You're ready to start a new diet or fitness regimen but not quite sure where to begin. It's a common predicament — with so many different fitness and diet plans available on the internet, the prospect of selecting the right one for you can be intimidating. Each program looks completely different, so how are you supposed to know which one will actually work?
While many fitness and diet plans promise to deliver exceptional results for every participant, they often fail to live up to their lofty claims. In reality, no good one-size-fits-all approach to dieting exists. A plan that works wonders for one person could prove disastrous for the next. Hence, the need for a targeted system that takes your unique situation into account — a customized exercise and nutrition regimen built with your unique goals and fitness level in mind to deliver real results.
While it's easy to understand the need for a targeted approach, you may be overwhelmed by the sheer variety of options available. This information overload can make it difficult to get started. To that end, we've outlined some key steps you can take to craft a fitness and diet plan that works for you.
1. Begin by Identifying Your Goals
Have you taken the time to define your wellness goals? Without a clear objective in mind, you're unlikely to make significant progress.
Your current goals may look different than those held by your friends and family members — and you may adjust your goals to reflect your changing life circumstances over time. Common themes include:
- Losing weight
- Building lean muscle mass
- Reducing blood pressure and cholesterol
- Running a marathon or completing a triathlon
As you determine which objectives should underscore your diet and fitness efforts, opt for SMART goals. This commonly used acronym helps you develop goals that can realistically be achieved with a little planning and effort.
What are SMART goals?
Does your current goal involve a general desire to lose weight or build muscle? Without a precise definition, you may struggle to understand what your goal actually entails and whether it's healthy or within reach.
When setting fitness goals, it's essential that you use detailed language to describe exactly what you want to accomplish. Research suggests that people who use vivid language when writing goals are between 1.2 and 1.4 times more likely to reach their desired outcome.
If you're struggling to develop specific goals, try this simple trick: draft an objective that would make it easy for anyone to understand what you're looking to accomplish. Better yet, get others in on the effort. After you've reflected on and drafted your initial goals, let a friend read them and explain your goal in their own words. If their understanding lines up with yours, your goals are clear.
What do you want to accomplish? Be as precise as possible. For example, saying “I want to lose 5 pounds in a month” is better than “I want to lose weight.” People who get specific with their goals are more likely to achieve them. To find the right meal recipes for your diet, check Kitchenistic for more.
How will you know when you've achieved your goals? Numbers will get you motivated at the outset, while also making it easier to track your progress. This, in turn, will help you stay on track, even when the going gets tough.
Measurable fitness goals can take many forms. While many people immediately thinking of losing a certain amount of weight, you can also aim to finish a race in a certain amount of time or bench press a specific amount of weight.
There's nothing wrong with setting ambitious goals, but beware: if you set unrealistic goals, you may lose motivation when your results fall short. When possible, stick with short-term, attainable goals that move you incrementally toward your long-term goals.
For example: if you would eventually like to lose fifty pounds, resist the urge to set the huge goal of dropping it in six months. Instead, focus on the next thirty days and what you can do to lose a more realistic five pounds. Once you've achieved this initial goal, you'll be fired up to move on to the next step.
How does your goal fit in with your current lifestyle? Will you have to make several major changes all at once? Will you receive support from your friends and loved ones? If the goal is not compatible with your current situation — or if you lack the equipment needed to accomplish it — you're setting yourself up for failure.
This is a common problem among new parents. The idea of cooking all meals from scratch or spending an hour at the gym each day might be appealing, but their lifestyle (busy days, sleepless nights, and a general increase in stress) probably won't support this. In this situation, a relevant goal might involve a bit more flexibility; perhaps half an hour in the home gym every day, but with more intense HIIT exercises.
Every goal needs an end date. Without this key inclusion, there's no urgency — and the temptation to procrastinate will be strong. Yes, you can aspire to lifelong goals and lifestyle changes involving holistic health, but you still need to set smaller, more manageable goals along the way. Using the above example of losing five pounds in a month, you can set an initial date for your end goal, and, if needed, set a new, more ambitious objective after you lose those first few pounds.
2. Plan Your Workouts
You've set your SMART goal and are ready to get moving. In your excitement, however, you risk going too hard out of the gate and getting overwhelmed, or worse, injured. Instead, begin by choosing one new workout that suits you.
Not sure which workout style to try first? Most forms of exercise will fall into at least one of these categories:
These exercises work all the major muscles of your body, including the arms, legs, core, and back. The end goal: build muscle mass. This will increase your metabolism, making it easier to lose weight even when you're not actively exercising. Additionally, strength training tones your body, helping you achieve a fitter appearance regardless of what you see on the scale.
Examples of strength training exercises include:
- Using free weights, such as dumbbells or kettlebells. These may be used for lifting, as in bicep curls, or added to common bodyweight exercises such as squats or lunges.
- Weightlifting with stationary gym equipment. Many people appreciate the convenience of home gyms.
- Bodyweight exercises that incorporate resistance. Top options include planks, push-ups, leg raises, or wall sits.
- Yoga. Poses such as the warrior can improve strength, flexibility, and even mental clarity.
If you've previously skipped stretching, it's time to reevaluate your approach to working out. Exercises that stretch your muscles are important because they help improve your posture and balance. They also help you prevent or recover from injuries. Being flexible allows you to enjoy activities with greater ease and less pain.
A little additional range of motion can go a long way toward making your long-term goals more attainable — and making you feel more comfortable in the meantime. If you'd like to improve your flexibility, try these exercises and activities:
Whether you love it or hate it, cardio is fundamental to your health. Regularly raising your heart rate during workouts can help you lower your risk of heart disease.
Variety is one of the greatest benefits of cardio. A vast range of activities can get your heart pumping, and, if you keep at it, you'll find at least one you love or that is easy to stick with on a long-term basis. Examples include:
- Cross-country skiing
- Brisk walks
- Machines such as the treadmill or elliptical
- Group sports such as basketball, football, or volleyball
- HIIT workouts
With so many great options available, it can be tough to know where to start. When in doubt, opt for activities that you have access to — and time to pursue on a regular basis.
Find creative ways to fit movement into your schedule in a way you enjoy. For example, if you move at a quick pace, walking the dog can count as your daily cardio. If you love to watch sports on TV, hit the recumbent bike while you enjoy the big game.
3. Create a Schedule
Despite being armed with SMART goals, fun activities, and the best of intentions, you may struggle to fit in time for your workouts. Such obstacles may be fueled, in part, by your busy schedule. Still, it's easy to fall into the trap of relaxing on the couch instead of working out when your exercise session isn't explicitly written on the calendar.
A simple workout schedule can shift your mentality by establishing a positive habit and ditching the inner "should I or shouldn't I" negotiations that hold you back.
Begin by writing down exactly which exercises you'll do with set days and times. This information can be detailed in a calendar or planner. Better yet, set a reminder on your phone. Congratulate yourself for a successful workout with a checkmark — you'll be amazed by how satisfying this simple action feels.
4. Determine Your Diet
Like it or not, there's truth in the cliche about abs being made in the kitchen. You could spend hours on the treadmill and still gain weight if your diet primarily consists of prepackaged foods containing simple carbs and excessive trans or saturated fats.
A variety of healthy diet plans can complement your workout efforts. Common examples include clean eating and the Mediterranean diet. No matter your preferred route, plant-based foods should receive special attention. Daily essentials include fresh (or frozen) fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains. Aim for a balanced mix of protein, healthy fats, and carbohydrates. Timing may also be a consideration; some people swear by intermittent fasting, while others simply limit midnight snacks.
5. Create a Meal Plan
Meal planning is a fundamental principle of healthy eating. If you prepare nutritious meals and snacks in advance, you'll be less susceptible to the lure of processed meals and fast food. You can even use the time you save with meal prep to fit in more exercise.
To begin, search for recipes that align with your diet of choice. Find a few meals you find appetizing and create a list of groceries. Stick exclusively to this list while at the store.
Following a successful grocery shopping trip, set aside an hour or two to prep your meals all at once. Chopping produce and cooking grains in advance will help you save valuable time during the week.
6. Reevaluate Your Goals
Commit to your new diet and workout plan for a full month. At the end of the month, reevaluate to determine if your regimen is effective. Ask yourself the following key questions:
- Did you follow the diet and exercise plan you created?
- Did you enjoy your workouts? What about your healthy meals?
- Did any time constraints make it difficult to stick to your exercise plan?
If you found that following a new diet or workout was too difficult, consider making a few modifications. Lighter workouts or a more appetizing meal plan should help. If, however, you've had success in your first month, keep going. Keep in mind that you can always change foods or workouts that eventually grow boring. Continual reassessment will keep you feeling inspired as you make progress toward your goals.