Tag Archives: habits

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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Getting Back Your Fitness Groove After an Injury

lostmojo

With fitness and in life, shit happens. There’s nothing like a prolonged illness or injury to simultaneously make you grateful for the gift of being able to be active and also frustrated that you are unable to participate. The challenges affect not only our physical well being, but probably more profoundly our emotional health. The road back is different for everyone, but there are some common challenges as well as remedies for finding your groove again.

My good friend, Emily, had a life-altering illness this year and has been navigating the waters of redefining her own fitness. Emily has long been one of my heroes. She is not only talented at running, cycling, and swimming; she is also driven and disciplined. For most of her life, her body cooperated. Emily seemed unstoppable.

Until last fall: she began to experience excruciating headaches, and even after seeing doctors and trying new migraine medications, she couldn’t find relief. I saw her fitness routine begin to slip away. As Emily recalled it, exercise was the last thing on her mind. She instead had to learn to manage chronic, debilitating pain.

We couldn’t imagine that she had an actually scary prognosis. We all joked about her WebMD-diagnosed brain tumor. Until, it turned out, she actually had a brain hemorrhage.  Em learned that she had intracranial hypotension, brought on by a spontaneous spinal CSF leak. In other words, girl had a leaky spine, and it was making her life a mess.

Emily's scar makes her the biggest badass ever.

Emily’s scar and staples made her the biggest badass ever.

At first, she was relieved to have an answer. Then she was fearful of the surgery that might not work, leaving her with potentially life-long pain. Thankfully, her spinal surgery was a success.  But over the months, Em had gone from an active, busy mom to someone just trying to get through the days. As Emily began to get back to her job and family responsibilities, she had to learn a new version of “normal”.

The New Normal
The hardest part of finding the road back to fitness might be changing our mindset about what our bodies “should” be doing. Initially, we busy ourselves with rehab, but then what? Once we’re tagged and released from physical therapy or other medical interventions, it can be really difficult to get going again. While regaining our former selves can be motivating, it can also paralyze us–if we can’t do what we did before, then what the hell do we do? This is where all-or-nothing thinking can be particularly devastating.

Letting Go
For months after my own hip surgery 5 years ago, I resisted doing much of anything. I was angry that I could no longer run like I had before.  Instead of moving my body in countless ways that I could without pain, I opted to do nothing at all. I suppose I needed to pout for awhile, but if I could have put aside my history and instead developed new goals based on the strengths I now possessed, I could have felt better all over, sooner.

lettinggo

Respecting Our Limits
Emily could run before. Now her doctors advise against it. My own docs cautioned me against running, but now and again I can’t resist. Every single time, I jack up my hip and have to baby it back to functioning again. Especially once we begin feeling better, it can be really tempting to test the waters.

Sometimes it’s perfectly healthy to test them. With some injuries, we might be able to regain our former function and need to just slowly ease back into our favorite activities. Even if you are given the green light to begin training again, you’ll likely want to begin by scaling back the following:

Volume: How much total activity you get. If you’re in the weight room, you’ll do less total work. If you’re a cyclist, you’ll do fewer miles at first.

Intensity: I think we all understand that it’s unwise to ride like the wind, yes? Balls to the wall has a place, but it’s not during post-rehab.

Frequency: You may have been running 5 times a week, but you may need to start by trying to run 2-3 times a week with other cross training thrown in until your body adjusts again.

Load: If you’re lifting, you’ll likely need to start out with lighter weights. If you’re an endurance athlete, you will probably be cautioned against hammering your way up the most killer hills in town until you’ve established your base fitness again.

Sometimes injuries force us to completely redefine realistic function and future pursuits. In both cases, if we follow the protocols given to us by our health team we’ll be more likely to have more positive outcomes.

Side note: do your damn rehab exercises. You know, the ones they print out and tell you to do at home in front of the T.V. Yes, they’re boring. No, they don’t feel hard core or sexy. But they might help and won’t hurt. 

Becoming Our Own Advocates
It helped me to learn as much as I could about my injury so that I could avoid the things that were likely to make my hip angry. With help from a physical therapist, I also learned to identify what kind of pain or discomfort was something to be concerned about as well as what oddball sensations were just a part of my new normal. 

Communicating with doctors and rehab pros can also be useful to determine what got us injured in the first place. Is there a lesson to be learned that we can carry with us for the future to prevent recurring injuries? This isn’t always relevant, but if it is, it’s important to understand.

Baby Steps
After accepting that we have to possibly start over or take a few steps back, we have to actually take them, and then celebrate them. When Emily finally walked around the block a few times after surgery, it was a major victory for her. Over time, 2 times around the block developed into many more laps.

[tweetthis]Motion brings emotion, meaning the act of doing something gives you the feeling that you can do more.[/tweetthis]

Motion brings emotion, meaning the act of doing something gives you the feeling that you can do more. If you’ve been stuck in a rut after an injury or illness, a little bit of motion may be the spark you need to get going again.

 

photo credit: Jonas Maaløe Jespersen

photo credit: Jonas Maaløe Jespersen

Relearning Old Habits or Developing New Ones
Emily remarked that she had to let go of her old routines and habits that had guided her before.  When injury strikes, these get blown to pieces. We not only have to pick them back up, we may have to alter them to suit our current situation.  It’s not a failure to have a scaled back work out plan. It’s a victory to take a small step toward better fitness that also respects what our bodies can currently tolerate.

Weight gain is another common by-product of injury, simply because we may continue eating as we were while exercising regularly or just maintaining a more active lifestyle. If you’re relegated to the sofa for weeks or months, a change in body composition is relatively normal. Depression and lack of sleep often come along with pain caused by injury: they also can contribute to weight gain.

Taking the time to learn your body’s caloric needs with its current level of activity will help with weight loss if that’s a concern.

Finding a New Fit
If I had never hurt my hip, I probably wouldn’t have discovered my love of the weight room. Once I focused on what I could actually do without pain, I spent a lot of time training my upper body strength. Watching baby biceps emerge felt motivating. Finding a new routine gave me the same satisfaction as my previous training plans and led the way to a passion for weightlifting. Emily discovered that she could swim again, and after months of little activity, she reveled in how good her body felt doing it. 

Silver Linings
Yes, injuries are terrible for our fitness. They can bring terrible pain, depression, and an overall funk. But out of it all, they also teach us. Sometimes, injuries teach us how to train better in the future. Sometimes they give us a new appreciation for our health. They can be an opportunity to turn over a rock and discover something new and amazing about ourselves.

Emily described her experience recently: 

It didn’t bother me to see people talking about exercises, but missing big events was really tough. It was really about what I was missing out on and less so about what others were able to do. However, I must say that I do have a new appreciation for a life without pain and the ability to move my body, even in limited ways, that I didn’t have before. Chronic pain is no fucking joke and I have empathy for people who live that way that I never could have gotten any other way. It wears you down. It makes you want to crawl into a cave and never come out. It makes you feel less than human. You spend your days letting everyone around you down, saying no all the time, the treatment failed, I can’t, etc. I don’t have to live that way anymore and it’s amazing, and I’m incredibly grateful. I feel like I’ll carry that with me forever.

I’m grateful for Emily too, who has taught me more than a few life lessons. Thanks for sharing your story, Em. We love you, leaky spine and all.

 

 

The Beginner’s Guide to Fat Loss: Nuts and Bolts

Lego-WorkoutOut of curiosity, I typed “what exercises to do for fat loss” into Google today. I came up with a  mish-mash of Pinterest and Instagram workouts (resplendent with hashtags),  a fair amount of nonsense like “fat burning zones” along with a mix of supplement pages and some quality training advice to boot. If I were just starting to think about putting together a plan, I’d probably get a headache. The internet is a wonderful thing, but all that information can be overwhelming. When it comes down to it, losing fat isn’t all that complicated.So why does it seem so difficult?

First of all, there isn’t only one way to go about fat loss. That complicates the stream of information hurled at us. A large percentage of it is likely garbage as well. 

photo credit: Mark Smickilas

photo credit: Mark Smickilas

Most importantly, despite knowing all of these tips, many people still get stuck. My advice is not your key to the kingdom, it just gives you more tools for your kit. The real work to be done to create change starts within your heart and your head. Successful behavior change requires learning the skill of fitness as well as gaining insight on why you want to change in the first place. 

But still, when it comes down to the process of losing fat, there are things to know that will help you succeed:

1. Do something. If you’re just starting out, you’ll notice a positive impact on your energy, health, and waistline by just moving. Read more on that here. It’s easy to take on weight loss with an all-or-nothing attitude. This will invariably backfire. The plan will fall into place. If you’ve been inactive for a really long time,  ease yourself into exercise.

2. Your nutrition is the leading lady when it comes to losing fat. It has the most important role in your body composition by a big margin. No workout is magically effective. If you’re consuming more calories than you expend, your weight loss will stall. Period.

This is unfortunately where people get tripped up the most. Conflicting advice obfuscates a clear path even further. There isn’t one nutritional approach that is better than another. As I’ve mentioned previously, the best plan is the one you can stick to. Ultimately, using methods that help you develop habits that will carry you through life work best. 

3. Lift the things and put them down. Yeah, set off that lunkhead alarm because strength training not only helps your bones and overall health, it also helps you retain precious muscle that in turn improves your overall metabolism. Aim for between 2 and 4 workouts per week, depending on your level of experience and available time.

liftthethings

4. You don’t need a specialized strength training plan for fat loss. 
How you structure your weight lifting isn’t nearly as important as just getting it done. Some advocate doing a circuit in order to keep your heart rate up and give you some extra calorie burn. Nick Tumminello’s Strength Training for Fat Loss does an excellent job of this and his workouts are fun.

Others use alternating sets of two exercises for a similar effect. Some people still just complete their sets with plenty of rest in between. I’ve had success using all of these approaches with clients. If you’re a seasoned lifter, you might need a more nuanced program, but most of the time, the biggest difference between weight lifting simply for strength and lifting for fat loss is in the diet.

5. Running will not make you fat. Every so often, the fitness pendulum swings with a published study, and everyone jumps on the bandwagon in hysterics. Doing endless cardio isn’t the most efficient means to fat loss. If you hate cardio, I’m here to tell you that you don’t need to go suffer on a treadmill for an hour.  Most people attempting an exercise program aimed at losing fat probably overdo the running around and getting sweaty and under-do (is that a word?) the strength training.

jogging

However, if you enjoy running, by all means, go run. It won’t kill your progress, and will give you some extra calorie burn to enhance your program.

6. Respect rest and move your body in ways that you enjoy. If you go balls to the wall every day, your efforts will backfire. You’ll lose enthusiasm, encounter injuries, and you’ll prevent recovery that enables you to get the most out of your training. Short, high-intensity workouts can be appropriate a few days a week if you’re already fairly fit. Lighter conditioning workouts are also a good choice. Check out one of my own here.

Regardless of what kind of movement you choose, you’re aiming to get some kind of activity, both for extra caloric burn and because it’s good for your health. These bouts of extra movement are just right for improving your fitness game without getting in the way of your recovery. Or go for a walk!

So in short, here’s what your game plan might look like:

1. Eat in a way that supports your goals. Calculating a modest rather than extreme caloric deficit is important. Tracking at first is helpful, but not the only way to create habits that foster weight loss. 
2. Lift the things 2-4 days a week.
3. On your off days from lifting, move your body in a way that feels good but doesn’t leave you too exhausted to approach your weight training with gusto.
4. Rinse and repeat.
5. Keep your head screwed on straight. Fat loss can really mess with your head. It takes time and tinkering.
6. Remember that fat loss can bring you health, or aesthetic changes you might welcome. It does not, however, define your worth as a person. Keep your efforts in line with the overall task of having a life. ♥

This outline is just that; an outline, an example of what often works. The path to weight loss is different for everyone, but these truths might help you create your own winning strategy. Look for more articles soon on some of the strategies mentioned here.

Have more questions or strategies of your own that work well for you? Leave a comment below!

The nuts and bolts are the easy part. Motivation and support can be another. Looking for a coach to design a program and help you on the journey?  Apply here!

Plan to Fail

Whenever I hear “plan to fail” the inevitable end of the sentence is “failed to plan”. I get that: hell, I’ve said that. It’s true, too, especially when trying to adopt a new habit. But let’s say that you’ve nailed down starting your new habit. Then what? You give yourself a high five because you’ve totally got this. Forever. Nope nope nope.

If only it were that simple. Life throws us curve balls. It’s how we catch them that impacts our overall success in keeping that healthy behavior going. The biggest difference between someone who is new to establishing a habit and someone who has successfully maintained their habit for a long time is failure. That sounds weird, right?

People who have made a new habit part of their lives plan to fail. They know that there are times when they won’t be able to eat like they normally should, get to the gym on their regular schedule, or get as many steps into their day as they’d prefer. They might find a work around, like getting to a hotel gym on vacation. But most of the time, people who are in “maintenance mode” know that they’ll get back on the wagon again. They can’t even fathom that they wouldn’t keep doing whatever they’re doing.

If you were lost in the woods for a few days and couldn’t brush your teeth, would you go back to brushing your teeth again once you (hopefully) returned to civilization? The thought of not brushing your teeth just because you were momentarily sidetracked is a little ridiculous. And gross. Blech.

To someone who has made a habit change part of their long-term lifestyle, this is the attitude that they take. They know there will be bumps in the road. They don’t berate themselves for a day or a week off course. They plan to fail.

How can you use this and kick ass with a new habit? 
You’ve got something new you’re working on. Imagine a roadblock. You get sick. You have a crappy day. You have to travel for a week.

  • What would it look like to incorporate your new stuff into the new challenge?
  • If you weren’t able to do it the way you’re doing now, how might you still do some work in a modified way?
  • Imagine that you were totally overwhelmed by whatever responsibility you had and you failed. What happens now?

At some point, even the best-laid plans get shot down. If we accept this, we take a lot of the burden off of ourselves. We can throw away a bunch of negative talk (I suck at this, I can’t even stick to this, I might as well quit) because we’ve accepted that failing is part of the process. In the long term, you’ll plan to succeed. 

 

What Fit is the Best Fit for Beginners? Here’s the Truth.

confusion_11

What workout should you do to get into shape? What’s the BEST way to burn fat/get strong/become a ninja? Have you asked yourself this? Chances are, if you did, you dug around a little bit. You read some magazine articles. You saw blurbs on Facebook. You asked your friend, who might have raved about her own workout.

It’s likely that when we ask this question that the answers will be all over the place. The answers usually don’t have the most important piece of the equation: you.

Here’s the thing: yes, there are more optimal ways and less optimal ways to go about burning fat if you’re talking about the very most efficient way to go about that task. The same goes for getting stronger or faster. But we get so bound up in the variables of fitness that sometimes we never start. That can also lead us to take on someone else’s vision of what a workout program looks like instead of allowing ourselves to find our own fit.

After I had my third son I was really out of shape. The task of moving again felt monumental. When I finally decided to do something about it and get into the weight room, I wasted weeks because I read way too many articles. Every resource I read had a different take on the best course of action. I had information paralysis, so I sat on my ass for even longer.

As a trainer, I now spend a lot of time in Facebook groups devoted to fitness and reading fitness-related articles. Fit pros often debate among ourselves the very best way to go about achieving an outcome, but we sometimes lose sight of something critical, particularly for beginners:

There are many ways to achieve an outcome. For someone new or returning to exercise, the truth is that any choice is a good choice, as long as you can do it safely. Beginners are lucky because they’re probably going to see some results just by doing something. It doesn’t really freaking matter what it is at first.

Find something, anything, that you enjoy. Or even something that you don’t completely hate. Go for a walk. Try a new class. Dance in your kitchen (I recommend Taylor Swift. You know you secretly love Shake it Off). Start with something smaller than you think you can handle. Seriously.

You know you want to shake it off. Just give in already.

Building the habit is the most important step at first. All those details will shake themselves out later, whether you want to get leaner, stronger,  faster or have more energy and zestiness. If that goal is to become a ninja , you might be on your own there. It’s past my pay grade.  🙂 Once you become a regular exerciser, then you can find the activities that might best suit your goals. But at first, any activity that you can commit to doing regularly is the best activity.

How did you start moving again? If you haven’t, what’s holding you back? Share below and let’s have a conversation!