There’s no doubt about it, January is the month of health and fitness. Research has shown that the most common New Year’s resolutions focus on diet and exercise, but it also shows that around 80% of these are broken within the first month. So for those that are planning to give their lives a healthy overhaul in 2014, why not make it a little easier come January, and ease yourself in gently with these simple lifestyle changes for a healthier mind and body.

1. Understand and Overhaul

When adopting a new healthy lifestyle, understanding what “healthy” actually means is key. Knowing the truth behind “fat-free” foods, for example, is pivotal for those looking to improve their health inside and out, as processed foods that claim to be ‘fat-free’ or ‘low-fat’ are often the least healthy choice on the shelf. The FDA specifies that foods labelled as ‘fat-free’ must have less than 0.5 grams of fat per serving, but while this may sound like a good thing for our waistlines, in order to make up for the lack of fat and as a result, the lack of taste, food manufacturers will often compensate by adding extra sugar, flour, salt and artificial additives to improve the flavour and/or texture. These extra ingredients will not only raise the calorie content, but they are often significantly worse for the body and digestion than the fat that was removed. Instead, opt for non-processed foods that you consume in their most natural form. If you cannot pronounce or have never heard of the ingredients on the nutrition label, move on. It is also good to note that it’s often the most staple foods that turn out to be not only the worst for you, but also (thankfully) the easiest to improve. The simplest food swaps include replacing bad carbs with good carbs by trading white bread, white rice and pasta for whole-wheat bread, brown rice and the protein-rich grain quinoa. Remember that extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil are considered healthy fats when consumed in moderation, and you can satisfy your sweet tooth with homemade peach sorbet (blend peaches in their own juice, then freeze), a couple of squares of dark chocolate or a Hip & Healthy dessert, such as raw chocolate.

2. Stocks and Shops
Before you head to the supermarket on that first healthy weekly shop, make sure you remove your stock of processed and unnatural goods. For those that have a lot of these types of products lurking in the kitchen, it may be best to do this in stages; perhaps by tackling the freezer one week, the cupboards the following week and finally, the fridge. For those concerned about wastage, check the nutrition labels of each no-no item before you throw it. If you have a lot of ready-made pasta sauces in the cupboard, for example, read the labels to assess which have the least additives (e.g. salt and thickeners) and perhaps keep one or two to be consumed during the first week to avoid excessive waste. Alternatively, remove them all, and begin making your own immediately. Remember there are many places where you can donate unwanted food, so think of it as your good deed for the day. Once you’ve cleared the kitchen, you’re now ready to tackle the supermarket. A good tip to remember is that the natural, healthier products tend to reside on the outer edges of the shop (with the demonic confectionary aisle usually located in the centre), so in order to resist temptation, avoid these aisles altogether and stick to the store’s periphery.

3. Plan and Prepare
In terms of exercise, planning what you hope to accomplish each session can mean the difference between an effective workout, and a half-hearted effort. As Kayleigh Turner Bazen, personal trainer and founder of KTraining, explains, most individuals find it easier and see more effective results if they combine different types of exercise in their regime. “A good mix of exercise programmes is important for adherence to the exercises and the enjoyment of the participant,” explains Kayleigh. “You wouldn’t watch the same movie over and over so why would you do the same exercises? You can tackle the same muscle groups on different days if necessary, but use different exercises to do so. Enjoyment and achievement are the most important things.” Being too busy is the main reason people give for opting for processed and ready-made meals, so planning and preparing your meals ahead of time can be hugely beneficial to maintenance of a healthy lifestyle. One easy way of avoiding this is to make a large batch of homemade vegetable soup on a Sunday afternoon and freeze it in portions to be defrosted each day for lunch. Similarly, choose a quick and easy breakfast such as porridge with banana, strawberries and/or raisins that takes just a few minutes to prepare but still provides a good intake of protein, antioxidants and healthy carbs. This is much more practical than expecting to make a smoked salmon, vegetable and egg white omelette every morning before work. Save these for weekends when you can really enjoy them.

And this planning goes for dinner too. Having a plan of what your final meal of the day will consist of ahead of time will prevent you stopping by the fish and chip shop on your way home. Healthy meals can be just as satisfying as the processed alternatives (if not more so!), it’s just about taking the time to prepare them. One example of a quick and easy yet healthy and tasty meal is steamed vegetables with baked lemon salmon (drizzle lemon juice over each fillet of salmon and sprinkle with pepper and dill, then wrap in foil and bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes). Delicious.

4. Realism and Rewards

And last but most certainly not least is the most important rule of all: be realistic. If your decision to adopt this new lifestyle was triggered by the desire to lose weight, then make sure your goal weight is achievable. A healthy body is the combined result of diet and exercise, so tackle both simultaneously with a diet overhaul and fitness regime that you are likely to stick to: one that allows for rest days (which personal trainer Kayleigh states are essential for body toning, muscle repair and improving muscle definition) and is do-able in terms of work and social events. As explained by personal trainer Kayleigh, “It’s important for someone that is new to exercise to be realistic about what they can achieve; a lot of hard work goes into weight loss. It’s about changing your mind as well as your body.” Because muscle weighs more than fat, Kayleigh advocates tracking your progress using measurements of key body parts rather than weight. Even if you are becoming slimmer and more toned, the numbers on the scales may still increase, but don’t be disheartened; simply judge your body improvements by your comfort in clothes and reduction in waist/thigh size, instead. “Stay optimistic but be realistic,” she advises. “It can take up to 8 weeks of exercise 4-5 times a week before friends or family notice a difference, but the individual will notice changes much quicker.” Be realistic with your goals for individual sessions too. Attempting a 15-mile run in your first week is probably not the best idea, but alternating between “20 minutes of moderate intensity exercise such as jogging or riding a bike, and 30 minutes of low intensity exercise e.g. walking or swimming,” as Kayleigh suggests, is much more likely to lead to success. As for nutrition, it’s good to keep in mind that almost every individual who lives a health-conscious life has an occasional craving that they give into. As long as the treat you allow yourself is relatively small and is limited to just once or twice per week, this does not mean your lifestyle has tipped the scales back into “unhealthy”. And when you do reach your goal, why not reward yourself with a brand new piece of stylish fitness wear so that you are inspired to continue your healthy journey!

words by Zoe Louise Cronk

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