneak in extra exercise by parking further from your destination.

Attitude is everything

There's no easy way to lose weight. If you want to take off the pounds for good you have to exercise and eat properly.

"It all comes down to the person's attitude and approach," says Gaétan. "Since last year, I lost quite a bit of weight and everyone asks me how I did it. There's no secret. You have to commit to a healthy lifestyle day in and day out. Don't get discouraged. Just keep progressing one day at a time and eventually you'll lose the weight."

Map your progress

Keeping a detailed record of your weight loss, dietary intake and physical activity may be the most crucial step in achieving your weight loss goals. "If you're faced with a choice between a chocolate bar and an apple, there's a higher chance you'll choose an apple if you have to write it down," says Sharon. "A lot of my patients keep food journals and it does make a difference."

By keeping a food and exercise journal, you'll also be able to better monitor your progress and pinpoint any problem areas.

"I recommend taking 10 minutes before you go to bed to write down what you did," says Gaétan. "It's very easy to make excuses during the course of a day, but paper doesn't lie. You may discover you're not doing as much as you should. This is a good time to make changes to your schedule so you can continue to improve."

Monitor your calorie intake

It's hard to lose weight if you have no idea how much you should be eating. By tracking how many calories you eat every day, you'll have a good indication as to how little or how much you're consuming.

Your energy requirement is based on your age, gender and activity level. Most women between the ages of 19 and 50 require 1,900 calories per day to maintain their weight and 1,400 to 1,500 calories per day to lose weight in addition to regular physical activity. Most men between the ages of 19 and 50 require 2,200 calories per day to maintain their weight and 1,700 to 1,900 calories per day to lose weight in addition to regular physical activity.

You can monitor your calorie intake through the Dietitians of Canada's eating and activity tracker - www.eatracker.ca. The free program provides feedback on your daily calorie intake and essential nutrients compared to Health Canada's guidelines for your age, gender and activity level. It also determines your BMI (body mass index) and provides information to help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

In addition to tracking your calories, you may want to consider consulting a dietitian who can provide a personalized plan such as individualized portion sizes, recommends Rebecca.

Changing your diet alone is not enough if you want to be successful in your quest for weight loss. In fact, studies have shown that those who combine diet and exercise have longer-term success than those who only tweak their eating habits, says Rebecca. "Making exercise part of your changes is absolutely critical."

Exercise will help you burn more calories and shape muscles. Depending on your current physical activity level, simply taking the stairs instead of the elevator may be the perfect starting point. "You don't have to go out and do a crazy workout routine," says Gaétan. "If you watch TV at night, why not do lunges and squats during the commercial breaks? If you watch more than one episode, stretch during the second show's advertisements."

If you can only commit to one exercise a week, Gaétan recommends choosing a cardio workout such as walking, jogging or biking. As a starting point cardio wins out over lifting weights. "Cardio allows you to burn more calories and it's more beneficial in the long run in many areas of your health."

If you're in the Sackville area, Mount Allison University's fitness centre will be offering a six-week (one hour, twice a week) fit camp in the New Year. In addition to working out, you'll receive the tools and knowledge to sustain your exercise once the program is finished.

Remove temptation

If your kitchen is stocked with 'bad' foods, it's going to be hard to stick to a nutritious food plan especially when the munchies strike. "Stock your pantry with whole grains and fresh veggies, fruit and meats and other whole foods," says Rebecca. "This way you'll be making health foods convenient. I have clients that prepare a veggie tray each week like you'd order in the store or who buy one." Remove any food items that may cause you to fall off the nutrition bandwagon such as cookies, chips and soda. If you don't, it's probably only a matter of time before you breakdown and give in to a craving. When a snack attack occurs, choose fresh fruits and low-fat cheese or yogurt, one per cent chocolate milk, raw fruit and crackers.

Of course, it's okay to treat yourself every now and then, says Sharon. "No one should deprive themselves of their favourite foods. If you've followed Canada's Food Guide and exercised, there's nothing wrong with going out and having a small treat once a week. You just have to learn about moderation."

There aren't many good excuses for not sticking to your weight loss goals. I don't have time is the number one excuse, says Gaétan. But if you plan ahead and make exercise and eating right as important as meeting with a client, you can kick this excuse goodbye. "At the end of the day you're going to have make sacrifices," he says. "But if weight loss is something you really want, you'll have to give up something whether it's getting up earlier in the morning or passing up an hour of TV."

If you choose an activity you enjoy, you'll be more likely to stick with it. For some that might be swimming, gardening or biking. For others it may mean participating in a sport or joining an aerobics class. Listening to music or watching a favourite TV show while exercising are other ways you can make an otherwise boring activity fun.

Don't Do it alone

Friends and family can provide support and keep you motivated when the going gets tough. "Sometimes they can be saboutagers," warns Sharon. "But if you feel they're supportive of your healthier lifestyle choices certainly work with them."

Telling them your goals will also make you more accountable to achieving them. And sometimes they just may give you the extra push you need to get out the door and exercise or choose an apple over a bag of chips. "You can also be referred to a dietician to help support and guide you in regards to making healthy lifestyle choices," adds Sharon.

Yet ultimately true motivation has to come from within, says Gaétan. "But it definitely helps to have someone there to push you through the times you don't want to do what you gotta do."

Beware of the scale

The scale is not always an accurate measurement of your weight loss success or failure and could lead to disappointment, says Rebecca. "You could be having fantastic success, but if you're attached to the number on the scale, you motivation may fizzle out. A better indication of your success is how your clothes fit." If you do weigh yourself, try not to get on the scale more than once a week unless you have a medical condition that requires you to do so, suggests Sharon.

When you feel like giving up, motivate yourself

There are going to be days when you don't want to continue down the path to weight loss. You won't feel like exercising or that big bag of junk food starts calling your name. "If you choose to stay on track, these moments are going to be the reason why you lose the extra weight," says Gaétan. "So use that as your motivation."

If you become discouraged because you haven't achieved your goal, remember even a small change or improvement is better than none at all. "If you lose just two pounds, that's better than zero," says Sharon. "Just envision two pounds of butter strapped to your body. And if you lose two pounds a month, by the end of year you'll have lost 24 pounds."

Even if you have a bad week, the best plan of action is to put it behind you and start fresh the next day with healthier behaviours.

Don't worry about what others think

If you've ever felt intimated by the gym, don't. "This is your health," says Gaétan. "You only have one life, one body so you have to take care of it. If you're at the gym trying to be healthier and fit, everybody respects and appreciates that. If you don't know what to do, ask someone at the front desk. The hardest part is taking that first step and going there."

Being overweight can lead to many health problems including heart disease and type 2 diabetes. By sticking to your weight loss goals, not only may you live longer and avoid many diseases, you'll look better, feel better and have more energy to do the things you enjoy. Now that's a good reason to make a New Year's toast to a thinner you.

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Tips to help you stick with your New Year's weight loss resolution
* Set your sights lower: Set small realistic goals you can achieve over the long term. You'll develop healthy habits that last a lifetime and as a result you'll lose the extra pounds.
* Write down your goals: If you don't know why you're making changes, it's going to be hard to stick with them when a challenge presents itself. A detailed plan kept in clear view will keep you on track.
* Review your accomplishments: Monitoring your progression at the end of each month provides motivation and allows you to make any necessary changes to your plan.
* Take it one day at a time: Avoid becoming discouraged by focusing on what you have to do today instead of looking at the sometimes overwhelming big picture.
* Treat yourself: Don't deny yourself your favourite foods. In moderation they can be part of a nutritious meal plan and prevent you from feeling deprived.
* Don't get a gym membership on January 1: Many people make going to the gym their New Year's resolution only to quit after a few workouts. Wait to get a gym membership until you've developed a habit of incorporating more physical activity into your daily routine and you'll be much more likely to stick with an exercise program.
* Eat mindfully: Avoid eating while working or in front of the TV or computer. If you eat mindfully, you'll be better able to monitor the food that has passed your lips and therefore less likely to overeat.