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New year, new you!

Tom Hamilton, head of education for the IFBA, offers some strategies for starting – and sticking to – a New Year fitness routine

After the indulgences of the festive period, how to lose weight may well be top of your list as a New Year’s resolution. But before you throw yourself into your new exercise and nutrition programme – determined to shed those extra kilos – it’s important to understand the different factors required to successfully achieve weight loss.

It’s also important to have the right mindset, understanding that weight loss takes time, and, therefore, you might not reach your target by the end of January. Instead, it’s important to focus on making small changes throughout the year that allow you to make gradual and sustained progress. By doing it this way, you’re much more likely to keep the weight off as time goes by and create a healthier lifestyle in the longer term.

Start off on the right foot

Whether it’s a training plan or a new diet, you need to start by making sure it’s something you can follow and easily adopt into your lifestyle. It’s OK to have lofty ambitions, saying that you’ll attend the gym five times a week (we’ve all been there), but this may not fit with your lifestyle; such as family and work commitments, and the last thing you want to do is set yourself up to fail. From my experience, visiting the gym three to four times a week seems to be the sweet spot for most people who wish to lose weight and change their physique. If you’re just starting out, a complete gym-newbie, or extremely busy in your personal life, two gym sessions a week should allow you to see some results, but one session just isn’t enough. It’s also important to recognise the power of rest days. These allow your body to recover and rebuild.

When setting up your new programme, I’d also recommend developing a support network – whether it’s a trainer, group of friends, gym buddy or family member – as this can have a big impact on your motivation, enjoyment, attendance and progress.

What changes should you make to your diet?

When it comes to your diet and how this can support weight loss, instead of suddenly changing everything that you consume, choose a couple of elements to focus on. Making smaller adjustments every week or two adds up over time for a more sustainable change and will have a greater impact on your body and health in the long run.

An example of a small change might be swapping the crisps you snack on at work for some fruit, which will make you feel fuller because of the fibre content, along with the added bonus of the vitamins and minerals fruit contains.

Another way to improve your diet is to up your protein intake. Many people today aren’t getting enough protein in their diets, so adding that to each meal– even if it’s a fistful portion of meat, fish or a protein supplement – can also lead to you feeling more full, meaning you’re less inclined to snack and make bad choices. Additionally, protein helps to build and repair muscles, so it’s a very important aspect of your diet, especially when you’re upping those gym sessions!

Another tip is to avoid calorie-packed drinks. If you’re used to buying a large caramel Frappuccino each day, cutting this out is an obvious fix. If you enjoy a glass of wine each evening, try dropping this down to two days a week. It can be easier to create change through small swaps rather than going completely cold turkey.

Something else to consider is that many people mistake dehydration for the feeling of hunger, so it’s important to drink water regularly. A good rule to go by is always having a large glass of water before each meal. This can potentially help you to avoid overeating.

All things being equal, if you start going to the gym three to four times a week, steadily swap the unhealthier foods and drinks for more nutritious ones, and reduce your alcohol consumption, you’ll notice the difference in no time.

What exercises should you do?

It’s easy to think that there are certain workouts that you must do to achieve weight loss, with new trends being added to the mix all the time. My advice is pretty straight forward: pick something you enjoy doing! Otherwise, it will be much harder to form an exercise habit.

From my own personal viewpoint, I believe the top workout method is strength training. Yes, cardio can help you to lose weight, body fat and is good for burning calories, but strength training allows you to overload your muscles and ‘shape yourself’ – changing the way your body looks. If you attend the gym three to four times a week, I would recommend making some kind of strength training a priority. Strength exercises that involve multiple muscles in one movement enable you to use more energy and burn more calories, so, if you’ve got limited time available for your workout, it’s better that you do exercises such as squats, press-ups and deadlifts rather than sitting on a machine that is just working one joint.

Strength training also has numerous other benefits, such as improving posture, making day-to-day tasks easier, making you feel stronger and more confident, keeping you away from injuries and improving bone strength.

Measuring progress

All too often people get hung up on the numbers on scales when trying to track their weight loss, but they shouldn’t. Weight scales should be used in conjunction with other measurements to give you some objective-based numbers to work from.

Alongside scales, you should also be taking body circumference measurements with a tape measure, or – if you do have access to a body scanner which gives you a muscle mass and body fat percentage reading (like 3D body scanner, Styku) – then all the better. If your body weight has gone up, it could be because you’ve gained more muscle mass; body scanning allows you to see this and feel encouraged by your results. Subjectively, you can take pictures, look at how your clothes fit, look at how you appear in the mirror and assess how you’re feeling at each stage of your weight loss journey.

When you’re following an exercise programme – regardless of the target – it’s very important to monitor progress, otherwise, it’s easy to either feel like you’re not moving forward or become overconfident and start to slip backwards. Your goals will be very personal to you, but, as a guide, sustainable weight loss is usually around 0.5 to 1 per cent of your total body weight in kilograms, which usually equates to that ‘pound a week average.’ But, please bear in mind that you may lose two pounds one week and none the next. When this occurs, you need to look at the bigger picture and realise that, if you repeated that pattern for the whole year, you’d lose a lot of weight and that this process is never linear!

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