Fitness is not a counter to eating. Whilst strength training is a counter to weakness and eating is a counter to feeling hungry, fitness is not a counter for eating.
I frequently hear such sentiments in conversations, social media posts and even on the TV / radio.
Someone will say something to the affect of, “I don’t do fitness; I like food too much”, or “follow this ‘X’ program to shed kilos of fat”, or worse still, “I’ve got to punish myself in the gym to work off that weekend”!
The latter is all too common and such a waste of good gym time, it’s stressful and pretty unproductive.
The most successful trainees I spend time with have these following in common:
- They follow a training program.
- They turn up to the gym when expected.
- They work on activities they find challenging (read, enjoyable).
- They develop skill and strength.
- They laugh and have fun.
- They don’t exercise to burn calories.
- They don’t exercise to punish themselves.
The ones who fail pretty much do the opposite of these 7 points. There’s another example of a ‘counter’.
When we turn to dropping some body fat, what does work?
For a start, it shouldn’t be hard, shouldn’t challenge us too much or overwhelm us.
Here’s a (short) list of 10 tips.
#1 Focus on changing one dietary habit at a time.
The most successful changes happen not by stubborn drive, but by attentive focus on dealing with just one, reasonable item. Studies show that when more than two habit changes are targeted, failure ensues. However, when a person focuses on changing one habit they are drastically more likely to succeed. Why stack the odds against yourself with too many things to change when one change is going to be more successful? Picking something to change that you consider ‘reasonable’ is also stacking odds in your favour. If cutting back on carbs causes too much resistance – don’t do it. If eating a bit more chicken with your lunch seems reasonable – do it.
#2 Eat fewer calories.
Yeah I know, you’ve heard this before and yes, it makes total sense. What doesn’t make sense is cutting your daily energy intake by huge amounts or, drastically overnight. Arbitrary numbers too, is nonsensical. Stop just buying into a random number because an instagram ‘guru’ tells you it’s what you need. Many commercial products too, sell calorie based packages. There’s the 1200, 1300, 1750, 2000 calorie packages – how do know these numbers relate to what you need?
The solution (to end my rant) is to simply look at what you’re eating, and decide what rationally could be reduced. By how much? A simple palmful size, that’s how much. Want to cut down on potato, well cut out a palmful amount of potato per day. Too much coke? Well, drop one can a day – that’s a reasonable starting point. You’d like to cut back on bread? How much? Yes, that’s right – whatever fits your palm size, a slice for example each day. These little acts of reasonable change will seem easy, and that’s cool. It’ll mean that change has a greater chance of succeeding and all those small drops will equate to reasonable drops in calories too. But, like #1, choose one item to work on.
#3 Check the quality of the carbs you eat.
It’s a sad reality that todays food options include far too much processed foodstuffs. What might seem and look like a fine, healthy product is probably packed with unnecessary sugars, flavour enhancers, salts, fats and a lot of stuff you may struggle to pronounce! Keep the carbs natural, as best you can, for most of the time. If it grew off of a plant, well, it’s safe to say it’s safe to eat. Got it?
#4 Eat your dam vegetables!
Talking of plants (#3), do you see evidence of them on your plates or in your wraps etc? Here’s the thing. When cutting back a little you’ll probably feel hard done by. You’ll be thinking you’re eating less and will more than likely stress a little. Hey, you’re human, it’s a thing. How do you deal with it? Eat more vegetables. They’ll make you feel fuller, increase the spectrum of healthy micro-nutrients and minerals, provide more fibre and make your poo slip out more easily! Eeeew, yes I went there!
How much? The experts over at Precision Nutrition suggest this:
Eat 1 cupful (thats probably the same as your palmful) of each group of vegetables a day.
- that’s one cup of green veg
- that’s one cup of purple veg
- that’s one cup of red veg
- that’s one cup of orange veg
- that’s one cup of white veg
If this seems unreasonable, read #1 again. Start somewhere. It honestly doesn’t matter where, just start to make a change.
#5 Are you getting enough protein?
It’s hard to imagine with so much meat, chicken and fish etc in abundance in the grocery stores, but many people are eating insufficient protein. Before I offend any vegans and vegetarians reading, yes, protein can be sought from plant based sources too.
Ideally women should consume the equivalent of 3 palm sized portions of protein rich food per day. Men should consume the equivalent of 4-6 palm size portions of protein rich food per day.
Does it have to be in three meals? Nope. Does it have to be from animals? Nope. If you don’t eat animal based proteins I’m pretty sure you know where to get your proteins but do make sure you eat enough of it.
Why? Well, protein regenerates the cells we degenerate on a day to day basis. Proteins and amino acids (from proteins) are used by our bodies to produce important molecules like enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters, and antibodies – without an adequate protein intake, our bodies can’t function well at all.
#6 Enjoy what you eat.
Okay, so we need cut a wee bit of the stuff we don’t need as much, we need to eat plenty of veg and sufficient proteins and fats but let’s not get bored eating the same ol same ol every day. Unless you enjoy that.
And that is a huge factor of successful nutrition – we have to enjoy what we eat. This is one of many things that make us a special species – we get to enjoy what we eat. We socialise, laugh, have fun all while eating. The enjoyment factor is also why many ‘made for you’ meal plans or diet sheets fail. They don’t match our preferences. How do we get away with enjoying food whilst limiting things? Being reasonable of course. Yes, you can have pizza every now and then, but plan for it and don’t make it an every day meal. Like your plate of mashed potato, grilled salmon and sweet chilli vegetables? Well then, eat it. Maybe make the rational and reasonable decision to limit the serving of potato but still have the dam meal if you like it.
Here’s a great exercise: On some quite time make a list of all the meals you enjoy eating. Next, make reasonable changes to each meal that drives each meal closer to the recommendations above in regards to carbs, proteins and vegetables. It doesn’t need to be perfect, just better than before. Then, make a shopping list and go to town. After this the cooking is the second most fun part before eating.
#7 Walk more but stop the endless fixation with calorie burning cardio.
Numerous studies have shown how walking is great for us. It gets us up, moving, breathing and maybe socialising. Walking alone isn’t going to expend much energy (unless you’re into hiking 10-20km on a Sunday morning), so again, don’t label walking a counter to eating. Walking is just healthy. Walking is a catalyst to better health decisions in my humble opinion.
#8 Get stronger.
Most peoples ‘go-to’ when they are gripped by the notion to shed a few kgs, is to do ‘cardio’. They refer to walking, running, zipping along on the gyms elliptical trainer or spinning away on the bike. Okay, caveat here – yes, cardiovascular activities are great, can be fun and social too but, they are terrible at fat loss – unless you are committing yourself to hours of the stuff a week. Most of us do not have this luxury – do you?
Back in the 90s when my job was racing my bike, I would be spending 25 hours a week on the bike, ate like a race horse which I didn’t enjoy and yeah, my body fat was between 4-6% but I was young and fully accepted that eating that way sucked.
Do you have 20-25 hours a week to wear yourself out to lose a bit of fat? There are easier ways.
Now then, strength training develops metabolically hyped up muscles, much more so than the more gentler muscle contractions of cardiovascular activities. Simply put, stronger muscles use more energy at rest – that is to say, they burn more fat calories at rest than ‘cardio’. Strength training also has the added benefit of making everything else in life easier.
#9 Check your sleep health.
If someone asked me how to get fat without eating more – just hear me out – I’d tell them to sleep less and get stressed.
These two go hand-in-hand of course but, less sleep increases cortisol, the fat storing hormone. Some of us survive on 5-6 hours of sleep, but I’d rather not describe myself as just surviving – I want to be thriving. So, the general aims are 7-8 hours of sleep each night. Bed by 10pm?
#10 How much water are you drinking every day?
Our bodies comprise more than 60% water so you’d figure it’s a pretty important factor in good health, including maintaining a healthy body composition. I won’t go into all the health benefits or what water is used for in our bodies.
Many people just don’t drink enough water. Thirst is often misinterpreted as hunger and yep, the wrong stuff in consumed. Numerous studies (I know, so many studies!) have been conducted that show how an increase of water consumption increases metabolism, alertness, sense of wellbeing, better skin and yet again, make your poo slip out more easily! Eeeew, yes I went there – again!
How much should you aim for? A recent study showed how just 7 glasses a day is enough. That’s all!
It can be frustrating trying to remember to drink often. It doesn’t and shouldn’t be massive deluges of water drank once or twice a day, rather occasional sips. How do you remember to do that? How about attaching the new habit of taking a sip of water to an already established habit. Example: Every time you go to the kitchen, you drink a sip. Or, an easier solution I’m stealing from the book Fat Loss Happens Monday by Josh Hillis and Dan John; every time you take a sip of water from your bottle, take a second sip. It really can be that simple.
That’s all folks….
No more tips. Gosh, that ended up being somewhat longer than I had planned. If you got this far, well done, go eat something and take a drink of water.
The end bit!
If I had to reduce all of these into one statement, it would be this:
Take a serious look at your lifestyle habits and identify the weaknesses and then make rational and reasonable decisions to change one item at a time.
In the words of Mr Spock, ‘Live long and prosper’.