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John Fawkes

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Diet diaries: Sharon, the 44 year old divorcee who feels pressured to stay overweight

This is the first article in a new series: The Diet Diaries.  Based off New York Magazine’s Sex Diaries and Ramit Sethi’s Money Diaries, I have collected stories from real people about their eating and fitness habits over seven days, and I’ll be posting them here.  These are true, accurate, and brutally honest accounts of the struggles- physical, mental, emotional, and social- that people go through as they try to get in shape.

Our first entry features Sharon (not her real name), a 44 year old professional who lives in the Maryland/DC area, and has struggled to lose weight since her divorce 5 years ago.  I’m starting with this entry because it perfectly illustrates why losing weight is harder than it sounds- under the weight of stress and social pressure, it just isn’t that easy to make the food decisions that might seem obviously correct to an outsider.  And for the guys, this diary contains a couple of fascinating insights into the unwritten rules of female friendships.    

Day 1: Monday August 3

Weight: 139lbs. Body fat: 41%   Age: 44 Height: 5’6

 

It feels like August snuck up on me today because last time I was aware of the calendar, it was still July (Friday). This morning’s struggle to get out of bed started last night if I’m being honest with myself though. It wasn’t a good decision to sleep over my boyfriend’s when I knew he wouldn’t come home until after midnight last night but we are very much in love and I wanted to greet him happily when he came in tired with his guitar.  However, I fell asleep early and only remember being grouchy and monosyllabic when he walked in. Then I couldn’t fall back asleep because I felt the weight of tomorrow pressing down. It’s probably not realistic to juggle so much AND want to undergo a major transformation but I don’t know how to stop thinking about it. Keeping a diary feels simultaneously hopeful and depressing.

Breakfast: 9:30am: Coffee with 2 tbsp honey. 11am: Tuna salad on 4 sliced tomatoes. 2 pieces of Trident gum.
Calories: 261
Macros: Carbs 35g Fat 5g Protein 10g

I was proud of myself for eating something “healthy” this morning (let’s ignore the mayo) so I felt hopeful until I was interrupted by vacuum lady at work. I had the same thought I have every single Monday for the past 9 years: WHYYYYY must they vacuum during the day? And a MONDAY at that??? It seems like every minute, someone interrupts to vacuum, dust, empty the trash bin or chat. It drives me crazy, especially because my job is stressful right now. I work with dysfunctional software which requires fragmentation of my focus. Each interruption takes me out of that darned state of “flow” everyone says is essential to life satisfaction.

Maybe I don’t need a diet coach. Maybe I need a focus coach.

Incidentally this is PMS week. I guess if you’re going to document things, why not pick the worst case scenario week? Ugh.


Lunch: 1:30pm veggie burger with sautéed mushrooms & onions, no bread. 2 tbsp bbq sauce, 15 chocolate pomegranate bites, and 1 piece of sugarless gum. 2:30pm: salad with spring mix, carrots and mushrooms with 2 tbsp thousand island dressing.
Calories: 364
Macros: Carbs 57g Fat 9g Protein 20g

I threw out the roll from my veggie burger because I don’t really like the way bread tastes, not because I’m trying to avoid carbs but if I was really good, I would have avoided the candy jar by the sign-in sheet. I cannot refuse the siren call of that dish. I wish I knew how to improve my willpower. It’s only a few hours into Monday and I’ve already blown it.

Snack 4pm: popcorn

Calories: 110

Macros: Carbs: 26g Fats 1g Protein 4g

Why did I say it was okay for the cubicle neighbor to borrow my salt? He’s used it all up and I forgot to get some from the cafeteria and now the popcorn tastes like cardboard. Work got super stressful and I locked myself in my seat and didn’t get anything to drink for hours. Why do I do this? Ignore my own bodily needs? They say thirst can mask itself as hunger so I should be drinking more but I actually hate the taste of water.

 

Dinner: 7:30pm southwest chicken salad and frozen chocolate yogurt with wet walnuts.

Calories: 710

Macros: Carbs 72g  Fats 33g Protein 30g

I go to a women’s counseling group Monday nights and while I love the insight I get from these sessions, they are emotionally wearying. I buy myself some frozen yogurt afterwards because I feel entitled. The day took a lot out of me. I console myself by saying at least it’s yogurt and not ice cream.

Total calories for the day: 1452
Macros: Carbs 193g 51%, Fat 49g 29%, Protein 74g 20%

…………………………………………………………………………….

Day 2: Tuesday August 4

Weight: 139lbs. Body fat: 41%   Age: 44

I feel hopeful again like I usually do when I wake up. But seeing the week stretch before me, I can see I have too many plans lined up after work, something I told myself I would stop doing. Except that scaling back means I don’t get to see friends as much. How can you wish for your life to be simpler without making it smaller? Maybe I want the impossible.

Breakfast: 1 tbsp peanut butter and one grapefruit.

Calories: 174

Macros: Carbs 20g Fat 8g Protein 5g


I am hoping the peanut butter is satiating and I can get away with not eating much else for breakfast. It tastes delicious. One part of me believes it’s not all bad and the other part thinks it must be horrid. I guess I should look that up and see for sure but I don’t really want to know. So I head to work with a spoonful.

Lunch: 12:30pm Tuna wrap with tomato. Cheese wedge, popcorn with butter, and chocolate chip cookie. 3:30pm: Caesar salad with chicken

Calories: 1267

Macros: Carbs 74g Fats 76g Protein 68g


I planned to have tea with a girlfriend at lunchtime for her birthday today. I picked up some chocolate chip cookies to surprise her (they don’t sell cake at work) and snarfed down a tuna wrap while driving so I’d have something in my system besides sugar when we celebrated. If I ate nothing else, cookies alone would make me sick.

She welcomed me warmly and I started telling her about this diary. She looked me up and down and then exclaimed, “Why? You’re so thin!” She seemed betrayed and I realized I violated one of the unspoken rules of sisterhood: never mention feeling body conscious around someone who is larger than you. She offered me cheese and I ate some even though I didn’t want any. It seemed rude not to.

I do this a lot, I notice. Wear my baggiest clothing around girlfriends who are larger than me. Their comments make me feel self-conscious, like I need to apologize for being thinner so it’s just easier to look even more terrible than I already do being 20 pounds heavier than my college weight. I should lose 10-15 pounds to look like my old athletic self and while that doesn’t sound a lot, I’ve not been able to do it. I got close one fall and while I felt great inside my skin, the comments and stares made me so uncomfortable. I feel ashamed of not mastering control over my body. If I really wanted to, I would, right? Am I uncomfortable being seen? Or too entitled to deny myself when my willful innards demand instant gratification? Or maybe I don’t really believe trying will make a difference, and my unrealistic schedule requires so much energy I’ve got little left for hope. Maybe it’s multiple things. Whatever it is, it’s motivated me to try observing myself for a week.

 

Lunch with my girlfriend was wonderful but I lost track of time and ended up using vacation hours to cover being out. I’m annoyed that I let this happen and didn’t plan to offset that in advance. I guess it’s not much different than not planning to have a healthy snack handy when cravings hit but planning just seems so extraordinarily difficult and complicated.

I thought I recovered from feeling stressed and playing catchup but then at the end of the day, just as I was typing a summary to my boss, the keyboard crashed and I had to reboot my entire system, delaying my leave time by 20 minutes. I was so hangry (hungry and angry) that I ate 3 freezer-burned brownie bites from the communal fridge. The idea of driving 45 minutes home that hungry was intolerable. I used to keep emergency food in my car but since I bought a new(er) one last month, I haven’t fully “moved in” to it yet. (Or that’s what I’ve told myself. I don’t know what the real excuse is. It seems like I only have so much energy to throw at things and there are a lot of things that need attention besides myself.)

Dinner: 8pm Steamed veggies with olive oil and salt, mint chocolate chip ice cream.

Calories: 599

Macros: Carbs 52g Fats 30g Protein 10g

I had dinner with my sweetie and started to calm down for the evening. We ate something healthy together but I wondered if I shouldn’t be putting olive oil on my veggies. Fat is confusing. Also, I know I shouldn’t eat ice cream but today sucked. I don’t even like mint chocolate chip but it’s in his freezer and I want something sweet.

Total calories: 2058
Macros: Carbs 151g Fat 113g Protein 82g

…………………………………………………………………………….

Day 3: Wednesday August 5


Weight: 139lbs. Body fat: 41%   Age: 44

 

Breakfast: 9am piece of colby jack cheese and coffee with honey.

Calories: 381

Macros: Carbs 36g Fats 21g Protein 16g

Teleworking while my car is in the shop but there’s no food in the house. Planning FAIL.

Lunch: 12noon – 3 squares of chocolate nut crunch by True North, 1 piece of colby jack cheese and 8 tortilla chips. 1pm: BLT sandwich
Calories: 1006

Macros: Carbs 84g Fats 64g Protein 30g


I am hungry and I decided to down 3 squares of chocolate, a piece of colby jack cheese and 8 tortilla chips before my lunch date arrived. I have zero impulse control. They brought me a BLT which was delicious. Doesn’t bacon cause cancer? I shouldn’t be eating it but whatever.

Dinner:
6:30pm 4 bites of fish taco, 4 bites of chocolate cake, 3 fiber gummies with vitamin D3 and 2 pieces of gum. 9:30pm milk chocolate bar with almonds, 10pm: 10 crackers with spaghetti sauce and cheese.
Calories: 1014
Macros: Carbs 80g Fats 64g Protein 35g

Had dinner with a friend at a local diner. “What’s new?” she asked, smiling, and I told her about this diary. She said, “Why are you documenting what you eat, you look great!” So I ordered a piece of cake that I didn’t want and didn’t even like. It was dry and too sweet. But she was ordering dessert even though she hates her body and wants to lose weight too, how could I not have some too? At least I didn’t eat much but then I felt crummy wasting money.

I also didn’t eat much of the main course because I was talking too much. I tend to eat so slow that adding any other preoccupation practically stops the entire process. My girlfriend noticed I wasn’t eating much so I made up a story about not being hungry. I don’t like eating when the other person is finished because then they just stare at me. I feel on the spot to rush. Why does everyone eat so fast? I hate eating socially.

After the diner, we went to a bookstore, my favorite place in the whole world! I was in heaven. Just as we were about to leave, I was struck with severe hunger pangs and grabbed a chocolate bar on the checkout line. When I got home, I downed cheese and cracker mini-pizzas like I hadn’t eaten for 3 days. I don’t think I’m giving myself enough down time this week.

Total calories: 2401
Macros: Carbs 199g Fat 148g Protein 80g

…………………………………………………………………………….

Day 4: Thursday August 6


Weight: 139lbs. Body fat: 41%   Age: 44

Breakfast: 9:30am: coffee
Calories: 121
Macros: Carbs 34g, Fats .1g Protein 0g

I wasn’t hungry so I only drank coffee for breakfast. Could it be because I ate so late last night? That wouldn’t matter for something that happened that many hours ago, would it? Hmmm.

Lunch: 12:00pm red grapefruit, 12:30pm salad with chicken and barley soup.
Calories: 495

Macros: Carbs 66g Fats 10.5g Protein 36g

For lunch, I at a delicious salad with chicken until I was bursting. But I was so thirsty afterwards that I ate the soup I bought for dinner just so I could drink the broth. It was heavenly but when I finished, my stomach was so full I had trouble breathing. That feeling didn’t go away for almost 2 hours. Was it worth it? Why can I not see this in advance? I wait until the need is so great that I absolutely will not heed what’s wise.

Another software issue arose and I started fantasizing about those freezer-burned brownie bites in the communal fridge. I didn’t even care that they are 6 months old or that the pleasure of eating them only lasts 30 seconds, I still wanted them. Small victory: I resisted! For a few hours at least.

Dinner: 10pmWendy’s apple pecan chicken salad, 8:30pm 4 brownie bites.
Calories: 1350

Macros: Carbs 159g Fats 62g Protein 48g

After I logged out of work, I decided to make a playlist for my 4 hour drive up north. I had recently purchased some self-help audiocasts and couldn’t wait to listen to them but I didn’t know how to transfer the files to my phone.

I spent 2 hours flailing at technology before I gave up and just burned some CDs. I was 2 hours off schedule and so hangry (hungry and angry) that I ate those damned brownie bites I resisted earlier. I hadn’t expected to be there until almost 9pm.

I hit the road feeling extremely stressed and even hungrier so I stopped at the first rest station I saw and bought chicken salad and a package of peanut butter cookies but I was happy until 1am when I realized I was still quite far from my destination. I spent 45 minutes texting my sister, who was also stressed, and didn’t end up at the hotel until 3am. I was so wound up that I couldn’t fall asleep until almost 4am.

Total calories: 1966
Macros: Carbs 259g/51%, Fat 72g/32%, Protein 84g/17%


…………………………………………………………………………….

Day 5: Friday August 7

Weight: 139lbs. Body fat: 41%   Age: 44

Breakfast: none

Woke up after only 5 hours of sleep, quickly showered and hit the road to pick up my mom for a family luncheon, the first of many events scheduled over the next few days. Bummed that I missed out on the hotel’s free breakfast and coffee.

Lunch: 1.25 lb lobster and coffee 12:30pm. 4:30pm 80 calorie dried quinoa cocoa bar

Calories: 595

Macros: Carbs 50g Fats 33g Protein 29g

Lunch was a real treat. Loved seeing family although there were some tense moments when they asked for an update about my love life. I don’t like sharing details because it seems to invite criticism with this particular side even though that’s the only part of my life right now that doesn’t feel like it needs any adjustment. I ate all the waffle fries even though I don’t even like fries, but I can’t eat moist foods when I’m feeling high-strung because it reminds me of the few times I almost choked to death as a kid and an adult. Plus everyone was commenting that I’m so thin (compared to them), the pressure made me feel apologetic.

Dinner: 7pm: half a shrimp & scallop greek salad (2 scallops and 3 shrimp), small decaf coffee with 1/2 coffee and 1/2 nondairy vanilla creamer and 2 chocolate covered cherries. (10pm: ate the other half of the salad and 2 pieces dove dark chocolate with almonds.)
Calories: 620
Macros: Carbs 77g Fats 29g Protein 15g

Dinner with more family was great but I only ate half of it because I was so busy talking. I saved the other half for later. Driving home at 10pm, I suddenly felt starving. When hunger strikes, I panic. I can’t be calm about it, like “oh I’m feeling hungry, let me think about next steps.” It turns into a desperate call for survival somehow. I don’t know how to just be hungry, or make reasonable choices when ravenous.

Total calories: 1215
Macros: Carbs 126g/41%, Fat 61g/45%, Protein 43g/14%

…………………………………………………………………………….

Day 6: Saturday August 8

Weight: 139lbs. Body fat: 41%   Age: 44

Breakfast: none

Lunch:
1:30pm 6 cheese wedges and a piece of dark chocolate almond bark. 4pm: sliver of roast beef sub with mayo.

Calories: 905

Macros: Carbs 73g Fats 59g Protein 33g

I had loose plans to meet with someone at lunchtime that I hadn’t seen in 5 years but I didn’t realize until I arrived at their studio that they had said “lunchTIME,” not “lunch.” No food was planned. I hadn’t prepared for this. I never ate breakfast so by the time we finished talking, it was 1:30 and I was both starving and emotionally spent, although I was very happy to see them. Note to self: eat breakfast if you’re going to discuss your failed marriage!

Then I drove to another family member’s house and mistakenly shared the morning’s activities. They said, “that must have been hard” except it came out sounding like, “what’s wrong with you?!” and I cried, my default setting when overloaded. I couldn’t choke down lunch until a few hours passed.

I’ve noticed that I seem to eat more when anxious. My throat just closes up when I’m sad and I can’t get anything down.

Dinner: 6:30pm: 3 bites of eggplant rollatini and 4 bites of broccoli rabe.

Calories: 215

Macros: Carbs 31g Fats 4.9g Protein 12g

Drove to another relative’s house for dinner. I wasn’t totally hungry but I ate a pecan tart in the car on the way over. I felt entitled. Like, “Look how crummy my day (week) has been, I just want something that feels nice.”

It doesn’t feel nice to feel fat but I didn’t care then. I cared later, when I saw how fat I looked in photos, but I feel powerless over my impulses. I don’t know how to be different.

I didn’t eat much at dinner. My dad was concerned that I wasn’t eating enough so he offered to share his dessert. I didn’t mention the pecan tart but I only had 2 small spoonfuls and said I was done. He looked satisfied with that.

Around bedtime, after a long and wonderful talk with my amazing dad, I started to relax and authentic hunger kicked in. Had an 80 calorie blueberry yogurt and went to bed.

Total calories: 1121
Macros: Carbs 104g/36%, Fat 63g/49%, Protein 44g/15%

…………………………………………………………………………….

Day 7: Sunday August 9


Weight: 139lbs. Body fat: 41%   Age: 44

Breakfast: 9:30am black unsweetened coffee and 1/2 a mushroom & cheese omelet.
Calories: 188

Macros: Carbs 4.5g Fats 8g Protein 7g

Had breakfast with my dad and stepbrother. I don’t get to see my stepbro much because he lives 1,000 miles away so this was a real treat. We horsed around like old times but it was a bit rushed because I had to leave to drive to yet another family member’s house.

Lunch: 12:30pm other half of the omelet and half a peach. 3:30pm tuna with lettuce and tomato (no bread), vanilla moose tracks (Hershey’s).
Calories: 908

Macros: Carbs 65g Fats 49g Protein 35g

I ate the rest of the morning’s omelet (thank goodness for leftovers!) and drove 45 minutes to see a new baby in the family, born only 2 weeks ago. All the family visits this weekend were good stress, but still stress because the logistics of each were particular.

My marathon weekend finally finished around 3pm! I climbed into my car and my whole body relaxed palpably. I didn’t realize how tense I was until everything in me slumped at once. I no longer had to prop myself up!

I wanted dinner for the ride home so I stopped at the first rest station I could and got myself ice cream to steel up for another 4 hours. I felt self conscious walking out of the rest station with a cup of ice cream, imagining that everyone must be thinking, “No wonder she’s chunky!” but I also felt defiant, like, I will NOT be told what to do, especially because of all the demands on me lately.

Looking back on my diary, the schedule I’ve been trying to keep looks crazy.

Dinner: 6:30pm Starbucks mocha and popcorn, 7 pieces of gum.
Calories: 400
Macros: Carbs 58g Fats 15g Protein 10g

I was in danger of falling asleep while driving so I pulled into another rest stop, put my seat back and got 7 full minutes of sleep before the car behind me started blaring its alarm. That’s relaxing. I went inside to search for coffee but the line was so long that I decided to go to the travel mart.

While browsing options, people appeared behind me, impatiently waiting to access the same area and I fled with the more fattening choice because it was the fastest. It didn’t require putting it back into the row of drinks and grabbing the healthier choice, which I would have done if no one was breathing down my neck. I couldn’t handle anymore scrutiny so I told myself I already shot the day to hell, what’s an extra few calories?

I know this is terrible logic but I think it anyway. 

I wanted a snack and noticed a lady selling popcorn and thought “oh, fiber!” It was $4 which is too expensive but it felt awkward to ask and then walk away so I bought some. I’m cringing admitting this. Then I chewed 7 pieces of gum and drove home.

This has been an interesting experiment and I don’t know now if I need a food coach, a workout coach, a focus coach, a self-esteem coach, or a “help me get my life back in control” coach! Or if I just need to be 6 people.

Total calories: 1497
Macros: Carbs 127g/38%, Fat 71g/47%, Protein 51g/15%

From John- I’ll be posting more of these diaries over the coming months and years- along with analyses of some of the insights that can be gleaned from them, and how to overcome the challenges highlighted in these diaries.  If you want to read that- sign up below to have all future articles delivered directly to your inbox. 

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Your most frustrating fitness problems- solved by the experts

Throughout my life, I’ve had the good fortune to learn from people older, wiser, and more experienced than myself.  I studied criminal justice under former police chiefs and prison directors.  I learned marketing from some of America’s top marketing executives and consultants.  My kung-fu teacher has won dozens of tournaments and street fights.  Even in building this blog, I’ve benefited from the advice of several highly successful bloggers.

In fitness, I’ve been equally fortunate.  While I was able to get into decent shape by just working hard without knowing what I was doing, I eventually hit a plateau.  My progress skyrocketed when I started taking advice from some of the world’s most successful fitness coaches.

In speaking with my readers, I’ve noticed several questions that come up over and over.  Last month I invited some of my favorite trainers to answer eight of the questions that my you, the readers, have said are most important to you.  And ten of the greatest minds in the fitness industry answered my call. 

These coaches have helped tens of thousands of people get into the best shape of their lives.  Some of them coach professional athletes, bodybuilders, fitness models, and even other coaches.  Most of them charge well over a hundred dollars an hour for their coaching services.  And today, they’re going to help you solve some of your most vexing fitness problems.  Each of them has their own distinct writing style, and their own unique approach to fitness.  I strongly encourage you to find one or two who appeal to you, click through to their sites and learn more about them.  

Our panel of Experts

 

Menno Henselmans  Online physique coach, fitness model and scientific author, Menno Henselmans helps serious trainees attain their ideal physique using his Bayesian Bodybuilding methods. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter and check out his website for more free articles.

Will Owen- Will Owen is the founder of the award-winning blog Travel Strong. He helps everyone from backpackers to businessmen stay fit and healthy on the road. You can stay up to date with Will and Travel Strong on Facebook and Twitter.

Nagina Abdullah– Nagina has helped dozens of ambitious, busy women lose weight quickly and can show you step-by-step how you can do it too. Within weeks from today you can lose 10 pounds or more and feel sexy on the beach. Start by getting her FREE Weight-Loss Recipes Handbook for Ambitious Women at her website, masalabody.com.

JC Deen-  JC Deen is a fitness coach, and writer at JCDFitness.com out of Nashville, TN. You can follow him on Twitter and participate in the discussion on his Facebook page.

Heather Frey- Heather Frey is the owner and founder of SmashFit.com and The Change Challenge and has appeared as a fitness expert on the Ricki Lake Show as well as NBC and CBS stations. She is also a Fitness Strategist, clean eating advocate, trainer, writer, speaker, artist, and former Figure champion. You can find Heather on Facebook and Twitter motivating and teaching the mental mindset of fitness to achieve physical transformation.

Jennipher Walters– Jennipher Walters is the CEO and co-founder of the healthy living websites FitBottomedGirls.com, FitBottomedMamas.com and FitBottomedEats.com. A certified personal trainer, health coach, and group exercise instructor, she also holds an MA in health journalism and is the author of the book by Random House, The Fit Bottomed Girls Anti-Diet.  You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and YouTube

Josh Bryant- Josh is a former weightlifting champion who, at the age of 22, became the youngest person in history to bench press 600 pounds.  In 2005 he was named the strongest man in America, and he is now the Director of Applied Strength and Power Development for the International Sports Science Association.  You can follow Josh on Twitter and Facebook, and sign up for his free strength training newsletter here.

Krista Stryker- Krista Stryker is an NSCA certified personal trainer and the founder of 12 Minute Athlete, a website and app helping thousands of people get fit in as little time as possible. A HIIT workout regimen consisting of incredibly short, effective workouts based on calisthenics, cross-training and functional fitness, 12 Minute Athlete helps athletes of all level get in the best shape of their lives with minimal equipment and no gym membership. Follow Krista on Twitter or Instagram @12minuteathlete for HIIT workout ideas and fitness motivation.

Chris “Squatchy” Williams- Chris is a personal trainer, wellness coach, and health educator.  As part of the team at RobbWolf.com, he helps people to feel great and stay healthy by adopting a paleo diet, and eating, sleeping and living in a way that is natural to the human body.  You can follow him on Twitter, and follow his company on Facebook.

Anthony Mychal- Anthony Mychal is former skinny-fat dude on a philosophical-physical pilgrimage: flipping and freestyle acrobatics, flexing and physique training, thinking about and tinkering with physical freedom.  He also likes video games, and can sometimes be found on Twitter

Your fitness questions- Answered

What’s your take on intermittent fasting?  If you recommend it, do you think the ideal IF schedule differs based on age, gender, goals or body type?

Menno Henselmans, Bayesian Bodybuilding

It definitely varies per individual. Intermittent fasting can certainly be viable, but if used inappropriately, it can compromise both muscle growth and energy expenditure. It all comes down to the time and length of the fasting period. As for your specific questions, women generally don’t tolerate the same length of fasting as men. In contrast, older people do better on longer fasting periods. Body type doesn’t factor into it, at least not directly. Somatotyping is a myth that wasn’t even intended for physiology: it originated in psychology.

JC Deen, JCDFitness

In general, I don’t think it’s a good recommendation for everyone. Like any eating schedule, and macronutrient split, it depends on the individual’s experience levels with training and diet in the past. It depends on their goals, and most importantly their current state of health. In addition to all of the above, I think the person’s psychology is another crucial factor in whether or not IF will work well for them.

Anthony Mychal

Intermittent fasting is a vehicle, not a direction. It can take you places. PLACES. Plural. You can get hulked out fat using intermittent fasting. Sumo wrestlers are known to only eat one meal. But you can also get lean using intermittent fasting.

Most people end up associating intermittent fasting with easy fat loss because you don’t eat anything (or restrict some foods) for a window of time. But it doesn’t guarantee anything.

The biggest benefit, in my eyes, is the reduced cognitive load. You only plan one, two, or three meals. You don’t turn into a sissy about hunger. It opens up a world of function most are otherwise ignorant of.

As for individualization, of course. Goes without saying. Just about everything is individual thanks to nonlinearity. Some people have one beer and are drunk. Some people need twelve. But then someone that needs twelve goes drinking on an empty stomach and only needs one. Welcome to the wiggly world human physiology.

Chris Williams, RobbWolf.com

I think it can be potentially beneficial for some in certain scenarios. It has been shown to potentially be beneficial for lowering insulin levels, blood sugar regulation, weight loss, circadian rhythm, certain blood markers, etc. It can also have deleterious effects for others too though, as it can be a stressor. Yes, I think factors like age, gender, goals, and body type would all be important factors. If someone has their diet dialed in, is getting good sleep, is handling stress well, is working out intelligently and not over training, then doing a little bit of intermittent fasting at times might be fine and work well for them.

On the other hand, if someone doesn’t “have all of their ducks in a row”, isn’t getting good sleep, has stress or adrenal issues, has a high volume of training, etc then intermittent fasting may not be something they should play around with much. Also, women don’t seem to do as well as men with intermittent fasting for longer periods of time, and usually do better sticking to shorter fasts comparatively.

I used to be into intermittent fasting a bit more, but now I think of it as just a convenient tool for more freedom. Say I’m out somewhere and good food isn’t available, or maybe I’m just not that hungry at the time, then maybe I skip a meal. It’s not something planned or scheduled, but something that just happens when it happens. I think this is probably a better strategy. I’ve seen intermittent fasting be beneficial for some, and also get others into trouble, so I’m hesitant to give a broad recommendation on it. It’s definitely an individual thing with a number of factors.

What dietary supplements, if any, do you consider “staple supplements” that almost everyone should use? 

Krista Stryker, 12 Minute Athlete

I’m a huge fan of protein powder—it’s convenient, it tastes good, and it’s easy to toss into a pre or post-workout shake or even more creative protein treats like pancakes, muffins, or protein truffles. I also really like a good greens powder and recommend it for people who are on a low calorie diet (and might not be getting the nutrients they need from food) or if you’re traveling.That being said, you don’t need supplements to succeed in your goals, they just are a convenient way to get your body the right fuel with minimal effort.

Anthony Mychal

None. Creatine has the most research backing its effectiveness, but it’s not necessary. Whey is useful to compliment your whole food protein intake. But, again, not necessary.

I don’t think extracting vitamins and minerals and chucking them down by their lonesome has the same effect as getting them from whole foods. I’m skeptical of just about every other supplement. I’m of the camp that says we don’t really know what makes fruits or vegetables “good.”

Chris Williams, RobbWolf.com

I would say maybe magnesium would be one. And if someone doesn’t have the greatest digestion, then some type of digestive support, like a digestive enzyme supplement and Betaine HCl. Other than that it’s pretty much individual.

Heather Frey, SmashFit

None. What one person needs may not be what another person needs. Multi-vitamins are something I tell my clients to consider but I would never call them a requirement for health or fitness. I have a sensitive stomach so up until recently (when I found something I could tolerate), I never took them but won competitions without them. Are they a good idea? I think so, as long as they’re viewed as assurance you’re getting enough of the right vitamins/minerals and not as a replacement for them.

In general, I’m not a big supplement fan. I think most are sales hype, and play into the desperation of customers who want to get fit “fast”. There are a few good ones, but even then, it doesn’t mean you need them, and even if you do, none of them get you into shape. They can only enhance and already clean eating plan. I think BCAA’s and glutamine are worth looking into for muscle “food” and recovery.

Menno Henselmans, Bayesian Bodybuilding

None really. In my PT Course I have an extensive guide on all the supplements that have some use ordered by how often I use them. I intentionally have a blank page in the category ‘supplements everybody should use’. There are some supplements that I recommend very frequently though, like caffeine. Vitamin D3, depending on sunlight exposure. Iodine, depending on dietary intake and the type of salt consumed. Creatine, if someone’s not a non-responder.

Will Owen, TravelStrong

A lot of supplements are overrated, and generally I don’t recommend any until people have at least got their diet on point – that’s got to be the priority.

That said, the supplements that I think most people can benefit from are: vitamin D, vitamin K, zinc and magnesium, creatine and fish oil.

JC Deen, JCDFitness

I don’t believe in staple supplements because we all have different needs. Those who never get any sun will benefit from Vitamin D. Those who have a hard time eating enough protein will benefit from protein powder. Those who are training very hard, sweating a lot, and getting very little magnesium in their diet will benefit from supplementation and epsom salt baths. Deficiencies should be determined by blood work, and symptoms. Correcting those deficiencies should be as-needed, and never on a hunch and never because some supplement company persuaded you with fancy marketing.

What is one thing you used to advocate that you no longer believe in?  What made you change your mind?

Will Owen, TravelStrong

I got into fitness around the time that the Paleo diet was really blowing up, and I really bought into it.

To me, eating only the most ‘natural’ foods made a lot of sense. I followed the Paleo diet for an entire year, and it’s something that I recommended to a lot of people. While I still think that it can be beneficial – especially for people who are overweight – I now realize it’s not right for everyone.

It helped me lose a lot of weight, but I found it impossible to gain muscle while following the diet. I was constantly tired, my weight remained the same, and if anything I was getting weaker in the gym. It was only when I added carbs (and calories) back into my diet that I was able to make progress.

Josh Bryant, JoshStrength

I now believe frequency is the biggest individual difference among people. I use to believe certain lifts had certain frequency rules–Now I have some clients that thrive on higher frequency others on lower frequency.  Age, psychology, experience, training intensity, training volume, life outside the gym, technical proficiency requirements, injuries, biomechanics and host of other factors play in.  There is no set frequency that applies to a given lift, frequency is the biggest individual difference.

JC Deen, JCDFitness

I used to be of the mindset that raw strength always equaled size gains. But after taking lots of training advice and befriending Amir Siddiqui, and reading lots of Scott Abel’s work, I’ve changed my mind. My training is completely different than it was 2 years ago, and my body is better for it.

Chris Williams, RobbWolf.com

I’m sure there are probably a number of them, but I’m going to go with pushing yourself hard every workout. I used to believe you should go hard and push yourself as often as you can with your workouts. Over time I learned for many people (including myself) that this is a good way to dig yourself into a hole and leave you with health issues, not to mention stalled progress. Now I believe workout intensity should vary more, and leaving a little in the tank is usually a good idea. You also need to rest and recover as hard as you workout. Instead of doing as much as you can, I think it’s a better idea to only do as much as you need to to reach your goals. Minimum dose maximum effect, as my friend Eva T. would say.

Menno Henselmans, Bayesian Bodybuilding

In my first article I wrote the hamstrings are 70% fast twitch. That was based on a single study and my personal experience. Since so many people confirmed the 70% figure – it even passed peer review without citation once – at the time I didn’t think to do more research on it.

Bret Contreras changed my mind after we discussed all the research. I still believe the hamstrings are fast twitch dominant, at least in strength trained men, but it’s definitely not 70%. Johnson et al. (1973) found that the biceps femoris is 66.9% type II dominant, but most studies find a somewhat even mixture. At least in untrained individuals, because the hamstrings have a very large proportion of intermediate fibers and a large proportion of  of IIb fibers, the most fast-twitch fibers of them all. So functionally, I still treat the hamstrings as being fast twitch dominant. I also test the muscle fiber composition of all my clients and the hamstrings still come out as fast twitch dominant on average.

Krista Stryker, 12 Minute Athlete

For a while, I fell into the hype of low-carb diets and thought that a higher fat, lower carbohydrate diet was preferable for most people (including myself). It took some experimenting but I quickly realized the negative effects eating that way had on my athletic performance, my focus levels, and my overall energy levels. I actually wrote a post on why I changed my opinion and why carbs are definitely not all bad here.

Heather Frey, SmashFit

The myth I believed was, “you need lots of cardio to get lean.” When I first started training to compete (in Figure), I would do immense amounts of cardio sometimes twice a day. For my first competition, it did make a difference because my body was completely not used to anything like this so it was shocked into changing. By the time I did competition 3, 4 and 5, the body didn’t change so rapidly. Not only was I adapting, I stressed out my body so much it held onto the fat I was working so hard to get rid of.

At a point where I was completely overtraining, I was at my “thickest” and not happy.. at all. Not only did I over-work my body, I wasn’t eating enough food to sustain that kind of training so my body held onto the fat for protection. Fast forward several years, 2013, and I injured myself competing on the show American Ninja Warriors and broke my foot badly requiring surgery, plates and pins, crutches for months, and a boot. For the next 6-8 months, I couldn’t do any cardio but continued to train around my injury, eventually rehabbing myself.

During that time I got the leanest I had been in years, all with no cardio. My workouts were heart-pumping and muscle building by doing circuits, combining weights, machines, and floor work. The food I ate was also in-line with the amount of activity I was doing. It was eye opening for me to say the least; to learn that lots of cardio was NOT the key to fat loss.

I know what I need to do to meet my fitness goals, but I always seem to fall off the wagon.  What should I do to stay motivated and/or disciplined?

Jennipher Walters- Fit Bottomed Girls

First, make sure your goals are realistic. Remember, being healthy is about being kind to yourself; not beating yourself up. Next, tap into your true motivation. Ask yourself why you want to be healthy and fit. And then keep asking “why” over and over again to that answer.

On the surface, we may think that we want to “look good in our swimsuit,” but if you really drill down, the answer may be much profound like we want acceptance, to feel confident or even to be seen. Once you get to that true answer, remind yourself daily of why it’s important to work out and eat right. And — third — remind yourself that you’re worth taking care of!

Anthony Mychal

What makes a surfer get up on the surf board? What makes a chess grandmaster play chess?

The big disconnect in “fitness” is the I just don’t want to die from a coronary camp versus the I want to look ripped camp.

If you want to look ripped, you need to take this mindset: your body is an instrument, and you’re going to do a lot of work to master your body as an instrument. Just like a musician.

You stat motivated by WANTING to improve. That’s all. There’s no motivation fairy. A good book to set yourself straight is The War of Art by Pressfield.

If someone was struggling with motivation to play the violin, what would you say? Just practice. Set your clock and practice every day. And if you can’t do this? Then you must not want to play the violin much, right?

Nagina Abdullah- Masala Body

The best way to meet your fitness or healthy eating goals is to do it step-by-step. You can’t expect to totally overhaul your diet and workout plan in one week. Have you ever been totally fed up with yourself and wanted to lose weight, went to the gym 4x a week and completely changed your diet?

What happened? You probably felt hungry, cranky, and irritated. Your friends, husband and kids probably didn’t want to be around you. After 2 weeks you burnt yourself out and went back to where you were before you started.

If you approach your changes slowly, with 1-2 changes a week and get used to it, then add on a few more changes the week after, and so on – within a few weeks your entire lifestyle can become healthier – and you WON’T feel like you’re depriving yourself or feel cranky or irritated! Find out more about how to forget about willpower and build a system into your life in Make Willpower Irrelevant.

Menno Henselmans, Bayesian Bodybuilding

If you fall off the wagon, you don’t actually know what to do. What you should do is what works, not what’s best on paper. There are a million different things that can go wrong, so it’s hard to be specific, but you should be realistic about level of motivation. For example, I occasionally have male clients that generally don’t care about training their legs. I tell them they’re probably going to regret it later, but I’m not going to force them to do squats. Instead, I may have them do bike ergometer sprints.

As for discipline, that’s mostly a matter of planning and self-management, not resistance to suffering. If you’re hungry on a diet and you’re not getting close to contest shape yet, you’re probably doing it wrong. Without hunger, there’s generally no need for discipline.

For more information about discipline, see my article Why diets fail and ‘eat less, move more’ is bad advice.

Krista Stryker, 12 Minute Athlete

Here are some of my favorite ways to stay motivated:

Keep a workout log: Keeping some type of workout log is one of the most important things you can do to stay motivated, especially when you work out by yourself. When you need a little boost of motivation, all you have to do is go back and look through your old workouts to know that all your hard work is paying off.

Make a workout schedule: Figure out how many days a week you really want to work out, then actually schedule your workouts in your calendar—just as you would any other appointment.

Create trackable goals: Having a goal in mind can help push you through that tough workout even on days when you’d rather be doing anything else. Whatever your goals, make sure they’re trackable (i.e. more specific than to ‘lose weight’), and always remember to record your progress along the way.

JC Deen, JCDFitness

Develop a process-oriented mindset, and not an outcome-based one. With the process, you stay present to your goals, and keep up the habits necessary to succeed. With an outcome-based mindset, you easily fall prey to emotions, and tend to make changes without objective reasoning. note: feel free to share this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=byR5k2JanRc

Chris Williams, RobbWolf.com

I think it’s a good idea to set up reminders of why you want to achieve your goal, and put them where you’ll see them often. Setting up regular reminders on your phone or email can be good too. Also having people you workout with regularly that can keep you accountable. It needs to become habit, which can sometimes take a little bit of time. If you go to a gym or particular place to workout, then make a schedule and keep it. Even if it’s a day you’re too tired and feel like skipping the gym, go anyway and just hang out there for a bit or walk around for a while. Just getting in the habit of showing up then, even if you’re not working out, can help build the habit.

I want to both lose fat and gain muscle- but I always seem to either gain both or lose both.  How do I escape this trap?

Anthony Mychal

Treat fat loss and muscle building as individual skills. You probably wouldn’t learn how to play the violin and the piano at the same time. And if you did, you’d probably get crappy results.

Learn how to do each, individually. Then alternate strategies throughout days in the week. Use your “bulking” skills a few days per week. Use your “cutting” skills a few days per week. If you want to gain more, do more bulking days. If you want to lose more, do more cutting days.

Heather Frey, SmashFit

You have to make sure that your nutrition is in-line with the goals you are trying to achieve. Often, people think that because they’re working out harder they can eat more which isn’t necessarily the case. You can eat more of the clean stuff (produce carbs, starchy slow digesting carbs, protein) but eating the junky stuff will only keep you even-steven. Often people workout hard and but don’t change their nutrition so while they will grow lean muscle, their “layer” stays the same so they feel bigger, not leaner. 

On the other side, if you don’t eat enough clean muscle food, then it’s hard to grow muscle at all. And if you’re a really small eater, you may be burning up the muscles you’re trying to grow just to fuel your body. The goal is to eat as clean as possible most of the time and eat throughout the whole day (every 3-4 hours) to keep the metabolism burning.

Chris Williams, RobbWolf.com

I suppose that depends on how quickly you want to gain or lose. Most people are a bit impatient. To get long term muscle gains without gaining fat usually takes a bit more time than people want, as does losing fat with minimal muscle loss. Don’t rush it too much, and don’t overdo it. You need to eat more to gain muscle, but you don’t need to go entirely crazy with it either. Only so much of that extra food is going to go toward muscle. If you’re going way beyond that then you’ll just get fatter. When losing weight, if you’re starving yourself and doing lots of exercise you’re going to lose muscle. Eat enough to have steady weight loss, keep protein up, and focus on strength training to keep your hard earned muscle as you lose the weight. It’s possible intermittent fasting could have some application here too, but again that depends.

Menno Henselmans, Bayesian Bodybuilding

That’s an issue with your overall program, not one particular thing. Researchers call the ratio of muscle to fat mass changes the p-ratio. The p-ratio is affected by your protein intake, nutrient timing, energy intake, resistance training volume, your rest intervals… everything. Successful body recomposition is the end result of everything you do in your program.

What are your favorite strategies for breaking a fat loss or muscle gain plateau? 

Josh Bryant, JoshStrength

There are number of them!  Here are 3 of my favorites:

1) Rest-Pause Training (its maximum intensity and lets you auto-regulate to that given day), great for size, strength and teaching the ability to grind.   Here is some further reading on it from my blog http://blog.joshstrength.com/2015/02/rest-pause-training-why-it-works-2/

2) Periodize frequency ie do more frequent lower volume workouts or condense the load and make it ball buster.  This can be done by body part or by lift.

3) Use Dead Movements for benches and squats–this means starting the movement in the stretched position at the start of the concentric portion of the movement, this eliminates the stretch shortening cycle and builds tremendous starting strength.

Heather Frey, SmashFit

It’s hard to pinpoint any one plateau breaking strategy because it depends on what the person is doing in the first place. To my under-trainers, they need to hit their workout more often, change up routine, weight, reps, and add intensity to their training and cardio. To my over-trainers, I tell them to pull back on their workouts and give their body more time to rest.

To all my clients and friends suffering plateau frustration, I tell them keep a food journal and to be extremely detailed and honest so they can see where food shifts need to be made. Plateaus are broken when you stop doing the same thing you always do so you have to get honest and push yourself out of your own box.

Menno Henselmans, Bayesian Bodybuilding

This is again an issue with the overall program. There’s no such thing as a ‘plateau breaker’ for either your diet or your training and a good program should never have you plateau until you reach either your genetic muscular potential or your physiologically essential body fat percentage, which is pro bodybuilding conditioning. Your program should be a system, not a series of independent workouts or a diet gimmick. My clients are always surprised at how systematically their programs are updated. That’s because people think in terms of workouts and short-term programs. If someone says you need a new program every 4 weeks or there’s a magic strategy for stubborn fat loss, they don’t understand the fundamentals of good program design.

Anthony Mychal

Do the opposite for a little while.

Most people expect their body to change rapidly. The problem here being that most change is gradual. Most people lose weight (or expect to lose weight) a lot quicker than they gain the weight. A lot of people expect to gain muscle a lot quicker than the body can reasonably grow muscle.

There are a lot of reasons for this, and I understand those reasons. You don’t want to shoot for losing one pound per month because, well, what happens if the month passes and nothing has happened? Then you lost a month. So I get it. I’m the same way. I’m a goober that wants his body to change more rapidly than anyone.

But, in the end, food is information. Your body sees food as more than a number. Chronic low food intake = there’s not a lot of resources out here, get stingy, hold onto what you have. Chronic high food intake = get fat because you might need it someday down the line.

The easiest way to combat each of these is to send information that conflicts every once in a while. When you’re cutting, make sure you let your body know that, hey, it’s not going to die from starvation. Right? That’s often overlooked. Your body doesn’t know you’re questing for a six pack set of abdominals.

So say you’re losing weight. You’re doing the thing. Imagine if your body kept losing weight at that rate…forever. You’d turn into a skeleton. You’d die easily. So your body pulls back it’s reigns because it’s not an idiot.

Be thankful your body makes changes. Don’t be angry. Just respect your body for the smart creature that it is and play to it’s smarts.

Humans aren’t linear creatures.

Variability is good. The balance between conflicting information can go many ways. Maybe once a week with HEAVY information. Maybe more with light information. Maybe it’s month to month rotation.

Amir Siddiqui recently has said something along the lines of…

When cutting, binge once per week.

When bulking, fast once per week.

Overly simplistic? Sure. But that doesn’t mean it won’t work.

Chris Williams, RobbWolf.com

Change. If you plateau for long, then something needs to change. For muscle gain this may be switching things up a bit with your workouts and rep scheme, maybe backing off for a week if you haven’t been resting enough, and also looking at food intake. For weight loss this is usually making a food log for a few days and adjusting the diet some. It could be calories need to even be increased for a time if you’ve been going really low calorie for a while. Also, sleep is important for both muscle gain and weight loss. If someone isn’t getting proper sleep then that’s always something that needs to be looked at no matter what.

JC Deen, JCDFitness

Changing one variable at a time, never more than this. Adjust training, and assess over a few weeks, or do the same with nutrition. 

Jennipher Walters- Fit Bottomed Girls

Lift weights and challenge yourself with one or two high-intensity workouts a week. Mix up your workouts monthly. (Here are some suggestions! http://fitbottomedgirls.com/category/workouts/) Do that, plus make sure you’re eating enough. You want a nice balance of protein, carbs and healthy fat at every meal. Don’t obsess about calories; instead, pay attention to your hunger and fullness levels. Be mindful at meal time and see what foods make you feel good for the whole day. Eat more of what energizes you and limit what doesn’t. I don’t believe in any foods being off limits, but if you listen, your body will tell you what really works for it.

Will Owen, TravelStrong

That depends. Is it really a plateau?

Often, people get stuck for a week or so (with the number on the scale or weights in the gym) and decide that their program isn’t working. So they jump to the latest fad or ‘hottest new routine’, and the same thing happens, so for them the only explanation is that they’ve hit a plateau. But that’s just impatience.

It’s only really a plateau if they’ve been (a) unable to make any progress whatsoever for 2-4 weeks and (b) following their plan to the letter.

If both those things are true, then there’s a few different things people can do (periodize their training, increase/decrease energy expenditure or energy intake), but the solution really depends on the individual.

What are the main things that stop people in good shape from getting into amazing shape? 

Menno Henselmans, Bayesian Bodybuilding

I hate to get repetitive, but again it’s a culmination of little things. Most of my clients are intermediate level trainees that are looking to take things to the next level. They train hard, get their protein in (often too much protein in fact) and got the basics down. What is it that gets them to the next level? I optimize training volume, their macros, their nutrient distribution, their rate of fat loss, etc. No magic, just optimization.

Heather Frey, SmashFit

To get stronger, or leaner, you have to go that extra mile. Most importantly, you have to get really disciplined when it comes to nutrition. That means eating the right foods, in the right quantities, at the right times, and that’s hard. People are busy, so if they don’t plan and prepare, they generally end up either skipping meals or eating the wrong things. When it comes to training, it could mean lifting heavier, adding reps and sets or adding intensity. It could even mean adding a rest day.

Working out 7 days a week is NOT the key to success. Rest days are as important as the workout days since this is when your body repairs and grows stronger. The key to “amazing shape” is to research the best training and nutrition approach for your goal. Even then, it may not be producing the results you want, so you have to be willing to tweak it and *stick to it* and that takes planning, preparation and commitment.

JC Deen, JCDFitness

Impatience, and getting lost looking for shortcuts or magic tricks. Getting lean is a lot easier than getting really lean because the process slows down considerably the close you get to goal.

Anthony Mychal

The few loose wires in the head that the people in amazing shape have that allow them to be amazingly dedicated. Or drugs. Because those help.

And drugs set the benchmark for amazing shape usually. So if you aren’t taking drugs, you shouldn’t be comparing yourself to someone that’s on drugs.

Chris Williams, RobbWolf.com

Time and dedication.

Jennipher Walters- Fit Bottomed Girls

Pushing it. In order to go from good shaping to amazing shape, you’ve got to lift heavier, run faster and get uncomfortable. Also, the cleaner the diet, the better. You need good fuel to get fit on!

Krista Stryker, 12 Minute Athlete

Consistency and intensity! Most people simply don’t want to work out as often or as hard as they’d need to in order to get past that good shape level and into the amazing shape category. Nutrition also plays a huge role in this, and if you’re not willing to eat healthy around 90% of the time, you’re going to have a difficult time breaking that plateau as well. Of course, everyone has different ideas of what they consider amazing shape to be, so this might differ for different people!

To some people, staying fit feels like sheer torture.  To other people, fitness is so fun it doesn’t even feel like work.  How can people in the first group become members of the second group? 

Jennipher Walters- Fit Bottomed Girls

Great question! Find something — anything — active that you like to do. It can be dancing, walking, playing with your kids, gardening, etc. Do that regularly (few times a week) for a month or two to build the habit of being active and get a base level of fitness. Then, start to try other types of activity that you’re interested in that are a little more challenging.

Try a bunch of stuff (sports, Zumba, yoga, jogging, group exercise classes, Pilates, weight lifting, etc.) and incorporate the new types of exercise that you dig into your routine. Keep trying and adding and pushing it — and you just might find yourself in the second group before you know it! Also, be sure to surround yourself with people you want to be like — funny how their “normal” can become yours, too!

Heather Frey, SmashFit

Find something you enjoy! I can’t count you how many people tell me they hate working out so they feel getting fit is futile because they can’t stick with a workout regime. But when I ask questions about whether they like to bike ride, or swim, or play tennis, or dance, or any other “non-gym” activity, most will have something they really enjoy doing to which I tell them… then do that! Those that want to stay active and fit need only find something – or things –  they like to do consistently and stick to some solid good nutrition.

For those that want a more muscular physique, I tell them they have to “muscle through” being a beginner until they start to see results and know what they’re doing is working. I absolutely remember walking into the gym and feeling clueless.  Now that I know what to do, it doesn’t matter how crowded the gym is, I can always find a way to work out the muscles I want because I know 5 different ways to do it. THAT is what makes it fun. I always remind my clients, being at the beginning is temporary is if stay the course.

If you can find an activity that you love and do it with a friend or community, even better.

JC Deen, JCDFitness

Develop a process-oriented mindset, like I mentioned above. One should make this a lifestyle, not a weekend retreat.

Chris Williams, RobbWolf.com

Try to find some ways to make movement fun. There’s not a one size fits all prescription for everyone, and there are tons and tons of options. Maybe you like lifting weights, but don’t like running. If you hate lifting weights, maybe you like going out to the park and running or walking and doing some bodyweight exercise in between. Maybe swimming, riding a bike, gymnastics, or dancing is more your thing. Sometimes doing something you don’t enjoy may be worth it for your particular goals, but at the same time if you don’t like what you’re doing, keep trying other options until you find something you do like or at least tolerate well.

Anthony Mychal

I’m not so sure they should. Again with the analogy, but I don’t want to play the piano. If I was forced to play, I’d hate it…until I wouldn’t. Love and fun typically comes from getting over the wall of hate and discomfort that just about EVERYONE goes through when trying to build a new habit.

Krista Stryker, 12 Minute Athlete

The biggest key in my mind is to find something you actually enjoy doing. I know this may seem impossible if you really think you dislike all forms of fitness, but you just have to keep trying new things! Taking up new sports is a great way to start out—rather than torturing yourself in an hour-long fitness class, try something you’ve always thought looked kind of cool like rock climbing, surfing, kiteboarding, etc. You’ll still burn calories and get fit doing those things but it won’t feel as much like you’re forcing yourself to work out.

Also it’s probably good for people to know that those of us who actually enjoy fitness haven’t always felt that way. When running used to be my only form of staying in shape, I absolutely hated it and it would dread every run I went on. As soon as I found HIIT and bodyweight training, however, my feelings about fitness changed completely and I now (usually) look forward to my workouts as well as enjoy how strong and energized they make me feel. 

Menno Henselmans, Bayesian Bodybuilding

A few things come to mind here. Training isn’t fun. I love strength training, but it’s not fun, at least not always. When I’m in the hole of a heavy deep squat, the last thing going through my mind is ‘Gee, this is so much fun!’. Training is fulfilling. It’s like a combination of meditation and studying. It’s good for you. It feels good. But it’s not fun. You can exercise for fun, but that’s a fundamentally different outlook compared to training for self-improvement, where progress is the goal, not fun.

And how do you get into the mindset of self-improvement? Honestly, I think you don’t. If you’ve never on your own intent started to exercise, whether it’s jogging or strength training or a sport, you just don’t have it. You can turn a drive for sports or jogging into a drive for strength training. That’s not too hard. You build value, knowledge and relatedness. But if you hate the thought of exercise and you’re in the gym for no reason whatsoever other than to look better naked, hating every moment of it, just stop. It’s not going to get any better. Either take up a minimalist program and settle for looking ok or just find a different form of exercise. Take up a sport. Go to group classes. It’s better to do something consistently than consistently failing to do something better.

And by the way, when I say you can only look ‘ok’ if you train for fun, you can still have a celebrity physique when training twice a week for 30 minutes. Just not that of a bodybuilder.

As for dieting, dieting is definitely not fun. Sure, on Facebook you see ripped people only posting their occasional cheat/outlying meals with a big smile. That’s just marketing. You know how the best diet feels? It doesn’t. The best diet is the one you don’t realize you’re on anymore. That’s the key. Turning a diet into a lifestyle.

I realize many of these answers are not what you want to hear. But it’s what you need. You may not like the message, but you’ll love the results.

Nagina Abdullah- Masala Body

When we have to motivate ourselves to get off the couch or get out of bed and make it to the gym, it can seem so hard! When we feel uncontrollable urges to eat a chocolate donut in the break room or have ice cream right before bed, we wonder, “Is it really worth it to be that healthy?”

When it seems hard to stay fit, we think we’re not trying hard enough – and our weight yo-yos up and down. The quickest way to stop your yo-yo weight loss is to be curious about what specific behavior of yours is preventing you from reaching your goals. Is the behavior that when you get home you are too tired to cook or go to the gym? How could you prevent that? Could you prep your food earlier in the week and then just cook it when you come home? Can you go to sleep earlier so that you can make it to the gym in the morning instead?

Once you identify a behavior, you identify an action and then a reward for getting it right. Find out more about creating your own sticky weight-loss plan in How to stop your yo-yo weight-loss.

Will Owen, TravelStrong

A lot of people fall into the trap of thinking that they have to go to the gym or ‘work out’ to get fit.

If you want to be a fitness model or bodybuilder, then yes, that’s something you’re going to have to do. But for the average Joe or Jane who just wants to be active (while still improving their physique) there’s a ton of different ways to do it. If you love lifting heavy weights, then great, but you could also try bodyweight exercises, martial arts, tennis, surfing, climbing, cycling and even things like parkour.

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The surprising truth about melatonin

I’ve suffered from insomnia my whole life.  Horrifying, life-ruining insomnia- it used to be that on many nights, I would go to bed at midnight, fall asleep somewhere around 3 AM- and then wake up around 6, and find myself unable to get back to sleep.  Insomnia sucks.

For a long time, I used melatonin on and off- it’s probably the most popular insomnia treatment around, but I found the results inconsistent- some nights melatonin really seemed to help me, but most nights it did nothing.  CureTogether seems to agree with me, ranking melatonin as one of the least consistently effective popular treatments for insomnia. 

So is melatonin a load of baloney?

Well, no.  Melatonin is the main hormone responsible for initiating sleep.  That much is beyond dispute.  It’s powerful enough that it’s actually a prescription drug in some countries.  And the issue isn’t that the body has trouble absorbing it either- remember, it does work sometimes.  The truth is rather counterintuitive, and it is this:

With melatonin, less is more. In other words, lower doses are actually more effective than higher doses.  In fact, this has been well-established for over a decade, but few people seem to be aware of it. 

To understand why this is, we need to look at your brain’s melatonin levels during sleep.  The brain starts to produce melatonin about an hour before you sleep.  Melatonin levels rise gradually during sleep, peaking one or two hours before waking, then falling rapidly. 

Higher doses of melatonin actually fast-forward that process, causing you to wake up earlier and have trouble getting back to sleep.  And predictably enough, they cause tolerance- after a few days, the melatonin stops working, and even your body’s own hormone production is thrown off. 

So what’s the ideal dose?  Amazingly, it’s only .3 mg. But that’s a problem- because most commercially available melatonin pills range from 3 to 10 mg.  You can break a 3 mg tablet into quarters and it’s still twice as much as you need- try to break it smaller and it crumbles.  1 mg tablets can be found sometimes, but most drug stores don’t seem to stock them.

So you’ve got two options here.  The first is liquid melatonin- it comes in a bottle and you measure it with a dropper.  The best deal I’ve found is this bottle by NOW Foods, which gives you a two year supply at just under a penny per night.  Note that the serving size is STILL 3 mg- I have never seen a liquid melatonin supplement that actually recommended the proper dose.  It’s just easy to ignore that and give yourself the proper dose, which amounts to a tenth of a dropper. 

The second option is Sprayable Sleep– a transdermal melatonin which you spray onto your skin, and which also happens to be dosed at .3 mg.  As weird as that sounds, transdermal delivery is not that uncommon for supplements.  I’ve seen great results with transdermal B vitamin patches, and you can find transdermal melatonin patches on Amazon- except again, they’re dosed way too high. 

I had the opportunity to test out Sprayable Sleep earlier this year- I found it highly effective, even a little bit more so than liquid melatonin.  It’s also easy to travel with, as it basically looks like a small tube of lipstick.  It just launched on IndieGogo and doesn’t seem to be taking orders right now, but you can get on their mailing list to be notified when they start taking orders again.  They just started taking orders, and also offer a free one-month trial.  Their company blog also has some great sleep advice. 

Bottom line: If you want to use melatonin as a sleep aid, take .3 to .5 mg (anywhere in that range would be fine, but never take more than .5 mg), about an hour before bed. 

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How to stay fit when you just want to lay in bed and cry

Not long ago, I’d been seeing someone.  We’d been dating for some time, and while the relationship was far from perfect, it was more serious than any I’d ever been in before.  I couldn’t be happy unless she was happy.  Any time she wasn’t around, I was thinking about when I would see her next. 

And then, two months ago, out of the blue, for reasons I couldn’t even understand at the time, she broke up with me. 

So, I’ve been a bit depressed.  After she broke up with me, all I wanted to do was lay in bed all day, eating junk food, drinking cheap wine, watching tv shows, and crying into a pillow.  So I did that- for one day. 

After that I got back to work.  Here’s what’s happened since she broke up with me. 

In the first five weeks, I lost half an inch off my waistline.  This equates to 3-4 pounds of fat loss, taking me from 14% to 13% body fat. 

In the three weeks since, I’ve gained two or three pounds of muscle, without regaining any of the fat I lost.

I’ve published several articles, both on this blog and other sites.

I’ve added a couple hundred more followers to my blog. 

I acquired two new clients for my online advertising consulting business.  This is how I actually make my living, FYI. 

I went on a first date.  Admittedly, I fucked this up by being a downer, but still, I did it. 

I’ve continued to meditate for 15-20 minutes with the aid of Versus, 2-3 times a week. 

I’ve substantially improved my posture, and eliminated my upper back pain. 

I’ve made it to the gym 3-5 times a week, every week, without fail. 

Given how depressed I’ve been, you might be wondering how I motivated myself to do all of those things.  The answer is simple: I didn’t. 

The whole notion of “getting motivated” assumes that your ability to take action is dependent on your mental state.  That you can’t do anything unless you’re in the mood.  But consider how you would behave if you were depressed.

Maybe you wouldn’t make it to the gym.  Maybe you would’t make the effort to dress well, or keep yourself well-groomed.  Maybe your hobbies would fall by the wayside in favor of just watching TV.  Maybe, instead of cooking healthy food, you’d just order pizza. 

On the other hand, you probably would make it to work every day.  Five days a week, you’d get out of bed despite badly wanting to sleep in, trudge off to the office, and put in your eight hours.  You’d do it because going to work isn’t even a decision- it happens automatically, independent of your feelings

I’m the same way with my work, even though I’m self-employed, don’t have anyone cracking the whip on me, and can’t really lose my job as such. 

More to the point, I treat fitness, household chores, and whatever else I’m working on- like meditation or posture exercises- the same way.  They just get done, regardless of how I feel.  So every day, I wake up, make myself some tea, meditate, work, hit the gym if it’s scheduled that day, and do whatever else I have scheduled. 

And at night, I process my feelings about my ex, and I figure out what went wrong and how I can ensure that my next relationship is better.  But I save that for the evenings- during the day, I set it aside so I can work. 

The truth is, there was a period of over a month where I never felt motivated to do anything at all.  The last few weeks have been a little better, with flashes of happiness here and there, but still not great most of the time.  I don’t feel motivated to write this article right now.  Nonetheless, the last two months have been one of the most productive periods of my whole life. 

There’s a lot that goes into that- I schedule my to-dos.  I take steps to reduce “friction,” making it easier to get started on my tasks.  I even make use of those occasions when I do feel motivated. 

But most importantly, I have a system.  A system to keep me on track with fitness, business, and everything else I’m working on.  A system that helps to motivate me, and more importantly helps me fight through a lack of motivation.  A system that makes fitness just happen, regardless of how I feel on any given day.  

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The five reason your weight loss stalls out

If you’ve been struggling to lose weight for a long time, it’s likely that at some point the following has happened: you start a new fitness plan, filled to the brim with enthusiasm.  You lose some weight, and you feel great.  Then your weight loss slows and you get worried.  Then it stalls completely, and you feel dejected.  You don’t know why it happened, so you try harder.  After a few more weeks of weight fluctuations, you give up.  Most likely you regain the weight. 

If you struggling with yo-yo dieting, frequently making initial progress only to backslide, there are five things that are likely going wrong.  If on the other hand you never even make initial progress, you’re probably just not trying hard enough.  But if you’ve repeatedly lost fat only to gain it back, you’re about to learn exactly why that happens. 

1.  You stopped sticking to the plan

What happens:  You started dieting and exercising, and you lost weight.  You followed the plan to the letter…for a while.  But lately you’ve been missing workouts, cheating on your diet more, and your progress has stalled. 

Why it happens: When you start a new program, there’s often an initial burst of motivation that makes it easy to stay on track.  After a while though, your motivation weakens, and your willpower with it.  Then when your progress stalls, you lose more motivation, and go into a motivational death spiral.    

The fix: The mistake people usually make here is in thinking that they went wrong by falling off the wagon.  In fact, their fitness plan in most cases wasn’t psychologically sound to begin with.  You need a plan that you can stick to- that means the workouts can fit into your schedule fairly easily, so no hour and a half workouts six days a week. 

It also means no starvation diets that force you to give up all the foods you like.  Having an occasional cheat day can make it easier to give up your favorite foods on other days, and cheating on a schedule is immensely preferable to cheating whenever your willpower gives out.

Which leads me to the second aspect of a psychologically sound diet- it shouldn’t rely solely on motivation or willpower.  Those always give out.  Instead, you need systems that not only help to keep you motivated, but take willpower and motivation out of the equation.  I’ll be talking a lot more about this in my next article- a good system will allow you to follow your plan regardless of how you feel on any given day.    

2.  You lost muscle mass

What happens:  You lose fat, but you lose muscle with it.  Muscle burns energy all the time just to maintain itself, so as you lose muscle, your metabolism slows until it matches your caloric intake, and you stop losing weight.  Quite likely you even regain weight. 

Why it happens: Two reasons.  First off, you eat too little protein, or even too little food in total.  Second, you don’t lift weights to stimulate your muscles to stay strong.  Maybe you don’t work out at all, or you focus on long-endurance cardio which breaks down your muscle tissue. 

The fix: Lift weights 2-4 times a week.  If you do cardio, make it shorter and more intense- think sprints, not 5ks.  Eat more protein and make sure you’re eating enough overall.  Also, make sure you’re getting enough sleep.

3.  You produce less thyroid hormone

What happens: Your thyroid gland produces thyroid hormone, which is sort of the master hormone that controls your metabolism.  Overweight people usually have low levels of T3, the most active form of thyroid hormone, to begin with.  In the course of a fat loss diet, T3 levels often drop even further, slowing your metabolism. 

Why it happens: Two reasons.  First off, simply restricting calories can cause T3 to down-regulate as your body tries to maintain its weight.  Second, your diet may actually be depriving your thyroid of the nutrients it needs to make T3. 

The fix: Make sure you’re getting enough of the nutrients your thyroid gland needs.  Iodine is by far the most important, but B vitamins, zinc, iron, copper, selenium, and sodium are all important here too.  To counter T3 down-regulation due to reduced caloric intake, you can either have an occasional cheat day, or otherwise cycle your caloric intake up and down on a regular basis.

4.  You produce less leptin

What happens: Leptin is an appetite-suppressant hormone produced by your fat cells.  It’s the reason people reach a fat set point instead of just growing forever or shrinking to nothing- lose fat and you get hungrier, gain fat and your appetite goes down.

Why it happens: Because you lose fat.  Fat loss, in and of itself, is the culprit here.  Take a moment to rage at the unfairness of that. 

The fix: When your leptin drops, you can eat more vegetables and drink more water to curb your appetite.  There’s also some evidence that eating fish and low-carb foods in general can help with leptin control, particularly if they take a long time to digest.  Weight lifting will also help shunt any extra calories you eat to your muscles rather than fat, possibly building muscle and boosting your metabolism.

To actually raise your leptin levels without gaining fat though, you need to occasionally jolt your fat cells with some extra calories.  So, calorie cycling or cheat days again. 

5.  You have nutrient deficiencies

What happens:  In the course of losing weight, you gradually develop deficiencies in various vitamins and minerals.  Maybe protein too.  Over time the effects of these deficiencies pile up, causing you to stop losing weight as well as suffering other effects depending on what exactly you’re deficient in. 

Why it happens: Because you’re not eating certain essential foods.  This is common on fat loss diets when people think “eat less of everything” rather than “eat more of this and less of that.”  It also happens when people treat multivitamins as a full substitute for real food, which they absolutely aren’t. 

The fix: While fat loss requires eating fewer calories overall, you should actually eat more meats and vegetables.  Fruit, other than non-sweet fruits like avocados and tomatoes, can be problematic since fructose will stall fat loss, so I usually save it for my designated high-calorie days. 

In fact, if your food is low in caloric density, the amount you need to eat, in terms of volume, can be surprisingly high.  Stop thinking of meat and vegetables as merely “okay,” and start thinking of them as good and required with every meal.  Vegetables in particular- eat as much as you can, with as much variety as you can.  If you have the time and money, consider getting your vitamin and mineral levels tested so you can understand which foods you need to eat more of.   

How to sustain your weight loss

When we put all of this together, it’s clear that there are just a few strategies which, when combined, tend to solve all five of these problems.  They are:

Lift weights-  This will prevent muscle loss and the accompanying slow-down, keep you looking good, and maybe even allow you to gain a little muscle.  Remember, when you gain muscle, you lose fat.  A good guideline for most people who are fairly new to weightlifting is 2-3 full body or 4-5 split body workouts per week. 

Cheat days-  Hopefully by now you can see why I love cheat days.  Physically, they solve the thyroid hormone and leptin problems, and can help with vitamin deficiencies by giving you a day to binge on fruit.  The psychological benefits are at least as important though- a cheat day means you don’t have to give up your favorite foods altogether, and having cheat day to look forward to makes every other day easier. 

Cheat days should occur anywhere from once a week to once a month, and you have to earn them.  That means you don’t cheat on your diet on any other day.  It also means your diet on other days is sufficiently restrictive to cause fat loss.

Aim for a 20-40% caloric deficit-  This is the range that I consider both effective and sustainable, both physically and psychologically.  A 20% deficit is good for slow but steady weight loss, while 40% is more appropriate for shorter fat loss cycles.  A larger deficit will cause muscle loss, deficiencies and fatigue, while a lower deficit will cause little or no weight loss as your body adjusts to it.  With a deficit of 30% or more, cheat days become an absolute necessity to keep your metabolism from slowing down. 

Focus on adding in good foods-  Too often, in dieting, people focus on cutting out food.  Then they go hungry, and they assume that learning to just deal with hunger is part of losing weight.  For the most part, it’s not.

Instead, follow the “crowding out” principle- eat more of certain foods to crowd out the foods you’re not supposed to eat, and keep yourself from going hungry.  This doesn’t mean to get hung up on magical thinking around “superfoods,” which don’t exist.  It just means, learn which foods best support your diet and can be eaten in virtually unlimited quantities.  On a fat loss diet, this would be meats and non-starchy vegetables; consider them required in some quantity, and allowed in unlimited quantities. 

I’ll be talking a lot more in the future about fat loss- how to start it, how to sustain it, and how to develop a system that makes it automatic.  If you want to learn to develop your own fat loss system, sign up below- I’ll send you a free five-day fitness course that will help you start losing fat this week, and you’ll get future articles delivered directly to your inbox.

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