1. Get Support. First and foremost it is important to get help. Many of us start out on a journey only to become sidetracked and/or discouraged at some point. There are two kinds of support that are important here. First, consider enlisting the help of a professional fitness instructor, nutritionist, and/or physician. A professional's assistance can mean the difference between starting out on a good course and starting out on one that injures you.
The other form of support is in the form of a friend or family member. When things get difficult and you are staring at your children's Halloween candy for the 3rd day in a row, for example, you need to be able to call on someone who will talk you through it. You can be a friend as well. A good friend will remind you of your goals and will reinforce how proud she is of you for what you've done so far. She will encourage you to keep going and even go so far as to pull out the ol' wet noodle if necessary.
2. Set Goals. Where to you want to end up in 4 weeks? How about 8 weeks? 12 Weeks? Think about how driven you usually are with projects, how emotionally challenged you know you might get, and how much time you have to commit to your journey. Those of you who are Type A personalities with naturally high levels of discipline and plenty of spare time may decide to set the highest goals possible (losing 3 lbs of fat per week). Most of you, however, realize that you have the tendency to fall of the wagon, have limited amounts of time to commit, and are going to be carried away by holiday festivities. You might choose to maintain your current dress size over the holidays instead of gaining 5 pounds of fat. Whatever they are, make your goals reasonable for you. One of the worst things you can do is to set yourself up for failure by setting goals that you can't possibly meet.
3. Make a Plan. With your goals in hand, map out specifically how you are going to meet them. A professional fitness instructor might be helpful at this point. For example, if you believe you can lose 1 pound of fat per week during the holidays, how do you do that? A personal trainer can work within your constraints to map out a plan which includes nutrition, aerobic activity, and strength training that gets you where you want to go. If you choose to create the plan on your own, be sure to take the time to consider the mode, duration, and intensity of exercise sessions each week as well as planning a sound nutritional plan that will keep you satisfied and on target. Then, list weekly checkpoints to determine if you are on track and modify the next week's plan as necessary.
4. Quit Dieting. Don't think of this journey as one where you are on a diet. If you do, then once it's over you will go off of it and are very likely to lose your hard-gained results. I would suggest learning how to eat for a lifetime instead of harming your body by eating for a short-term goal. Any sound nutritional program will include plenty of water, lean proteins, complex carbohydrates and good fats. It is possible to combine these macro nutrients in such a way as to maintain blood sugar levels, build or sustain lean mass (ie muscle and bone), keep you satisfied, and rev up your body's metabolism. The very best way I know to burn fat is to pair a lean protein like eggs with a complex carbohydrate like whole wheat toast. If you do this in small serving sizes 5-6 times a day, you will be very surprised how quickly your body begins to change, and how good you feel!
Also, remember to eat plenty of good food prior to going to a holiday party so that you aren't unnecessarily tempted to eat your fill of foods which aren't on your plan. Then, once you get to the party, allow yourself one or two small samples of the most tempting dishes.
5. Get Rid of Sugar. Remember to pair a lean protein with a complex carbohydrate. Complex carbohydrates will supply a slow and steady source of energy for your day as well as providing necessary nutrients and fiber. Complex carbohydrates are whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables. Simple sugars will rapidly raise your blood sugar and if you don't burn them off, they will be stored as fat. Foods recently considered "diet" foods like bagels and pretzels have been found to quickly raise blood sugar to very high levels.
6. Read Food Labels. Don't be fooled by labels like "slim, fat-free, healthy," etc. Ever since America adopted a low-fat diet, we've become increasingly obese. We need to also be concerned with simple carbohydrates. Remember that whatever occurs naturally on the planet is usually a low sugar, highly nutrient food (ie whole foods). Once it becomes processed, it becomes a higher sugar, less nutrient food. Beware especially of items that are packaged in bags inside of boxes. You'll be very surprised how much you've been taking for granted once you begin reading the labels.
7. Build Your Muscle. Not only does muscle help in metabolizing fat, but among other things it helps increase bone density, makes you more comfortable performing your daily tasks, and makes your body look sleeker and more beautiful.
To build muscle use weights that are difficult to manage for 10 to 12 repetitions. If the exercise is not difficult, it's not enough weight. Push yourself a little bit to see if you are able to go up to the next level. For example, most women I begin to work with own 3lb, 5lb and 8lb weights. Once we begin working, however, they find that they are able to manage 10lb, 15lb and 20lb weights. Plan to do one exercise for each muscle at least once a week, and do at least one "set" of 10 to 12 repetitions for each. Good form is paramount. If you don't know a variety of exercises for each muscle group and you aren't sure what good form is, find a professional who can help you.
8. Keep Moving. Recent studies indicate that we need as much as one hour of exercise most days of the week. This has changed from the 2 hours per week guideline. Opinion is also shifting away from the belief that any activity is good activity. Depending on your body type, your goals, your physical limitations and the amount of time you have, you should do between 15 and 60 minutes of moderate-to-intense cardiovascular activity on most days. Try and work at the level where you can carry on a conversation while breathing heavily and sweating. If you aren't used to this kind of activity, start with fewer minutes and less intensity and build up over the course of several weeks. Remember that you don't need to join a gym and you don't need to purchase expensive equipment for your exercise to be effective. You can walk up and down your staircase, do jumping jacks or go outside and walk, for example.
9. Get Plenty of Rest. With all of this exercise, you can plan for at least 30 minutes more sleep per night. Set the alarm clock for your morning exercise and get to bed early enough so that you can get a good night's sleep. Remember that muscle builds while you rest and cortisol levels (which increase fat deposits in your abdomen) will rise under periods of less rest and higher stress.
10. Cheat. Lastly, take time off. Rome wasn't built in a day, right? Taking a week off every 3-6 months or so gives your body time to rest and recover. Eating "bad" foods once a month or so will keep you on track emotionally, and may actually increase strength gains. Remember, moderation is key!