Over the past 6-12 months, my personal fitness level has taken a hit. My strength and 1RM percentages are far less impressive, along with my body fat percentage, weight, and overall physical appearance. I could list a ton of excuses but at the end of the day, my priorities shifted. Fitness became less important than other areas of my life – work, relationships, reading and entertainment, social eating/drinking – and it showed in my body composition. I used my knowledge of health, nutrition, and fitness as a crutch, knowing that I could always “get it back” when I was ready. And like any crutch, it became easy to lean on and coast for far too long.
My interests and passions have always been cyclical, but fitness has always been close to the top. I feel like we all have this in common. Unless you’re a professional athlete who’s paid for your physical ability, there will be times when your health and fitness levels may have to take a backseat.
Whether you’re aiming for a promotion at work or building a business, dealing with the loss of a loved one, prioritizing time with your family, or maybe taking the time to relax and de-stress, priorities
will should change. Very few of us can balance it all, and that’s okay as long as you reassess your priorities every now and then. Being in peak physical condition your entire life is unrealistic and probs unnecessary. But being in good health, maintaining strength and mobility as you age, and continuing to eat well and take care of yourself should be one of the MOST important priorities in your life.
That’s where I was at. My fitness had taken a backseat to other areas of my life, but it was time to get back in the saddle and get my groove back. So in true January fashion, I got back into fitness. And like many others in January, I got results. Specifically, I lost 10 lbs and 2% body fat in the first month. Below I’ll give you a look at what I did, and didn’t do, in the process. If you hate to read and want to get down to business, there’s a recap at the end.
How I Did It
Signed up for a contest
I’m extremely competitive and will do my best to win at anything and everything. This particular contest runs for three months and has regular, monthly assessments for weight, body fat, and measurements. Accountability in any form, especially for a competitive person, can be a powerful tool.
Established a why (and a system)
A personal goal set in mid-2016 was to be able to dunk a basketball again by the end of the year. This quickly fell to the background and I failed to dunk a basketball, or even shoot a basketball for that matter, by the end of the year. Maybe I failed because goals suck, and I needed a system. This time around, I’m using the same why – being athletic and able to dunk a basketball or do other cool stuff at the drop of a hat – except I’m using a system instead of one ultimate goal.
My new system is to implement something that makes me a better athlete (more flexible, agile, stronger, powerful, leaner, etc.) into my daily activity. This could range from simply five minutes of stretching or mobility work in the morning to full blast sprints or plyometrics. As long as I’m progressing in this area each day, no matter how big or small, it’s a win.
What’s your system going to be?
In addition to reading, I consume podcasts or audiobooks like a madman during drive/commute times. With fitness back at the forefront, I decided to restrict these (as much as possible) to “cardio” times. My methods of cardio have been on a Stairmaster or simply walking for no more than twenty minutes at a time. Also, if you have a dog, walk it.
If you’ve never used Audible before, you can get a 30-day free trial here. Pro tip: Listen on 1.5x speed.
Went to a class
One day a week, I’ve participated in a 30-minute “boot camp” style class. I normally train alone and still prefer this, but I find the group setting motivating and pushes me beyond my comfort zone of 60-120 seconds rest between sets. It only takes thirty minutes out of the 168 hours in my week and the time flies because I’m having fun. Make fitness and exercise fun, do things you enjoy, find something that’s on a recurring schedule, and you’ll go far.
Abolished sweets and junk from my house (no brainer)
It’s easy to forget about little things that sabotage your success. If I have anything sweet in the house, even the shitty cereal my girlfriend eats, I will devour it sooner or later. This isn’t restricted to snacks or treats, it could be creamer in your coffee. Normally I drink my coffee black, but my girlfriend uses the delicious creamers. I used it a few times with my afternoon coffee – one thing lead to another – and I found myself using it all the time. If you’re unfamiliar, one tbsp contains 35 calories. And who the hell uses one tbsp, the French? Even if you did use one tbsp for each cup of coffee (two/day for me), that’s 490 calories/week. No thanks, I’ll eat my calories, thank you very much.
Sweets and chocolate are my weaknesses. What’re yours?
Took the thinking out of food choices
Eating the same things every day may be boring, but there’s no denying it’s effective when it comes to fat loss. Find something that works for you and stick to it as closely as possible. See below: tracking (things I didn’t do). I love food, so this is as close as I’ll get to the “eat for purpose, not pleasure” argument.
What I Didn’t Do
Aside from the occasional bump of preworkout I’d bum off someone, I didn’t use any supplements. I did zero cleanses, aside from the cleansing my liver does daily. I drank black coffee, not fit tea, and the majority of my protein came from animal sources with the occasional shake or bar.
This was a bit contrarian to my own advice, seeing as I normally recommend tracking to anyone with a goal of fat loss. What gets measured gets managed, right? I didn’t track simply because I’ve done it before and learned enough about food and its macronutrient/calorie composition that I’m able to ballpark and keep a running total in my head. It’s not 100% accurate, but I’m not preparing to step on stage, so I don’t care much for complete accuracy at this point. This should be your ultimate goal from tracking – to learn about food, your body’s needs, and where your sweet spots are – so that you can find something sustainable for the rest of your life. Tracking and measuring food, in my opinion, is not sustainable for long periods of time. Which leads me to my next point…
Restrict food/macro groups
In moderation, I’ve had small amounts of beer, pizza, cookies, burgers, and other indulgences over this past thirty days. During this time, I didn’t drive myself crazy by eliminating carbs or gluten or processed foods or sugar. Thought I did restrict it to a certain degree. I, like many others, know what’s good and bad for me and what has a ton of calories and what doesn’t. Instead of obsessing over every little granule of food or drink I put in my mouth, I planned accordingly. If I was going to be consuming extra calories at a certain meal, the rest of my day would be bird-like and scarce on calories. Very seldom will beer and pizza show up in your life unexpectedly (unfortunately), so it should be easy to plan for them.
Extreme weight loss diet
I may have lost 10 lbs in a month, but I was at 281 pounds. That means I lost less than 1% of my body weight each week. The gold standard “aim to lose 1-2lbs per week” is based around a 1% of total body weight number. This will ensure your metabolic rate does not fall off the face of the earth and leave your maintenance calorie level (how many calories your body needs to maintain its current weight) at 1,200 calories/day. Remember, sustainability is what we’re after.
Something to keep in mind is how long it took you to get the body you have now. You didn’t wake up out of shape one day. It happened over weeks, months, or years. I know you want it to be reversed right now, but it just takes time. There’s no way around that. Patience is required.
I did the initial weigh in and the second weigh-in a month later. I did zero assessments in between. Well, almost zero. I stepped on a scale a week before my second assessment and immediately regretted the decision. The number I saw was nowhere near what I wanted to see. Despite my confidence in what I was doing, all sorts of negative thoughts flooded in. What if I’ve been putting in extra work in the gym and eating cleaner for nothing? Maybe I’ve lost all my muscle mass and my metabolism has slowed to a screeching halt. What if I don’t lose any weight and I just keep getting fatter and I never look good nekkid again and my girlfriend breaks up with me and I have to get a bunch of cats and I freaking hate cats…. Okay, the last one may have been an exaggeration but still, I can see where people drive themselves crazy by weighing in all the time. Things fluctuate daily (hourly), especially in women. Chill.
Find the perfect program
Before I started this fat loss journey, I was training 2-3 times/week for 45-60 minutes. My training consisted of primarily hypertrophy-friendly workouts (compound movements for 3 sets of 8-12 reps followed by isolation movements for 2-4 sets of 10-15 reps – all with 60-90 seconds rest) and little to no cardio. When the time came to get serious, I didn’t spend days scouring the internet for the perfect muscle gain/fat loss program. Instead, I just increased the frequency of my training to 3-5 times/week, decreased my rest periods, added in a few HIIT (interval training) sessions, and even added the occasional LISS (low-intensity steady state) cardio session. In addition to my training tweaks, I simply reduced my food intake, stopped eating out as much, and do an occasional fast if I’m not feeling very hungry.
After my successful weigh-in, I didn’t order the pizza I’ve been craving or eat an entire chocolate cake, despite my desires. Instead, I had a satisfying dinner at a place I love (not the healthiest) after I made the rest of my meals for the day primarily protein shakes and salads. I could’ve easily celebrated my success with an all day calorie blowout, but those can wreak havoc on your fat loss efforts more than you think. Balance is the key.
That’s a Wrap
- Use contests or accountabilbuddies, especially if you’re competitive.
- Use a system, not just goals. And find your “why” for getting fit.
- Combine interests or other hobbies with your fitness/exercise program.
- Go to a group class or other scheduled event that may provide motivation or accountability.
- Cleanse your living space of anything that could sabotage your progress.
- Keep it simple and take as much thought out of your food selection process as possible.
- Stay positive about your progress and remember it’s a marathon, not a race.
- Make supplements your starting point. Get everything else, think diet and exercise, in line first before implementing supps as needed. I understand that they could have a placebo effect, so if supps get you off the couch and you have disposable income, it’s not the worst thing in the world.
- Skip tracking your calorie intake like I did unless you’ve done it before and have a good idea of what you’re eating on a daily basis.
- Completely rule out food groups or obsess over one macronutrient. Doing so could lead to unhealthy eating habits or behaviors in the long run.
- Use extreme methods or rapid weight loss strategies. Slow and steady wins the race.
- Assess yourself every single day. You’ll drive yourself crazy and find yourself demoralized and discouraged about your progress.
- Spend a ton of time searching for the perfect diet or training program. If you’re currently doing some type of training, go a little bit harder for longer. If you’re going from zero to something, just pick what you think would be fun and roll with it.
- Reward yourself after every small victory, at least not with food. If buying new workout gear motivates you, do the damn thing.
Part two of this series has an update on my progress in month two, tips on staying positive when progress slows, and using the right metrics to track progress. Check it out here.
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