Okay, stop eating. Forever.
Just kidding. Fasting can be a good thing...just not all the time. But I digress.
It's that time of year when the two BIG Resolutions for Americans are repeated ad infinitum, ad nauseum.
This year I'm gonna lose weight.
This year I'm gonna get in shape (after I lose weight).
If this is what you really want to do this year, read on.
To my title, but first, my credentials. Thirty-four years ago I dumped 85 lbs. It's been gone since. I waver a few here there. I write about this because, at least so far, I've been successful at it. This is the bad news: barely five percent of us are successful forever.
If you are dealing with obesity, and I did, this article might offer you some sanity. I would posit, however, that while it can sound useless to even try, I strongly disagree. What's possible, rather than obsess about the Holy Grail of being thin as the be-all end-all of all things (it isn't, I can attest), we might consider changing the focus. By doing that, you might just change your outcomes, and by this time next year you may well be working on fine-tuning a whole different set of results.
Stay with me here.
The single most important words I would suggest that you insert into your resolution, if for no other reason than your relative sanity (it helps to have some) is:
I am going to increase my fitness levels by the end of 2021.
That is, of course, an overall statement of purpose. To which I would add a series of highly specific, measurable goals, such as:
1.By the end of 2021, I will be (walking, running, hiking, swimming) X miles/time
2. By the end of 2021, I will be able to do X pushups, chinups, etc.
You see where I'm going. None of this focuses on body type or weight. There's a reason for that. Some of us are endomorphs, which means we tend to be thicker, hold our padding and be more curved than others. That is one of those immutables. If you are short, round and curvy, you will never ever ever ever be Bella Hadid.
Nothing wrong with that.
However, like the incredibly cheerful 75- yo Mexican woman who was in my gym every morning at 5 am for years, you CAN get fit, strong, powerful, energetic and completely unstoppable.
She will never have a 25-inch waist. But she can heft several times her body weight, and her shining health gives her options that most folks her age envy.
It is a far more reachable, sustainable goal to work towards a higher level of fitness than to reduce your relative fatness, if for no other reason than you and I can focus on something we most certainly can control. Our propensity to be big or heavy may well be driven by factors that research is increasingly finding to be very complex. Focusing on fit may well pay off far more handsomely than trying to obtain a fitness trainer's haunches.
It really might work. It's worth considering.
This is my result, 34 years after the fact.
Julia Hubbel, mid-sixties, photo by Laura Luhn
Here's how it worked for me, and why, after 34 years, I am still in superb shape.
In 1987, after far too much yo-yo dieting, stupid and unsuccessful attempts to lose weight, I changed everything over the course of one single weekend. I threw out all the bread, cookies, donuts, candy, sugar. I switched to veges, salads, fruits. You get it. Basically, what they tell you to do.
At the time I had no goal in mind, other than I had mumbled something to my overweight self in the bedroom mirror:
"Women over thirty just get fat."
Let's just say I got mad at myself. By the end of that weekend, not only had I completely reworked my small kitchen were I was living in a house in Elsternwick, Victoria, Australia (a suburb of Melbourne), I had started cycling with a neighbor who was a triathlete. I was clueless. It took me ONE ride to learn the gears.I limped for a week, and discovered the words: medialis muscle, because mine were in agony.
And then I was gone. I went bonkers for that bike. You couldn't pry me off it if there was time for a ride.
Changing the food changed my body. Falling in love with cycling got me fit. I fell in love further with FIT, and over time, so much so that I never looked back.
I fell in love with eating for fuel. Over time that became easier. After a while I didn't see junk or processed foods. I forgot about bread and cookies. I had the occasional donut, whatever, but they were replaced over time by things that supported my fitness. Nobody loves chocolate almonds more than I do, but these days they make me sick. That's a decision each of us makes.
I will be 68 on January 17th. My hips were 54" in 1987. They are 35" today, and they have stayed that way, with the exception of a few quarantine-fueled gluttonous months this past year.
Here's why focusing on FIT vs being less FAT is so important.
A fellow professional speaker in his sixties got enamored of the Body for Life with Bill Phillips. Concerned about his 60" and expanding waistline and his diminishing health, he decided to give it a shot. He dedicated himself to the program, changed his eating habits and the weight began to slough off.
He made the classic mistake: he didn't manage his expectations. In a bodybuilding magazine he found a photo of a slim-hipped professional body builder, clipped it out, put it in his wallet. He showed all of us this photo, claiming loudly that in twelve weeks, that would be him. Thirty-two inch waist, cobblestone belly.
Not at sixty-eight, not after years of grazing at smorgabords, not exercising.
My buddy lost a very impressive fifty pounds. However, he was so deflated when he realized that his overly-ambitious goal was unattainable, he tossed the book, the program and the offending photo.
Regained all the weight and then some.
This is what we do. And that's precisely why I suggest that the Number ONE best way to better ensure success this year is to focus on your fitness.
Because, two reasons:
1. Once you get past the initial difficulty of starting a new program (SLOWLY please) you are likely to start feeling better. If you have found something you love, you may well fall madly in love with it as I did with cycling. The more you do it, not to excess that is, the more likely you will continue.
2. You will often find that the feel-good is supported by better dietary choices. You may- and this is the key- find that eating a better diet for your age and body pays off SO well that you slowly but surely ease into better habits over time. That habanero pizza, well, kinda, doesn't look so good any more. You have one bite, and pass on the rest. So often these changes happen so quietly and without fanfare that we hardly even notice.
Until one day we're out for a walk or run or ride with our buddies and we leave them behind in the dust without even realizing it.
In other words, fitness kinda sneaks up on us. Choosing better foods can also sneak up on us. It doesn't have to take draconian measures. But you do have to be patient.
Fitness is a series of better habits. You build them a step at a time. They are directly in your control. Our body size and weight may well be the result of far more challenging factors, some of which may or may not be negotiable. Accepting this, and allowing that possibility, allows us to focus on being fit first. What changes over time is something else again. No matter what, when you are fitter, you are much happier, whether or not you look like Captain America.
For my New Year's Resolution dollar, I would far rather put the weight of my determination behind results I can directly affect, rather than berate myself for not ending up on the cover of People magazine for folks who lost 100 lbs or more.
Why? I'll say it again. Talk to those folks in a year. Find out which of them, if any, found out how to sustain that achievement.
I can't say if this will work for you, but my guess?
My guess is that you and I have a fair dinkum (that's Aussie) chance of success if we focus on what we can most assuredly control: our activity levels and what we eat, and focus on fitness as opposed to weight loss.
Thin isn't fit. Fit is fit. What that looks like for your body is completely different from the eight billion other souls on this planet. What a cool notion.
I want you to succeed this year. I believe that you can. Here's to a very successful 2021.