Olivia Lawless

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The truth about dieting and weight loss

Once I was having a conversation with one of my classmates about dieting and exercise. She knew I had been going to the gym lately and wanted to chat about habits she could pick up to start losing weight.

I gave her what I thought was good advice and tacked onto the end, “And remember, it’s not all about weight.” She asked me to clarify. I told her that I was significantly overweight for my gender and age but that I was nonetheless still very healthy.

She gave me a shocked once-over, looking for the image of “overweight” on my body. “Really?”

If you’re an athlete or a former athlete, you probably won’t be surprised to hear that muscle is more dense than fat and thus one pound of muscle takes up less space than one pound of fat. Most people I’ve talked to about weight are aware of this fact, and so was the classmate. She was just still surprised to hear that someone could be overweight from eating cleanly and going to the gym several days a week.

Why the surprise? Although weight of course plays an important role and can often be an indicator of our lifestyle habits, it doesn’t have the final say in how healthy we are.

I’ve come to learn this after being mildly overweight most of my life but always being given a clean bill by doctors. I was also very active and developed muscle mass in high school through varsity sports training. Still, it is always tempting to give into a culture that wants you to lose weight regardless of how healthy you are.

The U.S Department of Health and Human Services says that “Even for people at a healthy weight, a poor diet is associated with major health risks that can cause illness and even death.” Maybe you know someone who can’t seem to gain weight no matter all the junk food they eat. Maybe you’re that person. Either way, it’s important to note that these eating habits will catch up to the body, even if their appearance isn’t showing it yet.

People know healthy weights can vary. So why is there such an obsession with weight loss in our society if we know that weight doesn’t automatically determine your health?

I’m going to hazard a guess—the weight loss industry brings in around $66 billion a year. This includes gym memberships, weight loss surgeries, pills, shakes, and meal plans. Not only are products like this marketed to help you lose a ton of weight (probably more than you really need), but they’re also marketed to help you lose it really quickly and easily.

Do any of these actually work? Mostly, no, and not always for the reason you think. While the Federal Trade Commission website shows a slew of settlements over false weight-loss products, other methods of weight loss bring actual results. As far as diets go, the Harvard School of Public Health diet review shows that some have been shown to have significant short-term benefits beyond that of just losing weight. For example, the ketogenic diet, which drastically reduces a person’s carbohydrate intake, has been shown to lower blood pressure and insulin resistance.

We have evidence of diets working, but truthfully, they’re dreadfully hard to maintain. If you’ve tried to diet before and failed, don’t look at yourself as weak-willed yet. You’re among an average of 45 million Americans who report annually that they’re trying to diet.

The episode “Why Diets Fail” of the Netflix documentary “Explained” does a great job of summing up the effects of diet culture on society and why diets usually don’t work, citing information from experts in health and academic journals. Another great source of information is Alexandra Sifferlin’s Time magazine article, published online in 2017, titled “The Weight Loss Trap.” Many of the explanations boil down to a simple summary: people try to change too many habits at once and can’t sustain the changes.

Don’t lose hope. It’s not impossible to diet, but there may be better options if you’re trying to lose weight and keep it off. Making small adjustments to your current habits, ones that you can maintain for a long time, will be your best bet. These changes might look like cutting out soda, turning your afternoon snack into a healthy granola bar or fruit instead of chips, or ordering pizza a little less.

This way, “dieting” becomes less of a chore and more of a lifestyle. You’re less likely to be miserable because you’re abstaining from your favorite foods and desserts and more likely to feel lighter. Most importantly, you’ll feel healthier, and you’ll be able to keep it up for years to come.

 

References:

“Diet Review: Ketogenic Diet for Weight Loss.” The Nutrition Source, 7 May 2018, www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-weight/diet-reviews/ketogenic-diet/.

“Federal Trade Commission.” Federal Trade Commission, 28 Mar. 2019, www.ftc.gov/.

HHS Office, and Council on Sports. “Importance of Good Nutrition.” HHS.gov, US Department of Health and Human Services, 26 Jan. 2017, www.hhs.gov/fitness/eat-healthy/importance-of-good-nutrition/index.html.

Sifferlin, Alexandra. “The Weight Loss Trap: Why Your Diet Isn’t Working.” Time, Time, 25 May 2017, time.com/magazine/us/4793878/june-5th-2017-vol-189-no-21-u-s/.

“Weight Management.” Boston Medical Center, 7 Sept. 2017, www.bmc.org/nutrition-and-weight-management/weight-management.

“Why Diets Fail.” Netflix Official Site, 23 May 2018, www.netflix.com/watch/80243755?trackId=13752289&tctx=0%2C14%2C4492308c-fcd1-4d7f-8799-a5e4fe63207f-498256248%2C%2C.

(SPRING FEVER) Stop multitasking; take real breaks instead

This is it; the home stretch: a.k.a. post spring break. It’s the last bit of the semester you’re trying to wring out of your brain after a week of traveling or sleeping, the last bit of concentration you desperately need to close the year or graduate for good. It’s so close yet so far.

Some people try to hang on by barreling constantly through their work like a sprint. The end of the semester seems to be just around the corner, so they think they can make it tearing through whatever work comes their way. Just one more chapter, they think, just one more math problem. This is a dangerously easy loop of one more’s to get caught in.

Really, the distance is longer than they think it is. And just like in any lengthy race, sprinting too quickly will just end up tiring you out part of the way there. Working constantly at a fast pace is more likely to run you into the ground than to help you get ahead on your workload. There’s always more work to do, so when we continue working in attempt to reach a break in the flow, we’re tricking ourselves in thinking that a reprieve has to be near.

Sometimes this does work and you get a night or two off. It’s just not as likely as you’d hope. Even if this does happen, you’re right back to working constantly, wishing you had time to relax a little more.

The bad news is that the time isn’t going to magically appear. The good news is that you have the power to wrench yourself out of the work and take that time for yourself. You just have to accept that a break is not going to come to you willingly; sometimes, you have to drag it out kicking and screaming.

Some people don’t fight for their breaks. Instead, they make the mistake of halfheartedly working through them, the prevailing thought being that getting some work done is better than none. This is actually a flawed mindset. While multitasking seems efficient on the surface, it’s really just an easy way to do multiple things inefficiently. You’re never actually fully focused on any of the things you’re doing, and since multitasking usually involves spreading your focus to unrelated activities (like eating and calculus), most people are naturally bad at it.

This combo produces mediocre results and leaves you feeling burnt out. Halfway finishing several small tasks rather than devoting your time and attention to one larger task makes you feel like nothing was really finished at all.

Additionally, if you’re always multitasking, you’re never actually relaxing. No matter how much you fool yourself into thinking that working while relaxing is an acceptable substitute for actual leisure time, you’ll probably be left feeling unsatisfied. This is why it’s better to set aside a specific time to fully focus on working. Ignore the temptation to work while watching Netflix or chatting with your friends. Once you finish the assignment or work through the time you’ve set aside, you can take a real break — one that doesn’t involve any working.

What if that’s not enough? If you’re still busy after your work time or you feel stressed out about the amount of work you have remaining, take a break anyway. Unless the assignment is time sensitive or you are otherwise in a major time crunch with a make-or-break grade, it can probably wait. Take a break. Without it, you’ll eventually just burn yourself out.

The length of the break can vary from ten minutes to the rest of the night. What’s important is that you take some time to save yourself from exhaustion. Talk with your friends, watch a movie, listen to music, make something new and reach the end of the semester at a steady pace.

Take a walk and other ways to relax

After going through piles of schoolwork and being locked inside your room for an unhealthy amount of time, hopefully you realize it’s about time for a break. The only problem is that you can’t stop thinking about work. Anxiety and stress about things you should be doing buzz relentlessly through your head. If you have trouble relaxing, here are some things you can do to empty your mind, or at least let it decompress after doing hours of math or struggling through that five page paper.

Take a walk—outside. Not only does fresh air relieve the claustrophobia of being cooped up inside your room or wherever else you holed up for the last seven hours to work, but moving your body after sitting down for a while feels great too. Walk and chat with some of your friends, or walk alone without your headphones and let yourself focus on your environment. Listen for animals nearby. Smile at the people you see and create a shared sense of positive energy. Or just let the drone of cars passing and leaves rustling around fill your head in a soothing background noise. If these options are unavailable because the weather is terribly cold or rainy, you should still leave your room to talk a walk down your dorm or apartment complex hall. Get right near a window if you can and watch the rain, or step out into the cold for just a moment to feel something other than stale air on your face.

Read. I’ve heard from many people that they wish they had more time to read. Well, here’s permission to stop reading for work and start reading for leisure. I heard from other people that they couldn’t stand reading another book after reading so many boring or complex texts for class, which is understandable, though it doesn’t have to be a book that you read. Pick up that food magazine or check out those online articles you’ve been wanting to read. Despite common misconceptions, books are not intrinsically more valuable than magazines, online articles, or other reading materials. And who says your leisure reading needs to be productive? It can be, though that’s not the main goal of leisure reading.

Work out. Working out brings those sweet, sweet feel-good endorphins and several long-term health benefits. Before you think about how you hate running or how you’re not flexible whatsoever, remember that exercise can be what you want it to be. Swimming, dancing, power-walking, weight-lifting, yoga, and just about anything else where you physically exert yourself can be more beneficial than sitting for several hours. You also don’t have to consider yourself athletic to exercise; just do what you’d like at you own pace. If absolutely none of this sounds appealing, or you don’t have the time and resources to work out at all, then at least stand up and stretch every so often. Roll your head slowly around your shoulders to stretch your neck, and move your arms around more. Don’t worry about looking dumb. Your body will thank you.

Meditate. Admittedly, this one can be a little tricky, since it takes some practice to really be beneficial. It might be helpful for you to use one of the many free apps and free videos online that instruct guided meditation, which is especially useful if you’re just starting out. One of meditation’s central goals is practicing mindfulness, which is the practice of accepting everything in the present as it comes in order to develop a sense of awareness and calm. It helps you not only clear your mind but also reflect on the day or why your current mood is the way it is. It may just help you breathe a little easier. Either way, it’s definitely worth trying to improve your mood or relieve anxiety.

Do arts and crafts. Both creative geniuses and terrible artists can enjoy activities like cutting and pasting old magazines, drawing, coloring, paper folding, or bracelet making. All of these activities are cheap or free and learnable via Youtube. Arts and crafts inspire a special kind of blankness in your mind while occupying your hands, which can be relieving for people who like to fidget. Most of these things require just enough concentration to keep your mind off of anything too serious and not enough concentration to distract you from thinking anything at all. Additionally, they can be really good emotional outlines. Don’t let assumptions of things like talent hold you back on this one. Let yourself draw nonsense and make weird looking collages. Who knows, you just might end up with something beautiful.

Give these activities a try before you decide they’re not for you. You might discover a new hobby or give yourself a much-needed break from the stress that’s been building in your chest. Even if you only do these activities for 15 or 20 minutes, they can help you keep yourself sane and healthy.  

Say no to your friends

I’m not talking about alcohol and drugs. Just imagine this: There’s a basketball game tonight you’re going to with your friends. Before that, there’s a Union event in which they’re giving out free pizza, and before that you have lunch and class with a different friend. On top of all of that, you have a test tomorrow morning and a paper due tomorrow afternoon. You won’t be getting much sleep tonight if you want to be prepared for tomorrow. You’re looking forward to the day, but at the same time, you’re dreading it. You have a lot to do but don’t want to turn down your friends. Sound familiar at all?

If this a common problem for you, here’s some sincere advice: say no to your friends.

On a place like this wide college campus, there are always events going on. It’s extremely easy to overbook yourself if you start saying yes to every event you find. It’s even easier if your friends are the ones inviting you to those events, especially if your friends are pushy extroverts who like to constantly be on-the-go (I am sometimes guilty of this myself). The main problem is that they’re your friends; you don’t want to just turn them down. You might feel like a killjoy.

However, this isn’t necessarily true. All too often people forget that they’re allowed to say no to fun events because they have other priorities. This includes anything from needing more sleep to needing time to relax alone after a hard week. It sounds reasonable when you think about it, though in the faces of your beaming friends, it can be a much more difficult to actually psych yourself up to say “no.”

Here are some tips to figure out when and how you should say no to your friends:

Firstly, determine how busy you are and set boundaries. This means deciding what is absolutely necessary and what can be negotiated. Do you have any urgent assignments that need to be turned in during the next few hours or any important tests the next day? Is the rest of your day already stacked with meetings and classes? If the answer is yes, it may be better to pass. If the answer is no, then it’s more likely you can take the time to hang out. Maybe you’re somewhere in between where you could play a few rounds of video games in the afternoon yet can’t go to the basketball game that night. Either way, the time you give to your friends is yours to decide.

Secondly, consider how important the event you’re trying to attend is. A basketball game or an event where they’re giving out free food seems like a big deal at the time, but realistically, many of these events are a weekly or bi-weekly occurrences on campus. How worth it is the trek to the Union for free pizza? Ask yourself the same thing about other events on campus.

Now, it’s different if the basketball game is a championship game or the event is hosting a speaker you’ve really been wanting to see. You could also be meeting a friend you haven’t spoken to in months. These and other less common events are good examples of times you might be willing to stretch yourself thin only to see someone or something important to you. Otherwise, if it’s just a normal outing with friends you see on a regular basis, it might be better to skip when you’re really busy.

Third, prepare yourself to say no if you have to and offer an explanation if you can. Friends are often some of the hardest people to turn down but are also more likely to understand skipping out if you tell them how much is on your plate. Also, remind yourself that no now doesn’t have to mean no tomorrow or even in a few hours. You could always finish your work early or get a sudden energy boost.

Learning to say no has two primary benefits: it frees up your schedule and it encourages others to respect your time. If you say yes to almost anything your friends want you to do, they will assume that you’re not busy or have nothing better to do. Sometimes this is accurate, and that’s perfectly fine, but it can get really frustrating if you’re actually busy and want others to respect that.

So do yourself a favor and don’t overbook, whether that means saying no to a basketball game or an afternoon social. Learn to say no early, so when your friends ask you to hang out later, you can comfortably say yes.

Check the label

It’s a busy day and you’re looking for food between classes; maybe a meal or a quick snack. You find a pre-packaged salad in one of the fresh markets on campus and it’s perfect; a portable, convenient meal that’s still healthy. At least that’s what you think until you see the nutrition facts: high in calories, carbs and fat.

You set it down and try a package of vegetable chips instead. Those are high-calorie. Maybe a snack box with nuts and dried fruits is better, but after checking the nutrition facts, you notice the box is full of sugar and fat. So you set it down and glance over your options at a loss. You wanted healthy food, but based off of the nutrition labels, none of them seem very healthy.

Before deciding whether the situation is salvageable or not, first consider what “healthy” really means. When people are looking for healthy food, all too often they think they are looking for something low in calories, fat, carbohydrates or sugar. While it is true that someone usually needs less fat than other macronutrients, fat is still an important part of one’s diet. Calories, carbohydrates and sugars are just as important.

Automatically assuming that something is healthier because it has less of a certain nutrient is a common misconception. The actual Merriam-Webster definition of healthy is something that is “beneficial to one’s physical, mental, or emotional state: conducive to or associated with good health or reduced risk of disease.” This includes everything from vitamins and minerals to healthy fats. Many people assume that certain foods are objectively healthy, like fruits or salads. They are to some degree, though as with most food, their actual health value varies on their portion size and method of preparation. Eating a salad is usually healthier than eating a slice of cake.

However, the health benefit of food items like salads can depend on what the item is mixed with. A salad loaded up with bacon bits, cheese and heavy dressing is not much healthier than a hamburger. Conversely, a salad consisting of only lettuce and cucumbers is not a great meal either. Sure, the salad has health benefits, but those vegetables are little more than water. Just those foods alone are not super healthy.

The human body needs a varying amount of calories, fat, carbohydrates, sugars and other nutrients to work efficiently. Therefore, a healthy meal is one that is balanced. A salad with grilled chicken, tomatoes, cucumbers and light low-fat dressing would be healthier than a salad with a filled with cheese or a salad with only lettuce.

So, looking at the earlier scenario, could any of those options be considered healthy? All three of them could be depending on the mix. If the salad is heavy on dressing or cheese, it might be best to skip it. Nuts and dried fruit are filled with healthy fats and sugars, so eating a portion of the snack container wouldn’t be all bad. The vegetable chips are similar.

When looking for healthy food, check how balanced the nutrition label is. People need different amounts of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fat) depending on their size and level activity, but in general, most people need more carbohydrates and fat than protein. This may change depending on workout routines or your state of health.

Your meals need to be balanced throughout the day and the week as well. If you skipped breakfast, the loaded high-calorie salad could be a better choice than a small fruit sack. If you’ve been eating out with your friends all day, you probably have most of the calories you need. A small portion of fruits, vegetables or granola can help curb your appetite then.

Overall, healthy food comes in a wide variety. Don’t assume you know what’s on the nutrition label based off of the food’s appearance. Check the label first to see what you’re getting into, and don’t be scared off by high amounts of fat and calories.

(living guide) No gym, no worries

Whether you don’t feel comfortable going to the gym or don’t have access to equipment, there are plenty of other exercises you can do in your room. Since these are all body-weight exercises, meaning that they’re completed with no extra weight, they limit the progress you can make gaining muscle. However, they are still extremely useful for getting in shape, strengthening your body and overall improving your health.

Here are three basic parts of your body to hit:

Abs. If you love ab exercises, stop settling for just sit-ups. While sit-ups are a perfectly acceptable exercise, chances are they have become a boring default. V-sits, leg-lifts, bicycles, Russian twists and planking are all efficient alternatives or additions to sit-ups. This variety will target all parts of your core.

Leg-lifts will strengthen your lower stomach. Lie on your back with your legs straight out in front of you and slowly move them up and down, keeping your legs straight and your lower back pressed against the ground as much as possible. Don’t let your feet touch the floor; instead, with each rep, let your feet hover just above the ground.

V-sits are a combination of leg-lifts and sit-ups. Begin by lying down with your legs straight out in front of you. Come up for a sit-up, clasping your hands together in front of your chest, and lift your legs at the same time so your entire body resembles a v-shape. Completely straightening out your legs is difficult, so you can modify the exercise by folding your knees inward every time you sit up.

Bicycles are modified crunches. Instead of moving your upper body up and down, twist so that your right elbow meets your left knee and vice versa. The exercise is named because your legs make a circular motion akin to pedaling a bicycle as you twist.

Russian twists are done sitting up and leaning back slightly, knees bent in front of you. Lift your feet slightly above the floor and twist left and right while trying to keep your legs as still as possible. If you can, touch each side as you twist.

Legs. Squats, lunges and step-ups target both your thighs and glutes.

Squats and lunges are common, but be careful to keep your knees in line with your ankles when doing these exercises. In both squats and lunges, your knees should not go over your feet or you’re likely to injure yourself.

Any apartment complex or dorm building has stairs, so you can do step-ups pretty much anywhere. Start at the bottom of the staircase and step up to the second or third stair with one leg, bringing the opposite knee up to your hip. If balancing this way is difficult, then just step up with both feet before stepping back down.

Arms. Push-ups are the default but useful upper-body exercise. Others include commandos and various forms of planking, which can be done on elbows or hands.

The most important aspect of planking is engaging your core and keeping the line of your body as straight as possible. If your back arches outward or your stomach sags downward, you could injure yourself or miss out on the full benefits of the exercise. Additionally, keeping your shoulders in line with your hands or elbows will help you balance.

Commandos work both abs and arms and are performed by transferring between hand and elbow plank position. Begin in a planking position on your hands and then lower one elbow to the ground, following with the other so you end up in a planking position on your elbows. Your forearms should be pressed against the ground, elbows set directly beneath your shoulders.

Without breaking that position, place one hand on the ground, then the other, to push yourself up into the original planking position on your hands. Your body will twist slightly as you go back and forth between positions, but try to keep unnecessary movement to a minimum by engaging your core. Remember to keep your back as straight as possible. Your stomach should be as sore as your arms after this one.  

If you’re really looking to do other upper-body exercises but don’t own any weight, other items can work. Textbooks and water jugs have been my most practical alternatives in the past. You can do bicep curls or other lifts with the water jug handle. Since textbooks are more cumbersome, using two hands to lift them in front of you or holding them to supplement ab workouts are the best options. However, you should also be aware of the sturdiness of the items you use and your grip strength. Any exercising comes with risk, but that risk may increase if you are using non-standard items to work out, so be careful.

Ultimately, there are several alternatives to the gym, so don’t let a lack of equipment discourage you from getting fit. These are just some of the many exercises you can do in the comfort of your own apartment or dorm.

The Exhaustion Epidemic

So many people suffer from it yet few suffer as severely as the average college student. The effects of the epidemic are everywhere: empty coffee cups and Redbull cans, glazed eyes, a few people slumped in a doze at the back of a lecture. It is not uncommon to hear students discussing how tired they are or how little they have been sleeping.

Photo By Pixabay

In fact, it is usually more surprising to hear of anyone with a healthy and consistent sleep schedule. When people get more than seven or eight hours of sleep, it is a rare occurrence that usually happens only after several nights of sleep deprivation or after sleeping in for half a day on the weekend. Other times, people try to take back the sleep they can with long naps or short dozes between classes. Anywhere you look on a college campus, someone is either suffering from exhaustion or trying to keep it at bay with naps and energy drinks.

So why are we so tired all the time?

While much of the reason for weariness can be attributed to the massive workload many college students take on, this amount is not always as high as we’d like to think. Tests, assignments, projects and studio time piling up can force some to start scraping time out of their sleep schedule — but do they pile up because we’re actually that busy or do they pile up because our time management isn’t as efficient as it could be?

Countless people battle procrastination on a regular basis. If we’re not careful, it can be the thing that causes work to pile up and ultimately makes us dip into our sleep budget to compensate for it.

For people employed outside of school or taking on a high number of credit hours, it can be a struggle to get a sufficient amount of sleep every night. This is especially true if procrastination is involved. Other times, work can pile up despite our best efforts, so we just have to push through the weariness.

Other reasons for tiredness could be attributed to diet. Lack of a balanced diet or consistent eating schedule can deprive the body of valuable nutrients and thus valuable energy. At one time, all of us were guilty of eating only one meal a day or opting for some quick, unhealthy snacks to “fuel” us throughout the day instead of eating actual meals because we felt too busy or too lazy to do otherwise.

If you find this becoming a habit of yours, consider taking the time to eat something a little more substantial. When you’ve only had five or six hours of sleep, eating only a few granola bars and bags of chips will only make things worse.

It doesn’t help that society doesn’t prioritize sleep, despite it being one of the most crucial things a person needs to function properly. We want to seem like we don’t need sleep, because nowadays, being tired can be like wearing a proud badge that says, “Look, I’m tired because I just work so hard. I don’t need sleep to function.”

That is a lie. When we internalize ideas like that, we pretend we function just as well sleep-deprived as we do when we get seven hours or more. We devote less time and importance to sleeping. This in turn yields careless behavior, like lazy internet surfing, gaming or binge watching simply because we can. It is easier to go with the body’s momentum and stay up, especially if one is accustomed to staying up late.

We need this time. The brain uses sleep to process what we’ve learned during the day and move information from short-term to long-term storage. This happens during REM sleep, so light naps won’t cut it.

A lack of sleep can do much more than make one feel grouchy or less focused. Sleep deprivation can actually increase the risk of obesity and chronic illnesses like high blood pressure and diabetes. It can also lower your immune system, thereby making it harder to fight infections.

Fixing this is easier said than done. I admit I wrote most of this article late at night while running on coffee and hypocrisy. However, the only hope to treating this epidemic is to take it into our own hands. College students need to recognize the true value of rest and start making more of an effort to get at least seven hours of sleep a night. If the very thought of that makes you laugh, then you need sleep the most. Trust me on this and close Youtube and Netflix. Put the device down. In the morning, your body will thank you for it.

Beating gymtimidation

Tired of breaking wishy-washy promises to go work out with your friend and guiltily side-eying the gym every time you pass? It happens to the best of us. The bad news is that many people want to establish a solid gym routine and struggle with it. Here’s the good news: going to the gym on a regular basis is easier than you’d think.

First, try to find one or two times during the week that work well for you. This is ideally a few hours after finishing a meal or enough time before class that you can shower afterward. Sitting crammed next to several other people in a lecture and praying that they don’t smell the sweat on you is unpleasant for everyone involved, so don’t put yourself in a time crunch if you know you sweat at any hint of physical activity.

Let your first workout be more of an exploratory session to figure out what kind of routine you want. If wandering around and trying a few reps on every machine sounds like an awkward nightmare, maybe observe some people from the cardio area first. A treadmill or elliptical is a good place to casually glance around and start developing your plan of action.

NT File Photo

It also helps to google some exercises beforehand based off of your goals. MyFitnessPal is a great, reliable resource for useful exercises. Watching Youtube videos to learn proper form is beneficial too.

If your only goal is “getting in shape,” dig a little deeper, since that can mean a variety of things for different people. Think along the lines of something a little more specific, like strengthening your upper body or increasing your stamina. Look at ab, leg and arm exercises to see what seems appealing. Having more specific exercises and goals in mind will help keep you motivated.

Once you’ve experimented a little, return at the same time next week with your plan and with an intention to exercise with more focus. Not every single exercise has to be planned out, but having a plan can help avoid an uncomfortable, aimless feeling.

During your routine, don’t do any exercises you hate. If you absolutely despise jogging or lifting in the free weights section, don’t do it! So many people are discouraged from going to the gym because they force themselves to do things that they don’t like. There are tons of different ways to reach your fitness goals so you don’t need to force yourself to do anything. Find an alternative exercise that offers similar results. With that being said, many exercises have especially varied or good benefits, so it is worth trying that exercise a few times before you decide to hate it – even burpees.

It’s easy to feel self-conscious at the gym, especially if the people around you seem to be lifting heavier and running longer, but it’s important to remember that everyone has different skills and abilities. Try to avoid comparing yourself to others. Everyone starts somewhere, so no one is judging you for your exercise pace. I promise the guy that stopped deadlifting 150 pounds to stare intensely at you isn’t actually looking at you. He’s staring off into space thinking about how many reps he has left, what tests he has this week or what he’s going to have for dinner. Other people that glance at you during reps aren’t looking at you either; the human eye is just naturally drawn to nearby movement.

Return to the gym two or three times a week, but be careful to not overtax yourself on these first few sessions. Whether you’re just starting to work out or are trying to get back into a routine after working out for years, start slower than what you think you can handle and work back up. Not only is it dangerous to jump right into an intense workout after not working out for a while, but it is also discouraging to feel extremely exhausted and sore after pushing yourself too hard.

The key to keeping up this routine is actually very simple. Willpower and motivation help, but they are finite resources. No matter how determined you are to visit the gym, there will be some days that you would rather do anything else than work out. That’s why you need to establish something that is much easier to keep up than willpower: consistency.

Going to the gym regularly is like any other routine that people develop. Once you’ve tried a few different times and figured out what works, stick to those times. Go every single week. Of course, if it’s in your health’s best interest to not go – for example, if you have the flu or have only slept three or four hours – then don’t. But don’t let little excuses pile up and make you skip completely. Having a lot of homework, feeling tired or hanging out with friends are decent reasons to skip the gym, but oftentimes we trick ourselves into believing they’re more urgent than they actually are.

You committed that block to gym time, so honor that commitment. Pretty soon you’ll feel a compulsion to go to the gym whether you actually want to or not. That’s when you know you’ve done it. As long as you respect the commitment, consistency will work wonders for you and you’ll be waltzing in the gym like a regular before you know it.