New fitness routine takes time

It takes time to get a new routine going and lose weight

CorrespondentFebruary 1, 2011 

  • It takes 12 weeks to break bad habits and start a new routine.

    If your long-term goal seems daunting, set mini-goals

    If you're struggling, get a partner or other support system.

    Don't starve yourself. When the body isn't getting enough fuel, it hangs on to as much fat as it can.

    Follow our weight-loss bloggers

    N&O staffers are blogging about their weight-loss goals at blogs.newsobserver.com/turning thescales .

You're a month into your new fitness program and you're not seeing the results you expected. Take a deep breath, then keep going.

Your age, gender, genetics, physiology and environmental factors all combine to make your fitness challenge different from the guy or woman on the treadmill next to you, says Sue Dissinger, health and wellness director of the YMCA of Greater Charlotte.

That may help to explain why you are still seeing too much of the old you. Perhaps the most common beef after a month of eating better and exercising is: I've hardly lost any weight!

"Your entire body composition changes, not just the number on the scale," says Logan Washburn, fitness director for the UNC Wellness Center at Meadowmont in Chapel Hill.

If you're exercising hard you might actually gain weight in the initial phase of a new fitness push, Washburn says. You're burning fat and adding muscle; because muscle weighs more than fat, weight loss isn't always a reliable initial indicator of success. However, looser clothing - especially around the waist - is, because fluffy fat takes up more space than dense, compact muscle.

If you're a stickler for statistical evidence that your efforts are making a difference, check your percentage of body fat, which will decrease as you build muscle.

You should also check your pH level, advises Danny Russo, a Charlotte-based personal trainer/fitness guru. Russo travels the country with his wife, Janet, who is a registered nurse, spreading the word about wellness through his FEW (Food, Exercise, Water) Program.

The first thing he tells clients when he appears before women at health clubs, hospitals and churches, Russo says, "is to pee on this little strip of paper." Because of our often unhealthy, chemically dependent diets, Russo says, most of us have acidic body chemistry which can open the door to diseases and make our bodies less efficient.

Translation: Fat and other unhealthy stuff tends to stick around. Your pH should be in the 6.5-7.5 range, he says.

Russo says he instructs his clients to cut back on sodium and add potassium to their diets to take care of water retention. "You can drop 10 pounds of water and two dress sizes in just a few days," he says.

And if you aren't eating enough, you may be frightening your body into circle-the-wagons mode. According to the Mayo Clinic, the average moderately active adult should consume at least 2,000 calories a day; even for a nonactive person, that total shouldn't drop below 1,200.

When the body isn't getting enough fuel, it starts conserving and hangs on to as much fat as it can. "You don't want to lose more than one or two pounds a week or your body goes into shock," Washburn says.

A month into a new wellness program is also a good time for a gut check. Ask yourself:

Is the regimen you've chosen working for you?

Four and a half years ago, Debra Delano of Charlotte weighed 257 pounds; a year later she was down to 157.

Along the way she discovered that some of the most popular exercise classes - Zumba and yoga, for instance - weren't for her. Instead, she's become a disciple of weight-lifting ("I lift a crazy amount of weight") and line dancing, every Wednesday evening at Coyote Joe's and often for 45 minutes on her own, before work.

Are you pushing yourself? Washburn says pain should never be part of your workout equation. However "exercise to where you're slightly uncomfortable, to where you're a little short of breath." And "it's OK to be a little sore afterward."

Do you need a support system? Face it, left to our own devices, it's easy to blow off a trip to the gym after a long day of work. Enter a support network, be it a personal trainer, a group exercise class, or someone who's going through the same thing you are. "Having someone to talk to on a regular basis can be important," Dissinger says.

Don't overreach

If your long-term goal seems daunting, set weekly goals. "Tell yourself you're going to go to the gym three days for 30 minutes, or you're going to eat five vegetables a day," Washburn says.

If there is a magic number in all this, says Washburn, it's 12, as in weeks. "That's how long it usually takes to break a habit and establish a new routine.

"Remember," she adds, "it's a lifestyle change. Your body's changing. It takes time for your brain and body to kick in."

Meanwhile, the Charlotte Y's Dissinger says you can get over short-term hurdles by sharing.

"The biggest thing is to not keep your feelings to yourself," she says. Talking to a certified trainer or another sweaty comrade in the trenches could be all it takes.

"There might be a simple fix to help you stay with it and get over the hump."

Joe Miller writes about health, fitness and the outdoors in North Carolina. Read his blog at GetGoingNC.com.

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