Tag Archives: habit

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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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.

What To Do When You Lose Your Fitness Motivation

photo credit
photo credit

I asked my friends the other day what fitness goals they wished they could tackle. I half expected to hear things like “lose the last 10 pounds”, “know what to do at the gym”, or the common yet vague desire to “eat better”. But what resonated over several conversations was the frustration with keeping their plans in place over time. “How do I stay motivated?”  “I always give up after awhile and lose interest”.

Motivation is a complicated beast, isn’t it? Feeling motivated to do something is almost always easier at the beginning. Once we make the decision to begin, we might buy a new pair of running shoes or sign up for the gym. We prepare ourselves to begin a new journey. It’s like the first day of school. We carry in our pristine, empty notebooks just waiting for us to fill them with new ideas. The promise of a better year and a better self is powerful.

spiralnotebook

Those first weeks are the golden period. We rapidly get better. Getting better at something is motivating in itself. Each week we can palpably feel a difference. The weights get lighter. The jog feels less like death. And the new rush of endorphins feels pretty damn good. We’ve got this.

That is, until the shiny newness wears off. Every year, my 8 year old begins school with a great attitude. He declares this year will be the best grade ever. He is sure that his class will be way cooler than the last year, when he was just a pathetic, second grade scrub. But after a few months the novelty wears off. He begins to drag his feet when I tell him to get his butt ready for school and tells me he’s “over it”.

Unlike elementary school, our workouts are not mandated by the government. We don’t have to just slog through every day. But we do need to expect that at some point, motivation isn’t enough to keep us going. Enthusiasm ebbs and flows, just like everything else in our lives. We need support in place. There are several sources that can help you get your mojo back. (Hint: it’s not ‘fitspo’.)

1. Ask yourself about the convenience of your routine.  Surprisingly, researchers found that motivation wasn’t the primary factor in why people work out regularly. Instead, convenience came out on top.  1

How easy is it to fit your workouts and nutrition into your life? It’s common to find that a new routine throws everything else in our lives out of whack. Starting with one small change that easily meshes with your actual life will breed more success than self talk that includes “suck it up”.

I’ve watched far too many people abandon their programs because they demanded too much out of themselves. You don’t have to workout for an hour 6 days a week to see the benefits of exercise.  If you begin with something ridiculously small, you can piggyback off of your success and add a little more. 10 minutes every day. Is that too much? 5 minutes. It’s okay. Go back to the smallest thing you are certain you can handle.

why

photo credit: BuzzFarmers, Flickr.

2. Did you find your whyLooking back to why you started your new activity or made a goal in the first place can tell you a lot about why your enthusiasm is strong or waning. People who make goals based on what they feel like they ‘should’ do have a much more difficult time sticking with things after the initial “shiny happy period” wears off.

In addition,  it’s important to distinguish why you feel unmotivated. There isn’t just one kind of slump. Are we bored? Are we anxious about our activity? Do we feel overwhelmed because we’re not sure if what we’re doing is on the right track? When I coach my clients, we dig into what’s behind the lack of enthusiasm, and we let that drive the next action.

3.Track your progress. As I said before, getting better at stuff feels good, doesn’t it? There are so many ways to be able to have tangible reminders of the benefits of your change.

  • Strength training journals: look back a month.
  • Consistency reports: keep a calendar and check off each day you completed your task. Not only does it keep that behavior fresh in your mind, it can boost your morale to see that you are successful with making your change.
  • Measurements and progress pics: if you’re trying to lose body fat, the scale often screws with people’s heads. Seeing a visible change boosts confidence.

4. Enlist support. My clients stick with their programs in part to not having to bear the burden of motivating themselves all the time. Cheerleaders, comrades in sweat, and people who get your love of yoga pants become your peeps – your community. Can you find a community of your own that is committed to an activity you’d like to enjoy? Running groups for beginners, cycling clubs, yoga events, and powerlifting teams are all popular places here that create friendships and support networks.

5. Be okay with not always feeling motivated. Some days are sucky. It’s not realistic to think that you’re going to be pumped about going to the gym every day. I know some days I’m itching to go workout, and other days I drag my feet in. For me, having the habit in place helps but so does a clear picture of what I get out of my activity. That gets me there every time. The more you build these resources, the easier it will be to stay on track.

6. Watch this video. 

Ok not motivating maybe, but hilarious. I remember watching this stuff in the ’80s . Feel pumped? I hope so!

 

 

 

 

Notes:

  1. Gay, Jennifer L., Ruth P. Saunders, and Marsha Dowda. “The Relationship of Physical Activity and the Built Environment within the Context of Self-Determination Theory.” Annals of Behavioral Medicine Ann. Behav. Med. (2011): 188-96. Print.

Practice Makes Better: Reaching Your Goals By Honing the Skill of Fitness

 

Elliott Recorder

Who remembers playing “Hot Cross Buns” on the recorder in elementary school? It seems like a rite of passage. I majored in vocal performance and spent years working as a musician. When my oldest son brought home his packet of songs, I couldn’t help but feel excited for his own foray into music.

He dove right in, and the phase where his instrument sounded like a dying animal was mercifully short. My budding musician was tearing through songs. Atta boy! He was determined to become a rock star at the recorder. However, before long, as the songs became more complex, I heard him yell in frustration. He would play a difficult piece over and over again, missing the same notes each time. I realized that he hadn’t learned how to practice. 

We looked at the song again. There were only a few notes that he consistently struggled with playing. So instead of trying to swallow the entire piece, we tackled only the problematic phrases. He practiced two notes at a time until they came naturally. Then we put them back into the entire phrase. When that felt good, we tried the entire song again and boom– he nailed it.

Here’s the thing: tackling a fitness goal works pretty much like practicing music. When we find that attaining our goals has failed, it’s often because we haven’t learned the skills necessary to reach them. Learning how to practice at fitness will set you up for success.  Here’s an example:

“I want to gain muscle and decrease my body fat”

This is the most common “outcome goal” that I hear, and yet it’s usually the most elusive for people. Everybody’s starting place is different, but for many people, gaining muscle and decreasing body fat will require becoming adept at the following skills:

  • Expending more calories than taking in
  • Learning how to lift weights in a safe and effective manner
  • Following a strength and conditioning program
  • Getting adequate nutrients for goals
  • Learning how to create meals and snacks that support goals
  • Creating a schedule that allows for fitness goals
  • Working on other issues like sleep or stress management
  • Re-learning how to manage patterns that impede progress, like stress eating, restrictive habits/reactive binging, etc.
  • Portion education and awareness
Kitteh has a headache.

Kitteh has a headache.

What do you think would happen if you threw all of those behavior changes at someone who was just beginning to develop these habits? Yikes!

Practice the line, then play the song.
Chances are, if someone has been struggling to get results, they haven’t mastered the skills required to get them. Each one of those skills needs to be learned, with plenty of practice along the way.

Case Study 
One of my clients was frustrated because she couldn’t seem to lose weight. We looked at her nutrition, and one red flag emerged: she drinks a large amount of soda; enough that it totals almost 1,000 kcal a day. Just knowing this hasn’t led to change. She has had to take the time to try different strategies: Going cold turkey failed. Swapping soda with seltzer water was unsuccessful. Eventually, she was able to find that giving herself a modest daily allowance of her favorite treat was livable. It allowed her to still enjoy something she loved without allowing it to derail her goals.

She needed to practice the skill of changing this habit in a way that worked for the long haul. Her failed attempts weren’t really failures: she was practicing the skill until she was able to succeed. 

Make it Work for You
Take one habit you want to improve. Break it down into parts. Is there a particular component that is tripping you up? Set your laser focus to that one small part and practice.

pew pew lasers

pew pew lasers

The great thing about practice is that you don’t fail. You just note what worked, what still needs work, and then revise your strategies from there. Eventually you’ll learn the lines, and the whole song will fall into place.

 

From Drunk Shopping to a Healthy Habit: The Consistency Challenge

 

drunk

 

I am a lightweight. I rarely drink alcohol at all: it gets in the way of my performance goals and a night out with several drinks under my belt ends with a very harsh jerk back to reality in the morning when I awaken to three small kids tugging on my arm at 6 a.m.  If I have more than two drinks I’m done-zo. I suppose you could say I can’t hang.

But I’m all for moderation, and once in awhile I’ll let loose a bit. Last weekend while in Kansas City, my friends and I decided to head downtown to the Plaza for dinner and a few drinks. Unlike me, these girls can hang.

After savoring two cocktails over a leisurely dinner, they pulled me up to a rooftop patio. It was a beautiful night and we basked in the warm weather while sipping just one more drink. Unfortunately, that put me over the edge and I got a little tipsy. Oops.

So naturally we went shopping next. Considering we were in a fantastic district for picking up some new goodies, it seemed like the right thing to do. I’ve never shopped while being drunk before, but I don’t recommend it unless you feel like spending way too much money.

rich

Wheeeeee!

As soon as we wandered into Athleta I spied a bright yellow water bottle made by S’well. Like a small child attracted to sparkly things, I snatched it up and decided I definitely needed to buy it. After all, the sales woman boasted, it kept water cold or hot for 24 hours. “This is amaaaazing” I declared with a bit too much exuberance. I peeked at the price tag. “Holy crap. $45?” “It holds 24 ounces,” she chirped, and I was sold. YES. I need this in my life. Of course.

As the sunlight creeped into our hotel room the next day, the memory of buying this thing settled in. I’d already done a good bit of shopping that month and I inwardly cringed. Shit. Oh well. There are worse things to regret after a night with a few too many cocktails. Maybe I’d drink more water. Meh.

Tastes like regret.

Tastes like bad choices.

After I returned home I saw a link to “The Consistency Challenge” on Jen Sinkler’s site. I clicked and immediately thought of my new water bottle. Here’s why:

For the last few years I’ve told myself that I want to drink more water. It’s not that I don’t actually want to be better about this habit. It’s just that for some reason, I suck at actually incorporating it into my life. Just saying that I’m going to drink more water has done absolutely nothing to improve my intake.

When I say that I don’t drink enough water, I’m not talking about not getting 60 oz. I’m not even close. There are many days when I don’t even drink a single glass. I do, however, drink a ton of coffee. Why is drinking water so hard? I don’t hate water. I know it will most likely make me feel better inside. What is stopping me?

Typically when I read about challenges I don’t bite. Usually they involve a huge commitment or focus on a bikini body or something else that just doesn’t speak to me. The ones I’ve actually done in the past usually involve me white knuckling through. For example, I jumped on the Whole 30 bandwagon a few years ago. On day 31 I ate all the cookies. Challenges that require behaviors that aren’t sustainable for the rest of my life just don’t work for me.

But this one was different in a few ways from what I typically see.

  • The goal is to develop consistency with one single action.
  • The action has to be something that we actually want to work on, not that we feel like we should work on.
  • An outcome of success is less important than what we discover in the process.
  • A big point of this challenge is to see what other things shift in your life when you incorporate a new habit. The focus is more on discovering how our habits impact our lives than a tangible outcome like weight loss or miles run.

So I approached the challenge as a bit of an experiment with myself. If I bought this thing, could I put it to use and commit to becoming consistent about drinking just 24 ounces a day?

Even on day 1, I noticed a few things:

1. I committed to carrying my water bottle everywhere with me, except during walking or running outside, because though that would be a natural time to need water, this thing is freaking heavy. I noticed that having it with me made me more likely to sip. Duh.

Oh, the places we'll go.

Oh, the places we’ll go.

2. Remembering to take my bottle with me has been way less problematic than in the past. It’s enormous and bright canary yellow. I can’t miss it! Even at home, I see it sitting on the counter and I sip.

I won't give up my precious. But maybe we can all get along.

I won’t give up my precious. But maybe we can all get along.

On days 1 and 2, I filled up my bottle twice and finished all my water, even though I’d committed to drinking only 1 bottle. Score! It wasn’t even hard. Ha!

So what has this taught me so far? First of all, committing to being consistent led me to be mindful of the habit I’m trying to instill. I downloaded a sheet from the challenge page as a visual reminder to stick on the fridge, though the yellow bottle has served the same purpose. But I’ve quickly discovered that the barrier to my water drinking was probably lack of a visual reminder. Only time will tell if I’ll need to develop other strategies to keep my habit going. I’ll report back in a month.

My conclusion so far is that drunk shopping might not always be so bad after all… (ok, it probably is a terrible idea). But sometimes what we consider an extravagance might become an unexpected tool for change. That surprised me!

Are you up for a challenge? Read more here for background information on how the consistency challenge was created. You’ll also find extra tips on how to make your new habit stick. Leave a comment and let me know what habit you’re working on incorporating into your life this month.

My constant companion.

My constant companion.