As well as teaching yoga I work as a personal trainer and coach, and all my clients have come back to me after Christmas a little heavier and generally feeling sluggish. They are all now setting their fitness goals for 2017 and it’s my role to help motivate them towards success, which is a great job to have!
Setting resolutions and keeping them are two different things, however. Even with my knowledge, I can find it hard to maintain consistency in my own diet and fitness plan when life gets busy and I have to give more time to my clients than myself. So I was very excited when I came across a great book that has really inspired me and is already helping me to make changes in various areas of my life. It’s called The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson and it works on the principle that small habit changes maintained consistently over time create much more lasting results than taking massive and unsustainable action – as we all tend to at this time of year! It’s a very do-able guide to follow as it doesn’t require dramatic changes to achieve success and its lessons can be applied to any aspect of your life, such as financial management, relationships and health.
I’m seeing all kinds of radical action being taken by people right now – going vegan, alcohol-free, detoxing – and it’s all pretty miserable stuff to be doing in cold, dark January after so much merriment and indulgence. I’ve always worked with my clients on making sustainable lifestyle changes such as eating more food cooked from scratch as opposed to gritting their teeth through an unnecessary juice cleanse, so here are some Slight Edge-style tips to make your new year healthier but with less pain!
Healthy eating and weight loss
There’s just no need to detox or severely restrict calories; no scientific evidence backs it up as a way to be healthier or lose weight and it will just make you miserable. Try to make smaller changes instead such as cooking your food mainly from fresh ingredients, or ditching the afternoon piece of cake in the office for a portion of berries instead. The extra 300 calories (minimum!) a day you gain from one patisserie treat adds up to noticeable weight gain over time (you actually need to cut about 300 calories a day to lose weight) so that one small change alone could have a significant cumulative effect. My own goal is to prep my lunches to take with me on the move and this has already saved a lot of money in just two weeks, as well as protecting my waistline from the amazing chocolate hazelnut slice I was caving into at my favourite café last year! It’s no more difficult than putting aside a slice of the frittata I make for breakfast and adding a handful of cherry tomatoes to it. See – small change!
Fitness and movement
I always challenge my clients when they start off saying they will commit to exercising five days a week – life just gets in the way! Why not look at your diary and commit to two sessions you know you can definitely make, and then anything else like a yoga class, a long walk or going dancing is a bonus. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself but celebrate and be grateful when you do more than you anticipated. Quick wins really do boost confidence. I’m so active as part of my job that maintaining exercise is not one of my goals, but I’m trying to balance out all the gym work by rolling out my yoga mat more frequently at home. That’s my small change; even one extra yoga practice a week will make me feel noticeably better.
Managing stress and sleep
This is a goal close to my heart. Not only is being self-employed a very unique form of stress to live with, but I have started sleeping badly as I get older. Making small changes like sticking to a regular bedtime and developing an evening routine can really help slow things down and prepare the body to rest. Another habit you can get into is switching off gadgets like smartphones and tablets an hour before bed so that the hormones released to trigger sleep are not disrupted by the blue light they emit. It’s also good to calm the mind by focusing on the plot of a good book rather than flitting between apps on your phone and becoming overly stimulated.
If you can, maybe make 30 minutes to get outside in your lunch break to get away from workplace stress, or stop off on the way home to do something nice for yourself like savour a coffee with a magazine, or visit an exhibition you’ve been meaning to see. These are like giving yourself little holidays during your week and are a great way to manage stress.
Compared with all the crazy diet plans and life changing recommendations you may be seeing in the media right now, my suggestions may seem very gentle! But having coached clients towards various goals for over a decade I know, like The Slight Edge, that slow and steady doesn’t just win the race – it means you can keep on going in the long term with your healthy lifestyle. Try one small thing, stick with it, and prepare to be amazed by what you can achieve with even a seemingly minor habit change.