How much can you improve your fitness in 6 months?

My 2013 six-month fitness check-in. With many fitness goals, I am using the bodyweight baseline workout to assess where I am at.  I did not review my previous performance before heading off to the gym – I had no idea what I was trying to beat and I did not want to psyche myself out. I just wanted to do it. I put my game face on and I went.

It is done.

It was relatively brutal.

I did not go into the workout with confidence. Honestly, I had forgotten about my assessment workout, until I looked at the calendar yesterday and realized it was July. My workouts have been on the back burner lately – lacking focus, intent, and energy. This made me nervous, but I knew that I needed to complete the assessment and know the results – the good and the bad.

The results

Exercise

Jan. 2

Apr. 1

Jun 2

Percent Improvement

Pushups

55

63

68

23.64%

Squats

206

219

233

13.11%

Pullups

11

18

20

81.82%

Burpees

25

39

36

44.00%

Traveling Lunges

98

112

122

24.49%

BB Inverted Row

42

44

59

40.48%

SB Plank

:35 sec

:55 sec

1:10

100.00%

KB Swings (20kg)

81

90

98

20.99%

Following this workout, I completed my 1-mile run in 8:53 minutes, improving from 9:18 in April (and having not completed the mile in January).

Lastly, I weighed myself for the first time in a very long time – I am up 4 pounds from April and back to the same weight I started at January 1 – still within my body’s happy range. (And unfortunately I have not had a trustworthy body fat analysis to determine any changes in body composition.)

The response

I am surprised with my improvements. I am not surprised with my decrease in burpees since April, as I have been experiencing more back pain these last few weeks (no more Insanity experiments). 

The 3 minutes of pullups were frustrating, as I was only able to perform one at a time. All I could think about was my goal to perform 10 consecutive and the fact that I have not been training for it as diligently as I should be and that is why it was so hard. Mind games!

All in all, I am pleased. 

The bottomline

I did better than I thought I would. A lesson to be kind to myself.

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Why eating everything in moderation does not work

The popular notion – eat everything in moderation – does not work. It is not effective. It is not helpful. And in some cases, it might even be detrimental.

While I currently practice a form of eating “everything” in moderation, this advice lacks specificity and consideration for an individual’s true needs. Having altered my eating behaviors in 2009, I spent the first 2 years mindfully monitoring everything I ate, avoiding social and food triggers, and planning my snacks and meals. I ate following my template – religiously. Prone to nighttime eating, if I became ‘hungry’ at  night after all my meals and snack were consumed, I went to sleep.

Used to eating anything you want

If you are used to eating whatever you want, the advice of eating everything in moderation can offer you a justification to continue doing so. “But, I am just eating everything in moderation.” And your results will reflect the inadequacy of this advice.

Many individuals cannot stop at a little of something when it comes to food. If this is you, you ARE NOT alone. We have trigger foods. There are physiological and psychological explanations for these food addictions. These are associated with binge eating disorder, as well as common to many – disordered eating behaviors.

A real-life example

I immediately think about a former client who ate 6+ full-size Hershey’s bars each day, sometimes a full pizza for breakfast, and 2 Whoppers for lunch. He wanted to listen to the advice – everything in moderation – and reduced his Hershey’s bar intake to 2 bars each day, half a pizza for breakfast, and 1 Whopper for lunch. Do you think he saw results? (He did not – despite intense workouts 3 times a week.)

He followed the advice – everything in moderation

Comparatively speaking, he was eating in moderation! Is it effective for weight loss? The answer, more often than not – NO!

Abstinence

Recovery from food addiction requires abstinence. You need to eliminate trigger foods completely. For how long? At least 28 days, but the length of abstinence required depends on various individual factors – other psychological factors, length of addiction, strength of motivation to overcome, and more. NOTE: For those who may be addicted to food in general, more aggressive strategies are needed and professional advice should be sought.

I have talked about trigger foods. One of my trigger foods is Starburst Jelly Beans – one leads to the full bag. To be successful in weight loss and health – you must identify and abstain from your trigger foods.

Assessing the advice

If you are on your weight loss journey, ask yourself – how many people have offered this advice to eat everything in moderation. Now tell me – how has this worked for you? 

Have you lost weight, only to put it back on?

Have you not lost at all?

Or, has it worked?

The bottomline

Eating everything in moderation sounds glorious. It will work for a select few. If it has not and does not work for you – please know that you are not alone. If only it was so easy!

Better, is to have more specific advice to meal and snack creation. Please click the link for more specific and helpful guidance. The best plan is to invest in a personalized, customized plan. Each of us has a different experience with foods – past and present. Each of us has different dietary needs, wants, and restrictions. Not sure where to start?

I can help and point you in the right direction.

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You exercise EVERYDAY?!?

For the second time in my life, I had someone questioning me about my level of physical activity – clearly concerned that I may be overexercising, addicted, etc. The first person to show concern was a gym manager (with whom I was good friends) – I was overexercising and addicted to the adrenaline associated with exercise. He had reason to be concerned. However, his concerned bothered me immensely because he did not go about it the right way. He unintentionally labeled me, telling me that I must have at least a mild case of body dysmorphia. His opinion bothered me a great deal – did not like the idea of him believing that I had a mental disorder.

With the more recent display of concern, my internal mental reaction was – shut up, you have no idea what you are talking about. Mean, perhaps, but that is why I did not say it out loud. I explained to her that I have found a healthy balance and what works for me. I took her concern and pocketed it, always wanting to be aware of whether or not I am in a healthy psychological relationship with health and fitness. I posted in January about my reaction to missing a scheduled workout and how I reacted in a more healthy way than I have in a very long time. I just let life happen. 230

Having to personally manage chronic joint pain – I know that I need to move more and sit less. I have learned through inactivity how much worse my pain is when I do not exercise. Exercising every day keeps my blood and synovial fluid pumping! Not to mention it is a natural antidepressant!

Is exercising every day too much?

When I tell individuals that I workout – to some degree – every day, their eyes get big, “EVERY day?” Yes, I do – the human body is designed to move. I feel better for doing so. The human body is not designed to sit all day – therefore I do exercises to counteract this sedentariness and to reduce the aches and pains that result from sitting. Personally, I have conditioned my body to function like a machine – needing to move and needing the fuel (real food) to move.

Think back to our ancestors – they exercised every day. Farmers, blacksmiths, butchers, and more. They did more walking. Mothers had a dozen children to chase after, they did laundry with a washboard, and they cooked everything from scratch. Our ancestors were active! With every invention of convenience and technology, we have become more sedentary. We even have less activity driving – with automatic transmissions versus manual – not requiring as much mental attention nor the physical use of the clutch and gear shift. While most of these activities do not equate to exercise – it is all activity. And all activity adds up. Some of our parents and grandparents tell the story about, “Walking up hill both ways to school.” (Sometimes in the snow without shoes.) I believe this is simply a dramatization of how much more active individuals were years ago. And they were much more active.

Exercise does not have to be a workout

I recommend to clients to workout 3-5 days a week but to be active every day. Be a body in motion! Now that running season is upon us here in the Midwest, my rest days are Fridays. I do not workout. But I do try to increase my other activities for the day. I park farther away. I take more stairs. Whatever opportunities the day brings to be active – I take them. I provide behavior therapy to a young boy who loves to chase and hide and seek. So we work – play – work – play.

I have mentioned before that not all exercise is a workout. This can be difficult to comprehend, particularly when trying to lose weight or improve fitness and the world is telling us all we need to do is be more active. There is a certain amount of truth to the need to be more active. However, more often than not, becoming more active without incorporating dietary changes is unlikely to yield results. And bare in mind that there is also an enormous amount of research out there showing that even if you workout every day, a sedentary lifestyle outside of the workout still has its health risks.

The bottomline

Get moving. The human body is designed to move! Overwhelmed by the idea of having to exercise everyday? How do you think our ancestors felt about just doing all the necessary daily activities?

With regard to the woman’s concern for my relationship with exercise, I brushed it off. Not everyone will understand – what works for me does may not work for you. And some individuals are not ready to hear the truth – and that is when I just smile and nod.

I am good at the smile and nod.

Which comes first – Exercise or nutrition?

The answer is very dependent on the individual and their current behaviors.

If you forced me to choose, I would choose nutrition (yes, the lesser of my expertise). As a society, we are accustomed to convenience food – psychologically and physically. I know individuals who do not eat vegetables. I know others who consume large quantities of Lean Cuisines. I worked in corporate America and had coworkers who ate fast-food EVERY DAY for lunch. I know individuals who do not cook. I know individuals who do not even own ovens or stoves with which to cook. I know individuals who do not eat. For most of these individuals, the best decision is to begin modifying nutrition.

Conversely, I know individuals who eat extremely well, but do not exercise. With a strong foundation in healthful nutritional habits, these individuals can focus on exercise and improved fitness.

There are the individuals who eat poorly and have never exercised, and managed to remain thin for most of their life. We all know someone like this. And then it hits – for women usually before or around menopause – unfamiliar weight gain. The naturally thin persons, having gained weight only at an older age, are probably my most challenging client population. They have never dealt with diets. Most have never stepped foot into a gym. You might think, “Great! A Blank Slate!” Sadly, not so great. Unless this client happens to also have a medical concern, it is incredibly difficult for the individual to see the need to alter nutrition. Having always been able to eat mindlessly – we are combating YEARS of unhealthy habits.

As humans, we do not like change. I know I do not like change. Change is hard. Imagine having had successful habits for 40+ years – and having me tell you that those once successful habits need to change because they are no longer tolerated by your body. You know it is true before I tell you, but you do not like the idea of change.

Further, in the Midwest, we are not afraid to work – we will work hard, for gain or no gain, because that was how we were raised. This same client, she will work her bum off during the 2-3 hours she spends with me at the gym each week. She will even work her bum off at the other activities I assign for her. But she will eat just the same as she has always eaten – and she will fight me tooth and nail on nutritional changes. Her results? The chances are she will not lose any weight.

Why are nutritional changes more difficult?

Have you ever thought about why nutritional changes are so much more difficult than increasing physical activity?

The act of eating involves its own reward system – as we digest and sugar enters our blood stream, our happy hormones (e.g., dopamine) are released into the brains reward center. Food makes you feel good – psychologically speaking. The positive feeling reinforces our eating behaviors (whether we realize it or not). Most individuals eat 5+ times a day – and have for their entire lives. Eating is a solidly established habit (i.e., behavior). Nutritional changes require behavior modifications; whereas, increased physical activity more often than not requires behavior increases or additions.

Often times, individuals can exhaust undesired behaviors through extinction and/or completely avoiding the behavior. Example, quitting smoking cold turkey. While this is not easy – it is easier that trying to change a behavior that you MUST engage in 5+ times a day. You must eat. Sometimes you have to learn to eat more often than you ever have before – meaning that you have more exposure to your food triggers.

Which comes first? ‘Stability’ skills

Research shows that most individuals do not maintain a weight loss for a significant period of time. This can be attributed to the perspective that it takes so much work to maintain a ‘deprived state’ (Kernan et al., 2012). Researchers taught individuals stability skills (i.e., being savvy, enjoying healthy lifestyle habits, making peace with the scale, and fine tuning lifestyle habits) prior to entering a behavior-based weight loss program. Results at six and twelves months showed that the individuals who learned stability skills had greater maintenance success than those who did not learn the skills.

What does this mean, you ask? They educated individuals on the basic principles of energy balance, nutrition, and physical activity (i.e., being savvy) prior to beginning weight loss. Knowledge is powerful! Individuals also began making small changes to nutrition – without necessarily depriving their minds or bodies – allowing their bodies and minds to adjust to the changes. Small steps like these can make big change a whole lot less earth shattering!

The bottomline 

First, change does not happen over night. Sometimes we have to make little changes on our way to a big change. I liken this to my need to ween myself from 2% milk – first to 1% and finally skim. Second, education is the first step to change. Learn about nutrition and small changes you can make – adding vegetables to each meal? – and move forward with confidence!

References

Kiernan, M., Brown, S. D., Schoffman, D. E., Lee, K., King, A. C., Taylor, C. B., Schleicher, N. C., & Perri, M. G. (2012). Promoting Healthy Weight With “Stability Skills First”: A Randomized Trial. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0030544.

Mental toughness as your arsenal

I could spend days and months describing my personal struggle to overcome chronic joint pain. I have gone through years of pain medications, blood work, x-rays, MRIs, CT scans, surgeries…and the pain persists. One doctor told me to workout with less impact (i.e., swim). I felt worse. Another doctor told me that if I lost 15 pounds, the pain would significantly subside. My response – 15 pounds from where?? Unwilling to manage my pain with medications for the rest of my life, I had to explore my alternatives. I knew pain medications would only temporarily mask the problem, so I found other ways to manage and cope with my pain.

A change in lifestyle…

photo (2)Determined to improve my quality of life, I modified my lifestyle. It worked. The stronger my muscles became, the better my joints felt. For years I would not workout without my knee brace. Did I need it? Maybe not, but I thought I did! Further, I was afraid of pain. I had lost my ability to distinguish between good and bad pain. With the guidance of an AMAZING trainer and friend, I was able to modify my exercise routine. And look at me now! I maintain the body and the training level of an elite athlete, but in all reality I exercise because I must.

In addition to exercise, I modified my diet. I limit foods that trigger my pain, such as sugar, alcohol, and red meat. I take a multivitamin, fish oil, and amino acids. I feel the difference! I spent years trying other supplements and nothing compares. One of the many benefits of fish oil is reduced inflammation and I cannot begin to describe the difference I have seen and felt. NOTE: Everyone has individual dietary and supplementation needs, this is just an overview of what works for me.

Mental toughness

I have been asked how I can do the workouts I do if I am in pain. First, I have become incredibly in tune with my own body, knowing what is good or bad pain. Second, mental toughness. Whether you are recovering from an injury or managing a major health concern, mental toughness is your arsenal. Mental toughness will help you cope with adversity.

Cope: to contend with difficulties with the intent to overcome them.

(The American Heritage Medical Dictionary, 2007).

My daily ability to cope with my pain is directly related to mental toughness. Don’t get me wrong, there are days, nights, and weeks of weakness. But I have far more good days than bad. The following tips can help you contend battles with physical pain and injury:

  1. Be informed. Ask questions and know your diagnosis and prognosis of your injury.
  2. Use imagery. Imagine yourself performing the skills you are working to recover.
  3. Maintain a strong social support system. Having strong social support can help you cope with the stress, whether by having someone attend physical therapy with you or by watching a movie to distract you for a time.
  4. Practice physical and mental relaxation. Release tension and clear the mind.
  5. Practice gate control methods. The physiological benefits of self-massage, tapping, etc. are proven and effective for many.
  6. Partake in alternative physical activities. This will allow you to benefit from the positives of exercise. Dive into the pool or get into a yoga or Pilates class.
  7. Communicate. Let the recovery team (e.g., physicians, therapists, trainers) know when you are in pain, when you have made significant gains, etc., so that adjustments can be made to the program if necessary.
  8. Get plenty of sleep. Inadequate rest can lead to fatigue and poor judgment. Note: While you are sleeping is also the time your body and muscles repair themselves.
  9. Maintain a positive attitude. And practice self-talk. The Law of Attraction: People with positive attitudes tend to approach problems with more hopeful and optimistic views and attain more positive results.
  10. Maintain realistic expectations and goals. Having unrealistic expectations can lead to pushing too far or hard, resulting in setbacks and/or delays in recovery.
  11. Celebrate. Recognize goals and milestones that you have achieved! Track your progress and see how far you have come.
  12. Maintain interests. Having external interests can keep you socially connected and help keep focus off of the injury and the pain associated with it.

The bottomline

Injuries and pain, chronic or acute, can get the best of you. It can be a daily struggle, navigating, “how do I best cope today?” However, you do not have to let pain consume you. Few people who know me or meet me know about my struggles – nor should they! I have provided these tips, but that is just the beginning.

References

Albinson, C., & Petrie, T. (2003). Cognitive Appraisals, Stress, and Coping: Preinjury and Postinjury Factors Influencing Psychological Adjustment to Sport Injury. Journal of Sport Rehabilitation, 12(4), 306-322.

Moran, A. P. (2004). Sport and exercise psychology: A critical introduction. New York: Routledge.

Cope. (n.d.). In The American Heritage Medical Dictionary (2007). Houghton Mifflin Company.

It’s not a diet; it’s a lifestyle

For many of us, it’s not about what we eat; but rather, HOW MUCH we eat. How many times have you heard someone tell you that he/she eats healthy but can’t achieve the desired fat loss? The chances are this person is either not eating enough or eating too much, maybe even too much of a good thing. fit in gym

Do you know how many grapes make a serving? Is that monstrous bagel or banana you bought 1 serving? There are various tips or tricks that can help you ‘eyeball’ appropriate serving sizes. Here is a guide to serving sizes.

Serving sizes are deceiving. When eating out in restaurants, it’s hard to miss that portion sizes have gotten larger. The trend has also spilled over into the grocery store and vending machines, where bagel sizes have doubled and an ‘individual’ bag of chips can easily feed more than one. Research reported that people unintentionally consume more calories when faced with larger portions (Brzycki, 2008; Geier, Rozin, & Doros, 2006). This can mean significant excess calorie intake, especially when eating high-calorie foods.

When eating out. Many restaurants serve more food than one person needs at one meal. Take control of the amount of food that ends up on your plate by splitting an entrée with a friend. Or, ask the wait person for a “to-go” box and wrap up half your meal as soon as it’s brought to the table.

When eating in. To minimize the temptation of second and third helpings when eating at home, serve the food on individual plates, instead of putting the serving dishes on the table. Keeping the excess food out of reach may discourage overeating. Using smaller plates and bowls will also decrease the likelihood of overeating (Brzycki, 2008).

When eating or snacking in front of the TV, put the amount that you plan to eat into a bowl or container instead of eating straight from the package. It’s easy to overeat when your attention is focused on something else.

It’s ok to snack. We learned as children not to snack before a meal for fear of spoiling our dinners. It’s time to forget that old rule. If you feel hungry between meals, eat a healthy snack, like a small piece of fruit or some nuts, to avoid overeating during your next meal.

Be aware of large packages. The larger the package, the more people consume from it without realizing it (Brzycki, 2008; Geier, Rozin, & Doros, 2006). To minimize this effect:

  • Divide up the contents of one large package into several smaller containers.
  • Don’t eat straight from the package. Instead, serve the food in a small bowl or container.

Out of sight, out of mind. People tend to consume more when they have easy access to food. Make your home a “portion friendly zone.”

  • Replace the candy dish/cookie jar with a fruit bowl.
  • Store especially tempting foods, like cookies, chips, or ice cream, out of immediate eyesight, like on a high shelf or at the back of the freezer. Move the healthier food to the front at eye level.
  • When buying in bulk, store the excess in a place that’s not convenient to get to, such as a high cabinet or at the back of the pantry.

The bottomline

The emphasis is portion control and the philosophy that you can have everything in moderation. You will have cake at the birthday party and a glass of wine with dinner.  You cannot live life on the countless diets out there. Forget restrictions that will diminish your results!

Not sure where to start? I can offer this basic knowledge and my own experiences, but that is limited. If you are committed and determined to changing your life, consult a registered dietitian – NOT a nutritionist or ‘nutrition consultant’. A balanced meal plan is sustainable and can become a lifestyle to take you long into the future. Forget the gimmicks and fad diets. Give yourself a plan that will help you lose the unwanted fat and keep that fat off.

References

Brzycki, M. (2008). Portion distribution: Size does matter!. Coach & Athletic Director, 77(7), 52-58.

Geier, A., Rozin, P., & Doros, G. (2006). Unit bias. Psychological Science, 17(6), 521-525.