The New Year’s resolution: to some a declaration of positive change, ushering in a new and better life, to others a pointless fairytale. Cynics will scoff at the crowds of people descending on gyms, smugly certain that this apocalyptic plague of Lycra-clad locusts will be back in the pub before January is over.
I am rather fond of a New Year’s resolution. Or any resolution for that matter. I have made more than my fair share, and broken almost as many. One of them worked though. Once. And it changed my life. It was 2012, and at the age of 30 I was realising the effects of many years of a sedentary lifestyle and a love of junk food. I had never partaken in any formal exercise (apart from that time I was on placement in Devon with no TV and joined a gym to watch EastEnders while pretending to exercise), and I was living off restaurants, takeaways and ready meals. It went something like this…
1. Building up small sustainable changes over generous time periods.
I had resolved to lose weight and get fitter many times, yet I would simply try and eat as little as possible for a bit, maybe lose a few kilos, get bored and give up. This time I knew I had to do something different. I gave myself five years to reach my goal, the exact nature of which I hadn’t quite decided. I would make tiny changes one by one, rather than trying to become an entirely different person overnight (which would undoubtedly fail, as it had so many times in the past). Against all odds, I would ultimately become one of those people who goes to the gym and runs and cycles and whatnot. From a nutritional point of view, I began with simple calorie counting under the guidance of a fitness blogger who I followed on Twitter, tracking my food on an app and in the process learning many shocking truths about foods I thought were healthy.
2. Shouting it from the rooftops.
I immediately declared my intentions on social media, ensuring that the risk of public failure and humiliation would keep me motivated. This was my somewhat flawed version of accountability, but it worked well for me; others might find simply telling their friends or colleagues has the same effect.
3. Embrace change, ditch the comfort zone, and make awkwardness your new best friend.
I bought a bike. I hated it. I joined a gym. I hated it. My first programme was 15 minutes on the cross trainer and 15 minutes on the exercise bike; about all I could manage. Besides, the principal objective of this initial phase of my fitness journey was merely to be capable of entering a gym without having some kind of hysterical episode. I could not have felt more self-conscious or out of place; even the smell transported me back to the traumatic PE-related experiences of my youth. I courageously survived an incident during which I somehow fell off a rowing machine, even managing to devise a way of getting back up with my feet strapped in, one hand holding the bar and the other entirely responsible for balancing my bodyweight. I think this is commonly known in gym circles as rock bottom, and after that the only way was up.
4. It’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle.
I dabbled in diets like Paleo, but unsurprisingly they never lasted. We tend to over-complicate nutrition, and eat ‘diet’ foods designed to make money rather than help us attain our goals. The low-fat yoghurts that are full of sugar, the pre-packed foods that have marginally fewer calories than their original non-diet counterparts but are infinitely less tasty, and the biggest offenders of all, the detox teas and shakes that use laxatives, diuretics and starvation to create unhealthy and unsustainable weight (or water) loss. You don’t have to do any of these things to lose weight or be healthy. Food is amazing, eat it.
5. Keep it up, accept fluctuations, do what works and discard what doesn’t.
Within the year I’d lost about 15kg, small changes had become bigger ones, and I was on my way. I went to the gym regularly and also attended outdoor bootcamps religiously, even in the depths of winter. I certainly had my wobbles (in every sense of the word), but four years later my lifestyle is completely different. I still don’t fully understand why it worked this time; perhaps the slow and steady approach, or open-mindedness to continue what worked and change what didn’t, without subscribing rigidly to one method. But it worked.
6. Don’t listen to the armchair critics!
Of all the times you make a resolution, you only need to stick to it once for it to work. Let the people roll their eyes (we call these the ‘#haterz’ and in my experience they’re more frequently found on a sofa than a weights bench), and let your success be your reply. I have experienced my fair share of eye rolling throughout this process — admittedly most often from myself — and if I’ve learned anything along the way, it’s that it’s far more awesome to improve your life than it is to roll your eyes at those who are trying to improve theirs.
Join The Spectator for our annual health debate:
Can we trust health advice?
9 February 2016 | 7 p.m. | IET London