With as crazy as "diet" plans can be, it's no wonder why so many of us fall off the wagon time and again. I hear tales of 1200 calorie liquid diets or diets that cut fats or carbs completely because of supposed vices. Then we start to feel pains in our guts, happily that this feeling is hunger, and the longer we ignore it, the more weight we drop. But this pain is not hunger. It's starvation.
So how do you tell the difference when you cut calories?
Starvation is painful. Your stomach will feel like it's cramping. You might even feel sharp pains through the gut. It interferes with your ability to work at max efficiency. After a while, you'll begin to feel extremely lethargic.
Hunger, on the other hand, is more like a little nagging voice in your head. You may have some rumbles, but it's not painful and you can easily focus on other activities.
And hunger is what diets should cause. It's a natural response to dropping weight. Suddenly, your excess energy stores are being depleted. Clearly there's a famine. Better make you crave everything edible you come across so you can outlast these lean times. Our minds overreact as they are prone to do. But if you cut in small steps, the body has time to adjust, making the desires manageable.
Unfortunately, many aim to lose 2-5 pounds per week. But this is just too much to handle mentally. If you think the brain overreacts to 0.5 to 1 pounds lost weekly, just think of how crazy it will go dropping more than double. It's like expecting yourself to be able to run a triathlon even though you've never once run a mile. You can't consume 3000+ calories per day and then expect to be able to drop down to 1800 without some serious blow back. On top of this, there's a good chance you'll be dropping a serious amount of food without taking nutrition into account, resulting in legitimate starvation.
Weight loss, like all other things in life, is slow and steady. You have to learn how to identify hunger and you have to learn how to control this very basic urge. That's why it's best to take weight loss in 0.5 to 1 pound weekly increments. There's no threat of starvation therefore you can learn what healthy hunger is. It also keeps you from associating the pain of starvation with eating less. And with all things, this takes practice and time -- two things "diet" plans will try to convince you aren't necessary.
I often talk about the dangers of rewards, but that's not to say rewards are a bad thing. When used correctly, they are motivators that keep us going. The only problem is that we've abused this method so badly that we now feel entitled to a reward for even the most mediocre event.
So how do you use rewards effectively to keep you focused without derailing your progress?
Less is More
Continual rewards make you falsely believe that minor things are worth celebrating. Lose a game? Barely pass a test? None of these things require hard work, so why should they be rewarded? By promoting this behavior, we teach people that it's acceptable to not try. By continuing this behavior on ourselves, we never learn what real effort entails.
To make rewards effective, there have to be fewer of them. They have to come only at times when you've gone above and beyond what you've ever done before.
How do you go about finding a healthy reward system?
Start to reward yourself only for things you haven't done before.
Skipped dessert and rewarded yourself? You no longer get a reward for that. Worked out super hard and rewarded yourself? You no longer get a reward for that. Pretty soon, all of the basic things you used to reward yourself for will be crossed off the list, leaving only bigger goals.
Set a goal and a prize.
Remember to make this goal challenging but realistic. It could be something like dropping two pounds in two weeks' time. Challenging? Certainly. Achievable? Yes. Again, after you've achieved this, cross it off your reward list as you can no longer reward yourself for this goal. Now, come up with a bigger goal and reward.
Your rewards cannot be food or drink.
It's time to break the habit of associating food with good behavior. Instead, make the reward a new shirt or manicure or movie. It could even be as simple as two hours of dedicated time pursuing an art you really love.
How you think has a greater effect on how you live your life than you realize. Unfortunately, that also means we tend to fall into some very negative thinking patterns that ruin progress before we even notice a change.
"I deserve [BLANK] for doing [BLANK]."
The simple truth is you don't. None of us do. We are merely lucky enough to have been born in a time of plenty. If you workout, you do not deserve to break your diet. The only reward you deserve is the pride you feel for having accomplished a difficult task.
Language is powerful. How you talk affects how you act. "Can't" removes any responsibility from you to take action. You aren't helpless and very few things in this world that are impossible. However, you have to be honest with yourself and quit using "can't" as a way to shirk responsibility. Instead of claiming you "can't" give up your morning donuts, tell people you don't want to. Own your decisions.
"Fit people don't understand."
Don't you think it's a bit limiting to believe an entire swathe of the population doesn't feel anything more than joy when working out or eating right? Fit people desire unhealthy things. They wake up wanting nothing more than to call the day a wash and sleep. They feel insecure. They feel scared. They feel like failures. However, they understand these feelings are no excuse to throw in the towel.
"This is only temporary."
The problem with a lot of workout and diet problems is that they are sold on the premise that you only need x number of days of total dedication to achieve a model's body. This has trained us to wrongly believe that getting fit is about working out and eating right in spurts.
Fitness isn't a trial period. Fitness isn't a flash in the pan. It's a lifestyle. And it's okay to not pursue it to an extreme, but you should pursue as a way to take care of your body so you can make the absolute most of the years you have left.
"I need [BLANK] to get started."
We are taught from a young age that things equate to success and happiness. We delude ourselves into believe that unless we have the best, we shouldn't even try.
The real professionals, no matter the art or sport, know this to be bullshit. Professionals succeed because they are willing to work with whatever is available to them in order to achieve their dreams. You don't need a weight set to start training. There are a wide number of free bodyweight routines online. You don't need a specialized diet plan. There are a wide number of free nutrition tips online. You are the only thing stopping yourself from growing.
All of these little thoughts are traceable back to one emotion -- Fear.
We fear trying out new things. We fear the potential of failure. We fear hurting ourselves. We fear hurting others. We fear facing our own weaknesses.
But fear is merely an evolutionary adaptation that has kept our lineage alive for billions of years. Luckily, in our current state, our brains now have the power to override this fear through meditation.
Meditation is the practice of controlling your own thoughts.
People like to talk it up as some mystical way to connect with the world or a larger god power but it's not. It's an incredibly simple 10-minute activity that bolsters your ability to control your own negative thought patterns.
To begin, find a comfortable seated position in a room where you won't be disturbed. When ready, focus on something. You can stare at a speck on the wall. You can close your eyes and envision a number. You can listen to your breathing. Now, for 10 minutes, you have to stay focused on this thing, thinking about nothing else. If your mind starts to wander, bring your thoughts back to your focal point. You might feel bored. You might feel tired. You might feel angry. Doesn't matter. Just stay focused for 10 minutes.
The purpose of this is two-fold:
Kind of like building muscle, the more practiced you are, the more control you will have over your own thoughts.
Fitness apps are an incredible way to track what you eat when you eat it. They're also phenomenal at marking the progress of your workouts. However, not all apps work for all people. Instead of getting caught up in using the "cool" apps that don't do anything for you, find one that works best with your goals.
Things to look for
Food Barcode Scanner
Entering food is an arduous task -- one that often turns people away before they ever get started. With a scanner that runs through your phone's camera, you can immediately enter what you're having when you have it. Because of this, it helps train you away from eating out since fast food and sit down meals lack barcodes.
Adjustable Macro Goals
It's true that when you start the only number you want to concern yourself with is your total daily calories. That being said, you also want an app that will progress with you as you become more invested. Apps that don't allow for macro changes will eventually have to be switched out for apps that do, meaning losing all of the data you've collected about yourself thus far.
Even if it's just weight progress, knowing if you're succeeding is essential, and a quick look at a graph relays this information immediately. Ideally, you'll want progress charts that will track the data as far back as you've been recording your information so that you can see your overall progress and not just snapshots of a tiny moment in time.
Things to watch out for
Additional Calories After Working Out
This is a bad, bad habit among apps out on the market today. They tack on the calories you burned working out to your daily total calories, giving you a much larger daily total to eat. However, this logic is severely flawed. You work out to lose weight by burning calories. If you then eat all those calories you just burned, you won't lose any weight. In addition, their calorie burn estimations for the exercises are severely flawed. My advice is to find a completely different app to track your workouts in.
I know all fitness apps have their own blogs, however, you want a fitness app where the blog is hidden. Instead of being a source of inspiration, these blogs tend to be nothing but a laundry list of people complaining and/or trying to rouse pity. These negative voices will only encourage your own negativity to weigh you down. Be proactive and avoid fitness app blogs altogether.
We all do it. It's the New Year, so that means time to finally exercise and eat right! And while most of it usually falls to the wayside by February, there are things you can do now to give yourself a fighting chance when the newness of the resolution finally wears off.
Don't hurt yourself.
Start slow and start easy. The longer you've gone without working out, the higher the hurt you're going to feel following your first day back. Instead of going balls to the wall, do light cardio or light weights. It's going to hurt tomorrow no matter what you do, but what you do will determine how much it hurts.
Don't starve yourself.
Start slow and start easy. The longer you've gone without eating healthy, the hungrier you're going to feel following your first day of clean eating. Instead of going balls to the wall, eat a little less each day and be honest about tracking your food. It's going to be challenging no matter what you do, but what you do will determine how challenging it is.
You are more likely to stick with your resolution if you get enjoyment out of it. It's that simple. Don't choose an exercise just because it's popular. Choose an exercise because it teaches you something you've always wanted to learn.
Take responsibility for yourself.
Do not EVER blame others for your inability to succeed. You are the captain of your life. Take responsibility for how you live it. And while there will always be things that happen outside of your control, success comes from learning how to adapt to your current circumstances so you can push forward and push upward.
Remember to rest.
Getting fit is equal parts working out, eating right and resting. That's right. Resting. Many people (myself included) fall into the trap of thinking that only working hard every single day will result in a great look. However, your body can only build this great look during your rest periods. Get enough sleep and take those rest days seriously.
Co-host of HeroesForge, founder of Battle to Be Better, gamer, singer and all around happy person.