I see articles all the time with this same title. And trust me when I say, I’ve read many of them. In fact, there was a day when I would scour the internet looking for them. I read them for I suppose the same reasons you are reading this: I wanted the exact recipe that worked for at least one person. Because maybe if it worked for them, maybe it would work for me too.
Apple Cider Vinegar Diet? K. Grapefruit Diet? Fine. Boiled Cabbage Diet. Sure I tried that one—but before I lived in Africa for 3 months, where I ate cabbage and goat meat for three meals a day. Now, I pretty much figure I am good in the cabbage department for the rest of my life. The Atkins Diet? No problem. Weight Watchers? Seems like a good idea in theory, except I managed to gain weight.
These are only a few of the ones I tried. It didn’t matter how extreme, because I was miserable. I felt permanently trapped in a body that felt foreign to me; a body that was just too damn tired and huge to do all the things my brain wanted to do. I did a lot in the name of losing weight, since that’s the only thing I really wanted with my life. I didn’t even know enough to care about actually being healthy. I just wanted to be skinnier, because I assumed that it was the key to happiness. Maybe if I at least had the body, I could somehow squash everything I was feeling about being in a bad marriage and a job where I’d often cry in the parking lot for long periods of time before I could go inside.
The only diet that worked was the Dysentary Diet, where I lost 30lbs. Of course, my hair also started falling out. (Going on an African Safari was a bucket list experience, digestive issues aside!) So, you know, maybe don’t try that one.
All these diets worked for a time, until my body rebelled or until I just couldn’t do it anymore. Then not only did whatever pounds I’d lost come back, but they’d bring friends. And each time, I became more and more tired. The mental weight I was carrying around from getting my hopes up and then failing again and again was just as burdensome as the physical weight that felt more like a boat anchor than a body for a living person.
So when I became friends with a guy, and he told me he could help me get to where I wanted to be, I rolled my eyes and laughed at least to myself. I didn’t know it at the time, but turns out he was a personal trainer (well, let’s be clear—a master certified personal trainer—something I still aspire to be and am working towards). He’d been doing this longer than I’d been alive. Judging from the fact that I’ve gone from an overstuffed size 22 (really…a size 24) and 250 pounds to 150ish pounds of smiling size 6, I’d say he gave me something the all the magazines and fad diets couldn’t. If you were wondering, I’ve kept it off for 3 years.
It’s been a long process, and I’m still not where I want to be, but I’m living a life that I never imagined I could. I do obstacle course races and real, hands forward, dead-hang pullups (where my chin clears the bar—no half reps for this girl!). I teach fitness classes and train clients of my own on their way to success.
I would have wanted a recipe, so here’s mine. It’s kinda like baking a cake, where if one of the ingredients is missing, nothing works.
- Start with your Brain: I’m not always a shining example of this (still), even though I understand how important it is. Your attitude is every bit as important as any other component. You MUST believe in your ability to change. If you’re not being positive about it, you can bet you are sabotaging your own success. As I now tell my clients, your body hears everything your brain says. And as the expression goes, “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.”
- It’s not about the specific diet or training program: Despite my epic search for the right diet, I’ve realized that a specific “diet” isn’t the answer. Too many times, these diets are too rigid and rigid in all the wrong ways. They either limit vital nutrients, or just aren’t sustainable over the long (frustrating) haul. More often than not, these diets leave people worse off than when they started. What does work is a meal plan based on foods you eat, your lifestyle, and your caloric needs. Likewise, it’s not about a specific exercise—which many people get hung up on.
- Quit obsessing about weight loss: Seriously, you’re not doing yourself any favors and in fact may be sabotaging your progress. For the first three months I trained with him, my trainer made me swear I wouldn’t weigh more than once a month. I rarely weigh myself any more. Truth: the scale is a liar. Weight naturally fluctuates anyway, especially for women. But ultimately, people really don’t care about a number on the scale anyway—they care about feeling great in their skin. Besides, if you spend all your energy on doing the right things, the results will come. If you spend your energy on worrying about the scale, you’ll likely stop all together. Look in the mirror. Notice how your clothes fit. Give the scale the finger.
- Get help: I can’t say this enough. Don’t go it alone! If you were the expert, you’d probably already have the body you want. You’d know how to push yourself. Food wouldn’t seem like a great mystery. You are smart and amazing in many ways, but hire a pro to ensure that you’re not wasting your time—or worse, doing things counterproductive to your goals. You don’t necessarily need someone standing over you three times a week counting reps, but you do need the accountability, and to know how to do the exercises properly, and to have a program that is designed for you. Consider group training, or classes, or even meeting with a trainer once every few weeks to make it more affordable.
- Go Heavy: I get it. You’re a cardio queen (or king). You hop on the treadmill (I swear I’ll write about how awful this machine is one day) and get after it. But you’re not really helping yourself. Cardio is great for burning calories while you’re doing cardio, but then it stops. And long, sustained cardio actually destroys your muscle. (Ever notice how small marathoner’s legs are??) To get results, you need weights—and I do not mean those little pink or green things. Strength training has a whole host of benefits, but one huge one is that muscle burns calories all the time—even while you’re sleeping! Besides, “skinny fat” is not hot. Ladies, surely by now you’ve heard that you won’t get bulky. You don’t have the testosterone to make that happen. But you want Michelle Obama arms or a nice perky butt? Learn to “iron”!
- (Safely) Go like hell: Stop phoning it in. You have to show up for yourself. Coming in, working for 20-30 minutes with your heart barely getting elevated is accomplishing only one thing: feeding your ego. I know you think you’re all like, wow, that had to have burned like 400 calories! Been there, done that, got the XXL t-shirt. If you don’t have any idea how to do this, contact me or find someone who can help. I’ll be writing about this soon!
- Rest for the Win: Like I said, go hard. But realize that your body is actually built through rest and nutrition. It’s not built in the gym. Your body has critical repair work to do, and it can only do it at rest. This is one place a good trainer can help you, but immediately fire anyone who tells you to go, go, go! Bodies don’t work like that.
- Don’t Deny Yourself: Never once did my very smart trainer tell me I couldn’t eat something, nor do I ever say this to my clients. If you feel deprived, there’s gonna come a day where you lose your $*!# and you will go on a massive eating rampage. And mojo is a fickle thing—once you do that, you would not believe how hard it is to get back on the right track. While losing 100lbs has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done, it’s not been hard because I’ve felt deprived. I’ve learned how to eat foods in a way that helps me stay focused, not derails me. I choose not to eat my trigger foods because I can’t control them, but sometimes (as long as it’s the exception not the rule), you just need a damn cookie. Figure it into your calories, and then move on.
- Realize You (Really, really) Can’t Out Train a Bad Diet: Just stop it now. If you’re eating more than your body needs, you just can’t work hard enough to burn off the extra calories. Success is 80% nutrition, 20% exercise. No matter how hard you’re working in the gym, the gym won’t work for you unless you have the eating part right too. It’s worth it to pay someone to make a meal plan for you, and teach you how to eat for your goals.
- Have (the right) people: I’ve written about this before, but having a tribe of people who are as committed to your success as you are makes a huge difference. You need people who will encourage you when you are having a nice little pity party and people who will lovingly, but firmly, challenge you to be more and do more. What you do not need are people who want to sabotage you, even if it seems harmless and well intentioned. “Oh, come on. It’s just one meal or just a few drinks” or “You’re no fun anymore” or “you spend too much time at the gym” are not helpful comments. Surround yourself with people who have their eyes focused in the same direction as yours. Girl, you got goals! You are worth this. Don’t have those people? Even though it seems contrary to what you might think about gyms with your notions about skinny, smiling, spandex clad people that will only intimidate you, the gym can be a great place to find these people. If your gym doesn’t have those kind of people, find a new gym. I’d rather go to a place that has my vibe and my people than a gym with the shiniest equipment.
- Have an indomitable spirit: I don’t know how to say this, but there is a high probability that at some point you will fail. You will get discouraged and crash and burn. Your body will pitch a temper tantrum worthy of the grumpiest 2-year old you know. Your path will not always be smooth sailing. Sometimes things just work, and the fat flies off you, and you walk around with a perma-grin stuck to your face. But most of the time, it’s head-down, grit-your-teeth, and just-keep-truckin’ hard. Sometimes you will even go backwards. But it’s part of the process. Refuse to allow yourself to be beaten. Use your grit to fuel you. As Vince Lombardi says, “It’s not about how many times you get knocked down, it’s how many times you get up.”
Raise the Bar: One of the biggest mistakes I see people make, annnnnd made too often to count myself, is getting comfortable. I see people do the exact same workout—same weight, same reps, same order—a year after they started it. Look, loves… your body is an amazing machine, and so, so smart. But it’s so smart that it very quickly adapts. And if it is not being challenged, it’s not going to grow or change. Every time you workout, decide you are shooting for a little more than what you had last time. As the expression goes, “Change nothing and nothing changes.”
- Then, Raise the roof: Celebrate your successes. I mean it. Stop worrying about how far you have to go—that will only derail you. Focus on what you have achieved. I don’t have the body I want yet, but I went from not being able to push my body off the ground to being able to do a one armed push up. I can do things I never imagined doing, including walking around in a body that I appreciate. I don’t hate shopping any more. Your body wants to do amazing things for you, and it can—so every chance you get, thank it for what it is giving you. Celebrate your strengths and quit wallowing in what you perceive as your weakness.
Is getting your dream body easy? No, no, a thousand times no. But is it possible? That depends on you.
Put on your big girl panties, and get to work. Stop waiting for the “right” time. Tell yourself that you’ve got this–because you do. Annnnd…being able to walk around feeling comfortable in your skin after you’ve spent years hating your body? Yeah, that’s pretty much the best feeling ever.