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Q&A: How Much Weight Should I Lift During Strength Training?

Written on January 6, 2012 at 3:50 pm , by

personal trainer coach nicole nichols

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SparkPeople.com’s resident trainer and fitness expert, Nicole Nichols, offers up some advice for one of the most frequently asked questions as people start working out more in the new year. For more cardio and strengthening help from Nicole, check out her new DVD, 28 Day Boot Camp with Coach Nicole.

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Question: How much weight should I lift during strength training?

Answer: We are all at different strength levels and the muscles throughout your body vary in strength, too. So while 10 pounds might be the ideal weight for you to lift during biceps curls, you could struggle with that weight during lateral raises…or leg press it all day as if it were a bag of feathers. So keep in mind that the amount of weight you lift during one exercise could be too light or too heavy for another. That said, you’ll probably need to experiment with a variety of weights to find the appropriate level for each exercise you do. Working out at a gym makes that easy, but doing so at home will take a little more space and investment.

I think it’s a good idea to have at least two, and ideally three sets of dumbbells at home: a light, medium and heavier set, which is defined by your own fitness level. That could be 2, 5, and 7 pounds for one person, or 5, 10 and 15 pounds for another. Personally, I keep 6, 10 and 20 pound weights at home, which allow me to do a variety of workouts and exercises safely and effectively.

So how much should you lift? Here are the 5 guidelines you need to follow to select the proper weight for strength training.

  1. Aim low. The safest and most effective thing to do if you are a beginner is to master your exercises with little to no added weight. This allows you to focus intensely on proper form.
  2. Go slow. If you have to move at jackrabbit speed or harness momentum to lift the weight, it is too heavy. Period. The proper weight will allow you to move in a slow, controlled manner.
  3. Never sacrifice form for function. You might want to fast track your results by picking a  heavy weight, but lifting more weight should never trump doing it correctly. If you can’t do the exercise properly, then the added weight is not doing you any favors and may actually increase your risk for serious injury.
  4. Count your reps. In general, you are lifting the right amount of weight when you can perform 8-15 repetitions in excellent form. Once you get strong enough to do more than 15 repetitions more easily, it’s probably time to increase the weight again.
  5. Work to fatigue. This is the #1 key to selecting the proper weight. The weight you lift should not only meet the guidelines for form above, but should also challenge your muscles! The only way strength training is really going to benefit you is for you to overload your muscles—that means working them to fatigue. The weight you select should be challenging enough to fatigue your muscles within 8-15 repetitions.

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10 of the Healthiest Restaurant Menu Items of 2011

Written on December 15, 2011 at 9:02 am , by

By Tanya Jolliffe for SparkPeople.com

We’ve seen many restaurants update their menus this year to provide patrons with healthier options. The new Kids Live Well campaign provides families with healthier choices when eating away from home to help kids maintain a healthy weight. While some reports suggest the new healthy options aren’t popular, many restaurant chains aren’t giving up and are striving to be on board with the First Lady’s anti-obesity campaign.

Here are 10 of the healthiest menu options we’ve seen this year:

1. Starbucks Chicken & Hummus Bistro Box
Calories – 270
Fat – 8 grams
Sodium – 520 mg
Carbohydrate – 29 grams
Fiber – 6 grams
Protein – 16 grams

The wheat pita, fresh cucumber, carrot sticks, and grape tomatoes with hummus and grilled chicken do provide a nutrient-rich meal away from home. We really like that this option contains a sodium level that easily fits in many meal plans. One negative is that not all Starbucks locations offer lunch while others only offer a few of the new box options so this one might not always be available.

2. IHOP Simple & Fit Spinach, Mushroom & Tomato Omelette with Fresh Fruit
Calories – 330
Fat – 12 grams
Sodium – 690 mg
Carbohydrate – 31 grams
Fiber – 5 grams
Protein – 29 grams

This protein rich omelet, made with egg substitute, is filled with fresh spinach, mushrooms, onions and Swiss cheese with diced tomatoes on top to offer a nutrient-rich breakfast with a reasonable sodium content. The fresh fruit side creates a well-balanced breakfast that will stick with you all morning long. To minimize sodium, remember to request “no added salt” when ordering.

3. Applebee’s Asiago Peppercorn Steak with Herb Potatoes and Seasonal Vegetables
Calories – 380
Fat – 14 grams
Sodium – 1,520 mg
Carbohydrate – 25 grams
Fiber – 5 grams
Protein – 44 grams

Though it’s a step in the right direction, this meal still has a day’s worth of salt! If you’re watching your sodium intake, choose another option. But at under 400 calories–with plenty of protein and iron–this meal is a big plus for this casual dining restaurant.

4. McDonald’s Hamburger Happy Meal with Apple Slices and Low-fat Milk
Calories – 390
Fat – 11 grams
Sodium – 650 mg
Carbohydrate – 51 grams
Fiber – 2 grams
Protein – 20 grams

Although any food can be incorporated into a healthy diet in moderation, offering a Happy Meal without fried foods and a serving of a fruit and milk is the healthiest meal possible. These new meals that focus on fruit and milk help families take small steps to new lifestyle choices.

5. Cheesecake Factory SkinnyLicious Grilled Chicken
Calories – 560
Fat – 2 grams saturated
Sodium – 1,252 mg
Carbohydrate – 20 grams
Large portion sizes at this restaurant are the norm, but with this dish they have maximized the nutrition. By pounding the meat so it is thinner, they create a plate-size meal without the plate-size calories. Add the fiber-focused topper that lends a bruschetta flavor and you get great taste for the right portion and calorie size where you wouldn’t expect to find it. This high sodium meal might not be right for everyone, but you can lower the impact slightly by asking for “no added salt” when ordering. 

More: Healthy Menu Items 6-10!

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3 Easy Ways to Break Out of Your Cardio Rut

Written on December 9, 2011 at 8:30 am , by

 

tired girl on stability ball

Photo courtesy of Spark People

By Jennipher Walters, Certified Personal Trainer and Fitness Instructor, SparkPeople.com

Are you bored with your cardio workout? Are you already dreading the stair stepper workout that you have scheduled for tomorrow morning? When you’re in a rut, it’s easy to fall off the fitness wagon because motivation and excitement are G-O-N-E.

So how do you get your aerobic mojo back? You shake things up! Here are a few super-simple ways:

1. Change Your Soundtrack.

New tunes: Downloading news song is a fast way to bust out of your cardio rut and get you happily moving. When you have your headphones on, no one else knows what tunes you’re playing, so play whatever you want! Studies have shown that music is motivating, but if you’re bored at the gym, it may be time to shake that playlist up.

OR…Try no tunes: If new music isn’t doing it for you, try doing your workout sans tunes. Listening to your own breathing and the sounds and sights around you can be an incredibly meditative experience that can turn your cardio from boring to darn near spiritual. And if quiet isn’t your thing, try downloading a podcast or an audio book. You can get through your to-read list and get in shape. Now that’s multitasking.

2. Change Your Location.

Avoid the gym: If you’re a gym rat and pretty sick of the first half of that nickname, maybe it’s time for a change of scenery! Move your workout outdoors or create your own home gym. Even a new DVD or two can mix things up!

OR…Go to the gym: If you always hit the great outdoors for your cardio or always walk on the treadmill while catching up on TV, moving your cardio sessions to a facility with other exercisers and a fitness-centered environment may be just what you need to re-spark the love of your workouts. Sure, a health club membership costs money, but if it comes down to not working out or paying a monthly fee, wouldn’t you rather cut a few costs in your budget and stay motivated?

3. Change Your Intensity.

Try a longer, less intense workout: If you can usually only set aside 10 to 20 minutes for exercise, make those minutes intense, switch it up by setting aside extra time to make your workout longer and less intense. By doing a longer, less intense workout, you’ll give yourself time to really enjoy the activity without rushing or trying to burn as many calories you can in a short amount of time. Pick an activity that you love—dancing, walking, hiking—and enjoy it!

OR…Try a shorter, more intense workout: If you’re the type of exerciser who would rather walk for an hour than run for 5 minutes, then maybe it’s time for you to swap your low-intensity sweat sessions for shorter, more intense workouts. This is an especially good trick if you spend most of your mental energy watching the clock wishing your long workout was over.

Get 3 More Ideas for Breaking Out of Your Cardio Rut!

 

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Hot Debate: Can You Be Fat AND Fit?

Written on December 2, 2011 at 11:28 am , by

overweight with dumbbells

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By Ellen G. Goldman, Health and Wellness Coach, SparkPeople.com

Lori, a client of mine, recently called me angry, upset and discouraged. She had just returned from her yearly physical, which she had been eagerly anticipating.  Even though she hadn’t reached her weight-loss goal, Lori had made many lifestyle changes to promote good health:  She had begun exercising on a regular basis, made some subtle shifts in her dietary habits that made her feel better, and had even begun a weekly yoga/meditation class to manage stress.

The results of the physical demonstrated her efforts had been paying off.  Her blood pressure was in the normal level for the first time in years, her blood sugars had dropped, and her cholesterol profile had greatly improved. However, once the exam was complete and she was sitting with her physician in his office, rather than commenting on the improvements, he stated, “Lori, I was really hoping you would have dropped a lot more weight since our last visit.  If you don’t get serious about taking off the extra pounds, your risk of early disease will continue.  Have you tried dieting?”

There is a presumption that if an individual is overweight they are also unhealthy.  Research clearly supports that being overweight is a major health risk factor, contributing to an increase in cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke, and many types of cancer.  So can we assume that if you are hauling around extra pounds that classify you as overweight, it will destine you to a future filled with illness and disease?

Not necessarily. An intense debate has emerged in the last few years amongst obesity researchers, asking the question, “Can people be overweight but still be healthy?”  Is the number on the scale the only thing that counts, or should we take other factors into consideration?  Scientists are now dueling over the relative importance of “fatness vs. fitness” when it comes to determining the health of an overweight individual.

A small but vocal group of researchers have been…

Read the entire column here…

And then tell us below: Are you or do you know someone who is overweight but in better health than a skinny person? What are your opinions on if an overweight person can be healthy?


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5 Packaged Foods That Are Actually Healthy

Written on November 23, 2011 at 2:15 pm , by

food label reading

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By Sarah Haan, Registered Dietitian, for SparkPeople.com

You’ve probably heard this advice before: For a healthy grocery trip, shop the perimeter of the store. But if you stick to this advice completely you’ll be missing out on some of the nutritious items that do come in packages. These packaged foods—not to be confused with “processed” foods—can give you some great nutrients and make meal planning easier, saving you precious time.

Here’s a list of the healthiest convenience foods you can buy from the center aisles of the grocery store.

1. Canned Beans
Though dried beans are cheaper than canned, they can take a lot of time to cook. Canned beans pack an impressive amount of fiber and protein and can be a quick addition to many meals. Pinto, kidney, cannellini (white kidney), black, Great Northern—name any bean, they’re all great sources of nutrition for your body. When you’re choosing your beans, look for ones without added salt or seasoning. Before using your beans, drain and rinse them in a colander when you’re ready to cook. This will help wash added sodium down the drain–40% of the sodium to be exact.

2. Oats and Flaxseed
Prepare to have a heart-healthy breakfast by combining old-fashioned oats and ground flaxseed, both found packaged in either cartons or bags. One cup of cooked oatmeal with 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed will give you 8 grams of much needed fiber, as well as a dose of omega-3 fatty acids, which each protect the heart. Choose old-fashioned oats over quick oats or instant oatmeal to ensure you’re getting the maximum amount of fiber without added salt and sugar.

3. Brown Rice
For a boxed fare that is both versatile and nutrient packed, pick up brown rice on your next grocery trip. This fiber-rich grain is a great side for nearly any meat, bean, and vegetable–or combination of all three! Try it with kidney beans, diced tomatoes and cilantro, or top it with shrimp, streamed carrots and broccoli with your favorite low-sodium sauce.

4. Tuna Fish Packed in Water
When it comes to getting a bang for your buck out of canned food, this is almost as good as it gets. This convenient food is high in omega-3 fatty acids and protein, and also gives you a good amount of vitamins D and B-12, too. Top a bed of greens with tuna, veggies, fruit and nuts or scoop it onto whole wheat pita, crackers or bread for a healthy combo on-the-go.

5. Frozen Berries
When it comes to meeting your daily fruit requirement, you can’t beat frozen. Many frozen berries do not have added sugar, but some do. Double check that the ingredients list contains berries to make sure you’re not getting extra calories from refined sugars. Then, add them to oatmeal, cereal, yogurt or make a smoothie.

Continued: 5 More Surprisingly Healthy Packaged Foods


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5 Sneaky Habits That Sabotage Your Heart

Written on November 18, 2011 at 8:15 am , by

Heart Hands

Photo courtesy of Spark People

We all know that for optimum heart health we need to eat a healthy diet, exercise and not smoke. But little things you do every day can also have a big impact on the most important muscle in your body. Are you guilty of any of these seemingly innocent mistakes?

1. You fly off the handle. Do you suffer from regular bouts of rage or intense anger at home, at work or in traffic? If so, your angry temperament may be hurting more than the people around you. While moderate anger can be a good way to release tension, explosive anger or chronic bouts of rage can increase your risk of heart disease. Anger and anxiety have been shown to increase blood pressure, disrupt the electrical impulses of the heart and possibly speed up the process of atherosclerosis, a fatty build up in the arteries.

2. You sleep too much (or too little). Getting fewer than five—or more than nine—hours of sleep a night can hurt your heart because both extremes elevate blood pressure and levels of stress hormones. In fact, the Nurses’ Health Study of more than 71,000 women, ages 45 to 65, found that sleeping five or fewer hours each night increased the risk of coronary disease by a whopping 45%. Those who regularly slept nine or more hours had a 38% greater risk than those who slept eight hours—even after taking snoring and smoking in account.

3. You don’t floss regularly. You may think that regular flossing just helps keep your pearly whites in tip-top shape, but research shows that dental disease and cardiac health are correlated. Researchers believe that inflammation from gum disease allows bacteria to enter your mouth’s blood vessels, travel into the coronary artery vessels, and narrow their passages. This reduces blood flow, which hurts the heart. In fact, people with coronary artery disease are 38% more likely to also have gum disease. While research is still being done in this area, it’s best to keep that mouth healthy!

4. You see the glass as half empty. Looking on the bright side isn’t just about improving your mental state; it’s also a boon to your heart. In a groundbreaking 2009 issue of the American Heart Association journal Circulation, researchers found that not only did optimism seem to protect against heart disease and death but also that pessimism seemed to increase the risk. Pessimists were more likely than optimists to have diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and suffer from depression (which has also been linked to poor heart health). Cynics are also more likely to be overweight, smoke and avoid exercise. All reason to start focusing on what’s good in life, right?

5. You think secondhand smoke is no big deal. While the association between tobacco use and heart disease is undeniable, did you know that secondhand smoke also harm your heart? Constant exposure to secondhand smoke in the workplace or at home nearly doubles a person’s risk of having a heart attack.

Continued: 3 More Bad Habits for Your Heart. Plus: How to Combat All of These Saboteurs!


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Hey, Busy Bees! Quick Tips to Fit in Fitness

Written on November 11, 2011 at 1:00 pm , by

Dumbbell and Stopwatch

Photo courtesy of SparkPeople

What’s the No. 1 excuse for not working out? Lack of time. But if you look closer, you’ll discover that you do have the time to work out—and you deserve to use that time for yourself. Also, remember that “working out” doesn’t have to happen in the gym or last for an hour! Short 10-minute bursts of exercise, accumulated over the course of the day, can add up.

Here’s how to start fitting fitness into your busy life!

1. Be an active TV/Internet watcher. It’s unrealistic to never watch TV or to shun the Internet forever.  So when you do, try to incorporate some physical activity. When watching TV, make it a point to do some jumping jacks or push-ups during commercials. And instead of sitting in a chair when on the computer, try sitting on a stability ball.

2. Mix socializing with exercising. Do you normally spend time with your family or friends by going to dinner or going to movies? Make your social time more active by planning events that get all of you moving. Go for a family hike on a beautiful Saturday morning or make a date with your significant other or best friend at a group exercise class.

3. Turn chores into exercise. While cleaning might not be the most fun activity, it’s something we all have to do, and it can definitely be a workout if you want it to be. Set a kitchen timer for 20 minutes and see how much of the house you can clean. Try to be as efficient and quick-paced as possible, and you’re guaranteed to work up a sweat. If you’re doing lighter housework that is harder to get your heart rate up (like laundry or organizing), throw in some lunges or push-ups every few minutes.

4. Schedule an appointment. If you had scheduled a doctor’s appointment, you wouldn’t miss it would you? Working out is actually as important as going to the doctor or any other obligation that you prioritize. So whether it’s scheduling in an hour to go to that group exercise class, investing in personal training sessions or even making a date with yourself to do that workout DVD over your lunch break, write it in pen in your calendar and treat it like any other appointment you can’t miss!

5. Say no. If you’ve gone through this entire list of tips and don’t think a single one will work in your life, then it’s time to look at your priorities and responsibilities. Do you really have to bake cookies for that fundraiser? Attend that wedding shower of your second cousin? Remember that there’s nothing wrong in saying no. Yes, we all have obligations to others, but don’t forget about the obligation you have to yourself to take care of your body and your health!

Continued: 5 More Ideas for Fitting in Exercise


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Walking and Running Ideas for City People

Written on November 3, 2011 at 9:30 am , by

Running in Grass

Photo courtesy of SparkPeople

If you reside in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago or San Francisco, you have access to some of the hottest and trendiest health clubs and group exercise classes right in your back yard. And even if you live in an urban part of Dallas, Seattle, Kansas City, Pittsburgh or any other large metropolitan area, you still have a lot of different workout options available. But what if running or walking outdoors is your favorite activity? Well, urban exercisers have to deal with the hustle and bustle of city life, which can put a damper on your exercise experience.

Urban living may give you the freedom to function without a car and easily walk to hip shopping, dining and entertainment destinations, but when you’re trying to actually fit in a workout, navigating the city safely and efficiently can be a bit of a challenge. After all, you’re up against pollution, traffic, possible crime, uneven sidewalks and other treacherous conditions, not to mention all the traffic and intersections that stop you multiple times mid-run.

Here are six ideas for where and when to navigate the urban landscape. Make sure to check out the complete article for bonus tips for when it comes to your safety and city life.

1. Park it. This is an obvious one, but it’s too important to ignore. City parks are made for running and walking!

2. Run in the place where you live. While parks are great for getting away, sometimes straying from the park can be a good thing when you need variety or a change of pace (pun intended). Jog or power walk through a residential area of town that has an interesting history or one that you find particularly charming or beautiful.

3. Play red light, green light. Next time you’re stuck at a stoplight, don’t just stop or jog in place, impatiently waiting for the light to turn green. Use the break to do some squats or use that street pole for a few one-armed push-ups or that city bench for an assisted plank.

4. Get on track. Running in a circle may not strike your fancy, but running and walking tracks can be great places for city dwellers to work out in peace. On the track, you can easily track your distance, avoid the traffic and distractions of street running and, if you’re lucky, you’ll have an easier-on-the-body rubberized surface for your workout.

5. Get active on your commute. Unless you work from home, you already have to commute to your job. So why not multitask with an active commute that doubles as a workout?

6. Hit the gym. You may love outdoor running and walking, but when the weather is bad or you work late hours, it’s hard to get out there and hit the pavement. A gym membership may be expensive, but it allows you to work out safely and comfortably.

Continued: Get Safety and City Tips for Each of the Ideas…


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Fitting Dessert Into Diet, with Top Chef Megan Ketover

Written on October 27, 2011 at 4:26 pm , by

Megan Ketover Top Chef Just Desserts

Photo Courtesy of SparkPeople

Top Chef: Just Desserts contestant Megan Ketover, who helped with The SparkPeople Cookbook: Love Your Food, Lose the Weight, revealed to SparkPeople how she stays so petite while whipping up pastries and other yummy goodies…

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Q: You’re surrounded by pastries and treats all day, every day. How do you resist eating them all? 

MK: I am very lucky because I take so many little bites throughout the day to make sure flavors are balanced, that I am very satisfied by sweets when the day is done. There are certain things that are so amazing when they come out of the oven, I do have to have some willpower to resist eating them all.  I just make sure if I am going to eat something decadent, it is going to be really good, and not waste my calories on junk.

Q: Do you have any tips for those who might be intimidated by baking? 

MK: With savory cooking, you can improvise and adjust amounts in a recipe, but baking is an exact science; so I always recommend that bakers get a scale to measure ingredients. Scales can also help to see what a real portion size is.

Q: For “The SparkPeople Cookbook,” you created recipes that were packed with flavor but low in fat? What are some ways that you make your favorite desserts healthier? 

MK: I have always liked the rich flavor of whole wheat flour, so switching out regular flour to whole wheat is an easy way to add fiber and nutrients. Flax seed is also an amazing ingredient to add that packs a nutrient punch without a huge quality difference. I have always enjoyed nutritional baking, but it is important to know what role the baking ingredients play in a recipe in order to substitute it well. It is always important to me that “healthier” desserts still taste amazing. There is just no point if it does not taste good!

Q: People tend to think of desserts as very high in calories–a food that they should rarely eat. How do you incorporate desserts into everyday life? 

MK: Sweets make people happy, they are satisfying at the end of a meal, so I encourage small portion sizes into a healthy diet. Fruits are great because they also pack vitamins, and dairy based desserts are a delicious way to add calcium and protein to a diet plan. Moderation is key; what works for me is to have a small portion of something really delicious and satisfying.

Continued: More Q&A’s with Top Chef Megan Ketover!


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Motivation Makeovers: Mind Games You Must Stop Playing

Written on October 20, 2011 at 12:37 pm , by

Food temptation and mind games

Photo courtesy of SparkPeople

Motivation is like cold hard cash: You can never have too much! And when you’re trying to lose weight, it’s nice to have a wealth of motivational strategies. But, with so many motivational tips and tricks to sift through, why do we lose our motivation rather than reap the rewards? It could be because the mind game you’re playing with yourself won’t always work in the long run…

Mind Game:  Starting Out Super Strong
It’s Sunday evening and you realize that you spent the weekend indulging on brews, barbeques, and binges. A twinge of guilt has you psyched to start speeding down the road to wellness first thing Monday and you figure that going full throttle is the way to reach your weight-loss goals as quickly as possible. You’re excited for it! But pretty soon, your muscles are too sore to roll out of bed, you’re sick of salads, and you’re already thinking about throwing in the towel.

     Motivation Makeover: Maintaining motivation is like running a marathon. Instead of starting at full speed and running out of steam, it is better to focus on simply putting one foot in front of the other. Set small, achievable goals so that you can build momentum and feel successful in the beginning, and pat yourself on the back when you conquer each one.

Mind Game:  Being Inspired by “As Seen on TV”
There will always be a new diet or exercise program that promises fast progress and fantastic results. Reading about the latest food fad or watching a perky personal trainer push sweat-drenched clients through an infomercial workout can definitely spark your motivation. But trying every new fad that comes on the market may leave you broke and brokenhearted…

     Motivation Makeover: If you want a plan that works long term, stick with the tried and true. Keep your eating close to the earth with whole fruits, veggies, grains and lean meats. Get up and moving with whatever activity suits your style and schedule. Remind yourself that following through with real nutrition and fitness habits is a process: It takes the proper planning and commitment that can’t be found in a book, a box or a bottle.

Mind Game:  Flying Under the Radar
You’re already feeling self-conscious about losing weight, so you certainly don’t want your friends and family making more of a fuss. Besides, you’re confident that you can do this all on your own! Going it alone may seem like a good idea, but it is actually counterproductive. Soon enough, you’ll be feeling lonely and left out of social merriment.

    
     Motivation Makeover: Call in the recruits! Whether it’s a neighbor down the street, a fellow play group parent or a Facebook friend, get someone to join you on your weight-loss journey. Studies in behavior science show that changes that you make in the public eye have a much better chance of sticking in the real world.

Continued: Should you look at that scale?


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