What’s a Better Resolution: Losing Weight or Sticking to a Fitness Plan?

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Oh, New Year’s. With the turn of the calendar comes fresh ideas, hope for something more—and a long list of resolutions to complete before December 31 rolls around again. But the sad fact is that 30 percent of all New Year’s resolutions fall flat before February, and people tend to lose interest in losing weight because they set unreal expectations for themselves.

It’s time to show yourself some love! Weight and body fat percentage isn’t the ultimate measure of fitness. A study found that overweight but fit adults may be at no greater risk of developing or dying from heart disease or cancer than normal-weight individuals who are fit. So, instead of comparing body types to health, let’s instead focus on building realistic goals we can actually stick to. The only problem: should they be focused on setting a fitness plan or dropping the pounds?

Fitness plan

Wanting to lose weight with a diet change alone is possible, but setting up an exercise routine you can actually stick to is an ideal component to not giving up on your resolution. If your goal is to lose weight, try to set smaller goals within that, like increasing your energy and stamina and getting more sleep. Then, track your progress by writing it down or recording it in a spreadsheet to make yourself accountable. And remember that fitness also measures body fat, waist circumference and even stress management—not just the pounds you’re shedding.

If you’re new to the fitness scene, ease your way into it with one weekly workout that combines cardio and weight training. After a few weeks, work up to attending two weekly workout classes. Soon enough, your body will be able to handle five workouts a week. This slow progression will ward off injuries and soreness, and leave you feeling eager to return the next week.

If you’ve set up an exercise routine in the past but found yourself falling behind or skipping it entirely, you might try trading in long, sweaty workouts for high-intensity, 30-minute routines. This way, you won’t get tired as quickly, and you’ll burn more calories than the longer, drawn-out exercise you’re used to.

While a healthy diet is important when wanting to shed weight, exercise is also a critical component. Without exercise, only a portion of your weight loss derives from fat, and you would be stripping away muscle and bone density. Setting up a plan filled with squats, lunges, push-ups, planks and cardio components will help you lose weight and, in turn, work up health perks like better sleep, lower cholesterol and reduced stress levels. Let’s get moving!

Weight loss

Goals around our health can vary, from wanting to work out more often to gaining muscle to eating more balanced meals. But if your main goal is to lose weight, consider this: Weight loss is generally 75 percent diet and 25 percent exercise. If you’re already set to join a gym or walk for 60 minutes a day, what exactly should you eat? While low-carb diets offer quick results, they can be hard to continue. Focus instead on a balanced meal plan with fruits, veggies, lean proteins and whole grain carbs. A diet like this, rather than cutting calories, will help you to continue growing muscle mass and lose weight. Then, fit in heart-pumping workouts like walking, weightlifting and cycling to help aid the weight loss.

However, if you’ve found yourself no longer able to lose the pounds, and these healthy meals are leaving you feeling hungry sooner than three hours after you’ve eaten, your body is telling you it needs more to keep up its metabolism and muscle gain. When you’re close to your “ideal” weight, it’s fine to make small changes to your diet, but cutting back too much can result in mood swings and rebound overeating. Instead of focusing on that number, realize you’re at the finish line and maintain that happy point you’ve worked so hard to get to.

When you’re sitting at your healthy weight, your body should be completely balanced, which includes menstruation, digestion and immune health along with feeling hungry at the appropriate times. Pay attention to the signs your body is sending. If you’re getting sick frequently, having irregular periods or losing muscle mass, you may need to step back and reevaluate your weight loss goals. Are you eating and sleeping enough? Are you exerting yourself with too much stress or time at the gym?

Be consistent, schedule the right amount of workouts, and allow yourself to see results before getting frustrated or giving up. Small goals, like aiming to lose just one pound a week or going without sugary coffee creamer, can result in major change.

The winner

When it comes to overall wellness, focusing on fitness and long-term health overcomes weight loss and body composition. An overweight but fit person can be just as healthy or healthier than someone who is thinner but eats poorly and doesn’t exercise. Body size does not determine fitness, contrary to what our society encourages us to believe. Set a fitness plan that includes regular exercise filled with cardio and muscle-building activities, and eat well-balanced meals packed with lean protein, whole grain carbs and fruits and vegetables. Soon, your fitness routine will not only make you a healthier person, but you’ll likely see yourself shedding a few pounds and gaining some major muscle. Time to set a real resolution!

Emily is a recent graduate and proud Midwesterner who just moved to the big city to start her career in magazine journalism. When she isn't commuting between Brooklyn and Manhattan, she enjoys browsing bookstores for her next read, sipping chai tea lattes at local coffee shops, and playing tourist in the city she always dreamed of living in.