Has this ever happened to you? You worked hard on your diet all week, it's Friday and you're ready to step on the scale and celebrate a weight loss victory. You look down hoping for a certain number but what you see is not what you expect. Sh*t! You've gained 2 lbs! How could this be? The thoughts begin to rattle through your head "This isn't fair", "What's the point of even trying", "Ugh, I'm so gross" and suddenly a perfectly nice Friday is ruined! I could spend the next 1000 words telling you why the scale doesn't matter that much or explaining how it would take an excess of 7000 calories for you to gain 2 lbs of body fat, but these arguments aren't going to save your Friday. Let's focus on what you can do to recover as quickly as possible from this set back because if you're in this fat loss/health game for the long run, you're going to need to build some patience and resilience.
Take Six Deep Breaths
This may seem stupid to you, what could a few deep breaths really accomplish? You're body doesn't know that you aren't actually in danger and it will unleash a cascade of hormonal responses to help you survive the immanent threat. The only problem is, this isn't really a dangerous situation and you don't need those hormones to outrun a predator. What you really need is to calm the f*ck down. Take those breaths deep into you stomach and try not to let the shoulders shrug. Exhale slowly and fully. Repeat 6-10 times.
Take a Judgement Free Inventory of Your Actions
Look back at the previous week to month and honestly review your habits. Did you eat well at least 80% of the time? Did you get in at least 30 mins of light activity each day? How was your sleep? How were your stress levels? As you do this, try to avoid judging your actions. If you weren't active say: "I had 3 days where I sat at my desk all day and didn't walk or exercise" rather than "I was a lazy POS and I didn't go to the gym after work". If you were indeed very consistent for the past week, how about the few weeks before that? How did they look? Chances are you haven't YET strung together several weeks/months of positive habits. This isn't about spiraling down into a rabbit hole of shame and self doubt. It's just an assessment of your performance.
Choose a Simple, Easy to Implement Action
Now that you've assessed your behaviors and taken responsibility for them you can take action. If the scale has really upset you, you're probably considering implementing several strict food rules. It's Friday, so maybe you'll just enjoy the weekend and start them on Monday. This can lead to a cycle of overeating, deprivation, and more overeating. I can confirm that this pattern does not lead to long lasting fat loss but it does lead to a lot of hunger, shame and misery. Instead, focus on one simple thing that you can do today to improve your nutrition. Return to those big rock habits that create the biggest bang for your dietary buck: protein with every meal, vegetables with most meals, drink plenty of water, eat fibrous carbohydrates etc.... Choose one and use it with your next meal. Continue to focus on that one thing for the next several days or even week until you've strung together several successful days.
I get it, you're like Veruca Salt and you want your oompa loompa now, as in you want results and you want them fast! The problem is, you can control your actions, you cannot control your results. After a set back, remember to BREATH, ASSESS, and ACT. Limit the amount of emotional energy you put in to your weight and your perceived appearance because I'm guessing that you have other sh*t going in your life that needs your attention. After all, this isn't really about the scale is it? It's about feeling better about yourself. The best way to feel better about yourself is to take care of that body and mind of yours. Chances are the scale will reflect your efforts.
Today I'd like to talk about breakfast and maybe even touch on the subject of snacks. I jokingly tell my clients that "Muffins are just an excuse to eat cake for breakfast" but there is some truth there. The first meal of your day could be sabotaging your good intentions. Before I get up on my soap box and offend all of the oatmeal/granola loving folks out there, if you enjoy your breakfast AND it's working for you, then feel free to continue with your morning sugar infusion. Food is a matter of taste and you should never force yourself to eat something that you don't like. That being said if it is broken, it's time to fix it.
Most of us know that "Eating the Rainbow" does not mean scarf down a bowl of sugary food colored cereal however many folks are still treating their first meal of the day like a high sugar buffet. Bacon and sausage aside, many breakfast favorites are carbohydrate rich: granola, oatmeal, fruit flavored yogurt, juice, toast, English muffins, and cereal. I'm not saying carbohydrates are bad and I'm not saying don't eat them, however a typical breakfast usually combines several servings of carbs, very little protein and very little fat. I'm going to provide you some ways to upgrade your breakfast as well as posit a completely different way to look at your first meal. Waking up can be a jarring experience and if you need the warm hug of carbohydrates to usher you in to the day then here are few tips to keep it sweet AND achieve your goals.
#1 Add Protein
Whatever it is that you enjoy for breakfast, add eggs. Notice the "s" at the end of egg, that means plural please. We're trying to get that meal up to at least 15g of protein and one egg isn't going to cut it. If you're worried about cholesterol, the US government has acknowledged that dietary cholesterol does not lead to higher levels of blood cholesterol. Live a little, have some yolks folks! Sometimes I crack a few eggs into my stove top oats for the last minute of cooking. I simply stir as the eggs cook in and it makes for a hearty breakfast. Greek yogurt is rich in protein, but go for the plain and add your own fruit and a little sweetener if you need it. Some cinnamon will also bring out a sweeter flavor. You can also add protein powder to your breakfast; it goes well in oats or make some high protein pancakes and of course you can always start your day with a smoothie.
#2 Budget Your Carbs
As I said before, carbohydrates are not the devil. They're a great source of energy, especially if you have a very active day ahead of you. If you're going to sit in your car then sit at a desk for 6-8 hours, chances are you don't need multiple servings of carbs to fuel a fairly sedentary day. Choose high fiber carbohydrates such as berries, apples, whole grain breads and oats. Rather than having granola, sweetened yogurt, berries and a glass of orange juice, ditch the juice, swap the flavored yogurt out for plain and buy or make a lightly sweetened granola.
In fact, I may eat something like that any time of the day. People often ask what I eat for snacks, once again under the impression that snacks need to be sweet or small. I don't generally snack, I sit down and eat a moderately sized meal 4-5 times a day and it works for me. I enjoy a full-ish stomach and 6 almonds isn't going to cut it. If I eat something like this at 3pm, I won't inhale everything in my kitchen when I get home at night. Do you struggle with evening snacking? Maybe it's time for a mid-afternoon meal, or "Second Lunch" as I like to call it.
People have success with many styles of eating. If you're trying to lower your body fat you can keep your traditional breakfast with a few upgrades or you can take a walk on the savory side and try out last night's left overs. Breakfast tacos anyone?
Several years ago I had a serious conversation with my mother. I told her that although I appreciated the sentiment, I no longer wanted to receive cookies from her for Christmas. I know, I'm a cookie hating asshole. Actually I just don't like to have super tempting foods at my house and I don' t need a reason to have a chocolate chip brownie for breakfast. I try to make it as easy as possible to make good food decisions at home, it's a "safe" zone from temptation, minus the wine of course. This did not initially go over well with Mary Weiss, obviously if I didn't want her cookies it meant I didn't love her, maybe even hated her. And if she couldn't express her love for me through delicious baked goods, how would I know that she loved me? Being the resourceful woman that she is, my mom has found other ways to show she cares. Now my stocking (yes I'm 39 and I still get a Christmas stocking) is full of dark chocolate, spice rubs and Justin's Almond Butter. My mom is still the Cookie Lady for other family members, friends and co-workers but she doesn't have to be the Cookie Lady for me. There are two lessons here: it's okay to have a tough conversation with your loved ones about food and your goals AND you don't have to share your love through butter and sugar. Here are a few ways to change your holiday giving identity from Cookie Lady or Cookie Guy to Healthy Gift Giving Genius
Bring Protein to the Holiday Potluck
Inevitably there will be many social obligations between now and New Year's. You may even be required to bring food to said festivities. Vegetables and protein will be hard to find at these gatherings and you may find yourself wondering how you're going to keep up with your healthy habits with so many temptations. Be part of the solution instead of part of the problem; bring a satiating protein dish. This week I'm going to the holiday party at the pub where I work part time. We have a sign-up sheet for the potluck and it's full of cheesy dips and sweets. I'm sure I'll hit up the buffalo chicken dip and have a cookie or two but I'm going to make damn sure there are some protein and veggies available. I've braised chicken thighs and made a batch of homemade coleslaw for tacos. I'll enjoy some tacos and fill myself up a little in order to keep from over-indulging on the rest of the buffet. PS - the buffalo chicken dip didn't disappoint.
Share Your Recipes
This idea actually comes from my Cookie Lady Mom. She put together a binder of family favorites for my brothers and I. It's a project you could slowly add to throughout the year. My mom put hers in a binder but you could even have a book made or go paperless and send it as a PDF.
You're In Charge
It may seem like you're going to let everyone down if you don't bake 6 million cookies for Christmas but the truth is, you can become the Healthy Gift Giving Genius, you don't HAVE to be the Cookie Lady. There are other ways to share your love of food with friends and family. Hopefully this post will inspire you to step out of your traditional role and try a new one where you're the healthy role model that everyone strives to be. Who knows, maybe you'll inspire others in your gift giving circles to do the same.
I was working with my client Sarah the other morning and she was telling me about her co-worker who can do 38 push-ups in a minute. It's hard to not get caught up in the comparison trap which will quickly lead to feelings of inadequacy and I could tell Sarah was heading down that rabbit hole (lol bunny pun). Sarah does elevated push-ups from the smith bar and hasn't done a push-up from the floor....... yet. On one level, it's great that this woman can do 38 push-ups, I'm all for supporting my fellow women in our strength endeavors. However I also want to call bullshit. I looked over at Sarah and said "I can't do 38 push-ups either". I'm not ashamed that as a personal trainer I can be so easily out-push-upped because I'm proud of the push-ups I can do. Here's a video of my current max push-ups:
I wonder what Sarah's co-worker's push-ups look like. I see it at the gym every day: hips sagging, neck craning toward the floor, elbows flared and partial range of motion. You could ask, does it matter? I'd say that yes, it does. Doing correct push-ups demonstrates good core stability, shoulder mobility and upper body strength. I am sure there are women out there that can perform 50 beautiful push-ups in a row, but there are many men and women claiming credit for bad reps. If you want to know how your push-ups measure up, the easiest thing to do is to video them. Take a long honest look at the video and if you see some of the form mistakes from below, it may be time to pull back and do an easier version, progressing from there.
In the video on the left, my head is pushing forward, elbows are flared and the core is unstable. On the right, my head is up and my back is arched.
Have no fear of perfection - you'll never reach it.
- Salvador Dali
It could be argued that we often fail at our New Year's Resolutions because we're striving for perfection in our actions/habits/goals and when we don't achieve it we give up, believing that we've failed. Some people won't even try because they know they can't do as well as they'd like to, so they quit before they even get started. What if you started with a resolution and had really really low expectations of yourself?
Try Something You Suck At
It may seem as if there are only 2 ways to go here: all or nothing. I propose a different kind of resolution, one where the journey is the goal and the destination doesn't matter. I'm not going to lie, it's going to be uncomfortable, maybe even scary at times but I promise you'll learn something about yourself and your efforts may cause a ripple effect to other areas of your life. This year I challenge you to do something you suck at.
Recently I've been learning to play the ukulele. I have no experience playing a musical instrument and have yet to find any deeply buried natural talent (I can still hope). I hired an instructor because I was overwhelmed by trying on my own. Every Wednesday I carry that baby blue ukulele up the narrow stairs to my instructor Colin's studio. I sit on his little piano bench and I sweat profusely as I try to play the Beatle's tunes that he's taught me. I'm not kidding about the sweat either, when I get up to leave, I'm paranoid there will be an Iron Bunny shaped ass print on his bench. I really do suck at playing the ukulele, BUT I suck a lot less than I did when I started!
Unlike a traditional New Year's Resolution where I'd be striving for 6-pack abs or to be fluent in Italian, I have no end goal in mind for my ukulele playing. I may eventually achieve mediocrity and that's fine with me. It was more about getting started, challenging myself and being uncomfortable then it is about succeeding. I've learned a few things in the process. I can relate to my clients better when they stand in front of me, shakily attempting their first squat during our fitness assessment. I know what it's like to feel the pressure of expert eyes on you as your perform your novice reps. I know about the sweating. I've always been self conscious about sharing my exercise videos, worried I don't look the part of a trainer or that my form will be critiqued in a very public way. Since braving through those ukulele lessons I've become more willing to take a chance and post more videos. I can even sing along with one of the songs! I have a new found respect for musicians that sing, dance and play at the same time. No one ever needs to hear me sing, but it makes me happy to chirp along while I strum. Here's a clip of me playing "Hide Your Love Away". Even the actual video is lacking in perfection. My hat got tucked behind my ear, the sound is bad, the top of my head is cut off. (Oz makes a cameo, but he is perfect and can do no wrong).
As January 1st approaches, take another look at your resolutions or lack thereof. It may seem unambitious, expecting to aspire to be bad at something, or you might not want to exit your comfy sweatpants and try something new, but one venture into something you suck at could be just what you need to kick ass at 2018.
Fear holds us back from reaching our potential so often in life (which I will touch on in another blog). For the "Do Something You Suck At Resolution" you'll be facing fears of being embarrassed, not doing something perfectly and failing. You'll do it, you'll suck at it and you'll realize "Hey, that wasn't so bad".
It sounds nice right? Just do this specific exercises for 3 sets of 10 and BOOM! 6 weeks to 6-pack abs. Unfortunately our bodies don't work that way and we usually can't crunch our way to a thinner waist. Fat loss is about a calorie deficit aka burning more calories than you consume. Exercise can help you achieve a caloric deficit, it does not, however, dictate where that fat comes from. If you've ever lost even a small amount of weight, you probably noticed it came off in a specific order. Sometimes the first place you'll notice it is in your face and neck. Does this mean that you did special face exercises to slim down your noggin? Much to our dismay or joy, for us ladies we may lose body fat in our chest first. That isn't because we did breast reduction exercises, it's just how the fat loss cookie crumbled.
I could at this moment spout out the beloved personal trainer's cliche "The best exercise for fat loss is pushing away the plate." Of course nutrition plays a HUGE roll in fat loss, however, as promised I will provide you with ACTUAL exercises to increase your caloric deficit and burn some of that stubborn fat.
#1 Compound Exercises
Compound lifts include exercises using more than one joint and multiple muscle groups. For example, a chin-up involves the elbow and shoulder joints, and works your back, shoulders, biceps and core, while a bicep curl involves only the elbow and works mostly the muscles of the biceps. With compound movements you move more weight, engage more muscles and even get that heart rate up higher than with isolation exercises. We're always trying to optimize our time and if you want to make the most of your work out you'll focus on squats, deadlifts, chest presses, rows, chin-ups, overhead presses and lunges to maximize calorie burn.
#2 Combination Exercises
These are brutal...10 reps of squats to overhead presses can turn me into a sweaty puddle on the floor. You won't be able to lift as heavy as with traditional compound movements but you'll be using your whole body with each rep. Some examples include: squat to press, deadlift to row, lunge to curl or overhead press.
Personally I find steady state cardio terribly monotonous, especially when done inside on the gym's cardio equipment. Sprints are a great way to break up the monotony and increase the EPOC. Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption from high intensity bouts of effort can give your metabolism a boost for up to 24 hours after working out. I like to set the treadmill at a 5%-8% incline to simulate a hill and take some pressure off my knees and hips.
You don't have to incorporate all of these exercises in one work out, just make sure they're part of your program if fat loss is your goal. Here is a sample work out that includes a few of each.
The first exercise is a Compound Movement, the rack pull. Perform 4 sets of 5-8 reps resting 1-2 mins between sets. Focus on form while lifting as heavy as you can.
Next you'll move on to a circuit including lighter compounds lifts as well as some combos:
2a) Inverted Rows x 10
2b) Squat to Overhead Press x 10
2c) Single Leg Deadlifts x 10 each side
2d) Renegade Row w/ Push-up x 10
Rest as little as possible between exercises and rest 1-2 mins between full rounds. Complete 4 rounds.
I love to finish work outs with hill sprints on the treadmill. Set the treadmill for a 5%-8% incline, go for a 20 second sprint with 60 seconds of active recovery (slow walking). These sprints are SHORT so you should go for it with the SPEED.
Now go home and have some eggs, spinach and sweet potato because although you did your fat burning work out, abs are made in the kitchen!
What my clients are saying about me:
"Now that I've worked with Jen I see the value of having a trainer. She helps keep me on track and focused. I'm a busy mom and it's nice to have someone I trust give me my work outs. No more researching workouts in magazines or instagram. I get my own personalized program that works with my schedule and helps me achieve my goals faster."