When the lighting is right
some of the veins poking through on my legs look like a pale blue spider web.
If this is the most useless thing you’ve read all week then welcome to the headspace of the dieting physique athlete.
I’m not alone. Anyone who does this, or tries to, eventually goes a little crazy. Cause dieting and training to lose fat is difficult. Simple, yes, but not easy.
It’s the food restriction. It requires a degree of discipline that only gets tougher to maintain as your body starts to rebel and sheer monotony takes its toll.
Your body wants you to abandon your goal. Do something else, anything, as long as it doesn’t involve feeling hungry.
So you create your own headspace. Your own personal world where intense focus can obliterate primal urges like hunger. And like most personal worlds, it’s a little crazy and a tad narcissistic, hence the vascular observation above.
The way to make the process a little less insane is to learn to feed yourself in a different way.
Not feed your body, obviously, but your mind — and not with even more fitness trivia, but with stuff that actually works and makes the whole process a lot easier.
Here’s what to do.
1. Get a Coach. Your body plays games. It should be your wingman, your closest confidante, the rock solid Goose to your reckless, mercurial Maverick. Yet at times it can be like Arnold in Pumping Iron, giving you the wrong “advices” when what you need is reinforcement to just follow the plan and let the diet work.
You have a great week of dieting. People compliment you at random; an old pair of pants from the back of your closet falls off your hips like you were a 16 year-old shopping mall gang banger. You’re dialing in, you think.
Then you step on the scale. You’ve gained two pounds.
This scale is shit you say. What do you expect from a Walmart special?
Or you’re gaining muscle? That’s right, you packed on two pounds of lean, contractile tissue in a week, on sub-2000 calories a day without steroids. Right. Sounds like an eBook I’d buy.
Nah, screw the scale. You grab your tape measure. But your waist hasn’t changed. Heck, it might’ve gone up. You measure again. We’re you sucking in harder last week? Maybe it’s your gut, namely, your bowel? Have you “evacuated” it before measuring it? What about last week? Should you start an Excel file detailing the time, volume, frequency, (and intensity) of your bowel movements?
This is when coaching comes in.
A set of photos, an experienced eye, and a smart mouth can tell you exactly what you need to hear.
“You’re getting leaner. Your lower back is tightening up and hamstrings are coming in. Your shoulders are getting striated. Shut up and follow the plan. Tnd throw away your scale. You know better. And while you’re at, stop reading fitness blogs. Read a book.”
Get a coach. Contact me for details.
2. Get Busy. If dieting is a “war” then boredom is a torpedo. While it may seem counterintuitive, people who complain about not having enough hours in the day to cook, eat, lift, and do cardio are often the most successful, once they put together a schedule.
These people know to just get shit done and ask questions later. They don’t have time to spend hours “researching” if they should be eating carbs pre-workout or post workout. They just execute – ready, fire, aim – in that order.
3. Stay off the Internet. Why are you reading a dozen fitness blogs? For “knowledge?” If you know how to follow a diet and make your way to a gym then you know enough to reach your goal. Period. Everything else is bar trivia. Minutiae.
Please don’t say you do it for inspiration. You are inspired — otherwise you wouldn’t be doing this. You’d be eating BBQ and having a few cold ones after work, not eating lettuce wraps and squatting PR’s.
The fitness industry’s shady corner of the internet is a black hole of salesmen aggressively marketing supplements and services you don’t need by playing on your basic insecurities. Or people just marketing themselves, in lieu of having actual talent. They just call it “fitspo.”
You’re smarter than that. You deserve better than that.
4. Have an Artistic Side. There are few things more satisfying than eating the foods we love in the amounts we enjoy. Thank thousands of years of evolution. It’s up there with other primal needs like sex, sleep, and Game of Thrones.
Art, or the desire to create something beautiful, is the forgotten urge. You have it too. Make it work for you. Hungry? If you like to draw, spend and hour with a pencil and a pad of paper. I like to write (at least when I don’t have a deadline). Others make music.
It’s not about “distraction” – it’s about taking oft-neglected parts of the brain out of storage and putting them to work. Once you do you’ll feel more aware, more alive. You’ll realize that your “hunger” and “intense cravings” was really your mind reminding you of all its cool toys that you could be playing with.
5. Turn Your Cardio into Survival.
Last year I got back into martial arts during my “off-season.” I liked how kicking and punching made my joints feel more mobile, especially my hips, despite squatting heavy multiple times per week. And after a one-hour class I was pile of sweat.
However, it’s extremely demanding, so my plan was to get as much out of it as I could before dropping down to 2-3 classes a week when I diet. “Can’t risk overtraining on limited calories,” I thought. Just do more traditional cardio instead.
The first week of my diet I hit the treadmill for a leisurely 30 minute “session.” I lasted 20 minutes and two cycles of Sportscenter before hopping off. I went back to daily fight training.
The beauty of any combat art (or self-defence, which is what lefties call it) is engagement. You have to be “on” or you won’t pick up what the instructor is telling you. And God help you if you let your mind wander while sparring — hope you have a decent dental plan.
This cranks up your heart rate and takes you to a “place” mentally that few people get to visit in today’s civilized world. I’m convinced that this combination of fear and adrenaline cranks up the metabolism more than pushing a Prowler or battling ropes (aka two-handed masturbation).
Better still, you’ll learn something useful. What life saving lessons does a spin class offer?
6. Keep a Food FOMO Log.
FOMO stands for Fear Of Missing Out. Many fall off the wagon out of some fear that whatever food they’re craving won’t be around in 3 days or 3 weeks or even 3 months.
But unless you’re on vacation to a foreign place and won’t be returning anytime soon (you’re not really dieting while on vacation are you?), the food will still be waiting for you when you’re ready to eat it.
Enter the FOMO log.
A temptation arises but instead of indulging and feeling guilty later — or telling yourself you can’t eat it and feeling deprived — you write it down in your log for later (if you still want it).
This is an absolute lifesaver in NYC. Trust me.
7. Remind Yourself How Fucking Awesome This Is.
You get to fuss over your body. It’s a privilege few can enjoy. Your grandpa couldn’t do it; he was storming a beach in Europe. And today, right now, there are literally millions of people who don’t know what their next meal is going to be or where it will be from.
You get to stress about eating too much. A few generations ago that would be labelled crazy talk.
So when you get “hungry” or “carb cravings,” remember how many people are literally starving – not hungry, starving.
Us? We have to eat less cake. We don’t even have to give up cake entirely. Just eat less of it. Seriously, we have it easy.
A buddy of mine once said he wished he had a peanut allergy so if he got the urge to eat a jar of crunchy Jif at midnight he’d go into shock and die. Only a 21st century physique athlete from North America would ever say something so stupid.
He’s still my boy though.
8. Understand the Cost. Right now I spend three hours a day devoted to my body — two hours of exercise plus about an hour commuting, cooking, cleaning, shopping, etc.) I love it but that’s time that could be spent reading, writing, learning a language, taking a cooking class, volunteering at a pet shelter, or just talking with my wife. It’s incredibly selfish.
And there’s a cost.
After you’re finished checking out your abs in the mirror for the tenth time today, remind yourself of what you’re giving up to do what you do. There’s a debt growing and you owe it to yourself to repay it, which leads to the final point.
9. Make a Deal. The closer you get to whatever physique goal you have, the more myopic you’ll become. You won’t be able to help it. Food, exercise, meal prep, and minutiae will dominate your thoughts and raid your subconscious.
This will affect your relationships.
Ask any spouse of a physique competitor what the prep is like for them, what they miss about the offseason. They’ll say they miss the spontaneity, the restaurant meals, and seeing their better half in a better mood.
What they really miss is you.
Here’s what to do. For every month you spend in intense physical improvement, you need to spend at least that amount of time afterward working on mental and interpersonal goals.
So if January to June was all about getting abs for your 30th birthday, July to December should be devoted to family, fun, travel, reading, work (of course), and trying new things. Don’t worry, you can and should still workout. Just do and think about the other stuff more.
It sounds more hardcore to be a killer lifter 24-7-365 but that’s actually the easy route. It’s easy to immerse yourself in training and eating. It’s a lot harder to look in the mirror and instead of seeing pale blue spider veins see all the other parts of your life you’ve been neglecting.
Cause you can always get the veins back. The same can’t always be said for the more important things.