Category Archives: Healthy Habits

Just tell me what to eat. (No! Ok, maybe.)

alicememe

That’s what some clients and friends implore me to do. They ask me to tell them exactly what to eat in order to kick ass at getting lean, building muscle, or just becoming healthier for taking life by the horns. 

My preachiness was cringeworthy in retrospect. I’d put on my Mike Brady voice and lecture them about why I didn’t write meal plans. If you’re too young to remember Mr. Brady, then I’ll pinch your cheeks, youngster, and school you. 

No Cindy, let me break it down fo you.

No Cindy, let me break it down fo’ you.

Mr. Brady, the patriarch of the Brady Bunch, patiently doled out life lessons to his brood before telling them to skidaddle. He always had a neat and tidy answer at the ready. 

Just like Mike, I tsk-tsked. There are better alternatives to handing out a meal plan. 

That’s because very strict meal plans – you know, the ones that tell you exactly what to eat for every meal, don’t work for the long term. 

  • Meal plans don’t teach us why choosing certain foods help us meet our goals successfully. 
  • They tend to fall apart the first time that something unexpected happens. We have an event. Or we run out of an ingredient but it’s 6 p.m. and we’re hangry.
  • Nobody is going to use a meal plan forever; so why not start by building skills that will teach you how to eat well for life?

Let me teach you, I say. I don’t think I sound like Mr. Brady, but who knows? Alice was an empathetic listener. I needed to channel her instead. 

cindybrady

Wut?

Yeah some people look at me like Cindy.  When I see that look or sense that feeling in someone’s words, I know we need a new starting place. 

That’s because I’ll always show you the ropes. But learning to climb dem ropes will take a whole lot of new skills.

  • Learning the nutrition basics – macronutrients, micronutrients, etc. 
  • Counting calories. Not forever, but until you learn what’s in your food.
  • Learning to manage your emotional relationship with food.
  • Managing hunger.
  • Learning what kinds of foods best meet your goals.
  • Menu planning.
  • Changing what kinds of foods you choose at the grocery store.
  • Figuring out new ways to cook.
  • Understanding what a healthy meal looks like.
  • Incorporating treats so you don’t binge.


Damn, Cindy, I get it.

That’s a lot. And I’m not even done telling you what you’ll learn along the way to building the skills that will keep your body and mind happier and healthier. 

So is there a middle ground we can find?
Some people can hop right in and get going with doing all the things at once. If this isn’t your first rodeo in the nutrition game, most likely you just need to do some fine tuning.

But it’s a lot different if all of those things I rattled off are brand new. I get you. 

What vegans showed me about taking on new things.

photo credit: someecards

photo credit: someecards

I remember how exasperating it was to learn how to cook and eat like a vegan last summer. You see, I wanted to better understand clients who might not be on #teamchicken like I am. I came away with two giant realizations.

1. Vegan cooks share some surprisingly tasty recipes. It was good to shake things up and get new ideas. #teamlentiltoo

2. I now get why jumping into the deep end of lifestyle change can be so overwhelming. 

Yes, I can better empathize with trying to make sweeping changes in one swoop. I needed training wheels. 

If the thought of having to figure out everything at once makes you break out into a sweat, chill out. Instead, choose one thing that you think is both totally doable and will make a meaningful difference to how you feel. 

Eat mostly junk? Stop bringing it into the house. And throw some apples into your shopping cart. 

Working out sporadically? Make a schedule you know you can keep. 

Too busy to cook? Choose some stupidly simple meals that are more like “throwing together things on a plate” than actually cooking.

But what if you still want me to just tell you what to eat?
Here’s one way I help clients who need more guidance. You can do it too:

1. First you need to understand what a daily meal should look like most of the time. My recommendations vary based on your goals, but nearly everyone should have a plate that has mostly non-starchy veggies, a portion of protein, and a small amount of fat. Meals surrounding workouts benefit from having some starchy carb too. 

2. Start making lists of lean proteins, vegetables, fruits, starches, and fats that you actually enjoy eating. Begin with the basics: zucchini, broccoli, spinach for vegetables; chicken, pork, dairy for lean protein examples. Here’s a cheat sheet. 

bestcheatsheet

3. Refine your list. What specific recipes or meals do you have that would fill in the blanks for those categories? Instead of “dairy”, write down “Greek yogurt” or “string cheese”. 

4. You’re almost there. Before you create your own plan, keep a few points in mind: 

1. Are your meals really simple to prepare? They should be at first. You have time down the road to go full Martha Stewart.

2. Are your meals varied enough that you’re getting a fairly wide source of nutrients? I.E., your protein source shouldn’t be always the exact same thing.

That’s because your body needs to get different kinds of vitamins and minerals from that variety of foods. Also if you keep eating chicken for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you may turn into one. And you’ll be bored to death too. 

But what shapes up is a meal plan. One that puts your own needs into play and also begins to build your skills to a new and healthier lifestyle. 

Mike Brady yourself while you work off a menu.

Try tracking your calories and pay attention to what kinds of nutrients are in your meals.
Pay attention to how hungry you were before, during, and after meals.
Slow down as you eat. Do you want the whole plate of food? If not, set it aside.

I ask my online coaching clients to track  their calories at first. Not so it becomes a ball and chain. But because it shows you how your days shake out. You’ll often be surprised at what foods are calorie dense and which fill your belly for next to nothing. 

While I don’t write up detailed meal plans and demand that people follow them, I’m happy to show them some of my own logs. Here’s one to teach you with. I’m not using my Mike Brady voice at all, by the way: 

sample-day

You can see how I had plenty of protein at every meal. You’ll notice that I ate mostly whole foods, with a bit of chocolate included for life happiness. If you look at my lunch, you will see that I too am a bro who loves Chipotle. But ordering two times the chicken and skipping the rice goes a long way toward meeting my daily protein goal. I don’t usually get 150g of protein, but this day was great. 

Not every day will perfect. But you’ll see trends, as I did when I noticed I was insanely hungry at 11 a.m. if I ate too few calories at my morning meal. Or how cookie lunch made me feel blah by 3 pm. (It was glorious at the time, however.)

Looking back at the day’s log can be illuminating. Building awareness of how our bodies respond to how we fill them with food goes a long way toward a whole new healthy lifestyle and achieving your fitness goals. 

And when that happens, you’ll be ready. Ready for whatever unexpected situations come at you, like a football to Marcia Brady’s nose, the next office party, or just eating in a way that makes you feel good, function well, and enjoy your meals for life. 

Oh, my nose!

Oh, my nose!

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Staying healthy with hotel living – how to stay on track.

hotelroomEver feel like you’re in that weird place that isn’t quite vacation but still manages to launch you completely out of your comfortable routine?

I think we’ve all been there at least once. Having babies, starting new jobs, moving to new cities, getting married, getting divorced.

It doesn’t really matter what it is: it’s not easy to figure out a new normal. But possibly the most frustrating situation for those who want to keep up healthy habits is being away from our cozy, predictable nests. 

home

It might be because we’re on an extended business trip, or we’re moving, like my friend Lexy is doing right now.

She’s a badass working mom who is getting ready to move into a new house. That’s all good stuff except while they’re waiting for their new home to be ready they have to camp out in one of those long-term business hotels. The ones with only a microwave, a mini range, and a fridge.

Her kids love the pool but other than that, it’s a heck of a stressful situation. Have you ever found yourself in a similar place – one where all of your normal routines felt like they’d been blown to bits?

I had an online coaching client whose kitchen burned to ashes. She had to deal with a major kitchen fire and had to figure out how to feed herself and her family for several weeks. Yeesh. 

Life is messy, isn’t it? Lexy asked me if I had ideas for how to make healthier choices while living in her situation. The good news is that there are things that she can do to feel like she’s taking care of her health; things that work for anyone who might be traveling a lot, going through a new job transition with little time to cook, or just having big stuff going on in their lives.

Remember this above all else…
If you’re nodding your head right now, you need to know one big thing. Here it is:

You don’t need to do everything just like you were when you were in your normal routine.

That’s a nearly impossible task, and it sets you up to feel defeated. It’s okay to loosen up your expectations for a time.

steinbeck

Perfect is the enemy of good; it’s so common for people to say “screw it” and just completely abandon eating well and working out because they aren’t able to do what they think they should. So first and foremost, give yourself permission to let go of what your perfect “healthy” routine looks like at home. 

Phew. Feels good, yeah?

Next. Let’s brainstorm some solutions.

Eating Well 
Lexy felt frustrated because of how often they were eating out. I asked Lexy what she thought was going well and she had already come up with some magnificent strategies:

  • Fresh fruits and veggies to keep in the fridge.
  • Family picnics in the park
  • Getting lean protein via deli meats
  • Choosing portable and easy to store fruits and veggies like carrots, celery, grapes, bananas and clementines
  • Chilling out about using some Lunchables for school lunches but choosing the kind with no extra cookies/candy
  • Pre-diced chicken
  • Microwavable veggie/pasta combos
Hell yeah, Barbie Dream Kitchen. The antiquated, politically inappropriate favorite toy of my childhood.

Hell yeah, Barbie Dream Kitchen. The antiquated, politically incorrect yet favorite toy of my childhood.

Lexy mentioned that making salads frustrated her in such a small space, and I don’t blame her. There’s usually an odd assortment of utensils, fewer available bowls, and in short, makes for the opposite of my Barbie dream kitchen. 

Simplicity is your new best friend.
My biggest bit of advice for eating while out of your routine is to do whatever is simple and still healthy. Pick the things that help you meet your goals yet don’t stress you out too much to prepare. And for the love of all that is holy, stay the hell off Pinterest. You’ll just torture yourself. 

Your #1 goal is to make your life as simple as possible. The fancy stuff can wait. 

peepszap

Embrace new ways of cooking:
You might not be able to grill a steak, but you can do a surprisingly large number of things in a microwave besides nuke those bags of vegetables:

1.Boil water(duh)
2. Scramble and even poach eggs
3. Zap a protein mug cake (they’re not great but passable)
4. Cook whole grains like oats, quinoa, farro
5. Steam fish like salmon 
6. Blow up Peeps. (This is a requirement at least once in your life. Clean it up though.)

chicken

Other ideas for “no-cook” meals:

  • Buy rotisserie chicken and a pre-packaged salad kit. Instead of having to chop veggies, you’ll just throw it all together.
  • Tuna + those little guacamole packets = magic. Actually anything + those little guac packets are wonderful. 
  • Use that microwave – but in steps. Nuke some sweet potatoes. Heat up a can of black beans and/or diced protein. Add salsa. Fill your belly. This works with regular old potatoes too and whatever microwaveable veggies you have. Add whatever fixings are easy to use – a little cheese is great.
  • Take advantage of pre-chopped veggies in the supermarket. It stinks to have to chop up things in a tiny space, and if this makes you more likely to actually eat some more vegetables and skip eating fast food, do it.
  • Keep portable and no-prep munchies around. Aside from fruits and veggies, I’ve found it pretty easy to nab Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, string cheese and jerky for quick snacks.
  • Oats are easy. For breakfast, oatmeal is easily microwaveable and even comes in disposable containers now if you’re traveling and have no bowls.
  • If your hotel offers a free breakfast, bulk up! Grab a piece of fruit for later. Choose yogurt, hardboiled eggs, and oatmeal over choices like pastries and cereal. 
  • Allow yourself some “pretty good” choices. These might not be your favorite go-to solutions. I don’t love daily protein bars and bottled protein shakes, but this might be a perfect time to keep some available.

Flipping your mindset.
I think the big thing here is to maintain a sense of order. Make a plan ahead of time, just as if you were cooking at home. Is Monday cold cuts night and perhaps Tuesday rotisserie chicken night? Write it down or save it in a file. 

Take more choices out of your life and it becomes easier to choose wisely.

Lexy also shared that she didn’t much she found foods creeping into their hotel room that she never had around at home. Again, loosening our expectations a bit is probably wise for our mental health, and yet it’s easy to see a transition time as vacation.

But if that vacation is 4-8 weeks long, we might begin feeling not so great about what we’re putting into our bodies on a regular basis. Lexy was wise to attempt to curb the creep here.

It’s not vacation. It’s your life – your real life, just in a slightly different spot than where you’re normally at. Vacation mentality won’t necessarily make you feel less out of sorts; it might erode your peace of mind as well as those routines that keep your body and mind humming.

Photo Credit: Minitime

Photo Credit: Minitime

Working out when life is nuts.
Again, doing fitness if you’ve just moved to a new place or are going through a crazy period can feel rough. Don’t have a gym? No biggie. If you’re talking about 3-4 weeks of upheaval, take a deep breath. You won’t lose all your progress.

But I encourage you to do SOMETHING. Every small, positive action reinforces more positive actions that help you care for yourself. Exercise is a huge stress reliever, and if you’re in the weeds, taking 20 minutes to do a very basic workout will go far in helping you feel good. If your hotel has a gym, that’s fantastic, but there are plenty of body weight routines that you could do just about anywhere. Investing in a suspension trainer like a TRX is another wise idea if you’re a frequent traveler.

But really, don’t sweat the details too much. Go for a walk. Just move your body, because it will make you feel like you’re on track. And that thought will piggyback into you doing more things to put yourself on track. 

Here’s a “do anywhere” quick set that will keep you strong and centered: 

Motel Muscle
Instructions: Complete 5 rounds of the following moves, resting when you need to, preferably at the bottom of a set. 

Circuit:
1.5 Bulgarian split squat – 8 reps/leg (all the way down, half way up, down, then all the way back up for one rep.)
Pushups – 8 (add a pause at the bottom if they’re easy for you)
Lateral lunge – 8/side
Russian twists – 8/side

Living in limbo is a weird place. Whether it’s for a week-long business trip or a month-long stop on the way to somewhere else you’d rather be, it’s maybe not what you expected, but you can absolutely still do things that not only help you be healthier but make you feel a little more at home. 

Do you have strategies that have worked well for your own crazy weeks (or months!)? Leave a comment below and share! 

5 Things That Prevent You From Being a Consistent Exerciser – And How to Fix Them

chickstrength

Have you ever heard the phrase “consistency is key”?

It’s true. Especially when it comes to improving your body composition, your performance, and your health. It may seem like no big deal to blow off your workouts, but over time, those who reliably put in the time do far better than those who are, well, all over the place. I’d even go so far as to say that WHAT you do matters less than how well you stick to it. Let’s take two workout programs: one really excellent, and one mediocre;  the mediocre one done on a regular basis will likely bring better benefits than the perfect plan that only gets done sometimes.

OK – so you know that it’s important, but you still keep struggling to get ‘er done? I feel you. The hardest part when you’re doing something new is sticking with it long enough to see some benefits that would actually make you feel excited to keep going. It’s those early hurdles that are the biggest. I tripped over them about a million times, by the way. But just like I did, you’ll get over them too.

What I first want you to do is read through these scenarios: you may see your own situation in one or more of them:

  1. Accept that you must practice. You’ll also have to reshuffle and rebuild the life you now lead. Knowing this with your eyes open helps. Makes sense, right? You’ve been going about your life. Now you’re asking yourself to squeeze in a new thing. You’re not accustomed to having to accommodate things like meal prep, calorie logging, or weight lifting sessions several times a week. So first of all, be kind to yourself. But then start building that ritual.

The fix: take a cue from Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit. Let’s take building the workout ritual as an example. You can tie the things you need to do to things you already do.

10

  • Every morning after you drink your coffee, you put on your gym shoes. That’s one step toward getting out the door.
  • Every evening after you brush your teeth you set out your workout clothes and put together your gym bag. This takes away barriers that may make it feel harder to get to your gym session.
  • You can also try making an appointment for it that holds as much weight as any other commitment. If someone wants to meet, it had better be *really* important to bump the gym meeting you set for yourself.
  • Other tricks include tracking your gym workouts in a log or an app – it feels great to see your progress right in front of you, which in turn helps you keep going.

2. Stop hitting the reset button. We often say “I’ll start next week.” Or Monday. Or even tomorrow. Instead, do something sooner. Maybe it’s improving your next meal. Missed your gym workout? We all have 2 minutes to do a set of pushups at home. When you do something positive for yourself, you reinforce the fact that it’s what we do repeatedly, over time, that makes the biggest impact.

photo credit: Sujan Patel

photo credit: Sujan Patel

The fix: ditch the guilt. Instead, learn from this – ask yourself what got in your way, and what might make that not happen next time. But today is not a loss. Action begets more action.

3. Don’t let perfect become the enemy of good. When we set very high standards for ourselves, excellence can happen. But there’s a difference between striving to be our best and crashing and burning because we fall short of unrealistic expectations.

If you’re skipping workouts because you don’t have time to get in a full session, it wipes out your movement for the day. If you’re setting goals that overwhelm instead of inspire, you may be shortchanging yourself of the opportunity to improve your body, your mind, and your health.

You can train to be awesome without nearly ending yourself.

You can train to be awesome without nearly ending yourself.

The fix: Sometimes when you ease a little pressure off of yourself it can feel way more fun to do those things that will bring you success. When you enjoy what you’re doing, you’ll be more consistent. And when you become consistent… well, we talked about how awesome that’ll make you. Scale back with some challenging yet realistic goals that enable you to take pleasure in achievement yet don’t set you up for near certain failure.

4. Ask yourself if you feel confident about what you’re doing. In a study of employee motivation, researchers Nohria, Grohnsberg, and Lee found that people are driven by four central needs. 1 One of them is the desire to comprehend. I’ve found that my clients who skip gym sessions regularly are often not too busy to get them done: instead, they either lack confidence or enthusiasm. Often, the enthusiasm comes once they feel like they know what they’re doing.

Log enough time with your new skills and you too will walk like swagger cat.

Log enough time with your new skills and you too will walk like Swagger Cat.

The fix: scale back to tackle what you can absorb right now. Master one workout. Or one new skill, like meal planning, finding new protein sources, or even getting in regular walks or eating an extra veggie per day. Those small successes give you a boost of success and make you physically and mentally feel the benefit of doing good things for your body.

5. Enlist support. At the Strong Fit Pro Summit in Toronto recently, Mark Fisher of Mark Fisher Fitness said “change happens within the context of community”.

Another basic drive we have is one of bonding with others. We want to connect; to be able to get ideas, support, affirmation, and a feeling like people get what we’re trying to do. Besides the bonding of a fitness community, you’ll find accountability. Knowing that people will wonder where you’ve been may make you more likely to get to your regular class or meeting.

Most importantly, when we go to a gym or participate in a program where we feel like we’re part of something bigger than ourselves, we take pride in that. We cherish it. And it helps form our new identity that includes our new actions.

my gym family <3

my gym family <3

The fix: find your people. They may be at a physical gym that embraces newcomers. You may find them in a running club or on a powerlifting team. Or you might even find them in a Facebook group filled with people who are into what you hope to get into more. For me, I find my support, caring, and accountability from my team gym as well as from my coach. My communities have made a gigantic improvement in my commitment to my workouts.

Some might say “you just have to suck it up stop making excuses. But I’ve never much liked that advice. Because as you can see, usually when we make excuses there are underlying needs we have that just aren’t being met. If you’re struggling with building consistency in your fitness routines, take a moment to find your underlying reason – and then start working toward change from a more informed, positive place.

I hope these help you. My fixes are by no means the only useful ones, but they’re some of the “biggies” that I’ve found really make a difference in helping people over those hurdles. The hurdles, which, by the way, you’ll be sailing over in time if you give yourself the opportunity to learn.

Want to get the skills to pay the bills (and make this year your fittest ever?) Sign up below for my newletter to get workouts, recipes, and insider fitness info to help you rock your fit goals. 

 

Notes:

  1. Nohria, Nitin, Boris Groysberg, and Linda-Eling Lee. “Employee motivation.”Harvard Business Review 86.7/8 (2008): 78-84.

Cheat days, sucky diets, and how to end the struggle between fun and fat loss.

buddybinges

A client recently asked me about cheat days. Is a scheduled day of eating whatever we want, with abandon, a helpful thing or a bad thing? So I shook those ideas around in my head awhile. My initial thought was no no no, don’t do a cheat day. And I rattled off a list to myself of reasons:

Because saying that you’re cheating makes you feel like you screwed up, even if you gave yourself permission to eat things that don’t support your nutrition goals if eaten too often or in large quantities. 

Because cheat days or even cheat meals often lead to overindulgence, tummy aches, bad feelings, and may yank us right out of the calorie range we were intending to manage our weight.

Because cheat days can reinforce a restricting and binging cycle that derails progress and feels miserable.

Because when you really think about it, are there really “good” and “bad” foods? Perhaps there are less emotionally-loaded terms to describe more and less nutritious food. 

Because looking at our nutrition management as something we turn on or off might rob us of an opportunity to develop a happier relationship with the food that we eat. 

When we unpack these observations, we reveal complicated ideas about the psychology of eating behaviors. They show us how easy it is to feel conflicted and burdened by managing how we eat on a daily basis. In short, we ascribe way too much moral value to how we eat. And that screws with us.

Our awareness of them matters. But I think what most people really want to know is far simpler:

How do I achieve my aesthetic/performance/health goals while still getting to eat the things that might make nailing those goals more challenging?

In other words…

Is there a way to have fun and still be a lean, healthy, and sexy motherfucker?

whynotboth

It’s the conflict: the wanting of two things that sometimes appear incongruent.

But maybe they’re not exactly incompatible: we just have to learn to mesh them in ways that help us get where we want to be with both our health goals as well as our fun goals.

A few issues typically arise when we’re dieting:

  1. I’m so honnnngry.
  2. All the stuff I crave is the stuff that I feel like I can’t have.
  3. I’m tired of thinking about this and want to relax ffs.
  4. I don’t know how to eat just one cookie. I feel out of control unless I’m 100% “on”.

Let’s work on each of these:

I want to eat all the things. My diet sucks.
Hunger is such a drag. Yet if we’re operating in a calorie deficit to lose weight, some hunger is normal. That doesn’t make it any less irksome.

Hunger isn’t always a terrible thing: we won’t immediately implode if we feel that gnawing sensation. But if we constantly have to fight it, we’re more likely to give up on dieting as well as find ourselves overindulging when we just can’t even anymore. If you’re always hungry, make sure you’re doing a few big things:

  1. Get more protein, yo: packing more protein into meals and snacks curbs hunger. Fat is said to do the same thing, but personally I’ve found that higher protein meals coupled with fiber-rich carbs do the job smashingly well.
  2. Choosing whole foods most of the time. Yeah, processed meals are convenient. And remember, no foods are “bad”. But if they make it harder to stay full, choosing fewer highly refined, “fluffy” foods and more filling fruits, veggies, and lean proteins will make you less hangry.
  3. Stashing a few secret weapon snacks in your arsenal for days when you feel extra hungry. Sometimes we’re hungry because we’re bored, stressed, tired, or just need extra fuel. That doesn’t change the fact that we wanna eat. Try waiting for just a bit before you decide to eat: sometimes the feeling passes. Still need food in your belly but you know you’ve already had quite a bit of food for the day? Don’t starve yourself. Instead, start with some “low impact” foods: a few of my favorites are flavored seltzer water, egg white crepes, air-popped popcorn, fresh berries, and pickles. They also seem to satisfy cravings – fizzy, savory, sweet, or salty.

I have to get all these whole foods like veggies and lean protein into my days which leaves, like, no room for margaritas and tacos. My diet sucks.
First of all, how lean are you already? Going from healthy to shredded requires some additional skills and mindset that we’ll get to. But for most people who start out overweight, it’s easier than you’d think to make room for some “fun” stuff. And I’ll get to teaching you how in a second. But first ask yourself this:

Think about what you can add to your plates instead of what you have to take away. 

When we begin to try new foods that are both fat loss friendly and actually taste good to us, it’s easier to become excited about developing healthier habits. Instead of struggling to avoid things we want, if we get lots of foods that we like yet still do a bang up job of meeting our health needs, it’s mentally easier at first. Then we want more of them, because we notice that we feel better. Soon, we find that we’re jonesing for junk food less often. This takes time. But it will happen.

On the days when I still want some of those big treats that don’t easily fit into my plan, I use a few key tactics you can snag for yourself:

  1. if you know you are going to have that margarita and taco, load up on mostly filling veggies and lean protein earlier in the day, eating enough to not hurl yourself into that meal already feeling ravenous. Vacations, special dinners, and other outings give you the opportunity to both relax and practice alternative strategies for having fun while still eating in a way that serve your long-term goals.
  2. If you really need a “mental health” day with less monitoring of your intake, you can eat a bit less on the days surrounding the event. I see it as creating balance instead of going “off program”. I’ve never had a free for all because I never felt like I needed one. No food was off limits. I didn’t feel guilty for eating cake or pizza. Sure, I might have mused that I would enjoy some more of it, but I didn’t spiral out of control because going off plan from time to time was always part of the plan.

We begin to have fun and eat in a way that helps us rock our goals. And over time, we develop habits that are neither completely focused on nutrition nor lead us to eat like a frat boy on a bender. We hang out in a mentally healthier middle ground.

Lean A.F.
When you get to a place where you’re already at a healthy body weight yet want to diet your way down to “super lean” you have a lot less wiggle room for “yolo” meals and days, depending on what timeline you have set for your goals. Figure competitors, bodybuilders, or just people who have dreams of a particular bod for themselves may encounter this issue. That’s fine. But at this point, I think it’s helpful to ask yourself if it’s worth it.

What’s your “happy” weight? Is it sustainable? Is it worth it to you to keep yourself on a tight leash in order to get dem abz?

There’s really no right answer. However, during the period in which I started leaning out hard just to see if I could do it, my mindset played a pivotal role in the choices I made. Still, there is room for moderation. I recall Sohee Lee’s piece on her own figure competition prep, when she ate a Snicker’s bar every day to prove a point: there’s no reason to completely deny yourself foods that you enjoy. You’ll end up sticking with your plans a hell of a lot longer and be less likely to binge yourself into oblivion.

I feel like gatherings are no longer about gatherings and instead I have to go in with a damn rulebook in order to just hang at dinner. And then I eat something less than spectacular while my buddies are pounding wings and chugging beers like they have not a care in the world about it. My diet sucks.
This is the reason that days of not tracking are a good thing. Coming to a place where we don’t view ourselves as being “on” or “off” is pretty damn important. We can begin to relax and yet still pay attention to how full we feel. We can eat nachos and stop when we’ve had enough. And we can eat things that nourish our bodies most of the time: we will know that on those days when we want to kick back and not think so hard, we’ll have put money in the bank towards long term weight management.

My colleagues and I gathered at The Fitness Summit last weekend. We all drank a lot more than we normally do. We ate a lot of bbq and cookies. But we all knew that on Monday morning we’d be back to the usual. And these occasions, for most of us, are not a frequent thing. As a result, they don’t matter even a little in the grand scheme of our body composition.

I do so well all week long and then I lose control.
You’re not alone. Be kind to yourself. Learning to balance food as pleasure and purpose is a skill that we have to practice.

Most often I see this occur with people who restrict themselves most severely. The people who come in with pre-conceived ideas about foods they should and shouldn’t eat seem more likely to go off the rails because they work so hard at being perfect all week long.

Maybe Sohee’s daily Snickers trial would be good for many of us – what would we experience if we took the edge off of cravings or if we took the label of “ilicit” off of a food? If we know that we can most likely fit some of it into our lives whenever we want, would we be less likely to go overboard?

For some, there will always be foods that seem to be really hard to moderate. Sometimes it’s okay to put controls on how often and how much of them you put on your path. That’s okay too. I’m looking at you, homemade coconut brown butter cookies.

So to summarize: cheating on a diet? Nah. If we see our nutrition as part of our overall lives and take away some of the power of food to dictate our worth, we don’t need to cheat. We just live our lives, with both health and pleasure as part of the big picture. Our ideal health has room for all the reasons that we sit down to a meal.

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10 Surprising Secrets I Learned from a “Naturally Thin” Friend

question mark fruit

I wished for years that I could be “naturally thin” like Sarah, until I changed my mind about what that means. You’ll soon see why.

I met the woman who would become one of the dearest friends I’ve ever had in a painfully loud play area at a local mall. Despite the din of our young children shrieking, Sarah had a warmth and nurturing calm about her. We soon bonded over our babies, knitting projects, a mutual warped sense of humor, and most of all, a love of cooking and eating phenomenal food.

Over the years, Sarah and I have spent hours upon hours together – whether lifting weights in the gym or knitting at a coffee shop, we compare notes about favorite recipes, the new best restaurant in town, or the steamy appeal of chef Eric Ripert.

French silver fox, am I right?

French silver fox, am I right?

But in the early days, when Sarah would wax poetically about a loaf of brioche, I would look at her standing there. She’s a tall, lean blonde with legs that go on for days. And I’d wonder: how the hell could she eat all this stuff and stay slim? I knew that she’d never been on a diet. Meanwhile, I was pregnant with my third kid and was reaching an all time high point in my own weight. After my son was born I was over 100 pounds heavier than I am today.

I started paying attention to my health and actively began a slow but sustainable fat loss process that would span several years. And most critically, I began noticing things that Sarah did that were different from how I managed my own life. I’d attributed her lean build to good genes and great luck. But mostly I was off base. We can control so much more about our body composition than we believe.

Genetics certainly must play at least a bit of a role in weight management. We all know people who seem to be able to stay slim effortlessly. But do they?

I’m not a scientist, so I can’t say for sure. I think there’s probably some truth to the idea that it’s harder for some people to stay lean than others, just like it’s difficult for some people to gain weight. However, I think we attribute too much to passive genetics and not enough to what we can do to actively manage our weight.

The more I saw what Sarah did on a daily basis, the more I was able to link her successful weight management to habits instead of her family history. Here are the biggest “light bulb” moments I discovered through spending time with Sarah – and changes that I would make over time that ended up being the same things I do now to successfully manage my weight as well as help my clients with their own fat loss programs. Take a look at these tips:

1. Learn how to handle food-focused gatherings.
Sarah hosted a large potluck dinner one night for our mom’s group. What I remember most strikingly, because I was just starting to diet, was that I felt like I was missing out. I saw loads of decadent food around me that, at the time, I felt was forbidden. Most people around me were loading up their plates. Many went for seconds.

But then I peeked at Sarah’s plate. She had very small portions of several things, including the items I’d labeled “naughty” in my head. Hmm. Could she be on to something? She never went back for seconds. But she got to taste everything she wanted.

She also sometimes left a little bit on her plate, stopping when she was full. Even with dessert. Imagine that!

2. Make a meal plan. 
My friends and I share our meal plans in a private Facebook group. We post our week’s worth of dinners along with links to recipes when available. It gives us ideas for future meals, accountability for staying organized, as well as a place to talk about great recipes. And perhaps Eric Ripert from time to time.

Here’s an example of one of my own:
picmonkeymealplan

Sarah realized a few weeks ago that she’d posted a menu every single week for an entire year. When we have meals planned, we’re less likely to hit the drive through at the last minute or call for pizza delivery.  If we want to have pizza or leftovers, we just write it on the menu plan.

And yes, a few times we’ve penciled in “Friday: I can’t even. So make your own damn dinner, family.” But having everything laid out really relieves stress and keeps us on track for eating well.

3. Learn to love to cook.
We both love a good restaurant but dining out is a special treat, not a regular part of our routine. Cooking at home not only saves money – it allows us to control portions, ingredients, and methods of cooking. We also learn to appreciate just how delicious nutrient-rich foods can be when we learn to prepare them correctly and with creativity.

4. Eat mostly nutritious, whole foods.
I have spent enough time with Sarah to know that she always has really good chocolate in her pantry, but most of the time, she fills her plate with nutrient dense foods like plenty of lean protein, vegetables, and fruits.

5. Snack smarter. 
Sarah once shared with me that every day at about 3 p.m. she got a serious hankering for a snack. Instead of mindlessly grabbing nibbles of things, she was usually prepared with Greek yogurt to keep her satisfied until dinner, which her family often ate at around 7 or 7:30 at night.

6. Be realistic. 
Sarah is an amazing cook. But she also has three kids to haul around to soccer practice, choir rehearsals, and piano lessons. Her menu plans purposefully include very minimalist meals like a sandwich for dinner on busy evenings. Toss those at the kids, load everyone up into the car, and go.

7. Ditch the moral value that you attach to food. 
One of the funniest and truest things that Sarah ever told me was “we have multiple pleasure holes. Our mouth is one of those holes, and it’s okay to want to fill it with pleasurable food.”

She’s right! Food isn’t just fuel. It connects us to one another at the dinner table and across cultures. It gives us pleasure. If she enjoys a decadent dessert, she smiles at her good fortune and goes back to normal life the next day. There’s no guilt when you don’t label a food as “bad”. There’s no shame spiral of saying “I ate this terrible thing and I’m bad and screwed up so screw it.”  It becomes a lot less stressful to strip away that kind of power from food. Eat it less frequently and in smaller quantities if it’s really high in calories and not all that nutritious.
 
8. Work out with consistency. 
There’s no way that exercise will make up for poor eating habits. However, the more we move and the more muscle we have, the better our metabolism hums along and we burn some extra calories each day. We also have better energy to do all that stuff like meal plan, cook, and feel in control of our days. In short, regular exercise isn’t just about the calorie burn. It is a critical component in helping us have a positive mental outlook toward our bodies, our health, and our overall lives.

Sarah has awakened nearly every day each week at 5 a.m. to exercise: for years. She doesn’t work out like a lunatic. She doesn’t care even a little bit about “beast mode” or winning a race. She just wants to move. Sarah lifts weights because she wants to be strong for life. She cycles because it feels good. Sometimes we even bike to restaurants.
 
9. Know when you need to make a change – then be a problem solver.
Sarah notices when she’s gained a few pounds. She observed the other day that she’d been hitting the jelly beans a little too hard and said she didn’t even find them very satisfying to eat. So she stopped buying them as frequently. She evaluated a potential problem and solved it.

10. Develop an Active Mindset
Within our group of friends, Sarah has earned the nicknames “Mama” and “Macguyver”. She’s the one we turn to when we have a household emergency and need to know how to fix something ourselves. She can repair a toilet, tell us when we need to actually go to the doctor, and brings us soup when we’re sick. She is always the one who will have band-aids (and maybe a wrench) in her handbag. We’ve already designated her property as our compound in the event of a zombie apocalypse, because when the shit hits the fan, Sarah offers us the best chance of making it.

Sarah has had really tough stuff of her own to wade through. Everyone does. But she always makes it through with grace and a mindset that allows her to take control of situations and make the best of them. This same frame of mind is crucial in tackling any challenge, whether it’s with our careers, our families, or our fitness.

I’m so grateful to have Sarah as my resourceful, generous, big-hearted friend. When I shared a draft of this article she replied “I don’t know about this, I feel like I have life 0% figured out”. If that’s true, then we’re all screwed. She is humble but one of a kind.  And if you’re lucky to know someone like her, follow closely and take some notes. I guarantee you’ll learn something.

So all in all, does it really matter if someone is “naturally thin”? Nah. We can only control our actions – but look at how many there are that can impact our health. That’s great news in my book.

 

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10 Ways to Find Time for Fitness

timeFinding it hard to squeeze in time for working out? You’re not alone. Lack of time is the biggest barrier to working out that I hear. Everyone is busy. But I have a few solutions for you if you’re game for reading on for just a couple of minutes: a few are tricks. A few are “hacks”. And a few require a bit of a shift in thinking.

Sometimes we legitimately don’t have the time for getting in our workouts. But often, the underlying reasons are more about issues like motivation, excitement, and confidence. What are your real barriers? Start cracking them and you may find that more time appears. Here are a few tips that help you break through your own fitness obstacles.

hitsnooze1. Find the time of day that fits you best. If you commit to early morning sessions and find that you constantly skip your workout, it may be worth considering a new time of day for your sweat session. When I tried to join the “5 a.m. crew” I ended up being less consistent with my workouts. I eventually realized that I do better later in the day, but also have the option to choose a later time.

The early bird really does catch the worm: if you’re a person who thrives on early morning exercise, chances are that you’re less likely to skip workouts. That’s because you get your workout in before anything else unexpected can happen in the day to throw you off schedule. However, if you’re just not a morning person, trying to force this will sometimes backfire.

Tip for trying an early workout: if you’re unsure if the early bird workout is for you, give it 2 weeks to commit to forcing yourself out of bed every day. Getting to bed early the night before helps too. Many clients who now love an early session report that it takes a few weeks of resetting their internal clocks in order to feel ready to spring out of bed to hit the gym.
appointments2. Make it an appointment. Then keep it. Write your workouts on your calendar. Yes, really. Workouts are a firm part of my routine now, but if I don’t have the specific time and dates on my calendar I’m more likely to keep shoving my workout later and later until I either end up skipping it or find myself alone in the weight room at 9:30 pm. Both options are less than ideal.

3. Be flexible. There will be days when the “shit hits the fan”. You get called into work early. A snowstorm hits. You get stuck at work far later than you anticipated.

My kid barfed in my bed at 4 a.m. Monday morning. Yeah, that was awesome. I couldn’t get to the gym, so I had to work out at home. I didn’t get heavy leg work done that day, but I pushed that workout until the next morning and instead did a home-based conditioning workout.
That way, I still squeezed in exercise and felt better. If you commit to moving in some way every day, you may find yourself moving more than if you had a rigid expectations of 4 perfectly-scheduled days of sessions.

A few quick, “do anywhere” workouts are handy to have in your back pocket for days like these. 5-10 minutes can be squeezed into anyone’s day.

4. Value yourself. I have a client who discovered that she regularly missed her workouts because she didn’t see her health as being just as important as the kids, the housework, or the job. She said that it was important to her, but her actions spoke otherwise. Sometimes it takes a shift in mindset to place more importance on ourselves.

5. Be realistic about how much time you have. Ask yourself how much time you actually have before you decide what kind of workout program you do. Serious strength and fat loss progress can be made on a minimalistic routine (like those workouts in my new Strength Challenge for Women. Read on for more info on that). You can train for a 5k without a huge time commitment. But a marathon or a bodybuilding show? That may be a big undertaking.

Moreover, I’ve found that when people set an unrealistic goal for the time spent working out and then fail to meet it, they’re less likely to stick with their activity than people who start with smaller goals and are able to meet them.
6. If you have young kids, make your workout routine family friendly. For many of us, the advice that we have “plenty of time” for TV and Facebook is smug and not very helpful. Yes, we all waste time on stuff. But there are hours in the day where we may have time but are otherwise chained to the house – moms and dads of young kids in particular. The YMCA saved me here with free childcare. Home based workouts are also life savers if you’re routinely stuck at home without much gym availability.

henry handstand
7. But consider letting your kids in on your routine. On days with decent weather, my cardio is often nothing more than playing with my kids in the yard. And that’s okay.  I even made a workout around it last summer. This month, my 10 year old and I have been doing lunges, pushups, and squats every night before he goes to bed. He asked me to do this and it’s become a sort of sweet, if odd, bonding ritual.
8. Take a hard look at your current commitments. Do you say yes to things because it’s hard to say no? Being able to find “balance” is sort of a b.s. idea. Something always has to give. The perfectly clean house. The time you said you’d chair a committee yet now feel overwhelmed by its time involvement. It’s tough to say no. But by saying no to more things, you can say yes to what matters most.
9. Divvy it up – if you’re in the weeds with commitments, you might not be able to instantly disentangle yourself. But finding 2 minutes here and there to do things like dance while doing dishes, squats while holding a baby, or walking from the back of the parking lot to the grocery store adds up to you feeling the physical effects of more movement. This not only helps your health, it motivates you to find even more minutes – even if you need to split them up.

Businesswoman with suitcase in airport
10. Choose activities that fit the available lifestyle you currently lead. Do you travel all the time? If a hotel gym and a treadmill are your most commonly available tools, then spending some time designing a program that fits with these will set you up for more success than trying to constantly retool a program that doesn’t mesh well with your life demands.

There’s no way around some sacrifices having to be made, and a consistent routine requires finding your own drive for wanting to engage in activity regularly. Find things you don’t dread, make your own health a priority, be creative with scheduling, and you’ll have a leg up on making fitness a regular part of your life.

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8 Reasons Why We Eat Too Much And What To Do About Them

dogbonesIt’s lunch time on Tuesday. It’s a writing and “housekeeping” sort of day, so instead of running around, I’m snuggled up at home. It’s warm. Ella Fitzgerald is crooning softly on Spotify. And I have time: exquisite, rare time to be alone in my house and wander into the kitchen and grab a snack. Or two. Or three.

Now it’s 2:15 and I’ve eaten the lion’s share of my calories for the day, yet I’m not sure I was really even that hungry. I was just surrounded by yummy things in my home. Can you relate to eating out of boredom?

Why We Overeat
There are many reasons that we end up eating too much. The idea of “too much” is a bit loaded. Let’s say for our purposes today that we’re using the context of energy needs to either maintain our weight or lose fat. If you’re one of those people who is trying to put on weight, I salute you. Bulking sounds like a hell of a fun challenge.

Here are some common reasons why we eat too much to support our body composition goals, with troubleshooting suggestions that follow.

bing1.  Reactive Bingeing – Binge eating can be a form of eating disorder, and if you regularly binge on foods, consuming thousands of calories at a time, I strongly urge you to connect with a therapist who can provide real help. Another form of bingeing exists too, however: reactive bingeing. If we severely restrict calories for a period of time, we instinctively want to fuel ourselves. That can lead to unbridled eating that unravels the deficit we were trying so hard to create. Instead of slashing our calories down severely, a more modest deficit of 300-500 calories is healthier for our bodies and minds.

nope nope nope

nope nope nope

2. Go Home, You Are Drunk. There’s a reason that fast food joints are open late around college campuses. After a night of partying, what seems like a good idea? Tacos. And pizza, of course. Not only does alcohol come loaded with calories, we lose some of our better judgment when we get lit. This can lead to poor food choices and cringe-worthy decisions in general. Though it always leads to becoming an awesome dancer. Thanks, vodka. Imbibe responsibly.

 

boredkitteh

3. Boredom.
Emotional eating isn’t always the worst thing in the world, and we’re not failures for having the urge to nosh in response to our feelings. After all, we’re not robots. We’re thinking, feeling beings. Food is something that nourishes our bodies. But it also brings us together, soothes us when we’re aggravated and elevates occasions when we’re celebrating.

Whoever came up with the quip that food should ‘only be fuel’ must be someone who is decidedly not a foodie. The ability of our species to combine flavors and textures to create sublime-tasting dishes is something to be treasured.

The problem is, as someone who really loves to cook and eat, it’s easy to get swept away and pack on more pounds than I’d care to carry.

To help combat eating out of boredom, we can at least be mindful in our eating. What may feel like hunger may not actually be hunger. Instead, we may just have time to imagine delicious things that get our brains humming with possibilities. If you can wait a half hour to see if your hunger grows, you will have solid feedback that eating is a wise idea.

C6E4GF USA, New Jersey, Jersey City, Young woman working in office. Image shot 2011. Exact date unknown.

4. Stress. This plays into #3, but along with the solution of mindfulness being helpful, developing alternative coping skills for stress can be a game changer. If food becomes our only coping mechanism, we’re likely to overeat. Walking, playing or listening to music, knitting, and reading a book are ways that I unwind. What are things you can do to care for yourself that don’t necessitate using food?

Hehe remember this book?

Hehe remember this book?

5. Too much junk food. A little junk food spices up life. Ain’t no shame in your game for loving a few “fun foods”. But a steady diet of highly processed foods will likely not only deprive you of precious nutrients; it will also leave your belly grumbling. Whole foods like lean proteins, vegetables, and fruits will keep you full longer with fewer calories consumed.

deenuts

6. Too much ‘healthy’ food. It’s harder to over-consume calories if you’re eating plenty of whole foods. But it can still happen. The biggest culprits that I find trip up my online training clients are things that actually do have an excellent nutrient profile yet are calorically dense: nuts, avocados, and whole grains are just a few. You don’t have to stop eating them. Just be aware that small portions are probably the best way to incorporate them unless you have a big calorie budget.

buddysnack

7. Mindless nibbling. I did this a lot when my kids were young – I’d eat a bite or three off of their plates. I’d grab a handful of this or that each time I entered the kitchen. When you’re a mom of many little people, actually sitting down to a thoughtful meal during the day can be tricky. If you’re a nibbler, change the environment that’s causing this to happen:

For example, if you mindlessly snack in the kitchen, try keeping foods off of the kitchen counter. Consider putting portions of snacks into containers that you then can decide to eat. You’ll often consume less overall this way. Alternatively, consider eliminating snacking and instead choosing larger, more filling meals to decrease the urge for snack foods.

grandmafood

8. Celebrating. When we’re caught up in a wonderful moment with people we love, food becomes a way to connect with each other. There are two ways to look at this: one would be that food doesn’t have to be the centerpiece of enjoying people’s company.  Another would be to just allow yourself to enjoy the food and your loved ones. We only have one life on this planet, and constant restraint usually leads to overeating at some point later on.

My strategy on this one – fill up earlier in the day on foods that are relatively light on calories yet high on the “filling factor”: namely lean protein and veggies. That way you won’t have eaten all that many calories when you head into your party. You also won’t go in ravenous and ready to dive bomb the nachos.

The Big Picture
The really good news is that once you’ve begun to identify where your trouble spots lie, you can take steps to improve your eating habits. And remember, food isn’t the enemy. It’s something we can love – as long as we have a healthy relationship with it for the long term. 

Looking for more ways to get healthy in the new year? Sign up for my FREE Women’s Strength Challenge and get a kick start to building lean muscle in 2016. It takes just 30 minutes 3 times a week. Get on it!

 

The Curious Case of a Girl and Her Coke – A Lesson in Problem Solving

case of coke

No, I’m not talking about cocaine, although that would make for a very interesting story indeed. Drug use is out of my scope of practice. But Coca-Cola is what I’m referencing today, and I have a story to tell that might help you with your fitness progress too.

One of my clients has spent the last two years intermittently trying to stop drinking Coke. She loves the stuff. But she had a vague idea that it was probably time to make a change. After all, everyone says drinking pop is bad. And diet pop? Well, that has practically become the new meth in the eyes of popular media.

A little soda is no big deal to me – enjoy the treats that you like. But this habit had turned into a 32 ounce soda 3 times per day. Ouch. 

Her well-meaning friends offered oodles of suggestions and advice. WARNING: I call soda “pop”. I’m in the Midwest, it’s our thing.

“Pop is terrible for you. Isn’t pop, like, the new cigarettes?”
“You should drink more water”.
“You should drink seltzer water instead.”
“You shouldn’t keep it in the house.”

These statements came out of a loving place, but a funny thing happens when someone tells you that you should do something. I call it “shoulding” on people. Huh huh huh.

shoulda

When we hear from people that we should do something, we often subconsciously dig in our heels. After all, nobody else completely gets us. Think of the bad boy in high school who a girl wants to date. Her parents forbid him from seeing him. And she runs right into his arms.

In my friend’s case, she ran right back into the arms of her beloved Coke, after trying each helpful suggestion for a brief period of time.

She DID want to make a change: but she knew that going cold turkey would never work, so she inched her way down to a smaller amount each day. That’s really great progress in my eyes.

Still, when this lovely young woman began working with me, I had a hunch that the 24 ounces of Coke she drank each day was going to give her some issues with meeting her nutritional goals. But instead of telling her not to drink it, I went a different route: I said nothing. I only asked her what she could do to squeeze in more protein and still stay in her calorie range.

The first few weeks were tough. My client began to realize that her large consumption of the delicious, bubbly drink was making it nearly impossible to support her fat loss goal. But some kind of fire was burning inside of her, and she tried cutting back instead of eliminating it entirely. She lost a little fat, and that stoked those fires even more.

She started sharing her own observations:

I had the worst craving for Coke when I was really, really hungry. But I had some seltzer water, and it passed.

I realized that my 2nd coke of the day is going to make it really tough to hit my daily calories.

Maybe I’ll get an 8 ounce can and think of that as a treat instead of a daily part of my life.

And then today I received this email: 

Random musings: I drank SO much water and I didn’t even die. So there’s that. Towards the end of the night I realized I had hit my protein goals and still had the calories for a Coke.  Since I wasn’t hungry, I thought,”okay, I’ll have one.”  I only drank 1/2.  It hit the spot and I didn’t feel the need to drink the rest.  I feel so good about that. There are a lot of moving parts to overall health/wellness/fitness.  I’m feeling good about this.  I feel like it’s changing everything — the way I cook, the way I think about food, even pop.

She’s already come a long way in her ability to understand her own body, her challenges, and her priorities. She’s becoming a student of her own health. And that will take her far.

This isn’t surprising if you take into consideration something called “self determination theory”.  It’s a framework that suggests that people have innate needs that motivate them to change and grow 1

According to this theory, people need 3 things in order to change and grow:

1. Competence – gaining skills necessary to grow. These come with time and practice.

2. Connections – people need to feel a sense of belonging to other people – to feel supported and understood.

3. Autonomy – we need to feel in control of our goals and behaviors.

Extrinsic motivators, like a reward for completing a task, can be motivating too. But for the long haul, finding that motivation inside of us is priceless. It requires continued “feeding” to work, but healthy environments that allow these things to continue to flourish make a positive impact on continued personal growth.

My client had support. She gained skills. And ultimately, she came up with her own solutions. And because they’re her own, I’ll let you in on a secret: she’s going to be 100% more likely to stick with them. Because they take into consideration that last piece of the puzzle: autonomy. Her choices grew from her own wisdom, experience, and choice.

So let me ask you: are you making a choice because someone said you should? Or because you feel like you should? The “shoulds” seem to rarely be the things we actually want. So what do you want – really want?

Give yourself some props for being intelligent. Dig in there a little bit and find the thing that you really want to change for yourself and you’ll be able to come up with some spectacular solutions.

 

Notes:

  1. Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York: Plenum.

When A Picture Cannot Tell A Thousand Words

heartpicI’m not really much of a crier. The only time that I was a weepy mess was when I was pregnant. Those were the days when I sobbed because my husband couldn’t find me a slice of cheesecake on a road trip. Or during commercials. Or even while watching a sad episode of Law and Order. Maybe my soul is cold and dead now… nah. Not a crier.

Until the other day. I opened up Gmail to work with my online coaching clients. And this popped up from my client who I’ll just call “T”:

 

newcapture1taylor

 

Yeah, I was a bit of a blubbery mess, simply because seeing her write those words about herself stunned and touched me.

You see, T is a friend of mine here at home. I’ve watched her struggle over the years with not only her weight: she felt constantly overwhelmed, anxious, and stressed out. She took care of everyone else except herself. And she rarely talked about herself in a way that made me believe she valued herself.
T came to a few of my classes at different gyms. But nothing really stuck. I could tell she was interested in strength training, but gyms terrified her. She felt like she didn’t belong in any of them. It wasn’t until I hauled her down to our dirty, dank powerlifting gym that I saw the light come into her eyes. Not because of the gym, but because of what people were doing in it.

I’ll confess that I was a little excited to be the one showing a newbie the ropes down there that day. I’m one of the young scrubs on my team full of veteran powerlifters. I expected I’d have some big work to do to help T learn the basic movements.

But then she surprised me.

T squatted with the stability and grace of someone who had been at it for years. What? How? Hmm. Then I took her over to the bench press, where she picked up the basics easily… then proceeded to out-bench me by a large margin without much effort. And deadlifting…. don’t even get me started. She nailed it, of course. Not even baby weights – like an actually sizeable weight: off the damn floor with nearly flawless form.

It was right in front of us: T was born to lift. She seemed almost giggly down there. And I became giggly too, just watching her blossom.

I expect a lot of exciting progress out of T in the next few years. She found a way of moving her body that not only is good for her health: it has made her feel capable, strong inside, and allowed her to look beyond the size of her body as a measure of her worth.
T signed on for a month of coaching with me before starting her powerlifting program. I wanted her to have a jump start on building habits that would keep her from reverting to her former “yo-yo”patterns. T wanted to slowly begin making changes in her body composition as well, so along with  working on movement,  we worked on nutrition as well and monitored her fat loss progress. I was blown away when I checked her measurements:

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Sorry, I get a little sweary when I’m jumping up and down in excitement.

But when I saw T’s progress in how she felt and talked about herself, the inches seemed a lot less important.

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This lovely woman used to speak as though she was helpless against the forces of life. Now she speaks as someone who is fully in control of her destiny. When things get rough, she rolls with it. Like a BOSS. She is able to evaluate what she needs to improve and celebrates the things that she does well.

That progress is worth a hell of a lot more than a pants size to someone who has struggled with their self esteem, isn’t it?

They say a picture says a thousand words.
Yes, pictures can be great. It’s okay to want to pursue aesthetic goals. Pictures are also an easy reminder of transformation:

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This is one of my clients who asked to remain anonymous because she’s not quite ready to be “internet naked”. Here is her body comp progress after 1 month of coaching. It’s pretty cool to watch change happen in front of your eyes. The picture shows lower body fat, but it doesn’t tell you that she’s begun taking time for herself to move each day even though she has a baby at home.

Angie progress back 12 week

This is my client, Angie. Her 12 week progress picture helped her realize that sometimes the scale doesn’t show improvement in body composition. And the picture is a wonderful reminder that all her strength training paid off. But the picture doesn’t let you know that Angie was really frustrated after her first year back into teaching threw her routine out the window. The picture can’t tell you that Angie’s work on her fitness put a spring back into her step that had been missing for a while.

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This is my own progress pic. My body fat percentage lowered quite a bit and I gained some sweet muscle over 6 months. But it can’t tell you that powerlifting not only gave me bigger muscles: it made me feel unstoppable and more confident about other challenges in my life. It can’t show you that I can run faster, move with less pain, and feel more energy with better nutrients humming through my body. 

When you hear the stories that come with no progress picture, you realize that the most important transformations cannot be captured with a before and after shot.

After all, how do we capture the transformation of someone’s heart?

T has a big heart, and instead of pouring every last bit of it into everyone else, she’s learning to save a little bit for herself. Establishing the practice of strength training and developing the mindset required to work at fitness played a huge role in improving her self-image.

And that’s why I cried tears for T. 

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The Big Picture of Healthy Weight Loss

 

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So you’re trying to lose weight?

I can relate: I’m nearing an end of a fat loss phase myself.

This is not my first rodeo with weight loss. I’m 41 and have been through quite a few different approaches throughout my life. Some of them have reflected a healthy mindset. Others, not so much.

I’ve written extensively on how our body composition shouldn’t define our self worth: within the greater scope of stuff that matters in life, it’s pretty small. But still, for either health or aesthetic reasons, fat loss has its place. So let’s talk about what to reasonably expect.

Today, I’m sharing with you what I instill in my own clients: the big picture of weight loss.

The big picture perspective is what takes the most time to develop and appreciate when tackling any major life change. For fat loss, the perspective emerges once we gain knowledge of how weight loss actually works and once we can also allow ourselves to trust the process.

Most of my clients seek me out because they want to improve both their overall fitness as well as their body composition. So I get them started. Many of them track their calories initially. Some of them use habit-based strategies instead. But what they all do is send me a log of their daily scale weight.

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Why Daily Weight? 
As you’ll see in a minute, your weight on any given day changes. I want clients to lose at a moderate pace: fat loss is more sustainable and enjoyable (with some cookies) when we choose a modest deficit. So scale weight from week to week won’t change dramatically. If I look at a weight on a “heavy” day, it might not truly reflect what’s going on.

But Isn’t Scale Weight Useless?
Maybe. Maybe not. First of all, let’s distinguish two common uses of scale weight:

1. A data tool for determining overall health (as in BMI calculations).

2. A way to measure progress for fat loss.

When we speak about scale weight, tracking that number can be useful to measure as a source of progress if a person has a fairly significant amount of weight to lose. Yet once we become leaner, scale weight isn’t as useful for determining a healthy body composition: especially if you’re athletic and muscular, utilizing statistical formulas for healthy weight can be rather useless. Charts and BMI calculations don’t factor in things such as significant muscle mass. One might argue that using something like  hip to waist ratio could be a more telling indicator of obesity-related health risks.

However, let’s focus on the second use of scale weight. Using your number on the scale is a measure – but not the only or most important measure of progress for fat loss. It tells part of the story. It’s just not the whole story.

With that said, here’s what often happens a week or two into clients’ programs:

Their weight initially goes down. And then it goes up. That’s when the shit hits the fan in everyone’s heads when they’re starting a fat loss program.

I then often receive an email like this: “My weight is up! I’m going to eat 1200 calories today. (Or do extra workouts.)”

Or I hear frustration. Especially when the scale doesn’t move for an entire week. (I feel for you, by the way. It’s annoying as hell until you develop your perspective.) That’s when  understanding the factors that affect scale weight become useful.

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Things that Impact Your Scale Weight
1.Your actual body weight… i.e. fat, skin, bone, muscles. Duh, right?
2. How much water you’re holding. Things like big meals with a lot of salt or extra carbs can make you hold more water. But it’s not fat, so chill out.
3.What you did the day before – this is purely anecdotal, but after leg day, my scale weight usually spikes a bit.
4. How much poop you have in you.
5. Hormones – I can tell when Aunt Flo is about to arrive from the big bounce up on the scale. As soon as I’m a day or so into my cycle, my weight drops down lower than it was the week before my period.
6. Medications.

This is why having multiple markers of progress is so important with a body composition goal. Here are things that my clients measure that help them become them less fixated on what the scale tells them.

1. Progress pictures
2. Measurements
3. Weights lifted/running speed – performance related goals that boost our morale and make the fitness journey not just about getting leaner.
4. How our clothes fit.

Scale Weight Progress Isn’t Linear
I stayed up late last night charting my progress from mid June until now. Yeah, I lead a very exciting life of late-night reheated coffee and excel spreadsheets! I nerded out on the data though, so check this out.

I have my own coach for my strength and nutrition programming: even coaches benefit from having a coach, and it’s a huge relief to have support and fresh insight. I regularly email him my weight, and it amused me to go back through early emails and see how damn impatient I was.

Even knowing all the science behind weight loss and having a healthy mindset, I got antsy – maybe even whiny. Fortunately, my coach was able to point out the obvious on the days where I felt stuck. Perspective is grand, isn’t it?

As time went on and I accumulated more scale data, I could easily see the downward trend. But during each week, my weight would fluctuate up and down by two or three pounds on a regular basis. Here is where seeing the visual reminder helps us take a deep breath and appreciate the process.

weight chart progress Amy

Looking at Trends
Even though we may rationally know all those things, looking at our weight from day to day can be initially frustrating. Yet if we can see a visible display of our weight data, we will be able to more clearly determine if the trend is moving in the direction we want it too. You see it on that chart too, right?

The day to day shows ups and down, but the line is clearly moving downward.  That is what normal, healthy weight loss looks like.

Here is another visual of what that progress looks like over a 6 month span.

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What it required: 
1. Consistency: I had very few “yolo” days. That doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy my favorite treats or indulge in yummy dinners on special occasions. Instead of seeing the process as being either on or off the wagon, I kicked the wagon to the curb and decided that most of the time, I’d implement the same strategies I use with clients: I found ways to fit my favorite things into my life without sacking my daily nutritional goals.

2. Patience: there was no dramatic 6 week change. This is a 6 month change. I built muscle and strength, which doesn’t happen overnight. It’s crazy how fast the time went though! I also enjoyed life a lot more by not reducing calories dramatically for most of the fat loss phase.

3. Skills: I was at an advantage because I came into this last phase having an arsenal of skills and habits that encourage fat loss: tracking, knowing how to build a healthy meal, meal prep (as I share in Fat Loss on a Budget),  as well as strategies for getting through tough days. These take time to master, one by one.

4. Perspective. This: what I wrote about today. It is a critical component to keep us on track and stay sane. It allowed me to understand what the process really looks like. Perspective helped prevent shame and guilt on days that were less than perfect. That bred consistency. Funny how they all feed each other, eh?

5. Support. Having a coach made all the difference in the world. This is someone who provides a space that enables you to discover more about why you’re stuck and helps you come up with your own solutions that both get you to your destination and fit your life.  When I did that mental work, it transformed me on the inside too. And that is truly special.

If you have your own fitness journey to share, leave a comment below.

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