Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Goals and Plans

If you're like me, you're sitting on the couch in your pajamas watching Phineas and Ferb and trying to figure out what to write down as your goals for the year.  I would call these goals "resolutions", but resolutions don't get very far in this house so I prefer to set goals.  There are many goals that we all want to set in the beginning of the year, but the ones that I typically deal with in my practice are the diet and exercise goals, weight loss being the most typical.

These guys have to fit into my goal planning.  
When you set a goal, the most important next step is to come up with a plan.  Preferably a plan that supports not only your goal, but the other aspects of your life that can't afford to be displaced.  These include your job, your family, your health, and your self-worth.  This may sound simple, but time and time again, I see people sabotaging most or all of the above in pursuit of a goal because of poor planning.  How?  Well, change is difficult.  Changing our routine requires a change in schedule and priorities.  If we choose a difficult path to our goal, everything else in our life suffers.  And I don't think I have to tell you that this is not good.

So, specifically, lets talk about exercise and weight loss goals.  Most of us start off our new year one or more of the following:

  1. I want to get in better shape.
  2. I want to lose my love handles - gut -jiggly arms - cankles - etc. and/or all of the above.
  3. I want to exercise regularly.
  4. I want to lose X lbs.  

These are admirable goals indeed, but if you're going to stick to them you need an actual plan, and although it should primarily consist of "show up at the gym" and "eat less", this is not a plan.  Its a starting point.  So, first things first, figure out what your actual problems are.  They will include one or more of the following:

  1. I am too fat.
  2. I am out of shape and can't walk up the stairs, play with my kids, walk more than a mile, etc. without getting out of breath or being in pain.  
  3. I want to play a sport or participate in a competition.  
  4. I am in pain, I've lost my ability to do a lot of things I used to do, and I am becoming more sedentary as a result.  

I like sitting and probably do it way too much.
The next step is to figure out exactly what you are doing now.  This is the hard part.  We tend to underestimate both how much we eat and how much time we spend sitting every day.  We also tend to overestimate how much we sleep and how much we exercise.  So, the first thing you need to do is a complete accounting of your diet, sleep, and exercise habits.  You cannot make changes in your habits if you don't have an understanding as to what your habits are.  Going on a crash diet or joining a boot camp is a temporary solution and rarely deliver the long term results you really want.  So, to figure out where you are, take a few days and observe yourself.  Keep a diet journal, keep an activity journal (both when you exercise and how long you sit), and keep track of your sleep patterns.  Some revelations you may come up with:

  1. I only sleep six hours a night.
  2. I sit for more than six hours a day.
  3. I only go for a walk twice a week.
  4. I eat the majority of my calories in the form of bread.
  5. Most of my diet is processed foods.
  6. I am really hungry before bed.
  7. I don't eat many fruits or vegetables.  

So, now you have a general goal and an idea as to what your challenges are going to be in achieving them.  But, let me give you a bit of advice as far as prioritizing things:

  1. If you spent a lot of time sitting and get no aerobic exercise, you need to change this.  Go out and walk for 30 minutes a day.  This is good for your heart and will mitigate most of the major health risks associated with inactivity.  You will have more energy, it will assist your weight loss efforts, and it may improve your sleep habits. 
  2. If you want to lose bodyfat, your diet needs to be the primary focus of your behavior changes.  Exercise helps, but weight loss is primarily driven by dietary changes.  Get an online calorie tracker, keep a food diary, or join weight watchers.  You need to be accountable for everything you eat.  Don't try and make a large number of changes at once.  Pick one and once it sticks, choose another.
  3. Woods are nice, but you can walk anywhere.
  4. If you don't like the way your body looks naked (no matter how much you weigh) and/or are experiencing daily aches, pains, or weaknesses, you need to add some strength training to your regimen.  The truth is, everyone pretty much needs a strength training program, especially as we get older and start to lose our muscle mass.  Strength helps support our joints, resist injury, and keeps us mobile.  Improved muscle mass improves our metabolism and quite frankly, makes our bodies more attractive.  

All of the above should be included in some degree in a plan to improve one's overall fitness level.  If you want to take things a step further and start playing a sport or participate in a competition, find a coach, a training group, or at the very least, a source of credible information on how to get started.  I'm a big fan of making my goals center on something aside from myself.  In other words, I like to train for a specific physical challenge or competition because it clarifies what I need to do in the gym.  My goals this year are to compete in a deadlift competition, compete in the Highland Games at least twice, and run an 8k.  In the meantime, I'll be watching my waistline, but I've got a plan for each and every one of these goals.