One of the biggest pitfalls of the diet industry is the obsession with cutting out foods and categories of foods. We are given hard and fast “rules” about how to eat, exercise and live (most of which make little to no science – either common or scientific). Moderation or “flexible restraint” is a much better method for most people over the long haul.
The problem then becomes defining moderation. In any fat loss or health-enhancing journey, change is NOT negotiable. HOW you change, however is. It will take a kick to the comfort zone.. Sacrifice and compromise. But you have say in how you will go about it. Here are a few ideas on what might be “negotiable” vs “non-negotiable”.
Let’s expand on these concepts…
Comfort zone – get out of it and stay out of it.
Nothing changes if nothing changes. This is going to take some compromise, sacrifice and good old fashioned grit. It will mean saying “no” to things that can pull you off track – be that the donut at work, the 3rd night out that week, the snooze button. It will mean changing priorities, paying more attention to meals and preparing for them.
This doesn’t mean you have to be overly restrictive to the point of misery, however. It doesn’t mean eliminating entire categories of foods, eating only organic or doing 2 hours of cardio every day. Find your medium – that intersection between seeing results but not feeling your life is completely taken over by your lifestyle. So kick yourself in the comfort zone – but don’t beat the ever living crap out of it.
Move with intent and choose things you mostly like
Movement is crucial. It doesn’t make much of a dent in fat loss but for health and wellbeing the benefits are extensive. Moving with intent means getting the heart rate up, maybe breaking a sweat and making conversations more labored. You don’t need to do some specific “fat burning” workout, you don’t need to run if you don’t like running. Find activities you enjoy; martial arts, hiking, swimming, running, biking, rowing.. They’re all good!
Eat in a Deficit: Get there in the most efficient, least soul-crushing way possible
Every pop diet book guru over the past 20 years have been trying very hard to convince us that calories don’t matter. Well they do. Whether your diet is keto/carnivore, Paleo, Vegan, Mediterranean, South Beach or any knock-off therein, they all work by getting you into a calorie deficit. The “best” diet is the one that you are most likely to stick with.
Design your life in such a way that it becomes easier to eat a variety of whole, unprocessed foods, adequate protein and less empty calorie foods. Focus on grocery shopping, meal prep and making the best choices possible when out.
Eat your veggies! (but you don’t need to choke down anything you don’t like)
“Eww gosh I hate broccoli, but my diet calls for it”. Nothing makes me want to slam my head into a desk more than this quip. You don’t HAVE TO EAT ANY PARTICULAR FOOD to lose fat. That said, I’m assuming that if you are reading this that you are a grown-ass man/women. If this is the case, eat your dang veggies.. Choose a few “go-to’s” and eat them. Eat them in salads, stirfries, stand-alone or in a smoothie. Stop whining. Ok, tough love talk over, but seriously, get after them – they are higher in nutrients, low in calories and health protective.
Drink Water: But don’t be ridiculous about it.. And you can also have (gasp) artificially sweetened drinks
Make water your primary beverage. If it isn’t right now, that’s ok. Work towards making it so. There is no need to have 8, 10 or more glasses a day, however unless you are running in the desert. Have a glass with every meal, have frequent sips while active and drink more when it’s warmer. Other than that, don’t buy into the hype that you need to drink your weight in water.
If you’re looking for something sweet, nothing wrong with knocking back an artificially sweetened drink.
“But what about cancer”?: Nope
“Doesn’t it increase hunger”? Nein
“What about gut bacteria”? Nada
“It’s just baaaad for you” Negatory
Keep it moderate, keep water your main and you’ll be just fine. And you will save calories.
Strength Training: Lift. And do so to the extent of your abilities, access and preference.
Resistance training should be the foundation of any program for bettering health and fat loss (yes, even above cardio). If you aren’t strength training now, that’s ok, but start asap. Nothing will be more effective for getting stronger, staying vibrant and keeping you out of nursing homes longer than hitting the iron.
While it’s important to have proper instruction, I’m not terribly concerned about which program you follow. Provided;
- Your form is good. Movement is controlled and well postured while doing so.
- You are applying a stimulus to the muscles in a way that they will get stronger
- It’s well balanced (ie you aren’t training just chest and biceps.. Ahem.. gentlemen).
You can use body weight, dumbbells, barbells, bands, cables or any combination thereof. Gyms are great as they offer more variety but you can make do with home setups.
Calories count, but you don’t need to count calories.. But if you’re stalled you should
The goal behind tracking is to create an awareness about what you are putting into your body. Counting calories works VERY well for many and many find it daunting and it can become a bit of an obsession for some. I like counting as a secondary intervention for fat loss – meaning if a client has stalled for more than 2 weeks and can’t figure out why. Tracking – even if only for a few days can tease out some potential culprits of the plateau.
I use an app called Nudge Coach with my clients. I like it because it focuses more on habits than precise nutritional numbers. I will set up targets for parameters such as; Vegetables, protein and indulgences. Clients can also customize according to what they want to track. It’s less precise but it’s a fantastic awareness tool.
In short, develop an awareness about what you are eating and drinking and make adjustments based on your findings and your results.
Forgive yourself and scrutinize kindly
Self-forgiveness is the cornerstone to navigating your fat loss journey in the most emotionally healthy way. Berating yourself when you mess up, self-shaming and self-flagellating will produce a vicious cycle of conditional self-love. Be kind to yourself when things go sideways.. AND reflect on it. What went wrong? What precipitated the over-indulgence? How will you handle things better next time?
Through honest self reflection, the lapses will become smaller in nature with longer intervals between them.
Eating restraint is necessary, but make the restraint flexible instead of rigid
The word “restraint” may cause a visceral backlash in your brain. Try not to focus on the word itself but rather the concept of a range of levels of restraint. Researchers refer to both “rigid” and “flexible” forms of restraint. The former being associated with strict rules of eating (complete elimination of some foods) while the latter is associated with more flexibility when it comes to options. You will still need to exercise some restraint (ie. you will need to say “no” more.. To yourself and friends and family), however there is nothing completely off limits.
Take Home Points
Everyone’s health and fat loss journey will be different. Losing fat and gaining health, however will come with some discomfort and “non-negotiable” items. You do, however get to choose which path is best for sustainable success. There are nearly limitless combinations of ways to produce the results you want. Do the work, stay consistent and great things will happen for you.