Getting in shape without getting bored
December 31, 2013 2:04 AM   Subscribe

Over the past year or so, due to several factors (busytimes with work, moving places twice, a surgery), I let my diet and my fitness slip up. I would like to get back in shape and lose some weight as well. Typical problem: how to come up with a solid exercise/diet plan so that it becomes routine?

Exercise: I am still somewhat fit (thanks to walking nearly everywhere), just not at my usual levels. I went for a run a few days ago after a hiatus of several months and I was able to run 6 miles non-stop, so it's not a hopeless situation. But I could afford to lose 7-10 Kg, and I want to do it through a combination of diet and exercise. As well as get back in shape for strenuous activities such as multi-day hiking/backpacking (which I used to do) or cycle touring.

I think I can manage to go for a run at least 2 times a week, maybe 3. I got recently a gym membership, but I am not a big fan and, from my past experience, I often get bored with solely cardio plus strength workouts. Hiring a personal trainer is not an option. I have got one hour in the mornings, on my way to work. The gym also offers shorter RPM/spinning and Body Pump classes in the morning, so it's another possibility.

I also have got some fitness gear at home, if that would help: a fitness ball, mat, a step, dumbbells, elastic bands.

Diet: the problem here is that I like to cook and eat yummy stuff, as well as a glass or two of wine... I don't do well with fad diet plans (low carb, Paleo, whatever); I think I work better with lifetime changes that I can implement gradually, one at at time. For example, I have forgone meat some years ago and I have managed to stick with it. Stuff like "just eat fewer cookies" or "eat pasta just twice a week" don't work for me, because I lose track easily. It's easier for me to keep to rules like "don't eat cookies, period" or "eat desserts just on special occasions such as birthdays and the like". I am able to adopt some new habit consciously for a month or so; after that it becomes natural.

I just don't know where I should start.

Another issue I have trouble with is not to increase my food intake when I am exercising more.


What would be a good schedule exercise-wise, considering that the options at the moment are: running, cardio + strength training at gym, Body Pump and RPM classes, some home exercising, and the very occasional bike ride and soccer practice?

Diet-wise: what would be good lifetime "rules" to adopt, little by little?
posted by lost_lettuce to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have any interest in competing in something - doing a half marathon, cycle race or mud run? Having an external goal to train for can be very motivating. It can also be the basis for trying new things - eg, if you decide to do a mud run you could incorporate a basic barbell routine into your training to build strength. Bonus points for finding a runner's group or cycling club to train with. Knowing that people are waiting for you to train can be very motivating.

What are your eating habits like? I've become a big fan of doing dietary resets, not necessarily diets, to consciously change certain habits for a month. I did a Whole30 recently, and it showed me (1) that eating simple carbs make me ravenously hungry hours later and (2) just how much I snacked out of habit. I'm off Whole30 now - heck, I'm vegan now - but a lot of the habits really stuck with me. Most notably, I eat 3 balanced meals a day, with protein, tons of veggies and fat, and if I do have a mid-afternoon snack it's typically a balanced 'mini meal'.

You don't necessarily have to do that, but the takeaway here is that there can be a lot of value in doing a conscious reset to your habits.
posted by nerdfish at 2:54 AM on December 31, 2013

I hate exercise plans. It's easy to get bored. I do like training programs though. I've always found getting ready for a race (5K, triathlon, swim, bike race, mud run) is a great way to stay motivated.

Whatever you do, start small and build gradually. Consistency is key. The worst thing for you to do is jump too aggressively in and get hurt and have to find that motivation all over again. When I began this latest training cycle, I spent two weeks doing workouts that hardly got my heart rate up.

Have you looked at the crossfit WODs? That's a good way to control your volume.

As for food, I'm already pretty slim, but wanted to drop more weight this season. What's worked for me is eating lots and lots of vegetables. Fruit whenever I need a snack. Every meal preceded by a big salad.

Know that your taste buds have hedonic adaptation -- that is, eat salty now, and you want more salt. Try winding down your tastes for extreme salt, extreme sweet ... that will help you enjoy fruits and vegetables more.
posted by Borborygmus at 2:56 AM on December 31, 2013

Got a rock climbing gym nearby? It's exercise without realizing you're doing it (although you'll likely have bouts of soreness if you're new to it).

It has the added bonus of being easier if you're lighter, so you'll have added incentive to shed the pounds.
posted by backwards guitar at 3:23 AM on December 31, 2013

Came back to add (because I got in the shower and kept thinking about this question) that my fittest friends are those who see their fitness activity as both their hobby and their social life. I'm thinking of friends who are super into Brazilian ju jitsu, kickboxing, rock climbing, social soccer, surfing, things like that. Be offbeat - I recently started pole dancing classes and the biggest motivator for me is just taking a couple of hours a week to hang out with other women. I think the social factor is highly underrated.
posted by nerdfish at 3:30 AM on December 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Follow-up for some clarifications.

I am not really into competing, races and such: in the past, I've done some half marathons, even a marathon, but most training plans are just too time-consuming. I think I would be happy enough with noticing steady improvements in my times, and with better fitness overall.

Eating habits: usually 3 proper meals and 2 snacks (mid-morning and mid-afternoon). Lots of vegetables, not so good with fruit. A weak spot for cookies, chocolate (at least it's dark, right?), cheese and wine (I've cut back on alcohol, although there is still room for improvement).

Good point about the social factor. My social hobby was hiking/mountaineering but I haven't done it at all last year. Weekly soccer practices are another possibility. Another reason for wanting to regain fitness...

Going to look at the crossfit WODS and at the whole 30 stuff.

Some helpful tips here, so keep your ideas coming, please!
posted by lost_lettuce at 4:50 AM on December 31, 2013

You are going to get a lot of training program advice. I have some motivational advice.

Hiring a personal trainer is not an option.

If this is not an option, then you need something to hold you accountable to your workout the same way that the finances of a personal trainer would - but YOU need to monitor it and police yourself. What is your currency? Think long and hard. THAT is what you need to charge yourself.

Allocate the exact time you have to work out. That time is now your time to work out. If you miss it - you owe yourself something... Your friends want to go out for a beer? Nope - you've got an appointment with your personal trainer (you). You think you can work late to get something done? Nope - you've got an appointment with your personal trainer (you). The exceptions to this are: you get in an accident, you schedule a day off with 48 hours in advance (and reschedule your make up session with yourself for the same week) or you are injured and need to take some time off.

My wife is a personal trainer. The biggest slips people make are when people stop following their program diet wise. Then they stop training for a few sessions, and then two weeks later their on a full on Ben & Jerry's bender and are asking her to talk them off the ledge. When you get to that point and you don't have a personal trainer - that's the hard part to get back on.

I should note - slip ups are allowed. You're human, but the biggest thing is you have to find something that will keep you honest to your program.
posted by Nanukthedog at 5:13 AM on December 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

I use Health Month to hold me accountable. Just knowing I need to check those boxes off each day is good motivation. For exercise, I have a number of goals: 2X per week cardio, 2X per week strength and a target # of calories burned as measured by my FitBit. In the summer I was biking. The winter is much harder for cardio, but mixing the cardio machines in with ice skating and skiing is the current plan. For strength, yoga and rock climbing.

Diet I find to be much harder. I'm not good at counting calories and, like you, I am much better when I have rules or just don't have certain food in the house. One rule right now: no chips with lunch at work. Another: Only can get snacks at work from the vending machine, no snacks left in desk (the vending machine is on another floor and is crazy-expensive--I gotta really want those Fig Newtons).
posted by chiefthe at 5:50 AM on December 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Wait, your gym has Body Pump classes? This is a no-brainer, then!


Seriously, my recommendation is:

1. Go 3 times per week. Preferably with a rest day in between (e.g. Monday, Wednesday, Friday is ideal.)

2. Get there early the first session, and ask the instructor which weights s/he recommends for a beginner. Use those weights. Do NOT use heavier weights; they may not feel all that heavy while you're doing the class, but you will be in agony the next day. (Ask me how I know.)

3. Increase your weights every few weeks, or as recommended by the instructor. As a guide, by the end of each track you should feel as if you can barely pump out the last few reps. If you're cruising through it, your weights are too light and you are wasting your time. As a (very rough) guide, over 12 months I have quadrupled my squat weight.

I have been doing Pump classes 3x per week, religiously, for about a year and half. I usually walk/run for about an hour 2x per week on top of that. But during a really busy week, I'll skip the running but NEVER the Pump classes. That is my #1 Rule. It has really changed the shape of my body. Other reasons why it is great: you actually get to see progress (gradually increasing your weights and finding the routine easier), once you're in the class you have to stick it out to the end, it's fast-paced, you get a cardio + resistance workout, and it hits the major muscle groups.

As for diet, I go to a fresh market once a week and buy a ton of fruit, vegetables and nuts. Where I live, this is expensive, and doesn't leave much in the budget for processed/junk food. This is a feature, not a bug ;). Treat yourself to really good quality, unprocessed food. Off the top of my head, last week I bought:

fruit - pineapple, strawberries, mango, kiwifruit, grapes, watermelon, blueberries (bulk frozen bag at supermarket.)
veg/herbs - baby spinach, bok choy, red chilli, fresh cilantro, zucchini, tomatoes, cucumber, red & green bell pepper. (Tons of coriander, mint, basil growing at home)
dairy - parmesan, feta, natural Greek yoghurt (unsweetened, pot-set)
nuts/seeds/grains - walnuts, raw almonds, flaked unsweetened coconut, sunflower seeds, pepitas, brazil nuts, pistachios, quinoa (red and white), brown rice, seeded sourdough bread, chia seeds, LSA mix, dried cranberries
protein: salmon, free-range chicken, tofu, organic eggs
oils: olive oil, coconut oil

Food/drinks I never buy: soda, white bread, crackers, biscuits/cookies, cereal (besides untoasted, sugar-and-wheat-free muesli), fruit juice, sweetened yoghurts, muesli/protein bars, chips, processed cheeses, dips, microwave dinners, ice-cream, processed meats (eg salami, sandwich meats), frozen hamburgers/fishburgers/chips/pizzas, flavoured milk, pop-tarts, ice-cream syrups, tinned soups, white rice, white pasta, jarred pasta sauces

For treats, I buy small bars of dark chocolate, smash them up and eat them with sunflower seeds, walnuts and raisins. Or get a small handful of honey-coated macadamia nuts. Or half a mango with shaved coconut and Greek yoghurt with some honey drizzled on. The idea is to eat higher-quality food that is less processed and contains less sugar (and sugar substitutes) and cheap, low-quality fats and carbs.

Like you, I do better with 'rules'. So my #2 rule is that I just don't buy the things on my 'never buy' list. There are never sodas or chips or sugary breakfast cereals or cookies in my house, so I can't eat/drink them. They no longer figure as 'treats' in my mind, anyway; my treats are the high-calorie-but-delicious things I mentioned above. I don't buy, or consume, food that is just cheap, heavily-processed crap. I use lots of herbs (fresh and dried), spices, chilli, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, cracked pepper, balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, and other flavourings that don't come premixed in bottled with a ton of sugar (sucrose/fructose/maltrose/dextrose) and salt added. I think this style of eating has retrained my palate to dislike overly-sweet/salty foods.

Full disclosure: I also drink an espresso coffee with milk and sugar every day, go through a couple of bottles of wine a week, and eat a pastry or a muffin from the fancy bakery most Sunday mornings. If I go to a nice restaurant, I always have dessert :D. I know my diet has lots of room for improvement, and that I could get more dramatic results by doing free weights and using higher weights at lower reps, and cutting out all forms of sugar, yadda yadda, but...Body Pump is fun and I like food! And I never feel deprived, am extremely healthy, and have a BMI at the lower end of my healthy weight range.

(Yikes, sorry for the length!)
posted by Salamander at 6:57 AM on December 31, 2013 [8 favorites]

Eat when you're hungry and stop when you're full. It takes some mindfulness, but it eventually becomes a habit. If you're eating when you're not hungry, don't beat yourself up about it, but figure out something else to do to meet your need for comfort / relaxation / whatever.

You say you're getting plenty of vegetables, but consider how you can add more (I add carrot sticks to breakfast, for example). The USDA guidelines are minimums. Start meals with vegetables to make sure you eat them before you fill up.

Counter to chiefthe, I stock my desk with healthy stuff and forbid myself the vending machine - I'll get bored of eating almonds way before I tire of eating Cheetos.
posted by momus_window at 7:01 AM on December 31, 2013

If you find that half marathon training takes too long, maybe you could try a few plans to get faster in 10K races. The run times are seldom more than an hour at a time and the races are short enough that they don't take up your whole day.

If you're thinking about bike touring at some point, adding bike commuting or bike errands is a great way to add some saddle time and work out how you like to carry things on your bike or person.
posted by advicepig at 7:19 AM on December 31, 2013

It's cool to exercise but if you're doing it casually and you can already run six miles, I doubt exercise is going to play a significant role in your losing 7-10 kg. That is pure and simple diet territory.

You say you want some hard and fast rules about eating healthily instead of sort of a punchcard approach, so here are the rules I would follow:

1. Half of every meal (say, 50% of your plate) must be a protein source.
2. No cookies.
3. Wine only on the weekends, and only one glass.

That's all. If you're already eating cookies practically every day and drinking more wine than that, you will probably see an immediate weight loss. #1 will be the hardest for you if you aren't eating any meat, but I can't really help you there -- I'm an inveterate omnivore and I think it's the healthiest diet, but YMMV. Stuff like unsweetened greek yogurt and cottage cheese will help you there. Don't overestimate the protein content of beans and the like which are still mostly carbohydrates.
posted by telegraph at 7:27 AM on December 31, 2013

I agree that classes are the way to go to motivate and make the exercise routine. I've done everything from tai chi and yoga to spinning and crossfit, and just having a regular class means that it's scheduled, people will start to miss you if you don't show up, and you don't have to plan your own workout.

I might do some running here and there, but I would never go back to boring gym cardio - classes are just better all around.
posted by ldthomps at 7:48 AM on December 31, 2013

How is your access to a gym near work and public transit? I run either to or from work, but I have a nice gym near work, a business casual enough dress code that I can fit clothing in a small pack and I have access to excellent public transit for the opposite direction trip. The advantage is it creates time. Instead of an hour workout plus shower time plus a half hour commute, I can just run for an hour, clean up and be where I need to go.

Food wise, I tend to avoid really starchy things that just aren't worth the calories. So I don't eat bread unless it is really tasty bread. I'm not fond enough if rice or potatoes to make them worth the calories most of the time. I fill up the extra space on my plate with yummy, non starchy veggies. It's okay to just order beef with broccoli without the massive portion of rice that comes with fast food. It's okay to order a burger without the fries.
posted by TORunner at 7:59 AM on December 31, 2013

I eat what I eat. I monitor what I eat with MyFitnessPal and its companion smartphone app. I can record whatever I eat even when I'm on the go, and the crowdsourced database is pretty encompassing. I also use an app to monitor exercise (bicycle rides, walking the dog, etc.) and the app (Runtastic) reports over to MyFitnessPal which gives me calorie credit. So more eating means more exercise (and vice versa).

As far as keeping it fresh, that's why I ride a bicycle- it's good for exploring areas and revisiting routes I haven't used in a while. I also ride quite a bit socially.

I don't do much else in terms of exercise, but my wife uses Wii Fit which provides a workout that's pretty similar to yoga (a lot of balance and stuff). The Wii Fit makes it feel like games though so she doesn't get bored with it.
posted by Doohickie at 9:23 AM on December 31, 2013

Start small. Burnout on diet and exercise are generally why fad diets don't work long term. At least that's why I couldn't ever stick to it. I saw this on another question but it's good advice in general.

So personally, I'd start with something you know you'll do, that isn't hard or stressful and is easy to keep up. Like going for a walk every day, then working up to a jog. Once you get into the habit, maybe after a week, you can ramp it up. For weight loss, high-intensity interval training is better than low intesity cardio (like jogging) anyway. It's also more fun and I find easier to do. (The thing that gets me with aerobic exercise is the do x consistently for an hour is just boring. I prefer to interval for 10-20 minutes more days a week instead.)

Individual portions and planning your meals are a good way to curb over-eating-- individual portions of cookies and stuff. You can still eat the chocolate and the cookies, but maybe only one square of good quality dark chocolate a day, and one cookie at night with tea. Space out treats so it doesn't get boring.

Also be mindful of what is going into your body. What's in it? Where does it come from? Is the mayo whole egg? Maybe eat less if so. I think a lot of excess energy is consumed just because people aren't aware of what they're eating or they think what they're eating isn't that bad.

Then there are tricks and tips to implement day to day-- cut downs and substitutions. I used to drink home made sweet iced tea. I reduced the sugar from 1 tbsp per litre to 1/2, then a teaspoon, and now I don't drink it with sugar at all. You'd be surprised how easy it is to wean yourself off things like that. I still eat everything in moderation, but reduced the amounts significantly, and measure out 1tbsp of olive oil or whatever, because I found I was adding way more than I needed anyway.

The way I lost weight (and got healthier) was with lifestyle changes, really. I never liked classes or having a personal trainer because I'm weird like that. But it is doable on your own. I've gained a little back (less than 10lbs, no one has even noticed) because I stress nibble and I've been really stressed lately-- I think this is important to note too, recognizing what your triggers are, if any-- if you have any psychological issues related to it, and what those are. I mean, the biggest hurdle is your mind. Try to keep on top of those, and trigger alternate habits. For example, my go-to nibble is chips but I sometimes will eat an individual packet of them, or rice snacks, or a handful of carrots and 2-3 nuts when I get the urge. Once you've sorted that out, I find it's easier to make positive changes and stick to them too.

Personally, I find the 'stick to a healthy routine and splurge' occasionally works pretty well. I eat rather healthfully day-to-day, and allow for days where I eat a bit more, like once a month on birthdays and such. I find this works amazingly well, provided you don't stress about time. If you're sitting there giving yourself 2 months to get in shape or lose the paunch, this won't work. My timeline has been 2-4 years, and it's made it easier and worked well for me. I don't stress about not meeting my goal, because I know I'll get there. It's also made maintaining a lot easier.

Anyway that's just my experience with it. Good luck!
posted by Dimes at 2:21 AM on January 2, 2014

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