What to know a little Personal Training Industry secret? Probably more than half of the people who hire a trainer to help him/her lose weight don’t have see significant body composition changes. Why is that? Well, answering that question is not easy, but the short answer is that real body composition change usually requires more time and more lifestyle changes than most people expect. Many people don’t realize the extent to which their lifestyle habits are intertwined with the reasons they developed a body they are unhappy with, and unlearning long-term habits can be a long haul.
Committing to changing your body is committing to a journey of continual improvement. Worthwhile journeys have potholes and roadblocks from time to time. If you’re serious about it, this journey toward improvement WILL disrupt your current habits. It will also force you to face your “warts”, and deal with who you are, how you came to be who you are, who you want to become, and why. Those aren’t easy topics to wrestle with, and helps explain why changing one’s body is not an easy process for many people.
What does it take to Change?
Is “Diet and Exercise” the answer? It is absolutely true that changing your body composition without regular exercise is darn near impossible. Yet, it is also true that you can do a lot of exercise and not change your body composition much at all. The same two statements could also be made about improving your diet. It’s hard to change your body without improving your diet, but big changes in your diet may still not improve your body composition (or your health). Yes, there is something more to the “equation” of change than just these two factors and there is a synergy that comes from understanding the bigger picture of an overall healthy lifestyle. Fail to understand that truth and your body composition goals may always elude you.
The Big Picture – Think Like a Detective
One major component of lasting body composition change is the art of listening to your body. Here is a great blurb from the blog by the guys over at the Metabolic Effect about taking the right mindset to fat loss. While I take exception with some of their dietary advice, on this point about the right approach, they nailed it:
“Fat loss involves the mindset of a detective NOT a dieter. If you approach this like a dieter, that means you expect linear, predictable & consistent results. Nothing could be further from the truth. Approach it this way & you are bound to struggle. Instead, learn by uncovering clues & paying close attention to your metabolic reactions. Then adjust, experiment & take notes. Only this lets you solve the formula so you can practice & master it. This is the process for fat loss” –Metabolic Effect
Approaching your body compositions changes with the mindset of a detective…now we’re getting somewhere. And you’ll definitely need to broaden the detective work beyond just food. You’ll have to reflect on your priorities, your finances, your experiences, your mindset, your medical/injury history and…maybe even your career path. Some of what it takes to change may not be immediately obvious or widely taught, yet the more you look for clues, the more you’ll figure out how deep the rabbit hole goes, and what it is that your body responds well too. Approaching things like a detective will keep you from throwing your hands up in despair when something you’ve tried does not “work.” Instead, such an experience can and should drive you to dig deeper. Pursue your goals knowing that your body is not uninterested in healing and having a healthy body composition. When your results take a while, ask yourself what you might be doing that’s standing in your own way.
Where do we Start?
The best place I could suggest to start is by focusing on being healthy first, and losing weight second. We like to say that weight loss is a side effect of being healthy. There are plenty of unhealthy ways to lose weight, but at that end of the day those ways can just make your life more miserable. To get healthy you must appreciate that there are fundamentals aspects of health that all humans are affected by. We all need water, sleep, good nutrition, well-managed stress, movement (exercise), play, hope, and more in order to live healthy lifestyles. Couple our shortcomings in those areas with the reality that we live in a high stress society, on a toxic planet, in a society that values low-cost convenience more than health consequences, under a medical system that has us convinced that they can medicate our problems away, and we have a lot of learning to do. There is no way to write a one-size-fits-all program that accounts for all the variables mentioned above. Not a chance. So instead of being overwhelmed we suggest you start with prioritizing. Start with diet and exercise, master them, and learn what else you can do to make them both more effective.
Having helped people on their health journey for many years now it is easier to see common threads that people who make genuine change tend to possess. Here are some of the things we’ve noticed:
Get Your Mind Right
Your body composition changes start and end here. If it’s true that you can’t change your body without exercise, it is equally true that you cannot change your body if your mind is not right. If you don’t think you can change, you won’t. The clients we see who get results have a common trait of a positive attitude, a determination (a tenacity) that does not give up. What attitude do you bring to your goals, and especially your workouts? Also, (ladies especially) reflect on what takes up more space in your head, gratitude or discontentment. If your focus is on the latter you’ll have a harder time making changes. Focus on what you can control; be grateful for what you have. Pick yourself up and move forward.
As a Personal Trainer, when I’m about to ask clients to do something that is going to be a significant challenge I’ve learned the more I can set them up to be strong in their mind, to help them know what’s coming and how to push through, the better they are going to perform. The same can be said for trying to change your lifestyle. You already get it that’s it’s not going to be easy, so prepare yourself for the challenge with some mental foresight. When it gets hard, step back and say “I knew this was coming and I know where I’m going is more important than taking the easy road right now.”
Thankfully I can say I’ve never been tortured before, but I’m told that anyone under torture eventually has a breaking point. The same could be said about how much change a given individual can handle at once. If you’re unhappy with your body/health, there is probably A LOT you can change about your health strategy. Realize you can only handle so much change at once and prioritize. Try to change too much too fast and you’ll crack.
Who’s Your Favorite?
Who is your favorite athlete (or musician, performer, etc.)? Think about the effort level they put into being excellent. Next time you go in for a workout, ask yourself this question “If, during a game, my favorite athlete put out the same kind of effort I’m putting into this workout, would I be pleased with his/her performance?” Everyone is allowed an “off” day now and then, and the above doesn’t mean you should run yourself into the ground every time you workout, but, does the effort your put into your workout match the requirements to meet your stated goal?
What Are You Willing to Give Up?
To say “yes” to better health means you probably have to say “no” to something else. Sometimes that’s a fairly easy swap and other times it’s life changing. A sad reality is lot of the time a person’s line of work (especially doctors and lawyers) is exactly the thing standing in the way of their health goals. How badly do you want your health goals? Are you willing to change significant portions of your way of life, possibly your career if necessary?
Get Your Movement (Exercise) Right
Master the Basics
Set yourself up for a lifetime of efficient movement. Hire a good Personal Trainer to help you learn to safely perform the basic human movements. Do these well, and you’ll take stress off your joints and add years, if not decades, to your youth.
Hold Weight Loss Formulas and “12-Week Programs” Loosely
There are some decent ones out there but none of them can account for all the variables of a healthy lifestyle, unique to your situation.
Move Often and with Enough Intensity
If you’re looking to change your body composition you will have to send a message to your body that it needs to be prepared to be fit at any moment. Your body has to think that activity is more regular than inactivity. Work toward being able to do all four of these each week. (See what I mean about disrupting your normal routine?)
- Walk 70,000-100,000 steps a week. Get a pedometer, or better yet, invest in the best fitness gadget I know of: the FitBit. In addition to tracking your steps it will also track your food, calories, miles traveled, activity levels, and sleep. Great investment ($100) in full-time accountability. Say goodbye to excuses!
- Find a way to stand more than you sit: Think of standing for 20-40 hours per week – I just lost most of you right here!
- Have a VERY challenging (appropriate to your body) workout at least twice a week
- Have a moderate workout 2-4 times per week.
Get Your Eating Right
Who Do You Listen To?
There are so many competing voices in the nutrition arena. Go to any local bookstore and you can see shelves full of books titled “The ___________ Diet.” One thing most of these books have in common is a reductionist approach to fat loss. While none of the authors would probably admit it, most popular diet books rely on tinkering with some sliver of human physiology and how we respond to that change (i.e. no carb, no fat, no salt, no sugar, no animal foods, no dairy, no…). They bank on what they suggest as being different enough from what you currently do that you can sense change happening. At the end of the day, the human body is an adaptable organism. Change something (for better or worse), and the body adapts to that change as best it can. In other words, change something as any of those books suggest and you’ll probably see some (probably short-lived) changes. The question is, is the change they asked for sustainable? Unless it is, the continuing/lasting change you are looking for will always elude you. For what it’s worth we strongly recommend the nutritional wisdom discovered by Dr. Weston A. Price and the foundation started in his name.
Eat Breakfast, and Don’t Skip Meals
You’ve probably heard it said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It is! Don’t skip it. Breakfast should be loaded with nutrition (not, coffee, bagels, pastries, or cereal with skim milk) and bigger than your other meals. If you skip breakfast you go roughly 18 hours between dinner and lunch the next day. That’s awful for getting/keeping your metabolism running. Feed your body intelligently and regularly and watch what it will do for you.
Focus on Quality Food Instead of Calories
While there is much more I could say here, the simplest pointer I could give would be that while the number of calories you eat is not unimportant, what is MORE important (in my estimation) is the quality of what you eat. If you want to be healthy there is no substitute for healthy (non-processed) foods. The “foods” of industry are not substances any human was designed to assimilate. If you focus on quality, you’ll find that your body starts to sort out how much to eat and when. Learning how to plan, find, prepare and eat farm fresh foods is for another article. But know that if you do not provide your body with the fuels it needs to build and regulate a healthy structure, you will not have health. Just like there is no substitute for sleep or exercise, there is no substitute for healthy eating.
The Counter Balance Scales
Think of the balancing scales and compare what you are currently doing well to what you do not doing well. On one side of the scale are the positive health measures you take. On the other side of the scale are things you do that don’t build health. Which side of the scale weighs more? Unless you flip the scale in favor of more positive than negative, you can’t ever expect that your body will change.
A Bit of Hope
Like I mentioned above, your body very much wants to be healthy, and sexy! If you don’t feel it is, start thinking like a detective. Start prioritizing what measures you can and should take. Seek out good advice and the stories of people who have been successful. It’s a lot easier to keep a body you like than change it.
Here’s to your health!