Category: Motivation Articles

4 Mental Hacks that Help You Make Exercise a Habit

Exercise is NOT like a box of chocolates.

It’s more like a bottle of Windex and some paper towels…you know it’ll feel good when the window is clean but doing it? Is a chore.

That’s why it’s hard to make exercise a habit. It feels like work, doesn’t it? Like something you’re supposed to do. And it involves a lot of things like scheduling it and getting dressed for it and doing it and sweating and those things don’t always sound fun.

There are lots of reasons we don’t exercise, but the real barrier isn’t lack of time or motivation or whatever else you say to yourself. It’s your mind.

Your mind is always looking for the shortcut and who can blame it? We all want to get there faster, see results right now, get to the finish line. But weight loss just doesn’t work that way. There is no shortcut.

There is no way to drop all the weight TODAY. If there were don’t you think I’d be rich and famous?

And skinny?

With that in mind, how do you make your mind, well, mind you? How do you change that instant-gratification mindset and look at exercise in a different way?

1. Ditch the All or Nothing Thinking

One reason we don’t exercise, or tell ourselves we can’t exercise, is the idea that we have to do a certain amount of exercise at a certain intensity for it to count.

Like, my mind always tells me I have to do an hour of exercise. But, sometimes I can’t do an hour or I don’t want to do an hour and my mind is like, “Well, let’s just skip it cuz what’s the point?”

That kind of thinking is one of the number one reasons we don’t workout.

You need to change that kind of thinking to this:

Everything Counts.

Like this:

  • Taking a walk
  • Going up and down the stairs a few extra times
  • Doing a few squats while waiting for your coffee to brew or your water to boil
  • Standing up and doing some stretching every now and then
  • Doing wall pushups
  • Doing some exercises while you watch TV – Crunches, squats, lunches, stretches

How about trying these Quick Fix Workouts?

2. Lower Your Expectations

Look – Here’s the thing. Exercise is NOT great at helping us lose weight. It’s just not. There are a lot of reasons, but here are just a few of them:

  • Exercising can increase your appetite and you may end up eating more without realizing it
  • We sometimes compensate for exercise – Meaning, resting more during the day which offsets the calories we burn
  • Exercise only accounts for about 10 to 30 percent of your total daily energy expenditure. Bummer
  • We don’t burn as many calories exercising as we think we do

I’m not saying “forget exercising – it’s a total waste of time.” What I AM saying is that you need different reasons to exercise than just weight loss because that has zero staying power.

As soon as you sweat through a week of workouts and see zero changes on the scale? You’ll be like – Why am I doing this to myself?

The key here is to dig deeper into why exercise is worth doing besides weight loss. I don’t have to go into all the health benefits – you know it helps with everything from depression and anxiety to preventing certain types of cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

All of that is great but it’s a little abstract, isn’t it? I mean, it’s not like you do a workout and get some sort of award that says, “You just prevented a heart attack 7 years from now!”

No, you need some kind of intrinsic motivation…here’s what I mean:

I exercise because I want to avoid gaining weight, but it also gives me energy and makes me feel better about myself. I’m willing to exercise, even though it’s not always fun, for those reasons.

Think about this: How can exercise be valuable in your life? Maybe it’s me-time, or feeling stronger or avoiding some condition that runs in your family. Maybe just avoiding someone in your family! Really think about this – make a list of everything that comes to mind.

What resonates with you?

3. Make Exercise Fit Into Your Current Life

One mistake I see people make is trying to change your schedule to fit around exercise. But when you think about that, you kind of go a little cuckoo.

Say you’re trying to do an hour of exercise in your already busy non-exercisey life. Now you have to take multiple steps to make that happen. You have to carve, not just an hour, but:

  • Prep time before your workout
  • Time to plan your workout
  • The actual workout
  • The post-workout shower and clean up

That’s a lot to add to your schedule if you’re not already doing, right?

So instead of trying to bend your life around that hour, bend exercise around your life. Can you take a brisk walk after lunch? Could you do three 10-minute workouts throughout the day? Maybe you could walk on your treadmill while watching a movie on your iPad.

Maybe a few minutes of yoga in the morning?

Be creative and be generous with yourself. What would really work?

4. Be Where You Are Not Where You Want to Be

This kind of fits in with the one above, but it bears repeating – We all approach exercise as though we should be working out at Level 10 when, really, we’re probably at a Level 2 or 3 because of long breaks, injuries and whatnot.

We also tend to think that we should workout like we did in our 20s. Yeah, I worked out like a madwoman and I didn’t even have to.

Now, if I could workout the way I did back then, I would look much different.

But I can’t and neither can you.

Ask yourself these questions:

Where is my body right now?

What does my body really need besides weight loss?

Is there something I need to take care of – an injury or chronic pain before I start exercising?

What would actually feel good to my body right now?

For example, coming off an injury, I realized that easy cardio and light stretching was what I really needed. My mind yelled at me to start jumping around but my body was like – “Look, I’m almost 50. You’re going to have to STFU.”

Listen to what your body needs and do that.

The bottom line is, making exercise something you actually want to do requires rewiring your brain a little and learning what ‘rules’ you have about exercise (I hate it, it takes too long, I can’t do the amount I’m supposed to) that you may not even be aware of.

Take some time to think about the simplest ways you can move more and do that.

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Are You White-Knuckling It? It’s Time to Let Go

When we set out to lose weight, there are two different things happening.

First, there’s what we think should be happening. You start working out, eating salads, doing All The Things to lose weight…and those things are hard, right?

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.

After a few days or weeks of this, you feel like you should see some massive progress right? And you’re not wrong to want that. You deserve it.

So, that’s thing number one.

The second thing that’s happening is going on with how your body approaches weight loss.

As you workout and eat less and do All The Things, your body is not thinking –

“Dang, I’m dropping this weight like a hot brick!”

Your body is more like -“Well, I need some time to get used to what you’re doing and then, when I do, I’m going to lose about a fraction of a pound for every pound you think you should be losing. Now let me get back to growing more mitochondria.”

It’s just how the human body works…

Weight Loss is Slooooow

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

When we see very little movement on the scale, we start feeling that we sacrificed something, that we missed out on something – That causes the problem.

If you feel that way, you may end up wondering:

Do I have to keep this up every 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?

Enjoying exercise and healthy eating really is possible and it starts by learning about yourself.

  • What are your goals and what do they mean to you?
  • What’s your motivation and what are the obstacles that stand in your way?
  • Do you really understand the role of exercise in weight loss?
  • Is emotional eating keeping you from enjoying healthy foods?

The thing is, if you’re white-knuckling it through the weight loss process, nothing’s going to stick. You have to be invested in the choices you’re making so you don’t feel like you’re missing out.

So, here’s a question for you: What if you just let go? Stopped trying to control everything? What if you just did it and see what happens?

You may be surprised.

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The One Problem You Need to Fix to Start Losing Weight

What’s so hard about weight loss? There are about a hundred answers to that question, one of which is pizza.

But, step back and look at the big picture and it gets a little more psychological.

I know…that’s heavy, but just stick with me here and think about one question:

Do you value yourself?

I’m going to define this in my own terms. By value you yourself, what I mean is this:

  • Do you take care of yourself because you’re worth it?
  • Do you put yourself first so you can take care of everyone else around you?
  • Have you stopped reading? Don’t bail on me now. I’m going somewhere with this

I’m thinking about this because I came across a couple of interesting things when I was researching an article.

First was a study that was trying to find out the predictors of successful, long-term weight loss. Now, in this study, they found that people who focused on internal motivators like self-efficacy, interest in what they were doing, and enjoyment of exercise had the most success at long-term weight management.

If you’re interested, this study was published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise and it’s called Exercise Motivation, Eating, and Body Image Variables as Predictors of Weight Control.  I know. Easy bedtime reading.

Now the second thing I came across was sort of on the same subject of motivation.

In this study, researchers collected data from a group of women who continued to exercise after completing a structured exercise program. They found that the most important aspect of adherence wasn’t the type of exercise they did or how much weight they lost.

It was self-worth.

As the study authors suggested, “Women must value themselves enough to continue to participate in physical activity once they start.”

That was a study about women, but this applies to everyone, of course.

As I was thinking about these studies, I asked some of my clients and friends this: What’s the number one thing you need in order to exercise?

Here are the answers I got: Money (to hire a personal trainer, personal assistant, etc.), motivation, time, and, from one person, “A crane to haul me out of bed in the morning.”

When I told them about these studies and the fact that the real motivators were one’s ability to succeed as well as one’s self-value, I got some rolled eyes and, I’m pretty sure one of them flipped me a secret bird by rubbing her eye with that finger.

Yeah, I caught that.

Let’s Dig In

I don’t want to get all psychological here, but…well, okay, I kind of do. I think we all have different things that motivate us – External things like

  • I want to look good
  • I want to fit into those jeans
  • I want this fugly cellulite to just go away

And those things can be really motivating.

But, they don’t have much staying power. Sure, the state of your cellulite may get you going today but, eventually, you’ll get busy with real-life issues.

Paying bills and figuring out your purpose in life and cleaning cat barf and, suddenly, the state of your cellulite is the least of your problems.

But internal motivators, now those have some stamina. Knowing that a workout is just going to make you feel good about yourself or that you’re going to get better at something or that you just want to do something healthy for yourself because you’re worth it…now, those are the long-term power sources you can draw on whenever your energy is waning.

That’s a lot to unpack, I know, but what you do with that information is actually very simple.

Here’s what I want you to do. I want you to take some time today, maybe like 10 or so minutes, and I want you to write down what you want for yourself. Think about how you feel, mentally and physically, and then think about how you want to feel. What’s missing and how do you get it?

How can you put yourself first? Because that’s really how you start to value yourself. You deserve a little time to figure out what you need, right?

Once you have a good list of what you need, pick just one thing and do it.

Today.

That’s how you really take care of yourself.

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3 Reasons to Exercise Besides Weight Loss

One thing we all love is this: Instant gratification. And there are so many ways to get instant gratification these days – Wine, Cheetos, going on Facebook to see that your high school bully gained weight…all of those things make us feel good.

A lot of the things we do for instant gratification aren’t that great for us (say, like wine and Cheetos), but we still do them and, really, it’s okay to do these things sometimes.

But there are other healthy ways to get an instant boost. Yes..I’m going to talk about exercise.

Sorry.

Exercise is something we don’t think of as giving us instant gratification, I know. If you do exercise, you probably do it because you know you’re supposed to or because you’re trying to lose weight. You’re not reallly thinking of it as something that can make you feel as good as, say, wine and Cheetos.

And, to be fair, it doesn’t give you that exact same feeling.

But…exercise can deliver instant gratification in a few ways. Just hear me out and you can prove it to yourself.

1. Mood

One of the single best benefits of exercise is an instant lift in your mood. In one study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies (yes, we have one of those), scientists found that just 10 minutes of exercise a week was enough to significantly improve your mood.

10 minutes a week, y’all.

Now, scientists don’t know exactly how all of it works, but we do know a few things that happen when you workout:

  1. Distraction – Whatever’s going on in your life, taking a break to workout instantly takes you out of your head and into your body. This is especially useful when you’re working on a particularly gnarly problem, worrying over something or you just need a break from real life for awhile. Being physical means your brain can rest for a bit and you’ll often even find you’ll find a solution to whatever’s bothering you.
  2. Self-efficacy – We all have those days when we feel like failures. Exercise is one thing that can take you out of that place, give you some confidence and help you feel better about yourself. If you can finish a workout, you can finish other things too.
  3. Social Interaction – Not all workouts will be social, but just the idea of getting out reminds you that there is a world out there with people and puppies and flowers and that makes us all feel a little less alone in the world. We get energy from other people and when you’re all doing the same thing, like walking outside or working out in the gym, it gives you that little boost of being a part of something larger than yourself.
  4. Hormones – Then there’s the biological side of exercise. When you workout your body releases feel-good hormones. Sometimes it takes a while before those kick in but, when they do, you know it. Your mind clears and suddenly life looks better than it did before.

2. Energy

Do you ever feel like you’re tired all the time? I think we’ve all been there…maybe we are there right now. Some of that has to do with getting older. It’s a sad fact that we just don’t have the same energy as we did when we were younger.

On top of that, we’re busier than ever and we have a lot of responsibilities.

Trying to cram the same amount of effort into an older body and a busy schedule makes you tired.

We can probably do something about how we schedule our lives, but one quick fix is exercise.

One study done by researchers at the University of Georgia found that sedentary adults who did just 20 minutes of low-intensity exercise (like taking a walk, say) 3 days a week reported feeling more energized after just a few weeks.

I know that when you’re tired, the last thing you feel like doing is exercise. You may have to trick yourself into it:

  1. Just put on your workout clothes. Sometimes that alone is enough to get you moving.
  2. Promise yourself you’ll only do the warm-up. If you don’t feel more energized, you can stop.
  3. Plan a reward for finishing your workout.

Sometimes you just have to negotiate with yourself a little to get over that initial I-don’t-feel-like-exercising hump.

3. Self-Esteem

Do you ever have days when you wake up and are already making a list of the ways you suck? Or maybe you’re already thinking of all the things you have to do and are worrying that you’ll fail.

One way to get your mind in a more positive place is to achieve something and a workout is one of your best options.

This works in a couple of ways. First, there’s the instant gratification of completing something you view as challenging.

Just changing into workout clothes can be a challenge, right? And once you do that, once you start the warm-up and once you finish the workout, you feel good about yourself. You did it! If you can do that, you can do more.

The second way it works is over the long term. There have been some studies about exercise and self-esteem and most of them conclude that people who start exercising and keep doing it consistently for at least 6 weeks have a higher self-esteem whether they lose weight or not.

Looking at all of this, let’s sum up: If you workout for 10-20 minutes just once a week, you’ll be in a better mood. If you do it at least 3 times a week, you’ll be in a better mood, have more energy and raise your self-esteem.

Can’t beat that with a stick.

Need a workout to try? I’ve got a great Low-Impact Cardio Workout just for you.

Source:

D. Scully, J. Kremer, M. M. Meade, et al. Physical exercise and psychological well being: a critical review. Br J Sports Med. 1998 Jun; 32(2): 111–120.

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How to Stop Kicking Yourself for Failing

What’s the most annoying thing people say when they talk about losing weight and getting healthy?

You Have to Change Your Lifestyle

I know – it’s an awful phrase and it’s been said so many times, it almost feels like it’s lost its meaning.

So, let’s break this whole thing down.

When you look at how we do things, there are generally two approaches to weight loss that many of us take.

One is the all-or-nothing route, like going on a trendy diet.

This is a popular route because when you go on a diet, you eat less food and you lose weight, right? The downside of this is that we simply can’t follow those kinds of diets forever.

There’s too much deprivation and most of these diets just don’t work in the real world. Another thing about dieting is this – When you go back to your normal eating habits, which is kind of inevitable, you usually gain back more weight than you lost.

Worst of all? When you diet, you lose muscle so when you gain back the weight you gain more fat.

Now, let’s talk about the other approach – the changing your lifestyle thing.

Changing how you live. That sounds hard, doesn’t it? And change means getting out of your comfort zone.

And really, the word ‘comfort’ says it all; There’s comfort in that familiar place, even if we’re miserable there. We know that misery, its edges, its seams and its weak places. When we step out of it, we’re suddenly in the unknown with none of the paths we once followed to guide us.

The unknown and our fear of it will often push us to fail and this is particularly true if you’re trying to change how you live.

To do that, you have to change years of habits – How you eat, what you eat, how you spend your time – Exercising, for example, instead of watching TV. That’s a big deal and it’s not easy.

Anytime you try to make these changes, you will fail. We all will!

You’ll start exercising and then you’ll get sick or get an injury. You’ll eat healthy and then you’ll have that pizza or that extra piece of pie. You’ll be on the right track and then something will happen – Something always happens.

And many of us, when we’re trying something new, will revert back to old familiar behaviors when things get scary.

It’s normal for us to go backward sometimes, yet we start to think that, not only did we fail, but we are failures. And if we’re failures, then what’s the point?

But, what if that isn’t true?

What if you could change that around into something that makes more sense?

What Failure Really Is

  • Getting to know yourself: If you’re new to exercise, how can you possibly know what you’re capable of? We often set impossible goals, forgetting that we’re not sure what we can handle yet. This is a time to start simple with something you know you can do, whether that’s taking a walk every day or trying a simple weight training workout.
  • A learning experience: If you can only workout for 10 minutes, maybe that isn’t a failure, but actual feedback. You now have more information about what your body can do and you can expand on that every workout.
  • Experimentation: When you were a kid, you didn’t expect yourself to be perfect at everything you try. As an adult, you probably do, especially if you’ve tried this exercise thing before. The truth is, we can’t know what we can do, what we like, what works if we don’t try it first. There’s a good chance that whatever you try may not work…at least not at first. Giving yourself the freedom to experiment may be what you need to succeed.

What do you think? Do you ever feel like a failure? Is that feeling justified or are you being too hard on yourself? What would you accomplish if you looked at those failures in a different light?

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Tips to Keep You Exercising

Whether you’re just starting exercise or you’ve been at it for awhile, there will come a time when you want to give up.

It’s at this moment, when you doubt yourself, when you stare at the scale and wonder why it doesn’t move faster, that you need to dig deep to keep going.

One way to do that is with a motivational pep talk. Sure, pep talks are a little cheesy, but what you say to yourself in these moments is critical to keep you going.

Telling Your Inner Critic to Shut It

We all have that inner voice who just loves to tell us all the things we’re doing wrong.

I don’t really know where this voice comes from but mine reminds me of a mean lunch lady from the 3rd grade.

I still remember you Mrs. Hatchet – And I’m not kidding. That was her name.

The point is, that voice may be telling you bad things about your workouts, but there are ways you can shut it down so you won’t give up on your fitness and weight loss goals.

1. This Will Get Easier –The first time my client *Jenny did a pushup, she did one, collapsed to the floor and gasped, ” Worst. Exercise. Ever.” I’m pretty sure she said that the second time and the third, but what she forgot was one important fact: This will get easier.

It doesn’t feel that way in the beginning, but every time you do those killer exercises like pushups, lunges and squats, you’re building stronger muscles.

This happens secretly and in a way the scale won’t recognize, but know that deep in your body, your muscles are growing. Deep in your cells, your mitochondria are increasing. Your heart is pumping more blood to your muscles and your body is becoming more efficient at burning fat.

The moment you really feel your own strength is the moment you commit to exercise for the long run. To get there, however, you have to keep doing it.

Action Plan

  • Track Your Workouts – Keep a workout log and track your exercises, reps, sets and weights so you can actually see your progress from week to week.
  • Take your time – It only gets easier if you gradually build strength and endurance. Start with what you can handle – say, 20 minutes of cardio and a basic total body workout. Each week, add a few minutes of cardio and more reps, weight or sets to your strength workout.
  • Enjoy the process – We get so impatient to see results, we want to skip the boring part at the beginning. Doing that is like trying to learn a foreign language without learning the alphabet. The first few weeks of exercise is like your alphabet – Essential for building a strong foundation to prepare you for more intense and frequent exercise. You need this to avoid injury and burnout. Find a way to enjoy each workout for what it is.

2. I Don’t Have to Be Miserable – I’ve heard some people compare their workouts to a jail sentence, which makes me think they’re either melodramatic or they’re doing some seriously boring workouts. Too often, we lock ourselves into a workout routine, regardless of whether we’re actually enjoying it. Remember, you don’t have to do things you hate and exercise shouldn’t be miserable.

If you ever find yourself staring at the clock, the seconds ticking by at glacial speed, remind yourself: “I don’t have to be miserable.” You’re in charge and you’re also free to change what you’re doing at any time.

Action Plan

  • Change your routine – Try changing your strength workouts if they’re getting boring or try a new cardio workoutCircuit training is a great way to add more fun to your workouts and keep you from staring at the clock.
  • Plan something new – A new exercise videoexergame, group fitness class or even a new workout playlist can rejuvenate your workouts.
  • Find support – We often feel that there’s something wrong with us if we don’t fall in love with exercise. Talking to other people, whether it’s in an online forum or with people you know will give you some perspective and help you realize we all struggle with exercise.

3. I’ll Feel Better Once I Get Started – The hardest part of working out is usually getting started. Sometimes the idea of going from sitting or sleeping to jumping up and down and sweating is so overwhelming, we can’t imagine bridging that gap.

This is the time to remind yourself that you’ll feel better once you start moving. There may be some discomfort at first as you get your heart rate up but, that initial discomfort fades as your body warms, your temperature rises and blood flows into your muscles.

When the endorphins kick in, you’ll feel even better and, at the end of the workout, you’ll get more satisfaction because you worked out even though it was hard.

Action Plan

  • Warm up – A good solid warm up is crucial for getting both your body and mind ready for exercise. Start with dynamic exercises that mimic the workout you’ll be doing and allow your heart rate to increase gradually – Walking before running or 5-10 minutes of cardio before lifting weights. Allow time for an extra long warm up on those days it’s hard to get moving.
  • Prepare – It’s already hard to get started with a workout, but it’s even worse if you have to scramble for basic things like your shoes, workouts clothes or pre-workout snacks. Get into the habit of preparing everything the night before so you have fewer excuses to skip your workout.
  • Draw on your inner strength – You have a variety of tools to help you get moving– Discipline, your commitment to your health and future and even competitiveness – you don’t want all those people at the gym right now beating you, right? Try a workout mantra you can turn to when things get tough.

4. I Only Have to Do This Today – If you think of exercise as something you have to do for the rest of your life, you’ve set an impossible goal. If it’s hard to do one workout, how on earth will you find the strength and will to do it every day?

This is the time to remind yourself that you don’t have to. You only have to find enough motivation for today’s workout. When tomorrow comes, you’ll find motivation for that one too.

Action Plan

  • Focus on what you’re doing – During each workout, pay attention to what you’re doing. Concentrate on your form and the muscles you’re working during strength exercises. Monitor your intensity during cardio to track what your heart rate is doing. Get to know your body during this workout and forget about the rest.
  • Reward yourself – Plan rewards for all your successes. Plan time for your favorite activity (reading, listening to music, etc.) each time you finish a workout. After a week of workouts, plan a night out or some new workout music. After a month of workouts, schedule a massage or a weekend trip. Having something to look forward to will make your workouts easier
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Exercise Lesson of the Week – Do What You Like

I once had this client who really loved all of the exercises I gave her.

When we went through various exercises she would say things like, “Wow, I really feel that! That’s a good one!” Or, “Yeah, I can see how this exercise would really help me!”

Which is great, right? I mean, who loves squats and triceps extensions?

Turns out? Not her.

One day we were going over her week and, as always, she said she did the workouts. But, as we went through each exercise, me asking if she did this one and that one, she surprised me.

For at least half of them, the ‘good’ exercises she raved about during our workouts, she said, “Oh, no…I didn’t do that one. I didn’t do that one either.”

“But you said those were good exercises, right?”

“Oh, yes!”

“Well, then why didn’t you do them?”

“Well, that one hurt my elbow and this one hurt my knee, and…”

She went on and I kind of felt like banging my head on her treadmill at that point.

But what I realized was that, in her mind, anything that hurt or was uncomfortable was ‘good’ and therefore, she should do it.

The problem? The discomfort ensured that she wouldn’t actually do it,

Think about it…we probably all have this notion that…

Exercise has to hurt in order to be effective.

Well, it doesn’t. And it shouldn’t and if it does? You’re doing it wrong.

I’m not saying there isn’t some amount of discomfort in exercise – The whole idea is to get out of your comfort zone. And yes, if you want to change your body, you have to work at it.

But change isn’t going to happen if you’re not exercising at all and if you’re trying to do ‘good’ workouts that hurt, that’s what’s going to happen.

At this point, this client and I went through all the exercises to find the ones she actually did. Many of these were stretches or other simple moves, to which she said, “But those aren’t good enough. I mean, I’m not going to lose weight just doing those.”

“But you’re not doing the other ones anyway,” I reminded her.

What she needed to learn was that it was okay to start with a workout full of exercises that felt good to her.

Once she gave herself permission to do the moves she liked, she started doing them much more frequently and, more important, she was actually enjoying it. Okay – ‘enjoy’ is a strong term, but she didn’t hate them.

Is she going to lose weight as quickly by just doing stretches? Probably not. Would I like to see her do more, work harder? Of course.

But what’s more important than any of that is the fact that she is now exercising every day and she’s she likes how her body feels afterward. And? She eventually started asking for new and more challenging exercises.

That’s how it starts…with something that makes you feel good, regardless of whether that something fits into the rules of exercise.

Tips for Finding Something You May Actually Like

  • Give yourself permission to experiment – If there are things you’ve done in the past that you hated, give yourself the freedom to try something new. It could be yoga, stretching, belly-dancing…just think of what you typically like and then try something. There are videos that have just about any workout you could even think of trying.
  • Give it time – The first time you do anything is going to feel somewhat uncomfortable, especially if it’s been awhile. Don’t give up just yet…the more you do something, the easier it gets and the more you might like it.
  • Forget the rules – There are plenty of rules about exercise – the Exercise Guidelines say so, but if you’re not following those guidelines, what’s the point of trying to adhere to them? Do your own thing. That’s how you figure out your own body.
  • Forget weight loss – There’s nothing wrong with wanting to lose weight, but that only happens once you’ve established a regular routine and, of course, are careful with your diet. When you’re just starting out, or getting back to exercise, put weight loss aside and just focus on showing up for your workouts.

Taking the pressure off to do a certain exercise or workout can free you up for things you might actually enjoy. And? Once you get started, get comfortable, you’ll almost always progress to new and different types of workouts.

 

 

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3 Ways to Find the Value in Exercise

When you look at pretty people at the gym, it’s easy to think they just wake up all motivated to workout.

The truth is, no one really wakes up motivated to get out of bed and exercise. Well, there are probably some people who are, but we don’t like them.

The thing about working out is this:

You have to have a good reason to do it

Think about it. If someone called you right now and said, “I’ll give you a free massage, but you have to come right now!” You would be like, “Sorry I can’t take you to surgery, mom. Something came up.”

But if someone called you and said, “I’ll give you a free personal training session, but you have to come right now!” You would be like, “I’m sorry. My mother always told me never to do personal training on Mondays. Also, never go to a rodeo on June 17th.”

Think of the things you make time for. Anything you do has value.

On the pleasure side of life, you make time for Netflix because – Why do they have so many awesome shows!? Eleven…I love you!

On the more dutiful side of life, you make time for the dentist because you don’t want your teeth to fall out.

You don’t go to the dentist because you like it, unless you’re one of those people who actually do like it, in which case you should go join the people who love to wake up and workout.

All that to say:

What is The Value of Working Out?

You know all the usual stuff – Burning calories, reduced risk of heart disease, more energy, blah blah blah.

But what about what’s valuable to YOU. If you feel pretty healthy, preventing some future medical condition may not be enough to get you moving every day. Plus, how do you measure how much cancer you didn’t get because you exercised?

So, how do you find the value in exercise? I’m glad you asked because I have some tips for finding your own motivation to exercise.

  1. It Can’t Just Be About Weight Loss

One main reason we exercise is to lose weight, but here’s a fact no one really likes to hear: Exercise is NOT great at helping the human body lose weight. It’s just not, at least not by itself. Briefly, here’s why:

  • Exercise doesn’t burn as many calories as you think it does – When I workout for an hour on the treadmill, I kind of feel like I killed it. But, depending on the intensity of my workout, I might look at my fitness tracker and see that I burned 320 calories. That’s a good thing but…If I went out right now and had a Vanilla Frappuccino from Starbucks, I would cancel out that workout…and? I would add another 100 calories. Not fair, but true.
  • We overestimate how many calories we burn – There are 2 parts to this point and I’ll go into this in a full-blown article. But briefly:
    • 1. We don’t have a good, solid way to measure how many calories we burn unless we’re in a laboratory setting where they put wires and stuff on you. Also, the calorie counts they give you on cardio machines are a big fat lie. I’d love to think I burned 650 doing 45 minutes on an elliptical trainer. I would also love to wake up and be Oprah. Not going to happen.
    • 2. We don’t count calories correctly – If your tracker says you burned 300 calories, you’re forgetting something: The calories you would have burned if you hadn’t worked out. I know, again…not fair. BUT if you really want to get more accurate, you have to subtract those calories. So if you’d slept for those 30 minutes, you would need to subtract about 40 calories for a 150-lb person. That could be significant.
  • We often don’t work hard enough to reap the benefits of the workout as well as the afterburn. This comes from high intensity interval training, which from its name suggests that a) It’s really hard and b) It’s not something you want to do more than 2 or so times a week.

There are more, but let’s move on to the next tip.

2. It Has to Be Something You Like (or at least don’t hate)

You know what the exercise guidelines say – Cardio 5 or more days a week, strength training 2-3 days a week and flexibility training.

But what if you hate cardio? Or what if there’s something on your body that hurts when you try to lift weights?

First, you email me and I can get you set up with some workouts you can actually do.

But, second, you find something that fits YOU.

Here’s an example: I had a conversation with a client who was frustrated because she’d been trying to workout on her treadmill.

Instead of actually working out, she…well…didn’t.

This is kind of how that conversation went:

Me: “So, what about the workout do you dislike?”
Her: “All of it.”
Me: “Okaaaay….let’s start with the basics. What are you actually doing?”
Her: “Well, it’s one of the workouts I found on your site – like you increase the speed or incline for a minute and then you rest…like that.”
Me: “So is the workout uncomfortable for you?”
Her: “Yes.”
Me: “So is it the incline or the speed that bothers you the most?”
Her: “No, what bothers me the most is the treadmill. I hate it.”

Ahhhhh. Now we’re getting somewhere.

When I informed her that there was no constitutional law requiring her to use a treadmill, she was like, “But, it said in your article that interval training is really good for you and the treadmill is easy to adjust and stuff. And I have one at home and everything.”

My response: “Okay, those are all good things, but maybe we need to step back a bit and forget about the treadmill for a minute. What is it you actually like to do for exercise?”

Her answer? Yoga. “But yoga won’t help me lose weight.”

My response: “How much weight will you lose if you never actually workout?”

Her response: “Um…oh. Well. Yeah. I get that.”

The point is, if you like yoga, start there. If you like taking walks, do that every day.  Is it an hour of intense, lung-burning cardio? No. Will it change the world? Maybe not mine, but it might change yours.

Spend time doing what you enjoy and, eventually you’ll probably want to expand your horizons and try new things. You’re not going to get anywhere if your workouts are miserable.

3. It Has to Fit and It Has to Make Sense

The way most people approach exercise is to try to fit their lives around it. Like, someone told you (maybe me, probably everyone who ever talks about exercise) you have to workout for at least an hour every day.

So you plan on doing that every day, but then you don’t do it. Why?

It could be because you’re doing something you hate (see above). It could also be that it doesn’t fit with your current lifestyle and situation.

If you don’t have an hour, forget trying to workout for an hour. If you hate the gym and it’s nowhere near where you live, you don’t have to go there.

Think about what actually fits with your life. Sit down with your schedule, your to do list, your calendar and ask yourself –

  1. Where can I fit in some exercise?
  2. How can I do my workouts in such a way that my entire life isn’t disrupted?
  3. What would actually make me feel good to accomplish every day?

For example, would a 10-minute workout make you feel good? What about a daily walk after lunch?

What makes sense to YOU. That’s much more important to figure out than to keep scheduling things that don’t work.

With all that in mind, how can you find the value in exercise? How can you make it worth doing? Once you figure that out, the rest gets a little easier.

Need some guidance on getting started or finding the perfect workout for you? That’s what I do for a living. Email me.

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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?

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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.

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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!

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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:

Stop.

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.
  • PumpOne.com 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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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 Verywell.com 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.

Sources:

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

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Reader Question: How do I get my head motivated?!!?

Dear Paige –   I’ve been reading your articles for years and using your workouts and advice….here’s my question….I pretty much know HOW to exercise….BUT how do you get your head motivated??!  I’ve worked out all my life in some form or fashion, even taught aerobics back in the day, but in the last 3 years, I can’t get it in gear.  I read articles, buy tapes/DVD, have the clothes, think I’m going to do it and I don’t.  My health is beginning to suffer. How do I get over this hurdle and make fitness a part of my life? how do I figure out what I’m afraid of?  I’m open to any and all suggestions, please??  Help, please!


I know EXACTLY what you’re talking about and you might be surprised to know you aren’t alone.

It sounds like you’ve got a little insight into your situation…you’re afraid of something.

I know that, when I avoid something, it’s usually because I’m afraid of failing at it.  Let me give you my take, just with the little info you’ve given me.  You used to workout regularly and, life changed and threw you off your workouts and you’ve been struggling ever since.  Did you ever figure out why you stopped exercise?  Was it just there a lot of stress?  What’s happened in your life that exercise dropped off your priority list?  Maybe you could go back to that and just think about what happened there. Our lives don’t stand still, they just don’t.

Next, I would think about what’s stopping you from exercise NOW.  What are you afraid of?  Are you afraid you’ll fail?  Afraid to face a different body, a different fitness level than what you had before?  There’s a fear in there and I think if you can name it, you can probably overcome it.  Your body is different and you won’t be able to do what you did before – And that’s okay. You just have to work up to it and give yourself permission to be where you are.

Here’s an idea…why not give yourself permission to just TRY something…anything!  Forget complicated workouts or DVDs – maybe those workouts are just too intimidating for you right now.  Maybe you need to start with something simple – something you KNOW you can do.   I’m talking the simplest thing – like one of my really quick core workouts.  What if you said, “This is my workout today and I’m going to do it.”  You don’t even have to change clothes for it!  Once you do it, you can say, “I did it!  I started working out again.”

Really, I think if you can just start somewhere, you’ll find some momentum and that’s a big part of exercise.  You’ve gotten into the habit of not exercising – now you have to get back to it.

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fear of failure article image paige worn out

Feel Like an Exercise Failure? Here’s How to Turn it Around

You know you’re supposed to exercise. How do you know? Because you’re constantly reminded. You probably couldn’t throw a rock in any direction without hitting something or someone nagging you about working out. Just think of the magazines alone - every single store you go into has them.

You know what I’m talking about - The magazine with the zero body fat model in a bathing suit with a headline that screams “FLAT ABS IN 3 EASY MOVES.”

Yeah, now pull the other leg.

Read more

V-Sit

It’s annoying, but Nike is right – Just do it

How much time do you spend arguing with yourself about whether to exercise?  I ask this because a client came one morning and said, “You know, I wouldn’t get up and workout if I didn’t have to come here for an appointment.  I would just lie in bed and argue with myself…or I argue with my warm, comfy bed and guess who wins?”

Bed vs. early morning workout…hmmm.

Most of us are so overwhelmed with too many tasks that, when faced with a scheduling decision and all that entails – “I could get up and workout but then I would have to get up an hour early and are my workout clothes clean?  Where are my shoes?  What workout will I do and how much time will I need to get ready for work?  And…this is too hard.  Never mind.” – we often just give up and promise ourselves we’ll do it later.

When does later actually happen?  For me?  It’s usually never once I’ve gotten that far in the argument.

What’s interesting about exercise is that you can do it anytime, anywhere without special equipment or a lot of time or a ton of sweat or even a lot of pain.  For example, if you were to stand up and sit down 15 times, that would be an ‘exercise.’  If you were to get up and walk across the room and then march up and down a staircase for 5 minutes, that, too, is ‘exercise.’  We convince ourselves we need an hour, we need sweat, we need pain and, yes, you do need to work hard if you want to change your body. But, sometimes?  It’s just about doing something.

So, if you’ve been putting it off, now’s the time to just do it.  Try one or more of these seated yoga exercises or pick 2-4 moves from this list of body weight exercises and do 15 reps of each of them. Or, just take a walk. Sometimes it really is that simple.

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Yes, you should listen to your body…except when it’s a big fat liar

I can’t count how many times I’ve said or heard the phrase, “You should really listen to your body.”  When I say it, I’m usually talking to a personal training client in an attempt to help them avoid an injury.  As in, “If any kind of sharp, terrible pain rips through any part of your body at any time during your workout, that’s a very good sign you should stop what you’re doing.”

Here’s the thing about exercise, though.  It offers a wide variety of comforts and discomforts, ranging from that gleeful and rare runner’s high to the awful pain of pulled muscles, ripped tendons or broken bones.  There are so many shades of gray when it comes to the human body during exercise, that it’s sometimes hard to translate the signals our bodies send us.

Let’s look at exercise in general.  If you’re an experienced exerciser, you know what it feels like when you, say, start a cardio workout.  You know that your heart rate will increase, you’ll get a little breathless and you’ll start sweating.  You may even feel some burning in your legs as your body warms up, but you’re cool with that.  It’s something you’ve experienced before.  But what if it’s been months, years or forever since you’ve gotten your heart rate even close to where it should be when you exercise?  All of those feelings – The increased heart rate, the breathlessness, the burning in your legs and lungs may be accompanied by giant red flags shouting ABORT ABORT ABORT…and call 911!  I think you’re having a heart attack!

There’s a period of time when you first start exercising when everything sort of feels like pain and you may think it’s bad pain because, well, pain is bad, right?  But it may not be the ‘bad’ pain – The sharp, terrible ripping, tearing or breaking that indicates something has come loose in your body and it needs to be put back immediately.  No, this is what we call ‘good’ pain – The normal discomfort you go through when you move your body in a new way.  So, how do you know the difference?

The truth is, if exercise is new to your body, you may not know up from down for a week or two as your body adapts to what you’re doing.  Obviously, if you feel any of the sharp, terrible pain I’ve mentioned, then you know things are bad.  If there’s blood or fluid gushing out of your body, that’s also bad.  If you have an intermittent pain in one of your joints that’s more of a nagging, tugging sort of pain, that’s a little different.  It may just go away as your body gets used to the activity you’re doing and, if it doesn’t, that’s a sign you should probably stop that activity and try something else, eventually making a trip to the doctor’s office if it doesn’t get better.

What about you?  Have you ever misinterpreted your body’s signals and kept going when you should’ve stopped – or stopped when you should’ve kept going?  How easy, or hard, is it to really ‘listen’ to your body?  Leave a comment and share your thoughts.

 

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