Making S.M.A.R.T.er Goals this Year for Results Built to Last

Well, it is that time again: the day when we publish our “New Year’s resolution post.” FW is a wellness-services company, after all, so helping individuals meet their exercise- and nutrition-related goals is kind of our thing. This year, however, we are doing this a bit differently. Today’s article is written by both Foundation Wellness Owner/exercise physiologist Miller Chandler and Resident Dietitian Hope Anderson. We thought it would be beneficial to deliver our New Year’s message from the perspectives of both an ACSM Certified Exercise Physiologist (ACSM EP-C) and a Registered Dietitian (RD). Exercise and good nutrition go hand in hand. If your goal involves getting fitter and/or losing weight, you cannot have one without the other. And at Foundation Wellness, what we want for you is lifestyle change, not a flourish of misguided activity that peters out well before St. Patrick’s Day. So, without further ado, we will begin with Miller explaining how you should exercise if the primary goal is to burn fat.

Miller Chandler, MS, ACSM EP-C

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope things are going well for you in 2017 thus far. If your main goal is to burn fat, the key here is regular bouts of low-to-moderate-intensity, sustained, aerobic activity. We are talking long walks; not-too-intense bike rides; 45-60-minute sessions on the elliptical trainer, while listening to music or watching your favorite show. When you are working at approximately 65% of your age-predicted maximum heart rate or below, after the first part of your session, your body really shifts into fat-burning mode. Fat is the primary fuel, not carbohydrate. Consequently, though it may not be the most exciting hour of your day, this regular cardio time is a must if you want to attain a slimmer, healthier you in 2017.

Does this mean that you never need to fit in any high-intensity intervals or strength training? No, it does not. These things are important also, but the problem is that too many people, whether for reasons having to do with body type or personality (or both), are inclined to do one mode of exercise or the other. They regularly strength train and do short, intense bursts of cardio, but never any lengthy cardiorespiratory work. Or they take those daily, long walks, but hardly ever touch a dumbbell. You must do both in order to maximize results. This has to do with metabolism and the training principle known as “progressive overload,” things I will explain further in a bit. First, however, I will pass the baton to Hope.

Hope Anderson, RD, LDN, 200-RYT

“Just tell me what to eat…” It’s a request I often get from clients wanting to lose weight, tone up, and build a healthy lifestyle.  Most of us become hyper-focused on these themes at the turn of the year, setting “eating better” and “losing weight” at the top of our resolutions.  And no time of year is riddled with more pressure to get in the best shape of your life than the start of a brand new year.  

“New Year, New You,” gyms advertise; weight loss clinics claim you’ll “totally transform” in a matter of a few weeks by going on their low-calorie diet and magical weight-loss pill; fitness magazines prescribe the exact workout and nutrition plan (cough, low-carb, cough) to make this your “sexiest year yet!” 

The problem with making a total lifestyle overhaul is it’s difficult to keep those major changes up, not to mention it’s stressful.  We lose motivation and wind up falling away from the promises we’ve made ourselves starting January 1.  So just how do we eat to improve our health?  We tend to overcomplicate the art of nourishing our bodies, but the answer to that question is pretty simple: 

Carbohydrates, protein, and fats: these are our macronutrients, and we need a balance of all three.  

Let me reiterate, we need all three in certain amounts.  The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends eating within the following ranges: 

  • Carbohydrates: 45-65% of calories
  • Fat: 20-35% of calories
  • Protein: 10-35% of calories

Typical diets drastically reduce intake of one macro and increase intake of the other two.  For instance, a Paleo diet is low in carbohydrates and high in protein and fats (as are the South Beach and Atkins diets).  

The latest fad diet book Eat Bacon Don’t Jog pushes a high-fat diet and puts followers into ketosis, a metabolic state where your body does not have enough glucose for energy, requiring it to resort to fat stores for energy.  While you will initially lose weight on a plan like this, it’s far too extreme (and potentially dangerous) to maintain.  The weight you lose will be regained as soon as you go off the diet.  

Truth:  you don’t need to go on a diet to lose weight.  I advise clients to shift their mindset to “Live It, Not Diet”, meaning improve your lifestyle and the quality of what you are eating, and this will land you in the healthiest body possible.  So have your carbs and eat them too. 

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Miller Chandler, MS, ACSM EP-C

When wearing my professor hat at Belmont University, I teach using the textbook Fit & Well: Core Concepts and Labs in Physical Fitness and Wellness.* This actually is a great text for anyone interested in the pursuit of optimal health, aka wellness. In a section on energy production, the authors state:

The rate at which your body uses energy—its metabolic rate—depends on your level of activity. At rest, you have a low metabolic rate; if you begin to walk, your  metabolic rate increases. If you jog, your metabolic rate may increase more than 800% above its resting level. Olympic-caliber distance runners can increase their metabolic rate by 2000% or more.

Two-thousand percent or more! Imagine: the top distance runners in the world, running dozens of consecutive miles at a pace below a 5-minute mile. Top speed and distance. It is truly amazing what the human body can do if you really think about it. And no matter what your current fitness level, pushing your body closer toward its limits, in terms of speed and distance, will rev up metabolic rate and cause it to work more efficiently in the future. The result: your body will rely on fat as the primary fuel source as you go farther and faster on a treadmill. You don’t have to be an Olympian chasing world records to experience this benefit, and unlike the aforementioned state of ketosis, this is no unhealthy trick. 

The key lies in the bedrock training principle progressive overload. Again, as explained in Fit & Well

Too little exercise will have no effect on fitness (although it may improve health);  too much may cause injury and problems with the body’s immune or endocrine (hormone) systems. The point at which exercise becomes excessive is highly individual; it occurs at a much higher level in an Olympic athlete than in a sedentary person. For every type of exercise, there is a training threshold at which fitness benefits begin to occur, a zone within which maximum fitness benefits occur, and an upper limit of safe training. The amount of exercise  needed depends on the individual’s current level of fitness, the person’s genetically determined capacity to adapt to training, his or her fitness goals, and the component being developed.

You should always be mindful of the importance of gradually increasing both volume and intensity whenever possible. Let’s say you are a runner, who still has a ways to go before reaching a speed/distance goal. For starters, it’s never a good idea to try to increase both (intensity and duration) in a single session, and definitely don’t also add a simultaneous increase in frequency (workout sessions per week). If you do, you are just inviting burnout and injury into your life. Instead, during one session, increase your distance slightly—say, by 5%. And the next session, go a bit faster. And the next session, add an extra incline. Then do a session in which you don’t change a thing. Over time you will progressively stress your cardiorespiratory system and the muscles involved in running, and your body will adapt and improve.

If it’s a metabolism-boosting strength-training goal you are working toward, let the “two-for-two” rule be your guide: When you can do 2 extra reps 2 workouts in a row, then you may increase the weight by 5%. For example, let’s say you are bench pressing twice a week (on nonconsecutive days) and doing 3 sets of 8-10 with 100 pounds. If for 2 workouts in a row, you do sets of 12 reps, then the next workout go ahead and increase the weight to 105. This should cause you to go back down in reps again, but will serve to progressively overload your musculoskeletal system. This is what sustainable progress in the gym looks like!

Finally, when goal setting, make sure your goals are well researched and S.M.A.R.T.:

  • Specific
  • Measurable 
  • Attainable
  • Realistic
  • Time-frame specific

It is not very helpful to say something like, “I am going to get in my best shape ever this year!” You are likely to start out with great enthusiasm, but without concrete goals, you are at risk of veering off course. Instead, write goals (and I do mean write—put them down on paper) that are doable and concrete, and give yourself a specific time frame in which to accomplish them.

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Hope Anderson, RD, LDN, 200-RYT

In addition to always keeping a balanced approach with your macronutrients, remember these 4 tips for helping keep you on track:

1. MAKE A COLORFUL PLATE

Research shows increasing whole food intake from plant sources can move the needle on the scale.  Vegetables, fruits, leafy greens, nuts, seeds, and legumes — these are nutrient-dense foods that contain fiber, cancer-fighting antioxidants, and high doses of vitamins and minerals, but Americans’ diets are largely deficient in them.  To make plant-based foods the center of your meal, fill half of your plate with whole foods to improve digestion, nourish and energize,  and feel fuller longer.

2. EAT BREAKFAST

Mom was right when she urged you to eat a balanced breakfast before school.  The benefits of starting the day with a wholesome breakfast are many.  Did you know your metabolism slows when you sleep?  Having a meal within 30-60 minutes upon waking is the best way to kickstart your metabolism for the day.   Research shows that people who begin their day with breakfast are more likely to have a healthier weight, are better able to maintain their weight, and also have better quality diets overall.  If you’re limited on time in the mornings, plan ahead.  Keep eggs, Greek yogurt, berries, nuts, whole grain toast, and peanut butter on hand — it only takes two minutes to throw together scrambled eggs, a yogurt parfait, or peanut butter toast.

3. REDUCE SUGAR 

Sugar is excessive in the American diet.  In fact, the average adult in America consumes 22 teaspoons a day (>350 calories from sugar), and the average child consumes 32 teaspoons (> 500 calories) a day.  We are getting far too many calories from sugar, which promotes weight gain, heart disease, and issues regulating insulin and blood sugar.  The American Heart Association recommends women get no more than 6 teaspoons/day (100 calories) of added sugars and men should limit intake to no more than 9 teaspoons/day (150 calories).  So how do we realistically reduce sugar?  

  • First, eliminate sugar-sweetened drinks.  Enjoy unsweetened tea, water with lemon, and 
  • Check nutrition facts labels for grams of sugar per serving.  Take total grams of sugar and divide by 4, which will give you the amount of sugar in teaspoons present in that food item (ex: 16 grams of sugar per serving has 4 teaspoons of sugar).  Tip: try to limit it to no more than 10 grams per serving. 
  • Look for hidden sources of sugar in breads, salad dressings, and yogurt.

4. HAVE A SNACK 

Too often, we wait too long to eat and then it becomes a free for all because we’re “hangry.”  Having a 100-150 calorie snack that combines a complex carb (think fruit or yogurt) with a protein (think string cheese, almonds, or nut butter) keeps your metabolism humming and prevents you from getting too ravenous. 

Most importantly, remember change takes time.  Abandon the extreme diet and, instead, take a moderate approach to eating and living well because hardly anyone can maintain restrictive diets over time.  Furthermore, who wants to?  Try to break down your overall goals (ex: lose 25 pounds, eat more vegetables, etc.) into smaller, actionable goals each week that are realistic and attainable (ex: lose 2 pounds per week; eat 5 servings of vegetables per day; etc.).  

Another useful tip?  Take 2-3 hours on the weekend to get the week’s staples from the grocery store and invest a little time in batch cooking.  Make a soup, roast a big batch of veggies, and prepare quinoa to keep in the fridge — all easy options to assemble and serve in no time.  This will simplify your whole week and allow you to focus energy elsewhere, say, on those workouts Miller’s so gung ho about!   

Miller Chandler, MS, ACSM EP-C

Great advice, Hope! 

Good luck, everyone, with making and sticking to those S.M.A.R.T. goals this year. Remember that, yes, it is important to hold yourself accountable, but it’s also important to be kind to yourself. Setbacks happen; it’s what you do next that counts. And a new number at the end of a year is never required for goal setting. The only thing needed is a will to change. 

Miller Chandler, MS, ACSM EP-C is an exercise physiologist with over 20 years' experience in the health and fitness industry. In addition to overseeing operations for his business, Foundation Wellness, LLC, Miller also works with private clients and teaches at Belmont University. 

Hope Anderson, RD, LDN, 200-RYT is a Vanderbilt-trained dietitian whose focus is empowering others to live healthy, nutritionally balanced lives.  As a nutrition consultant and public speaker, it is Hope's mission to empower individuals to prioritize their health and make a beet lover out of everyone. 

* Fahey, Insel, Roth (2015) 11th Edition. Fit and Well: Core Concepts and Labs in Physical Fitness and Wellness.