It's that time of year again! (Groan...)
But before you kickstart that redundant gym membership, here are some things my three years as a fitness instructor have taught me about taking care of your mind and body.
1. STOP counting calories.
Guilty as charged! We've all done this at some point in our lives, and before you know it, you're scrutinizing every single mouthful.
You may not know it, but after a while counting the numbers on every food package will seriously bog you down...and the funny thing is you'll only realize this after you stop doing it!
Concentrate on the foods that you know will do your body good rather than reading every packet.
2. Eat good, eat plenty.
A lot of people seem to think that cutting down on or skipping meals is the best way to stay in good shape...?
Whilst it is true that you shouldn't overeat your meals (tip: don't consume your food at lightning speed like my brothers do...eat until you are comfortably full, not uncomfortable and bloated), if you take away all of the things that keep your body strong, you'll notice even less of a difference, because you aren't getting the proper fats/vitamins/proteins, etc. to build muscle and endurance.
Cut down on the junk food; eat good and hearty meals.
Try this: A super easy and delicious favourite of mine is a roasted sweet potato and quinoa salad (or just as nice with bulgar wheat or couscous).
Get the recipe here.
3. Banish that unrealistic body image.
You are not a Kardashian; you are yourself!
Much like number 1, this is an easy net to fall into.
The body that everyone seems to crave nowadays is the one that's plastered all over social media by "Instagram models": perky tits, small waist, toned legs and a perfect, peachy booty.
It's alright for some, but this image is unrealistic.
Think about it. If you strive every day to make your body look a certain way, what happens if you don't get the outcome you want?
I went through that phase once and soon saw that I was going through a toxic cycle without even realizing it! I remember talking to one of my wonderful Zumba friends about the way my arms look when I dance. She said to me, "Nobody's looking at your arms when you teach, the only person thinking about it is you."
4. Don't starve yourself of comfort food.
I'm a healthy person, but I'm a big foodie—I still love pizza and garlic bread.
Another sure-fire way of making yourself unhappy is by subtracting those little treats from your diet completely...and who wants that!?
My advice: pick one day of the week (for me it's a Friday or a Sunday) and relax your diet, call it a cheat day—that mac and cheese you've been craving all week? Eat it!
5. Ripped and skinny doesn't equal perfection.
I've met some very beautiful people, and you know what? A lot of them had one thing in common...meat on their bones!
So if you've ever been told that you aren't desirable because you aren't what certain people would class as "slim," then those people are only interested in one thing: your looks! I would firmly suggest kicking those people out of your life for good. So what if you have a muffin top? It's more to hold! ;)
My mantra: Eat and exercise to feel good, not look good. (And no...I don't mean feel good in the way a burger and chips will! Be sensible, eat clean!)
6. Don't over-exercise.
You'll exhaust yourself and end up doing more harm than good!
I suggest keeping it to a minimum of one hour a day, if at all—and if there ever comes a time when you don't feel like you can (i.e. you have an injury or are suffering from fatigue), then take a break and resume the next day.
Trust me—your body will thank you!
Small tip: Try things like walking to work instead of driving, take the stairs instead of the lift, etc.
7. Own your flaws.
Stretch marks?? More like tiger stripes!
A lot of my instructor pals have wobbles and stretch marks either from weight loss or from having children, and they always make a point of having them on show during class!
One thing that always comes to mind is an article I once read about Maya Angelou visiting Africa; she spent time with a tribe who bathed communally, and when the women started to weep and console her, she was confused. They thought since she had no stretch marks that she was childless.
In their culture stretch marks are a badge of honour, to be worn with pride.
Also look at Luisa Omielan; the reason she's one of my favourite comedians at the moment is that she's so ballsy and open about body image: "Thigh gap?? What thigh gap??"
Phew...this one got a bit ranty, but you get the idea!
8. Ditch that fad diet program.
Juice? Smoothies? Teatox? Pfft. Just give me a solid meal!
(Note: Teatox is just a glorified laxative.)
Getting your five a day is always important, but you can't give your body everything it needs from just fruits and veggies—a reason why raw veganism completely baffles me.
It's a waste of time and energy, and again...unrealistic.
(Granted there are some programs that know what they're doing, like Weight Watchers for example.)
Eat good meals, balance it out with the right amount of exercise, and you're good to go!
9. Give yourself time.
When it comes to a physical change, there's no such thing as a shortcut.
Whenever I'm online I see so many adverts for:
"How to get abs in 5 days!"
"Dissolve tummy fat with this one trick!"
"Personal trainers HATE her!"
Blah blah blah.
Whether your goal is getting fitter, stronger, or just healthier, then the only way to get it is by working hard and eventually gaining that desired outcome.
There's no such thing as instant results; relax and take your time.
10. Have FUN with it.
I cannot emphasise how important it is to find a type of exercise that you love doing—otherwise, it will undoubtedly become a chore, something that you dread every week.
There are so many different types of classes out there, from pole dancing to HIIT classes, here are a few recommendations:
Totally Shredded – One of my friends just qualified to teach this, and it's sick! For those of you who love Jungle and Drum and Bass, you will love this music-led exercise class.
STRONG by Zumba – NOT a dance class! A brand new program that I and many other Zumba instructors have recently qualified in—for people who want to challenge themselves, tone up and build some muscle this music synced HIIT style workout is for you.
JumpFit – This class is a lot of fun! Move with the music whilst jumping wearing your rebound boots; very good for people who don't like exercise and/or have joint and back problems (the boots don't allow pressure on the joints).
And this leads perfectly to my last point...
11. Peace, Love, and Zumba!
When I was 17, I walked into my first Zumba class. I was painfully shy and severely lacked any kind of self-confidence.
At first, I stuck it out right at the back of the room. But the energy and warmth of the instructor (and now many years later, a dear friend) kept bringing me forward until eventually I was glued to the front row! From then on I made the decision to become a teacher myself and now—only two months away from 24—I couldn't imagine doing things any differently!
The reason I stuck to my Zumba classes so stubbornly is that it's really the only form of exercise I enjoy; it has a sense of community and fun that a gym membership doesn't.
So if you've never tried it, please give it a go!