Looking to get - and stay - fit? Experts recommend patience and consistency

·5 min read

We’re coming up on that time of year when holiday indulgences give way to annual fitness resolutions, many of which fizzle due to impatience and unrealistic expectations, local health experts say.

“We do see a lot of people all year round looking to get healthier, but there’s still that stereotypical ‘new year, new me’ attitude,” said Lauren Nichols, a registered dietician with Hartford HealthCare. “People put a lot of pressure on themselves to make a lot of changes all at once. That doesn’t really stick.”

She said an individual embarking on a new healthy lifestyle plan should first ask themselves why they want a change.

Alexa Helwig is a personal trainer and nutrition coach at Summit Fitness & Sports in the Norwich Business Park.
Alexa Helwig is a personal trainer and nutrition coach at Summit Fitness & Sports in the Norwich Business Park.

“Is it to lose weight because they’re uncomfortable and want to feel better?” she asked. “Or is it to look like someone else and somehow think losing weight will make everything about their life better – which aren’t really the right reasons.”

Baby steps to success

Nichols said people achieve higher and more long-lasting nutritional success by taking an incremental approach to eating and exercise.

Spending time with family: Jason Bakoulis steps down as Norwich Free Academy football coach

“Focus on adding more fruits and vegetables to a meal and pay attention to your hunger cues instead of jumping into a ‘diet,’ a word that carried a lot of tension,” she said. “Food is morally neutral. There’s no good or bad food. It all does something. Some have more vitamins or fiber and others give you quick energy and taste good. It’s about finding a balance in eating that becomes a habit and lifestyle.”

Though everybody’s metabolism and baseline health is different, Nichols said a typical meal should consist of a quarter each of proteins – animal-based or beans or tofu – and whole grains, like wild rice or mashed potatoes, the kinds of foods that instill a feeling of fullness. The other half should be taken up by vegetables and fruits, resulting in a good balance of carbohydrates, protein and fat.

Holiday fun in Connecticut this weekend: Wreath-making, karaoke with craft beer and storytelling

“But remember to be gentle with yourself,” Nichols said. “Don’t skip meals because you might be going to a big gathering later in the day. You’ll just go there super hungry. Listen to your body and try to figure out if you’re eating because you’re truly hungry or it’s a habit because there are a lot of other people around you eating.”

Nichols also suggested switching the focus away from calories to ingredients.

“Counting calories can be tedious and difficult to maintain,” she said. “And when they don’t see results right away, people throw their hands up in the air in frustration. It’s those small changes, like throwing in an extra handful of vegetables into a salad or putting some chopped tomatoes into your scrambled eggs, that helps. It’s about adding and not taking away.”

The gym and at-home fitness routines

Usually, a new weight-loss regime includes vows to exercise more, resolutions that historically translate to a jump in first-time gym memberships.

Alexa Helwig is a personal trainer and nutrition coach at Summit Fitness & Sports in the Norwich Business Park.
Alexa Helwig is a personal trainer and nutrition coach at Summit Fitness & Sports in the Norwich Business Park.

But without some basic planning, those new members tend to drift away before the spring crocuses emerge, said Jolene Bowers, owner of the Summit Fitness and Sports gym in Norwich.

“The first quarter of the year is the best quarter for all gyms – they race through the doors,” she said. “But if we don’t do our best to retain them, we lose 60% of those new members within 90 days.”

6-week-old infant: A Griswold mother accused of killing her baby had pending felony case at time of arrest

Bowers said the same statistics apply to those beginning an at-home fitness plan.

“Those treadmills end up being coat-racks very quickly,” she said. “We want people to be realistic and understand up front this is a lifestyle change that takes time. We don’t scare them by telling them they need to be here seven days a week – that’s not realistic. And it takes up to three months for them to really see results and see their energy increase.”

Alexa Helwig, a personal trainer and nutritional coach at Summit, spends much of her days working with clients from every point on the fitness spectrum.

“There’s not a quick fix to achieving fitness,” she said. “You can’t just cut carbs for two weeks and expect to keep any results. It needs to be lifestyle and habit changes.”

Helwig, a self-described “goof-ball” in the gym, said making new clients comfortable is a crucial step.

“That helps offset any awkward feelings or lack of self-confidence,” she said. “I’ll usually work with them in the back functional area and work to find realistic fitness goals. If someone says they want to lose 50 pounds in a short amount of time, I might encourage them extend that timeline."

Summit Fitness & Sports in the Norwich Business Park.
Summit Fitness & Sports in the Norwich Business Park.

Helwig says fitness newbies should avoid the “numbers” trap.

“The scale isn’t a realistic indicator of health,” she said. “Muscle weighs more than fat, so a person’s weight means nothing. A better indicator is checking if their clothes feel better on them or have them take progress photos.”

Helwig said she recommends a three-times-per-week workout that includes a combination of weights and steps. She said the weight work gives that toned look that simple weight loss doesn’t provide.

The Lindquist family: Ex-girlfriend's outburst leads to second call for mistrial in Griswold triple murder case

Helwig warned new gym-goers to concentrate on improving their own bodies rather than striving for an unrealistic ideal. She said Instagram and other media representations, with their professional lighting and unnatural poses, can be wildly deceiving.

“You want to look like you and to do that, start slow and create those workout habits,” she said. “I try to make the experience fun and tell clients to focus on being 1% better tomorrow than today. “

John Penney can be reached at jpenney@norwichbulletin.com or at (860) 857-6965.

This article originally appeared on The Bulletin: How to maintain New Year's resolution of exercise and healthy eating