Don't get me wrong. Nobody is more pro-gym than me. If you're certain a membership can help you reach your health goals rather than becoming an ineffective time suck, go for it. But what's far more common, I've found, is well-intended folks employing misguided mistakes destined to crash and burn their well-intended fitness goals.
To become leaner, stronger and healthier in 2015, bypass these five guaranteed-to-fail health catastrophes and focus instead on my smarter strategies.
1. Skipping or making breakfast a high-sugar impact mistake.
Protein bars, whole grain cereals, skinny lattes and other high-sugar impact breakfasts leave you hungry and craving your coworker's freshly baked cookies. Breakfast skippers often not only make up, but exceed, those skipped calories throughout the day as the body attempts to make up for the missing energy source.
Smarter strategy: Studies show a high-protein breakfast keeps you full longer. A protein shake makes a filling, fat-burning breakfast that takes minutes to prepare but steadies your appetite for hours. Blend non-dairy, non-soy plant-based or de-fatted beef protein powder with berries, kale, avocado, freshly ground flax or chia seeds and unsweetened coconut or almond milk.
2. Wasting time doing steady-state cardio.
Walking on the treadmill or taking an aerobics class becomes an inefficient and ultimately counterproductive way to become lean and muscular. "[A] 45-minute elliptical workout at a consistent pace may help you shed pounds at first, but soon your body will adjust and you'll stop seeing the results," writes Jennifer Cohen.
Smarter strategy: Try training or high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which provide fast, intense exercise in just minutes a day. These workouts combine burst training with weight resistance to build strength, boost energy and blast fat in less time than it takes to drive to your local gym.
3. Obsessing over fat intake.
Experts have acquitted dietary fat, though you'd never know it based on the numerous low-fat and fat-free foods that still line grocery shelves. "For decades, we blamed fat for making us fat," writes Dr. Mark Hyman. "It sounds so simple, right? Just cut out the fat and you'll get lean. Except while manufacturers touted their 'healthy' fat-free and low-fat Frankenfoods, added sugar was slipping in through the back door, and the consequences have wreaked havoc on our health and our waistlines."
Smarter strategy: Focus on healthy dietary fat (avocado, salmon, etc.) and gradually eliminate high-sugar impact foods, which jack up fat-storing insulin. Become a sugar sleuth, learn sugar's many disguises and search for hidden sugars in even so-called healthy foods.
4. Putting sleep on the back burner.
You've got a last-minute presentation or term paper to complete. How much harm could one night's crappy sleep create? More than you can imagine. One study found even a partial night's sleep deprivation increases your risk for insulin resistance, setting the stage for obesity and Type 2 diabetes. Insufficient sleep also sets you up for an over-caffeinated, lethargic, back-away-I'm-cranky day.
Smarter strategy: Many people say they feel a "new normal" when they consistently get 7-9 hours of quality, uninterrupted sleep. Easier said than done sometimes, right? That's why you need to prepare for sleep. About an hour before shut-eye, turn off electronics, take a hot bath with a novel, drink some herbal tea and if you need them, consider melatonin supplements or herbal sleep formulas.
5. Ignoring stress.
Constant stress has become the new normal at the expense of our mental and physical health. Among stress' vast repercussions?Inflammation, brain damage (yikes!) and sex hormone imbalances while increasing your toxic load. Chronic stress also raises cortisol, a stress hormone that stores fat and breaks down muscle when it remains elevated past its prime.
Smarter strategy: You can't eliminate stress but you can become resilient to its impact. Prioritize stress management, whether that includes yoga, meditation, deep breathing or even a dog walk or tea date with your bestie. Make stress management a necessity, not a luxury.
Employ these five smarter strategies and you're well on your way to making 2015 your leanest, healthiest year ever. What health goal would you add to this list?