I’ve been lifting weights now for almost 20 years; and I’ve been studying nutrition and exercise science for just about the same amount of time.
One of the many mistakes I made when first starting out as a personal trainer 8 years ago was that I often gave new clients too much, too soon.
I would forget that not everyone was like me; and while this stuff may have come easy to me over the years, for most people it was complicated and extremely challenging, especially later in life—and even more so if they were severely overweight.
That said, I am quite pleased to say that my approach has evolved quite a bit in the last few years.
While I have no problem cranking up the intensity and getting down to business with those that are ready for it; I also have absolutely no problem pulling back a bit on the reigns when the situation warrants the restraint.
As a matter of fact, I find myself doing much more of the latter than the former.
You see, one of the things I hate most about the fitness industry is this Go big, or go home mentality that so many fitness “professionals” have with their clients.
This attitude is fine and dandy when dealing with an intermediate to advanced level client, but not when working with someone who is just starting out and extremely intimidated by the entire experience — a new trainer, the weight room atmosphere, the novelty of the exercises, the debilitating self-consciousness that comes along with starting any new endeavor.
Unfortunately, this mindset has also seeped into our collective thinking as well, and I see many people derail their health and fitness goals before their train has even left the station.
Just like me some 8 years ago, many folks looking to improve their overall health and fitness level start out with too much, too soon—and after the initial “honeymoon” period of rapid weight loss and endorphin overload, they eventually hit a plateau and burn themselves out, gaining back whatever they lost in a matter of weeks or months.
As I was scrolling through some of my older pieces, I realized that the majority of them are written for folks who are already training: I don’t have a whole lot of material for people who have either a) been out of the exercise game for a while, b) have never trained a day in their lives, and/or c) are just severely overweight and haven’t a clue as to where to begin.
This post will be my attempt to fix that.
What you are about to read is exactly what I would do if I woke up today 50 pounds overweight and never touched a weight before in my life.
If you are beyond that stage in the game, there is plenty of information in my earlier work to guide you going forward, and there will much more to come.
I hope you keep reading, however, because I’m sure that there is someone in your life whom you love and care about that could definitely benefit from you passing on this information.
Now, before I start, please notice that this post is titled “A Beginner’s Guide To Getting Healthy”— it doesn’t say “Ripped,” or “Toned,” or “Jacked.”
I think that is the very first mistake people make when they determine to change their lifestyle.
Instead of focusing on doing what’s smart and beneficial to their long-term health and fitness goals, they automatically take it from – Drake voice — 0 to 100, real quick: training for a half marathon while simultaneously following the Rock’s Instagram workout!
Where else in life would this approach make any sense at all?
Would you just throw your 5-year-old on a bicycle without training wheels on their first time riding and say, “Have fun, sweetie, see you in a couple of hours?”
Would you expect someone who’s never played a musical instrument to just start banging out Beethoven’s 5th on their first piano lesson?
I didn’t think so.
So then why do we think that it’s OK for someone who is 50 plus pounds overweight, who has never touched a weight a day in their lives, to, right out of the gate, start working out like a Rocky IV montage?
It makes no sense whatsoever, and yet these are the mistakes folks are making on a continuous and cyclical basis—gain weight, workout, lose weight, burnout, repeat.
If you are severely overweight and have never trained before, picking up a pair of dumbbells should be the last thing on your mind when trying to get healthy.
So what should the first be?
When trying to lose body fat and get healthier, the single most important factor (80% or more) in determining your success or failure will be how diligent you are with your diet.
If I woke up today fat and out of shape, the first thing I would do is walk over to my kitchen and get rid of all the processed foods and refined sugars.
This includes bread or flour of any kind, table sugar, vegetable oils, fruit juices, snack foods like potato chips, candy, baked goods, and yes, “health” bars and shakes as well.
If I had a problem with alcohol consumption, I would make sure that all adult beverages were thrown out as well, as excessive alcohol consumption (more than 1-2 drinks per day) will not only destroy your long-term health and fitness goals, but will also halt any progress you see in the short-term in regards to fat loss as well.
Once all of that crap is cleared out, the next thing I’d do is take a trip to the grocery store.
What’s on the list?
Vegetables; fruit; nuts and seeds; legumes and some grains; organic, full fat dairy; and organic animal products like eggs, chicken, fish, and beef—that’s it!
I know I sound like a broken record, but human beings (Homo Sapiens) have been evolving for over 2 million years; for the vast majority of that time our diet consisted of whole, natural foods.
This is what our species thrived on, and whether you like it or not, our genetic makeup hasn’t changed much since then.
If you want to look and feel your best, the majority of what goes into your mouth should come from the food groups listed above.
A typical day of eating would then look like this:
Breakfast: A few eggs cooked over easy, sautéed spinach and mushrooms, 1 cup of berries, 1 cup of black coffee or unsweetened tea
Lunch: A salad with kale, tomato, onion, avocado, carrots, red pepper, quinoa, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, black beans, apple
Dinner: 6 oz’s of wild-caught salmon, 1 cup steamed broccoli, sweet potato with a tablespoon of coconut oil and cinnamon mixed in
You’ll want to make sure you’re drinking plenty of water as well: half your body weight in ounces per day!
And please realize that this does not all have to happen at once.
Some folks prefer to go all in; others to focus on one thing at a time.
Whichever approach works best for you, stick with it until your diet resembles something similar to the template above.
What I want you to register, though, is that your nutrition should be the first and foremost item you focus on—it will make or break you, no ifs, ands or buts about it.
Once I get my pantry stocked and I’m dialed in nutritionally, the next thing I would focus on is my activity level.
I would download a pedometer of some kind onto my phone (most smartphones have them pre-installed already), or, even better, buy myself a Fitbit or smart watch.
Once I can track my movement, I’d aim for 10,000 steps each and every day, preferably outside.
I wouldn’t even think about starting a class, hiring a personal trainer, or engaging in any type of intense activity until I am consistently hitting this number daily.
When it comes to exercise, this would be the “crawling” phase of your journey to eventually running upright at full speed.
I would not progress to any other form of activity until I was consistently hitting this number for at least two months.
My next step would be to maximize my sleep — yes, my sleep.
If you are severely overweight, you can probably get by with a lack of sleep for the first few months, as the stimulus from the new diet regimen and activity spike will spur on some results.
Once you’ve lost some weight, however, and the body leans out and body fat becomes more stubborn to lose, you will, without a doubt, hit a plateau if not sleeping enough.
Most of us lead incredibly stressful lives.
When bombarded with the pressures of modern society 24-7, our adrenal glands secret cortisol, the “stress hormone.”
Some cortisol production is OK, as it can help regulate blood sugar levels and metabolism, reduce inflammation, and assist with memory formulation; but too much cortisol production can lead to a whole host of problems, one being weight gain in the midsection.
One of the best ways to counteract excess cortisol production is to make sure we get at least 7 hours of sleep per night, preferably 8-9 hours for most people.
Unless you are a genetic freak of nature, it will be nearly impossible to achieve low levels of body fat if you are chronically sleep deprived.
Also, it’s important to keep in mind that you will need more sleep than you’re regularly used to once you begin a physical endeavor of any kind: if you are someone who feels great on 7 hours, know that you’ll probably need to bump that up to 8 once you start training, as your body will now need to recover and repair itself from the workout.
So, let’s see:
Light aerobic activity √
Well, by this point I’d probably be about 90 days into my journey and lost a pretty significant amount of weight; I’d feel better, look better, and I’d have a ton more energy — all without lifting a weight, counting a calorie, or running for miles.
This is when I would start to “workout” and take it to the next level.
But sadly, this 4th phase happens to be where most people start.
Before they even touch on their eating habits (the most important factor), learn to “crawl,” or get enough sleep, they throw on their sneakers and either start pounding the pavement or
lifting hurling weights around a gym.
This is why so many of us fail.
We put the cart before the horse.
We try to run before we can even walk.
We look at health and fitness as an “all or nothing” venture.
We’re either Ben Stiller at the beginning of Dodgeball, or we’re sitting on our couch singing “Milkshake,” by Kelis.
We need to, collectively, snap out of this type of thinking.
Not just in fitness, but in all arenas in life.
No matter how many of my clients have claimed this over the years, you don’t gain weight overnight.
It takes months and years of poor choices and bad habits.
And losing that weight and getting healthy usually takes even longer.
If you change your mindset, you’ll change your life.
Whether it’s exercise, nutrition, or any goal for that matter, learn to master the f*ck out of the basics.
In the case of health, start by throwing out the junk food.
Once you do that, go shop for some groceries and learn how to cook for yourself.
Once you’ve got that down, get outside, enjoy the fresh air and hot sun, and just move a little bit.
When you get home from your walk, chill out, read a good book, and get to bed early so that you can wake up tomorrow rested and ready to conquer another day.
Once you are doing all of this consistently, for at least 60-90 days, hire a good personal trainer that will teach you to move correctly, get stronger, and take you to the next level.
You owe it to yourself to do so, and you are more than capable of achieving your goals if you have patience, trust in the process, and are willing to put in the work.
My name is J.J. Valdivia, and I just gained and lost 50 pounds in 5 minutes, so that hopefully, by following this advice, you’ll be able to lose them as well — for good!