January is the month when many take a look at their physical appearance, decide they need to lay off the sweets and fast food, and hit the gym.
Fitness centers see a big rush in the first few months of the year as members and new members come through the doors.
“That’s a good thing,” says Penny Luthens, group exercise director for the YMCA of Greater Des Moines. “But research says it takes about 30 days to start a habit. If you can get people to that 30-day habit, it’s a great thing. If people can set up a schedule and stick with it for 30 days, it starts to not feel like something extra. A lot of people say ‘I don’t have time,’ and you do have time, you just have to make it a priority just like anything else.”
Nikki VanGinkel didn’t wait for New Year’s to make losing weight and getting healthy a priority in her life. It was Nov. 29, 2011, and the new mom had just seen photos from her daughter’s first birthday party.
“At her first birthday, I was still wearing maternity jeans and clothes I wore when I was pregnant. And when our pictures came back, I wasn’t happy with them,” she recalls.
She was so physically tired from being overweight — she weighed 206 pounds — and didn’t have energy that when she would get home from work, she had no desire to play on the floor with her young child.
VanGinkel joined a local gym that had a 12-week challenge. It was hard work, but the results she had received from the initial health assessment “were terrifying” enough that she knew she had to stick with it.
At first she could only work out two or three days a week.
“I was so tired, and my body hurt so bad. But you’ve got to start somewhere, and something is better than nothing,” she says.
The exercise program and a change in her eating habits helped VanGinkel drop 13 pounds from her 5-foot-2-inch frame during the challenge. Then she joined a different gym and started running.
“I really didn’t care what I ate before,” she says. “I just ate what I wanted and had no portion control and no control whatsoever. Now I have been doing 1,200 calories a day. I measure everything. I log everything in MyFitnessPal.com.”
MyFitnessPal.com is an online food journal that helps calculate calories and creates diet plans.
As VanGinkel dropped weight and grew stronger — she lost 40 pounds the first seven months — she found she was able to do things she couldn’t before. She ran her first 5-kilometer race, the Warrior Dash, last summer.
She plateaued on her weight loss and joined Kosama downtown in July. She gets up at 5 a.m. every morning to work out. Through workouts there, she’s lost about another 30 pounds, for a total weight loss of 68 pounds. Her goal was to get to 140 pounds, which is what she weighed in college. She dropped to 138 in mid-December.
Bill Koller, a personal trainer at Fitness World 24, says the key for anyone who wants to get healthy is to make a realistic goal and then put an action plan into place.
The action plan helps the person decide the adjustments he or she will make. These include tracking food intake, starting a fitness plan, cutting back on smoking, or drinking alcohol one day a week rather than three or four.
The person also needs to find a source to hold him or herself accountable to the workouts and lifestyle changes. It could be friends, coworkers or family, as long as it’s a group of people who will encourage and support him or her.
Fitness facilities often recommend the use of a personal trainer for several reasons:
• To hold people accountable when they lose interest in their exercise program.
• To create a program that works specifically for that individual.
• To ensure that people are using their time as efficiently as possible by doing the best workout for their bodies.
• To help people learn how to correctly use weight room and exercise equipment to prevent injury.
• To help people meet their performance and fitness goals.
• To change routines or help them get back on track if they have hit a plateau with their training or weight loss.
While much emphasis is placed on exercise, both personal trainers and nutrition experts will say 80 percent of a person’s weight comes from what goes into their mouth, and that it’s important for him or her to realize that any changes made are long-term, lifestyle changes, rather than the typical New Year’s resolution to lose weight.
“I think that people always look for a quick fix,” says Janelle Heusinger, a registered licensed dietician with Iowa Health Physicians and Clinics. “They need to get out of the mentality of popping a pill or the fad diet or something they buy on an infomercial.”
Heusinger recommends that anyone who wants to lose weight meet with a dietician to learn about the appropriate foods to eat and to discuss the reasoning behind their eating. She works with a wide range of weight-loss surgery patients and counsels them about healthy eating and the importance of taking vitamins and supplements.
One important thing Heusinger says people need to remember is that it’s better to lose weight at a slow pace. When a person drops 10 pounds quickly, it’s mostly just water weight and other fluids leaving the body. If a person loses weight more slowly, she says they’re losing fat and are therefore more likely to maintain the weight loss.
The more natural and healthy foods people eat, the more successful they will be with weight loss, Heusinger says. She says oftentimes people find excuses, mostly a lack of time or cost, as to why they don’t eat fresh foods such as fruits and vegetables or make their own meals.
She points out that spending $5 on a fast food sandwich adds up over time, when a person could get up 10 minutes earlier and eat a piece of toast for breakfast.
“To be successful, you really have to have that planning and time management,” she says.
Successful weight loss also requires setting goals and having a support system at home or willpower if others in the house aren’t following the same lifestyle change when it comes to eating better, she says.
Heusinger recommends the following tips for those who want to improve their diets:
• Plan meals in order to eat as healthy as possible.
• Read food labels and know what’s in what you eat. A protein bar may seem like a good meal alternative, but check the number of calories that are in it.
• Avoid empty liquid calories from soft drinks, juices and alcohol.
• Watch portion control, not only for yourself but also your children. Give kids a small handful of a snack rather than the entire container. The same applies to adults. “You can’t sit down with a bag of chips and watch TV because you’re never going to realize what you’re eating,” Heusinger says.
• Read menus carefully and don’t be afraid to ask for substitutions. Also, divide your meal in half as soon as it arrives at the table and ask for a to-go box to take home half of it. “It’s really about taking charge,” she says. “It’s not just whatever you’re served is what you have to eat.”
• Take multi-vitamin supplements. Vitamin D and calcium deficiencies are very common, she says. Both are important for strong bones and thyroid regulation.
• Avoid processed foods.
• Use an online application such as Myfitnesspal.com to keep track of foods consumed and calories taken in.
• Educate yourself on nutrition and don’t believe fad diets or what you read or see on televisions. Heusinger says many people come to her thinking they can’t eat bread or rice because they’re following a fad diet. “I think a way to be successful is to follow proper nutrition and getting that advice from a dietician, not the guy from the health food store,” she says.
Heusinger also says exercise is very important to maintaining weight loss.
Luthens, the group exercise director for the YMCA of Greater Des Moines, says the Y’s various branches, including the Riverfront YMCA located downtown, have several classes that would benefit exercise newbies. The YMCA also offers a complimentary meeting with a wellness coach to all new members.
The YMCA’s wellness coaches are trained professionals who can help guide people to the exercise program that will help them meet their goals. In other words, they help the person answer, “why you’re here and what you want to get out of your membership,” Luthens says.
The YMCA this month began offering the national Body Pump program at its various branches. It’s a strength-training class that helps people burn lots of calories with high repetitions of lifting lower weights.
“It’s a total body workout,” Luthens says. “You’re doing all of the major muscle groups. In addition, they throw in some wonderful interval training, so you get a little bit of cardio, as well. It’s a wonderful program to add to anyone’s current program they’re doing. It’s also a starting point” for those who are just getting into an exercise program.
Luthens says for exercise beginners, she recommends group exercise classes because they provide an immediate support system.
“It creates community, and community has a tendency to keep people committed,” she says. “They realize they’re part of a group.”
She also says participating in a variety of exercise classes helps people find what they enjoy and what works for them. Many of the classes, she says, can be adjusting to various fitness levels.
The options for starting or maintaining healthy habits in the new year are numerous. Invest your efforts in a fitness resolution and give yourself a launch pad for starting your new year and your new life.