At the gym today, I hopped onto a treadmill and happened to catch a TV ad for different local gym, followed by a Weight Watchers commercial. I took a look around at the unusually-full cardio room, and said to myself “Yep, it’s definitely New Year’s Resolution time!”
Two weeks back I sat down and made my 7 resolutions for the year, and one of them was to continue the work I have been doing to improve my body composition / lose weight. Since June of last year, in addition to all the crazy whirlwind of life, I have managed to make it to the gym about 50 times, I have lost ~27lbs and added noticeable muscle. Through this year my goal is to continue sustainable, healthy body re-composition, losing fat and gaining muscle.
Anyone who has tried to lose weight, or add muscle, anyone who has ever wanted to get more fit, knows that there are a hundred things you can do, a hundred thousand conflicting pieces of advice; but for me and most people, what works best is to keep things simple.
Based on this I have three things that give me the most bang for my buck:
- Weight Lifting
- Making Meal Choices Ahead of Time
- Food Logging
1.) Weight Lifting-
For people who haven’t done it before, weight lifting can be one of the most intimidating parts of the gym. Muscle-bound gym rats moving 300lbs. on a 7 foot bar, all while wearing big belts, wrist straps and tank tops (in January!); the free weights area of the gym isn’t exactly inviting to first-timers. But trust me when I say, starting is the very hardest part, and there is no better way to spend your time in the gym than lifting appropriate weights.
Weightlifting burns calories, can increase your metabolism, boost your immune system (because muscle is active tissue in immune system processes), protect you from losing muscle mass while you lose weight, improve overall health and encourage your body to burn fat as fuel! All of these benefits come along with lifting weights and getting stronger. To quote a famous strength coach: stronger people are harder to kill, and more useful in general.
With that long list of benefits, weight-lifting deserves a central place in any plan to lose weight in a lasting responsible way!
2.) Making Meal Choices Ahead of Time-
Most of the time, if we are trying to change our eating habits to get healthier, it’s because we have a conflict between what we know we should eat, and what we wind up eating. We may have the best of intentions, but we will wind up invited out to dinner, or having a rough day and making a spur-of-the-moment bad decision. There are two solutions: try to become incredibly rigid and through sheer will avoid temptation, or plan in advance in strategies to avoid having to use willpower in the moment. The problem is most people try willpower and willpower (mostly) sucks.
So instead, every Sunday night I cook lunches for the week (it takes about an hour and a half, and most of that is down time where I’m waiting on the oven).
A typical lunch might look like:
Theres nothing ing spectacular about this lunch (though my dry rub herbed pork tenderloin is delicious, but this plus my standard breakfast (a protein shake before work) means that half of my meal choices have been made before I walk out the door. So if I am craving pizza it is easy to ignore it and go to the office fridge. Even more though, it keeps me from having to make food choices and expend willpower for set-control.
If I hadn’t packed lunch today then I would have been faced with the decision of where to go for lunch. In downtown indy I can get a subway salad as easily as BBQ Brisket, pizza or 20 boneless wings from Buffalo Wild Wings. Sure, I usually make the healthy choice, but by removing the decision point in advance, I basically always do.
This same principle applies to going out to eat, though it is harder as a practical matter. If I know I am going out to dinner if it’s somewhere we usually go then I have a good idea of what to order, because I’ve looked at the nutrition facts and picked before. But for somewhere new I will look online, pick my dinner based on my goals and nutrition facts and then log it before I head out. It just makes the default answer the right answer. It makes the path of least resistance to order something that fits my plan.
This whole idea, structuring things to avoid relying on willpower is an idea many people have had before, but these examples show how I implement it in day to day life, with very little effort.
3.) Food logging-
If weightlifting is about adding a good tool to your arsenal, and Pre-planning meals is about avoiding the bad side of your food choics, then food logging is about knowing the good from the bad.
Food logging deserves its own post, and watch for one later, perhaps even its own book. But to quickly hit the basics:
Few details are critical in food logging, because even if the numbers aren’t perfect they are a valuable source of objective perspective. BUT the one crucial piece is consistently log everything you eat. That pack of M&M’s or that appetizer you split at dinner, it all needs to be entered. That’s basically the only way to lose out on all the value a log offers.
Logging forces you to notice and think about what you are eating. It makes you consider how much and how often you eat. These alone can encourage you to overeat less.
Using a good food log app offers many visual ways on checking in on yourself. Here are a few from MyFitnessPal, an app I use daily and highly recommend:
A quick glance at these three screens tell me I am succeeding at my goal of eating high protein, I have been eating more calories than my 2lbs/a week goal would allow, and that my weight has been reliably trending downward since mid-October, around when I started restricting calories.
That’s it! That’s all. Three simple strategies to get healthier. If you’re working on a new years resolution to lose some weight and/ or improve your fitness then:
Try lifting weights, logging your food and planning your meals before you get to work / the restaurant. Oh, and bookmark us here for upcoming posts that add on the power of each of these strategies.