By Scott Prater
For many people, the New Year’s resolution concept rolls around every January. Health club memberships swell during the year’s first two months while stationary bikes and elliptical machines are hot sellers.
By March, however, most resolvers have petered out.
Glen Williams, director of Fort Carson’s Army Wellness Center, said this a typical pattern.
“I think part of the fitness-resolution failure lies in the whole concept of the resolution itself,” he said. “January 1st provides a perfect starting point for people who want to change things up and try to get fit. The trouble is, people make a fitness resolution without putting a whole lot of thought into the methodology behind it.”
Most people make that resolution to lose 10 pounds, for example. But, after three to four weeks of eating what they think are healthier foods and exercising three to four times a week, they’re left sore, hungry and exhausted. Meanwhile, the scale shows them little results for their efforts.
To Williams, this sort of resolution represents a narrow view of what people are trying to accomplish. Alternatively, positive results usually require a change in mindset.
Instead of resolving to lose a certain amount of weight, people should think in terms of wanting to make better choices and being better informed for the long term.
“We advise people to take baby steps,” he said. “Instead of drinking three sodas a day, try to cut it to one and replace two of those sodas with water. The idea is to start slow and take another baby step at the end of a month. Maybe by the end of a month, for example, try to cut soda out entirely.”
What can really be helpful for people, Williams said, is learning that there are educational and testing resources available to them. Most military installations have a wellness center that can provide these resources and help people make headway toward their fitness goals. Service members, their families, retirees and DoD civilians are all eligible to use these resources at no charge. At Fort Carson, for example, all people need to do is call or visit the AWC to make an appointment.
At the Fort Carson AWC, health educators provide people with body composition and metabolic rate tests. People may say, “That’s great, but how will knowing this baseline information help me attain my fitness goals?”
What most people don’t understand is that it took them a lot longer than three to four weeks to acquire those extra pounds. Weight loss is all about calories, Williams explained. At the end of each day, people need to burn more calories than they consume.
So, how many calories does someone need to eat in order to lose weight?
“That’s a very difficult question,” Williams said. “Most people have no idea, but these baseline tests provide that information and allow people to track their progress with subsequent tests over time.
A resting metabolic rate is one objective measure that tells someone how many calories they need to simply exist in a 24-hour period,
“Because we can measure that reliably, we can build on that to give you an accurate picture of how many calories you need from one day to the next,” Williams said.
Along with information, health educators at AWC facilities also help people with proper goal setting. “Fitness goals need to be measurable, attainable and realistic,” Willaims said. “And, they need to be time centered and time dependent.”
Becoming knowledgeable about what’s realistic and attainable in a certain time frame is invaluable toward meeting goals. Losing weight and exercising and making dietary changes are both cumulative and trending effects.
“People hear about the Keto Diet, fasting diets, the Atkins Diet, for example… well, the one thing all these diets have in common is they restrict caloric intake,” Williams said.
Wellness center staff encourage people to begin using a food journal, if even only for a week, where they can track their daily caloric intake.
The caloric balance process is simple. If a person consumes 3,500 calories a day and the sum total of their activities burns up 3,000 calories a day, then that person has a 500-calorie surplus every day. Humans store energy as fat. If for example, there is 3,500 calories in a pound of fat, give or take, then every seven days that person is gaining a pound of fat.
Incorporating information about a person’s daily activities can help provide a picture of where adjustments can be made.
“This is what we call ‘meeting a person where they’re at,’” Williams said.
Once people gain a good idea of what they are consuming they can then begin making adjustments to their activities, the foods they purchase and the ways they prepare their food. “Basically, if you burn more calories than you consume, you’re going to lose weight,” said Williams.
Activity levels can range dramatically from one person to the next, but Williams said most people can make health headway by simply walking more, parking further from office buildings and taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
When people make that New Year’s resolution to drop 10 pounds, they are most likely setting themselves up for soreness, hunger and failure. But, developing a different mindset can have dramatic effects.
“Scientific studies show that it takes 21 days to break a habit,” Williams said. “But the studies also show it takes 90 days to solidify a habit. By the end of January most people have crashed and burned on their New Year fitness resolution. “That’s why by the start of the second quarter, you’ll find plenty of gym membership discounts available.”