Over the last several months I've become increasingly interested in what seems to be the missing piece of the puzzle when it comes to health and fitness in our country.
As we speak, there are more gyms than ever, more diets, more cookbooks and more supplements than you could ever imagine. Yet, as a country we are more overweight than ever.
Diabetes rates have doubled since 1980 and effects nearly 10% of the US population. The estimated cost to our health care system being about $327,000,000,000. I wrote BILLION out because I feel it makes a bigger impact seeing it all laid out.
The goal of this post is to present some SIMPLE things that people who feel that they might need to lose weight can do starting NOW.
During my initial research,everything that was spit back out was advanced and almost excessive advice for someone just looking to begin their journey. I'm sure this list will be molded in the future, but I believe that if most people can start with these simple tasks, they will be well on their way to success.
These are in no particular order.
Rule #1: Walk, preferably a bit further, every day.
As a trainer, it's easy to want to impress clients with fancy exercises, advanced programming, and the latest in fitness equipment. Running for a beginner can be rough on the joints and there is nothing with a lower barrier to entry than going for a walk.
Find a track, a trail, a park, or simply laps around your neighborhood.
Keep a log book. Write down exactly how far you went and how long it took.
Shoot for small improvements in one of those two variables.
Maybe one day you walked for 20 minutes and went a mile.
The next day, maybe you make it for 22 minutes or finish just over a mile in 20 minutes.
Either is progress. Celebrate it, no matter how small.
Rule #2: Drink Only Water, Coffee, and Wine.
I believe I saw this title from a Dan John slide, and although I didn't hear the presentation, when I sat down to compile this list, it stood out and thought it worth including.
Beginners pursuing fat loss USUALLY have a common habit.
Consuming TOO many calories from their beverages.
Fruit juices, sodas, sports drinks, and sugary caffeine drinks can add hundreds if not thousands of extra calories to your daily intake.
It's not uncommon to hear stories of people eliminating just soda from their diet and starting to make progress.
So we propose instead...
The benefits of being appropriately hydrated to mood, hunger, fat loss, and overall health can't be overstated.
Let's keep it simple, begin and end your day with a big glass of water.
This habit serves two purposes.
Not only does it get you to drink more water, but it also clicks on the mindset right at the start of the day what your intent is, your health.
Learn to drink it black. A splash of milk or cream is fine. But the color should still resemble coffee, and if you are adding 4 sugars to it, odds are you actually don't like coffee.
Tea would also fall under this category as well and is fine to have.
The fit pros and nutrition purists probably just rolled their eyes. But having coached my fair share of clients, I understand this... people are going to drink.
So rather than saying, "Don't do that!" I tend to see that providing some ground rules seems to work a bit better.
Over this journey you will not be a hermit.
The goal is not to isolate yourself from the world, removing all temptation as if you were Sleeping Beauty banishing all spinning wheels. Because much like her fate, when you come into contact with drinking, or a party, which you will, it could cause you to fall apart and lose your way.
So, what to do then?
Keep it to wine, a glass, and less than more days during the week.
You will find benefits for longevity (how long we are on Earth) from a glass of wine a day. And, I think that is a worthwhile goal too.
Rule #3: When a friend tells you "Fruit will make you fat." get new friends.
"A little learning is a dangerous thing." - Alexander Pope 1709
It was true in the 1700's and it's never been more true and rampant now.
Any question can be answered within seconds. That's a great thing.
IF you know the right questions to ask...
Over the course of your journey, you will at some point encounter a friend, "curious" about your progress.
Without fail, they will offer up some sort of advice that will be counter to something that has been working for you. Like having fruit for a snack.
The conversation will go something like...
"I read an article that said fruit is high in sugar. And sugar will spike your insulin levels, bring you out of ketosis, and will force your body to store the energy as fat."
The obesity epidemic we find ourselves in is because of strawberries and blueberries?
Do they even know what those words mean anyway? Do you?
When have you ever heard someone say...
"Man, I would have been in so much better shape this summer if it wasn't for all those apples."
Your friend will mean well. They are trying to help, but they are severely misinformed when it comes to some very basic nutrition principles.
EXCESS sugar and EXCESS calories are the problem. Both of which you'd have a very difficult time achieving by eating fruit.
They are taking an idea from a strategy that an advanced figure or bodybuilding athlete might do to lose the last 1-2 pound of bodyfat they have left.
While the article or book they read may have had a catchy headline, it is not a good strategy or message to send to someone just getting started on their road to better health.
The saying, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away," stuck for a reason.
So,what do you do when a friend or family member offers up something that seems so counterintuitive to what you know to be true or perhaps have already found to work for yourself?
Say, "Thank you, I'd love to learn more about that, could you send me some info?"
They feel heard, you avoid a long awkward debate, and odds are they aren't as passionate about whatever it is they decided to offer up and this will be the last you ever hear about it.
I think a deeper and slightly more depressing reason for comments like this are subtle ways of acknowledging or justifying something they have tried in the past and failed at.
Perhaps they followed a diet approach that allowed fruit, failed for any number of reasons. Now having read a misleading article on the topic they assign THAT as the reason for their failure.
I'm not suggesting that they are purposely trying to sabotage your progress, but it doesn't mean they completely understand their reasons for saying or believing their own words either.
So, when in doubt:
Take another bite of your apple, and keep moving forward on your road to success.
Rule #4: Don't buy "HEALTH" products from the same person that used to sell you tupperware, makeup, or knives.
We all have that "friend," right?
I put "friend" in quotations because we all know it usually isn't someone we hear from too often.
We've never sat together, had a few beers, and had a discussion that lasted longer than five minutes.
But somehow, NOW, you have "an amazing opportunity" and you thought of me!
But seriously, this isn't meant to be an indictment on those who have a proclivity towards multi-level marketing products.
I don't begrudge someone trying to make a few extra bucks. However, I do take issue when it is off the backs of those desperate to want to make a change.
Here's the hard truth.
You know that before and after picture of their "friend" or "client" that got great results? They're stock images sent out from corporate for all to use. They've never met that person, they don't know their name, and they certainly didn't play in any part of their success.
Results aside, the money making claims these businesses are offering don't stand up either. So odds are you'll be out of money, and not be in any better health to show for it.
Here's an interesting article for those who want a reference.
I can't decide this for you, but for me, this breaks through a layer of trust that I feel should be maintained. A business and "friendship" without trust can only last so long before the truth starts to seep out and failure is inevitable.
It could be a separate rule as well, but if it seems too good to be true it probably is.
So my advice?
Go for the free lunch, coffee or whatever they're offering. Politely say "no" and be on your way.
Rule #5: Only use supplements you would give your children.
The supplement industry is a $37 BILLION dollar industry.
A $37 BILLION dollar... unregulated industry.
The documentary by Chris Bell "Bigger, Stronger, Faster" does an excellent job at shining a light on the lack of oversight there is in this industry, and the lobbying done to keep it that way.
In most magazines whose target demographic is those looking to get in shape, almost every other page is an ad for some sort of supplement guaranteed to deliver the results you are looking for.
In the United States, most companies are able to list a very small amount of their actual ingredients and are able to hide the rest under a "proprietary blend."
This keeps the average consumer from knowing anything at all about what they are putting into their bodies.
That pre-wokout everyone is talking about?
Could be just some added sugar and caffeine, or it could be yohimbe which at the wrong dose or for the wrong person can land you in the hospital.
Would you give your child a preworkout supplement that needs to be kept under lock and key at a "health" store?
How about a stimulant that is labeled: DANGER, DO NOT EXCEED THE RECOMMENDED DOSE. Yet, the bottle contains twice the recommended serving.
If your child was a few pounds overweight, would you start slipping them "diet pills" with their breakfast?
The answer is hopefully "Of course not."
So be cautious and remember that people were healthy and in shape way before any of these so called supplements were around.
You don't need them and they won't help.
Not all supplements are bad.
There are some that for higher level athletes or those looking to push their physiques to the next level can be beneficial.
But ask anyone who's been around a gym long enough and they'll tell you any supplement they are taking provides very minimal benefit and is only there to SUPPLEMENT a very disciplined routine they've spent years perfecting.
At our gym there are only really a few supplement we recommend our clients take.
1. Fish oil. While some evidence has come out to the contrary, there is plenty of good support that they help reduce inflammation and help balance out the ratios of omega 3's to 6's and 9's which tend to be higher in the average American diet.
2.Vitamin D3. Blood work that is monitored regularly is certainly the best way to determine if this is necessary for you, but far more often than not this comes back low. The hormonal improvements, as well as improved mood (think depression) that can be helped with a balanced level of Vitamin D is the reason this one makes our list.
3. Whey or Plant Based Protein. Odds are most people might find it hard on average to get enough protein in. We don't recommend absurdly high numbers for most people. About .85-1g/1lb of lean body mass is a decent goal. A good protein supplement can help get you there. The results you will get in terms of fat loss will not matter if the protein is whey or plant based. Choose whichever works best for you based on taste and preference. From a health perspective, I'd recommend those that are naturally sweetened or use something like "stevia" over sucralose and aspartame.
4. Multi-Vitamin. While some will argue the absorption or need for a multi-vitamin, it can be a good "catch-all" to help potentially round out anything you might be missing in your diet. You'll always hear the counter argument that you should get all of those from a balanced diet. That's 100% correct but the odds that you are going to nail that well balanced diet right off the bat are low.
Rule #6: Find a community, not a gym.
Gyms are a dime a dozen. Communities are hard to find.
If you are looking to start a new habit of going to the gym, it would make sense to find one full of people you actually like, right?
Try a bunch of different gyms but if you can, find one that has a great culture.
The single biggest predictor of success I've seen with members is attendance.
What drives attendance?
Actually enjoying the place and the people you are taking time out of your schedule to surround yourself with 3 to 4 times per week.
So how do you know if a gym has a great culture?
Nowadays, it's easier than ever to get a good idea what a gym is about.
Take a look at their social media pages.
Is every picture one of their coaches training half naked or doing an exercise that looks so complicated you could never imagine yourself doing it?
If that's the case, odds are they'll continue to be more concerned with themselves than with you.
If the gym you are checking out is really in it for the right reasons, changing lives, than it will be easy to tell that.
You'll see great information from professional coaches being shared.
You'll see pictures of smiling clients enjoying class together and having fun.
You'll see pictures of people at the gym that actually look like you! Not only trainers that live and breathe for their next workout and meal from a tupperware.
Look at the language they use. Is it how you talk? Does it sound like you are having a conversation with someone you'd have a beer with?
Or does it come across as judgemental or from a soap box to tell you how bad you've been eating and how not working out is killing you?
The best coaches I know are normal people. They enjoy their favorite foods and drinks and still have a passion for life that they balance with their health and fitness goals.
We try our best at Aspire Fitness to make sure our message and content is relatable, highlight the successes of our members, and make anyone who may not have been in to see us feel like they'd fit right in here.
Like any great community you'll know it when you see it.
A great community lifts each of its members up. Even if they aren't having a great day, the community can manage to bring the best out of people. It also serves as its own accountability structure. If you miss class or a session, your new friends are going to be asking where you are. When's the last time someone from your regular commercial gym cared enough to call you when you haven't been in? As long as the monthly dues clear you're good in their eyes.
Ask yourself. "Would anyone care if I never showed up here again."
It's kind of a sad thing to say, but I'm afraid lots of places would not.
A great community also functions to perhaps give you a vision of somewhere you might not thought you could go.
You might meet someone just like you in class and see them doing something that completely makes you stop and think ,"Wow, I'd like to be able to do that."
It's easier in a group to see how far you've come. When it becomes your turn to welcome someone new to class, help them with an exercise, or encourage them to try something new, you'll be able to reflect back to the time YOU were in their shoes and know you're moving forward.
A gym can certainly offer you equipment and a place to workout.
But a community. THAT can change your life forever.
Rule #7: "All or Something" not "All or Nothing"
It's sounds cool, right ?
Catch phrases like... "All or nothing"
The truth of the matter is life isn't always going to push everything out of the way to help you accomplish your goals.
Unless you are training for a specific event, or trying to peak for something at a specific point in time, it hardly matters when you get what workouts in.
The problem with the "all or nothing" mentality is that far more often than not you can end up justifying nothing.
You have to remain steadfast in only focusing on that which is within your control.
Let's say you had planned to go the the gym but your kids are home sick.
Sure, you could write it off as a loss and move on the next day, but couldn't you still get a circuit together at home with some bodyweight squats, pushups, planks, etc.?
This isn't the greatest workout in the world, but it is SOMETHING. It moves you forward!
Worst case you can still get a walk/run in at some point even if just around the block a few times.
If the workout does have to be put off, how else can you get SOMETHING positive done?
Can you write a menu out for the week?
Can you prep some more meals to keep you on track for the week?
Could you put some time in to researching at home workouts and create a list for yourself to do the next time this happens.
With one KB at home you could get this done at home in 20 minutes.
20 Swings; 30s plank ; 10 Goblet Squats; 5 Perfect Pushups; 5 Rounds and done.
This happens with nutrition as well.
You make a "bad choice" at breakfast so instead of getting back on track with a salad at lunch you figure "I'll just get back on track tomorrow" and have a few slices of pizza for lunch.
You get home, totally discouraged and again still have ONE more chance to do SOMETHING to get you back on track towards your goal. Instead, you again commit to starting tomorrow and munch on the cookies you have in your cupboard.
There are also situations where you might feel like you're in a lose lose situation as far as your nutrition options. Things like traveling for business come to mind. Sure, the restaurant you go to might not be your choice, what type of food they serve might not be your choice, but you can still make the best choice available. Most if not all restaurants offer some sort of salad where you can add a grilled protein.
Blackened Salmon... "well it's not wild caught so what's the point."
A Grilled Filet Mignon... "well I bet they still put oil on it."
This type of thinking only leads to anxiety and failure.
You do the best you can and make the best out of whatever situation you are in.
One of my favorite phrases, I believe it's from Cy Wakeman.
Start replacing "I can't..." with "How can I."
So "I can't workout today because my kids are home." becomes...
"How can I workout today since my kids are home."
"I can't eat breakfast tomorrow morning because I have an early meeting." becomes...
"How can I make a shake the night before so I CAN still eat breakfast tomorrow morning."
I've had plenty of conversations with clients over the years about this topic.
It usually starts with a comment like:
"I know what I need to do, when I am super strict and go all in it always works."
Sometimes, it gets awkward when I respond with, "So if it works, why are we here again now?"
It's very easy to have a confirmation bias, remember the first few pounds you lost and feel like THAT is what you need to be doing. It's also convenient to forget that you've tried that several times now and each time ended right back where you were if not worse.
The truth is it didn't work. It failed you. Several times.
"All or nothing" is the easy way out. It gives you the excuse to quit.
"All or something" is the tougher road. It forces you to consider every action as if they mean something. BECAUSE THEY DO!
So, if you really want long term sustainable progress, learn quickly how to do SOMETHING each day. Not just when it fits your ideal day.
Rule #8: You should be able to walk tomorrow.
Are you looking to be the next NPC Bodybuilding pro?
Are you attempting to squat over 600lbs in your next powerlifting meet?
Are you looking to accomplish any spectacular athletic feat other than being able to zip up a pair of jeans you haven't been able to wear in a few years?
If not, then searching for the most intense workouts you can find on the internet might not be your best option for success.
Pay attention to the word "SEARCHING"
I'm not implying that there aren't going to be times that you are going to be sore.
The first few days after starting a new program.
The first time after doing a new exercise.
The day after you set a new PR (personal record) in the amount of weight or reps you used.
You WILL come across times that you will be sore.
But if you make "seeking out soreness" the gauge for a good workout you will soon be sidelined by a host of nagging injuries or even worse an injury that keeps you out of the gym for an extended period of time.
If you are working out for general fitness, then it should IMPROVE your life.
Being so sore that you can't keep up at work, with your kids, or other activities you enjoy will only serve to discourage you from making it a habit.
Here's an overly simplified example.
Doing two all out sets of 10 for a total of 20 reps. Being so sore you couldn't workout for the next 4 days. OR...
Doing 3 sets of 5 with the same weight.
Feeling fresh, and being ready to do another 3 sets of 5 two days later. For a total of 30 reps!
2 sets of 100lbs x 10 reps = 2000lbs of volume
3 sets of 5 reps of 100lbs x 2 days = 3000lbs of volume.
The math and volume will hold true for any rep range you want to apply it to.
This isn't an argument for soft workouts and not training hard.
It's an argument for building the biggest base of work capacity you can FIRST! So, that if and when you do decide to challenge yourself with a more specific goal in the future, it's only in addition to a well established base.
With that being said, you still need to make sure you are making progress.
The most basic way to do that is either more reps, more weight or more sets.
So, for example the first workout you do 2 sets of 5 pushups. The next workout you can advance by either doing:
- 1 set of 6 pushups and 1 set of 5 pushups. (adding reps each week when you can)
- 3 sets of 5 pushups. (you added an extra set)
- You did 2 sets of 5 pushups but this time you put a small weight on your back to make it harder (you added weight)
A good rule to keep in mind would be to pick ONE of these variables each workout and improve that way.
You wouldn't want to go from Week 1 (2 sets of 5 pushups with bodyweight) right to 3 sets of 6 reps all with added weight.
Odds are you wouldn't be able to and even if you could you wouldn't be able to keep it up for long.
Rule #9: It's not cheating if you're not in a relationship.
Any time I use this line during a talk or consult it never fails in getting a few laughs.
I think things like that, that are universally funny share something in common. They succinctly point out something we all KNOW to be true, yet fail to act out in our everyday lives.
One of the more common things you will see are people posting about their "cheat days" or "cheat meals" on social media. The idea is this. After a sustained period of being in a caloric deficit, which you need to be in to lose weight, the body starts to kick in a series of events including lowering hormones like leptin which will start to slow down the metabolism and increase your hunger. We can stave off this process by having a periodic SPIKE in calories, particularly from carbs if you were following a lower carb approach. Some will have smaller "refeed" meals which consists of only slightly more carbohydrates than they were consuming and usually from similar sources like white rices, sweet potatoes etc. Others prefer to have foods that have been typically restricted from their diet like pizza, burgers and fries, or ice cream to name a few. After this meal, you would go right back to your normal routine.
The benefits of a "cheat meal" are threefold. First, the boost in calories will help fuel further training in the week to come as you return to being in a deficit. Second, it should help you feel less hungry throughout the week, which is important to increase adherence. Finally, and potentially the most powerful outcome, is it provides a mental break from dieting and can also provide a light at the end of the tunnel for some people to look forward to.
I personally don't like to recommend a cheat day. Timothy Ferris' "slow-carb" diet which he presented in the "4 Hour Body" is the most well known of such approaches. While the approach might work for some, most I've seen tend to go overboard and sabotage a lot of hard work and effort. Most will report that when comparing a cheat meal to a cheat day, they are just as satisfied having a meal over an entire day.
Now that you have the background on cheat days we can get to the punchline of Rule #9.
If someone is single and is dating a few different people to see who they might be interested in, they aren't cheating, right?
Of course not.
The same goes with nutrition. If you aren't following a plan consistently that is putting you in a caloric deficit, than having pizza on Friday night is just another meal, not a cheat!
What people fail to understand is that most plans have you in a deficit for a good amount of time before implementing a cheat meal. If you are at a slightly higher body fat percentage and just beginning to improve your nutrition, the odds that you need to spike your metabolism or fuel more intense training are extremely slim. The only argument you could take for a cheat meal at that point would be to have that mental break as discussed earlier.
So, like most of these rules my goal is to actually give you something to do rather than just pointing out flaws.
Find a nutrition plan that you enjoy, puts you in a caloric deficit, and still allows you to enjoy things now and then, without having to have them scheduled as official cheats. It's more than just semantics at play. I try to stress to clients not to refer to them as "cheat meals". That word implies that it's something you shouldn't be doing. But, I like to remind clients that the program we want them following allows for 10% freedom. Having the freedom to choose what they want once or twice a week IS THE PLAN, not a failure from it.
So be careful the next time you're tempted to justify a meal or day by calling it your "cheat." If you find a nutrition strategy worth following, you'll never feel the need to "cheat" again.
Rules #10: Keep Moving Forward.
This is the motto that hangs in our gym, and one that I TRY to live by each day.
Regardless of the goal, I think if you can keep this in the back of your mind you are on the right track.
As a Philly guy, it's only fitting that it come from one of the greatest philosophical minds of our time.
"The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It is a very mean and nasty place and it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t how hard you hit; it’s about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward. How much you can take, and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done. Now, if you know what you’re worth, then go out and get what you’re worth. But you gotta be willing to take the hit, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you are because of him, or her, or anybody. Cowards do that and that ain’t you. You’re better than that!"
There's a lot to dissect there. I'll just try to give a little insight of what it means to me.
Any goal worth trying to achieve isn't gonna be sunshine and rainbows. Broccoli and spinach aren't going to suddenly taste like pizza, and you aren't going to wake up everyday wanting to go the the gym. Work IS going to get busy. A growing family IS going to shorten your schedule. You will go through hard times like the loss of a friend or family member. AND it is safe to say that there's a good chance a few of things might all happen at once. It's what you do in response to these events that matters most. These aren't the times to have your most inspired training ever, though for a few it is. Two times a week to the gym and a few walks is still moving forward. Ordering a salad with grilled chicken from the pizza place when you don't feel like cooking instead of pizza is still moving forward. Is it running forward? Of course not, but it's still in the direction of your goals.
You win at this "game" not by being perfect all the time, but by realizing there isn't any decision that keeps you the same. There is no meal or workout that keeps you exactly where you are. You are either getting better or worse. Each decision you make is getting you closer to or further away from your goals. String together enough small wins for long enough and you'll eventually get where you wanted to go.
Finally. "You have to be willing to take the hit and not point fingers." This for me comes down to what Jocko Willink would call "EXTREME OWNERSHIP." The concept is simple. If there is ANYTHING that is not going the way it should in your life, your career, your relationships, or your family it is YOUR responsibility to step up and try to change it.
Below are some of the statements I'd commonly hear in conversations that I think apply here.
"This would really be a lot easier if my wife would just cook better."
This one would always get me. So, let me get this straight, the reason you are overweight and out of shape is because your wife doesn't grill chicken for you or pack you a lunch? Ok, just wanted to be clear.
"It's my coworkers fault for always bringing in cookies and cake."
Ok, again, just to be clear. You were 100% prepared to eat a healthy, nutritious, and delicious meal and were thrown off course by cookies in the breakroom? Of course not. You didn't bring anything for lunch and skipped breakfast so it became nearly impossible to pass up.
"If I didn't have to keep all the snacks in the house for my kids this wouldn't be a problem."
Disclaimer: I don't have kids but I think my opinion is still valid.
Again, just to be clear. Your kids, who don't buy the food that is in the house are the ones responsible for you not being in the shape you want to be in. Ok, got it.
I draw the question back to what YOU are doing to move forward. I'm not going to pretend kids don't have snacks, but did you buy yourself snacks that are appropriate to your goals?
The list could go on and on. While there are certainly factors that might make this goal harder for some, at the end of the day YOU are the only one responsible for your health and fitness. Stop thinking of reasons you can't and use that energy to come up with ways that you can. But most importantly if you are struggling to get where you want to be with your health and fitness, PLEASE don't place the blame on anyone else around you.
No one that has succeeded at lifelong fat loss has done it due to lack of challenges. They've done it despite them. They've done so with the ability to look past a few bad meals or a few missed workouts. They keep moving forward.
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