“Firefighters forced to free nearly 2,000 obese people from their own homes.”

It’s called a “bariatric rescue” – wherein firefighters and paramedics utilize a variety of specialized tools and techniques to remove a very large person from a residence. 

Often these rescues require several men to spend several hours using crowbars, electric saws, animal harnesses, aerial ladder platforms and hydraulic lifting equipment to try and free the individual. In the UK alone, nearly 2,000 of these rescues have been reported since 2013 – enough that the expense of these missions has become a serious budget concern.

In the USA, nearly 5,000 obese individuals per year requiring emergency helicopter transport to a hospital are denied because the aircraft is unable to take off – or they simply cannot fit inside. In most of these cases, the patient is then transported by ground ambulance, taking roughly twice as long to arrive – often at a time when seconds count.

If any of these facts surprise you – they shouldn’t. It’s estimated that roughly two thirds of our population in the United States is overweight. Half of this number is either obese, or morbidly obese.

Making your new years’ resolution

If you’re not one of that obese third yet, you may feel safe – but consider this. We didn’t get to these staggering figures overnight. It’s taken many years of bad habits to bring obesity to these levels. 

That 15lbs you put on over the holidays might not worry you now – but if you don’t deal with it you’ll simply add more next fall, and so on. Is it really going to take being rescued from your home on a forklift for you to decide to start living healthier?

No? Excellent!

Now that you’re feeling motivated to get back in shape, here are the steps you’ll want to take to turn that desire into a reality…

Planning

The last time you went on vacation, you most likely decided on a destination months in advance. You almost certainly scheduled time off from work. Very probably you made reservations where you intended to stay and booked your travel arrangements at least several weeks ahead of time. 

Without planning, the whole vacation could fall apart.  

Vacations last for a week or two. Your fitness / weight loss journey will last far longer. Why, then, do we frequently dive into a fitness or weight loss routine with little or no planning at all? 

Plan Realistic and Frequent Goals

The single biggest mistake people make when setting a new years’ resolution to get fit, is failure to set specific goals. Resolving to simply “get in better shape” is about as useful as resolving to “run eastward” – fine, but for how many miles at a time? How often? What is the actual destination?

Set realistic goals – both short term, and long term. Make sure your short term goals are achievable, and your long term goals will begin to come into focus.

Plan for Rest and Plan for Failure

If you wake up January 1st and begin a strenuous exercise routine that runs 7 days per week indefinitely, you’ll most likely get no further than January 9th before the plan goes out the window. It’s a sure fire way to burn yourself out and give up on the whole thing.

The same is true if you do not plan for periodically falling off the wagon. Nobody gets it right all of the time – failing is part of life. If you expect nothing but perfection of yourself, you’ll become quickly demoralized and feel increasingly tempted to give up. Your resolution is to improve your health over time with diet and exercise – but not to get it perfect every single day.

Dedication

Once you have a plan, the real challenge is sticking to it. There are endless “tricks and tips” out there for fitness motivation, but here are a few pointers that should help the most:

Outline your motivations

You’re not just resolving to get into better shape because it seemed like the thing to do – chances are there are many deeper motivations under the surface. Concerns about a family history of diabetes, or the desire to live long enough to see your grandchildren grow up, for example. Whatever it is in life that is driving you to take better care of yourself – write it down. Make a list and keep it somewhere you’ll frequently see it – like the refrigerator door, for example. The more consciously aware you are of the reasons for your resolution, the more likely you are to stick with it.

Plan reward points in your journey

Getting in shape can take time. More time than most of us are used to investing without gratification. In a world where everything from movies to pizza is no more than a couple taps of your smartphone away, sticking to a fitness regimen for weeks at a time can seem fruitless at first. To counter this perception, assign rewards along the waypoint goals in your plan. Example: After 1 week sticking to your plan, set aside time to do something special and celebrate your victory – whether that’s a movie night with friends or an afternoon at the park, it adds positive reinforcement that’ll help keep you motivated.

Have backup plans

If there’s one mistake we make more often than any other when it comes to new years’ resolutions, it’s taking on too many goals at once. Getting in shape might be one of five goals you’ve set for your 2016. If you’re serious about all of them, then failing any one of them could demotivate you and spell disaster for the whole set.

It helps to always have a fallback position. If all five of your resolutions simply aren’t going to pan out, then you’ll need to drop something. If you’ve already allowed for this up front, it’ll be far less discouraging. Additionally, this forces you to prioritize your resolutions – and how many of them can potentially add quality years to your life?

Patience

As noted above, getting fit takes time. Your resolution to shape up and improve your health isn’t a one-time-fix – it’s a lifestyle decision. As such, here are a few things to keep in mind:

Watch the 3 week mark

It takes the human brain approximately 21 days to fully form a new habit – or fully destroy an old one. This means that the first 3 weeks of your fitness routine will be more difficult because you’re replacing former habits with new ones and your mind is wired to dislike such changes. Stay the course. By week 4, your mind will begin to work WITH your plans and not against them, helping you to stay on track for the long haul.

Track your progress

Start a log sheet for your weight, waist size, and other measurements. Your weight will fluctuate quite a bit, so it’s hard to stay motivated when you simply hop on the scales each morning to set the tone for your coming day. Instead, write down your results each day methodically, and look for a trend. You may find that your weight remains the same, while your waistline decreases – a sure sign that you’re burning fat by building lean muscle. This also allows you to average your weight over time, which helps you see past the bumps in the road.

A few final tips

Forget the sports drinks. If you’re new to exercise, the chances that you’ll get any significant benefit from the latest “high-tech” sports drink are slim to none. It takes at least a full hour of intense physical training before your body even begins to run low on the electrolytes and minerals provided by sports drinks – and the same benefits can be obtained from snacking on a fresh fruit without all the added refined sugar. You're better off sticking with good old-fashioned filtered water.

Watch your appetite. When you first begin exercising, you’ll almost immediately begin to see an major increase in appetite. This is normal, as your body is simply trying to adapt to your change in behavior. Don’t give in however – you could easily find yourself gaining weight by eating more calories after your workout than you burned in the first place. Stay the course, and your appetite will level out appropriately.

Change it up. When you’re new to exercise, you may feel tempted to start with one particular thing and stick just to that thing – running for example. While it’s true that keeping your routine stable can help build stronger habits faster, it’s also important to remember that your body is designed to adapt. After a couple of weeks, your body will get proficient enough at running that your weight loss progress will slow or stop. Additionally, it’s very easy to over-do it and injure yourself if you’re only working out a single set of muscles day in and day out. Finally, your body will reclaim unused muscle groups and burn their nutrients for energy – so finding ways to work out different areas of your body and in different ways is crucial to long term success.

Here’s to a happy new year!

May 2016 be your best year yet, and may you emerge at the other end healthier, slimmer and happier!