10 Realistic Ways to Lose Weight for Good *

Real Tips From People Who Lost 50+ Pounds
  — By Alicia Capetillo, Staff Writer
When embarking upon any weight-loss or fitness journey, there are bound to be some speedbumps along the way. When those detours threaten to derail your progress, who better to turn to than the men and women who have already reached their long-term goals? Below, discover 10 insider tips and recommendations for setting goals and staying motivated, all from people who have lost 50 pounds or more (and kept it off for a year or more!).

  1. A huge percentage of weight-loss success is mental.
    “Changing your lifestyle is a mental game, and your mindset is just as important as nutrition and exercise. There are so many times you need to fight through wanting to fail, give up or cry, but if your mind is in the right spot, you’ll get through those times.” Erinn T.

    “Once my head and sprit wanted it as badly as my body needed it, that’s when things really started to click.” Amy T.

    Learning to change your perspective so that the healthy choice is the only obvious choice can mean the difference between steady progress and failure. Learn how to alter your perspective, and you’ll change your life!

  2. Moderation is key.
    “Indulgence is okay sometimes. I don’t want to live in a world where I can never have pizza, ice cream, or hamburgers and fries. But those are treats—not staples.” Rachel S.

    Banish the word “diet” from you vocabulary and allow yourself to enjoy small treats occasionally, and you’ll find that it is easier to eat healthy throughout the day. Learn how to adopt a more moderate mindset here.

  3. You can’t trust the grocery store to make good choices for you.
    “If you say “no” to [a food] in the store, you only have to say “no” once. If you bring it home, you have to say “no” every time you see it on the shelf. Don’t bring things that tempt you home!” Nancy L. 

    The grocery store is specifically designed to make you spend money on things you don’t actually need. To ensure that you stay on the right track at home, enter the grocery store with a game plan instead of relying on your impulses. Learn what to look for and how to avoid grocery store traps here.

  4. Exercise doesn’t have to be a hassle to be effective.
    “Exercise does not have to come in 1-hour blocks. If you don’t have an hour, do 10 or 15 minutes several times throughout the day.” Annette P.

    If your schedule is filled to the brim, work on short bursts of exercise throughout the day to get your heart rate up, or experiment with high intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts that crush calories in a little as 20 minutes.

  5. It’s important to stay honest with yourself.
    “Don’t lie to yourself about your exercise and food choices. If you eat some empty calories, that’s totally fine, but don’t convince yourself that you didn’t have that much or that you are undoing it at the gym. Own your decisions and don’t feel ashamed.” Amber H. 

    Getting on a healthy path is going to have its fair share of successes and slip-ups, and it is important to be truthful about everything with your biggest critic: yourself. Tracking your food is a great way to help keep you accountable to your food choices. Get started tracking your daily food intake with our Nutrition Tracker.

  6. It’s possible to love your workout (seriously!).
    “Go fitness hunting. There are so many exercise options and believe me when I say that you will find something you love. Once you find it, you would never quit it because it becomes a part of you.” Connie S.

    Learning to love your workout can be the difference between meeting your goal and giving up. If you dread running, you’re more likely to talk yourself out of a 6:00 a.m. date with the treadmill. Scour the Internet for local deals to test new classes, or learn how to discover workouts that fit your fitness personality.

  7. The smaller goals are just as important.
    “Lose 10 pounds at a time. When you meet your 10 pound goal, celebrate, but not with food. Treat yourself to a new clothing item or a special activity instead. Then, immediately set your sights on the next 10 pound objective.” Sean C.

    Reaching your goal weight or completing a predetermined fitness challenge deserves a celebration—but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t acknowledge your hard work along the way to reaching your ultimate goal. Keep yourself motivated throughout your journey by outlining smaller, bite-size goals along the way that you can celebrate. For example, plan to see a movie with a friend when you can run three miles without stopping, or treat yourself to a facial after completing the second month of a six-month boot camp program. Small goals make the journey to healthy living even more enjoyable. For more non-food reward ideas, check out this list.

  8. Support is key.
    “I don’t think I could have done it without the support from my sister. We are workout buddies. Even if we are far apart, we keep each other going!” Tammy R.

    “My co-workers have stayed on the journey with me for nearly 2 years by participating in all sorts of crazy competitions. It’s the accountability that’s gotten me this far.” Missy P.

    It is a lot more difficult to skip a workout when your buddy is incessantly texting you with reminders about your 6:00 p.m. TRX class. Plus, everything is more fun when sharing it with a friend—yup, even exercising and weight loss! To get started, why not grab a friend and try one of these fun races?

  9. Healthy food doesn’t have to be boring.
    “I eat healthily, but decadently, which makes it seem like I’m not dieting at all. I love the foods I eat.” Alice J. 

    When done correctly, healthy meals can taste even better than full-fat restaurant meals. As you begin working toward your weight and fitness goals, you’ll soon discover recipes that are both tasty and fuel your hard-working body. There are even plenty of slimmed-down desserts options to satisfy your sweet tooth, so you don’t have to give up your favorite treats!

  10. It’s important to remember why you started.
    “The biggest thing is staying true to WHY you started in the first place […] Knowing your “why” and living it every single day is what keeps you motivated and consistent.” Tiffany M.

    “I have old pictures of me up throughout my house to remind myself of how far I have come–and that I don’t want to go back.” Kaitlin S. 

    It’s great to reach your goal weight or complete your first half marathon, but a healthy future is the greatest reward for all your hard work. When you’re resisting a cupcake or talking yourself into going for a run, remember the reasons why you started working toward your health-focused goals and realize how far you’ve already come. You’ll be surprised at how motivating those initial reasons can be in the long run! Try these tips to stick to your goal the next time you hit a motivation wall.  

* Weight loss results will vary from person to person. No individual result should be seen as a typical result of following the SparkPeople program.

What are your best tips for losing weight and keeping it off for the long haul? Share them in the comments below!

Original Post on SparkPeople.com

Your Tax Return: Bring it Home

Your Tax Return: Bring it Home | MyKCM

This time of year, many people eagerly check their mailboxes looking for their tax return check from the IRS. But, what do most people plan to do with the money? GO Banking Rates recently surveyed Americans and asked the question – “What do you plan on doing with your tax refund?”

The results of the survey were interesting. Here is what they plan to do with their money:

  • 41% – Put it into savings
  • 38% – Pay off debt
  • 11% – Go on a vacation
  • 5% – Make a major purchase (car, home, etc.)
  • 5% – Splurge on a purchase

Upon seeing the research, The National Association of Realtors (NAR) wondered if this could help with a constant challenge cited by many people who wish to purchase a home – saving for the down payment.

In a recent post in NAR’s Economists’ Outlook Blog, they explained:

“With a sizable tax refund, the average American would have a decent down payment depending on which region or market you live in.”

They went on to add:

“[A]pproximately 5 percent of all respondents indicated they would make a major purchase which does not seem like a lot. However, there is a bigger group 41 percent who see saving the tax return is best and that group could be potential homebuyers if they are not already.”

In other words, putting that money toward purchasing a home is a form of savings.

Bottom Line

When one considers that first-time home buyers in 2016 had an average down payment of 6%, a decent tax return could go a long way toward the necessary funds needed for a down payment on a house. Or perhaps, the down payment needed by a son or daughter to make their homeownership dream a reality. How are you going to spend your return?

Real Estate Mogul: Here’s Why You Should Buy

Real Estate Mogul: Here’s Why You Should Buy | MyKCM

Real Estate mogul, Sean Conlon, host of The Deed: Chicago on CNBC, was recently asked the question, should you buy? Or should you rent a house?

Conlon responded:

“I am a true believer that you save every penny and you buy your first house… and that is still the fastest path to wealth in this country.”

Conlon went on to suggest that first-time buyers put down 10-20% “if they can make it work,” and to remain in their home at least 4-5 years to see a return on their investment.

Who is Sean Conlon, and why should you listen to his advice?

Within a few years of working in the real estate industry, Conlon had established himself as one of the leading agents in the United States and has founded 3 billion-dollar brokerages dealing in residential, commercial and investment sales. Since immigrating to America from the United Kingdom in 1990, he believes very strongly in the American Dream and the role that homeownership plays in achieving it. Conlon is quoted on his website as saying:

“I treat people the way I would like to be treated if I went in to buy a house and I work harder than anybody I know. I think if you do that in America, you will always succeed.”

Bottom Line

Homeownership is an investment you can leverage against in the future that not only provides shelter and safety but also helps you build your family’s wealth. If you are debating whether or not to purchase a home this year, let’s get together to discuss the opportunities available in today’s market!

How Fast Can You Save for a Down Payment?

How Fast Can You Save for a Down Payment? | MyKCM

Saving for a down payment is often the biggest hurdle for a first-time homebuyer. Depending on where you live, median income, median rents, and home prices all vary. So, we set out to find out how long would it take you to save for a down payment in each state?

Using data from the United States Census Bureau and Zillow, we determined how long it would take, nationwide, for a first-time buyer to save enough money for a down payment on their dream home. There is a long-standing ‘rule’ that a household should not pay more than 28% of their income on their monthly housing expense.

By determining the percentage of income spent renting a 2-bedroom apartment in each state, and the amount needed for a 10% down payment, we were able to establish how long (in years) it would take for an average resident to save enough money to buy a home of their own.

According to the data, residents in Iowa can save for a down payment the quickest in just under 2 years (1.99). Below is a map created using the data for each state:

How Fast Can You Save for a Down Payment? | MyKCM

What if you only needed to save 3%?

What if you were able to take advantage of one of Freddie Mac’s or Fannie Mae’s 3% down programs? Suddenly, saving for a down payment no longer takes 5 or 10 years, but becomes attainable in a year or two in many states as shown in the map below.

How Fast Can You Save for a Down Payment? | MyKCM

Bottom Line

Whether you have just started to save for a down payment, or have been saving for years, you may be closer to your dream home than you think! Let’s meet up so I can help you evaluate your ability to buy today.

Home Mortgages: Rates Up, Requirements Easing

The media has extensively covered the rise in mortgage interest rates since last fall (from 3.42% last September to the current 4.1% according to Freddie Mac). However, a less covered aspect of the mortgage market is that requirements to get a mortgage have eased while rates have risen.

The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) quantifies the availability of mortgage credit each month with their Mortgage Credit Availability Index (MCAI). According to the MBA, the MCAI is:

“A summary measure which indicates the availability of mortgage credit at a point in time.”

The higher the index, the easier it is to get a mortgage. Here is a chart showing the MCAI over the last several months as rates have increased.

Home Mortgages: Rates Up, Requirements Easing | MyKCM

Have requirements for attaining a mortgage actually eased?

Yes. Here are two examples:

  1. FICO® Score – the credit score which helps determine a buyer’s eligibility. The score required to attain a mortgage has been falling over the last five months:

Home Mortgages: Rates Up, Requirements Easing | MyKCM

  1. Down Payment Requirement – the percentage of the purchase price necessary to place as a down payment on a home. To make this point, let’s look at the percentage of first-time buyers who have put less than 5% down over the last several years as compared to the 1st quarter of 2017:

Home Mortgages: Rates Up, Requirements Easing | MyKCM

Bottom Line

Whether you are a current homeowner looking to move to a home that will better serve your family’s current needs, or a first-time buyer looking for a starter home, it is easier to get a mortgage today than it has been at any other time in the last ten years.

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Tax Return Depressing? Owning a Home Could Help

Tax Return Depressing? Owning a Home Could Help | MyKCM

Many Americans got some depressing news last week; either their tax return was not as large as they had hoped or, in some cases, they were told they owed additional money to either the Federal or State government or both. One way to save on taxes is to own your own home.

According to the Tax Policy Center’s Briefing Book -“A citizen’s guide to the fascinating (though often complex) elements of the federal Tax System” – there are several tax advantages to homeownership.

Here are four items, and a quote on each, from the Briefing Book:

1. Mortgage Interest Deduction

“Homeowners who itemize deductions may reduce their taxable income by deducting any interest paid on a home mortgage. The deduction is limited to interest paid on up to $1 million of debt incurred to purchase or substantially rehabilitate a home. Homeowners also may deduct interest paid on up to $100,000 of home equity debt, regardless of how they use the borrowed funds. Taxpayers who do not own their home have no comparable ability to deduct interest paid on debt incurred to purchase goods and services.”

2. Property Tax Deduction

“Homeowners who itemize deductions may also reduce their taxable income by deducting property taxes they pay on their homes.”

3. Imputed Rent

“Buying a home is an investment, part of the returns from which is the opportunity to live in the home rent-free. Unlike returns from other investments, the return on homeownership—what economists call “imputed rent”—is excluded from taxable income. In contrast, landlords must count as income the rent they receive, and renters may not deduct the rent they pay. A homeowner is effectively both landlord and renter, but the tax code treats homeowners the same as renters while ignoring their simultaneous role as their own landlords.”

4. Profits from Home Sales

“Taxpayers who sell assets must generally pay capital gains tax on any profits made on the sale. But homeowners may exclude from taxable income up to $250,000 ($500,000 for joint filers) of capital gains on the sale of their home if they satisfy certain criteria: they must have maintained the home as their principal residence in two out of the preceding five years, and they generally may not have claimed the capital gains exclusion for the sale of another home during the previous two years.”

Bottom Line

We are not suggesting that you purchase a house just to save on your taxes. However, if you have been on the fence as to whether 2017 is the year you should become a homeowner, this information might help with that decision.

Disclaimer: Always check with your accountant to find out what tax advantages apply to you in your area. 

Measuring Your Ability to Achieve the American Dream

Measuring Your Ability to Achieve the American Dream | MyKCM

Forbes.com recently released the results of their new American Dream Index, in which they measure “the prosperity of the middle class, and…examine which states best support the American Dream.”

The monthly index measures several different economic factors, including goods-producing employment, personal and commercial bankruptcies, building permits, startup activity, unemployment insurance claims, labor force participation, and layoffs.

The national index score was rounded out to 100 in January and saw a modest jump to 100.5 in February.

Alaska represented the lowest score on the index at 80.7, due mostly to the recent collapse in oil prices. Nevada came in with the highest score at 108.8, boosted by big gains in goods-producing jobs and new construction activity. The full results can be seen in the map below.

Measuring Your Ability to Achieve the American Dream | MyKCM

Forbes Senior Editor Kurt Badenhausen explained why many states saw a boost in the index last month:

“[B]usinesses are hiring in part in anticipation of tax cuts and less regulation… Many areas of the country have experienced strong upticks in employment and construction, as well as declines in unemployment claims since the start of the year.”

Bottom Line

The American Dream, for many, includes being able to own a home of his or her own. With the economy improving in many areas of the country, that dream can finally become a reality.

Careful…Don’t Get Caught in the Rental Trap!

Careful…Don’t Get Caught in the Rental Trap! | MyKCM

There are many benefits to homeownership. One of the top benefits is being able to protect yourself from rising rents by locking in your housing cost for the life of your mortgage.

Don’t Become Trapped 

Jonathan Smoke, Chief Economist at realtor.comreported on what he calls a “Rental Affordability Crisis.” He warns that,

“Low rental vacancies and a lack of new rental construction are pushing up rents, and we expect that they’ll outpace home price appreciation in the year ahead.”

In the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University’s 2016 State of the Nation’s Housing Report, they revealed that The number of cost-burdened households rose to 21.3 million. Even more troubling, the number with severe burdens (paying more than 50% of income for housing) jumped to a record 11.4 million. These households struggle to save for a rainy day and pay other bills, such as food and healthcare.

It’s Cheaper to Buy Than Rent 

In Smoke’s article, he went on to say,

“Housing is central to the health and well-being of our country and our local communities. In addition, this (rental affordability) crisis threatens the future value of owned housing, as the burdensome level of rents will trap more aspiring owners into a vicious financial cycle in which they cannot save and build a solid credit record to eventually buy a home.”

“While more than 85% of markets have burdensome rents today, it’s perplexing that in more than 75% of the counties across the country, it is actually cheaper to buy than rent a home. So why aren’t those unhappy renters choosing to buy?”

Know Your Options

Perhaps you have already saved enough to buy your first home. HousingWire reported that analysts at Nomura believe:

“It’s not that Millennials and other potential homebuyers aren’t qualified in terms of their credit scores or in how much they have saved for their down payment. 

It’s that they think they’re not qualified or they think that they don’t have a big enough down payment.” (emphasis added)

Many first-time homebuyers who believe that they need a large down payment may be holding themselves back from their dream home. As we have reported before, in many areas of the country, a first-time home buyer can save for a 3% down payment in less than two years. You may have already saved enough!

Bottom Line

Don’t get caught in the trap so many renters are currently in. If you are ready and willing to buy a home, find out if you are able. Let’s get together to determine if you can qualify for a mortgage now!

4 Must-Do Strength Training Exercises for Runners

Build Strength and Power, Decrease Injury Risk
  — By Nicole Nichols, Certified Personal Trainer and Fitness Instructor
Runners are a breed all their own. I can say that because I am a runner. We can be quirky about our race rituals and to outsiders looking in, our lives seem to revolve around a “boring” sport of putting one foot in front of the other. But as any runner knows, it’s not really that simple (or boring!), to try to fit in fartleks, quarters, repeats and speed work along with your hills, distance runs, and race days. Mile after mile, we pound the pavement—rain, cold or sun—to reach our goals.

No matter what type of runner you are, or how many races you have under your belt, we all share one common goal: to be better runners. We want to get faster, run farther, be more efficient, and stay injury-free. But if we hope to reach this goal, we must do more than just run. It is important to incorporate other exercises into our workout plans, as well as some rest, if we hope to reach our full running potential.

Strength training is an important form of exercise for serious athletes and recreational exercisers alike, because not only does it help you build lean muscles that power your body through tough runs, but it also fires up your metabolism to help with weight-control and strengthens your bones against age-related deterioration. A solid strength training program can help runners achieve a more balanced musculature for greater power and a lower injury risk.

Here are some of the moves every runner should include as part of their strength-training program, along with an explanation of why each exercise is so important for runners.

Squats
Squats are the single most effective exercise that you can perform to strengthen the entire lower body. Squats target the quadriceps, hamstrings, hips, hip flexors, and glutes, and even activate your core. When done properly, they can also help strengthen your knees and prevent knee pain and injury. Here are a few ways to do them, based on your fitness level and equipment available:

Beginner Exercises Advanced Exercises

Lateral Movements
Runners seem to only move in one direction: forward! That’s why it’s important to train your body through other planes of movement, like backwards or sideways (laterally). Lateral moves help you train often-neglected muscles like the abductors (outer thigh) and adductors (inner thigh), helping increase stability at your joints, improve your balance, and prevent injury. Here are some examples you can try.

Beginner Advanced

Pushups
Runners often neglect their upper bodies when training, but a strong upper body is essential for overall fitness and powerful runs. Pushups help strengthen the arms, chest, and shoulders, as well as the core, in one move, and you can do them anywhere, too. Various types of bench presses or chest presses also work many of the same muscles, but there are plenty of ways to continue challenging yourself with pushups (see options below).

Beginner Advanced

Plank
As a runner, you are only as strong as your core is—your abs, obliques, lower back and hips. These muscles, which wrap around your torso like a corset, help you balance and support every step you take. Strong abdominals and lower back muscles also help you run with better posture, which aids in breathing. The plank is one of the best ways you can train every muscle in your core. Here are a few variations to try.

Beginner Advanced

Now you know the key muscles and movements that runners should include in their strength training programs. When you’re short on time, try just one exercise from each of the categories above, or include a few from each section into your current strength-training workouts. To take the guesswork out of your workouts, try one of the full-body strength training plans listed below.

Strength Training Workouts for Runners
Here are three workouts I created exclusively with runners in mind. These should offer plenty of variety while also helping you strengthen the muscles that are most important for runners. Try two sets of 12-15 repetitions for each exercise, and follow your workout of choice twice a week for best results. If you’re new to strength training, start with the beginner’s program and master the moves without added weights first, and gradually go up from there. And don’t forget the warm up, cool down, and stretches!

Beginner Strength Training Workout for Runners
Intermediate Workout for Runners
Gym Workout for Runners

Strong muscles and joints are less prone to strains, pulls, and other damage, so consider strength training a part of your injury-prevention plan as much as a performance-enhancing one!

This article has been reviewed and approved by SparkPeople Coach Jen Mueller, Certified Personal Trainer.

Original Post on SparkPeople.com