I know what you’re probably thinking.
15 simple steps? Losing weight isn’t easy like that.
You’re absolutely right. Changing your body composition is not easy. Losing body fat and gaining muscle; getting stronger, faster and more flexible; and changing your habits to get there is HARD. And it can be even harder to know where to start.
No matter where you’re starting from in your weight-loss journey (or body re-composition, as I prefer to call it) here are 15 steps you need to work through before you even buy that gym pass or start counting your calories.
- Think about your why. Why do you really want to change your body? There’s nothing wrong with saying, “I want to feel confident in a bikini,” or “I want to look good in a pair of skinny jeans.” We all do. Our society has a set of cultural norms and values that define what “looking good” means. Like every human everywhere on the planet, these norms have shaped our thoughts and behaviors since we were old enough to form sentences. Try to dig deeper than desiring to attain a certain aesthetic. I say this because once you reach your “goal weight” or size, you may find yourself disappointed by how you feel. “Fitting in” does not equate to happiness — trust me. Happiness comes from something else, something much deeper and beyond flesh and muscle and bone. Instead, think about all the things you want to do that your body may be holding you back from. Hiking to the top of mountains. Enjoying a long walk around the city. Riding a bike. Playing with your kids. Running with your dog. Doing cartwheels. Living well into your nineties. Not breaking your hip when you take a fall. Think about what you want your body to be able to do now and in the future.
- Ask yourself how your body got to it’s current state. It may be as simple as having one too many extra beers while watching TV after work on the couch for the last 15 or so years as your metabolism slowed down with age, or as complicated as eating to soothe stress and anxiety. Be brutally honest with yourself for this one. If you think your body looks the way it does now because of something more complex, I highly suggest making an appointment to talk to a therapist. It will be even harder to move forward and change your body if something from your past is holding you back.
- Identify the triggers of the habit you wish to change. Does a hard day at the office have you reaching for a bag of chips when you get home? Are you too busy to make dinner and hit up the drive-thru more often than you’d like to admit? Identifying how you’re feeling and what happens just before you do the thing you want to change (like not snacking on chips before dinner) the first step in changing a habit. According Dr. Brooke Kalanick ND, MS, LAc, in this fantastic post on GirlsGoneStrong.com, “If you want to have better success with your body change or weight loss goals, you’ve gotta get mindful. Mindful trumps motivation every time when it comes to making changes. Motivation is an emotion that lasts a few days or even weeks if you’re lucky, and then peters out. Yet we rely on this over and over again to get to our goals.”
- Be mindful of those habits. Once you’ve identified the triggers for those habits, think about the “why” you identified in step one when you catch yourself about to act on the habit. Then think about the cost of continuing to do what you’re doing now. As Dr. Brooke says, “Take the time to find the payoffs; you’ll have much more power in the face of change by doing so because, let’s face it, change isn’t effortless.”
- Set a long-term SMART goal. Now is the time to set a goal for yourself about a year down the road. It could be to run a 5K, walk 3 km around the lake by your house without stopping, reach forward to stretch and touch your toes, lift a pair of 20 lbs dumbbells, eat 80 percent plant-based, meditate for 15 minutes a day, or learn to swim. Remember to make sure your goal is SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-bound.
- Set a short-term SMART goal. It’s great to have an outcome-orientated goal (such as running a 5K race) to work towards, but you also need smaller, process-orientated goals (walking for 3 minutes and running for 1 minute twice a week for 15 minutes for the next four weeks) to keep you on track along the way. Make sure these goals are also SMART.
- Pick one small desired habit to adopt. Now that you’re being more mindful of habits you wish to change, think of one habit you wish to adopt that will help you reach either your short-term or long-term goals. It could be as small as switching from 2% milk to skim or almond milk; having plain oatmeal and berries for breakfast instead of prepackaged granola; or swapping your afternoon coffee and muffin for green tea and a piece of fruit. Instead of scrolling through Facebook on your phone for 20 minutes before bed, try a few stretches or yoga poses. Instead of plopping down on the couch right away after work, go for a 15-minute walk around your neighbourhood first with your dog, kids, partner or a friend. Just like your goals, remember to keep your new habit SMART.
- Go get a physical. Now that your well on your way to changing your mindset about the body composition you want (and WHY), make an appointment with your doctor to get a physical. Not only is the status of your health important to know before you start any sort of exercise program, but also it gives you a baseline to know where you’re starting from. Ask your doctor to take your blood pressure and measurements, and ask to have a blood test. Make sure your doctor checks your cholesterol levels, thyroid function and anything else that may be of concern to you.
- Buy some exercise clothes that make you feel awesome. If you don’t already own some comfortable exercise clothes, make sure you get some great sweat-wicking gear you feel awesome in before you start exercising regularly. Well-fitting clothes and shoes in pretty colours don’t have to cost a small fortune — some of my favourite apparel was purchased at Wal-Mart, Target, Winners and Old Navy for less than $50 for a top, sports bra and capris. Two items I would suggest spending a bit more on are shoes and a sports bra, especially if you plan on running. Go to a specialty running shop for help with finding the right type of shoe, and check out this post for advice on the best sports bras for every body (and booby) type and size.
- Read motivational blogs and websites like this, this and this.
- Fill your fridge and pantry with fresh, whole foods you enjoy. Load up on fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains (like quinoa and brown rice), non-dairy milk (like almond or coconut), lean meats (preferably poultry or fish and hormone-free if possible) and and healthy fats like peanut butter, olive oil and coconut oil. For treat snacks and sweets, opt for things with minimal ingredients and as whole (i.e. not processed) as possible. For salty snacks I like Mary’s Organic Crackers or Popchips; for sweets, 70% organic dark chocolate (like Green & Blacks) is my go-to.
- Get recipe ideas from blog and websites like this, this and this.
- Move your body at least five days a week for 30 minutes (outside of exercise). Whether it’s walking, gardening, cleaning, stretching or dancing in your living room — don’t just sit there. Your body is made to move.
- Be present and mindful. Try to take 10-15 minutes most days to just sit and be present and aware of your body. I like listening to guided meditation podcasts from Meditation Oasis in the morning after a workout and at the end of the day after dinner. I find myself much more relaxed and happy and able to fall asleep faster with this practice.
- Find a coach or personal trainer. By this point, you may be ready to incorporate a more structured exercise and nutrition plan into your body re-composition journey. Not only do trainers and coaches help to motivate and guide you with proper, science-based diet and exercise advice, but also will help you reach your goals in a safe, sustainable and effective manner. For tips on what to look for in a good personal trainer, check out this post.
Did you find this advice helpful? What else would you add? What’s worked for you?