Author: Paige Waehner

Rest and Recovery – Why Your Body Needs to Rest Sometimes

You know you’re supposed to exercise most days of the week in some form or fashion, but one of the more confusing aspects of working out is what about rest days? How many rest days should you take and what does ‘resting’ mean? No, it’s not couching it all day…sorry.

What Is a Rest Day?

The first thing you should know about rest days is that they are really, really important. Yes, the workouts are where you burn the calories and lift the weights and do all the work you need to change your body. But the rest days? That’s where the behind-the-scenes work happens.

In fact, the rest days, those days when you recover from you workouts, are when your body makes the most progress. Exercise is kind of like stress to your body, but in a good way.

You need to put that stress on your body if you want to lose weight and get fit. But, your body needs time to adapt to that stress and that’s where your rest days come in. This is the time your body rebuilds muscles, bones, nerves and connective tissue.

It’s also a great mental break as well, especially if you tend to work out every single day.

Okay, you now have permission to take rest days, but what exactly do you do?

Rest vs. Active Rest

Believe it or not, there are different ways to rest and you’ll choose one or the other based on how you feel and the workouts you’ve done.


An exercise rest day doesn’t necessarily mean lying motionless for hours while watching Netflix (although there is a time and place for binge-watching, in my opinion). It just means that you’re not doing any structured exercise, but you’re still moving around. Moving around increases circulation which helps your body recover and grow stronger and fitter.

Moving around increases circulation which helps your body recover and grow stronger and fitter.

On a rest day you might do small things throughout the day just to stay moving, like:

  • Take the stairs
  • Set an alarm to stand up every hour
  • Take a few leisurely walks
  • Walk your dog or play with him/her in the yard
  • Do some grocery shopping

When to Take a Rest Day

So, how do you know if you need a rest day? That’s pretty easy – If you really feel like you need it. I would recommend a rest day if:

  • You’re really sore – Some stiffness and soreness is normal, but if you can barely move, you may need several days off
  • You’re exhausted – Sometimes rest is better than exercise when you’re really tired
  • You’re not feeling great – A rest day is what you need if you don’t feel good or maybe you’re coming down with a cold
  • You just need a break – Sometimes your mind needs a break more than your body, which is fine as long as you don’t take too many days off

Active Rest

Now, active rest is a little different. As the name suggests, it’s not as leisurely as a rest day, but nor is it as intense as a workout day.

Here are some ideas for what to do on an active rest day:

  • Take several brisk walks throughout the day
  • Do some stretching or yoga
  • Do some light cardio
  • Do something physical – Cut the grass, rake leaves, wash the car, wash my car, etc.

What You Need an Active Rest

An active rest day is a great option if your body (or mind) needs a break, but you still have enough energy to do something more than just puttering around. The more you can move around, the better.

How Much is Too Much

Of course, there’s a small window there that, if you take too many days off, it’s like you’re starting all over. If you’re very sore, try active rest days until you’re not sore anymore. Beyond that, here’s what happens when you take a

  • In 3 weeks, you lose about 5-10% of your aerobic power – it takes about 2 months to completely lose all gains, so you’ve got some wiggle room
  • Muscular strength and endurance lasts longer than aerobic fitness. Muscles retain a memory of exercises for weeks or even months, but if you take more than a week off, you’ll probably experience some soreness when you get back to your workouts

The bottom line? There’s no right answer to how much rest you need since we’re all different. You may need to experiment but the best thing you can do is pay attention to your body and what it’s telling you.

Perceived Exertion Scale – How to Monitor Your Exercise Intensity

Monitoring Your Intensity with Perceived Exertion

The rate of perceived exertion or RPE is a subjective tool for keeping track of how hard you’re working. During your workouts, think about how you feel and match it to one of the levels listed below to monitor your workout intensity. The general guidelines:

  • Level 3-5: Warm up Warm ups will be between Level 3-5
  • Level 5-8: Getting into your target heart rate zone during cardio
  • Levels 9-10: More advanced activities like high intensity interval training, climbing Mount Everest or sprinting from a rabid dog

Your perceived exertion, or your RPE, refers to how hard an exercise feels. For my workouts, I like to use a 1-10 scale like this one:

Perceived Exertion Chart

Level 1 – I’m lounging around watching TV and feeling great.

Level 2 – I just got up and got myself a glass of wine. Now I feel even better.

Level 3 – I’m taking a leisurely stroll and could probably do this all day, especially if I had more wine.

Level 4 – I’m moving faster now and am starting to sweat. This is starting to feel suspiciously like exercise.

Level 5 – Now I know I’m exercising, but I’m only a little out of my comfort zone. I can still talk.

Level 6 – I’m working harder now and can still talk, but it’s getting harder. I could use that wine right about now.

Level 7 – Okay, now I’m breathing harder and I can talk, but only in very short sentences.

Level 8 – I’m working really hard and can only stay at this level for a short time. No way can I talk.

Level 9 – Gun to head? I could talk. I think I might be dying.

Level 10 – I am dead.

Can You Trust Yourself?

The exercise/healthy eating/weight loss process would be so much easier if it weren’t for one thing: The fact that we often don’t trust ourselves.

It’s a cliche that trust is the most important thing in a relationship, but, when it comes to your relationship with weight loss, with changing how you live, it’s probably the most important thing.

You have to trust that you’ll make all the right choices today – Do the workout you planned, eat the salad you brought to work, take that walk after work, skip dessert.

There are a couple of problems with this:

  1. We give ourselves too many choices to make. It’s one thing to workout and make some healthy choices when you eat. It’s another to give yourself so many choices that, by the 3rd or 4th one, you’re tired and you kind of don’t care anymore. Overhauling your entire life, all your habits in one day is just way too hard.
  2. We lie about the choices we’ll make. We say we’re going to do this thing or that thing and, when the time comes, we realize it’s harder than we thought it would be.

Here’s an example of a lie I tell myself all the time: I wake up and decide to skip my workout because I’m tired. I then promise myself I’ll workout later.

Now, there are times I really do workout later. But most of the time, if I’m tired enough to skip my morning workout, I’m not going to feel any more energized later in the day.

I know this and yet, despite that knowledge, I make a promise I know I’m not going to keep. I may have made myself feel less guilty in the moment, but I’m going to feel worse later when I skip that workout.

That seems stupid, yet we do it all the time, often without even realizing it.

Constantly failing to meet our own expectations, to keep our own promises starts to erode that trust we have with ourselves and it’s not because we’re too weak to meet those expectations or keep those promises, it’s because we haven’t been honest with ourselves about what we’ll actually do.

Learning to trust yourself is one of the hardest parts of weight loss, but the cure for that is surprisingly simple…not easy, mind you, but simple: Telling yourself the truth.

Recognizing your own lies can be harder than you think. They’re often so automatic, so ingrained, we don’t even realize they’re lies at all. All we really recognize is the constant cycle of guilt we feel for not meeting expectations. Some common pitfalls:

  • Waiting for the perfect time to exercise – This is when you promise you’ll start working out after school gets out/when you get back from vacation/on Monday/when Jupiter aligns with Mars. ‘As soon as’ is a great excuse for not doing something right now, isn’t it? Once you recognize you’re doing this, it’s an easy fix: Do it right now. Just be honest and ask yourself if there’s something you could do to exercise today, even if it’s just a 5-minute walk, standing up and doing 10 squats or just stretching.
  • Telling yourself you’ll eat healthier…tomorrow – Have you ever done this thing where you eat more than you normally would under the auspice of starting a diet the next day? But what happens the next day? It’s not any easier to start that diet, is it? You’ll never really be ‘ready’ to start eating tree bark and lemon wedges. This is where changing your perspective comes in. Instead of believing that healthy eating is about giving up everything you love, ask yourself if there’s one way you could make your eating healthy today. Could you have an apple? Drink more water? Eat some extra veggies? If that’s all you have to do, you’ll do it. And if you do it today, you can do it tomorrow and the next day and, suddenly you have a string of days where you’re doing something healthier than you were before.

Those are just a couple of ways we may lie to ourselves, but what about you? Are there lies you tell yourself that keep you stuck where you are? Do you ever make promises you know you won’t keep? What would happen if you told yourself the truth and rebuilt that trust in yourself?

What to Do When You Don’t Feel Like Exercising

We all have days when we don’t feel like exercising. Maybe some of us feel like that every single day, but if we lived life solely by how we feel, would we ever get anything done?

For example, what I really feel like doing right now is sitting in a hammock reading a book while a lovely shirtless man fans me with palm fronds and feeds me peeled grapes.

I don’t happen to have a hammock, palm fronds, or a shirtless man (well, except my husband and he’s at work, presumably wearing a shirt). Even if I did, I would still have to do what I have to do every day. And that includes exercise.

Part of what drives us to exercise has to do with habit, but making exercise a habit is hard. It’s just plain old hard to create a habit where you’re doing something that, at least initially, is uncomfortable. It’s not comfortable to move your body in a rhythmic fashion or lift weights up and down if your body isn’t used to it.

So, because we know it’s probably going to be uncomfortable, we might say this to ourselves: “I’ll just do it tomorrow!” Because tomorrow you’ll feel like it, right?

Nope. Doesn’t work that way.

So, let’s deal with the ‘I don’t feel like it’ problem. What do you do when you’re about as motivated to exercise as you would be to get your gums scraped?

Short answer: You do it anyway.

Longer answer: Negotiate with yourself. It’s like getting your dog to come to you. If you say, “Come!” she probably just stares at you like, why the hell would I do that? But if you have a treat in your hand? Now you’re talking.

Getting yourself to exercise starts with my number one rule of exercise:

Never tolerate being miserable.

With that in mind, here are some ideas for you.

Getting Yourself to Exercise

1. Do Something Fun. Sometimes a workout seems like one more obligation on top of all the other responsibilities we have. When it starts to feel like drudgery, breaking the routine can be just what you need to remember the simple joy of moving your body for no other purpose than to have fun. Rather than do the same old workout or, on the other hand, nothing at all, just move around. Put on some music and dance or power up the Wii. Play fetch with the dog or just wander around the neighborhood and look into people’s windows (okay, don’t do that – that’s stalking). Go out and toss a tennis ball against the garage door. Just mess around.

2. Do Something Easy. Easy exercise is one thing many veteran exercisers simply don’t allow. We know we have to work hard if we want to maintain our weight and stay strong and fit. But, if you’re having one of those ho-hum kind of days, an easy workout may be just what the doctor ordered. Instead of worrying about burning muscles or getting your heart rate up, take a slow walk or go for a bike ride. Get out your mat and do some stretching. Easy days are great recovery for the mind and body.

3. Give Yourself a Reward. This is by far my favorite negotiation tool. Promise yourself something you really like – Reading a book in a hammock, for example, or a glass of wine while you play iPad games. Give yourself some guilt-free pleasure in exchange for moving your body.

4. Do Something Simple. When you’re low on motivation, even the idea of changing your clothes sounds like a lot of work. Instead of doing something complicated, try a simple workout that doesn’t even require you to change your clothes. This Feel Good Workout is perfect on days like this. You’re basically sitting in a chair stretching. Simple, right?

5. Take a Fitness Test. Another interesting thing to do when you don’t feel like the same old workout is to take yourself through a little fitness test. You’ll get in a workout while seeing just how strong and fast you really are. Here’s a sample:

  • Run or walk 1 mile as fast as you can
  • Do as many as you can of the following exercises:
    • Squats
    • Lunges
    • Pushups
    • Dips
    • Crunches

Keep track of how you did and keep it handy for the next time so you can see how far you’ve come. End the workout with a relaxing stretch.

6. Play Hookey. This is probably my favorite thing to do when I don’t feel like exercising. If you’re worried about getting off track with your routine, you may want to do some type of exercise…but if you know you can get right back to it tomorrow, why not savor an extra day off? Use your workout time to do something you never have time for – read a book, take a bath, take a nap, pet your cat or just stare out the window. Taking an extra day off can energize you for your next workout.

Being unmotivated doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong. You just need to give yourself the right incentive and that will change from one day to the next. Give yourself permission to NOT feel like exercising…and then go do something anyway.

How to Look More Fit Than You Are

As a personal trainer, I spend a lot of time telling people how to get fit which, at its simplest, involves exercise. But what if you just want to look like you’re in shape?

I know what you’re thinking…that is so much better than actually exercising, right? I’m not saying you shouldn’t workout because you know you should.

But if you’re not, here’s how to look like you are.

10 Ways to Look More Fit Than You Actually Are

  1. When you’re taking a walk and you see someone in the distance, speed up. Do that crazy speedwalk posture where you swing your arms wildly. As you pass the person, say brightly, “On mile 6! Isn’t it a gorgeous day?!” After you’ve passed them, slow back down to your snail’s pace.
  2. Get up in the morning and put on your workout clothes. When your spouse/loved one/whoever comes in, start a vigorous stretching routine. Say, “Just getting ready for my usual 10-miler!” Ignore their incredulous look and, after they leave, sit down and play some Candy Crush.
  3. At dinner with friends, say “I did my 10 miles this morning…you can’t believe how awesome it was! I think I deserve some pizza. With vegetables on it, of course. Oh, heck…I’ll just go for the meat lover’s.”
  4. Walk around in your workout clothes all day. Wait, nevermind. Everyone already does that one.
  5. Go to the gym and change into workout clothes. Make a circuit of the gym, stopping at various machines to read the directions. Go back to the locker room and put on your bathing suit. Spend the next 15 minutes soaking in the hot tub, telling everyone, “Wow, that workout kicked my ass! I won’t even be able to walk tomorrow.”
  6. At lunch with coworkers, look at each person’s meal and estimate how many calories they’re eating in a condescending tone. Then launch into a rambling discussion of post-workout supplements and protein shakes.
  7. Go outside in the morning in your workout clothes. When your neighbor comes out, start stretching and jogging in place. “Can’t wait to get started on my workout!” When he waves and gives you dirty look, jog around the corner, go in the back door and play some Candy Crush.
  8. Fill your opaque water bottle with wine and go for a walk. When you pass people toast them with your bottle and say, “Cheers! Hope you’re staying hydrated!”
  9. Look up some obscure fact about exercise and walk around telling everyone about it. For example, “Did you know that people who exercise for just 15 minutes per day have a 14% lower mortality risk than those who don’t exercise?”
  10. Order a vodka and tonic at dinner and pretend it’s water. Look down your nose at your friends. Say, “I never drink during the week! It totally ruins my workouts.”

Got any other ideas? Leave a comment!

What is High Intensity Interval Training and Why Should You Care?

If you pay any kind of attention to fitness and exercise, you’ve probably heard of high intensity interval training. In fact, HIIT is about the hottest ticket in the fitness world because there are so many benefits like:

    • You get in shape faster  — Studies have shown that you can build endurance more quickly with interval training than you can with steady state cardio.
    • Everything else gets easier – This kind of workout actually teaches your heart to pump more blood to your muscles. At the same time, it also teaches your muscles how to extract oxygen from that blood more efficiently. That means all the other stuff you do, exercise and just daily movement, gets easier because your body is trained to respond faster.
    • Shorter workouts — Because you’re working at a high intensity for short periods of time, your workouts will typically be shorter, a good thing if you’re busy or just don’t want to workout that long. In fact, one study concluded that HIIT can improve your health enough that inactive women who don’t want to spend a lot of time exercising can still achieve fitness with these kinds of workouts.
    • More fun – So, ‘fun’ may be a strong word to use with exercise, but interval training does tend to be more enjoyable than other workouts. Why? Because there’s some variety. You’re not just getting on a machine and going nowhere. You’re changing your settings or maybe even your exercises, making the workout feel shorter.
    • More weight loss – If you work hard, your body burns more fat and you get that afterburn, the calories your body expends after the workout to get your body back to its pre-exercise state.

Now, The Drawbacks

Of course, interval training isn’t perfect and it isn’t for everyone. Because it involves high intensity there are some things to consider:

  • You’re a beginner, overweight and/or have joint problems – If you look at a typical interval workout, it usually involves a lot of jumping and working really hard. If you’re a long-time exerciser, fine. But if not, beginners may be wary of this kind of training. Studies have shown that the right kind of HIIT can be done by overweight people or even people with diabetes or other conditions. The key is to start with lower intensity exercises and gradually increase the intensity (don’t worry, I have a workout for you).
  • It’s hard – It’s hard to work hard and not everyone likes the feeling of working hard. It’s uncomfortable, right? But, like I said, you’re not working uncomfortably hard right out of the gate if you’re a beginner. Don’t forget that.
  • It can cause injury – If you do it too much or do the exercises wrong, you can put your body at risk for injury. Of course, walking across your kitchen can cause injury, too, so there you go. At least in my house with a dog roughly the size of a pony and two cats.

With all that said, what’s the bottom line here? What I’m suggesting is that you try interval training at least once a week if you’re not already doing it…even if you’re a beginner.

That said, here’s the bottom line – If you’ve never done HIIT before, you need to start slow and easy. That means your high intensity intervals will keep you just out of your comfort zone – Like a Level 6 or 7 on a scale of 1 to 10 where 1 is sitting on the couch eating bonbons and 10 is a breathless, death-like feeling.

Getting Started

If I’ve convinced you to give it a try, good because I have and idea for getting you started and here it is:

Tabata Training

Yes, that’s a thing.

I really like doing this kind of HIIT training with my clients, especially beginners because it moves quickly and it doesn’t feel as miserable as other cardio workouts.

Here’s the deal: Years ago Dr. Izumi Tabata, a professor in Japan wanted to help the Japanese speed skating team improve their performance.

So he did a study where he took participants through a 4-minute workout. The exercisers were on a stationary bike and they did 20 seconds of all-out sprints followed by 10 seconds of rest. They repeated that 8 times for 4 minutes.

They found that the skaters did much better with that kind of training than other types of cardio.

You’re probably not a speed skater, so what do this have to do with you? Well, like everything in life, when a study comes out about some new whoopy-zing workout, fitness professionals realize they have a new way to their clients in new and exciting ways.

Should You Tabata and, If So, How?

Yes, I think you should Tabata and I’m going to tell you how to do it.

As I mentioned before, this is a HIIT workout and, in the original study the exercisers did all-out sprints.

You don’t have to do that, nor should you if you’re new to this kind of training. If you’re a pro, go for it.

The Basics

Okay, so here’s what you need to do for a Tabata Workout:

  • Warm up thoroughly
  • Do an exercise working as hard as you can for 20 seconds. Now, that is as hard as you can work – That may mean an all out sprint or marching in place. Maybe it’s even just doing some arm circles – Whatever feels like a bit of a challenge.
  • Rest for 10 seconds
  • Repeat that exercise (or a different one) 8 more times.
  • If you’re good with that length of workout, stop there. Otherwise, pick another exercise and do another Tabata. A typical Tabata workout might last from 10 minutes (including the warm up) to 45 or more minutes depending on your fitness level and how hard you’re working.

Here Are Some Ideas

  1. Tabata Outside – If you’re walking or running, warm up and then speed up as fast as you can for 20 seconds, resting for 10 and then repeat that for 4 minutes. Take 1 or 2 minutes to recover and then repeat as many times as you like.
  2. At the Gym – You can also do Tabata training on any cardio machine. Just speed up or increase the incline or resistance for 20 seconds, rest for 10 and repeat 8 times.
  3. At Home – My favorite way of doing Tabata at home is to choose 4 exercises. For high impact, you can choose things like jumping jacks, jogging with high knees, burpees, and jumping lunges. For low impact, think about step touches, knee lifts, marching in place and hamstring curls. Do each one for 20 seconds, rest for 10 and repeat for 4 minutes. Then choose 4 more exercises or keep doing the same ones for about 15-30 minutes. Here are some to try:
    1. Beginner Tabata Workout – PDF
    2. Advanced Tabata Workout – PDF
    3. Tabata Video Workouts

Believe it or not, the workout seems to move much faster when you workout like this. You’re only focused on that 20 seconds of work rather than a big chunk of exercise that may seem a little overwhelming.

Some Tips

  • Always warm up – always, always, always. Give yourself at least 5 minutes of cardio before doing anything high intensity.
  • Check yourself – Because your rests are shorter than the work sets, the intensity accumulates throughout the 4 minutes. So, if you’re doing it right, you should be pretty breathless (or at least working hard) by the end of the Tabata. Give yourself a little time to recover and see how you feel.
  • Use a Tabata Timer – Trying to watch a clock for 20 seconds is a big pain in the rear. If you have a smartphone or tablet, try using a Tabata timer. I like the Tabata Pro Timer.
  • Work at your own level of intensity – You want the intervals to feel challenging, but not so awful that you never want to workout again. If you practice, you’ll be able to do more over time.
  • Try 1-2 Workouts a Week – Too much HIIT can cause burnout and overtraining, so you don’t want to overdo it. Mix it up so that you have a little bit of everything, like some steady state cardio, some weight training, etc.

Got a question? Email me and we’ll work it out.


ACE – Certified: June 2017 – How to Safely and Effectively Use HIIT With Clients Struggling With Obesity. ACE Fitness. /certifiedarticle/6406/how-to-safely-and-effectively-use-hiit-with. Accessed June 19, 2017.

Ghodsi Z, Nasrin, Zolfaghari MR, Fattah A. The Impact of High Intensity Interval Training On Lipid Profile, Inflammatory Markers and Anthropometric Parameters in Inactive Women. Medical Laboratory Journal. 2016;10(1):56-60. doi:10.18869/acadpub.mlj.10.1.56.

Trapp EG, Chisholm DJ, Freund J, Boutcher SH. The effects of high-intensity intermittent exercise training on fat loss and fasting insulin levels of young women. Int J Obes. 2008;32(4):684-691. doi:10.1038/sj.ijo.0803781.



Lessons in Weight Loss – It’s Not Just a Numbers Game

With my job as a trainer and a fitness writer I almost can’t get through a single day without typing or thinking about the words ‘weight loss.’

If you’re trying to lose weight, you may not be able to get through a day without thinking about those words, either.

And when you think about weight loss, you probably think it should be pretty simple…you know the whole ‘if you burn 3500 extra calories you’ll lose one pound of fat’ deal? Dieting, exercising, stepping on the scale…it’s all part of the lather-rinse-repeat process right?

But, if you’re not losing weight or the changes are happening too slowly for the human eye to detect, what then? Is it really just about dieting and exercising?

If it were, we’d have this weight loss thing licked.

If you’ve been on the weight loss/weight gain loop for too long, you may need to change the way you think about losing weight.

What’s in a Number?

We often look at weight loss as a numbers game. If you burn and/or cut ‘x’ number of calories from your diet, you should see ‘x’ number of pounds drop from the scale.

And, of course, a lot of us feel like we need to track these numbers just to see if we’re doing it right.

Calorie-tracking feels like a full-time job, doesn’t it? A job you hate and don’t get paid for. You have to write down what you’re eating and find out how many calories are in each thing. You have to monitor your exercise intensity and see how many calories you’re burning.

Then you step on the scale and voila! Wait…whoa…no. Really?

Actually, it’s more like, “I lost .3 pounds after eating lettuce and lemon wedges for 3 DAYS?! You’re going down, bitch!”

Yes, the results can be excruciatingly slow.

A Different Way to Look at Weight Loss

Okay, let’s step back from the scale (she’s a big fat liar anyway) and let’s come at this weight loss thing from a different direction.

What if what really changes that number on the scale comes down to one little thing:


What if it’s not about ‘x’ calories this and ‘x’ calories that, but about you choosing a glass of water here and a walk outside there?

What if it comes down to your choice to move more and eat less?

It’s simplistic, I know and I also know what you’re thinking. The choice to take that walk or drink that water doesn’t feel very choicy, does it? It feels like a chore. Something we have to do if we want to lose weight.

Just to be clear, yes you do need to exercise and do something about your diet if you want to lose weight, that isn’t going to change.

But what you can change is your approach to it. Because there is a way to do this without it feeling like someone’s taken away all your favorite toys and given you a box of switches in return.

That was what my grandfather used to threaten me with if I wasn’t a good girl before Christmas. A switch, if you don’t know, is a tree branch used for whuppins. (First, that’s a southern thing and, second, my grandfather never once whupped me or gave me a box of switches. RIP Granddaddy! I’m still a little brat).

Change Your Mind

Your mind is in charge of most of this weight loss thing, which means your perspective on how to lose weight, how to diet and exercise, plays a major role in how successful you are.

If these choices feel more like restrictions, you’re always going to feel like you’re missing out on something and, therefore, you’ll always go back to those things you think you’re missing.

But what if there’s a different way? What if these choices weren’t chores or restrictions, but based on one thing. The one thing most of us are terrible at doing: Taking care of yourself.

If you think about it, all the things you need to do to lose weight are also all the things you need to do to take care of yourself: Eating when you’re hungry, stopping when you’re full, eating foods that give you energy and make you feel good.

Taking care of yourself means moving your body and getting out of your chair as much as possible, simply because your body feels better when it’s moving.

Taking care of yourself means getting enough sleep, drinking enough water, dealing with your stress in healthy ways…all things that, when accomplished, can also lead to healthy, natural weight loss.

Learning how to take care of yourself is an important part of the weight loss process. And here’s the thing: You can’t fix all these at one time and please don’t try because you’ll just drive yourself crazy.

If you’ve gained weight it’s because you’ve been following some habits for awhile, probably a long time. If you want to lose weight, it’s also going to take time to change those habits.

So, rather than try to change your life in one day, I have two things you can do right now to start changing your perspective on yourself and losing weight.

2 Steps to Start Taking Better Care of Yourself

  1. Know where you are – Do you even know how well you’re taking care of yourself? You’re probably too busy to really think about it and, like most of us, you’re probably doing some healthy things (I ate a salad!) and some iffy things (I had 3 glasses of wine!). It isn’t always easy facing the reality of our choices but think about it like an experiment. This isn’t to make you feel guilty – You probably do that all on your own (stop it! All this stuff isn’t easy, you know). So, here’s a challenge: Try keeping a simple health journal – I really like this one or just grab some paper and make your own. Keep track of things like sleep, exercise, meals, water intake and general energy levels and stress. No judgment allowed. After a week, notice if just knowing you have to write these things down makes a difference in how you take care of yourself. If you haven’t improved, I’ll eat my hair. Okay, no I’m not doing that.
  2. Check in with yourself – Taking care of yourself starts with being aware of how you feel throughout the day. This is especially important if you tend to eat when you’re not hungry, like I do. Like when you’re bored, lonely, guilty, stressed, binge-watching Game of Thrones…we all do it. But it’s not just that. It’s being aware of what’s going on with you. Are you tired? Thirsty? Need a break or a change of scenery? Here’s your next challenge: Set an alarm to go off every hour and just stop what you’re doing. Is there something you need? What is it? Maybe you can even write it down in your health journal. Handy, no?

Taking care of yourself isn’t easy. Most of us have been taught to just keep going, no matter what’s going on and it’s always easy to deal with stress and boredom and all that other crap with a quick fix – Doritos, for example. Yum.

It’s not easy to change any of that. But it’s easier when you take it one thing at a time. And for now? That’s finding out where you are so you know where to go.

Go forth, grasshopper.

Exercise Reality Check

Once I was talking to a friend about how Mondays are a huge train wreck for me. I wake up and completely freak out because there’s so much to do and I have no idea where to start. Email? A new article? A blog post? Google the phenomenon known as ‘avocado hand’?

There is simply too much to do!

My response? Jump in and start doing something. That would be fine if I then didn’t spend the entire time wondering if I should be doing that other thing…or what about that other thing?

And what is this ‘avocado hand’ and what if I have it?? (Don’t look this up – seriously it’s when people cut themselves while slicing an avocado. We can all get on with our lives now)

This circular anxiety-ridden process led my friend to compare my approach to working to going on a road without a map. How do you know where you’re going if you don’t plan it out?

Although having a map does not mean that I won’t get lost. (please no comment, husband. I have no sense of direction and never will. Move on.)

With that in mind, we came up with this plan to do a kind of reality check on Mondays. Sit down, lay everything out and make a map of sorts so I have a semi-clue of what I’m doing…

See where this is going? Yep, we’re about to talk about exercise.

Exercise Reality Check.

Like my map-less Mondays, it’s easy to get lost navigating the fitness world.

My question to you today is, where are you and where are you going? Do you have a plan? If so, have you examined your plan lately to figure out if it’s working for you?

Are you doing what you need to do and, if not, how do you figure it out?

The first step is this:


Your next step is to figure out where you are so we can locate you and send in the rescue squad. To continue the map analogy, let’s look at some of the most common places you might be and how you might navigate your way to somewhere new.

Which one do you recognize?

1. Moving Forward

If you’re here, you’re moving along quite nicely. You have a map or even better, GPS. If you’re moving forward, you likely have this exercise thing licked. You’re doing what you need to do and you feel good about it.

If you’re here, do you need to go somewhere else? Not necessarily, but here’s a question: How can you make things even better? My suggestion is to try something new and different. I have some ideas:

Guided Workouts – Streaming Videos and Smartphone Apps

This is my favorite way to gather lots of new workout options. The more choices you have, the more interesting your exercise life will be. You can wake up, pick a new workout and go. Keep in mind, most of these are subscription services. You really do get what you pay for. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Cathe Friedrich On Demand – Cathe is one of my favorite instructors and I’ve done her videos for years. She has hundreds of videos to choose from – Step, strength training, circuit training, HIIT, kickboxing, yoga…it’s all there.
  • Aaptive – This is a smartphone app with a variety of guided workouts for all fitness levels – Treadmill, elliptical, outdoor walks and runs and so forth. What I love is that they use great music, old and new, by the original artists.
  • Fitness Class – I really love this app because there are tons of videos by a huge variety of instructors. You get a lot for your money here.
  • Personalized workouts – And, hey, I’m a personal trainer remember? I do virtual training (skype, facetime, etc), or I can create workouts and programs just for you, focusing on your goals, equipment, what you like/hate and working around any physical issues you may have. I can even make personalized workout videos for you. Holler at me if you’re interested.

2. Treading Water

If you’re here then maybe you’re in some lake in the middle of Toadsuck Ferry, Arkansas and you don’t know how to get out of it.

There’s nothing wrong with Toadsuck Ferry, but there are other lakes to explore. Yes, treading water is frustrating, especially when you want to move forward. But, this phase often sets the stage for doing just that.

You may be here because you’re not exercising at all and you know you should. Or maybe you’re doing the hit-or-miss workout – you’re good for a few days and then you go off the rails.

So, what do you do if you’re not moving forward? First, consider why you’re there.

Are you overwhelmed?

Like my Monday I-have-to-do-everything-right-now mentality, you may feel like you have to do every workout you haven’t been doing right now.

It’s kind of like wanting to make up for lost time. Trust me, even if you could do every workout under the sun today, you would only end up in traction in the hospital.

So, here are some thoughts for moving forward from the oh-my-god-I’ve-fallen-way-behind feeling:

  • Acknowledge – Not to sound cheesy, but sometimes you have to go through some mental exercises before you can get back to physical workouts. Take some time to acknowledge what happened. You stopped working out – There are probably reasons for that. What were they? Think about them or write them down.
  • Understand – Now, think about why you stopped working out. Do your reasons make sense? If a friend came to you and said, “I totally stopped working out because my knee hurt and I couldn’t figure out what exercises to do and then work stressed me out…” Doesn’t that make sense? Don’t your reasons make sense? Wouldn’t you sympathize with your friend? I’m going to go all therapy now and say turn that sympathy around and give it to yourself.
  • Forgive – You’re human. You’re a good person with good intentions. Maybe you don’t always know the answer, but you always keep trying. It’s okay to fall off the wagon. You can always get back on…always, always, always.
  • Give yourself permission to start easy – Now, your mind is probably in a better place, so maybe set a goal to do something really simple every day – something that feels good. And if you need help figuring out where to start, I happen to have some suggestions:
    • START 8-Week Exercise Program – This program figures everything out for you – Videos, a complete workout schedule that gets you started and keeps you moving.
    • Work with me – As I’ve mentioned multiple times, I’m a personal trainer. I do this for a living. I can help.
    • Just go for a walk – That’s as simple as it gets and it’s exercise!

3. Digging a Rut

This is one of my favorite things to do. Give me a routine and I will follow that routine until my eyeballs fall out, roll across the floor and end up behind the refrigerator.

Think about it: You get into a nice comfortable routine (Monday: Running, Tuesday: Weights, Wednesday: Yoga, etc.) and it’s all working like a well-oiled machine until, suddenly, it doesn’t. And then you feel like quitting. So, what do you do?

  • Identify the problem – Boredom is just one reason a program stops working. Are you frustrated with lack of results? Don’t like some of the activities you’ve been doing? Not sure if what you’re doing is right for your goals?
  • Solve the problem – Unlike most things in life, this is a solvable problem. For example, boredom is almost always a contributor to any well-dug rut. Some thoughts:
    • Make your own workout – Turn on some music, put on some shoes and do stuff. Dance around, march in place, do some knee lifts…just move around and don’t worry about it.
    • Throw the rules out the window – Instead of worrying about reps and sets or heart rate and intensity, just do a workout with no rules. Go out and run as far as you feel like it and then walk for as long as you feel like it. Pick up some weights and do as many squats or biceps curls as you can. See how many pushups you can do. Make an entire workout using a deck of cards – Draw one and do an exercise for the number on the card. Take your usual workout and do it backward, from the end to the beginning.
    • Do something fun – Throw a frisbee, play paddle ball, walk the dog and let him sniff all he wants, go for a walk and count how many trees you pass. Toss a ball in the yard. Just forget it’s exercise. Just move.

We all get caught up in the ‘rules’ of exercise, but that can make things feel stale and boring. Maybe you need to break those rules to remember why moving your body doesn’t have to feel like a chore.

4. Moving Backward

If you’re not doing anything and you don’t know how to stop doing nothing, it may feel like you’re moving backward. Not a pleasant feeling, I know.

So, how do you get out of it? How do you get yourself motivated to do something, anything?

Here’s the answer: Just Start.

Pick something and do it every single day. No matter what. It can be the smallest thing…doesn’t matter.

  • Do one stretch first thing in the morning: Try this one.
  • Every day before lunch, take a 5-minute walk.
  • While you’re brushing your teeth, do squats.
  • The moment you turn on your TV, lie down and do 15 reps of this exercise. Better yet, do this entire workout while watching TV.

Just pick one or all and do it every day. Same time, same exercise….every day. There.

You’re moving forward now.

Got a comment? I’d love to hear where you are and how you’re navigating things.

Embracing Uncertainty

Weight loss is a complicated thing and, if you’ve ever been through it, you know that there are often questions that are hard to answer and obstacles that stand in your way.

Question #1: When are you actually going to start losing weight?

That, my friend, is the question that, could I answer it, would allow me to be writing this from my own private island as I sip something tropical and allow a shirtless man to fan me with palm fronds.

Wait, why am I still writing this? I just solved the biggest mystery in the world! I quit!

Lessons in Life

This brings us to life lessons. What’s funny about that is that I actually just typed ‘lesions.’

In a way, I’d rather have to learn about life’s lesions because, by definition, a lesson is “a useful piece of practical wisdom acquired by experience or study.”

Sounds like a real hootenanny doesn’t it?

And, really, life lessons tend to be the most painful to learn.

Still, learn we must and there are some weight loss lessons that, once learned, can actually help you keep going when times get tough.

Embrace Uncertainty

One of the most important weight loss lessons to learn is to embrace uncertainty.

The fact is, you won’t always know if you’re doing it right.

You can track calories-in vs. calories-out, exercise every day and watch your diet, but you won’t have any immediate feedback indicating you’re on the right track. The scale just can’t measure the tiny changes happening inside your body on a daily basis, all of which will lead to weight loss and fitness. Things like:

  • Your heart becomes stronger and more efficient so it can deliver more oxygen to the body.
  • Your genes actually change when you exercise – They are improved for aerobic performance and muscle growth.
  • You change at a cellular level. The more you exercise, the better your cells can dilate blood vessels so that more oxygen is delivered to your body. You actually increase the number of mitochondria in your cells.
  • You increase longevity.
  • You create a sense of wellbeing.

None of those sentences included, “You drop tons of weight,” I know, but all of those things contribute to that end goal.

Even knowing that and knowing that losing weight takes time, deep down, we’re still looking for fast results. When they don’t come, we often feel frustrated to the point of quitting.

Giving your body time to respond to what you’re doing is part of the weight loss process.

We focus so much on the scale as a gauge of how we’re doing, but, sometimes, the scale can be the worst way to measure your success.

The scale can’t measure what’s really happening in your body. It can only tell you you’re heavier (which could be because of anything – You ate something, drank something, you’re retaining water, someone put 10 pounds on your feet when you weren’t looking, etc.).

Or it can tell you you’re lighter (which, again, could be simply because you just went to the bathroom, or took off your shoes).

In fact, your weight may not change very much during the first month or so of exercise, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t getting results.

So what do you do if you’re working hard, but that work isn’t showing up on the scale?

First, embracing the uncertainty of the process, rather than fighting it, can ease a lot of your frustration.

If you’re doing all the right things to lose weight, allow yourself to focus on other ways of tracking your progress: Completing your workouts, getting stronger, building endurance, feeling more energy, feeling good about yourself, sleeping better, etc.

If you’re not sure if you’re doing all the right things to lose weight, educate yourself on the basics of weight loss, try a guided program or consider working with a professional, like me, to look at what you’re doing and ease your worries.

Either way, there will always be some uncertainty in the process. We can only do what we can, right?

3 Truths and a Lie

Whenever I go to the grocery store and stand in line looking at all the fitness and health magazines, there’s a moment where I think: “I could totally look like HER if I do those 3 flat-belly ab exercises!”

And then the checkout person asks if I want paper or plastic and I remember that I’m standing in a grocery store, not in never never land and that I will never, ever look like her even if I did a thousand flat-belly ab exercises.

It’s that kind of in-your-face marketing that makes all of us think losing weight is just 3 exercises or 3 superfoods or 3 whatevers away. And they make it look so easy, don’t they? Flip open a fitness magazine and there’s the hard body, zero bodyfat fitness model standing on one leg with the other foot wrapped around the back of his head and it seems so effortless, you actually think of trying it.

Close the magazine and step away from it slowly, because it’s lying to you.

There’s nothing easy about losing weight.

That doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing, however. What it does mean is that knowing the facts about losing weight can help make the process, at the very least, less painful. It all starts with three truths and one ugly lie.

Truth #1: Starting Will Never Get Easier

The first rule of exercise is that there’s never a perfect time to start doing it. It’s like having a baby or getting married…life will never be settled and perfect enough to do it.

It’s easy to sit down on Friday and proclaim, “I’m going to get up Monday morning and go to the gym!” You envision the New and Improved Monday You gliding through your gym workout, sweaty and happy and fit.

But then Monday comes and it’s morning and you have to get up and the gym is just….so loud and exercisey and workouts require effort and sweat and the bed is so toasty warm….

Yeah, it looked a lot better on Friday than it does on Monday morning and there is no New and Improved You that suddenly wants to workout.

The thing is, exercise is always going to require some sort of effort and there are always going to be obstacles that stand in your way.

You still have to workout even when you:

  • Wake up on Monday
  • Change jobs
  • Go on vacation (some exceptions apply)
  • Work late
  • Get sick (again, exceptions here)
  • Someone else gets sick (exceptions, etc.)
  • Are in a bad mood
  • Are tired
  • Had a bad night’s sleep
  • Go on a business trip
  • Have a big fight with your spouse
  • Don’t feel like it

In order to make exercise something you do all the time, no matter what’s going on, you have to do a few things:

  1. Make it easy to do it – Know what you’re doing beforehand. Get all the stuff you need the night before. Make it a breeze to put on your clothes and get moving. As soon as you have to look for something, your brain will start telling you to go back to bed.
  2. Start with workouts you KNOW you can do – Maybe running for an hour on the treadmill is what you think you should do, but maybe that’s just a little too much to start out with. But this 5-minute Core Workout? Sure you can. Allow yourself to choose workouts you enjoy, even if they’re not killer workouts. Just start. You can always add later.
  3. Practice – The only way to get better at something is to practice it. You have to practice scheduling your workouts, practice following through with your workouts. Some days you’ll get it right and some you’ll get it wrong. Experimenting will help you find a schedule you can live with.
  4. Be self-aware – The other thing is to notice when something isn’t working. If you keep skipping your workouts, you need to know why. It’s not just because you suck, it’s because there’s something wrong. Maybe the workouts aren’t right or the timing is bad. Maybe you just don’t know what you’re doing and so you do nothing. Once you know why you can do something about it.
  5. Do it anyway – Even if you think you can’t, try. We all have days when we’re just not sure if we can do it. That’s fine…maybe you can’t. But promise yourself you’ll at least do the warm up. Most of the time, you’ll keep going.

Truth #2: Going on a Diet Doesn’t Work

Do you ever do that thing where, it’s Saturday and you’re eating a giant plate of french toast drenched in maple syrup and butter and you promise yourself that, after this weekend, you’re going on a diet?

It feels good to think that on Monday, a New and Virtuous You is going to wake up and WANT the oatmeal and the salad without dressing and the grilled chicken. And maybe you do that. You eat that oatmeal and salad and you feel good about yourself, as you should.

But eventually, Virtuous You will breakdown under the weight of all the decisions, the choices you have to make to stay healthy. Is that salad dressing fat-free? Is brown rice really good for me? Oh my god, did I just eat something with SUGAR in it? WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!

The constant vigilance makes every bite less and less appetizing and, at the same time, all the things you can’t have are starting to add up – The wine and the burger and, heck, just some regular salad dressing for god’s sake!

The underlying theme here is that we must suffer to lose weight, but if you’re white-knuckling it, it’s only going to backfire. Here’s more on that.

Truth #3: Why White-Knuckling It Doesn’t Work

So, what happens with all that suffering? We sacrifice the foods we enjoy, grit our teeth through temptation, sweat and grunt and burn during our workouts. At the end of the day, we’re triumphant and exhausted for all our hard work and it feels like we should see something for those efforts, at the very least, a few pounds gone on the scale.

But the scale can’t measure everything you’re accomplishing and it may be weeks or months before you see significant changes.

And, it’s that very feeling – The feeling that we sacrificed something, that we missed out on something – That causes the problem. If you feel that way, you wonder: Do I have to keep this up every damn day? And for what?

For weight loss to work permanently, there has to be a sense of rightness in what you’re doing. A sense of power when you realize you really don’t need that afternoon donut to make life worth living.

A sense of satisfaction when you move your body in a new way. If it feels like a chore, like a sacrifice, if you have to white-knuckle it through every choice, how long can you keep it up?

Instead of suffering through a diet, try:

  • Adding good things to your meals: We usually approach food as something good or bad. Don’t eat this, do eat that. Instead of taking something away, try adding something healthy. Eat an apple before lunch, drink a full glass of water before a snack. Eat twice as many vegetables as you normally do. Filling up with healthy stuff means there’s less room for the stuff that adds more calories.
  • Plan your treats: Pizza and burgers are fine, as long as you don’t have them several times a week. Plan when you’re going to have your favorite foods and, for the rest of the week, try leaning more towards the healthy stuff – Salads, grilled protein, you know what I’m talking about. Now you have something to look forward to and you don’t have to feel guilty about it.
  • Get it out of your face: The single most important thing you can do is take junk food out of your house. If it’s not there, you can’t eat it. If you see a bag of chips every time you open the cabinet, you’re going to eat them. You can even do it one at a time if you have multiple foods you eat on a regular basis. Start with the chips – replace them with whole grain crackers if you like something crunchy or air-popped popcorn. Get used to life without chips every day and then move on to the next.

And The Lie – Being Healthy Sucks

From a distance, exercising and eating healthy looks like one giant drag. You have to watch what you eat and be annoying at restaurants, asking how they cook this and is there butter in that? Can you put the dressing on the side? Can I have that with steamed broccoli?

And then there’s the whole exercise thing and that has multiple issues: Figuring out what to do, working hard enough to make a difference, physical exertion when what we’re used to doing is sitting on our rears most of the time.

Looking at it that way, it’s easy to think that being healthy sucks. But, there are things you get out of being healthy and these things are worth a lot.

What you may not realize is that the more you practice healthy behaviors, the more you want to do them. Here’s what happens when you stick to it:

  • You start to enjoy healthy foods. Would I rather have Doritos instead of Wheat Thins? Probably. In fact, I used to live on them. But, after working on my diet for awhile, I realized I can live without them and it’s okay. You learn that it really is possible to live without those kinds of foods and, and added bonus, your body just feels better when you eat better.
  • Your priorities change. Because your body feels better when you eat better, that becomes more important to you than the instant gratification you might feel from having something with too much fat or sugar. Not all the time, of course. Sometimes you may need that indulgence but you won’t need it all the time.
  • You learn how to deal with temptation. The more healthy choices you make, the easier it is to avoid common pitfalls like the overloaded buffet at a party or lunch out with friends when everyone else is having the burger and fries. When you eat healthy, you eat on a regular basis so you’re not starving all the time. When you’re starving, a salad just isn’t going to do it, is it?

There are lots of other things but the point is, the more you practice, the easier it gets and the better you feel about it. The same goes for exercise, if you approach it in the right way. The more you exercise, the stronger you get and the better exercise feels to your body.

The key is to start easy. Just pick something, even if it’s just one stretch, and do it every single day. Same time, same place. After a week, add another exercise…it really can be that simple.

And it doesn’t have to suck.

Getting Older and Fatter? Me Too – Here’s How We Can Deal

Getting Older, Gaining Weight

Yep. It Happens

If you’ve ever had to go through your clothes and throw out all the things that don’t fit you anymore, you know the true meaning of pain.

As I’ve gotten deeper into my 40s, I’ve struggled with weight gain just like most of us do and, from what everyone keeps telling, it only gets worse.

Yeah. Thanks for that nugget of wisdom.

It’s really, really hard to feel good about yourself when you’re gaining weight and nothing fits and you feel like you’re trying and nothing’s working and what’s wrong with you?

I’ll tell you what’s wrong: Nothing.

You’re a human being living in a time when losing weight is probably the hardest it’s ever been. You’re a good person with good intentions and none of us really understands this whole weight loss thing because, if we did, I wouldn’t be writing this and you would be lying on your bed bouncing quarters off your 12-pack abs.

Dealing With Getting Fatter

So, how do we deal with this weight gain issue?

You could do what I did and clean out your clothes and dump them in a pile in the middle of the floor, shouting, “THIS IS HOW FAT I AM!” Then you can pour a glass (or 3) of wine and have a good cry or, if you’re a man, you can turn on a video game and pretend it isn’t happening (hey, I’m just repeating what my husband said he does when he realizes he’s gaining weight).

After that, however, you have to do something. Something positive because we all have to remember one important thing: It’s okay.

Not it’s no fun gaining weight and going up a size or three. It doesn’t feel good in any way, but it’s still okay. We don’t need to become anorexic or eat lemon wedges and tree bark for the next 6 months.

We don’t need to try some ridiculous workout program that is only going to leave us hobbling around the house, feeling even older than we are.

We don’t have to hate ourselves.

How to Deal

So, is it possible to get over feeling bad about our aging bodies?

You know I’m not going to lie to you.  I don’t think it’s 100% possible. I think we will all have days when we look in the mirror and think – “Who IS that and what did they do with my real body?”

That’s inevitable because no one can feel great about themselves all the time. And if you do? I want whatever drug you’re taking because it sounds marvelous.

What we can do is make the choice to work for something different. To think of ourselves in a different light and to start identifying what’s really important.

After dealing with this and thinking about it, I came up with my own list of things we can do to make life not suck just because we’ve gained some weight:

  • Settle Into Your Body – As a trainer, it’s really, really, REALLY, hard to gain weight and not identify with that young, thinner, person I always was. And, even if you’re not a fitness pro, it’s always hard to deal with a body that isn’t the ways it used to be. But, unless we all go on some harebrained diet/exercise program (which I am totally not doing), we pretty much have the bodies we have. Sure, we can always lose weight, but our bodies are different now and they respond differently than they did at, say, 20. Embracing that instead of fighting it makes life just a little easier.
  • Get Rid of Things That Make You Feel Bad – Opening my drawers and seeing the jeans I used to wear or the sports bra that doesn’t fit was an immediate downer. Starting your day with that kind of negative ickiness means you have to work to overcome the ickiness…precious energy you could spend on other things. Schedule a day to go through your closets, drawers, etc. and get rid of all the clothes that don’t fit. Think of it as a rejuvenating purge of ickiness.
  • Get Clothes That Fit and Feel Good – I cannot stress this enough. Throwing out my smaller clothes hurt, but it felt good to get clothes that made me feel good about myself. Doing that does a couple of things. First, you’re comfortable and, if you’re comfortable, you’re not constantly thinking about how fat your stomach/butt/whatever feels. Second, trying on different clothes – or different sized clothes – allows you to get to know this new body. Whatever it looks like, your body does a lot for you and that’s worth more than any flat belly in the world. Most of the time.
  • Get Strong – One thing that saves me from wallowing in self-pity is when I focus on how strong I am. And I got strong by exercising and lifting weights. Mastering something always makes you feel good and when you feel the strength growing in your body, you start to like it more. Remember, I’ve got tons of workouts to choose from. Well, not tons, but enough to get you started.

Getting older involves all kinds of things we don’t expect or, even if we do, don’t know what it will actually feel like. Sometimes, it feels crappy. But the good thing about getting older is that we’re also getting smarter and we know our value a lot more than when we were young.

Also? We don’t have to go to school and take exams and agonize over a bad hair day or a chipped nail or some boy or girl who doesn’t notice us. And that? Is awesome.

5 Ways to Make Winter Exercise Suck Less

Winter generally sucks. I say that because I live in Chicagoland where it’s really cold and windy and it snows a lot. In most of the places I’ve lived (disregarding California where it doesn’t suck because there is no winter) winter is dark and dreary and just so…wintery. At some point, the cold weather and all that comes with it starts to grind you into tiny, wretched pieces.

It happens. I can’t stop it, but I can help.

Winter vs. Exercise – Let’s Get Ready to Rumble

It’s like this: Short days, darkness, frigid mornings vs. a warm, soft bed, maybe a purring cat snuggled up against you. Which do you choose? If you’re very disciplined, you choose to get up and exercise. If you’re trying to be disciplined you probably argue with yourself and whether the exercisey you or the screw-that you wins is up for debate.

Exercisey You: “You should get up and workout.”
Screw-That You: (hitting snooze button) “Just 9 more minutes.”
Exercisey You: “You said that 9 minutes ago.”
Screw-That You: “Well, now I’m saying it again.”
Exercisey You: (in a snotty tone) “Remember how you said you wanted to lose weight before spring?”
Screw-That You: “Spring is eleventy billion years away.”
Exercisey You: “That’s an exaggeration.”
Screw-That You: “You’re annoying.”
Exercisey You: “GET UP!”
Screw-That You: “I hate you with the intensity of a thousand suns.”
Exercisey You: “Drama queen.”
Screw-That You: “Buzzkill.”

1. Just Get Up

The snooze button is not your friend, no matter what sweet nothings your alarm clock is whispering in your ear.

The snooze button is torture. In fact, that’s what they should do instead of waterboarding. Just wake somebody up every 9 minutes with a terrible noise and voila! The truth will come out.

The point is, get up before your mind can start telling you all the (really good) reasons you should stay in bed.

2. Sleep In Your Workout Clothes

This sounds stupid, I know, but if you workout at home you can pretty much wear whatever you want to exercise.

I’m not saying sleep in your sports bra if you’re a woman – That really is torture. But if you have some comfy workout shorts, wear them to bed. It’s one less thing you have to yank on when you get up.

3. Have a Reward Planned Ahead of Time

Like, if you get up and workout, you can do something frivolous that you never let yourself do during the day – Binge-watch Hoarders, take a nap, play Candy Crush, watch 400 cute cat videos in a row…like that. Or maybe something bigger like a spa treatment or 3 weeks in Hawaii. Whatever works.

4. Put Your Clothes in the Dryer

If it’s really cold, getting out of bed blows. One thing I’ve done is put my workout clothes in the dryer the night before. When I get up, I turn it on for 10 or so minutes while I have my coffee.

Putting on warm clothes is divine and starting your workout already warm makes it suck less.

5. Get a Dog

A dog does not make exercise suck less, but it does make exercise necessary. No matter how cold, wet, snowy or windy it is, the dog must be walked. The dog cannot walk himself.

Believe me, I have tried to get away with it and the neighbors don’t like when a dog is just wandering around sans owner (unless you live in some places in the south where it’s expected – I know. I lived there).

These are small things and they don’t necessarily cancel out the suckiness of winter exercise. But they help. Any little boost you can give yourself is worth doing.

Why You Should Avoid Avoiding Holiday Weight Gain

During the holidays you pretty much can’t throw a wet cat without hitting some article about holiday weight gain. In fact, I’ve written my share of those articles with the same tips everyone gives you every year. Tips like:

  • Eat something healthy before you go to the holiday party.
  • Drink a glass of water for every alcoholic beverage or, better yet, don’t drink at all.
  • Fill your plate with vegetables first and then chow down on the mashed potatoes and stuffing.
  • Only choose one or two indulgences so you don’t overdo it.
  • Only eat and drink in moderation.
  • Add time to your workout to mitigate the calories.

I could go on, but you get the point.

The thing about these rules is that they make sense. Of course they do. These are rules that any sensible, self-aware person would follow. The problem is, we don’t follow them.

We don’t follow them because it’s the holidays and that very word is synonymous with indulgence. Not only that, but there are other factors that make it extremely difficult to follow any of those rules.

Why These Rules Are Stupid

  1. You’re with family. You love your family, but being with family stresses you out. What do you do when you get stressed out? You drink away your stress. Then you eat away your stress. Then you drink some more. It’s what we do.
  2. Yummy food. The food during the holidays is yummy. It has fat and butter and cream and it tastes good. Do I want a plate full of raw carrots and celery or do I want a mound of potatoes and macaroni and cheese?
  3. Social pressure. And then there’s the fact that everyone around you is eating and drinking all the yummy stuff. Someone with an iron will may be able to stick to the carrots, but most of us will feel that as a kind of permission to do the same thing. If we’re all eating too much then it’s okay, right?
  4. Pent-up energy. The time leading up to Christmas, or whatever holiday you celebrate, is kind of like a pressure cooker. We shop, we decorate, we go to parties, we run around like headless chickens and whammo! The lid comes off at that last family gathering and we pretty much say – Screw it! I’m done trying to keep myself sane! Bring on the EGG NOG!

The real goal during the holidays isn’t avoiding weight gain…it’s survival and we all need to do what we can to come out on the other side so we can get back to some kind of normal life.

To that end, make your own rules about the holidays, but make them rules you know you’ll follow. I’ve got some for you.

Rules That Aren’t Stupid

  1. Pick the yummiest thing on the buffet, the one thing you’re dying for, and eat it first. Eat slowly and savor every calorie-laden bite.
  2. Avoid stupid foods. I would put carrots and celery on the list, but I would also add anything else you can eat any old time. Potato chips, nuts, all the pre-game frou-frou stuff. Don’t waste your appetite on that…save it for the good stuff.
  3. Drink smart. If you’re a drinker, you’ll want a strategy for that holiday dinner. The idea is to enjoy your booze but don’t let it interfere with all the good food you want to eat. I would suggest keeping it light – Some wine, maybe a vodka and soda. Enjoy your booze. Don’t let it enjoy you.
  4. Save room. If you’re picky enough and eat only the foods you really like, you’ll have plenty of room for dessert. Hopefully, there are multiple options to try.
  5. Stay in the moment. Yes, there is a tomorrow, but who cares? Enjoy all that’s good about the holidays free of guilt. Didn’t this year kind of suck? Didn’t you work hard? Isn’t it fun to blow it out the old bloomer leg? Go for it.

Yes, my rules don’t resemble any rules that any personal trainer would ever give to a client, but let’s be honest: Even trainers would find it hard not to indulge this time of year.

With that in mind, go into your holiday celebration with a clear head and a solid strategy. Figure out how to enjoy everything you want, all while dealing with Drunk Uncle Joe or Aunt Motormouth Edna. Forget about holiday weight gain and focus more on getting through this thing with as few emotional scars as possible.

And now, something fun…

Fun Facts About the Holiday

  • Most people only gain about 1.5 pounds during the holidays as opposed to the 7-10 pounds you always hear about.
  • Drinking can actually have health benefits including a lower risk of heart disease, boosted libido and more. Sure, that’s for moderate drinking. but you get to decide your own definition of ‘moderate.’ See how this works?
  • Eating turkey this year? Good for you! It’s one of the leanest meats you can choose and it’s a great source of protein. It also includes tryptophan, which helps you take a good long nap after eating.
  • Having some stuffing? Again, good for you! Breadcrumbs are rich in an antioxidant, pronyl-lysine, that has anticancer properties.
  • What about eggnog? It’s a great source of Vitamin D and protein. And there’s alcohol in there and remember that moderate alcohol intake is good for you. 2 birds? 1 stone.
  • How about tequila? It’s the holidays, but there’s no reason not to grab some Jose Cuervo (actually, choose a higher quality tequila if you can) because tequila aids in digestion and it’s a probiotic, which makes your gut healthy and happy. Shots for everyone!
  • Napping after the meal? Good for you! Sleep burns tons of calories – you could burn up to 65 calories per hour just by snoozing.

Happy holidays!

Learn How to Think Like an Exerciser

If you’re trying to lose weight or stick to a consistent exercise program, you could probably list any number of obstacles that stand in your way. How are you supposed to exercise when you have to work, travel, run the kids to the dentist, cut the grass, watch your favorite TV show and take out the trash? What you may not realize is that fitting in exercise is a matter of how you think and not what’s on your schedule.

Thinking like an exerciser can increase your odds of success and put you in the right frame of mind for making the choice to exercise.

Read more

Lounging in the grass

Breaking the Rules of Exercise

When I first started personal training, I was hung up on following the rules I learned in my certification courses: A certain amount of cardio at a specific training zone along with the standard, recommended strength exercises.

I quickly learned that human beings don’t always conform to the rules of exercise and that trying to force them into it was like trying to get my cat to, well, do just about anything other than drape himself over the back of the couch for a nine-hour nap.

I’m reminded of one client who came to me because her doctor recommended a strength program to manage some bone loss. The problem? She hated everything we tried.

After some trial and error, I created a workout for her that wasn’t even close to the “rules” – It was a short, light workout that barely taxed her muscles. Maybe this seemed like a waste of time but guess what? Because the workouts felt good to her, she started doing them on her own and it wasn’t long before she actually requested heavier weights and harder workouts.

Maybe this seemed like a waste of time but guess what? Because the workouts felt good to her, she started doing them on her own and it wasn’t long before she actually requested heavier weights and harder workouts.

Too often, we force ourselves to follow the “rules” for weight loss and exercise, even if they don’t work in our lives.

The truth is, rules don’t matter if we aren’t following them in the first place. If that’s the case, we may be better off making our own rules.

Do We Know Too Much?

One reason it’s so hard to figure out this weight loss/exercise thing is because of the wealth of information available. There’s nothing wrong with searching for information, but it’s possible to take things too far.

Sometimes, searching for the perfect answer takes the place of actually doing something and we often take the word of experts over what our own bodies and minds are telling us.

With exercise, as with all things in life, knowing when to bend or break the rules is essential for finding success.

Breaking All the Rules

There are plenty of rules for exercise that we follow because they make sense and they keep us healthy and safe.

We have heart rate zones to guide us so we don’t hurt our hearts.

We have strength training rules that keep us from lifting too frequently and that help us do the moves safely.

But, there are other rules of exercise, more like guidelines, that can often keep us from following through with exercise if they don’t fit in with our lives, needs, and goals.

For example, I got an email recently from a woman desperate to lose weight. She mentioned she’d been trying for years to get up early and exercise and she’d never managed to do it.

When I suggested that morning exercise wasn’t right for her, she was surprised. She mentioned reading that people who exercise in the morning are more successful at weight loss.

My question to her was: If you’re not exercising in the morning now, how much weight are you losing anyway? She wrote back, thrilled to know that she could workout anytime and still get results.

We’re all influenced by what we read or hear.

Think of how you approach exercise and what’s worked for you in the past and what hasn’t. If something isn’t working, are you more likely to change what you’re doing to make it work or give up because, if you can’t follow the “rules,” why should you even bother?

Sometimes, paying too much attention to what other people say, even experts, robs you of the satisfying experience of figuring out what works for you. And you may find that what works for you is nothing close to the “rules” of exercise.

New Rules for Exercise

When it comes to weight loss, we want answers right now. But, it takes time to find a program that fits your needs. The following ideas may help you figure out what will work for you.

1. Everything counts

For many of us, exercise just isn’t worth it unless it “counts.” That often means that it has to last for a certain length of time, be at a certain intensity and we have to do it a certain number of times a week.

The problem is that we don’t always have the time or energy for workouts that “count,” and, when that happens, we tend to skip exercise rather than “waste time” with shorter or easier workouts.

Consistency is the real key to exercise success and that often means being flexible. If you don’t have the time or energy for your usual workout, give yourself permission to do something, even if it’s just a few minutes of walking or strength exercises. Expand your definition of what “counts” and you may find you move more than before.

2. Do what you can

I often get questions from people who wonder what to do if they can’t handle the amount of exercise they’re supposed to do to lose weight. My answer? Do what you can.

Too often, people decide not to workout at all if they don’t have the endurance or strength for challenging workouts. But, what we forget is that exercise is like anything else: It takes time and practice and we aren’t going to be good at it the first time we do it.

Make a new rule that you’ll do what your body can handle and improve on that.

If you can only walk for 5 minutes, do that and go for 6 minutes the next time. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t conform with the “rules.” What matters is that you start where you are and build slowly towards more intense exercise.

3. Do what you like

We aren’t always going to like every aspect of exercise, but it’s important to find things you enjoy.

People often make themselves do things they don’t like because they’ve heard that’s what they should do to see results.

Instead of going by what you should do, find out what feels good to you. If you hate the gym, you don’t have to join one to get a good workout. If you hate running, there’s no reason you have to do it.

There are so many choices for exercise these days, we can all find something whether it’s sports, group fitness, swimming, exercise videos or taking a walk after dinner.

4. Listen to your body

I believe that our bodies know a lot more than our minds do. The problem is, we often go by what we think we should do rather than what our bodies are telling us.

For example, I had one client who hated running because her heart rate soared whenever she ran past a certain pace, a pace she’d decided she was supposed to keep to burn the most calories.

It took some convincing, but when she finally agreed to slow down, she actually started to enjoy running. In fact, she was eventually able to run even faster than before, simply because she took her time and went by how she felt rather than trying to force her body to do something it wasn’t ready for.

When you’re exercising, pay attention to how your body feels. If you’re miserable, that may mean you’re working too hard.

Keep in mind that every day is different. Some days you’ll have tons of energy and work at a higher level, while others you may need to back off. Listening to your body is one way to make exercise more enjoyable.

5. Use your common sense

I once got an email from a person trying to work within a heart rate zone calculated by her personal trainer.

The problem was, the workouts felt too easy and she was reluctant to go faster because her trainer told her to stay in her fat burning zone.

Aside from the fact that the fat burning zone is more myth than truth, the calculations she followed were only estimates.

These formulas aren’t exact and most of us find we have to adjust them according to how we feel. Not only that, this person relied on what her trainer told her instead of how she actually felt.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t listen to experts but never be afraid to question advice if it doesn’t feel right to you.

Many of us try to follow formulas or calculations that don’t match how we feel or what’s happening with our bodies.

Use those numbers as a starting point, but don’t be afraid to adjust them when you need to. No one knows your body better than you.

In the end, what you do is your choice. There really is no right way to do this. Guidelines are great for giving us a framework to follow, but testing the limits of those guidelines is something we all have to do to find out what will really work.

Getting expert advice can be helpful, but remember: at some point you just have to get moving. The more you do it, the more you’ll learn about yourself and the more confident you’ll be about making your own rules for exercise.

How Much Weight Should I Lift?

Choosing the amount of weight you use for strength training is a tricky business, even for experienced exercisers and, if you’re a beginner it’s even harder.

Now, in the sciencey fitness world, where experts do studies and such, they use a one rep max protocol – Meaning, finding out how much weight one can lift for 1 rep and then taking a percentage of that to determine how much weight one would need for, say, 10 reps or 12 reps.

That isn’t easy to do in the real world and, frankly, I would never suggest anyone do that without a professional directing them.  Plus?  It’s miserable to lift that much weight, even just one time.

So, what’s the not-sciencey way to to do this?

You guess.

Yep, that’s how I figure out how much weight I need and it’s how I help my clients figure it out.  And here’s the rub – Every day is different and your body is different from one workout to the next.  That means you may have lifted 10 lbs on Monday but, on Wednesday you’re like – “This feels like twice as heavy.”  What the…?

Knowledge is Power

Experience is your best teacher when it comes to weight.  The next best teacher is me – Well, not me but fitness experts in general.  Here’s just one step by step way to choose your weights.

  1. Figure out the exercise you’re doing and how many reps you’ll do. For general strength and fitness, that’s usually 12 to 16 reps.  If you’re doing my workouts, I’ll tell you how many reps you’re doing.
  2. Pick a weight that feels reasonable for that exercise – Here are some tips:
    • Small muscles, smaller weights.  Big muscles, bigger weights.
      • Lower Body – These are big muscles so you can usually go heavier.  For example, for squats you might start with 8-10 lbs if you’re a woman, 10-20 lbs if you’re a man, and work your way up to 20 or more lbs.
      • Chest  – Big muscles.  For example, if you’re doing a chest press, start with about 5-10 lbs for women, 8-15 lbs for men.
      • Back – Big muscles.  For example, if you’re doing a dumbbell row, start with about 8-15 lbs for women, 10-25 lbs for men.
      • Shoulders – The shoulders tend to be smaller muscles and you’ll typically start with light weight, especially for overhead movements.  For example, if you’re doing an overhead press, start with 5-10 lbs for women and 8-15 lbs for men.
      • Triceps – Smaller muscles and these muscles are involved in other exercises like pushups, chest presses and other chest and shoulder exercises.  That means, they may already be fatigued by the time you get to them and you’ll need lighter weights.  An example:  For kickbacks, you might start with 3-5 lbs for women and 5-10 lbs for men.
      • Biceps – These are also smaller muscles and, like the triceps, they’re involved in other exercises, especially moves for the back like rows.  For that reason, you may use a different weight if you do biceps first as opposed to towards the end (where we usually put smaller muscle groups).  If you’re doing a biceps curl, for example, start with 8-15 lbs for women and 12-20 lbs for men.
  3. Check Your Intensity – If you felt like you could do way more reps, you went too light.  Make a note of that for your next workout or, if you’re doing another set, go up to the next increment in your weights and see how that feels.  If you couldn’t finish the reps, you went too heavy.  Again, make a note of that or reduce your weights for the next set.
  4. Keep a Workout Log – If you really want to make progress and figure out a good weight range for each exercise, it pays to keep a workout log.
  5. In your next workout, start with the weight you ended with from the previous workout. Go through the process again, increasing or decreasing the weight and keeping notes about each exercise.

And remember, building muscle and getting stronger is all about progressive overload, so as you get stronger, you’ll need to lift heavier weights.  Which will make you feel awesome.

Why It’s Not Your Fault You’re Not Losing Weight

Okay, maybe it is a little bit your fault, but there are forces working against you that you may not even be aware of.

I’m assuming that you’re trying to lose weight and, I know what they say about assuming making an ass out of you and me, but I think I only know two, maybe three adults who aren’t actively trying to lose weight.

That leaves the rest of us.

I know the frustration of exercising and eating endless salads (dressing on the side!), only to find that the scale hasn’t moved one bit.

Why? There are a lot of reasons, some we can control and some we can’t. The one thing I want you to understand is this: It’s not entirely your fault you’re struggling and there’s something you can do about it.

Why is Weight Loss So Hard?

There are two overarching reasons it’s hard to lose weight and I’m going to break them down for you.

Your Environment Doesn’t Want You to Lose Weight

The first problem is the universe.  Specifically, planet earth where we have so many things that create inactivity

  • Our jobs – If you have a job, what is it?  Are you sitting at a computer right now like I am?  The American Heart Association says that sedentary jobs have increased 83% since 1950.  That is just crazy!  And, it’s making us fat.
  • Streaming Video (e.g., Netflix) – I love Netflix. I love binge-watching.  When I am binge-watching, here’s what I’m not doing:  Moving around.  Back in 2009, The Neilsen Company figured out we were watching about 153 hours of TV a month.  I would imagine it’s even higher now.
  • iStuff – iPads, iPhones, tablets and video games are fun. And we usually sit while using them.  One study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology studied survey data and found that Americans spent about 54.9% of their time doing sedentary things.  That comes out to almost 8 hours a day.  Yes, that just made me stand up and walk around my house.
  • Cars – Collectively, we all wasted about 6.9 billion hours sitting in traffic in 2014.  And just think about the good old days – Yes, I’m going to say it.  In my day, I used to ride my bike and walk everywhere.  Now, I drive one mile to see my doctor when I could totally walk.  Suburban sprawl and busy schedules make it harder to find the time to walk.
  • Cats – There is actual study showing that cat owners are messy and lazy.  I wouldn’t say I’m completely messy or lazy (I have two cats) but, when I got a dog a couple of years ago, I walked a lot more.  Dogs require walking if you want to keep your furniture/shoes/socks/walls/baseboards/clothes, etc. in tact.  Cats?  Require 23 hours of sleep.

The bottom line is, in this world we actually have to invent reasons to move around.  And your environment isn’t the only thing working against you…your body is too.

Your Body Doesn’t Want You to Lose Weight

Aside from the world we live in, we have another problem – The human body.  The human body is designed to store…no, a better word is hoard, fat.  That’s because, back in the day, food was scarce and we needed to be able to live off our own body fat should famine occur.

It’s survival of the fittest at its best…only we don’t really need that anymore.  Now, we actively try to eat less and our bodies simply don’t know the difference between going on a diet or full on starvation.  As soon as you restrict your calories, your body goes into survival mode and holds on to that fat with both hands.

Basically, your body is working double time to keep the weight on.

The Dieting Backlash

And here’s another fact we’re only just starting to understand:  If you go on a diet or weight loss program, your metabolism actually slows down.  When you go off that diet (which you probably will because diets don’t work) and start eating more, those extra calories are stored as fat.

One study by Columbia University found that this backlash starts to happen at around 8 weeks of dieting and, here’s the worst part:  To maintain a steady weight, dieters had to eat 400 fewer calories a day after dieting than before dieting.  Their metabolisms actually reset to a lower number, something they probably didn’t know until they gained the weight back, and more.

That just crazy talk.

Your Mind Doesn’t Want You To Lose Weight

Yes, I know.  You think you want to lose weight but, if you really did, you would be doing all the the things you need to do to lose weight.  That is:

  1. Getting enough sleep
  2. Managing your stress in a healthy way (I know, drinking wine and eating Doritoes is so much more fun than meditating, isn’t it?)
  3. Exercising – Not just taking a walk now and then
  4. Eating healthy foods – when you’re actually hungry and only until you’re full (I know, that’s hard)
  5. Moving around instead of sitting for 8 hours a day.

If you don’t do these things, you don’t lose weight.  You might even gain weight and here’s why:

  • Stress – Dr. Len Kravitz wrote about this in The Cortisol Connection: Tips on Managing Stress and Weight.  He says when we get stressed out, our bodies release cortisol – the so-called stress hormone.  And, as Kravitz suggests, that stress hormone directly effects fat storage when you’re stressed.
  • Lack of Sleep –  Sleep is another thing that affects our weight.  One study published in The Journal of Sleep studied short sleepers (5-6 hours), average sleepers (7-8 hours) and long sleepers (9-10 hours) and found that short and long sleepers were 35% more likely to experience a weight gain over 6 years.  And here’s something interesting – the long sleepers were also more likely to gain weight, while average sleepers didn’t.   The problem?  Researchers cite a ‘“24-hour-a-day” turbulent lifestyle” that changes  our hormonal profiles and screws up our energy balance.
  • Lack of Exercise and Shifty Numbers – And not just not working out, but not working hard enough, at least during some workouts.  And, here’s the rub:  If you do exercise (yay you!) you may think – Darn it, I’m burning some serious calories!  The truth is, exercise isn’t all that great at weight loss.  Why?  Because we don’t burn as many calories exercising as we think we do.  If that treadmill says you burned 500 calories after a 30 minute run, you can bet that number is off by up 15%, maybe more.  If you’re counting calories, that can really mess up your totals.
  • Sitting on Our Collective Butts – And then there’s that general lack of movement.  What you may not realize is that Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenisis (or NEAT) is part of the overall calories you burn each day.  How many calories do you think you burn when you sit as opposed to standing or moving around?  Yeah.

What’s the Answer?

Now, I don’t mean to stress you out even more with all these numbers and stuff.  What I’m trying to do is, first, educate you about all the all the things that contribute to your weight and your health.  It’s not just because you suck, so you can stop kicking yourself and feeling guilty for failing.

It’s easy to fail in the environment we live in.  And, failing is always a part of success…you know that, right?

So, let’s get to the good stuff, the most important thing I want you to remember:  You can do something about this and it doesn’t have to be hard.

Forget About Will Power or Self-Control

If you’re not losing weight, you probably think it’s because you just don’t have enough willpower or self-control.  You think – “I was all prepared to order that salad but, when I got there, I was suddenly eating a cheeseburger.”  Then you feel guilty and like a loser.  But, wait.  That isn’t really the case.

The truth is willpower is a bunch of crap.  Yes, willpower can help you in certain moments, but willpower doesn’t have enough stamina to last through all the decisions and choices you have to make each day.  And those choices are what determine weight loss.

Decisions, Decisions

Here’s something interesting about the human brain

Losing weight is all about one decision at a time.  The decision to drink water instead of Coke.  The decision to go for a walk instead of sit.  The decision to get your dressing on the side.

Yes, that’s simplistic, but it really is all about the choices you make every day and we have to make a lot of them.  What does that have to do with anything?  First,  Do you know what happens each time you face a choice and have to make a decision?  Your brain gets tired.  Every single decision drains your brain of energy, thus making each subsequent decision harder and harder.

Here’s what David Rock, who wrote Your Brain at Work (an excellent book) has to say:

“Conscious mental activities chew up metabolic resources, the fuel in your blood, significantly faster than automatic brain functions…Your best quality thinking lasts for a limited time.”

And here’s my absolute favorite part of his reasoning:

“The answer is not always just to ‘try harder.'”

Just think about it.  You wake up in the morning and have a healthy breakfast.  But, by the time you hit lunchtime, you’ve probably made thousands of other decisions and now?  You’re hungry.  So you’re brain is tired and needs fuel and so does your body.

If someone is standing in front of you with an apple or a donut, what are the chances you’ll choose the apple?  In that kind of shape?  Probably not great.

Making it Easy to Make Better Choices

The real secret to exercising and losing weight lie in a few key behaviors and tricks.

  • Make exercise a habit – This is probably the single most important thing that will help you when your willpower is on the fritz.  I’ll cover this in depth later but, for right now, here are some quick tips for this:
    • Do something every day – It doesn’t really matter what you do, so much as just showing up every day for some kind of exercise.  It could be walking every day or you could set up a more complex program.
    • Do it at the same time every day if you can – Doing this starts to teach your brain that this is your exercise time.  Do it long enough and you’ll automatically be programmed for exercise.
  • Make it easy to be healthy – In order to make good decisions, you need to eliminate the things that make them hard.  For example, it’s easy to choose an apple when that’s all you have available.  But if you know there’s a box of cookies in the cabinet…well, you get the picture.
    • Clean out your pantry – If I have Doritoes in the house, I will eat them.  The entire bag.  I’ve made it a rule to NOT have them in my house.  If I really want them, I can go out and get them but I’m lazy, so I know I probably won’t do that.  Set rules for what you allow in the house.  You don’t forbid yourself to eat it – We all need treats now and then – But if it’s not there, you won’t eat it.  And if you really want it, you can always go get it. Sometimes just knowing that is enough.
    • Make it easier to exercise – The hardest part of any workout is just starting, but there are tricks exercisers use to make it easier.
      • Habit – I mentioned this before.  If you’re used to doing it, it’s less of a hassle to get yourself going.
      • Be prepared – Yes, Boy Scouts (aren’t the Girl Scouts supposed to be prepared too?), that means get everything you need before your workout.  If I can’t find my shoe or my water bottle or whatever, that’s just one more reason to say ‘screw it.’  Get every single thing you need – Clothes, water, food, watch, etc. the night before.  Put it next to your bed or somewhere close.
      • Put on your workout clothes right away – As soon as you get up, if you’re a morning exerciser, or when you get home from work.  Waiting will only give you more space between your intension to workout and all the excuses you can come up with in the meantime.
      • Know what you’re doing – Have a plan.  If you need help with that, hire a trainer,  go check out some of my programs at or consider working with me.  I’m good at that kind of thing.

Okay, so, you’ve got a broad outline of behaviors, but where do you actually start?  I’ll tell you:

Pick One Thing

Today, pick one thing you need to work on.  It can be anything – Maybe you need to work on exercising more or maybe you snack too much after dinner.  Whatever it is, it bugs you and every day, you promise you’ll do better and you don’t.

Pick that thing and look at it.  Really, look at it.  Get some paper and write about it, if you can.  Ask questions:

  • Why do you keep skipping your workouts?  Is it because you hate them?  Or you don’t know what you’re doing?  Or you don’t have the right shoes?
  • Why do you snack at night?  Is it because you’re bored or is it just a bad habit?

Once you’ve picked that thing, figure out some solutions.  What could you do to fix it?  If you hate your workouts, what’s an activity you don’t hate?  If you can’t figure out what to do, who could you ask?

Think of it like this:  If a friend were to come to you and lay out the problem you’re wrestling with, what would you tell them to do?

Tell yourself that.

Now, you have something to work on.  And that one thing is all you have to work on.  I’m giving you permission to forget about all the other stuff you’re doing wrong because, remember what I said above?  Your brain doesn’t like multitasking or making tons and tons of decisions.

Right now, just use your energy on that one thing.  Every day, that’s your focus – That One Thing.

When you’re done with that one thing, when you feel that you’ve mastered that, pick the Next Thing.

Slow and Steady

I know.  This approach isn’t very sexy, is it?  There’s no instant gratification.  No quick weight loss.  No amazing results!  Just you and your one thing.  But when you change that One Thing?  That’s a change that will last.  That’s a change that will go so deep, you won’t even remember when you were doing (or not doing) that One Thing.

Just One Thing.


Rock, David. Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long. Harper Collins E-. Print.