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Here they come: the New Year's resolutions. Are you already planning an assault on the gym for the first week in January? If so, you're hardly alone. Drive by any gym parking lot in January, and you'll see that it's full -- especially at around 6am. But that means people are getting up at 4 or 5am to get to the gym before work. Losing that hour or more per day totally undermines all your work in the gym. So here's my suggested resolution for the new year: commit to sleep, and to a balanced life.
American gyms open at 5am for a reason: they know that our culture encourages us to push as hard as we can, especially right after the holidays, when we feel guilty about how much we indulged. In South America, though, the gym doesn't open till 8 or 9am, even in January. That's because Latin cultures value balance, and, therefore, they value sleep. And so they should, because sleep is the basis of any broader weight-loss plan or health strategy you may have. If you are tired, you don't want to do anything. Not only do you find you start skipping the gym, but you don't have the mental or physical energy for all of the other elements that sustain weight-loss: meal-planning, cooking at home, record-keeping. What good does it do to hit the gym if you are so tired you grab take-home every night?
There is another place where that 5am alarm, and that lost hour or two of sleep, will hit you hard, and that's in the hormones. Sleep affects the hormone ghrelin, the compound that causes the feeling of hunger such that when you are tired, you are inclined to overeat. In fact, recent studies have shown that ghrelin increases with sleep loss, even as fat losses decrease.
I'm not suggesting you give up on working out and just spend all of your days tucked in bed. Far from it -- exercise is an important component in weight management. But it is only one component, and sleep is another, equally important component. If you are spending 10 hours in the gym per week but then say you have no time to plan and cook your meals, and no time to get sufficient sleep, then that one exercise component has taken over to an unhealthy degree. Cut your gym time in half, and get back some of that time. Use it to sleep, and to plan your meals and cook them -- and to workout within reason. Start the new year with the best resolution of all: balance.
Manuel Villacorta is a registered dietitian (RD) and certified specialist is sports dietetics (CSSD) with more than 16 years of experience. He is a national media spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and the creator of the Eating Free weight management program (an international, Internet-based weight loss and weight management program). He is an in-demand health and nutrition expert on both local and national television and radio, and in articles in print publications and online. Villacorta is the owner of San Francisco-based private practice MV Nutrition, the recipient of two consecutive ‘‘Best Bay Area Dietitian’’ awards (2009 and 2010) from the San Francisco Chronicle and Citysearch.