Getting into shape

It’s not only the journey of getting into shape, but also the journey of staying in shape that is important. This transformation will improve your physical well-being and your mental and emotional health.

To follow a healthier lifestyle, you have to firstly decide why it’s important to you, so the goal is more than wanting a number on the scale. By defining this, it will help you keep focus in achieving your health and fitness goals.

Guidelines to assist you along the way

  1. Set realistic goals

Before you start any health journey, you need to know where you’re heading. You’ll feel like you’re running in circles if you have no clear goal. Decide what you want to achieve and set a realistic time frame by looking at past experiences and talking to experts.

Whether you want to lose weight, build muscle, improve fitness, increase endurance or just improve overall health, clear goals will provide you with motivation and a sense of direction.

Instead of having the goal to lose weight, define it better. For example, I want to lose visceral fat (fat around and in between organs), reduce body fat percentage by 5% and be able to walk 5km without being out of breath. I want to do this in a period of three months.

Also add in goals for general health, not just weight loss. This may include increasing fitness levels, lowering blood glucose levels or improving energy levels and sleep.

  1. Start with smaller changes first

Most people follow an all-or-nothing approach which may put you at either end of the spectrum. Both can be damaging. This leads to confusion, exhaustion, depression, and burn-out.

To avoid feeling overwhelmed, start with smaller, more manageable changes. Slowly introduce healthier habits into your daily routine while cutting out bad habits. For example, reducing coffee intake to two cups per day and adding in two glasses of water rather than trying to cut out all coffee and drink three litres of water a day. This way you build in doable changes, and it will be easier to maintain in the long run. Then slowly build on that foundation as you go.

  1. Incorporate an exercise routine

Make sure that you start off with or incorporate exercise that you enjoy in small amounts, to keep you motivated. Then build on that by working in variety and a balance between cardiovascular exercises (running, cycling, swimming) that are good for heart health and fat loss as well as strength training (weights, body weight or high intensity interval training) that helps to prevent muscle and bone loss as you get older.

The more muscle you have, the more energy your body uses to maintain it versus fat that is dry mass and not adding any benefits. Stretching is also important to prevent injuries and keep the muscles flexible.

Start of small with 10 – 15 min of exercise three times a week. Then increase to daily exercises, including stretching of 10 – 15 min. Next you can increase the duration of the sessions to 20 – 30 min three times a week while still doing 10 – 15 min stretching in between.

Depending on your health, you can ask healthcare professionals or personal trainers to assist and work with you on the level you are at.

  1. Follow a well-balanced diet

Most people see this as the most important step in getting into shape, but if everything else is not in place and you don’t have clear goals, unfortunately, you won’t see progress or won’t able to stay on track.

Together with exercise, sleep, water intake and managing stress, a nutritious diet is important in improving health and getting into shape.

With every bite you take, you make a choice between: health or harm. Start by reducing or cutting out processed foods and focusing on incorporating more whole foods (food in its most natural form).

Ensure you add in variety of food groups including fruits, vegetables, lean protein, healthy fats, and grains. Unhealthy foods like sugar, fats and processed foods can negatively affect your health and prevent or slow down progress. Also focus on eating smaller more regular meals with snacks like fruits, nuts, seeds or Fabulite Fat Free Yoghurt. The key to adopting a healthy balanced diet is moderation.

Allow yourself the occasional treat but ensure to eat healthy foods most of the time. Fabulite Fat Free Yoghurt Range is the perfect treat as it has the same sweet taste without the guilt.

  1. Drink enough water

This might sound like a simple thing to do, but the impact of drinking enough water during the day can be massive. Your body consists of about 70% water, so you need to maintain these levels as the body is consistently using water in all body processes.

When you don’t drink enough water, your body has to compensate in ways to try and maintain these processes. This causes unnecessary stress on the body. Constipation is prevalent if you aren’t consuming enough water. Any drinks that contain sugar or caffeine can’t be counted as water as caffeine dehydrates the body. Also ensure that you drink enough throughout the day (especially during and after training) and not all at once.

  1. Ensure sufficient rest and sleep

Sleep helps your body recover from stress and exercise; it’s the healing and recovery time for your body. Thus, if you don’t sleep enough, your body can’t function properly, leaving you exhausted and causing more stress on it. You need about 7 – 9 hours of good quality sleep at night.

You can always build up to this by making a few changes in the house to allow your body to switch off earlier. For example, this can be by turning off electronics earlier in the evening, dimming the lights, closing the curtains, having a cup of chamomile tea before bed and avoiding eating before bed.

Rest is another piece of the puzzle where you’re relaxing your body and mind to better handle the rest of the day or week. Rest includes spending time in nature, reading, listening to music, sitting in the sun with a cup of tea, spending time with loved ones, or going for a leisurely walk. Both rest and sleep are important in losing weight as well as improving health.

  1. Consistency and patience

Consistency is key in anything you want to change. You can’t do everything perfectly one week and then the next all the good intentions go out the window. Rather make the changes slowly and maintain them so that when times get tough, it’s easier to sustain.

You also need to be patient with yourself and the process. Your health didn’t decrease overnight, so you can’t expect your body to heal and get into shape overnight. The more you feed it with the right habits, the better and faster it will also heal and the more progress you’ll see.

Stay focused on your goals by keeping them where you can see them and celebrate small achievements, not only the end goal. P.S – just not by eating more chocolate.

  1. Tracking you progress

Find ways to track your progress so you can see how far you have come throughout the journey. You can do this through measurements (weight, centimetres, blood glucose readings) or you can take before and after photos to measure goals visually as well.

Tracking helps you to adjust where you might not be seeing the results. Keep a journal of diet, exercise, sleep, water intake as that will allow you and your healthcare professional to find ways where you might be lacking or overdoing something.

Every bit of progress adds up, so don’t get discouraged if you only lose 1kg in a month.

  1. Find a support system

Doing anything alone is not easy or fun. Add in the fun by doing it together with someone. Who said healthy competition can’t be good? You can also identify someone close to you to stay accountable to, to keep you motivated when things get hard. They can also celebrate the small achievements with you. These positive enhancements will help you stay on track and continue moving forward.

It’s a rewarding journey

Getting into shape can sometimes be a tough but rewarding journey. Surrounding yourself with like-minded people to walk the journey with you, keeps you motivated and helps you stay focused on your goals.

Everyone’s journey is unique so don’t compare yourself to others, and monitor your progress for where you are at. Keep consistent and one day you’ll look back and see how far you have come and thank yourself for the decision you made. Don’t wait for tomorrow. Go out and get into shape today.

Estée van Lingen is a registered dietitian practicing in Randburg and Fourways, Gauteng. She has been in private practice since 2014 and is registered with the HPCSA as well as ADSA and served on the ADSA Gauteng South Committee for 2020 – 2022.


Estée van Lingen is a registered dietitian practicing in Randburg and Fourways, Gauteng. She has been in private practice since 2014 and is registered with the HPCSA as well as ADSA and served on the ADSA Gauteng South Committee for 2020 – 2022.

This article is sponsored by Parmalat in the interest of education, awareness and support. The content and opinions expressed are entirely the health professional’s own work and not influenced by Parmalat in any way.

Header image by FreePik