Guest post by Jen Jewell
Another year, another slew of resolutions to become a healthier you, right? I know that story all too well. For years I’d start out a new year with the best intentions of achieving my health and fitness goals, swearing off certain foods and pledging to hit the gym every single day, rain or shine. Typically somewhere around day 15, I was so burnt out that I’d start to skip workouts and completely throw my new diet to the wayside. This happened like clockwork every year until one year, when I decided not to make any major health and fitness resolutions but instead simply make a few changes to food intake and workouts. And guess what? It all finally clicked.
So here we are, a few weeks into the new year and I’m guessing some of you had set some health and fitness resolutions, too. How are you guys holding up? I hope you’re all doing great! I want everyone to enjoy a healthy, active lifestyle, and not be a slave to endless hours at the gym or restrictive diets. My goal is to make living a healthy, active lifestyle as sustainable and realistic as possible for you all. This is the real world, where schedules change last minute, a social event pops up, the kids may be home sick from school, your workout time may be cut short or you want to go enjoy dinner out with friends.
It’s time we embrace a balanced and fun approach that will provide you with the lasting results you’ve always wanted! Now, before you roll your eyes and think this is going to call for some drastic overhaul of what you’re currently doing (or are worried I’m going to tell you to go live in the weight room and fuel up on egg whites), I promise that you can start to implement any one (or all) of these tips today and will be well on your way to results! With the help of my own experience and insight, along with some of my favorite components of the Mediterranean lifestyle, these healthy habits are already more attainable than you may think.
Make working on your health and fitness a lifestyle, not a chore or something you dread.
In order to make your approach to workouts something you truly look forward to, think back to what type of activities you’ve loved in the past. What did you enjoy doing that was active? As a child, did you grow up riding your bike with friends, playing soccer in school, or have you always loved to swim? Tap back in to what felt more like fun and less like work, then go do more of that! Years back I was stuck in a serious rut at the gym and was just going through the motions each workout. I got to a point where I was so bored that I started to talk myself out of going to the gym…and that’s when I knew I had to take a different approach! I started to swap gym workouts for other activities that were more appealing and fun. I’d get outside for cardio, opting to walk/jog/run or ride my bike instead of getting on a machine at the gym. I was shocked by how much more enjoyable cardio suddenly became when there was natural light and fresh air. I felt far more energized and motivated outdoors than I did inside on the treadmill. I tried hiking for the first time and ended up enjoying it so much that a two-hour hike didn’t feel like “work” one bit—it was so much fun! Once I changed my approach and started to include an array of activities instead of the same old gym routine, I started to truly enjoy each and every workout…and the results I’d achieved were just an added bonus!
Think outside the gym.
I understand there isn’t a one size fits all approach to health and fitness. If the thought of joining a gym and being in the weight room makes you cringe, then skip the gym membership and instead get outside, enjoy the fresh air and get moving! Too often we forget that outdoor activities like a power walk, jog, hike, bike ride or even going to a nearby park for a bodyweight workout can all count towards an actual workout—no gym membership required! I’ve had some of my most fun (and challenging!) workouts in the great outdoors. Aim to be active in some way 3-5 days a week and keep in mind that even a 15-minute walk around your neighborhood counts for something. Every bit of activity truly does add up!
Get social, get moving…earn results! Get your family and friends involved!
Grab a friend for a hike or a workout at the gym, or make it a habit to enjoy more meals with your family and friends, and a number of benefits will ensue. Whether you need an accountability buddy to help you stay on track or you just want to socialize while working on your fitness, you can’t go wrong with inviting others to be a part of your newfound health and fitness habits. You’re tackling goals with others, making the process more fun and enjoying life.
BONUS: Meals shared with others take longer than those on our own, so while we are spending quality time with our loved ones we are also taking longer to consume our meal, making us less likely to eat too much food in one quick sitting.
When it comes to meals and cooking each day, be realistic.
If you’re on the go often, then having all of your meals prepared ahead of time or cooking everything each day isn’t going to be feasible—and that’s perfectly OK! Instead of stressing about having every meal cooked at home and ready to go, make yourself aware of some healthier quick options that you can pick up on your lunch break or on your way home from work (my faves from Zoës include the chicken pita with a side salad, the giant salads topped with chicken breast or salmon, the family meals that are loaded with healthy options for everyone or the new healthy snack boxes) so that you’re always prepared with some sort of fresh, healthy option for your snacks or meals. And for those meals you are cooking at home, crock pot recipe options are always a simple way to have a healthy, home-cooked meal waiting for you when you get home from work.
Focus on what you can add to your daily food intake instead of what you’ll be removing or missing.
Make changes to your food habits in increments so that it will be an easier adjustment. No particular food is ever completely off-limits, but everything can be enjoyed in moderation. I don’t think you need to count every calorie you consume (that’s a tedious way to live—I want you to enjoy the food you’re eating, not overanalyze it or have to use a spreadsheet to track your meals!), but do pay a bit of extra attention to the ingredients of food items, especially those that you purchase on a regular basis. Be on the lookout for options that are overly processed and swap these processed food options for wholesome, fresh, nutrient-dense foods with an emphasis on heart-healthy fats, lean proteins, veggies, fruits, whole grains, legumes…and of course the occasional glass of wine. Add more veggies into meals whenever possible, grab fresh fruit to help with a sweet tooth (berries are some of my favorites and I’ll often add a cup of fresh berries to some Greek yogurt for a protein and fiber-rich healthy dessert option), and ditch fried protein options for lean, grilled choices (think grilled chicken, fish, lean steak and more). Fresh, wholesome, satisfying food also helps to eliminate cravings, keeps energy levels constant and you’ll always be fueled for whatever the day holds. My favorite pick from Zoës that embodies this? A chicken kabob plate with rice pilaf and a fresh Greek salad topped with an olive oil dressing.
Ditch the “all or nothing” mentality.
It’s great to aim high and set lofty goals, but I don’t want you to sell yourself short! Please keep in mind that it’s not about having an all or nothing approach, but instead about tackling your health and fitness goals with a plan that is sustainable for the long haul.
Bottom line, the more we enjoy something (be it food or activities), the more likely we are to stick with it. Embrace the activities you love, get outside more often, enjoy more meals with friends and family, and focus on what wholesome, nutrient-dense foods you can add to your meals each day. Implement these changes all at once or add them in a bit at a time. My guess is before you know it, these lifestyle choices will have had a bigger impact than you ever imagined.