I want you to imagine it is the end of March.
In January you committed to taking care of yourself better. You dusted off your gym membership and spent the last three months hitting the gym every morning. But you have just quit like two-thirds of the other January returnees.
The frustration with seeing a lack of results and the creep of work responsibility and family commitment has eroded your resolve.
There are two main reasons this happens which I want you to avoid.
The first critical mistake people make is that people try to gauge their progress based on scale weight.
The problem is that this will only tell you about weight change, not any fat or muscle mass changes.
A pattern many people find themselves in is that at the same time they (re)start going to the gym, they make an effort to clean up their diets. People reduce their carbohydrate intake, which often causes 2-3 kg of weight loss in the first couple of weeks, which they think is fat but is just the water that attaches itself to carbs when stored as fuel. At the same time, the muscle from your youth is reactivated, muscle is re-grown, and progress appears to slow dramatically because you’re only gauging it based on scale weight.
My advice is simple: track both your scale weight and take stomach measurements. Your weight will fluctuate daily due to water and gut content changes, so weigh yourself each morning upon waking and average it at the end of the week, then compare progress week to week. Take stomach measurements once a week, but do it at the navel, a couple of inches above, and below also. (This is because fat comes off from the top down, generally speaking.)
You can read more about the importance of tracking progress correctly here.
The second critical mistake that people make is that they fail to place enough consistent effort with their diet, or they focus on the wrong places.
Confusion is understandable because the fitness industry is full of nonsense – people want shortcuts, and the juiciest profit margins come from selling people them.
But the reality is that energy (calorie) balance is what determines whether we gain or lose weight and the macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbohydrate) that make up that energy balance largely decide whether that is muscle or fat mass.
You don’t often hear this advice repeated because there is nothing really to profit from in telling people this. So, just remember, if what you hear does not affect these two things, then it is not going to be effective.
Now, the appropriate advice to achieve these things depends on the person. I work with very experienced gym trainees who need to take their nutrition to a higher level of detail to see changes that you probably do because they have already taken care of the ‘easy wins.’
Here are the easy wins for fat loss:
- Eat more slowly. It takes your brain a while to register that you are full.
- Eat salads first and drink water with your meals (for the same reason).
- Cut out the obvious crap in your diet. You know what it is, this guest article by Patrick Umphrey will help you make healthier choices without thinking.
- Leave extra food on your plate if you are full or ordered too much. Getting fat benefits no one.
- Moderate your alcohol intake. It contains energy that needs to be preferentially burned off first before fat.
- Eat more protein. It will help you retain and build muscle, and is the most satiating of the macronutrients. An additional chicken breast or a scoop of protein powder, twice a day, will do.
- Sleep long enough that you don’t wake up shattered. A lack of sleep will impact recovery from workouts affecting how well you can retain muscle, and it will cause more hunger issues.
- Do your best to manage stress (for the same reasons). Gratitude practice at the start and end of each day can help start a great perspective shift. I use ‘The 5-Minute Journal’ app for this.
Remember, we are the product of our habits, not the occasions. If you screw up, give yourself a pass.
And if you have any feeling of guilt for taking time to work on your health, cut it out. You will perform better at work, be there for your family, and it is one of the most selfless things you can do.
Good luck this new year!