With the new year (and decade?!) rapidly approaching, chances are many of you have some goals that you’d like to start working toward. And considering you clicked on this blog post, one of those goals likely involves getting into better shape.
Whether it’s losing the freshman 15, being able to run after you children on the playground, or just trying to live a longer, healthier life, there are plenty of great reasons for getting fit. But one common reason not to? It’s expensive.
Or so you may think.
We’ve seen so many ads for so many expensive fitness classes, leggings, and exercise machines (looking at you, Peloton), that it may seem like losing a few pounds of fat and gaining a few pounds of muscle costs hundreds of dollars.
But it doesn’t have to. And really, it shouldn’t.
Brush Up On Your Cooking Skills
With the amount of emphasis put on the importance of physical exercise, many people are unaware that the biggest factor in losing weight is actually the food you eat. You can’t outrun a bad diet. No amount of working out can undo the damage of eating nothing but sugary and deep fried foods on the regular.
Not only is eating healthy food one of the best things you can do for your health, you’ll also find that you have significantly more energy when you’re fueling your body properly, and you’ll have fewer headaches. All of this makes those workouts much easier. (Just because you can’t outrun a bad diet doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be working out at all!)
Brushing up on your cooking skills makes it easier, cheaper, and yummier to eat clean. But if you're someone who is unfamiliar with the world of healthful cooking, that can be kind of intimidating. So how do you make healthy food that still tastes good?
Buy in-season produce
Ask any professional chef about how they make their food taste so good and you’re bound to get an answer that includes something about using fresh, high quality ingredients. There’s a reason that the culinary world is so obsessed with fresh and local food. It just tastes better.
It’s so much easier to make good food when the ingredients that you’re starting with already taste amazing. The easiest way to find good-tasting ingredients is to buy what’s in season locally. Bonus: in-season produce is usually cheaper and local food has a smaller carbon footprint!
If you’re not sure what’s in season where you are, check out this website. Once you have an idea of what’s good, let those ingredients inspire your meal plan for the week.
It’s kind of mind-blowing how much of a difference a bit of salt can make. Unless you have orders from your doctor to cut back on salt, a little extra isn’t going to hurt you. More importantly than not being afraid to use a little salt is when you use that salt.
One of the smallest, easiest things that you can do to make your food taste even better is make sure that you salt every element as it’s being cooked. Salt your pasta water, throw a little salt in with those onions that you’re browning, and, yes, salt your salad!
When paired with other herbs and spices—use those liberally as well—the salt will bring out their flavors. Lemon will taste lemonier, cumin will taste cuminier, cinnamon will taste cinnamonier. You get the idea.
It can take a little trial and error to figure out how much salt to use. Just keep in mind that you can always add more, but you can’t take it out. While you’re at it, finish off savory dishes with a squeeze of lemon juice; it’ll brighten up and round out the flavors.
Explore new cuisines
If you’ve only ever eaten your home country’s cuisine, you’re missing out (especially if you live in the US). There are SO MANY amazing foods out there from all over the world that are huge flavor bombs without being unhealthy.
Many cultures have foods that use heaps of herbs, spices, aromatics, and fresh vegetables to build up all kinds of flavor.
Lately, I’ve been exploring Korean food and loving it, but you can probably throw a dart at a map and find some amazing local dishes from wherever it lands. If nothing else, see if there are any grocery stores in your area specializing in a certain type of food and learn some of those dishes. It may turn out that you love vegetables when they’re prepared properly.
I’m not much of a meal-prepper. I’ve tried it several times and I wish it would work for me, but it just doesn’t. I like to cook, and I don’t like eating the same thing several times in a row.
That said, a little brainstorming and planning ahead about what I should eat goes a long way in preventing me from eating a bunch of noodles for dinner every night (although I still eat a lot of noodles).
Rather than planning exactly what to eat and meal prepping it ahead of time, this month, my fiance and I created a list of 10 foods that we want to make. They’re all healthyish and they lean heavily on in-season ingredients.
This way, whenever we go grocery shopping, we can check our list of meals, choose two or three that sound good at the moment, and buy the ingredients for those.
This has added variety to our diets, helped us eat healthier, and made it so much easier to figure out what to have for dinner. And with only a few minutes of planning at the beginning of the month, we’ve massively increased our vegetable intake.
Don’t Overcomplicate It
Working out and eating clean are two things that are very easy to overcomplicate. It’s not your fault; when we’re constantly seeing people do complicated workouts, use fancy machinery, and wear the latest workout gear, it can feel like a simple routine done in an old t-shirt won’t bring results.
This just isn’t true.
In fact, simple is often better. Not only is it easier to get started and stick with it if your routines are easy, but many of those super complicated workouts with a dozen different moves aren’t actually achieving all that much!
You can work out in any clothes that are comfortable to move in. No one at the gym cares what you look like. You don’t need fancy leggings or the latest running shoes to be able to get in better shape.
You also don’t need a bunch of fancy equipment. You can get fit off of a bodyweight routine, which will cost you exactly $0. A one-time purchase of some resistance bands and a yoga mat will offer you even more options. A membership to Planet Fitness is only $10 a month, and anyone who says you can’t get into good shape at a Planet Fitness has no idea what they’re talking about. (And I bet PF will be running some good deals soon for the New Year’s resolutioners!)
Do your own research
You don’t need to hire a personal trainer. If you’re already an elite athlete and trying to get shredded, then you’ll probably need a personal trainer. But for the average person reading this blog post, the internet has everything that you need to know.
Make sure that you’re looking into reputable sources. Instagram “fitness models” are not a reputable source! Find someone who actually knows what they’re doing and follow them. I recommend Megsquats, Fitgurlmel, and AthleanX. These are all professional athletes who know what they’re talking about.
Don’t get caught up in researching, though! It’s easy (especially with fitness) to spend hours and hours and hours researching and getting lost in conflicting information and pointless broscience. Give yourself a time limit.
If you’ve never worked out before, here is my recommendation for doing your own research:
1. Determine your goals. Yes, you want to get fit, but why? Do you want to improve your cardio health so that you aren’t out of breath so often? Do you want to gain strength? Are you aiming for a certain aesthetic?
2. Give yourself one hour to research what it is that you need to do to start working toward that goal. Realistically, it shouldn’t even take that long. If you want to run more, try Couch to 5k. If you want to gain strength, find a full body workout routine and do it 2-4 times per week. /r/fitness and /r/xxfitness are decent resources, and the trainer at my gym set me up with a basic full body routine, if that’s something you have access to.
2.5 This isn’t fully necessary, but if you like numbers and want to track your progress (which is always a good idea), take some starting measurements. Make a note of your weight, and a few body measurements, like around your waist and your biceps, flexed and unflexed. Take some photos as well.
3. Do the thing. Do the thing consistently for at least two months. I know that might sound like a long time, but there are no other options. There’s a reason Nike’s slogan is “Just do it.”
4. Evaluate. After two months, you should be starting to see some progress. Is it the progress you want to see? If it is, keep going. If it’s not, do some troubleshooting on Google.
Understand the basics
You might want to cover your ears while I scream this from the rooftops:
YOU CANNOT SPOT REDUCE FAT. IT ISN’T POSSIBLE.
There are no workouts that “target belly fat” or “remove arm flab” because this is not a thing that you can do. Your fat will go where your genes determine it should go, and the only way that you can lose that fat is to lose it all over your body.
Any source that talks about “spot reducing fat” is not reputable and you should not take its advice!
While we’re on the topic, there is exactly one (1) way for a medically healthy person to consistently and healthily lose weight, and it can be summed up in one acronym: CICO.
CICO stands for “calories in, calories out.” The only way to lose weight is to burn more calories than you take in. That’s it.
If losing weight is one of your goals, find a TDEE calculator. When asked about your activity level, choose sedentary. (You’ll get a more useful number this way.) The calculator will pop out your “Total Daily Energy Expenditure.” This is roughly the number of calories that you burn each day by existing.
To lose weight, you need to eat fewer calories than this. Yes, exercising will make that number go up slightly, but unless you’re running quite a few miles every day, it won’t make this number go up as much as you might expect.
Track what you eat, (I recommend using MyFitnessPal), keep your daily calories under your TDEE, and if you’re tracking accurately, you will lose weight. (I know this because this is how physics works.)
A few final things to keep in mind:
Unless you’ve been working out for many years and have very specific, intense goals, you are not at the point where you need a “perfect” routine. What you need is a decent routine that you will stick to and do consistently.
Consistency matters much more than the specifics of the routine. If you have an okay workout plan and you do it regularly, you will see results.
Don’t get caught up in researching for months, either. Find something that sounds okay, and get to work. You’ll make much more progress with a mediocre routine done regularly than you will if you just sit around and think about working out.