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Change your attitude and stay on the fitness track

Dianne Myers is willing to drag herself out of bed at 5 a.m. three times a week to get to the gym, but even that hasn’t been enough to keep her weight from bouncing up and down by 10 pounds before and after the holidays.

Most years, her New Year’s resolution is the same: work out more and take off the weight she gained.

This year, Myers decided she needed an addendum: keep it off.

“I’ve decided to make a lifestyle change,” she said.

It won’t be easy. Research suggests that fewer than half of Americans make New Year’s resolutions and one in four of those who do give up on them after the first week. By the end of January, two of every three people already have abandoned their good intentions.

The promising news, however, suggests a University at Scranton research study conducted several years ago, is that almost one in five people who set out to do so will successfully change their behavior through a full year.

Myers, 35, a married mother of two who teaches third grade at Dodge Elementary School in East Amherst, aims to count herself in that successful group come Christmastime.

Meanwhile, here’s a thought for those who have fallen off the wagon and decided to try again next year – or never again.

“If you go through a red light today, will you say, ‘I already blew it, I might as well drive through every red light that I see and tomorrow I’ll get back on track?’ No, you’ll get right back on track driving safer,” said Patricia Salzer, registered dietitian and health and wellness consultant with Univera Healthcare.

Myers decided to pair her resolve this year with a different attitude and more detailed plan, starting with visits three times a week to Alessi Personal Fitness in Clarence. Owner Derek Alessi and other wellness experts in the region gave the following tips for those who prefer to try something sooner rather than same time next year:

1. Start right away

Myers reshaped her traditional resolution goals and started her new plan almost two weeks ago.

“People fall off the bandwagon because they don’t have a structure,” Alessi said. First you have to make a conscious, committed choice, he said, then comes the right attitude, the right help and the right plan.

The timing?

“Any day you start is a good day,” he said.

2. Find a coach

Most people invest considerable money and effort into an education that sets them up in a career, Alessi said, but many balk at the idea of investing in something equally as important: their well-being. “It’s not enough to be active,” he said. “We have to know what to do with our time and our effort.” It pays to start healthy new habits with help from a personal trainer, nutritionist or physical therapist when you plan to upgrade your health and wellness. “You don’t need to be injured to see a physical therapist,” he said. “They specialize in movement in the body. They always will help you in terms of the motions you should be doing.”

Experts can fetch from $40 to $100 an hour or more – but understand that such attention doesn’t need to last forever. Alessi put Myers on a 12-week fitness and nutrition program. “I’m doing just what I teach my students,” she said. “You want to give them the tools with the end result that they can do this on their own.”

Fitness: While working out on her own or in group classes, Myers tended to focus almost exclusively on cardio exercise. Alessi and his staff have added resistance and interval training to her repertoire. “Lifting weights is more important to me right now than the cardio,” she said.

Nutrition: With help from Chef Steven Binks, who works with Alessi, Myers has changed her diet to include more protein and get most of her carbs from vegetables, which digest more slowly than processed foods and, as a result, don’t spike blood sugar. Such spikes lead to inflammation, a fertile ground for illness and chronic disease.

3. Create a workable plan

When it comes to getting fit and losing weight, “most people are trying design a house without a blueprint,” Alessi said. Myers is creating a structure to build strength and learn more about proper eating, a little bit at a time.

“Think of it as a road map, where you need to go shorter distances,” said Nicole Klem, a registered dietitian and director of the Nutrition and Dietetics program at Trocaire College. “Make sure it’s small enough and measurable, and specific enough. Some people say they want to run a half-marathon by May when they haven’t even gotten off the couch, or are going to lose 30 pounds when they haven’t started on the first or the second or the third pound.”

Fitness: The great thing about fitness is that it can be tailored to individual needs and limitations, said Michael Piciulo, aquatics director at the Tonawanda Aquatic and Fitness Center. If you can’t do much, start gradually, but challenge yourself. “If you haven’t worked out in a while, or ever, come in here two or three times a week, watch TV, sit on a bike for 15 minutes and leave. In two, three weeks, bump it to 30 minutes. Two or three weeks after that, come in, lift some weights, spend 20 minutes on a bike and then leave. People have told me, ‘I’m not getting in shape.’ But you’re grooming a habit. The shape will come.”

Nutrition: Focus on the positives, Klem said. “The biggest challenge that people have is when they focus on things they can’t have. They say, ‘I’m not going to eat cookies this week,’ or ‘No more dessert for the month,’ or ‘I’m going to cut out dairy and gluten and processed sugars,’ instead of trying to eat three fruits and vegetables today, trying a new grain this week, drinking more water, getting enough sleep.”

4. Be specific

Food journals, workout logs and other ways to track your fitness and nutrition help you stay true to your goals.

Fitness: “Whether you use your phone, your computer or a paper calendar, you must put your fitness appointments in your schedule and treat them like you would any other appointments,” Alessi said. “Plan your workouts in advance. Know what exercises you’re going to do. Know what body parts you’re going to work on. Know what weights and number of reps you’re going to strive for with your time and your effort.” Vary your workouts and work out with friends; they help keep you accountable, and vice versa.

Nutrition: Make a shopping list before you head to the store, focus on foods at the perimeter once you get there and look to eat more often at home, where you can assure a healthy meal with proper portions, Alessi and Klem said. They also urged preparing foods, including snacks, in advance. “When we’re craving something,” Alessi said, “we’re probably going to make the wrong choice.” Klem recommended starting a healthy recipe group with friends. “If everyone meets at a house and makes five servings of the same recipe, everyone walks away with five different recipes,” and maybe some extras to sock away in the fridge or freezer.

Experts stressed that it’s also important to understand that good habits develop over time, just like bad ones.

Who knows? They might even rub off on the ones you love. Take Dianne and Mathew Myers’ daughter, Madison, 6, and son, Cole, 5.

“I want this to be a lifestyle for them, too,” Dianne Myers said. “I don’t want them to not have cookies or cake, but I want them to know what good choices are, and when they do have things like that, it’s OK, because they normally make so many good choices.”

Free advice

When it comes to health and wellness goals, these sites can help: Priceline founder Jay Walker funds this mobile app. Add it on your smartphone and it will suggest ways to cut calories from the food you are about to eat. The calories you save are calculated and contributed in the form of a donation to a local food bank. Use promo code FBWNY and a donation to the Food Bank of Western New York will be doubled. Filled with healthy living, shopping and cooking tips, all of which can be accessed by a mobile app. Sign up and customize topics to gather healthy eating recipes, including one posted this week about how to create a week’s worth of healthy breakfast sandwiches in 15 minutes. Click on the site’s Wellness tab to learn more about NuVal, a nutritional point system listed with the vast majority of products sold at the Buffalo-based supermarket chain’s stores. The site also has a Recipes tab. Click on the Eat Well Live Well tab for a variety of healthy recipes, special diet and nutrition tips, and tips to help you use exercise to burn calories.