We've got just the advice and motivation you need to bounce back after a season of eating, drinking, and merry-making.
By Stacy Stapleton
With the last cookie eaten and all the decorations finally put away, the first few weeks after the holiday season can seem like one big letdown—especially if you’ve found yourself five pounds heavier than when it all started. Although it’s tempting to just hole up and keeping right on munching straight through winter, now is the perfect time to do a little damage control and recover from those holiday binges.
Stop Dieting and Start Living—Healthfully
We all know that over the long term, fad diets don’t work. Yet at one point or another almost everyone has tried a “get skinny quick” scheme with the hope of shedding those post-holiday pounds—and keeping them off for good. But the truth is, unless you embrace some healthy lifestyle changes, you’ll be making (and breaking) the same weight-loss resolution every New Year.
“I hate the word diet,” says Gale Reed, RD, outpatient dietician at Overlook Hospital, “because it always suggests some sort of deprivation, which is never sustainable and the weight always comes back.” Reed has counseled countless patients looking to lose weight and improve their health (not to mention their appearance); here, she shares some of her proven strategies for success.
- “Set reasonable goals for the coming year, like losing 10 percent of your body weight,” she suggests. Trying to do the impossible—like losing 50 pounds in three months—only makes it easier to give up and slip back into old habits.
- Have a plan of attack. “Look for a good weight-management program that will teach you life skills you can live with every day,” says Reed. Ask yourself whether you prefer a group setting, like Weight Watchers, or a one-on-one program.
- Ideally you should have a buddy to lose weight with you. This way you can keep each other on track and have someone to call when you’re craving that banana split.
- “Changing your environment is essential,” says Reed. This means getting the junk food out of the house: Replace sweet, fatty, or salty treats with snacks you can eat more of while accumulating fewer calories (think high-fiber foods, veggies, and fruit).
- Create daily reminders of what you’re trying to achieve. Leave encouraging messages for yourself on the refrigerator door or post a photo of yourself when you were at your goal weight to prevent late-afternoon snacking.
- Understand that overeating is often emotionally driven, and then pinpoint your triggers so you’re ready with a healthy alternative when the mood strikes. “And remember, not all emotional eating comes from sadness or stress,” says Reed. “Many people eat as a form of celebration or as a way to curb excitement.”
- Keep a food journal. A recent study found that the majority of people who lose weight successfully and keep the pounds off write down everything they eat. Not only does this give you a clear picture of where you need improvement, but it forces you to be accountable for everything that goes into your mouth and not sneak nibbles here and there.
- Reward yourself for meeting small goals, like losing two pounds. Just make sure the prize is not food-related. Reed suggests a manicure or girls’ night out at the movies.
- When you fall off the wagon (and everyone does), don’t let it be the start of a downward spiral. Just accept that a mistake happened, and get right back on track.
Get moving again
Our diets aren’t the only thing that take a backseat during the holidays. Time at the gym also becomes less of a priority as our social lives and family responsibilities heat up—and it’s hard to get back into the habit. To get back in the swing of things after a respite from your usual exercise regimen, try these tips from the pros.
- “Keep a personal log of your workouts,” says Jean White, health and wellness director at the Westfield YMCA. This will allow you to track your progress as you build up to where you were before the holidays and keep you motivated.
- To stay fit, do something you enjoy. If you stopped going to the gym because the holiday TV lineup was more interesting than getting nowhere on the treadmill, try switching to an elliptical machine or take some classes instead.
- Ask a friend to work out with you. “Meeting someone at the gym is a great motivator on several levels,” explains White. “You’ll start looking forward to working out, you’ll have a standing appointment to keep with your buddy—and who likes canceling on a friend?—and you’ll have someone to be accountable to if you slack off.”
- Keep an extra set of workout clothes in your car so you can’t rely on the classic “I forgot my gym bag at home” excuse.
But what if you’ve never exercised before and recently made a new year’s resolution—that you’re about to break—to get into shape? “Walking into the gym is half the battle for beginners,” says White. “Once you’re there, talk to a trainer who can help you build an exercise program around three key components: cardio or aerobic work, strength training, and flexibility or stretching.” Not only will this give you the most effective workout possible, it will also keep things interesting. After all, doing the same exercise every day is enough to drive anyone to quit.
And remember to start slowly. Carol Crincoli, owner of Pure Pilates in New Providence, shares her KISS philosophy with new clients: “Keep It Simple (to) Start.” For example, begin with short workouts (like 15 to 20 minutes) for the first few weeks and build up to those 45-minute sessions. Pilates is an ideal way to start exercising, “since anyone can do it, from novices to dedicated athletes, and everyone advances at their own pace,” says Crincoli. “Plus, if you go just two or three times a week, you can start seeing results in as little as ten sessions.” Exercise classes are another great way for beginners to fall in love with fitness, since they add a social aspect to your time at the gym (which can be just the trick for stay-at-home moms and retirees).
Remember, though, that whether you’re returning to the gym after a hiatus or getting started for the first time, you should anticipate some soreness. “It’s important to ease into—or back into—exercise,” says White. “For example, if you used to run five miles on a treadmill, start with two. Don’t expect to just pick up where you left off.” White is quick to add, though, that getting in shape is easier the second time around. “Muscles have memory, so a workout veteran will reach her goals faster than a newcomer,” she explains. Regardless of your fitness history, when it comes to pain it’s important to listen to your body and respect what you feel. Here are some of White’s favorite ways to handle those inevitable aches and pains.
- Get a massage, if your budget allows.
- Take a day off from exercising, or work out easier the next day.
- Don’t take to the couch, where you’ll just stiffen up. “If you’re planning to skip the gym that day, at least take a walk around the block to stay loose,” says White.
- Take a hot bath.
- Call a doctor if you experience any sharp, shooting pain or pain that appears in your joints (like your knees or shoulders) instead of your muscles.
Slaying the Scale - When diet and exercise aren't enough
You diet. You work out. You’ve even tried doctor-prescribed weight-loss medications. And nothing has worked …
For many people, bariatric surgery—including gastric bypass and banding—may be the only way to finally shed substantial excess weight and improve their health and quality of life. But the decision to have bariatric surgery is never an easy one. Ajay Goyal, MD, director of bariatric surgery at Overlook Hospital, advises all of his patients to ask themselves these questions before going through with any procedure.
- Is my weight compromising my health by causing conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, or sleep apnea?
- Have I been unable to lose weight by traditional means for several years?
- Am I ready to commit to the permanent lifestyle changes necessary for making the surgery a success over the long term? “It’s important to remember that surgery is only a tool that provides the extra boost to get started,” says Goyal.
If you do decide to go ahead with bariatric surgery, you should expect to make some significant lifestyle changes. This includes following your doctor’s post-surgery guidelines, like sticking to a low-calorie, high-protein diet and banning liquid calories (so long, Starbucks) and fast food. You’ll also be expected to go to the gym regularly, weigh yourself weekly to catch weight gain early, and visit your doctor to maintain your weight-loss goals.
Remember that all surgery comes with risks that should be weighed against potential benefits, and bariatric procedures are no exception. Although they are statistically very safe (Goyal’s practice boasts one of the lowest complication rates in the nation), some risks and side effects include infection, temporary hair loss, hernias, gallstones, and dumping syndrome (experiencing vomiting, nausea, sweating, and diarrhea after eating, due to decreased calorie absorption). Still, for many patients considering bariatric surgery, the prize at the end is well worth the hard work and risks involved. Studies show that most surgery patients lose three to five pounds per week in the first three to six months after surgery, and go on to lose 60 percent to 70 percent of their excess weight over 18 months—significant (and often life-saving) results, indeed.
Getting Personal - Going beyond workouts and weight loss
When you’re trying to lose weight and get in shape, it can be hard to go it alone. If you’ve been thinking about enlisting the help of a personal trainer, consider instead the latest incarnation of fitness gurus: wellness coaches.
Wellness coaches differ from trainers in that they do not teach you what to do; rather, they help you design realistic goals that will help you create a lifestyle you can live with—and keep you motivated, too. Coaches are uniquely trained to help you make life-altering behavioral changes, like being mindful of what and how you eat and jettisoning stress and bad habits. “Many people look at exercise or eating right as a punishment,” says Risa Olinsky, executive director and founder of the Health and Wellness Professional Network (www.hwpn.org) and a Licensed Certified Wellcoach who has worked with many celebrities, “but a wellness coach’s job is to empower the client to take total responsibility for their health, not just work them out and send them home with a list of exercises.”
- If you’re interested in working with a wellness coach, finding the right match is essential. Here’s how to get started.
- Check out www.wellcoaches.com for a directory of 2,000 coaches worldwide. You can also fill out the site’s quick survey to be matched with a coach near you.
- The coach you choose should be fully insured. If you have any special considerations, like heart disease or a back injury, be sure the coach you hire has hands-on experience working with these conditions.
- While it’s natural to value your friends’ judgment, bear in mind that the right coach for them may not be right for you.
- When you interview coaches, be sure they aren’t just pushing their own agendas. A wellness coach should be a good listener who encourages self-acceptance.