I write this article in the year which marks ten since I lost my own father to cancer. He was, and remains, the greatest man, and almost by default, the greatest father in the world.
I regret that I cannot and have not been that great as a father to you.
Let me try to explain…
I spent 35 years of my life watching the man I called “Dad” be everything in the world to me, to my mother and to everyone who ever experienced him. I didn’t always agree with what he did or how he did it, but he was rarely wrong and I didn’t fully appreciate that until I was well out of my 20s.
I wish I could tell you that a “good raising” results in a good person. But, sometimes bad things happen to good people and sometimes, good people do bad things. I can assure you, I’ve had my fair share of both.
I do think that time has taught me to be better, in all ways, but not without my flaws. One of the most significant of which, has been that I’ve rarely known how to relate to you.
Something bad happened to me when I was a child and even as an adult, I struggle with the effects of that. It took therapy, it took years of self-destruction, and it took people more patient than I to help me through it.
If I have succeeded at anything thus far in life, it’s that neither of you have suffered in that way. To wit, if I have anything to do with it, no one will ever lay a harmful hand on either of you. You are my sons and I’ll do all I can to protect you from what I went through.
It was those events, that in some manner of speaking, forced me to forget or black out most of my childhood. I remember very little. Sadly, when my mother, your “Mula” asks me if I remember certain events from when I was around the age of either of you, I just don’t remember much at all. It’s sad, really. I want to remember what being a child was like so that I can give you some of the fonder memories simply because I did have happy moments as a child, I just don’t recall them. Trauma has a way of making us forget a lot…
To Jackson, my first:
You may never be able to read and comprehend these words but you were born into a marriage that was on its last legs. Your mother and I just were not equipped to continue our relationship further. We didn’t know when we split that you would eventually be diagnosed with autism and while it likely would not have changed the trajectory of our relationship, it did make us want to be better people for you. I have always and will always credit your mother for being the more mature of us both when things went south and remind me, that from here on out, we would always do what’s best for you. She has been a tremendous mother and she has sacrificed a great deal to give you the very best life that you could have. As a result, you are the sweetest, kindest, happiest and most beautiful boy we could have asked for. I will speak for us both in saying, I truly believe you got our best parts. While you may not remember him very well, because you were only three when he passed away, your Opa loved you so very much. He would be so proud of the young man you are today. I am still shocked to tell people that I now have a teenager. Your mother and I love you so very much and you make being a parent a gift every day.
To Sebastian, my last gift to this world:
I have a life with you that I never had with Jackson. I get to be an active, daily part of your life. I get to see you every night when I come home from work. And while we both might be tired from a day of activity/work, I get to hear your sweet voice each night as you head up to your bedroom to say: “Night, night, Dada. I love you.” And it is one of my favorite parts of any day, hearing you say those words to me. You don’t understand this now but you will always, always have to be a support for Jackson. You’re beginning to grasp that Jackson is not quite like you. This will never be a bad thing. You both have this amazing ability to light up any room that you walk into with these magnetizing smiles and bright eyes. Like Jackson’s mother, your mother has done so much to make sure you that you evolve and mature into a talented, charismatic and intelligent little boy. Because I’ve seen it firsthand, I know how hard your mother has worked to give you every opportunity in the world any boy could ask for. We have both tried to work on loving each other and displaying that love in ways that you can grow up in a home as loving and nurturing as the one I grew up in. We love you Sebastian, thank you for making our home brighter and our family bonds tighter each day.
To you both:
Take care of one another. My very best accomplishments, as a man, and as a father, have been to make myself better so that I can, in turn, help make you better. Everything I do for you in this world is to keep you safe, keep you happy, teach you to be better men than anything I was and to protect you from roads I chose to travel. Your Opa saw me through some very dark days and no father should ever have to see his son go through those things, in this life or the next. Some day, I will be able to share stories that help you make better decisions in your own life: to cherish your family, to work hard for yourself and your family, and to make the world a better place to live. This is not an easy world to live in and the things you will value most will take hard work to appreciate. This is okay. Work hard, take nothing for granted.
It is through you both that I am slowly learning how to be the man my own father wished me to be, that he was stolen from this world before he could view it all is a tragedy I can’t adequately express. I know he’s watching over all of us from a better place and a place where he no longer feels pain.
I will always, always try to be the father you both deserve because as the adage goes: you can’t pick your parents. But your parents can always work harder to show you the love, the attention and the life you both deserve to have.
In the second part of our 4-part series together, Sohee Lee is back with another episode tailored more to our fellow coaches. We talk about content creation this week. Sohee has the perspective of the online coach with a very large following and her thoughts on what platforms and what types of posts she feels perform best for her and appropriately target her demographic. I offer my thoughts on content creation from the viewpoint of primarily brick-and-mortar marketing and helps me attract and retain my target demographic. If you’re looking for insight as a fellow coach, you’ll want to dive in.
Shout out to Martin MacDonald and the staff of Mac-Nutrition UNI for introducing me to this handy little tool. While they may not have been the ones to create it, I’ve been using it a lot for many of my client consultations. A 24-hour food recall won’t help every client (I’ve been hard-pressed to find anything that serves everyone equally) but it can be helpful if you’re trying to make some small changes for possibly big results in your diet.
This is also the first blog of it’s kind I’ve ever written. What I mean by that, is that I want you to interact with me regarding your responses. You can comment below this article if you’d like, comment on Facebook or Instagram where it will be posted, or you can email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
On the day I’m writing this, my diet has been abnormal. I figured this would be as good a day as any to post my own 24-hour recall so that you can put yourself in my shoes and do some investigative work. Much like being able to offer great relationship advice to a friend and not always being aware of your own misgivings in your relationships, you might find that by looking at my day of eating (as uncharacteristic as it is), that you could give me some tips if I wanted to lose weight.
For the record, I’m not trying to lose any weight (have you seen me lately? I need every damn calorie I can get!) However, what I’d like you to do is “assume” that weight loss, any amount of weight loss is my goal.
Assume as well that I am, as of now, unwilling to change my dietary style. So, we can pretend that I eat this way every day and I just want to drop some pounds without making a 180 degree dietary turn.
Intentionally, I will be posting quantities of the foods I ate with some margin of error and I won’t be giving you much detail when it comes to actual serving size or where the food came from.
2 cups coffee black
4 slices of bacon
2 thick cuts of turkey breast
1 Vanilla pudding
4 pieces of fried chicken (breast (2), leg, wing)
1 buttermilk biscuit
Baja Fish Taco Bowl (cod, radishes, slaw, Mexican mayo, cilantro, cucumber, avocado, black beans)
1 piece dark chocolate
And there you have it. One weekend day of eating that does not fit my norm but I consumed it. Now, what would youchange about my day if I told you I wanted to eat basically the same way (style of eating) BUT I also want to drop some pounds?
Bonus Points if you can send me your 24-hour recall and offer the same suggestions for yourself.
Dieting doesn’t have to be difficult and you can still eat basically the same way you like (with some degree of compromise).
Sohee Lee makes her triumphant return to join me in the next 4-part series of the show. Longtime listeners may remember her first episode with me way back at #77 in August of 2017. It has shockingly been that long since I circled back to get Sohee back on the show. Fortunately, this miniseries makes up for a lot of lost time. In this episode, we cover what we feel to be many of the basics that fellow trainers would need to get started as online coaches. You’ll hear our thoughts on touchpoint expectations, the importance of video calls, setting boundaries between the coach and client in the online realm, scarcity marketing, pricing and much more.
The majority of the clients who come to my door at RevFit are coming for weight loss. Maybe they’ve heard about my coaching style or they’ve seen the results of my clients or they just did a random local Google search and came across our website to find out more.
The problem (and this will always be a problem) is that weight loss is more than just numbers. It’s more than meal plans, it’s more than mental readiness, it’s more than willpower, it’s more than simply the “desire” to lose weight.
Inherently, dieting is a stressor. It also requires disruption in the status quo. No matter who you are, how old you are, what gender you are and what unique characteristics you bring to the table, what led to you gaining weight requires effort (often conscious, sometimes unconscious) that will change the way that your life and your relationship with food operates.
The older you are, the more diets you’ve tried, and the more calloused of an opinion you’ve developed about dieting, the more difficult it may be to see the results you’re seeking.
Not to mention, the legitimate, clinical disorders around eating (binge eating, anorexia, orthorexia, etc.) which can also complicate the path to the goal.
Recently, a client of mine shared a meme in one of my closed communities expressing the sentiment that I used to title this week’s article (Thanks, M!)
So, my goal this week is to do my damnedest to unpack this one. If you share the feelings of my client, and you really want to lose weight but you really don’t want to “do the thing” and that frustrates the bejesus out of you, you’ll want to read on.
If you can spend some time focusing on these areas of life, not directly related to weight loss per se, you might invariably find yourself in a place where wanting to lose weight and actually taking the steps towards doing so aren’t as difficult to do.
Get comfy, this won’t be a short read.
Maybe Now Is Not A Good Time
This is a very simple, albeit temporary pass that even though you want fat loss, that when you take stock of all the things happening in your life right now, you actually would be putting yourself at a disadvantage to try losing weight. For instance, maybe you’re a caretaker for an elderly/sick relative. In addition, you might be a parent, spouse, full/part-time employee and you just can’t manage another task on your plate. This is not only okay, it’s 100% normal. The question to ask yourself is: If not now, when? The answer depends on how you’re currently handling the stress that’s on your plate. Let’s face it, the responsibilities of just being a parent, a spouse, a caretaker or an employee can be monumental all on their own. Learning how to meal prep, staying in a calorie deficit, fitting in an exercise regimen and getting consistent sleep might just be more than you can handle (for now). If you don’t see your status as parent/spouse/employee/caretaker changing anytime soon, ask yourself if there is a better time in the foreseeable future that you can revisit your weight loss goals and start implementing the steps it takes to get there. The fact of the matter is that we ALL have stress and some of that stress is good, healthy stress and some is absolutely life-altering negative stress. How YOU react to that stress day in-day out, week in-week out, is what determines your success rate. If now is not a good time to focus on weight loss (but you still want to lose it) cut yourself some slack and look at what you are currently trying to manage. If you see a light at the end of the tunnel, make a commitment to yourself to revisit your weight loss goals then.
You Have Unrealistic Weight Loss Goals/Timelines
Often, I find clients have these hard set numbers about how much weight they want to lose and how long they think it should take to get there. The numbers are arbitrary and while they may have emotional weight to them, a client might not realize what they will have to sacrifice/compromise and for how long to actually obtain those numbers. Let’s assume you have 50 pounds to lose. Let’s also assume that due to life stressors (see the point I mentioned above) you gained that weight steadily over a period of 3 years. How long do you believe it should take you to lose it? 6 months, 12 months, 3 years? Here’s the answer: it could be any of those (but you should consider the reality it might be longer than you want it to be). A more helpful (and realistic approach) would be to look at what you can change immediately that will net you a short-term weight loss result. In other words, what could you change in your diet and lifestyle that would result in say, 2 pounds of weight loss in the next week or two? Once you’ve determined that, can you replicate those behaviors for the next week or two? Now, let’s extrapolate that. If you can lose 2 pounds this week, by making some reasonable changes to your diet, you’d be (theoretically) at your goal weight in 25 weeks (approximately 6 months). If we slow down that rate of loss and say that you can only realistically lose 1 pound a week, you would be at your goal weight in less than a year. A tactic would be to “forget” that you have 50 pounds to lose and just see what changes you can make where you continue to whittle away, 1-2 pounds/week without doing something obnoxious and unsustainable with your diet. Due to our collectively annoying habit of wanting big, sweeping dramatic results rightthisverysecond, I’ve seen clients do fantastically bizarre things with their diets just to say they lost 5 pounds in a week only to gain it back two weeks later because (SURPRISE!) that Grapefruit/Detox/Cleanse/Colon Flush was not a sustainable plan! Add some sanity back to your plan and be ready (but willing) to accept slower weight loss as long as the scale is trending over time. Note: as you lose weight, a “smaller” you requires fewer calories. If your weight loss stalls, you may have to keep looking at areas in your diet and training to make progress on.
You Might Need Therapy (And/Or A Change In Medication)
Here’s a hard truth: many of my clients are in a place where they need to lose weight because food is their only (or main) coping mechanism for stress. As an extension of that, some of my weight loss clients actually eat well (respective of their goals) but they consume too many liquid calories. This could be defined as sugary drinks, too much creamer/sugar in their coffee/tea, calorie laden energy drinks/juice, or alcohol. Consider talking to a therapist about other outlets which might benefit you so that food/drink are not the kneejerk response to everything good (or bad) happening in your life. Food can be love and food can be joy and food should be celebrated but a sentiment I shared with my community and on a recent podcast was that “not every problem requires a food solution”. In addition, if you are currently on medication for things like depression, anxiety, ADD/ADHD, etc. you may need to consider that some of those medications can raise your hunger signals. So, even though you may “want” to lose weight and you believe you’re “eating right”, the medication itself may be influencing how and how much you eat. Fortunately, there are many alternatives which could have a “weight neutral” or “weight loss” effect by comparison. One of my favorite books on this subject with an excellent reference section at the end of it is The Fat Loss Prescription by Dr. Spencer Nadolsky. You may find that a change in medication or an outsider’s perspective on your coping skills can be the solution you need so that weight loss is not as elusive.
You Eat Well During The Week And The Wheels Come Off On The Weekends
Oh, if I had a dollar for every client who “eats well” Monday through Friday and then spikes on either Friday night, Saturday, Sunday or all three…well, I wouldn’t be able to retire but I’d have a lot of dollars! Here’s the thing: for a lot of people, eating appropriate to their goals through the work week is easy, it’s predictable and it’s not fraught with resistance. What happens, more often than not, is that by time they get to the end of their week, they are tired, they are stressed, they don’t want to prepare a home-cooked meal, and they believe that the “reward” for another week of survival is a night or two or three of dietary debauchery. I’ve seen two very stark, very real realities with this. One, is the person who eats “well” all week, has one night/day of a cheat/splurge and undoes a week of positive effort. I see this happen more with women than with men (some exception). The other, is the person who has the same “good” week and takes the same cheat/splurge, gets a case of the ohfuckits and then just cuts loose the rest of the weekend and proclaims: I’ll start again on Monday. The problem is, Monday comes around and by time the weekend is here again, it’s basically the same rehash as the previous week. To change this, start proactively planning your weekend eating. This obstacle is so common that I heard another fat loss coach recently say that (in his experience) Saturday was the worst day of the week to diet. If that seems to be the general consensus, determine how YOU will make Saturdays different so that you don’t succumb to the statistic. I should also mention that you DO deserve a social life however, how you strategize that social life is key. Want a quick tip (albeit not one that I’ll gain new fans on)? Eliminate/reduce cheese and alcohol. Do with that tip what you wish…
Oh, About The Alcohol…
My wife and I are both bourbon drinkers. Being very frank, we have bourbon each night. How are we able to keep our bodies at a maintenance weight while still imbibing? Easy: I measure the pours. And no, we don’t hit the cardio hard the next day or next week to beat the calories off ourselves. There is a caveat to this (as there is with nearly every tip I could give you). We rarely ever go over the portion of the drink. Referencing the tip I gave just above, when are my clients most likely to overdo the alcohol? On the weekends. And what typically happens when they drink? They eat (often with absolutely no regard for portions, quality of food or the additional alcohol they will consume after eating food to absorb the alcohol). Funny how that cycle works! You’ll want to ask yourself (or a trusted loved one) what the reality is of your alcohol consumption. Warning: be prepared for an answer you don’t want to hear. Alcohol is so delicately intertwined into our society that it can be hard to distance ourselves from it. As I mentioned in a previous point, some clients actually have their food dialed in quite well, it’s the drinking that throws them off the path. Ask yourself if you need to temporarily (or permanently) abstain from alcohol OR see if someone can measure your servings for you. One of the toughest things about this is 1) the choice of alcohol 2) who we typically drink with. I’ll address point 1 first. When you buy a 6-pack of beer, you crack one open and you finish the bottle. You then elect to go through that process again: throw the empty away, retrieve another, crack it open and repeat. However, it does require a process and some effort. Wine, is a decidedly different story. Most wine doesn’t taste as good the night after it’s been opened (unless you have a very fancy corking process that reduces oxidation). So, that opened bottle is easy access to continue working at until the bottle is gone. How does liquor differ? Well, for one, it’s much higher alcohol content than wine or beer, so if you drink for a given feeling (say a buzz or a drunk), you’re going to get there much faster by comparison. In doing so, you’re making a judgment call on if you want to push the envelope for another pour. For a quick reference: 12 oz of non-craft beer is about 100 calories (craft beer is typically 2-3x that amount of calories for the same size), 4 oz of wine is about 100 calories, 1.5 oz of liquor is about 100 calories. Several of my clients go through periodic bouts of sobriety or “drying up” as a way to control their daily calorie intake. It also bears mention, that depending on the person, while alcohol may help you fall asleep, it can actually contribute to a lack of quality, well-rested sleep.
Yeah, We Need To Talk About Sleep, Too
If you’ve been reading through my articles for awhile, you’ve seen a lot of recurring themes: support systems, therapy, eating appropriate to your goals, and sleep hygiene. There’s a reason for that. Number one, I never know when/how/who someone will be reading my work and the message will have a degree of consistency to it. Number two, sometimes we aren’t ready for some bits of information until the time is right (or stars aligned if you’re into that kind of thing). Number three, sometimes we just need a reminder/refresher before we say “Oh yeah! That part of my life has been slipping!” So, here’s the deal. You need quality, restful sleep. It’s not a question of if, it’s my professional suggestion that you make it a non-negotiable. That means, your family needs to be “in the know” as well. Some very general tips: cut off caffeine consumption by noon (unless you work third shift), limit alcohol intake (see the point above), use the bedroom only for sex and sleep, get the room as dark as humanly possible, get the environment as quiet as possible (unless you sleep better with a sound machine/ambience), keep the temperature “cooler” as opposed to warmer, and turn off all electronics 30-45 minutes before bed. If you have chronically poor sleep (or if your snoring is disruptive enough to others that they can’t sleep), please consider consulting a sleep lab to see if you have sleep apnea. In many cases, weight loss can reverse sleep apnea (this is not direct medical advice, consult your sleep lab tech/representative for more accurate information). Ultimately, your ability to get quality sleep has a direct correlation to your next day’s eating behavior. If you’re suffering from poor sleep, there is a very good chance that you are overdoing it on caffeine/sugar the next day and dealing with one crash after another. If you find that you can’t control your cravings for hyper-palatable foods that are way too easy to overeat, sleep may be the culprit. Myself personally, I normally take 1mg of melatonin each night but this does NOT work every single night and some people may either be non-responders or hypersensitive to this. While this isn’t a general rule…having sex before bedtime might help you sleep better too. You’re welcome!
Your Default Response To Dieting Is Too Restrictive
It’s not uncommon to see dieting behavior that is cringe-worthy at best. People have a tendency to get so frustrated with the scale and so impatient with their progress that they result to methods which I wouldn’t even ask my enemies to try (thankfully, I don’t have a lot of enemies). However, if you alternate from your “standard diet” (aka the one that led to the weight gain) to something that is 180 degrees different, you’re begging for trouble. Actually, let me rephrase that: you’re begging for a rebound. I don’t know a soul on this planet who embarks on a diet with the goal of: I really want to lose this weight just so I can regain it all back (and then some!) The reality is something not far off, though. I recently sat down with a client who is trying to embark on a healthier diet. They also had identified not only binge-eating episodes but they are also on anxiety medications because of a delicate combination of stress around food and low self-esteem. A recent conversation went like this:
Me: How do you eat on the weekends?
Client: Like crap.
Me: Can you be more specific?
Client: Well, we’re typically on the go and we end up going through a drive-thru and getting fast food which isn’t good.
Me: Where do you usually go?
Client: McDonald’s or something similar, also Chipotle.
Me: Cool. Can you tell me what you typically order from McDonald’s?
Client: Sure. A double quarter pounder with cheese, a large fry and a large Coke.
Me: Sounds good. Do you mind if I pull up the calories on those? I want to try something with you.
Client: Sure, no problem.
Me: Okay, the burger is about 750 calories, the fries are about 450 calories and the drink is about 300 calories. If you were to make a healthier choice, what would you change?
Client: Well, maybe I would grab a water rather than the Coke.
Me: Awesome! I think that’s a great choice, it’s a really easy way to remove 300 calories from the day. Would you do anything else?
Client: Maybe get a single quarter pounder as opposed to a double?
Me: That’s not a bad idea, however, I’d love for you to keep your protein high. What if you reduced or removed the fries? Is that reasonable?
Client: Yeah, I could do that.
Me: Great. Just remember, we’re not focusing on food virtues here. I want to try and help you shift the thinking about “good food” versus “bad food”. We’re just looking for ways to reduce calories without making you feel too deprived or that you’re not making a positive, progressive step. Now, how about we look at Chipotle. What do you typically order?
Client: I usually get a bowl: black beans, brown rice, corn salsa, double chicken, cheese and sour cream.
Me: Do you order chips?
Client: No, not usually.
Me: Okay, how would you improve it?
Client: Take off the cheese and sour cream?
Me: I think that’s a great choice. It’s a super easy way to cut back 200-300 calories. Would you change anything else?
Client: Does corn salsa have a lot of calories?
Me: It does not. I think you’re good with that. Can I make a suggestion?
Me: Make a choice between brown rice OR black beans, maybe not both. There’s nothing wrong with either, we’re just trying to make small reductions. If it were me, I’d pick the black beans because you get more protein and fiber there. Ultimately, it’s your choice because you might have a taste for one over another.
Client: That makes sense. I can do that!
I use this example for a few reasons. 1) I don’t want to completely alter the style of my client’s diet. I want to illustrate choices that result in caloric reduction but also allow a client to live their life. 2) I want my client to feel empowered (but educated) on decisions that can influence the direction of the scale. 3) I don’t make food judgments, EVER. There is no inherently good or bad food. There are the foods we can moderate the amount of and foods we have less control over (which might cause overconsumption). This does not include foods that individuals have a legitimate allergic reaction to.
I also want to note that I’m not trying to take someone who could realistically lose weight on, say, 2500 calories and tell them they need to eat something closer to 1500 just to get to the goal faster. That’s a recipe for disaster and lack of adherence.
The Comparison Trap Is Killing Your Progress
One of the upsides/downsides to being in this industry is my presence and involvement in social media. Facebook is my platform of choice and, all too often, I see a comparison trap that drives me insane. It goes something like this: How does he/she get to eat all those calories and gets to look like that? I have to eat (something much lower) and I’ll never have that body! Dear reader, you can add this to all the things in life which are undoubtedly “unfair”. The tough thing with social media is that people can post any damn thing they please and it’s to be accepted without context or validation of truth. Assume for a moment that you saw a picture of me shirtless. I have visible abs, visible muscle definition and if all you had was a picture to go by, you could make assumptions of how tall I am, how old I am, how much I weigh, how often I work out, how active I am, how genetically “gifted” you think I am, etc. etc. The reality of all those assumptions would be that you’re probably wrong about all of them. If I really wanted to mess with you, since we can create any picture we want on social media, is that I could give you any calorie/macro goal to shoot for (as if it were my own), I could overestimate how much (or how little) I train, and if I really wanted to be a dick about it, I could pour some extra salt in the wound by telling you: if you want it bad enough, you’ll be willing to work for it. *puke* One huge place where I see clients get completely derailed is by gauging their calories, their rate of weight loss, their ability to increase strength or see definition and stick it alongside the efforts/results of someone else. This is a HUGE, HUGE mistake. I can’t even accurately compare two people of the same gender, weight, and age and determine rate of progress. There are just too many unknowns and variables that will ultimately result in different outcomes. My best advice to you is to focus on you. Be inspired by the efforts of others, sure. But, truly, let YOUR progress and YOUR efforts determine the path you’ll follow. When you hear the adage that you don’t know what goes on behind closed doors, the person you’re comparing against may be struggling with something that the gym (or the mirror, or the camera) cannot divulge. Focus on what you CAN control and influence and have measuring sticks for how the data is quantitatively working in your favor.
You Have A Support System. A Very Faulty, Unreliable Support System.
Try this: Ask yourself who the 5 people in your life are that you spend the most time with. Make the list. Now, ask yourself if their goals are the same as yours. Let’s assume weight loss is that goal. Are all of those 5 people actively trying to lose as well? If so, are they succeeding? If not, how do they actively (and accurately) support your goals of weight loss? Do they help you with grocery shopping, do they help with meal prep, do they emotionally help when you are feeling weak and vulnerable and more susceptible to dietary indiscretions? Do they know the words/terms/phrases to say that help you feel empowered and driven to succeed? On the weekends (when things have greater potential to go awry), do they help you make choices that align with your goals or do they offer foods/activities that ultimately sabotage your efforts? If this circle of 5 is not as supportive as you might need them to be, can YOU help them understand how to better help you OR who else can you elect to be an advocate/support for your goals? Word of note: this might be the MOST beneficial exercise you do if you answer openly, honestly and do the work.
Burning The Victim Card
“I’d lose weight if it wasn’t for my (insert friend/loved one here)!” Like the comparison trap, and as alluded to in the support system point, blaming your success directly and completely on the influence of someone else is a minefield. I will say this: You determine how you react to the actions of those around you. However, the influence of others is a true problem. If you find that the same people are routinely sabotaging your efforts for success, you have to come to the conclusion that their actions may not change but your reactions to them must (if you want to succeed). You are not a victim in the weight loss game, you are simply a player. Whether you want weight loss to be a game of checkers or chess depends on your perspective. Stated more clearly, and to revisit my thoughts on support systems, you have to be willing and able to have sensitive, uncomfortable and often heated conversations with those closest to you so that they are clear about the areas in your life where you are most susceptible to their influence. I’ll use alcohol consumption as an example. If you are trying to sober up for an undetermined/pre-determined amount of time, who is most likely to sabotage you? How do you plan to change that? What conversations will you have with that person so that they know how to be more supportive? What events/occasions will you be most likely to be vulnerable around where alcohol will be present? Now, flip the circumstances and assume that certain foods in your diet are just as difficult to navigate as alcohol might be for another. When you play the victim card, you relinquish your power over your efforts (and your results).
Curate For Success
I’ll finish with this and it’s a point I’ve made before. You may or may not be aware of the influence that social media, email correspondence, commercials, advertisements and journalism have on how you treat your body. Now may be a time that you need to go through your social media channels and unfollow people who don’t make you feel better about yourself. Unfollow food pages, recipe blogs and “influencers” who do not have a direct relationship with you and don’t specifically understand how their messaging and posts can have a detrimental effect on you being successful with your diet plan. Unfollow and hide “friends” who have nothing but negative things to say on social media. You might try and make a claim that it’s entertaining (in the same way that watching soul-sucking reality TV is entertaining) but you don’t give enough credit to the fact that other people’s drama can have a negative effect on your psyche and feelings of self-worth. I unfollow/hide every possible person that I can who doesn’t bring me joy/happiness/peace when I see them. I don’t have the time, effort, energy for vampires who take more from me than they leave me with. As an extension of this, stick emails into your spam folder that might be tempting options of savory food and/or recipes so that you’re not inadvertently being influenced when you least expect it.
I’m going to go against the grain of many (not all) of my fellow coaches and reiterate that losing weight, can be a constant, relentless struggle. When done right, it is a short-term endeavor that you are not custom-built for rehashing for decades on end. When you recognize the influence of not only your mind, your environment, your friends/loved ones, and your job, you can start to craft a foundation of influence that better supports your goals. When you can build this foundation (or rather, rebuild it) you won’t have to worry about things like willpower and motivation because the factors that contribute to their limited value won’t speak as loudly in your life.
I conclude this excellent 4-part series with Dr. Stuart Phillips with this week’s episode. This time, we discuss how protein is potentially associated with the acid-ash hypothesis, kidney failure, correlations with cancer and the potential roles it can and has played with COVID-19. A very special thanks again to Dr. Stuart for partaking in the series with me. Stay tuned next week for an all new 4-part series.
Before I get too far into this week’s post, let me get the simplified answer to this question out first: Calories are king. They determine if your weight is trending up, trending flat or trending down.
There is nuance to that statement, as minor deviations in how we eat can cause the scale to respond in somewhat unpredictable ways.
You may have heard that fat loss is not linear and even if you feel like you’re doing the right things to cause fat loss to occur, it can be helpful to track your scale weight via spreadsheet or a handy health app on your phone to see those numbers as data points. Remember that you’re mostly looking for trends over time.
For instance, let’s say you’ve chosen to weigh yourself once a week. One strategy would be to pick a mid-week weigh in, first thing in the morning after you pee and in your birthday suit. If you chart this number over several weeks, you may see that the weight is gradually moving down with the occasional small spikes up. This is normal (assuming that you are eating relative to your goals and are staying active).
In this week’s post, I wanted to highlight a host of factors relating to both quantity and quality of food intake that can help you succeed with fat loss. Every individual trying to lose fat mass is bringing a different set of social, psychological and physical obstacles to the table which is why there is no one-size-fits-all method for success.
Let’s attack quantity first:
If you want the most accurate methods of determining how much you’re eating, the skill that matters most is how you’re measuring food intake. This can be done in a variety of ways. You can work with the labels and serving sizes on the foods you eat and calculate your totals. In other words, if you’re eating a single serving of Greek yogurt, you might find that the label says 150 calories per serving. If one container is one serving, this can be an accurate way of adding up your calories in a given day. Be aware that food labels do NOT have to be 100% accurate and small discrepancies can occur. However, let’s assume you’re trying to hit a calorie goal of 1800 calories a day to lose weight. You can use your phone to take pictures of what you eat in a day or simply notate what each label says and add up your daily totals. This is where pre-packaged foods can be helpful because the numbers should at least be close if listed on the labels and the food manufacturer has done some of the work for you.
You can also elect to use measuring spoons and cups. Again, this is not a perfect estimation of calories. Depending on the food, a serving size by cup or spoon may not equate to the weight of a given food and you may find yourself over or under in calories because the weight of a food has not been determined. Foods that are easy to overeat like nut butters or added oils can be closer to accurately tracked when they’re leveled and measured against a measuring spoon. Too many dieters slip themselves up with calorie control when they opt to eyeball their food intake.
The most accurate (and the most time-consuming) method for measuring is weighing your food. Digital food scales should suffice and are not expensive. Be aware that, when consuming meats, you’ll want to weigh your food raw and not cooked, as the weight will change after a meat has been cooked.
As any degree of measurement is going to arguably be the most time consuming effort, many dieters won’t take the steps to do so OR they may not be mentally ready to try or stay consistent with it.
What else can work?
I touched on this in the previous point but due to the wonders of technology, you have several different ways to track your food intake. You can use pen and paper, a tracking app (MyFitnessPal, Lose It, MyPlate, etc.) or you can just take pictures of everything you eat and drink (except water). Caution should be given to not track at the end of the day. You are more likely to forget what you consumed especially if you have a tendency to graze or snack frequently. Approach this tactic with candor, as many dieters will not track things they believe “don’t count”. However, every bite, nibble, and handful counts and while it may not matter as much to the individuals who have more calories to play with, it can be the death knell to those who have lower calorie totals to shoot for.
I also need to state that food tracking apps, while helpful, can also be fraught with errors. To minimize those errors, you will have closer to accurate numbers with “verified” options. Be aware that, in many cases, knowing the measured size of a food may still be necessary. For instance, you could go through a McDonald’s drive-thru and order a Big Mac which is made the exact same way in every location in the continental U.S. When you try to track that Big Mac in the tracking app, you should find that the option is identical to what the McDonald’s menu says. However, if you were to construct a similar burger with your own food at home, the size/type of the bun, type of cheese, condiments, and the size of the burger patty could differ dramatically and end up with a much higher or lower calorie total. This is where measuring can be very eye-opening (and equally frustrating if your eyes betrayed you).
While not perfect (nothing is), food tracking can provide some insight to help you reduce what you eat in the span of the day by helping you be more mindful of intake.
I love this tactic, even though, like anything, it can be problematic. Let’s say you want to track your food but you’re not entirely sure how to reduce intake without counting calories. One of my newer clients has been seeing success with this strategy. I had him take a picture of everything he ate in the span of one day. To his benefit, he did so accurately and, due to the nature of his busy job, he ate pre-packaged foods and drinks. This allowed us to see how many calories and macronutrients were in each of his food selections. While we could certainly argue whether he was making “healthy” choices, it appeared he was having far too many “feedings” in one day.
To clarify, I use the term “feeding” for any time you’re consuming a meal or snack that has calories in it.
In his case, he had 9 feedings in one day. This was all meals, all snacks, and all drinks that had calories in them. I told him to reduce his feedings from 9 to 6 and see what the scale said after a week’s worth of efforts.
The downside to this, is that you can reduce the frequency of feedings BUT you could increase the size of the remaining feedings. If you’re trying to stay in an intake deficit, the other feedings have to remain basically the same size if fat loss is the goal.
Many of us have a very skewed idea of what an appropriate serving of food looks like. We can thank the restaurants we frequent for part of this problem. While many chain restaurants have started to post the calorie totals of their food options, this is less likely to be available for mom-and-pop restaurants. As a result, we really have no idea how many calories are in the lasagna from the local Italian place versus a chain like Olive Garden (sadly, both options are still going to be too much food for the average person trying to lose weight).
If you’d like a sobering look at what an appropriate size of say, pasta, might be, try checking out the frozen dinner section of your grocery store. Pick up a 500 calorie (or so) TV dinner and compare that size against what Olive Garden might give you. Restaurants frequently serve 2-3x an appropriate portion for a fat loss individual. While I would love to give you a blanket recommendation like: just eat at home instead of from restaurants and you’re guaranteed to lose weight! The pandemic was a glaring snapshot of how inaccurate that advice might be. Even when many of us were eating at home and preparing our own meals, we were still finding ways to overconsume (as evidenced by what many called, gaining the “COVID-19 pounds!”)
With fat loss as the goal, look at portion sizes of your typical servings and try dialing them down, this could include eating on smaller plates than normal, not having seconds or simply reducing the size of what you would “normally” eat.
My last point on quantity control is one that is a bit more divisive of a topic. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know that both carbs and fat have been under fire for the rise in obesity. Low carb dieting has been around for eons and, there is still nothing really new under the sun when it comes to diet strategies. However, carbs hold water and they contribute to what many experience when they go from their “standard way of eating” which likely led to their weight gain to begin with, and flip to a low carb style of dieting.
Assume you’re currently consuming a diet that is 60% carbohydrate intake (which is not uncommon in the U.S.) and you feel that carbs are to blame for your weight gain. You elect to drop your carb intake significantly which (at least in the short term) A) reduces your calorie intake B) removes the macronutrient that holds the most water.
This tactic contributes to short term weight loss that might be upwards of 5, 10 or more pounds of scale weight that you see. Much of this is what people call “water weight” and that rate of loss will not continue indefinitely. Ultimately, the body will stabilize with this new norm of carb intake and calories may streamline to a new normal as well. Unless you significantly increase calories from fat or protein, your weight of loss will be slower than it was initially when you made that dramatic carb shift.
Reducing carbohydrates is certainly one way to reduce total calories assuming you don’t make up that deficit with any other food options. Remember that the body still has to be in an energy deficit to continue with fat loss. If you wildly swing carb intake on a daily or weekly basis, you can get a false read on the scale that may make you think you’ve “gained fat” when actually you’ve “gained water weight”. To minimize the effects of this, try and keep carbohydrate intake roughly the same when dieting. You may want to have slightly higher intake on more active days and slightly less on more sedentary days.
While not exhaustive, the points you read above all contribute to how we view and react to the quantity of food that we eat. Any of those points can be utilized for fat loss success but what if quantity is not where you feel you can place your direct focus.
Does food quality matter?
Part of what I’m writing here is evidence-based and part is anecdotal. Please consider the observational mentions and take them with a grain of salt (pun intended). We live in a day and age where many people have legitimate, diagnosed food allergies. As such, a person with celiac disease (for instance) may not be able to consume gluten without becoming ill. Their diet has to reflect no consumption of gluten but caution should also be given that some “gluten-free” products can be higher in calorie than the options with gluten in them.
My wife has been lactose intolerant all of her life, however, when we started dating about twelve years ago, she could consume cheese with no ill effect, small, infrequent servings of ice cream or yogurt, cottage cheese and butter. This was likely due to the fact that those dairy options were manufactured in ways that the enzymes presented little negative effect in her body. Over the last several months, she has noticed more severe reactions to dairy. We have had to remove butter, ice cream, cheese, milk, etc. completely or she is bent over in pain within an hour of consuming those foods. She can have very small servings of Greek yogurt and some whey proteins but that’s it. She not only had to consider food intolerance of lactose containing foods but also the consideration that anything beyond a certain serving size could also make her ill. As a result, removing those foods from her diet has contributed to a reduction in total caloric intake for her.
It stands to reason that if you are (or develop) an allergic/adverse reaction to a food, paying attention to food selection can stand to benefit you with goals of fat loss. Touching on a point I made above, if you remove a food or food group from the diet, replacing it with more of something else runs the potential of taking you out of an energy deficit which will stall your fat loss progress.
A last point I’ll mention is a personal one on this note. Several years ago, I went to the grocery store and bought a regular loaf of whole wheat bread. I made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich the next day and within an hour or so of eating it, I felt unusually tired. I wasn’t entirely sure why. The next day, I made another PB&J sandwich with the same ingredients and had the same effects. I had never had an issue consuming breads before and was not sure what the issue was. Rather than assuming I had developed a gluten intolerance, I decided to purchase a sprouted grain bread (like Ezekiel) and tried that for my PB&J sandwich. The problem did not occur. Since then, I have tried to focus on sprouted grain or organic breads for sandwiches. I don’t want to give any more weight to that than what is necessary. Only that I’m glad I didn’t throw the “baby out with the bathwater” by making a hasty assumption that all gluten would make me tired.
This is a tricky one. After well over a decade of coaching the diets of my clients, I feel we’re never going to get away from the concept that the determining factor of fat loss success comes from our emotions regarding food.
For example, one person may have been raised to associate sweet, hyper-palatable foods with love. They were raised in a family where someone would make cookies, pies, and cakes as a showing of love in the household. As a result, when the same person grows up, they indulge in cookies, pies and cakes to “feel loved”. However, these foods are tremendously difficult to moderate and control in reasonable portions. It stands to reason, that if we’re easily stressed, feeling over-worked, otherwise neglected in life, in the shoes of this individual we would turn to sweets to fill the void. Can you see where this would be problematic with fat loss?
Learning how to show love or create feelings of self-love for ourselves that aren’t reflected in food choice can be a huge win. Determine what other areas of your life can make you feel good that don’t have a calorie attached to them. Maybe it’s a bubble bath, a pedicure, a massage or a hike.
Also related would be the feelings surrounding food virtues and shoving food into categories of “good” vs. “bad” and “healthy” vs. “unhealthy”. When we give food these definitions, we encourage self-shaming and self-sabotage around them. I’ve seen just as many clients screw themselves by (over)eating healthy nuts and organic foods as I have clients who have done the same kind of damage by (over)eating “junk” foods like pizza, French fries and ice cream. The “poison is in the dose” as they say, and too much is still too much.
When we can remove the negative or counterproductive emotions from our food choices, we can learn to incorporate the foods and the sizes that work most appropriately for our lives and our dietary preferences.
This is another subjective measurement of how to consider food relative to fat loss goals and make better decisions accordingly.
Take note of how certain foods make you feel. As I noted in my personal anecdote above, a certain type of bread made me feel lethargic and bloated. Most people don’t go out of their way to have those feelings.
When you look at how certain foods make you feel: groggy, bloated, cranky, or otherwise unsatisfying, make a list and start to remove or significantly reduce the occurrence of those foods in the diet. For one person, this might be pizza and for another person, it might be alcohol. Pay attention to the signals your body gives you when you consume certain foods and drinks and learn to reduce those options because they don’t make you feel better after you eat them.
Not every person will associate with these feelings and this is okay as well. Some people are just more sensitive to certain foods and combinations of foods than others and by learning and adhering to this process of elimination, they can also see fat loss success.
The Case Against Processed Foods?
I wish it wasn’t this way but certain foods are “custom built” for overconsumption. Think about foods like chips, crackers, dips, condiments, sweets and any other savory combinations. There’s a reason why these types of foods can be eaten easily, quickly, and in large amounts without our bodies ever really registering a sense of fullness and satiety. This is why you’ll frequently hear coaches and dietitians advocate for whole, minimally processed foods where applicable.
Consuming a baked potato with a little bit of salt and pepper for seasoning is going to have a much different effect than a container of French fries which were also seasoned with salt and pepper. Of course, let’s assume that calories have been matched for both: you have a measured baked potato that comes out to 300 calories and 300 calories worth of French fries. Which do you believe would be more satisfying and which one would leave you more hungry?
While it would be unrealistic to assume that you’ll never eat processed foods again, you may have to develop more self-awareness of what foods you easily overeat in comparison with foods you don’t overdo it with. This is another area where the focus on food quality can be helpful in moderating overall food consumption.
Other Determining Factors
Taking all of these concepts of food quantity and food quality into consideration, I’d be remiss by not mentioning other areas of your life which can directly influence how much you eat and your choice of foods.
–Sleep: There’s a strong correlation between lack of sleep and poor food choices the day after. We might be more inclined to increase sugary caffeinated drinks, high sugar/high salt foods, and an increase in portion sizes because we’re too tired to self-regulate what we’re eating. If you focus on better sleep hygiene, predictable sleep patterns, and more restful sleep, your food intake may improve by default.
–Stress: If you identify as someone who reacts to stress (of any nature) by turning to food, it can be helpful to explore new coping mechanisms. If every week of your life is associated with high stress and you’re not succeeding with fat loss, chances are, food is the only (or major) solution for handling that stress. As a result, you have the stress of your current lifestyle factors PLUS the stress of not succeeding at fat loss compounding each other. I don’t know about you but this sounds like a recipe for disaster. Recognize other areas of your life that bring you happiness or reduce stress that aren’t associated with food intake to disrupt this behavioral pattern.
–Chronic, Intense Exercise: For all the amazing benefits of exercise for the body, I have to mention that while “some is good”, “more” is not necessarily better. The more exercise we do OR the more intensely we train, the greater potential we have of driving up our hunger signals. We also run the risk of rewarding ourselves with extra food because we worked hard and we feel like we deserve the extra calories. This is frequently a losing proposition. Do exercise that makes you feel good, refreshed and leaves you with something in the tank. If you find that exercise makes you ravenous you may actually be doing more harm than good when it comes to aligning with your fat loss goals.
When people say that losing weight is “simple, not easy”, you have a lot of areas in your life to consider that make that statement ring true. It’s never as “simple” as calories in, calories out even though the math (done appropriately) works out over time. Use this article as a reference when you feel that not everything is as dialed in as it could be and revisit areas that may need closer attention.
Pictured below: Twinkies and Bananas. Do you focus on quality or quantity (or both)?
Dr. Stuart Phillips is back this week as we continue with Part 3 in a 4-Part series. This week, we tackle the role of protein and resistance training with regard to the aging individual. We discuss why protein needs differ as we age, considerations between genders and gender related differences with aging, why resistance training remains so important as we get older and diet philosophies which can help us live our best lives beyond youth.
There was a certain amount of independence that came from us being opposites.
You had your life, your passions and your career that were so different than mine, that it didn’t matter if we didn’t have a lot in common.
We loved each other and that got us through a lot.
We took each struggle that came our way, and they were numerous, and they came early and we just kept pushing forward.
As time passed, that independence, that same thing that seemed almost a benefit to each of us because it allowed us to operate in our own little spheres of the world began to put distance between us.
It wasn’t a conscious thing. It was…you’re over there thriving and I’m over here thriving and, although we didn’t really know how to understand what the other was going through, we were supportive, if not simply distant…until that chasm opened.
It almost felt as if a force we weren’t totally aware of was starting to work against us. When you adapt to a certain life of obstacles and overcoming them, you develop a resistance that can be equally empowering and destructive.
And it became both for us.
You look back and you start to ask yourself…in hindsight, how exactly did we function?
We had a marriage, we had a child, we had our jobs, and the marriage became just that thing we were attached by, not completely involved in.
And when that hole opened up and damn near swallowed us both, we each had to step back and ask: what’s left?
The answer became clear…although not immediately…we are what’s left.
So, we started to pull that gap closer and it took time and it took tears and it took trust and it took being able to look at each other and say: I know we’ve changed over these years, but there’s something good here and we need to find that again.
We are still opposites. You have your life that is very different than what it was when we met. Mine is, very similar, but amplified exponentially and we took that chasm and narrowed it, sealing it closed.
Our life, when together, has turned into something of shared experience. We find the few things we know we enjoy together, that we enjoy doing as “us” instead of as one coming along for the ride, and we do them as often as possible.
I never wanted to change you. I loved you as you were, I just didn’t know how to relate to you beyond loving you.
However, the chasm taught us a lot.
While the life we have lived through these years has served to push and pull us in equal measure, we’re still here holding the same hands, looking through the same sets of eyes, sharing something that I think surpasses what either of us thought we were capable of. Well, maybe you knew we were capable of it…I sometimes miss those details.
Today, and each day forward, remains about the memories we’re creating, many of which we are making with just the two of us and many of which with the children who have been a part of our story.
I am back with Part 2 of this 4-part series with Dr. Stuart Phillips. We continue our conversation on protein after last week’s primer episode with the roles protein can play in exercise. In this episode, we talk about nutrient timing, considerations for smaller or larger doses of protein at one time, how and if the type of exercise you do is affected by protein intake, considerations for whole food sources versus supplementation, and how the type of training you do correlates with muscle protein synthesis.