Challenge: Strengthen your ‘no’ muscle

Many of us have difficulty saying no. I for one, have GREAT difficulty saying no.

We have difficulty setting relational boundaries – unable to say no to friends and often overcommiting ourselves or doing things we do not want to do..

We have difficulty maintaining work boundaries – unable to say no to our boss’s every request, working long hours and bringing work home.

We have difficulty with food boundaries – unable to say no to food that seem to stare us in the face daily or not knowing when to stop.

Read on to learn how I strengthened my no muscle.

Long-term potentiation

As with anything, saying no can become easier with practice. And the more you do it, the easier it becomes. It is like a muscle, use it and it will become stronger. There is an abundant amount of research out there supporting the notion. We call it willpower. Scientists call it long-term potentiation (LTP).

When you practice saying no, you can strengthen the nerve cell connections in the brain – when the connections are strengthened they are potentiated (Amen, 2010). Practicing over time strengthens these circuits and builds what we know as willpower. LTP occurs whenever these circuits are strengthened and practiced and the associated behaviors become almost automatic (Amen, 2010).

My ‘crazy’ experiment

I tested the LTP theory years ago. I had always felt like I had no willpower – prone to binge drinking and eating. I had begun working with a trainer and saw the weight loss benefits. Wanting to see what results I could truly obtain, I quickly modified my diet – strictly following the guidelines that I provide in my meal and snack creation post. At the time, I was having difficulty with giving up my beloved Snickers candy bars. Having read about LTP and that it is possible to increase willpower. I thought I would test it out.

I took a “Fun Size” Snickers bar to work and placed in in front of my computer monitor. At the time, I worked in publishing and sat in front of the computer for 8-10 hours a day. My goal: I will not eat the Snickers today. I sat there all day with the Snickers in front of me. I practiced saying no. Some might argue this was desensitization (it may have been). I wanted to, but I did not eat it!

I set the same goal for the next day.

And the next.

I would tell myself, I did not eat it yesterday and I do not need to eat it today.

This went on for months. More than a year. Eventually the Snickers bar was so old that it wasn’t appealing (although I am sure it has an absurd shelf life) and I threw it away. I had built willpower and the ability to say no.

It was not easy

This brief summary omits the days of stressful deadlines, when I almost ate that bar. I didn’t mention the emotional days, when I wanted the candy bar, but said no. It doesn’t mention my colleagues – who all thought I was crazy – who were nay-sayers and bullied me to eat it.

The challenge

What do you need to say no to?

For me, it was Snickers. At other times, it has been saying no to clients who want to train with me during periods that I am generally unavailable. There was also a time when I needed to learn to say no to alcohol.

I challenge you to think about what you need to say no to. Starting today, you will practice. It starts with 1 day. Then 1 day becomes 2. And if I can do it — so can you.

So tell us, to what are you going to practice saying NO?


Amen, D. G. (2010). Change Your Brain, Change Your Body. Three Rivers Press: New York.

Protein bars – A better choice?

I was at Target yesterday, where they were serving samples of Clif Builder’s protein bars. As we walked away, a mother approached the samples and said to her child, “these would be good snacks for you to bring to school.” This made me want to stand next to the samples with some sort of educational materials. Marketing has done its job – we think that protein bars are good nutrition for us AND our children. Sadly, a protein bar is not a good choice for either. In my opinion, retailing protein bars as ‘nutrition bars’ should be illegal.

Purpose of protein bars

Protein bars were initially designed for endurance athletes – something easy to eat before/during/after high intensity activity. Despite the fact that protein bars have become mainstream, most have not changed their nutritional makeup to meet the needs of our daily lives.

Protein bars have a high nutrient density. They often contain high levels of fat, sugar, protein, etc. – for the purpose of sustaining an athletes intense energy expenditure. What happens if you consume more of these nutrients than you need? They become converted into fat (i.e., adipose tissue). What happens of you consume more protein than you need? It is converted into fat.

How much protein can the body use?

You see the protein bars that advertise containing 20+ grams of protein. The more protein the better, right? WRONG. You body can only utilize approximately 8 to 10 grams of protein an hour. While some experts suggest eating as much as 30 grams of protein at MEALS, this is ingested along with other foods that influence the length of digestion (sometimes hours). Anything above and beyond what the body can use will be converted into fat, storing it for later usage.

The facts

What is in a protein bar? For the sake of this post, I will remain with the Clif Builder’s bar.

Look at all the awesome stuff! First, let us remember that the Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet – which applies directly to very few of us. If you do not already know, please learn to read labels! I am not going to address everything on these Nutrition Facts, but I want to highlight a few things.

Calories – 270. 13.5% of a 2000 calorie diet, I suppose this may be a snack. Snacks should generally be limited to approximately 200 calories.

Saturated Fat – 25%. 13.5% of your daily calories but 25% of your saturated fat? If you are not using the fat as fuel (like an athlete may be), it will be stored as fat.

Total Carbs – 10%. Let me begin by saying that this is incredibly misleading. Look at the sub categories and there are 20 grams of sugars. I have previously written about sugar and how much sugar you can utilize at a given time.

Protein – 20 grams or 40%. Look at the math – 13.5% of your calories and 40% of your protein. Does this make sense? So what are you going to eat for the remaining 86.5% of your calories? Protein contains 4 calories per gram, so 80 of the 270 calories are from protein. Where do the other calories come from? I will let you do the math – I hate math. (Hint: 80 calories from the sugar. That leaves 110 calories. 72 from fat, leaving 38 calories from carbohydrates other than sugar.)

Protein bars and weight loss

Are you on a weight loss journey and using protein bars in place of meals or snacks? How is that working for you – honestly? Are you bloated? Unfortunate for us and fortunate for the protein bar industry – many individuals who are overweight and losing do not know when they are bloated. Unfortunately, most overweight individuals have been bloated for a significant amount of time and would not be able to tell the different of whether the bar elicited water retention or bloating. (What does sugar do?).

Remember, a protein bar is highly processed. I did not include the ingredient list for the Clif Builder’s bar above, but you can view it on their website. The list is not terrible, but not great. They use ‘sexy’ terms like no trans fat and organic. The bar provides sustained energy. What does that mean? Do you need energy to sit in your chair at work? If so, how much energy do you need?

I know, I am asking a lot of questions and not giving the answers. I want YOU to think critically.

Protein bars and muscle building

The name, Clif Builder’s, infers muscle building – correct? I know very few bodybuilders who eat protein bars – because they are mindful and go for the most effective and efficient sources. The cut and ripped look of bodybuilders comes from natural proteins – supplemented with shakes and other things not critical to the point of this post. Will a protein bar assist with muscle building? Slightly. Is that what it is designed for? No.

The bottomline

This post just addressed the outer edges of this issue and is oversimplified. Just know, a protein is NOT designed for regular consumption by an average individual. Marketing will lead you to believe otherwise. Bars for women (Luna Bars?). Snack sized bars. Meal Replacement bars. And what are all these bars? Glorified candy bars and granola bars. Processed junk that our bodies are not designed to process and digest.

Are protein bars a better choice? Better than what? A candy bar? Give me a choice between a Clif bar and a Snickers – and I will always pick the Snickers. A – it tastes better. B – the overall nutritional benefit is nearly identical. (i.e., fewer total calories, same saturated fat, modestly more sugar, and protein within and absorbable range)

Do you eat protein bars? You might want to think twice – – –