I’ve been a long-time gym-goer, but my visits have been known to drop-off in January. Not because I’m lazy, but because the gym is ridiculously crowded at the beginning of January. The gym returns to its regular levels by the end of January. Here are a few more reasons why you should wait until the end of January to start your fitness goals.

Swimsuit Season is Closer
Sometimes you need a better motivation than “get in shape.” On New Year’s Eve, swimsuit season seems light years away. Now, with spring a mere six weeks away, swimsuit season is looking pretty darn close. If you start now, you’ll have a good four months to achieve your fitness goals before you don a swimsuit.

You Can Get Deals
Lots of gyms offer deals in early January, but they’re also high-pressure. Wait until the end of January when they’re trying to meet sales goals. If you can come up with non-gym fitness activities to keep you busy for a month, then the end of February is probably the best time of the year to get a deal. You’ll be signing up while everyone else is trying to cancel.

You Can Use the Fitness Equipment
If you go to the gym the first Monday in January, you’ll have to wait in long lines to get access to them. Start now and you’ll be able to get on most of the equipment quickly.

It Doesn’t Feel Like a Resolution
There’s something about calling it a New Year’s Resolution that sets us up to fail. If you wait until February, then it’s just a new fitness goal. A goal doesn’t carry the same mental blocks as a resolution, so you’re more likely to succeed.

It Might Be a Tad Warmer Outside
If you want to exercise outside, some areas start to see a turn in February. Even though the possibility of storms remains high through February, most states are coldest in January.

You Might Actually Be Able to Find a Wii Fit
Wii Fits were pretty scarce this holiday season, but now the rush is over and more stores are likely to have them in stock without a long wait in line. If you already have a Wii, then the Wii Fit can help you get started on a fitness routine. If you’re already fairly fit, then it may not provide you quite as much benefit. Still, $90 for something that doesn’t require you to leave home may be a better deal than $40 a month for a membership to a gym you can actively avoid using.

If It’s Convenient, It Will Become a Habit
Going to the gym in January is inconvenient – it’s crowded, the parking lot is full, it’s raining/snowing/freezing outside. In February, it becomes more convenient and convenience is a great motivator.

If you want to get in shape, start now. Set your fitness goals in baby steps, with a final goal several months away. Once you blow through that first fitness goal, you’ll be motivated to keep going. The key to reaching the goal? Starting in February, or really any month except December or January.

Following my post comparing the FitDay and Daily Plate daily food diary websites, a reader recommended NutriMirror. It sounded like an excellent combination of both of the previous two, so I checked it out. Here are my findings.

The NutriMirror Daily Food Diary
The NutriMirror interface has the Web 2.0 friendliness of The Daily Plate. It offers a handy snapshot on the home page, as well as snapshots on additional pages. Note that the actual site is less blurry than my captured images because I resized them.

Here’s an example from the daily Food Log page. It shows your foods broken down by meal time as well as nutrient quantity. You can also add the number of glasses of water you drank that day.

NutriMirror Food Log

Adding foods already in the database is simple. You can search or use subject menus to find what you’re looking for. It includes more name brand items than FitDay, but fewer than The Daily Plate.

You can also add foods to the database, either to share with others or for your personal use. It was also simple.

NutriMirror Add Food

If you don’t want to calculate the quantities yourself, you can also use the “add recipes” function to add your own recipe. You may have to add a couple of items to the database to create a recipe, but it will do the complicated math for you.

NutriMirror Recipes

In addition to recipes, you can add menus. For example, if you eat the same meal for breakfast, add it to one simple menu for quick logging.

The Exercise Log
The exercise log is also simple. It’s similar to the log on FitDay, but contains a few more options. It doesn’t have as many options as the Daily Plate. I like that it calculates the total calories burned (if you’ve entered your weight), as well as the number of additional calories you burned (because you burn a certain number per hour just by being alive.)

NutriMirror Exercise Log

Weight Goals
If you have a weight goal, it calculates how many calories you’ve eaten, how many you’ve burned, and how many you have left for the day. That’s an easy way to monitor your progress without complicated math.

NutriMirror Interface

You can also input your hip and weight measurements to track other important fitness indicators.

Final Review
Overall, I like NutriMirror. The interface is attractive and simple. I will have to import my custom foods, but being able to find more foods in the database will reduce that some. It’s not the ultimate food diary – that would include the entire Daily Plate database plus all of NutriMirror’s functionality, but it’s the closest I’ve seen to perfect yet. Best of all – it’s free!

This morning Good Morning America did a segment about using food diaries to lose weight. I’ve found them to be an important tool in my battle to get (and stay) in shape, mainly because they make me accountable for my food choices. I can’t “forget” about that small bag of Cheetos, and I can see that it added 20 grams of fat to my day. That’s hard to ignore, and makes me not want to eat them so I don’t have to record them again, or forces me to adjust the rest of my food for the day so that I avoid going over my fat gram goal.I’ve used a PDA-based diet diary in the past, and happily paid $20 for the privilege. Now I prefer to use a free online food diary, which is frugal and easier to use. To help you decide between the free online versions, I’m comparing the two free sites: FitDay and The Daily Plate

Both food diary tools track the foods you eat, your daily exercise, and your weight. They calculate the number of calories you’re allowed per day to reach your stated goal. They also show you how many calories, fat, carbohydrates, and protein are in those foods so you can better fine-tune your diet.

Main Food Diary Interfaces
FitDay, which is the tool I use, has a barebones interface that shows you the basic details in an easy-to-read format and pie chart. It shows your total calories, protein, fat, and carbs. Your total permitted calories for the day are on the exercise interface screen. The diary interface also takes you to the options for adding foods.

Fitday Main Interface

The Daily Plate’s interface is more attractive and shows you more information up front, like how many calories you have left and how your were feeling that day. If you tend to be an emotional eater, this could help you discover your triggers.

MyPlate Interface

Adding Foods to Your Log
FitDay’s food database is large, but not complete. Adding foods to your diary requires either searching for them and then scrolling through a list, or using a series of menus. You can also see the total nutrition information for each food if you continue to click through to the individual item.

Fitday food selector

The Daily Plate’s database is much larger and has more name-brand foods. It has pictures of the logos and offers the ability to search by brand or a number of other factors. Once you select the food, you’re taken to another screen to review the nutrition data and add it to your food diary.

myplate food selection

daily plate food selector

Both sites also use their interfaces to add exercise, but The Daily Plate has more options in the database.

Which Food Diary Should You Choose?
Personally, I prefer FitDay because it allows me to add foods to my personal database. Since I have to eat a special diet and therefore have a lot of my own recipes, I calculate the information for the whole batch, divide that by a single serving, and then add it to my database.

The Daily Plate instead requires you to build meals using its built-in database. Some of the foods I eat aren’t in the database, and can’t be added because everyone shares the same database. Creating a meal for a single homemade cookie would be difficult.

However, if you’re not on a restricted diet, The Daily Plate seems like a winner. My friend’s personal trainer recommended it to him, which is a pretty strong endorsement.

If you have a different food diary that you like, recommend it in the comments!

I love to work out at the gym, but that option isn’t for everyone. The gym is expensive and easy to avoid. If you want a cheaper option and need motivation to get in shape, form a frugal exercise club with nearby friends. You have several fitness options:

Walking Club: A walking club is the easiest and cheapest. You can ask several co-workers to take lunchtime walks with you. Plan a variety of routes to avoid boredom. Telecommuters or stay-at-home parents can probably find neighbors to walk with during the day. Walking with neighbors not only provides a social outlet, but knowing you have someone waiting for you forces you to take a much-needed break from your work.

Free Fitness Classes: Many community centers and parks offer a few free fitness classes every week. A yoga teacher offers free daily classes at a park near me. He does accept donations, but they’re not required. Once you find a class that looks interesting, ask a couple friends to attend with you.

Group Exercise at Home: Outdoor exercise isn’t always possible, so you could pool your resources to buy a couple workout DVDs or take turns borrowing them from the library or a rental store. If one of you has cable, check the on Demand menu. Clear a space in someone’s living room or basement and follow the DVD together. Avoid any video that calls for equipment, unless you’re all willing to buy plastic steps and free weights.

Weekend Exercise Club: The Los Angeles area offers ample hiking and other outdoor activities. You probably have many options near you, too. If you’re not sure where they are, borrow local activity and hiking guides from the library. Note some good possibilities, and then ask your friends if they’d be interested in trying them with you. To form our group, my friend created a three-month schedule with hikes, kayaking, yoga, and other activities. She sends weekly reminders of the weekend activity to find out who can attend. I also marked them in my calendar so I know to plan for them. Most of the options are low-cost, which works well with our budgets. At the end of the three months, we’ll plan the next three months. This plan works especially well for areas with good weather year-round, but you can substitute indoor classes if you live in a region with harsh winter weather.

Outdoor activities club:
If your friends won’t join you, find a formal club. The Sierra Club is active in many areas and frequently holds hikes and other activities. Most are free, but some require fees. Once you attend, you may meet new friends who are willing to branch out. You can also check the calendar at local wilderness areas for ranger-led hikes. If you prefer other outdoor activities, ask a local sporting goods store for information about local clubs. You can also Google the name of your city or region and the name of the sport, like “Los Angeles bicycle club.” I’ve always wanted to try orienteering, which is hiking with a competitive goal.

Online exercise motivation club: If you can’t find anyone to work out with you, email long distance friends or relatives to form an online motivation club. Simply knowing that you have to email your progress and activities to friends might be enough to get you off the couch.

Even if your friends are a bunch of couch potatoes, you can probably entice them to form an exercise club with you. Once you all get out there and get moving, it will quickly become a regular habit.

Apparently the third Monday in January is the saddest day of the year. Researchers determined this because this is the day you’ll receive holiday credit card bills and this is the day most people realize those resolutions have failed. Here are some tips for renewing that resolution to get in shape without busting your budget.

Find a Gym Near Your Office
If you ran out and joined a gym near your house, see if they have a branch near your office that you can either switch to or use as well. That way you can visit the gym on your lunch. Not only does it fit well into your schedule, but you’ll find that you’re more productive in the afternoon. I’m fortunate that I can walk to my gym, but if you don’t have one in walking distance, look for a five-minute drive or less. That will give you enough time to do some real exercise.

Get a Guest Pass
If you haven’t already joined a gym and want to, ask for a one-week guest pass before you join. If you don’t use your guest pass much during that week, don’t join the gym. You can get fit with other options instead

Join with Family Members
Family members usually get a discount, so have yourself added to your spouse’s membership if you’ll actually visit that gym or chain. Not only can you encourage each other, but the second membership will be cheaper and probably won’t require start-up fees.

Ask for a Discount
Gyms are always running specials. Ask for one. If they don’t give you a good deal, walk away. Then go home and research offers online. Most chain gyms display their offers right on their website. Print it out and then go back to talk to the manager.

Hire a Trainer for a Few Sessions
Trainers are expensive, but I was in the best shape of my life after working with a trainer once a week for six months. Alas, I couldn’t maintain the expense, but I did hire one for five weeks recently to show me how to use new machines and learn new techniques. Most gyms have an introductory training special. My gym, 24-Hour Fitness, offer 5 sessions for around $50 for first-time buyers. Yes, you’ll get pressured to buy more sessions, but you can say no.

At the very least, take the free introductory session offered when you join. They’ll cover the basics on using the machines and recommend the right machines for you. Don’t watch other members to learn how to use them because most people use them improperly. At best, you won’t see much improvement. At worst, you’ll get hurt.

Trainers will also help you fine-tune your cardio exercises. Most people do that wrong, too. You don’t have to go at top speed the whole time. In fact, you’ll lose more fat if you vary the pace and change machines from time to time.

Quit if You Hate It or Don’t Go
Most gyms have a cancellation fee, but that fee is much lower than the cost of continuing to pay out the rest of your contract. If you’re simply not going to go, bite the bullet and pay the cancellation fee.

Exercise at Home
As I mentioned yesterday, it’s possible to get in shape at home. All you need is a plastic stool and some free weights. You might also want resistance bands or a balance ball. You can find most of this stuff at Target or a local sporting goods store. Watch the Sunday newspaper ads for sales, or check online. Free weights are usually $1 a pound, but I’ve found them for half that during sales. I recommend the neoprene-covered weights because metal weights can be slippery. Now go online to women’s magazines, men’s magazines, and fitness sites to find free workouts you can print out. Some sites allow you to enter some data to customize them to your needs. Look for routines with pictures or videos so you can see how to do the moves properly.

If you have cable, check your On Demand menu. Mine has several exercise programs, and some of them are very tough. Try several until you settle on one you like. Since these programs are already included in the cost of your cable, this is a free option. Most of the shows don’t require any accessories. You can also check your library for exercise videos.

If you don’t want to exercise at home or at a gym, consider walking. All you need are walking shoes, a ski hat for colder days, and maybe a sports bra for women (change in the office bathroom.) Most walkers don’t work up a sweat, so you won’t need to shower afterwards. You can easily do it on your lunch hour. If you live in a wet or snowy climate, you can also walk in the mall. Just make sure you leave your money and credit cards in your office, not in your wallet!

Consider Buying Wii Fit
If you already have a Wii, then consider getting Wii Fit. It’s expected to cost around $70 and release later this month. It offers a variety of programs and will track your results. You can also compete with family members. It’s definitely cheaper than joining a gym if you already have a Wii. If the Wii is in your family room, it’s also harder to avoid than the gym.

I work out part time at the gym and part time at home. The combination works well for me. Even if you don’t want to spend a lot, you can find a way to get in shape and keep your budget in good shape, too.

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