Hello Fitness My Old Friend

“I have a New Year’s resolution,” a colleague said to me today, “I will buy bigger pants this year!” We both laughed as she described her need for a new wardrobe based on an expanding backside.

Like her, I had decided on a New Year’s Resolution. However, mine was to take me in a different direction.

Ordinarily a pretty fit person, I had lost touch with my exercise regime over the last few months. I blame this on a hectic work-travel schedule, followed by pure exhaustion.

But I missed the person I used to be: someone who could run a half marathon in just under two hours, someone who could swim for an hour without pausing, someone who worked out at least five days a week and truly enjoyed it. I also missed being able to wave hello without my underarm creating an unstoppable momentum. And lastly, I missed going for a run without feeling like I need a sportsbra to hold my butt in place.

Yet, instead of doing something about it, here I was lying on my couch, wondering how much longer I would be able to see my toes over my belly. Why I was avoiding my old life, I wasn’t really sure. But it was clear I required some professional help.

Jade McClure is a Personal Trainer, and Nutrition and Lifestyle Coach, with Jade Fitness (www.jadefit.com), while Jenika Gordon is a Personal Trainer with CrossFit Westside (www.crossfitwestside.com). I hoped their combined wisdom and no-nonsense advice would help me overcome my naughty ways.

Just to test their expertise, I began by throwing some of my favourite excuses at them. I explained to McClure there’s often an aversion to the gym when you know you’ll be surrounded by Vancouver’s ultra-fit. I mean, seriously, it can be a little daunting to climb on a treadmill next to an enviably toned, Madonna-armed, Lululemon clad beauty, who, for some scientifically impossible reason does not sweat. All this as you struggle first to get the darn treadmill to work and then not to fall off when a river of mascara tinted sweat floods your eyes.

McClure dodged this one with the agility of a gazelle escaping the scathing reach of a tiger. He simply said: get your butt in gear! He sees it all the time, he explained, people want to get fit but they never do because they pile on the excuses like an extra serving of fries. When it comes to going to the gym, he said you just have to “zone out and try to forget about everyone else.”

Not too sympathetic. Maybe Gordon would be an easier target.

I explained to her the challenge of regular exercise and healthy eating after the patterns established during that period of overindulgence we so lovingly call “the holidays.” Like McClure, she was prepared and neatly returned the volley with: the New Year is actually a great time for change because it allows you to “forget about last year and start from the beginning.”

Alright, so if I have to get back at it, where do I begin? McClure said start slowly. Light cardio and stretching is enough for the first couple of weeks. Once you’re feeling good, add some resistance training, he explained.

Gordon suggested starting with less structured exercise, including basic walking or walk-running, snowboarding, or snowshoeing. Becoming fit does not mean a trip to the gym every time, she said. And particularly when Vancouver’s dreary winter days can sap all inspiration, aiming for non-traditional activities may help sidestep exercise avoidance.

It’s also really helpful to set goals, McClure added. But you’ll fare much better if you make them realistic, specific, and measurable. He also added that, “when it comes to setting goals, most of my clients that have a specific date to work toward tend to see the most progress.”

Since I had been blessed with a pear-shaped physique, and had ruled out the possibility of gene replacement therapy, I already had a few goals in mind about altering the proportions of my most challenging asset. As for timeframe? That was easy – the shorter, the better.

McClure told me it’s also a good idea to make fitness goals known to friends or family because telling the people closest to you keeps you accountable.

You must also remember that exercise is only one element in achieving your fitness goals, Gordon reminded me. Your body can only respond based on what fuels it, she said.

McClure agreed and added that if you want to have quick, noticeable results, you need to cut the sugar. He described the effects of sugar on the body and its interference with energy and fat loss. As he continued, I sheepishly willed the grande chai latte I had been sipping, which I knew was laden with an exorbitant amount of granulated goodness, to disappear.

McClure went on to outline what he typically recommends for his clients as a starting point in their diet and exercise plan. The Twenty-One Day Challenge, he calls it. Twenty-One Days of Hell, I thought, after he outlined the plan, which includes three weeks of whole foods eating (fresh vegetables, fruit, nuts, and meat), minus sugar, refined carbohydrates (aka sugar), caffeine, alcohol, grains, dairy, and all the things that make life so worth living.

McClure says not only will it nix your cravings, but that his ulterior motive behind this seemingly extreme eating plan is to identify food allergies that may be interfering with your health.

Gordon’s approach is perhaps a little more user-friendly. She suggested a simple eating plan comprised of “five small meals a day, with protein, carbohydrates, and fat at each.” That, I can do, I thought. If I get to eat every couple of hours, I can muster up some enthusiasm.

Beyond proper nutrition, McClure explained the final element to achieving measurable fitness results involves stress reduction, which includes minimizing sleep deprivation.

When I mentioned my own lack of shut eye, McClure explained its impact on health. First of all, stress in any form can raise particular hormones and this increases fat storage. When you’re tired, you’ll also crave simple carbohydrates for easy energy, he continued. These make blood sugar spike, resulting in extreme energy highs and lows and cravings for more sugar.

Since improving fitness is really about improving how you feel, his philosophy as a trainer is to address overlapping issues. If you can improve all areas of your life, he said, that’s when you’ll start to really see and feel a difference. Your body composition will improve, but so will your energy, McClure explained.

So, if I want to get back on track, all I need to do is cut out caffeine, sugar, dairy, grains, and refined carbohydrates, sleep more, reduce other stress, and get back to exercising like I used to. Bit of a challenge. But the only alternative is bigger pants.

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