How is it that obesity in America is hitting all time highs year after year, while the profits for the fitness and supplement industries have never been higher?
This points to a broken system.
45 million Americans are on a diet, but the facts show us that diets in themselves are not effective for getting and keeping the body we want.
Gary Foster, Ph.D., clinical director of the Weight and Eating Disorders Program at the University of Pennsylvania, has shown that 65 percent of dieters will regain all lost weight within roughly 3 years. This doesn't include dieters on intense caloric restrictions, or following some type of extreme protocol. Only 5 percent of them will keep the weight off.
While much could be discussed about societal priorities in the age of instant gratification, let's focus on those who are able to drop weight and keep it off -- for life.
These are not rapid solutions, nor are they "1 Weird Trick" or "Kim Kardashian's Post-Pregnancy Kale Only Diet." These are three behavior-based principles that you can implement today in order to make lasting changes to your body, health, and energy.
High Frequency Training
We've all heard the phrase "abs are made in the kitchen." True enough. But it doesn't do service to the fact that exercise is a substantial part of lifetime health. If we started treating our exercise the way we treat medication, we'd need less of the latter.
Exercise is medicine. By adding in just 30 minutes of exercise per day, the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and atherosclerosis decreases significantly.
Going to the gym 3x per week is great, but it's detrimental to stay sedentary the rest of the time. Increase training frequency by adding in low intensity steady state cardio like walking the dog or taking a swim. These get the muscles working, increase cardiovascular health, and add to bone density.
If you're already active every day and would like to increase the frequency of exercise, but don't have the time or desire to go to the gym every day, add in a 20-minute body weight routine at home in the mornings.
This will provide you with more energy than pounding 4 cups of coffee, you'll feel better and more focused for the rest of the day.
As this becomes a part of your life, you can increase the time of the exercise, or increase the intensity to shoot for the goal you want. Building muscle through more difficult moves, or losing fat by doing more work in the same period of time.
Many diets and supplements are profitable because they create dependence on their product. By telling you exactly what to eat and when to eat it, they create a drone army of dogmatic nutrition followers.
Meal tracking will set you free.
While I've listed this as one of the 3 habits necessary for success, it's the only one that can be temporary. By tracking your food for a year, you'll develop a deep understanding of the calories and nutrients contained in different foods, what kinds of foods help you feel your best, and bodily changes when eating higher fats, carbs, and proteins.
Armed with this knowledge, you'll be able to fine-tune your personal nutrition plan.
This should be the goal for everyone. Not because all diets are inherently bad, but because every person has different tastes, goals, time requirements, allergies, and preferences.
The sooner you can make changes to a Paleo, Atkins, or fasting dietary plan to make it "Tom's Paleo Plan," or "Sloane's Intermittent Fasting Regime," the closer you'll be to being lean for life.
Using an app like My Fitness Pal is a great option, because it has thousands of user generated meals so that it's easy to input foods that you consume at restaurants, and make it pretty easy to guesstimate how many calories you ate at the work potluck. It even has a barcode scanner to simplify the process even more.
By tracking food religiously for a year, you'll be able to easily and quickly know the rough number of calories, proteins, carbs, and fats in a given item.
This creates nutritional freedom.
If you know that you've eaten 80g of carbs, and that you're shooting for 100g because it's an off day from training, it makes it easier to delay the gratification of eating that bagel until tomorrow, when you know you'll need the extra calories because it's leg day.
Going hard in your workouts is great, but if you can't manage stress levels and recover properly, you'll never look or feel like you want too. Think about training and stress as debits, and recovery as credits.
If you overdraw your account, you'll constantly be fighting an uphill battle to get even. Be more mindful about putting money into your recovery account, and the other things will fall in line.
We all know that sleep is important, but too many of us still end up sleeping less than 6 hours per night, which is not sustainable nor does it lead to lifelong health.
You can prioritize sleep by making a commitment to going to sleep and waking up at the same time 6 nights per week. Your body will thank you by getting more restful sleep, and waking up feeling refreshed.
If you're sleeping enough, but still don't feel like you're able to recover well, try adding in these other weekly recovery techniques:
- Meditation -- start with 5 minutes per day, 5 days per week. Just sit somewhere quiet and focus on your breathing. Try to eliminate the thoughts of work, home life, and general responsibility during this time. It's harder than it sounds, but studies show that just 10 minutes per day of quiet reflection can significantly lower your resting heart rate over just 3 months.
- Exercise every day. Some is always better than none.
- Make sure you're familiar with meal tracking. This will increase your Food IQ, and make you more aware of what you're eating.
- Balance your recovery with your stress and daily output. You can't have a healthy lifestyle if you're constantly running on fumes.
Being fit and healthy is a desirable goal, but too many of us want that goal today and at any cost. Remember that 95 percent of people who put themselves through crash diets regain all the weight again, and in most cases, a little bit extra.
By taking a long term, sustainable approach, by learning how our bodies work and what works best for us, we can get the results we want and sustain them for life.