Your Body – Your Diet While everyone can benefit from following certain basic nutritional guidelines, I must make it crystal clear that it is essential for you to design a program that works for you. So, while you’ll hear me make general suggestions, you’ll also get used to hearing me remind you to customize to fit your size, shape, gender, activity levels, and goals. A big part of what you customize your exercise and diet to be, should be based on:
- What do you want to look like? This is absolutely not meant to be some self-image-shattering topic. I’m not saying you should pick out a supermodel or bodybuilder, and tell yourself that’s what you want to look like, and anything less is a failure. Come on! Be realistic. Do you want to build muscle mass? Do you want to add some shape to your body? Do you want to slim down? Do you want to lose fat? Do you want to drop a dress size or wear your skinny jeans? Knowing what you want will help you design a program that will get you to your goals.
- What do you want to do? What does your dream lifestyle look like? Do you want to go hiking, or biking like you used to? Did you used to be a runner, but are now too heavy? Do you want to get into competitive powerlifting? The answers lead to very different exercise and eating guidelines, so knowing what you want to do is where you need to start.
Be Accountable The first lesson I learned in sustainable fat loss and exercise was to make myself accountable to my trainer, and to other friends who were also working out and losing weight—but most of all, I had to learn that I was 100 percent accountable to MYSELF. This is hardcore life advice. Knowing that I had multiple meetings with my trainer each week, and that I’d be seeing the same people at the gym, gave me a good starting place with being responsible, but learning to not let myself down was the most critical factor. It’s always easiest to blow off YOURSELF. Most of us would let ourselves down more than we’d let down a complete stranger. Stop it. I tell myself, “Come on dude, you’re trying to get lean, you know you don’t want to eat that.”
Keep Score Track your eating and exercise and the results. Keeping daily track of, not only my main food items in general, but also the macronutrients (protein, carbs, fats, fiber) I’m eating, helps me stay balanced and healthy with my eating choices. When I look back over what I’ve been eating, I can also see patterns (good and bad) that may or may not need to be addressed. Plus, keeping score feels a little like playing a game. Like, “Oh wow, I have 40 more carbs to eat today? Sweet, let’s cook a big sweet potato as a treat tonight,” or “Uh oh, I thought that bean salad was 200 calories not 500. Ugh, I’m going to have to scale back on dinner.” Good or bad, it’s a game. There are good plays, and bad ones, but the goal is to learn from the not-so-great choices, and to avoid those mistakes and win more, right? So, suck less, win more! Similarly, by keeping track of my workouts I can see my strength gains, cardio improvements, or other areas that need to be improved. Keeping track keeps me motivated, and shows me where I need to make adjustments and improvements. I like phone applications that can track both my workouts and diet.
Balance is Key Give all macronutrients their place. Not no-carb, not no-fat, not all-protein. While some of these might be realistic for a short time (for example: drastically limiting your carbs for bodybuilding competitions, fitting into a wedding dress, looking your best for an upcoming school reunion, or any other time you want to look your best as fast as possible), you need to have a more balanced approach to long term eating. The amounts of macronutrients will be different depending on who you are, man or woman, tall or short, how much fat you want to trim, and so on… but there are some general guidelines you can follow.
Have Go-To Meals I know that I can have seven egg whites, and three whole eggs, scrambled with two pieces of sprouted grain toast. I’ve had it a million times for breakfast. I don’t have to think about it. It’s my go-to morning meal. For lunch, I’ve found a healthier fast food chicken place, and in a pinch I know I can go there and order chicken breast, salad, and black beans and it is within the calories and nutrients I want. Having these sorts of immediate meals that you can go to can help keep you on track when time is short.
Modify to Meet Your Needs It can’t suck. This applies to eating and exercise. I’ve worked with doctors and nutritionists who tell me I can live on liquid and egg whites, and trainers who say plain baked chicken breast and plain steamed broccoli must be staples of a daily diet. I know those things won’t work for me, so I modify. If you don’t like turkey, eat chicken, if you want to have beef, have it in moderation, or try Buffalo. Except for saying that candy bars and bacon cheeseburgers are your required diet, just about any other reasonable food can be included in a healthy eating plan at least once in a while. When it comes to exercise, I used to work with an extremely rigid trainer who would tell me that I wouldn’t lose weight unless I did his stringent five day a week hour and a half workout. It was far too tedious for me. Like most of us, I have an extremely busy life and it is difficult to squeeze in time to workout. I’ve found by formulating a workout that works for me, that I can workout 4 days a week for less time, and see fantastic results in building muscle and losing fat. If I just blindly followed every bit of advice given to me, chances are that I’d have thrown in the towel and gone back to sofa surfing and drive-thru eating.
This is not only nutritional and fitness advice. I preach the modification message in business and life as well. Listen up. You cannot just simply listen to one or two opinions and go with them. You have to be a critical thinker, and even more important, you have to be a critical action taker. Always be open to asking questions, hearing opinions, and listening to advice from those you feel are appropriate—but at the end of the day, assemble your own action plan based on what you believe and what you want. Ask, learn, and build your own ideas—then execute YOUR own game plan.
Trust Yourself and Tweak Accordingly You are your own best expert. You know what works for you, and what doesn’t. You know a trigger food when you see one. I can’t eat a handful of nuts—I don’t care how healthy they might be—I know that I’ll have 14 handfuls if I start on one, so I pick other ways to get those healthy nutrients that work for me. The truth is, I typically want and crave some form of meat. I love good salty fatty meat. Beef ribs, pork ribs, skirt steak, rib eye steak, non-breaded chicken wings (extra crispy), etc. I literally never crave pie, cake, candy, chocolate, ice cream. Never. I just don’t crave it. It’s not my thing. So for me, sometimes I will eat low-to-no carbs for a period of time, just because I want to. I want to eat more of the food I like, and I know I can maintain my physique while doing this.
Honor Your Cravings – Change Your Perspective on Cheat-Eats Part of the transformation in how I eat is that I now have a new idea about what an indulgence is, compared to how I used to get in my car and make the rounds to two or three fast food joints, right in a row. First, I’d get cheeseburgers, fries, and a diet soda (yep, diet). Then, I might stop at another place for a taco and burrito. Then, as crazy as this sounds, I sometimes could even hit a third fast food joint all in one sequence, and maybe it would be a fried chicken sandwich and waffle fries. Today, a real treat might be making myself some sprouted grain toast (cinnamon raisin tastes epic), top that off with raw almond butter, and honey. Today, that feels like a well-deserved extravagance, not a cheat that I have to beat myself up about.
In all honesty, there are still times when I will have a real Cheat Meal. The key here is Cheat-Meal, not a Cheat Day! A cheat DAY can ruin you for weeks, but a cheat meal, one meal, is something you can come back from, and get back on track like it never happened. The other mistake I’ve made in the past is over-compensating for a cheat meal. If you go off your plan, don’t try to starve yourself the next day, and don’t try to do three hours of cardio to make up for it. Violent swings like that don’t work. I speak from experience here. I am literally the most extreme person I know. I can struggle with being all-or-nothing about EVERYTHING, not just diet and exercise, and I tend to want to approach situations with dramatic full swings, so it’s something I personally work on regularly.
You can’t avoid certain things, and I respect that. Holidays happen. Client dinners, going out with friends, birthdays, etc. all happen. Just remember, be accountable. Realize a cheat meal is not going to go unnoticed. You may gain weight the next day or two, or three. It is what it is. There are no magical mystical tricks to erase the choices you make, but you can get back on track fast. Just limit the damage and keep it to one meal, and get back to your healthy eating and regular exercise. Put as much space as you can between these off days, and you’ll still succeed.
Consistency is more important than perfection Suit up and Show up. I try my best every day, but it’s rare that my head hits the pillow with every goal perfectly met. I have some pretty good days, and some pretty challenging ones. The thing that I believe has made the difference is never giving up. I aim to exercise regularly and eat healthy every day, and I end up doing that about 80% of the time. And by being less than perfect, I’m able to maintain a healthy weight, diet, and exercise routine.
Diet and Exercise must change as your body changes My diet today isn’t the same as when I started in 2008. I’ve had to adjust the calories, and the nutrients to meet my ever-changing goals. There have been times when I’ve decided I really want to focus on gaining muscle and losing fat, so I’ve changed my diet and exercise to match that. There are other times such as holidays and travel, for example, when I modify yet again, so that I can maintain my weight, but account for the change and availability of foods and the exercise I’m used to doing. It took me a long time to find what works for me. I’ve gone on ketogenic diets, the blood type diet, paleo eating, South Beach Diet, and Atkins. None of these were just right for me, but I’ve played around with them, and always worked to maintain my nutrients. You should also play around with your diet, as long as you don’t do anything too drastic. You are always aiming to maintain steady fat loss or physique transformation.
Don’t Blacklist Foods you Love If the idea of banning ice cream from your life causes tears to build up, and suicidal thoughts, don’t do it. Remember, my philosophy is how to eat and exercise in the real world. The real world has French fries, chips, ice cream, donuts, desserts, and chocolate. And while these items should be treated as a rare treat, if you are craving something, and that craving isn’t going to be satisfied by an apple, or a bag of baby carrots, then I suggest having a reasonable serving, preferably when you are not extremely hungry, and then moving on. Otherwise, you might end up eating a whole chocolate cake, when you only started out craving one piece.
Another thing to keep in mind as you are adjusting your eating is that your taste buds adjust. Our society is over-sweetened, so while our taste buds love hot fudge sundaes, apples don’t taste so sweet anymore. The good news is that as you cut out the junk food, naturally sweet foods, and even some diet foods, start to taste better than when you were a junk food junkie. I’m telling you… healthy foods taste better the more consistently you are eating healthy. For example, when I want ice cream, I like to eat a specific dairy free ice cream that has whey protein in it. If you had given it to me back in my sugar-filled glory days, I wouldn’t have liked it at all, but today it tastes great! Give it a chance. I think you’ll like it too.
Be an Educated Eater—Care about your food I’m not saying to go off the chain, even though I’ve had a tendency to do this. Remember, I told you I’m extreme, and just to prove it, consider that I buy my beef directly from a local farm. I mean, I actually go there. I love that I know the farmer. I’ve seen the cows. I’ve seen what they eat, so I can be sure that they are a high quality protein source. You don’t have to go this far, or even close to it. I’m just saying, do some research. You don’t have to go to a farm to find out that grass-fed is better than grain-fed. It just takes a few clicks on the internet. Knowing that you are feeding yourself high quality fuel says “I’m worth it” it’s a lesson in self-respect.
This goes for supplements too. Know where they are made, understand what it is you are taking, and if it comes from an animal—know what it is fed. I’m so tightly-wound about this that I will never take fish oil pills. I only take wild-caught sockeye salmon oil pills from a specific supplier. Why? Because sockeye salmon are the only salmon that don’t eat other fish, meaning that they have lower/lowest mercury levels. Also, this supplier only crude-filters their sockeye salmon oil so it isn’t exposed to any chemical cleansing, heat, or presses. It is, as far as I’m concerned, the best version of “fish oil” you can take.