Have a Happy (Healthy) New Year!

Your One Stop Shop to Make a Healthy New Year’s Resolution

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New Year, New You?

Happy New Year! How is 2021 going for you so far, did you make a New Year’s resolution? If you did, this post will help give you some ideas to tune up and strengthen your resolution. If you have not made a resolution, it is not too late…make a January 9 resolution! There is nothing magical about the date of January 1 to commit to self improvement, the only truly important factor is your commitment and follow through.

Getting Started on the Path Towards a Healthier You

Given the theme of my blog, I assume you are reading this post for ideas on Health or Fitness related resolutions. The framework I am going to outline can be applied to other goals as well, but the examples will be related to Health and Wellness. Last year, I wrote a fairly extensive blog post about goal setting, please take a look if you would like some additional information about the general topic of goals.

First, start with where you are. Take inventory of your daily and weekly routines of nutrition, exercise, stress, and sleep. A great way to accomplish this is a daily journal, to help you log specifics within each category. It is important to be as detailed and specific as possible when journaling, as this will help inform your goals. Also, be honest with yourself, you cannot make goals to improve if you are not being real about your starting point. Here is an example of what I daily journal can look like, to help give you an idea to get started:

Monday

Exercise: 2,000 steps during the day.

Food and Drink:

Morning: Coffee with cream and sugar.

Around 9 am: McDonald’s Bacon Egg and Cheese Breakfast Bagel, Hashbrowns, Coffee with cream and sugar.

Around 12 noon: BLT Sandwich with Mayo, 1 granola bar.

Around 3 pm: 1 Diet Coke, 1 Nutra-grain Bar.

Around 6 pm: Baked chicken breast with honey mustard glaze, side of rice, side salad.

Around 7:30 pm: Snack (bag of Doritos), 12 oz Beer.

Sleep: To bed around 11:30 pm (did not fall asleep right away), woke up at 6 am for work.

Stress: I was stressed out by my commute to and from work, my meetings at work, and dinner preparation.

Keep daily journal entries for a week before you think about making any changes, and be honest and accurate with yourself. Once you have a week of “baseline data”, you can then start to look at goals, and how you will work towards them.

If you are looking to make a change to your diet and your journal looks something like above, do not worry about counting calories or macro-nutrients if this is not something you have done before. Rather, take note of the food choices, and estimated portion sizes to give you an idea of your starting point.

If you have weight loss or nutritional goals, start with the obvious answer before taking measures such as counting calories and macro-nutrients. Can you identify the low hanging fruit/obvious improvements to the food journal above? Here are a few that will result in improvements if practiced consistently:

  1. Ditch the cream and sugar in coffee. Drink black coffee, or substitute black or green tea.
  2. Ditch McDonalds, and make your own breakfast. Even with similar food choices at breakfast, you can control the ingredients and limit processed/fried food.
  3. Ditch the soda, substitute water, seltzer, herbal tea.
  4. Ditch the late night snack and drink, you don’t need to eat so soon after dinner, you could move the beer to Saturday as a treat if you like beer. Substitute a cup of herbal tea or other calorie free beverage.

Are there other areas for improvement in the food journals above? Sure there are, and I bet you found a few. The basic concept I wanted to demonstrate is that we all know the parts of our routine that provide little to no nutritional value and do not enhance our health, it is truly not rocket science.

What are your Goals?

Realistically, you probably had an idea about your goals before you did a daily journal to see your baseline. Here are a few examples of common goal categories related to Health and Fitness:

  1. Desire to lose weight or some other physical/appearance related goal.
  2. Desire to change something in our diet (stop drinking soda, for example).
  3. Desire to improve our physical fitness (increase steps per day, get stronger, start running as examples).

If you have not had a chance to think about specific goals, take some time and do this before you start making changes to what you find in your daily journals. If you do not know your goals and outcomes, you can’t really be intentional when making changes to what you are currently doing.

Find Your Theme

In addition to goals, I recommend creating a guiding theme for you to follow and reference during 2021. I had a guiding theme in 2020, and saw some of the best sustained results I have ever experienced. A guiding theme is not a specific goal you can achieve, but rather a phrase that inspires you and keeps you moving towards your goals. For more information on guiding themes, check out the Goal Setting Post I referenced above.

Analyzing your Personal Data from Journals

Now that you have goals, and (hopefully) a guiding theme, take a look and see if what you found in your daily journals is serving you in achieving these results. I will use the sample daily journal above for this example:

Sample Goal: I want to add weight training in to my daily routine, 3 days per week, for 30 minutes. For the example above, assume there is no weight/resistance training at all.

Challenges: I am very inexperienced with weight training, I do not have a Gym membership, I am uncertain about Gyms due to the state of COVID in 2021, I don’t have time during the week.

Solutions:

  1. First, find the time! Based on the daily journals above, this person could find time in the morning, or the evening to do 30 minutes of exercise. For the morning, they would need to go to sleep earlier, so they can wake up earlier to exercise. If they are not a morning person, they could exercise in the evening. Personally, I have a hard time winding down to go to sleep if I work out in the evening, so I choose the morning.
  2. Go on Google or You Tube and find some basic, body weight exercises, you don’t need a Gym to train! The internet is a wonderful tool, and this person will find that you don’t need a Gym (or equipment) to get an excellent workout routine using body weight exercises. In your home with no equipment, you can do push ups, modified pushups, sit ups, crunches, lunges, squats, chair squats, etc, etc. You can even find some free workout videos to follow along with, even better!
  3. Pick very basic exercises, and spend time learning the technique of them before following along with a workout video. You can teach yourself enough of the basics to get moving and get some results.
  4. Considering hiring an online personal trainer or coach. As mentioned above, you can learn enough of the basics to get moving and get some results. However, if someone is inexperienced, it is always advisable to seek professional help to make sure your movements are safe and functional. For example, someone might be powering through push ups and see great results, but if their technique is even slightly off, they may end up with sore elbows and have no idea why.
  5. Once you meet your goal, stop and reassess. It is a big deal to build a routine of consistency when it comes to exercise, but once you accomplish any goal you need to think about what is next. This is where a guiding theme will motivate you for constant improvement.
  6. Keep journaling. Write down your own ideas for goals, challenges, and solutions as you make improvements.

Example Next Level Goals: Using the example above, once you accomplish your goal of weight training three times per week, here are some possible next steps.

  1. Hire a trainer or coach to help me learn better technique, new exercises, and develop a plan.
  2. Find variations of the exercises I have learned to make them more challenging.
  3. Add time to my workouts, perhaps increase to 40 minutes per day 3 times per week.
  4. Add cardio exercise or steps to the days of the week I am not weight training.
  5. Make a change to my diet which will help increase my energy levels and results, such as cutting out added sugar/artificial sweeteners gradually, starting with soda.

Tip: Regardless of your goals, I highly increasing the quality of your sleep. Sleep by nature is restorative, and will enhance any area of your health and wellbeing you have as a goal. I plan to write a more comprehensive post about sleep in the future, but for now just try and make sure you are getting 7-8 good hours of sleep per night.

Also, continue to journal as you make progress and set new goals. The daily journals will help you keep track of what is working for you, and perhaps what may not be working. Journals can also be a source of motivation, they help you see progress along your journey.

Make It Happen!

Remember, there is nothing magical about January 1, you can make meaningful change any time of the year. Make 2021 your year, it starts now!

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Happy (Healthy) Holidays

A Blog Post all about How You can make a Plan to have a Happy, and Healthy Holiday Season!

Photo by Oleg Zaicev on Pexels.com

Jingle All the Way! Catching Up on the Series

If you are brand new to my Blog or this Holiday posting series, welcome! This post series is the final leg in a series about breaking the Holiday Cycle of adding pounds and inches to our waist from October- January 1, and making a New Year’s resolution to essentially undo the damage. If we are not careful, this can be an annual occurrence.

This blog series is a case study format, I made a Holiday Health plan for myself and documented my progress. For more information on this topic and ideas to make your own Healthy Holiday plan, please see my previous post.

These posts were broken up into a series, so please also see my Thanksgiving post to catch up on the first month of the Holiday Season. This will show how November went for me, and also tips I share from my experience.

Summary of Tips, Challenges, and Highlights [Video]

My Top Tips for Healthy Holiday Success

During the program, I included a series of tips and strategies that worked well for me, I invite you to take a look at them below and hope they may give you some ideas or inspiration.

Intermittent Fasting: Put simply, intermittent fasting is going period of time without eating or drinking anything with significant calories (black coffee has some calories, but does not break a fast). There are potential metabolic benefits to fasting, and it is also a strategy to help manage your overall intake of food in a day. If you eat breakfast at 6 am, Lunch at 12 noon, dinner at 6 pm, and have late night snacks after dinner, your overall intake of food/calories will likely be higher than if you manage all meals within an 8 hour time frame each day.

The basic concept is to have a 16 hour fast, and an 8 hour period in which to eat your meals; this protocol can be adjusted to incorporate a longer fast and shorter eating period as well. The style I used this week was one meal a day (OMAD) intermittent fasting.

This is something I have in my dietary toolbelt because I spent some time building this metabolic flexibility while trying out the Keto diet for 30 days in September. If you started off trying to manage with one meal per day, it may be quiet uncomfortable if you have not spent some time trying out fasting and adjusting. If you wanted to give intermittent fasting a try, here is an idea:

  1. Eat dinner at 6 pm after a normal day, no late night snacks.
  2. When you wake up, do not eat breakfast, only have black coffee, tea, or water (no sugar or artificial sweetener.
  3. If you get hungry before 10 am, drink plenty of water.
  4. Eat your first meal at 10 am.

You have just fasted 16 hours!

I found that utilizing intermittent fasting a few days per week (especially the week of a holiday) helped me operate with slightly fewer calories than I need. This slight calorie deficit to (hopefully) help balance out the holidays that week.

Hydration: Hydration is important with any nutrition plan, but especially with intermittent fasting. Your body will sometimes send signals that indicate hunger, when actually you are thirsty and just need some water. And when I say hydration, I mean pure, clean water…you can have other beverages during the day, but the majority of your fluid intake should be water. Here is a helpful previous post on Hydration.

Eliminate Trigger Foods: Trigger Foods are foods that you are unable to stop eating once you have even a little bit, and they are different for everyone. It doesn’t matter if the food is “healthy” or not, what matters is your ability to control intake and stop eating the food. Mixed nuts may be considered “healthy”, but for me they can be a trigger food, so I avoided them during my Holiday plan.

Eliminate (or greatly reduce) Grain, Added Sugar, Alcohol: This is a strategy I picked up during my Whole 30, and found that there are exponential returns on your health and energy levels when eliminating these food and drink groups. If you think of your trigger foods from above, I bet you a vast majority of them either have grain, or added sugar (or, you have a harder time controlling the trigger food if you have a few drinks).

Make the Weekend Winning Time! Use the weekend to get even more sleep, spend more time meal planning, and do some fun movements and exercise. If you party, drink, have treats, and stay up late on weekends (every weekend), you take away progress you are working towards.

Exercise on the Holiday! Even if you are going to have your favorite treats on the Holiday, make it a point to move and exercise. Do something that is fun and meaningful for you; walk, run, push up, pull up, lift weights. Make exercise and movement part of your celebration, you will feel great, and rev up that metabolism before your big day!

Theme your workout for the Holiday to give you extra motivation. If you like to run, go for a jog Thanksgiving morning and call it the “Turkey Trot”, for example. I used “Jingle (Kettle) Bells” and featured Kettlebell or Barbell exercises on all weight training days, as my theme for December.

Stick to your plan. You made a plan to be healthy during the holidays, make sure you stick with it! No late night snacks on Tuesday, no drinks and delivery Pizza on Wednesday before Thanksgiving Thursday (for example). If your plan is to dial in your nutrition every day except the Holiday, stick to your plan! Part two of this tip is immediately get back on your plan after the Holiday. Allowing the same habits to stick around for another week can be bad news for your goals, so get back to it!

On the Holiday, Eat what you like! What I mean by this is when you are deciding to enjoy a Holiday, or any particular meal, eat the foods you really like. You have already decided that it is ok to indulge a little bit and have some treats, but there is really no need to add foods to your plate that you consider to be just “ok”. For example, if you love Turkey and Mashed Potatoes, but can’t stand green bean casserole, skip the casserole! Do not worry about counting calories on the Holiday, but do consider that eating foods you don’t really love fills you up unnecessarily, can make you uncomfortable, and take away from the enjoyment of the day. Another example of this is eating things simply because they are there, like appetizers. Apply the same logic, if you really like the appetizer being served have it, if you don’t, skip it!

Exercise the Day After. No matter how you feel the day after a Holiday, get up and do something. Even if it is as basic as a walk, getting up and exercise the day after helps renew your commitment to health and wellness. The trick is, make a specific plan. In your plan, include what you will do for exercise, and when you will do it…if you leave it open ended “I will do some type of exercise the day after Christmas”, you are much less likely to follow through as compared to making a specific plan. I found from my experience that when I knew a workout was coming the next morning, I didn’t over indulge quite as much as I might have otherwise.

Sleep. Make sure you focus on quality sleep is part of your routine to be happy and healthy during the holidays. Sleep is low hanging fruit when it comes to getting some excellent benefits related to your energy levels and overall healthy. Strive for at least 7-8 quality hours per night.

How I made My Plan

To make my plan, I thought specifically about how I wanted to be performing, looking, and feeling on January 1. I thought about what I would need to do for exercise, and how I would need to eat to achieve the desired results.

Tips on Getting Started

(Adapted from a previous blog post)

  1. Make this winnable! I am using my plan as an example, not as a template for you. You may look at my routine and goals, and think “no way am I doing that, way too intense!” You also may look at my exercise routine and think “Dom, those lifts are weak sauce, need more  intensity!” Start with where you are, make goals to get better, execute your specific goals and plan so you can win.
  2. Write it down! You have to write down your goals, and write down your progress towards them. If you do not track goals and progress, you won’t have a sense of direction or accomplishment, and most likely lack motivation. You cannot hit a target that you cannot see.
  3. Make time! You need to make time in your week to grocery shop, meal plan, meal prep, and exercise. Add this to your calendar like you do a work appointment, or it will not happen.

My plan was to focus on maintaining my frequency and intensity of exercise through the Holiday season, and to not gain weight or belt loop holes in between November-January.

My Specific Goals

I made myself some specific, measurable, realistic goals to hold myself accountable during the Holiday season. These were goals I made back on November 9, which held fairly consistent from November 9-January 1 with a minor adjustment in the Cardio goal.

  1. Make sure that added Sugar, Grain, and Alcohol stay in the treat category (once per week max), focus on whole, unprocessed food being dietary staples.
  2. Keep weight on the scale, and belt loop the same, or improve them (I don’t want to have to loosen my belt on January 1, compared to November).
  3. Assure that my weekly frequency of cardio exercise stays the same, even when the weather gets colder.
  4. Add volume (reps and sets) to my upper body, body weight exercise routine of Pull Ups, Dips, and Push Ups.
  5. Assure to wear blue light glasses before bed each night, consistent bed time, strive for 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night.

The plan also included a weekly check in on these major goals, to see how I was doing, and any adjustments I may have needed to make to stay on track.

My Daily Journal Structure

*A word about my daily journals and routine. The main reasons I include my daily journals in this series are as follows:

  1. To show an example of what a daily journal can look like and hopefully spark some creative thinking and ideas for readers.
  2. To hold myself accountable…writing down my food intake and exercise/activity on the internet is a big motivating factor for me to follow through on my goals.

My daily journals are not intended to be a prescriptive program for readers to follow, this is simply what works for me. Whether it be my exercise routine, what I eat, or when I eat…it falls under the umbrella of “this is what works for me”. If you are interested in any of my rationale behind my meal timing and planning, I would invite you to take a look at my Thanksgiving post, sub heading of “Dietary Strategies I Use“.

Below is a sample of one of my daily journal entries and the structure I followed:

Monday

Exercise: Nordic Track, 60 minutes, 3.70 miles (no “ski poles)

Food and Drink:

Morning: Coffee, water.

Around 7:30 am: Black coffee.

During work day: Plenty of water, 2 green teas.

Around 4:30 pm: Spicy coleslaw made with slaw mix, olives, chopped garlic, hot pepper, dressed with salt, pepper, avocado mayo, apple cider vinegar, sriracha sauce; 1 can sardines; 1 sliced avocado; 1 cup air dried kale chips.

My Before and After Stats

Timeframe of all stats and photos: Date of Before is November 9, 2020, after is January 1, 2021.

Photos:

Before
After

Weight:

Before-201.6 pounds

After- 198.0 pounds

Both photos and weigh ins were taken after morning cardio, to keep conditions similar.

Belt Loop: 

Before- 4th (4th is ok, 5th is better, 3rd is not good…higher belt loops=lower waist circumference)

After- 5th belt loop

Cardio Frequency: 

Before- At least 2 walks (or equivalent) at least 1 jog (or equivalent) per week. Best run of a 4.9 mile loop, 48:30

After- At least 3 Cardio sessions per week, 60 minutes in duration (Nordic Track Machine).

How did I do?

Overall, I was very happy with accomplishing the goals I set for myself during the Holidays. The week between Christmas and New Years had a little bit of slide when it came to diet (reflected on the scale), but I did stay consistent with my exercise routine.

During the Holidays, I found it very beneficial to have nutritional guidelines to keep myself on track, and also to have exercise goals for motivation and accountability. I hope this blog series was helpful, and gave you some ideas you could apply to a New Years Resolution, Summer Vacations, or Next Year’s Holidays!

Until next time, stay Healthy my friends!