It’s April and that means you’ve probably already started seeing lots of promos on social media and in magazines about how to get a ‘summer body’. As a personal trainer who refuses to sell my coaching on the basis of extreme body transformations, it makes me sad and frustrated. Yes, of course, we all want to feel totally badass and rock a bikini on the beach, and 12 week beach body plans requiring restrictive diets and all out gym sessions might well get you there, but what happens when the holiday is over?
The difficulty with transformation programmes lies with sustainability. When you have a weight loss goal that involves being semi-naked in public then, yes, you have plenty of motivation! When you get home and autumn is on the horizon, along with the promise of figure-covering sweaters and cold weather treats like hot chocolate to look forward to, the managed eating plan goes out the window with the last of the sun cream. There’s little incentive to keep going with your healthy eating and
Your body also doesn’t ‘do’ seasons. It wants you to be a healthy weight, fit and active all year round. It wants you to fuel yourself with nourishing, nutrient dense food, enough of it to meet your needs and no more and to work your muscles and cardiovascular system on a regular basis, not just for summer. That means looking after your diet and activity all the time, and the thought of that level of discipline is pretty terrifying to anyone who has ever been on a restrictive regime and promptly rebounded and eaten their body weight in Dairy Milk as soon as it was over.
So, what do we do? The answer lies in being more moderate in our expectations throughout the year and aiming for smaller changes sustained for longer. I hear people going on about having a visible six pack but this is not a sustainable way to live for most women, as it requires a very low level of body fat that is only attainable through highly controlled (read: no fun) eating and a crazy time commitment to exercise. For many women that low body fat percentage isn’t actually healthy, so what’s the point? Why not aim for a weight that you can sustainably manage by eating a healthy diet that meets your energy requirements all year round and choose a form of movement that makes you feel good about your body? That way, we’re always going to feel good about ourselves – especially when your best friend books a spa day for January and you don’t feel the need to diet off the winter excess before you feel Facebook ready.
Start with some basic principles:
- Crowd out the less than healthy foods by filling your plate with nutrient dense but low-calorie vegetables, plus healthy proteins and fats, like lean meats, eggs, fish, tofu, pulse, olive oil and nuts. You are less likely to have room for junk if you’re full of the good stuff.
- Kick your dessert habit with a healthy swap. I love Greek yoghurt with berries and a little cinnamon, or why not prepare an attractive fruit salad and take the time to really enjoy it.
- Pick one bad habit to ditch and focus on succeeding with that before tackling the next one. Maybe quit the 11am office cakes and bring your own healthy snack, or make sure you make it to two spin classes a week, before overhauling your entire diet and trying to work out six days out of seven. Too much effort and not sustainable.
- Focus less on how you look and more on how fit you feel and what your body can do. Making measurable progress in disciplines like weight lifting, Cross Fit or training for an endurance event can help you be proud of your physical achievements and worry less about appearance.
- Add yoga into your weekly schedule. The mental discipline that comes with the practice can help with managing cravings – tapas (that’s the yogic value of self-discipline, not a fun night out!) teaches us to behave moderately and not to do anything to excess.
- Finally, reward your hard work from time to time. And don’t make that treat a chocolate bar – avoid using food as a reward. Splurge on a new bit of fitness kit or a pair of yoga pants instead to celebrate that latest PB.
Keep your changes small and sustainable and you’ll be good for the long haul – no more summer panics! You’ll always have a strong and healthy body to be proud of.
Tracy is a yoga teacher, personal trainer & nutrition coach based in Bristol. She specialises in fitness for women over 40 and has written for a variety of publications including OM Yoga Magazine, MindBodyGreen, Movement for Modern Life and the Personal Trainer Development Centre. Tracy is currently being featured in the year-long TV series Be Fit Bristol Fit and she recently launched her online personal training service Badass Body Online.