Many people resolve to overhaul their diet or begin a fitness program in the New Year, but in their enthusiasm, fail to consider whether their goals align with their present health. And while the internet may offer a wealth of information on both nutrition and exercise, it’s rarely targeted to individual needs and limitations. This is why there’s a step that you shouldn’t be ignoring when you set your New Year’s Resolution: before beginning a new exercise program or diet, it’s important to consult with your doctor to determine whether you can safely proceed as planned.
Are You Ready for Exercise, and How Much?
If you’re not currently active, you’ll need to start small. Fitness is relative, and your baseline abilities will be unique to your situation. Muscles unused to being challenged will tire and become sore more easily than those of someone who works out every day. The good news is, this also means your muscles won’t adapt as quickly compared to, say, those of a bodybuilder, whose workouts must change and intensify constantly in order to remain effective.
Beyond simple muscle preparedness, however, your overall health should be taken into consideration. Do you have high blood pressure, suffer from shortness of breath, or become dizzy easily? Have you suffered any injuries or heart attack? These are just some essential pieces of the puzzle you and your doctor will want to consider. Even something as seemingly minor as poor ankle mobility following a sprain can impact your ability to do essential movements like squats, and cause other injuries down the road. The body always finds ways to compensate for weakness, but it will take the easiest route, not the safest.
Are Your Expectations Realistic?
It’s important to check in with your doctor before beginning a new diet, too, as they will help you identify how much weight you can or should safely lose. This target will be based on measurements like your current weight, your body mass index (BMI) — which is the ratio between your height and weight and remains a standard measure for health — and your waist circumference. Body fat around the abdomen presents much greater health risks than fat collected in areas like the thighs and buttocks, and can signify a major underlying issue called metabolic syndrome, which will need to be addressed differently than simple overweight.
With this data in hand, you’ll be able to create a diet plan tailored for your specific needs.
Your doctor can also help you set realistic expectations for this process. When setting out to lose weight, we often expect immediate results and get discouraged when we don’t see them. Unfortunately, it takes more than one workout (or salad) to see progress. Indeed, it takes a 3,500 calorie deficit to lose one pound of fat, and that can’t be achieved in one day. To lose that much in a week, you’ll either need to reduce your intake by 500 calories per day, which can be a daunting task, or reduce by 250 calories per day in addition to doing 30 minutes of moderate activity five times per week — a more balanced approach most people find easier and more attainable.
Small Steps to Big Success
Rather than focusing on the end goal, whether that’s losing 30 pounds or lifting a certain amount of weight, it’s important to set smaller, more manageable goals that act as stepping-stones toward a larger objective. Both success and confidence are built in this way. This might mean updating your lunch routine, or resolving to cut sugar out from your daily coffee one week, and then swapping cream out for 2% milk the next. This gives you enough time to get used to the change and feel good about having made it before moving on to the next.
With exercise, this might look like holding a plank for 30 seconds one week, then 45 seconds the next week, and so on.
If you try to do too much too fast, such as by severely restricting calories and over-exercising, you’ll soon succumb to frustration and fatigue and may fall back on your old, comfortable habits. These extreme tactics may work faster, but they cannot, and should not, be sustained in the long-term. Any weight lost this way will return just as quickly.
You should not expect to lose more than two pounds per week, in fact. Anything beyond that, and you’re likely losing water weight and lean muscle mass, not fat, which will leave you feeling weaker than when you started, and less likely to keep up your healthy routine.
Asses, Plan, and Take It Slow
Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts to better health. If you push your body beyond what it can handle, you may find yourself worse off than when you started. Speak to your doctor before resolving to lose weight or get in shape this New Year and ensure you’re setting yourself up for lifelong success.