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The biggest mistakes to kill your gains

I wouldn’t say I’m a trendsetter, but I do hate to just do what everyone else is doing for the sake of fitting in.  Therefore, I refuse to make this a “Top 5…” or “Top 10…” style post, because a) I assume I’m not the only person on the planet spending less time on Facebook because every damn post seems to be one of those lists, and b) I don’t know how many items would make this list anyway.  This is going to be relatively stream-of-consciousness, and I don’t intend to edit.  WATCH OUT, HIDE THE CHILDREN.

With that being said, let’s talk about the most common things I see that stall progress.

Assuming that rest is for other people

You (yes, you.  I mean it.  Really.  You) need rest in order to grow, and through intense cuts you need rest to maintain.  This does not, necessarily, mean taking days off.  If you train a body part split you can often train 7 days a week and be just fine.  People worry about overtraining, but even on a strenuous day (legs), half your body is still effectively getting a rest.  Total body metabolic lifts might be a different story, but for a “bodybuilding” split, I challenge you to overtrain yourself.  If you succeed, it means you’re doing something right.

No, I mean sleep.  Often time we wake up early to get to the gym or do some cardio before starting the day, then at night we’re too busy catching up to knock off at a reasonable hour.  If you find yourself routinely getting 5-6 hours of sleep, move heaven and earth to try and change that to 6-7 hours.  If you feel you function ok on little sleep, you might be right – but we’re not shooting for ‘ok’, we’re aiming for ‘optimal’.

Being unable to switch off your OCD counting obsession

Everyone counts their reps when they lift.  Your workout plan says 10 reps of a move, you do 10.  That’s the wrong approach.  To build muscle, we’re trying to overload it – that means asking it to do more than it’s willing (or able) to do.  If your workout plan calls for 10 reps of something, your approach should be to let that number guide your weight selection, then hit as many reps as you possible can without altering your form.  DO NOT leave reps on the table.  If you think you pick an appropriate weight for 10 reps and then manage to grind out 14, congratulations.  That’s the point.  Next time, bump the weight up a tiny increment and see if you get closer to 10.  Don’t treat those numerical targets as absolutes, they are nothing more than guides.

Ego lifting

It’s simple:  when it comes to aesthetics, it’s not about strength.  It’s about the appearance of strength.  Lifting for hypertrophy and lifting for strength are very different things.  If you try to do both at the same time, the most common outcome is injury.  Hypertrophy lifting means going slow (as opposed to explosive) and focusing on the greatest possible connection between brain and target muscle.  Squeeze hard and make every rep an EVENT that has a potential to leave a mark on your body.

Not treating your diet as the foundation of your body

This is the one item that everyone knows, and yet invariably the one thing that holds more people back than anyone.  It doesn’t have to be rocket science, though it certainly can almost get to that level for some people.  Make good choices, avoid stuff that makes you feel like ass, get enough protein, fiber, and fats, skip the alcohol, and watch your body change.

Not having a way to measure your success

Most people don’t stick with a diet or training program long enough to let it work due to exercise-related ADD.  I’m often guilty of this myself when it comes to my own training, so I get it.  When you are using your own eyes and the mirror to track your progress, you are relying on 2 things that lie to you or at least that are difficult to trust.  Having an objective visual impression of yourself is a skill that needs to be developed, it’s not an inherent trait.  As a coach, this is one of my more useful functions – being able to point out areas in which someone has progressed that they can’t see for themselves without help.

And please, we need to stop with body fat percentages.  A nice idea, but not accurate enough to use when assessing progress.  The next time I see someone say that they are 8.43% when they are closer to 15% visually, I’m going to sit down and write a blog post about the statistical difference between accuracy and precision, and also share how those numbers are derived (hint:  it’s not very helpful).  I’m sure everyone is super excited to see a blog post with a bunch of algebraic expressions!

There you go!  Something tells me there may certainly be a “part 2″ of this article in the future!

What I’m eating and why

Typically, I don’t see a huge value in meal plans that are posted online.  They are either celebrity plans (Mr. Olympia or Celebrity ‘X’), or generic starter plans that are tremendously boring.  Plans that follow the “this is what I eat, so you should too” mentality are discounting human variability.  What works for one doesn’t work for another.  That being said, someone looking for a place to start can do worse than one of those plans.

It’s with that sentiment that I offer up what I’m currently eating, and why.  I always joke with my clients that if they were all perfect, diet-following robots my job would be amazingly easy.  But they’re not – they’re people.  People with strengths, weaknesses, faults, preferences, aversions, and sensitivities.  This is the stuff I take into account when writing plans, including my own.  Which looks something like this:

Note:  due to my work schedule, my days vary tremendously.  Sometimes I lift early morning, mid-morning, noon, afternoon, whatever – so the plan shown here represents a “most common configuration” of sorts.

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Yum!

Meal 1 - 5 whole eggs – I get the Private Selection Omega-3 eggs from Kroger, which have 600mg Omega-3 fatty acids per egg (I think that number is probably a bit inflated, but I run with it).  Since Omega-3 FA’s are hard to come by, I take them wherever I can get them to keep the O-3’s and O-6 in balance at a better ratio.  2 slices Ezekiel bread – I don’t particularly care for the taste of Ezekiel, but it’s 80 calories per slice (on the low side) and has enough protein to make a dent in the daily requirement.  1 TBSP Kerrygold grass-fed butter – makes Ezekiel bread taste delicious – quite a feat!

Meal 2 (pre-workout)2 scoops whey protein, 1 TBSP peanut butter, 1 banana, churned into a smoothie – fast and easy with minimal prep.  When in a more aggressive cut, this would be a whole food option because liquids just don’t keep me filled the same way.

Meal 2.5 (Intra-workout)35g or so of maltodextrin, or a designer starch – depends on what I have on hand.  For added fuel while lifting, and to accelerate reglycogenation (that word failed spell-check, unsurprisingly).  Skip this on non-lifting days, of course.

Meal 3 (post-workout) – 2 scoops whey protein.  Again, fast and convenient.  My workout time is usually selected when I have extra time afterwards to run whatever daily errands are needed, so being able to slam some calories down quickly to keep me moving is essential.  My go-to protein options are Dymatize Elite Whey (taste and texture are great), or the generic brand that Vitamin Shoppe sells (buy 1 get 1 50% off is hard to beat!).

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Not pictured: veggies (still in steamer)

Meal 46 oz chicken breast, 1 oz cashews, 1 cup veggies.  I have definitely turned into more of a lover of fats as I get older and I feel my body responds well.  Carbs also take longer to eat, and I spend so much of my day on the phone that I usually have to scarf something down quickly (this is where I think that being in the military when younger would have been a smart move).  The chicken is mass-prepped in a slow cooker – I prep it in there plain, and add whatever seasoning/sauce I feel like when dishing it up (pictured left:  Frank’s Red Hot Sauce).  The veggies I typically pull out frozen and steam for each meal.

Awwww yeah!

Awwww yeah!

Meal 51 rice cake, 2 TBSP Nutella, 1/2 oz chocolate chips.  Yeah, that’s right.  Not surprisingly this is the best part of my day.  In a maintenance phase, I can handle this shift in macros.  When it comes time to cut, this will have to go as the protein intake goes up and I put a higher emphasis on food quality.  Having this worked into my plan keep the rest of my (significant) sweet tooth cravings at bay.

Meal 66 oz grass fed beef, 1 cup veggies.  This can take on many forms – whether a steak on the grill, ground beef in a taco salad, a simple veggie stir-fry kind of creation, or something else creative that my fiancee dreams up.  Due to the indulgence in meal 5 and the fat content in the beef (typically around 15%), the meal is fairly low volume.  I’ve had plenty of experience eating chicken 3 times a day and by this time, I prefer to mix up the proteins a bit more!

Total macros:  229g protein, 168g carbs (133g on non-lifting days), 113g fat, 21g fiber, 2523 calories

Due to the lower fiber intake, I typically supplement to get closer to 30g, which is where my body is very comfortable.

I love flexible dieting as much as the next guy, but let’s be real:  the most realistic application of flexible dieting is to develop a plan that is doable for you, and then you follow that plan until you get sick of it, change it, and repeat the cycle.  I know of very few people with the patience and dedication to log everything and track macros diligently on a daily basis without driving themselves insane after a month or so of that.

I do often have times for that in the evening though, and so frequently I’ll turn those last 2 meals into a flex block that looks like this:

35g protein, 46g carbs, 40g fat, 670 calories

This gives me plenty of freedom to take something that my better half has schemed up for dinner, indulge a bit, and round out the macros with something else to complete the day.

 

Stress – AAARRRGGGGHHHH!!!!

It’s fairly well-known and accepted, and knowable by anyone who does a basic search, that stress and it’s associated hormone in the body – cortisol – are not super productive things when it comes to building muscle and losing weight.  At a very basic level, that’s true.  As always though, if you want to really understand something you have to dig past the superficial layer and accept that there are grey areas – that things aren’t always cut and dry.

The first thing to accept is that there are different kinds of stress.  How you categorize and divide them doesn’t really matter – you could look at where they come from in your life, whether it’s short-term or long-term, or whether it’s energizing or crippling.  Essentially, some of it productive and some of it is not.

Anyone who has worked with me knows how much I love using a good analogy to drive a point home (or a bad analogy…I don’t really discriminate).  So let’s try an easy one here.

Take a balloon.  It’s untied, empty, and lifeless on the ground.  Doing nothing.  You add a little helium to it and pinch the bottom, and you can see the shape of the balloon start to form.  You add a little more helium, and the balloon starts to rise – it’s going somewhere now!  This is what the balloon is supposed to do.

But if some is good, more is better right?  So you add more helium, until – sadly – you are now balloon-less, as it has popped.

Fido is losing his gainz...

Fido is losing his gainz…

In this example, you are the balloon and your total stress is the helium.

Stress comes in numerous forms, just like helium has several different isotopes (aaaaaaand that was the point where I lost most everybody, I think.  Note to self:  leave the chemistry in the ‘drafts’ folder next time).  Some of the stress, you need – think of the acute, physical stress of an intense workout.  Without that, your body is given no stimulus, no reason to grow, adapt, or change in any meaningful way.  This is the stress you can easily control, by working out more/less or with lower/greater intensity.  We want this, and need it for our goals.

The other stress, though, is what often causes our balloon to pop.  Rather than literally bursting (ewww), our body simply shuts down and stops cooperating.  In some cases, acute stress from working out can pop your balloon all by itself (though this is not common enough to be a concern and, frankly, is really hard to do with conventional training methods).  More commonly, the long-term stresses are the ones that cause your balloon to pop.  This long-term stress can show up in many different ways:

  • Job-related stress
  • Emotional stress (relationships, family issues, etc)
  • Financial stress
  • Diet-induced stress
  • Physical stress
  • Success stress

That last one is a biggie.  You are so consumed with succeeding that if change doesn’t occur at the rate you expect it to, you compound the issue by getting mad at your body for not living up to your expectations.  Stress goes up, balloon approaches ‘pop’ status a little faster.

So what can we do about this stuff?  Obviously you need to go get a cortisol-blocker, available from my online store if you just….ok ok, kidding.  I don’t have a store.  Those products exist, and they are band-aids at best.  To solve long-term problems, you need a long-term solution – in this case, that means changing habits, thinking patterns, expectations – whatever is generating the stress that’s overloading your system.

A lot of this is internal brain processing – it helps to sit down and really think about what is causing stress in your life.  Here’s a tactic that can help:

Make a thorough and complete “to do” list.  Everything that you need to get done that’s more than a 3 minute task goes on this list.  Add things to it, cross them off when you complete them, and after 1-3 days (depending on how much stuff you end up adding to this list), look at two main things-

  • What category most of the items fall into
  • What types of things don’t get completed

I did this some time back when I could tell I was getting stressed out but couldn’t easily explain why in conversation.  I noticed that 80% of my own to-do list was related to work – things for clients, organizing files, book keeping, writing, etc.  It was getting done, but obviously there were things I could do to streamline a lot of my processes.

Interestingly enough, the majority of the remaining items on my list were hobby-related – woodworking and home renovation stuff, two things I really enjoy doing.  I felt so overwhelmed by the amount of projects I had started that I couldn’t keep everything straight in my head, and it felt like I had more to do than I really did.  I ended up creating a separate project board so I could visualize every ongoing project, what stage it was in, and what came next – easy to wrap my head around, and I could feel the stress that comes from being “behind” start to fade away.

These are examples, but the point is that you can attack stress in an intelligent way if you are first able to identify what’s causing it.

It seems weird from a bodybuilding coach, but I have a lot of conversations with clients that are along these lines.  Being able to manage your stress – the good and the bad – is a big part of continuing to make the kind of progress you’re working so hard for.

6 Traits of a Successful Online Client

Today I’d like to address a question I am never asked, but one that I wish I was.

What does it take to be successful with your program?

Wow, excellent question!  With all the various ways I could answer that, I think it’s most valuable to distill it down to the traits of someone who not only wants results but is willing and capable of working with someone in an online capacity to get them.  It absolutely is not for everyone, but if you fit these criteria it’s likely for you.

  1. You are prepared.  This applies to your plan (meal prepping, scheduling workouts in tight windows if necessary, etc) and to our weekly call as well.  Some clients spoil me with bullet-point questions sent via email before our call so I can see them early and get some time to think about them, some have questions written down in front of them and refer to those during our call, others can give me a definitive “I have no questions this week” – all of those are great.
  2. You communicate well.  This means responding to emails that have questions in them, letting me know in advance if you need to reschedule a call, and getting your thoughts out clearly via email as well as over the phone, among other things.  Since we likely won’t be meeting face-to-face, your ability to communicate effectively via email, text, and phone is absolutely critical.
  3. You are precise.  This means tracking things well and using the word “about” as little as possible.  If you tend to eyeball your portions, count 8oz glasses of water throughout the day while losing track of how many you’ve had by mid-afternoon, or like to do cardio sessions based on the number of songs you listen to at a time – expect those things to change when we start working together.  Precision is efficiency, which means spending less time and effort to achieve the same result.  Stop swimming upstream!
  4. You are honest.  I can’t do my job correctly if I am being led to believe the plan I have created is being followed when it is not.  I’m not here to get angry, be judgmental, or make you feel bad for doing something “wrong” – I just want to identify “why” and then help better prepare for the next time a similar situation comes up.  Without honesty I can’t do that.  You also need to be honest with yourself – if you’re following a flexible plan and fail to log something because, well, you didn’t mean to eat it – I’m sorry to say that it still counts!
  5. You are open to feedback.  Because I will give it – whether it’s on your form, on your progress photos, or posing work – without feedback you can’t improve.  I am a terrible “in your face and yelling at you” trainer, it’s just not my personality.  My approach to feedback is the same way.  You’re a human being and I understand that.  Also, we’re usually talking about your body, and this is something that, understandably, people are sensitive to.  I take that under careful consideration when providing my thoughts.
  6. You are willing to do what must be done.  By this I’m referring to the stuff that may be less fun, perhaps even tedious.  Progress photos, form check videos, posing videos, weigh-ins when appropriate, completed workout logs and weekly macro logs when requested, etc.  Not only that you get it done, but get it done on time.  I understand that this stuff takes time, but I wouldn’t ask for these things if they didn’t have a purpose.

Even if you don’t feel that all of these traits are innate things you possess, I’ve found that they can be learned over time if it’s in pursuit of a goal you think is important enough.

Beyond these 6 items, everything else can be taught easily.  Yes – even being clueless in the gym.  We can work through that.

Clean eating vs. flexible dieting: not so different after all?

There’s a lot of debate going on in the fitness/health industry about dieting styles.  I figured it’s worth a couple minutes to cut through the garbage and propaganda and have a reasonably intelligent conversation about the options.  At the extreme ends of the spectrum, there are two distinct camps:

  • Clean eating.  This means whole, unprocessed, natural foods from sources that are familiar.  Lean meats, grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, oils, etc.
  • Flexible dieting.  This does away with the concept of “good foods” and “bad foods” and says that anything is ok, provided your daily macronutrient numbers (protein, carbs, fat, fiber, and total calories) add up correctly at the end of the day.

Each camp fights this battle as if there is actually something to win or lose.  Clean eaters refer to the “opposition” as lazy people who just want a “diet” that allows them to eat McDonald’s and Pop Tarts every day.  The flexible dieting group says that all clean eaters are miserable, jealous of the awesome stuff that they eat, and are all one cheat meal away from an eating disorder.

Flexible dieters are often asked “how can you put that garbage in your body if you claim to be worried about your health?”  Clean eaters are told that, in 2014, there’s no such thing as “clean, unprocessed” food.

Both groups are full of completely insufferable fanatics that are impossible to take seriously.  As always – in dieting, in politics, whatever – the truth is always somewhere in the middle.  But the middle ground doesn’t sell a lot of books or get asked to do interviews, so no one stands there.

Both concepts are fundamentally sound and work well for weight loss, gaining muscle, and competition prep.  Let’s state that clearly right now and get it out of the way.

Finding which one is right for you is more of a challenge.  I find that most people who hire me are looking for a plan.  Someone telling them what to eat to provide structure.  I think this is fine.  I encourage everyone who follows a plan like this to tell me if they’re feeling like they are restricting their choices excessively.  There’s a certain amount of flexibility and substitution freedom inherent in the plans I create, so I think they are better than a lot of available options.

Often times, these people choose that option out of fear:  fear that too many options will mean failure, or that if they can have literally anything they want, they will binge on it and kill their macros.  Those are very real concerns and ones worth addressing.  Forcing someone into a flexible plan that isn’t ready for it is just as bad as forcing someone to eat broccoli 87 times a week.

As with any decision, you should look at the pros and cons of both options.  Again, these are pros and cons of extreme, rigid versions of each option.

Clean Eating

  • Pros:  fairly easy to ensure appropriate micronutrient intake by mixing up fruit and vegetables; typically low in added or artificial sugar which keeps people sensitive to those things feeling optimal; plans typically involve eating the same foods every day which makes prep easy
  • Cons:  plans typically involve eating the same foods every day which makes life tedious; typically restricts foods that many people crave which leads to binging patterns, makes social eating and functions difficult

Flexible Dieting

  • Pros:  eat anything you like as long as you make it for your numerical targets, makes eating out an option so long as you can get a reasonable estimate on your calories; typically keeps cravings to a minimum as you can satisfy them responsibly and routinely
  • Cons:  requires excellent self-control to not go overboard on certain foods, logging your food daily is a tedious chore

Again, these are pros and cons of the extreme versions of both plans – which, by and large, is what people are adopting.  People often ask me what kind of plan I follow, and it’s really a hybrid of the two.  I follow a plan that would typically be defined as “clean” most of the time – I eat 3-4 clean meals daily, and they are usually the same thing day in and day out.  I leave a generous block of my daily macronutrients for dinner open, and then feel free to experiment with different ways to fill it.  I like to leave a large enough block that I can enjoy a nice meal at the end of the day without worrying to much about going over my numbers.  I tally up dinner, see what’s left, and put together a small snack in the evening.

Realistically, I think this is what “flexible dieting” was intended to be.  With a plan like this, you get the benefit of flexibility when you need it (dinner with the family, social options as well) without over-burdening yourself with logging your meals all day, every day.

And just like both of the extremes – this plan works, too.

By popular demand!

I am asked on a daily basis if I offer anything besides my standard monthly online coaching program.  Soon, I’ll be able to say ‘yes’!  I have a couple projects in development now that I’m very excited about.

It seems everyone these days is offering generic workout plans for people who don’t want (or don’t need) hands-on coaching with additional customizing and accountability.  In my research, I’ve found that these plans vary wildly in quality from “lousy” to “mediocre” – what I’m currently developing will set a new standard for quality and detail.  I’m excited to share more details about this and samples from these plans in the weeks ahead!

Also, I’ve noticed that there is a huge block for many people when it comes to getting the most out of their workouts.  They are great at going in to the gym, moving quickly, and working up a great sweat – but struggle when it comes to reaching muscle failure and pushing their body in the right way to get it to respond and grow.  My upcoming e-Book will aim to address that particular problem – focusing entirely on training principles, philosophies, and techniques to maximize your workout.  Stay tuned for excerpts!

Whoops!

If you’ve contact me through this website recently and I haven’t responded, it’s due to an overly-aggressive spam filter setting that I just discovered.  Changes have been made, the responsible parties have been sacked, and I’m working on responding to everyone now.  I apologize for the delays!

Keys of Success – Patience

Welcome to installment #1 of what will be an ongoing blog series:  the Keys of Success!  It should be noted that whenever anyone asks me what the key is to success, I always tell them that there isn’t one.  This is a much easier answer, since the person asking usually isn’t looking for the honest answer.  But there are several things when, put together, will give an average person a significantly higher statistical chance of hitting their goal.

The first of these keys that I’ll talk about today is patience.  Totally not sexy, I know.  I don’t promise they will all be riveting, just important.  Future keys will take us into the kitchen, into the gym, and deeper into our heads – so keep watching!

When I say patience, what do I really mean?  The most obvious interpretation is to wait for your results.  And that’s true – this takes time.  You didn’t go from 10% body fat to 20% in a week, it’s going to take more than a week to get back down there.  Just because you decided 2 weeks ago to be a bodybuilder does not mean your body will respond at a speed commensurate to your desires.  You’ve got to put in the work.  It takes time.  The counterpoint to this I get asked about are those 19 and 20 year old guys and gals with great bodies – “they didn’t have to wait!” – I refer you to this post and remind you that you know nothing about their story, their experience, where they’ve been or where they’re coming from.

The other side of patience is possibly even more important:  patience with yourself.  Give yourself the opportunity to fail.  Give yourself time to learn.  Give yourself the chance to enjoy the process you’ve initiated rather than simply being irritated that you’re still closer to point A than B.

When people hire me they often do it with the expectation or hope that having me on their side will mitigate the need to patience.  To a small degree, this is true.  I can help remove uncertainty, and if you would have spend years following an unproductive plan and going through the motions with low intensity in the gym, then yes – I can accelerate the process by years!  But even with the right plan in place, it takes time.  The more ambitious your goals, the more time it takes.  Want to gain 3 pounds of muscle or lose 10 pounds on the scale?  Great, you will need a lot less patience than the guy who wants to gain 20 pounds or lose 60.  This is where short-term goal setting becomes important.  For those of us who struggle with patience, being able to hit a new, legitimate milestone more frequently is important.  Also important to note, those short-term goals do not exist simply to placate the impatient – they are real, valuable, and an indication that the long-term goal is attainable.

Me telling people to “just be patient” works oh so well, as I’m sure you can imagine.  Patience is valuable, but infinite patience is setting yourself up for failure just the same as no patience.  You’ve got to have a time frame by which you can measure progress to be sure that it’s happening, and it’s got to be a time frame that is reasonable.  Let’s take the following goals, for example:

“I want to lose 30 pounds”

Awesome, any coach in the world can do that for you.  It may take 10 years though, so hopefully you’ve been working on that whole patience thing.

“Ok, ok, ok, I want to lose 30 pounds in 4 weeks”

Perfect, there’s a 4 week waiting line in the OR to have a leg amputated, so that’s about right.  Outside of losing a limb, that ain’t happening.

“Fine, how long should it take for me to lose 30 pounds?”

Now we’re talking.  You tell me your goal, I’ll give you an idea of the time frame.

The actual length of time in this hypothetical situation isn’t important – that number would be different for everyone anyway.  What is important is your ability to mentally buy in to the time it will take to reach your goal.  That is patience, and that is one of the most valuable and universal keys to success.

Time for some new rules

I recently saw on Pinterest (yes, guys…it’s ok to be on Pinterest.  You’re girlfriend might even respect you more for it) this graphic titled “The Skinny Rules, by Bob Harper”.  Regardless of your opinion of The Biggest Loser, it is very popular and this guy is seen as an icon in the industry.  So I’d like to take a moment and dispel some of the bullshit myths spreading under his name, or at least offer my take on this list.  Let’s dive in:

Drink a large glass of water before every meal.  No excuses.

The reason behind this is to drink more water.  There is no practical reason to doing this before a meal to be “skinny”.  Also, how many times are we eating per day?  Three?  How big is a glass of water?  Eight ounces?  Is 24 ounces gonna cut it for the day?  No.  Advice is helpful only if it’s specific.

Don’t drink your calories.

An arbitrary rule with no reasoning.  Milk, juices, protein drinks, etc can have productive and useful applications.  If he changed this to “don’t drink caloric soda” that would be more helpful, but you can still do that and be “skinny” if you play your cards right.

Eat protein at every meal – or stay hungry and grouchy

Finally something I agree with!

Slash your intake of refined flours and grains

The only reasoning behind this that makes sense is that it’s easy to overeat on these items.  Slashing your intake of anything will likely have the same effect.

Eat 30 to 50 grams of fiber every day.

Do this.

Eat apples and berries every single day.  Every.  Single.  Day.

Why?  These are not magical “skinny” foods.  Nothing amazing is going to happen if you do this.  Yes, these are good and fine foods – but they do not possess some secret that is going to melt away pounds.

No carbs after lunch.

1998 called and wants it’s weight loss theory back.  STOP WITH THIS GARBAGE CRAP ALREADY.

Learn to read food labels so you can know what you’re eating.

Smart advice, I like it.

Stop guessing about portion size and get it right.

Distill the entire list down to this one item and it would be a great list.

No more added sweeteners, including artificial ones.

Not a bad idea I suppose, but zero calorie sweeteners aren’t making you fat.

Get rid of those white potatoes

I understand it’s easy and convenient to say all white foods are bad (rice, bread, potatoes), but there is nothing inherently evil about a white potato.  EAT THEM, I DARE YOU.

Make one day a week meatless.

To accomplish what?  You’ll take in fewer calories that day likely, unless you say “I’m not having meat, so I’ll double my carbs!” in which case your plan has backfired.  Whoops.

Get rid of fast foods and fried foods.

These are definitely calorie bombs and a good place to start, especially if it’s a regular thing.  You can, however, get/stay skinny eating these things if you are meticulous with your diet.

Eat a real breakfast

Great, but can we define that?  Cheerios and a banana doesn’t count.  Get a protein source, get a fat source.

Make your own food and eat at least 10 meals a week at home

This is a good habit but if you don’t know what to make this isn’t necessarily going to help you.

Banish high-salt foods.

Other than the fact that high-salt foods are often processed (another fictional devil in the weight-loss world), this is pointless.  Salt doesn’t make you fat.  I salt the hell out of my food.

Eat your vegetables.  Just do it.

Yep, good plan – but don’t treat them as though they don’t have calories.

Go to bed hungry.

Great plan.  Also how eating disorders are born.  But, you know…if you aren’t miserable, it isn’t working.  Or something…

Sleep right.

How?  What does that mean?

Plan one splurge meal a week

Ah yes, the binge to justify all your hard work.  Trust me, this has the ability to turn into the most unhealthy habit you can develop.

So, how would I re-write these rules?  And what would I call them?  It sure as hell wouldn’t be the “Skinny Rules”, because I don’t think that’s a particularly appealing goal.  How about the “fit and healthy rules”?  That sounds lame and cheesy, but let’s run with it.

  1. Monitor your intake carefully.  Track it.  Adjust it – in small increments – only if you don’t see progress over a 10-day period.  Be consistent.
  2. Lift weights (funny how nothing on the above list was activity-related)
  3. Get a variety of foods.  Experiment.
  4. Drink a ton of water.  100 ounces a day is a good starting point for an active person.
  5. Avoid foods that make you feel physically bad.  Everything else is ok.  Yes, everything.  Wrap your head around that, then see point 1 again.  Moderation, people.  Oreos don’t make you fat.  A package of them a day does.
  6. Take up a hobby that requires you to be active.
  7. Take naps when your body wants them.  If it doesn’t want naps, work harder until it does.
  8. Be honest with yourself.  Completely and wholly.
  9. Learn patience.

There you go, that’s the list.  Do those 9 things, learn about yourself, and refine your activity and intake to really get to know your body.  THAT is the real secret.

No one matters but you

Ok, listen up – I’m giving everyone reading this permission.  Permission to be completely self-centered, absorbed, and borderline narcissistic.  You are the center of the universe.  Block everyone else out.  Picture yourself, alone, on top of a mountain somewhere.  You, and nothing else.

This is the prism through which you need to assess your progress.

You are the only one who can stand in your shoes, both literally and figuratively.  The sum of your parts – your genetics, your work ethic, your commitment, your experience – is what makes you who you are.  Those variables are different for everyone, and when you’ve got that many variables in an equation you can make damn sure there’s going to be a wide variety of “answers”.

I see so many people who struggle with the comparison game – wanting to be better than the next person, etc.  And really, for those who engage in physique competitions, you’d think it’s pretty much inevitable – but it’s not.  Or shouldn’t be, at least.

Compare against yourself.  I see a lot of people say that, but I wonder how many actually stop, think about what it means, and reprogram something in their brains to help them make that shift.  And how many go back on Instagram 2 minutes later thinking things like “his arms are bigger” or “she’s got better legs” – it doesn’t matter.

Even as competitors, we are trying to bring a better version of our physical selves (note the added word there) each time we step up on that stage.  Our reasons for doing this can be very different, and that’s ok.  And it’s foundation, I think competing is a very effective way of setting time-based goals for yourself.  Ask yourself why you’re doing this.

I want to win.  Why?  What is winning going to do for you?  If you have plans of making a career out of this I genuinely wish you the best of luck, but I’d suggest you just go get a degree (or 2nd degree) instead.  It’s likely to be cheaper (ha!), less frustrating, and more successful.

I want to get up on stage and do something!  Ok, now we’re getting somewhere.  As a performer myself, I get this.  It’s fun to be under the lights, have your moment, and show off what you’ve been working on to a crowd.  It’s the act that matters, not the accolades.

I want to improve.  Bingo.  When you get up on stage, you are defining a moment.  At this exact moment, this is how I look.  At the next arbitrarily defined moment, I want to look better than this.  Many people advocate waiting/training for years before getting up on stage, and to that I say:  why?  Unless you’ve got a serious and legitimate need for the additional time (major imbalances, metabolic deficiency, etc), get up there and establish a baseline for yourself.  Train, diet, go through the process, and enjoy learning about yourself along the way.

A final note about results:  seriously, I cannot stress enough how unimportant show placings are.  I have seen so many things that can only really be classified as bullshit I don’t know where to start.  People winning natural shows who later fail drug tests.  Someone winning a class when their coach is a judge.  The top 3 finishers in a class all being sponsored by the same company, who happens to sponsor the show.  Pre-judging that last for 6 hours – do you really expect me to believe the judges are still awake or seeing straight by the end of that?  And in the end, shows aren’t even consistently judged by the standards published by the organizing body.  Different looks are rewarded differently at different shows.  If you let your worth be determined by a system that lets itself be described by the above terms, you are going to be unhappy.

So take those progress photos.  Get up on stage.  Define your starting point, and define your steps along the way.  Improve some each day, improve some more each month.  Change yourself each year.  Just keep looking straight ahead.

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