When it comes to my health and fitness efforts, the start of a new year is usually not a big deal for me any more. It used to be--I have a long history of new years that started with lots of resolutions to eat healthy, exercise, and lose weight. But those good intentions never lasted very long, and I ended most of those years weighing more than when I started, getting myself up to about 400 pounds in the process.
Then something changed. I’m still not sure what it was, exactly—maybe I just got tired of feeling miserable all the time, or scared about what I was doing to my health. Anyway, in 2003, something clicked, and I finally started getting serious about changing my lifestyle, not just my weight. 18 months later, I had lost 170 pounds and gotten myself into pretty good shape for a 55 year old guy. And thanks to Sparkpeople, I was able to keep that weight off for almost 5 years.
But then came 2009…
2009 was a pretty tough year for me, health-wise. I was in the hospital 7 times for a total of more than eight weeks, and I was unable to do much physical activity for many more weeks than that. I had surgery to replace a bad aortic valve in March, a hospital acquired infection in April, a broken ankle in June, a wicked case of sciatica, and several bouts of severe depression and PTSD. My last stay in the hospital just ended on December 28, and I’ve finally got a clean bill of health in terms of getting back to regular exercise.
So here I am, starting this new year the same way I did so many times before: needing to lose weight (I regained 30 pounds in 2009), and very out of shape. Last March, when my health problems started, I was routinely riding my bike about 150 miles/week and hiking up and down mountains another 10 miles or so. Yesterday, it was all I could do to ride my bike 5 miles to the grocery store and back.
It’s very frustrating to be so far from where I was just a year ago. But this time, at least, I’ve got a pretty good idea of what it takes to get off to a good start and keep myself going.
The key, I think, is to start with good goals. I could just aim to lose those 30 pounds I regained, and get back to my long bike rides. But I know that when my goal is to “lose weight,” I tend to get obsessed with the scale, and very frustrated when it doesn’t give me the results I want to see. Then I start feeling like I’m depriving myself of what I really want to eat for no good reason—and that’s a one-way ticket to overeating.
I do much better when I set positive goals like getting at least 5 servings of fruits and veggies, using healthy fats, and eating as clean as I can. This makes me feel like I’m doing something positive and healthy for myself, instead of just restricting what I eat to lose weight.
So, I've set my calorie goal at what it would need to be to maintain my weight after I’ve lost the 30 pounds, and I've figured out how many servings of each food group I can have. Instead of “dieting,” I'm going to start eating now the way I’ll be eating when I get to my goal weight, and let my body decide how fast it wants to lose the weight. For me, that takes a lot of the stress, frustration, and resentment out of dieting.
When it comes to exercise, I’m taking the same approach, letting my body decide what and how much it can handle, instead of setting artificial goals in advance. I’m starting with what I can handle now and I'll push myself to do a little more on each ride or each week until I feel like I’m fit enough to do what I need and want to do to live the way I'd like. No more trying to see how many calories I can burn in a day, or trying to keep up with the 30-something crowd. It’s all about being healthy and enjoying myself as much as I can.
How about you? How do you decide what your goals will be? Are they making it easier or harder for you to stick with your plan?