Smash the scale!
Focus on health over aesthetics!
These have been the focuses of my latest articles (read Staying the Course Part III - Smash the Scale and the follow up article Health vs Aesthetics through these links), but if you are anything like I was at the beginning of my fitness journey, you may be thinking "Well, that's all well and good, but how exactly do I stay the course in my goals without a scale to obsess over my weight with and the most recent fad diet everyone is raving about?"
The most well kept secret to success in the pursuit of any goal is PATIENCE. Many success blogs, memes, videos, etc. all praise the value of hard work and dedication, and while they might mean to include patience as well, they rarely speak of it directly.
"There is no elevator to success. You have to take the stairs." Unknown.
"I never dreamed about success. I worked for it." Estee Lauder
"Hustle until your haters ask if you're hiring." Steve Maraboli
"Success is the sum of small efforts repeated day in and day out." Robert Collier
While I too would preach the importance of hard work, dedication, sacrifice, and perseverance in the pursuit of your goals, it is my belief that we live in such a fast paced society that we often forget the value of patience as well and the truth that all good things take time. I can attest to this in the fitness industry especially, where we are constantly barraged with advertisements for the latest magic pill. "Lose 40 pounds in 30 days!" You've all heard that weight loss supplement claim, right? I plan to write an entire article debunking these ridiculous claims, but for now, I'll just refer you to my previous article Health vs Aesthetics where I discussed the woes of quick weight loss and touched briefly on the fact that it is easy to manipulate a quick reduction in weight without it being a true indicator of health or fat loss.
Success in any long term goal requires patience. Patience to devise a plan. Patience to fail. Patience to devise a new plan. Patience while you experience set backs. Patience as you coast through a plateau. Patience is CRUCIAL to success, and in regards to weight loss and fitness, it is the most important element to the whole journey if you want to reach the other side with your health (allow me to clarify I mean both physical AND emotional) intact. Success is an outcome, not a stage, and if you find your success in weight loss and fitness is a temporary experience because you keep falling off the wagon again, what you've experienced is a stage in your journey, not the final outcome of your journey. If you ever want to find TRUE success in your fitness related goals, you have to learn how to make maintainable lifestyle changes that still support happiness and success in the other areas of your life as well.
Keeping in mind that "maintainable" is a subjective term and what is maintainable for me might be out of the question for another or vice versa, here is a list of EXAMPLES of maintainable lifestyle changes:
1. Replace all cooking oils with coconut oil. Coconut oil is processed by the liver and immediately converted to energy instead of being stored as fat so this one change alone can lend significant help in reaching your weight loss goals over the course of a year.
2. Stop drinking your calories. The average person seems to drink more calories in a day than they eat. Think about all the things you drink in a day. Starbucks. Soda. Beer. Wine. Cocktails. Juice. Milk. Smoothies. Protein shakes. Many people forget that those drinks are chalk full of calories as well. Now I still drink coffee and post-workout drinks, so I'm not saying LITERALLY banish all liquid calories, but I AM telling you to bring your attention to how many calories a day you are drinking. The average Starbucks drink is 300-500 calories in one sitting. Multiply that by five (on the pretense that you order one every day on your way to work as many people do nowadays) and you are at 1500-2500 calories a week from that one drink alone. A can of regular cola is approximately 150 calories, but the average size of a drink at a restaurant is probably twice that so let's bump that total up to 300 and multiply that by five as well since many people order a soda every day with lunch. That's an additional 1500 calories per week. In comes the weekend and of course happy hour! The average pint of beer is a little more than 200 calories, but let's cut ourselves a break and just leave it at 200. Assuming we have a few beers at each get together and no other liquid drinks over the weekend, let's multiply that 200 by nine (three beers per day) and we've increased our total to 1800 calories. We are now at 4800-5800 calories PER WEEK that were in liquid form. That's 249,600-301,600 calories per YEAR. With one pound of fat consisting of approximately 3500 stored calories, that's 71-86 pounds per year. Can you see how reducing liquid calories alone could aide in your weight loss goals?
3. Drink more water. I could go on and on and on about the benefits of water, but will suffice it to say that we are comprised of 50-65% water. We have to replace the water our body uses each day for our system to run efficiently. Drinking more water will lead to a more efficient digestive system which will lead to a more efficient fat burning system. All those calories we just discussed drinking above could easily be substituted with water. Start reasonable though. Again, it's about maintainable lifestyle changes. Perhaps instead of drinking that soda at lunch, order water instead. Replacing one can of soda per day is 1050 calories per week (assuming your serving size is simply one can and not the restaurant equivalent of two cans or more), which is one third of a pound toward your fat loss goals.
4. Start exercising, but be reasonable! When you begin an exercise regimen, expecting yourself to make it to the gym every day for an hour or more is simply not realistic. However, you can get a major boost in your weight loss and fitness goals by doing two 20 minutes sessions per day of HIIT sessions (high intensity interval training), which has become a highly popular form of training and is easily done with no equipment from home using body weight exercises.
5. Time your treats! I do NOT believe in "earning" your food. That is an unhealthy mentality that only perpetuates a toxic cycle of binge eating and body image issues. However, understanding how the body uses the various nutrients can help you better time your indulgences. We're often told that sugar is bad (more on that later); however, after exercise our bodies actually need that insulin spike to better feed the muscles. So if you want that treat, why not time it for after your workout? I am sure there are plenty of nutritionists out there that would scoff at such a suggestion, but the truth is we are not going to be saints in a rigid diet. We are surrounded by treats and refraining from ever having a dessert is an unreasonable expectation. If you can better understand how the body processes sugar, you can approach those treats in a more educated manner. Spikes in insulin are not always bad.
6. Take the stairs. While going up and down one flight of stairs will only burn approximately five calories, we're discussing lifestyle changes and PATIENCE, so let's look at our behaviors in the home over the course of a year. How many times do you go up and down the stairs in your home in one day? I personally would estimate I do this at least 20 times. So that totals 100 calories per day and approximately one pound per year just from my behaviors at home. What if I extended those behaviors to work, shopping at the mall, the parking garage, so on and so forth. Again, one pound a year may not seem significant, but if we add up all of our lifestyle changes that would require little effort to turn into habits, we are quickly racking up the weight loss over the course of a year. This same principle applies to parking further away from the entrance, not cutting through the front lawn and going around to walk up the driveway when coming home, and taking the dog for a walk rather than just letting him out the back door before bed.
7. Eat more vegetables. Half your plate should be vegetables. Have the other things you enjoy too, but get full on vegetables first. This will reduce the amount of calories you eat in one sitting.
8. Order off the kids menu. Here's another one that nutritionists will scoff at, but again I'm writing this with the understanding that we are trying to make PATIENT lifestyle changes that will help us reach an OUTCOME of success, not a stage of success. If you can't resist the fast food, order off the kids menu. The portion sizes are smaller and will still satisfy your craving while resulting in far fewer calories. Indulging in your "need" for the fast food before the craving gets out of hand will help prevent a major binge eating relapse later. Of course, try to refrain from the fast food (aside from high calories there are a lot of toxins in that stuff that are literally poisoning our body), but what I'm saying here is if you find you CAN'T, go the "lesser of two evils" route. This would be the same moment that I suggest for you candy lovers, to buy the mini versions. If you are craving candy, often a piece will satisfy that craving just as well as eating a full-sized candy bar would. I am an ice cream lover myself. Instead of buying the full gallon, I buy the tiny single serving ice creams and only buy them one at a time when I want them. Not only does this reduce the amount of calories I eat in one serving, but it reduces the number of times I eat ice cream in a week. If the gallon is there you are more likely to reach for it, than if you had to get up and go to the store to satisfy your ice cream craving.
9. When possible, cook at home. Cooking at home will immediately reduce the number of calories you eat as the oils, spices and sauces used at restaurants have much higher calorie contents. You don't even have to be a saint and cook "healthy" meals. Eating a home cooked hamburger compared to a hamburger at a hamburger stand is going to result in fewer calories. On the other side of the coin, a restaurant can ruin a perfectly healthy dinner of salmon, for example, by drowning it in a high sugar, high calorie sauce.
10. Add in strength training. I've left this one for last because it does require a bit more commitment to your exercise routine, but the fact of the matter is muscle utilizes more calories for basic daily functioning than fat does. Adding a little bit of muscle mass will increase your BMR (basal metabolic rate) which is the number of calories you burn every day in an awake yet sedentary state. Basically it will increase your metabolism resulting in more calories burned throughout your day. You don't have to get crazy with your weight training either. You can go buy a single kettlebell to use at home during the commercials of your evening television show.
There are dozens of other ideas like these, but if you start with this list, you'll begin to find other ideas on your own. Don't try to make all the changes at once either, or it won't feel subtle anymore and your chances of long-term success will dwindle. Start with a few and once they start to feel like second-nature (because you adopted them as a LIFESTYLE), you can add a few more. Once you have incorporated all of the ideas you can start getting creative and coming up with ideas on your own!
After discussing a lot of calories and pounds in this article though, I feel compelled once more to urge you to get rid of that damn scale. I provided numbers in this article simply for the purpose of illustrating a point, but not because I want you to start stepping on the scale every day to track your long-term progress. Make these little lifestyle changes and you will watch the pounds in FAT start coming off. You won't need the scale to do that. A scale might only discourage you in the beginning because you will most likely drop weight fast from water loss alone, but eventually your body will return to homeostasis within your new lifestyle changes and you will replace that water. I do not want you to see the number on that scale go back up and mistakenly think you are gaining fat again because you're not. It's only water.
Start changing the way you look at your weight loss and fitness goals. Shift them into a more long-term, maintainable and PATIENT approach. Life should be enjoyable. A healthy life should be even MORE enjoyable. Pursuing and building a healthy lifestyle should not make you miserable, or make you feel frustrated and deprived. As the frequently used saying goes, life is all about balance. Small, consistent changes add up to large, maintainable results in the end.
A lover of words, magic, and the idea of changing the world by encouraging the pursuit of one dream at a time. Living the dream myself as a professional boxer, kickboxer, and MMA fighter.