How I went from untoned & unfit (Feb 2012) to fit & fitter…
- 10+ things I’ve learned about achieving personal goals
- What restarted my fitness kick: Stronger than my excuses
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. Consult your doctor before starting any exercise program or fitness regimen or making any significant fitness, diet, or lifestyle changes.
Remember, there is no one single formula for losing weight & staying fit that works for everyone. You may have to keep trying new things until you find a system that works for you. But know this — if you are determined to succeed, you will find a way.
“Getting results. When you don’t get results: Try something else. If you don’t get the results you want: Try something else. And if you stop getting results: Try something else.”
TIPS FOR GETTING FITTER & HEALTHIER:
Take out the guesswork
If there is a “trick” to getting fit and healthier, it is understanding what you are doing (which takes out the guesswork) and why you are doing it (which provides motivation).
Take the time to learn, don’t just jump into something without having a clue what you are doing or why.
I watch trainers take on new clients and have them do crazy and elaborate exercises without ever really explaining why. Meanwhile, all the fit people at the gym are basically doing tried and true exercises that are easy to learn and easy to repeat.
Meanwhile, customer X is jumping, twisting, standing on one foot while juggling weights in a way that once the client stops using a trainer, they’ll stop doing. I’m not saying these exercises don’t work, they DO and can be very effective, but there are often simpler ways to get results — at least for people just starting out.
Trainers can be great motivators. And they can keep you working out and working hard — if you need that
In my opinion, the people who really should be doing the elaborate and intense exercises are all the fit folks looking to take their fitness to the next level — as they’ve mastered the basics.
Next, don’t just buy into a system or a process without understanding why/how it works. And certainly avoid buying into so-called shortcuts (such as pills) or health product gimmicks or relying on others to package your meals for you.
What is in those pills that supposedly burn fat? It isn’t magic. In most cases it’s simply high doses of stimulants like caffeine, etc. — and too much of that can be dangerous.
And if you are overweight, there is no abs machine in the world that you can buy that is going to get you “6 pack abs in 14 days”. While it’s excellent to work on your core muscles, your abs are not going to show until your body is lean.
Forget shortcuts or looking for overnight or “14 day” results.
There is no shortcut worth taking. You gain your strength as you go. Decide what you want and do the work to get it. Every day.
I don’t care if there’s been this amazing new “scientific breakthrough” (there is always some amazing new “scientific breakthrough”) — forget it!
Nothing is going to take the place of the work you need to do as effectively as the work itself. Rely on yourself and tried and true methods that may not sound glamorous, but work without question so long as you do them consistently.
And that is one of the most critical steps towards achieving your goals — whatever they may be — CONSISTENCY.
There is no magic health shake that is going to DO the work for you. There is no magic belt that is going to miraculously melt your fat — so forget it. These are just very cleverly marketed products that you do not need to rely on to achieve your goals.
What you need to rely on is YOU. Just do the work and develop some good habits and loads of discipline.
Understand that somewhere in the realm of 80% of your health & fitness results come from your diet alone — the other 20% come from your activities.
This means that as much as you may just want to “work” your fat away, if you’re not paying attention to your diet, you may be working against yourself.
I highly recommend getting a basic understanding of the fundamentals of good nutrition. This is too big of a topic for me to go into details here. There are plenty of sources available online or in books that will help you learn what you need to know. And if you are serious about your health and fitness, it’s worth committing to.
Knowing what foods are good for you and what foods to avoid whenever possible. And not just trusting that something looks healthy or is marketed as “healthy” — you should learn to read and understand nutrition labels (fats, carbs, sugars, protein, and INGREDIENTS).
When you understand nutrition and don’t just treat it as some mysterious thing (ie. take out the guesswork), you are much more likely to stick to what you know — especially when you know it’s good (or not) for you.
One of the other primary keys to achieving your diet and fitness goals is…
Building mental discipline is one of the most important factors in getting healthier. It is doing what you know you should do and what you know to be in your best interest, even when you don’t feel like doing it.
“I don’t have time”, “It’s too late”, “It’s expensive”, “I’m tired”, “I’ll do it tomorrow”, “I’ll start on the 1st next month”, “I’m not ready”, “I already missed a day, won’t hurt to miss another”, “I have restless legs syndrome”, “The dog ate my shoe”, “I am suffering from a gunshot wound”, etc.
It is recognizing those moments when you are mentally weak and still fighting to make the decision that you know is in your best interest in the long-term.
Those are the truly tough challenges — not so much the physical stuff.
Getting on a treadmill or going for a run is easy. Lifting a weight is easy — especially when YOU decide how much you want to lift and how long you want to keep lifting it.
Deciding to put your sneakers on and run or to go lift the weight is what’s truly difficult for most people. And deciding to stop eating — even though you still have food on your plate — is what’s difficult for many people.
Battling with yourself over what you want now (I want that cake — or — I don’t have time to work out) and what you want most (I want to feel healthier) is the hard part…
And that’s all discipline really is: Choosing between what you want NOW and what you want MOST.
It’s not (all) about your weight
Because muscle weighs more than fat, and because your weight can vary daily depending on how hydrated you are, using only your weight to track your progress isn’t always reliable. Many personal trainers suggest:
1. Taking weekly (or bi-weekly) body measurements — so you are also tracking physical progress.
2. Weighing yourself weekly (not daily).
SIMPLE NUTRITION TIPS:
Keep in mind, you don’t need to start off on your journey of getting healthier by making broad across-the-board changes that leave you feeling overwhelmed.
Baby steps and consistency is all it takes.
Unless you are extremely disciplined, it is very difficult to make extreme changes to your lifestyle and actually stick with them over the long haul. So I don’t suggest that (unless your doctor does) — I suggest simply making small changes in the right direction over time.
All the little things you do will add up over time — and when you are ready, you can learn and try new things to improve your health.
Getting “healthier” for you may start as simply as doing ONE of the following with consistency:
- drinking more water
- reducing your salt intake
- walking more
- even just discussing a healthier diet and fitness can lead to healthier lifestyle changes
It doesn’t require you to join a gym and bust your ass every day. And maybe, just maybe, one day you’ll actually WANT TO. If today is not that day, then start small.
With that said, here are some nutrition tips to keep in mind…
Nutrition resource: I recommend the book, Eat this, not that and the Men’s Health “Eat This” section of their website.
Speeding up your metabolism will reap big rewards
One of the simplest ways to burn more calories is to speed up your metabolism. Your metabolism is how many calories your body burns at a resting state — or basically, whenever you’re not active.
The benefit to building muscle and having a toned body is that muscles speed up your metabolism. Speeding up your metabolism while also eating a healthy diet can really help you transform your body as you are burning more calories when you are at rest.
Don’t habitually starve yourself (crash diet)
Habitually starving yourself to lose weight is counterproductive, unhealthy, and one of the least efficient (and least “feeling good”) ways to lose weight.
- What happens when you starve yourself to lose weight?
- What happens when you starve yourself
- Why “Starvation” Diets Sabotage Weight Loss
- Very informative article about starvation mode by Tom Venuto
(Note: Habitually starving yourself to lose weight is not the same thing as intermittently fasting, which can actually have some health benefits.)
When you habitually under-eat (have a calorie deficit) for a number of days, your metabolism slows dramatically — you will lose energy and mental focus — and your body will eventually go into “starvation mode”, which means that it holds onto all your fat (instead of burning it as fuel) because your body is tricked into thinking you are suffering a food shortage crisis.
While some have success eating only a 2-3 moderately sized and nutritionally balanced meals per day, research suggests that eating 4-6 smaller meals per day, between 2 and 4 hours apart can be effective at increasing your metabolism.
If you find yourself ravenous before each meal, you are much more likely to overeat or find yourself reaching for almost anything conveniently available — and not necessarily healthy (such as a vending machine) — to curb your hunger.
Protein is important
Protein is extremely important in nutrition and it is a good idea to try to work some protein into every meal — especially if you are strength training. It also provides longer-term fuel for your body (and a sense of fullness) than carbs.
You can also maximize your workouts by providing your body with protein within 30 minutes of working out because
- working out spikes your metabolism and
- your muscles are most ready for protein absorption.
Don’t drink your calories
Don’t drink juice when you are thirsty. Limit your “liquid calories”. If you are hungry, eat real food. If you are thirsty, drink water. If you seek to curb your thirst by drinking juice (or other high calorie beverages), it becomes far too easy to consume more than a meal’s worth of calories just by over indulging.
Also keep in mind that while juices are promoted as “healthy” — this is only true in moderation. Juices are liquid calories and do not have all the benefits (such as fiber or the sense of fullness) of eating the actual fruits.
Alcohol and fitness
Moderate alcohol consumption can benefit overall health, but in excess, alcohol impairs muscle growth. Alcohol also contains calories (some drinks can be very high in calories and sugar) which can contribute to weight gain when consumed in excess.
Some more info:
Portion control: One size does not fit all.
- Restaurant Confidential: The Shocking Truth about What You’re Really Eating When You’re Eating Out.
- The CalorieKing Calorie, Fat, & Carbohydrate Counter 2012
Avoid processed foods as much as possible
This means foods with a ton of ingredients (many of which are artificial or preservatives). Processed foods are the opposite of “whole foods”.
Basically, the general rule is, the longer the shelf-life of your food, the less healthy it is for you. Fresh foods with fewer ingredients are almost always more nutritious and better for you. So whenever possible, always go for whole foods with fewer ingredients.
Avoid high sugar foods
Avoid artificial sweeteners, too — want an alternative, try Stevia.
There are too many reasons to avoid sugar for me to casually list. Just know, that even when you try to cut out sugar as much as possible from your diet, you are most likely still getting way more than necessary. Oh yeah, and sugar is actually a toxin. Also, avoid corn syrup as much as possible, too — which is extremely difficult, it’s in everything.
Also know that people who have cut out sugar from their diets have been known to see dramatic weight loss.
Low fat or fat free does not mean healthy
“Low/no fat” does not mean healthy — it also doesn’t really mean “low/no fat” — not in the long run.
Because of the way the body processes foods, realize that “low fat” or “fat free” foods that have a lot of sugar might as well have those sugars translated to FAT, as that’s how they are stored. You are not doing yourself a favor by buying low/no fat products that have a ton of sugar.
Avoid fried foods
Avoid fried foods.Yes, everything in moderation, but if you really want to get healthier, get fried foods out of your diet — at least while you are trying to achieve your health & fitness goals.
Not all fats are bad
Fat is not evil. At least not all fats. There are healthy fats/essential fats that you want in your diet (olive oil, canola oil, flax seed oil, fish oil, sesame oil, coconut oil…). These are actually good for you (in moderation) and help keep your body lubricated.
Carbs are not evil
Carbs are not evil either — you just have to know what kinds of carbs are better for you to eat and when (ie. example: starchy carbs (whole grain breads, grains, etc.) before mid afternoon (only fibrous carbs (vegetables) in the evening).
And unless you have a body builder physique, it’s a good idea to avoid eating at night (before sleeping or waking up in the middle of the night to snack).
Plan your meals so that
- you are not starving yourself and
- you can avoid eating 1-2 hours before you sleep.
Avoid soda — regular AND diet. These are absolutely not good for you and some have recently been linked to cancer (does this really come as a surprise?).
Yeah, you probably think water sucks — drink it anyway. Lots of it. Especially during any training routine. Water is good for your body. Water with a bunch of chemicals in it and artificial flavors is not.
Avoid sodium — if you eat any amount of processed foods, you are probably ingesting far more sodium than is truly healthy. High sodium diets are bad for your blood pressure, among other things.
If you have abnormally high BP, lower it (talk to your doctor first)
What you eat can play a large role in your blood pressure (as can your weight). Consider looking into whole grain oatmeal as a breakfast item (not the processed quaker sugar varieties), broccoli, almonds, and including apple cider vinegar in your diet as well as cutting out all caffeine and high sodium foods from your diet.
Capitalist America is not looking out for your own best interest.
It is your job to look out for yourself and your health.
The vast majority of products being marketed and sold exist only to make the sellers wealthy — and to secure additional income. This means that they will often tell you what you want to hear in order to get you to buy into their product — from foods to merchandise.
Just check out this Men’s Health article on The 7 Biggest Food Label Lies.
Is Subway _really_ as “healthy” as it’s marketed to be? It can be, but only if you stick to a 6″ sub and very specific menu items (nutrition menu).
That said, Subway is generally healthier than McDonalds or Taco Bell. Oh, did you think Taco Bell is healthy? Check the nutrition menu (fat, saturated fat, sodium…).
Can systems like Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig help one lose weight? They can, but they are also looking forward to your long-term business — they want you to rely on them for nutrition and their pre-packaged meals.
A better alternative? Simply learn about nutrition and portion control and make your own meals.
Do pills or health *shakes with “magical” properties work? They can sometimes help with results, but rarely do they provide anything of significance. You want results, do the work consistently over the long-term.
*protein shakes can be a good source of protein and aid in recovery when taken before or after your workout. But that’s all they are, sources of protein. They are not magical health elixirs.
Find something you enjoy
Getting started on a path towards better health is the important thing. Then sticking with it.
Find something fun. No, getting fit or healthier isn’t always fun, but it doesn’t have to be torture. You can pick things you like to do and start with those — even if they sound easy (like walking).
From this day forward, TRACK ALL OF YOUR PROGRESS — IN ONE PLACE. This is important.
It may seem silly or unnecessary, but having an easy to see place to keep track of your progress is can be one of the biggest in-your-face motivators.
It can be the difference between taking a 1 day break or “accidentally” taking a 7 day break… or falling off the wagon altogether. Seeing what you’ve done so far is huge and a much better and effective thing to focus on than how far you have to go.
I recommend writing down ALL the changes you make to your diet — from limiting sugar, avoiding fried foods, switching from a calorie beverage to water, changing the kinds of things of you eat — all of this is good to keep notes about. If you make a change towards being healthier, no matter how small, WRITE IT DOWN.
For your fitness training, I suggest a fitness app or just a plain old notepad where you track: date, activity, distance, duration, reps/weight lifted, calories burned (even though that’s hardly accurate unless you have a calibrated heart rate monitor — but if you use the same machine each day, it reflects progress).
The reason I put so much emphasis on writing this stuff down is because later on down the road — weeks from now, when you are feeling like you might not be seeing any progress, or life gets tough or whatever, you can LOOK at all you’ve done and have something to feel very good about. And go — “WOW! I did all that!? I should keep going”.
And then months or years from now, you can look at that old and dusty journal and be amazed at where you started from.
If you can lift a weight, you can lift a pen. If you can load an app on your phone, you have a place to keep notes. All it takes to start keeping track of your progress is a little (more) discipline.
Start off gradually and don’t over do it!
Many people start fitness routines, get too ambitious and then do too much and get painfully sore — creating an immediate setback. Start out SMALL and light and steadily add to your routine over time. We are not sprinting to health and fitness. This is a long-term journey. Every tiny thing you do, as long as you are consistent, adds up over time.
Aim to be consistent, not perfect.
Setbacks happen to everyone. The trick is to not let them discourage you from pushing forward. It’s OK to have treats and it’s ok to have cheat days, provided you consistently take steps forward towards your goal(s) and don’t stop.
Sometimes making “mistakes” or falling off the wagon can lead to people giving up out of frustration. We don’t want that. We just want people to continue making steps towards a healthier lifestyle, no matter how small they may be.
Set measurable goals
Set goals and make them a priority.
Realize that if you don’t make your health and fitness goals a priority, then it will be very easy for other things to come along and offset them. Is the pizza special down the road every Tuesday more important than continuing a healthier diet?
Find sources of encouragement
Find a source of support and encouragement.
Find a buddy or a group of people who have similar diet or health improvement goals like your own and use that to fuel your desire for continued change.
Always focus on how far you’ve come, not how far you have to go. When you realize how much time and energy you’ve put into improving your health and fitness, you will have a greater respect for what you’ve done and you’ll know you’re on the right track — it just takes time.
Have a plan
You may have goals, but do you have a plan as to how you are going to achieve them? Plan out in advance what you are going to do to achieve your goals — a schedule, fitness activities, anything that will help you stay organized and focused. This plan could go in your journal that you are already keeping track of your activities and dietary changes in.
Become aware of your triggers and weaknesses to overcome them
What kinds of situations have you encountered in the past that led you to “fall off the wagon”? When are your moments of mental weakness most likely to occur?
When you know you are most inclined to feel mental weakness, you can use the power of visualization to help overcome itwhile you are feeling strong and motivated. What this means is to vividly imagine the sorts of times and situations when you are feeling mentally weak and seeing yourself overcome those moments and doing the thing that you truly want to do. Watch yourself be strong in your mind — do this over and over.
Your mind doesn’t really know the difference between what is vividly imagined and what is real. When you vividly imagine yourself overcoming times in which you are feeling mentally weak, you are helping yourself in the future when those times you are mentally weak occur — and you can use your vividly imagined “training” to help you get through it.
Seek out ways to be more active in your day
Stop looking for good parking spots. And start taking the stairs, too. If you’re looking to get fit, then you probably need more exercise. Just pick a damn parking space and walk to where you need to go. And if you can handle a flight of stairs, take them. There are good reasons to stay moving throughout the day.
You don’t need a gym
Just getting outside and walking for 30 minutes is good for you. If it’s a matter of doing that or waiting until you figure out if you want to buy some weights or cardio equipment or join a gym, GO OUTSIDE AND WALK.
Act with reason
Don’t do something like a challenge if you don’t have a good reason (leverage) for it. To accomplish anything that might be difficult for you, you should have a real purpose for it if you want to succeed. Why are you doing it? What are the benefits?
Understand why you are doing what you are doing
As with diet and nutrition, understand what your exercises are doing. Understand why they are effective (or not). Understand that you can do crunches for 8 hours a day, but if you’re overweight, your abs are not going to show. As I’ve said, working on your core is a good thing, but there is an _order_ in which exercises make most sense to do.
It shouldn’t be torture
Don’t just torture yourself and call it working out. You can leave crunches and sit-ups and other stuff for a future date when they make real sense to focus on. As I said, find ways to make your routine fun.
Don’t despair if you gain weight”]Many people who are looking to lose weight by starting a diet and fitness routine actually gain weight at first. This is normal as the body adapts to your changes.
It’s not about _weight_, it’s about your BMI (body mass index — percentage of body fat). Muscle weighs more than fat. While tracking weight is common, it is not always a true indicator of good health or habits. Don’t be a slave to the scale. Weighing yourself daily is _pointless_. There is little benefit to weighing yourself weekly also. No one knows your numbers — what you want is physical results you can SEE.
There is no single right way
There is no one single system or technique that works for everyone. NOT EVERYTHING WILL WORK FOR YOU. It is your duty to try different things and discover through trial and error what works for you and what doesn’t. It is a learning process.
It’s ok that some things don’t work! The fact is that something will, so don’t give up. Just keep trying different things until you find something that does. This can mean trying different foods, eating at different times, working out at different times, taking days off, whatever. Just keep trying things. Everything you try — even if it doesn’t get you the results you want — provides feedback and is a step forward.
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