We are officially one whole month into the New Year!
You know what that means.
It’s just about time for the majority of people who started the year off with the resolution to lose weight and get “healthy” to give up and try again next year.
I can already see it happening at my gym.
The treadmills are gradually starting to “thin out,” and that air of optimism and determination that fills the locker room that first week of every January is slowly turning into despair and doubt.
“Is this even worth it?”
“I lost 5 pounds the first two weeks, but since then I’ve gained 2!”
“I’m eating so little.”
“And I’m working out twice per day!”
“Maybe I’m just not supposed to be fit.”
First off, let’s all just take a nice, long, deep breath.
Before you give up on your health and fitness goals for this year, let me see if I can try to steer you in the right direction.
If you are just a casual exerciser and don’t really pay attention to the latest science in health, nutrition, and fitness, chances are you are making some pretty big mistakes.
With that said, let me a take a wild guess at your New Year’s routine:
You’re doing cardio every day.
You’re not lifting weights.
“Right; I want to lose weight, not gain it.”
You cut your calories drastically; and are now eating six small meals per day.
And you’re consuming lots of low fat foods; and getting your six servings of whole grains each and every day.
Well, guess what.
You’re doing it wrong.
It doesn’t work.
And it’s absurd to me that every year I see the same exact people trying to lose the same exact weight in the same exact fashion that they’ve been trying to lose it for the past ten years!
Now, I must be fair and admit that it’s not all their fault:
The fitness industry is riddled with all kinds of propaganda, myths, and flat out nonsense—intended more for the selling of supplements, exercise programs and equipment than it is for your actual health.
This shouldn’t be a secret to anyone.
If it is —spoiler alert—sorry, not sorry.
If you are overweight and are looking to make this the last year you ever resolve to get in shape, I encourage you to forget everything you think you know about exercise and “healthy” eating and start following these steps ASAP:
1. Stop Doing Traditional, Steady State Cardio
The majority of your cardiovascular activity should come in the form of BRISK WALKING.
Running/jogging for miles each day and/or intense aerobics classes do nothing for your metabolism, and they only make you more tired and hungry.
It’s an extremely inefficient way to exercise, and the science shows that you end up burning a lot more muscle than fat, anyways.
Low intensity cardio, like walking, utilizes fat stores much more efficiently and does not put the strain on your joints that running for miles does.
Aside from walking, you should also look to sprint in some way, shape, or form, at least once per week.
I wrote an entire post on the many benefits of sprinting, already.
You can check that out, here, if you haven’t already.
2. Lift Weights
I said earlier that traditional, steady state cardio does zilch for your metabolism and is an extremely inefficient way to exercise.
I don’t know about you, but in all areas of my life, I strive to get the most “bang for my buck.”
In other words, I’m always trying to maximize my output and get the desired result in as little time as possible.
If your goal is to look “toned,” or “cut,” or whatever other stupid word you use to describe someone with a low body fat percentage and firm, dense musculature, then weight training is the way to go—hands down!
Aerobic endurance training doesn’t even come close.
The reason is due to something called “excess post-exercise oxygen consumption,” or the “after burn” effect.
Aside from the calories you burn during a strength workout, lifting weights (and sprinting) cranks up your metabolism for up to two days after you workout.
This is because after an intense lifting session, your body is forced to recover and rebuild those muscles you just trained.
The effect is magnified, by the way, by any additional muscle mass you build in the process. (Ladies, this is one reason why men tend to drop body fat faster: because they generally have more muscle mass, i.e. a faster resting metabolism.)
Steady state cardio does not increase post-workout metabolism, aside from a very short period after you finish, because your muscles don’t need to recover very much afterwards.
This is why I couldn’t care less about what a watch or fancy heart rate monitor tells me about how many calories I’m “burning.”
Since my training revolves around lifting and high intensity conditioning, that number is useless to me, as the majority of calories that I will “burn” from these workouts will come in the following 24-48 hours after, during the recovery phase.
3. Eat More, Not Less
Sounds counter intuitive, right?
What most people don’t understand is that when you exercise more, your metabolic needs will shift and require more calories to keep up with the physical and physiological demands you are placing on your body.
By exercising and eating more, you will effectively speed up your metabolism.
By exercising more and eating less, you will slow down your metabolism and burn less calories (and fat) overall.
This is why most people experience significant results in the first 1-2 weeks of starting a new diet and exercise regimen but then hit a plateau soon after.
Aim for 3 meals per day; and eat until your are satisfied but not stuffed.
Focus on the overall quality of the food you eat; not so much on the calories being consumed.
Calorie counting is utterly useless if you are eating junk; and really doesn’t need to be taken into account until once you are on your last 5-10 pounds of fat loss.
Even then, you’ll only want to maintain a slight caloric deficit; and make sure you refeed once every 7-14 days.
4. Eliminate Inflammatory Foods From Your Diet
For the most part, all processed food—including wheat and dairy— should be avoided when trying to lose body fat and get healthy.
These foods, along with hydrogenated oils and sugar, all cause inflammation in the body and should be eliminated or, at the very least, kept to a minimum.
The majority of your diet should consist of vegetables, fruits, lean cuts of animal protein (preferably organic/pastured), nuts, seeds, and eggs.
This is literally the most important change to make if overall health and fat loss are your goals.
Fat loss is as much about hormones as it is about calories.
People either forget this or have no idea at all.
The foods (or food-like substances) you put into your body, once processed, send certain signals to your endocrine system.
Excess carbohydrates, artificial sweeteners and chemicals, sugar, and hydrogenated oils all tell your body to store fat in one way or another.
Eat natural, whole foods that your body can process efficiently and utilize for energy.
Make the quality of the food you eat your number one priority; and don’t even think about undertaking a new fitness regimen until you are eating this way consistently.
80% (at least) of body composition is diet.
If you fail to make these changes to your diet, you will fail to reach your goal, no matter how hard you exercise.
If you follow these four points I guarantee that you will not only feel and look better, but that you will actually achieve your health and fitness goals this year.
More importantly, you’ll be able to maintain them so that you never have to resolve to “get in shape” or “lose weight” again.