The year Hopeful Innocence was ceremoniously drowned in the blood-dimmed tide of Change. When Facebook supplanted the mainstream media as the source for “news,” from politics to pedophile pizza parlors to what really happened to Kimye in Paris. And so it goes.
I’ll remember 2016 for a different reason: the year I had my ass handed to me.
More like stapled to a chair. Over the past 365 days I’ve helped a lot of normal people lose fat and build muscle in the real world. Thousands of emails, hundreds of Skype calls, and a shit-ton of training programs — including the crowning achievement of my social decline, 37 programs written on New Year’s Eve/New Year’s Day. Lock up your daughters.
But it’s also been incredibly enlightening. Because when you listen to (not talk to) enough people and help them set up and execute their fat loss plans, some notable trends emerge. Specifically, tactics that work, traps to watch out for, and a few choice character traits that almost ensure a smooth cruise to the finish line.
Or never getting out of the starting blocks.
1. Pursue Perfect Simplicity.
There are a LOT of things you can do that might help you lose fat. But only a blessed few are absolute “must do’s”. The problem is, people overlook those essentials because, well, they’re boring – at least compared to all the cool sounding hacks and “one-weird-tricks” competing for our limited attention.
Making matters worse is much of this bright and shiny bullshit gets presented as “for advanced people only.” Even more reason to rush the important stuff to get to what’s waiting behind the curtain.
Here’s the truth: the basic fundamentals (food choices, proper portions) are so much more important than any of the esoteric minutiae (nutrient timing, transient hormone fluctuations) that even 5 extra minutes spent on the former is worth 5 hours of fussing over the latter.
Those who succeed tend to “geek out” on getting better at the basics (meal prep, getting enough sleep, following a structured lifestyle) rather than constantly trying to add more complexity.
In that way they’re like a true Japanese sushi master versus some dude slapping together sloppy rolls at a suburban strip mall. One spent years just learning how to handle fish and make perfect rice; the other was cranking out 18 different versions of a California roll within a week. Who do you think would offer the more memorable meal?
Become brilliant at the basics.
2. Be a Groundhog.
The more you can make every day like its predecessor (at least in terms of eating and exercising), the more successful you’ll be. Variety may be the spice of life and certainly pays dividends in other areas (insert inappropriate bedroom joke here). But trying to include 15 different vegetables a day, while a cool goal, is just another stressor — especially at first, when you’re trying to find your sea legs.
Instead, make the challenge in the initial weeks seeing how consistent & efficient you can be. How fast & flawless you can perfectly cook and prepare your daily meals? There will be plenty of opportunities to pretend you’re a finalist on Chopped, once this basic skill is old hat.
3. Get to Know Hunger.
Hunger is a source of major confusion, not to mention anxiety. Today people are conditioned to be freaked out by hunger, so much that even a slight belly grumble has them scrambling for shitty snack foods. All to prevent a perilous freefall into (gasp) Starvation Mode, that mythical place where fat burning suddenly stops and metabolism crashes because you… haven’t eaten in six hours. (Huh?)
But minor, noticeable hunger between meals – not ravenous “I’ve been on a juice cleanse for 6 days and the neighbor’s Jack Russell is looking pretty savory” hunger — but what coach Scott Abel calls “tolerable hunger” is a good thing.
In fact, during a fat loss phase, it can be a reliable sign that your diet is “working,” as in burning fat. Though perhaps the reverse is more accurate — a LACK of hunger on a diet is a sign you’re probably still eating too damn much.
So don’t declare hunger your mortal enemy and chase it away like Frankenstein’s monster with buckets of coffee and fiber gut bombs. Instead watch for it, almost seek it out, and learn to tolerate this basic physiological cue.
You won’t starve to death.
4. Get Some Support.
Changing your body can be a very lonely process. It amazes me how so many people have next to no support for their goals, even at home.
There’s a depressing pattern that I see play out, day after day: people feel pressure to look a certain way from their friends or co-workers, even their spouse. Yet this “network” typically offers the worst advice along with next to no support, or worse, tries to sabotage their efforts. Thanks for coming out.
I probably spend a third of my time talking to clients (both 1:1 and group coaching) and it’s not just because I don’t have a social life. When people get to be heard and have whatever’s troubling them addressed (and above all, taken seriously) they feel less stressed. And people who are less stressed make better food choices, train harder, sleep better, recover better, digest food better, and all in all are happier people. So don’t knock it.
5. Beware the Pendulum.
Fat loss is hard. But eventually, once you get in rhythm, it becomes less difficult and more just monotonous. As the results finally start to appear, however, and people start commenting, it can be tempting to push the envelope or “see how far you can take it.” But you have to beware of the pendulum.
When you swing a pendulum in one direction, it always swings back an equal amount in the opposite direction. Your body responds the same way to a diet. So a gradual fat loss plan that starts off slow and works by slowly improving how you currently eat is a minor swing — when it ends, there likely won’t be very much back-swing at all.
But a diet that completely cuts out too many things for too long, goes too low in calories, or simply lasts too damn long is a much greater swing, with much more potential for compensatory negative behavior. Things like carb refeeds can help, but often the best advice is just to take a break. Before the diet breaks you.
6. Have More Humility.
You can eat anything you want and still lose fat, even the really good stuff that’s straight up comfort food. You just can’t eat as much as you want. So often the best course of action is just to avoid it entirely, or at the very least don’t bring it home. Adios peanut butter. It was real.
Some might say restricting certain foods like this is “weak” – I say it’s pragmatic. Food is very powerful, and we all have trigger foods. And for those under a lot of stress or dealing with feelings of isolation, these triggers foods can be tough to resist.
Yet everyone tries to fight these cravings, like there’s points for testing their mettle and someone is keeping score. I give that whole line of reasoning a big, fat “meh.” It’s easier just to admit that some shit is stronger than you and move on. So if I’m dieting, you won’t find peanut butter in the house.
There. Done. That wasn’t so bad.
7. Create a Victory String.
I stole this from some Jerry Seinfeld, who as a young comedian did something similar to get used to writing jokes every day.
Get a dry erase calendar. At the end of each day, if you workout, put a diagonal line through that day. And if you stick to your diet, put another diagonal line through it, making an X. The idea is by the end of the week you should have a string of X’s. If you have just lots of random diagonal lines then you have work to do.
For that “nobody” named Seinfeld, the biggest reward was getting to the end of the month and seeing nothing but a string of X’s, as it meant he was constantly improving, getting closer to his goal. And Jerry turned out okay.
8. Don’t be a Tweaker.
Wanna piss me off? Ask me to tweak your plan after only a week. Wanna really steam my clams? Don’t follow the plan and then ask for a new plan, saying the original plan didn’t work.
Look, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be on the best possible course of action. But there’s no way to determine what that even is until you do something (anything) consistently, for at least a few weeks, and then evaluate.
You will make MUCH more progress doing something “pretty close” every day for 6 weeks than jumping from one “perfect” plan to the next every week.
New clients often ask, “How long will it take for me to reach my goal?” While my typical answer is usually “three to five months” (or some version of the dreaded “it depends”) the fact is I would love to say “never.” Because that’s the only way to really win at this game: by making it a part of your lifestyle, not something you just start and stop.
In other words, stop seeing it as a destination and start seeing it more as a way of travelling, one with a series of simple yet extremely important pit stops that you hit up every day.
It sounds cheesy but it works, and if everyone did that then the industry would be much further ahead.
And who knows, I might even get to leave the house next New Year’s Eve.