The fitness and weight loss industry is wrought with flim-flam potions and pills, useless infomercial exercise contraptions, and “the 1 weird trick to lose belly fat” that try to take advantage of the general human desire to have the magic answer.
Well happy day! I actually have the answer for training and diet that works:
Eat real food in appropriate quantity and train in a manner that is continually challenging.
Yep, the statement above is general and might have given you a “no shit Sherlock” reaction. It’s the big picture, the starting point, the litmus test that the finer strategies and tactics must pass. It’s what I call the “macro” of diet and training and it is supposed to be general.
So what about the finer points?
The finer points can be (and will be) debated ad nauseum. Often these finer points will be debated with the same fervor as religion and politics. But I personally only care about 2 things:
1. Are you reaching your goals?
2. Are you staying healthy?
If you are doing those two things I don’t care if you are a vegetarian or a Paleo fan. I don’t care if you do heavy strength training or compete in marathons. If you are reaching your goals, feeling energetic with a positive outlook, and staying free of illness, injury, and pain – you will hear no argument from me about your chosen methods.
But let’s break it down piece by piece. Let’s go to the next level. Let’s take my macro down to the micro.
Eat Real Food
What is real food? Let’s start with what real food isn’t…
Real food isn’t anything that comes with an ingredient list of more than one item. A head of broccoli has no ingredient list. Even if you buy a bag of frozen broccoli, the ingredient list says “broccoli”. That sirloin steak or salmon fillet you get from the meat and fish counter does not have an ingredient list. And if you are a vegetarian, a bag of rice or a bag of dried beans will only have one ingredient.
Real food isn’t something that comes in brightly colored boxes and wrappers. Crackers, cookies, and cereal are the obvious examples here. But also those frozen meals with the words “healthy” and “lean” emblazoned across them fail the real food test with their ingredient lists that would stymie a national spelling bee champ.
If it didn’t previously have a heart beat or grow from the ground, it’s not real food. There are no bread trees. There are no pasta bushes. There are no tortilla vines. Potatoes, rice, beans, dairy… Maybe. Personally, I avoid them unless I am trying to gain weight.
In Appropriate Quantity
I’m not a fan of calorie counting. It’s not that I don’t think the basic math of calories in versus calories out applies (it does – go negative for weight loss, surplus for weight gain), I just find tracking it is so damned tedious. I prefer the following guidelines:
Green Vegetables: Eat as many as you want. Go crazy, get wild. Have yourself a spinach/kale/broccoli binge all day every day if that twists your crank. Seriously, even some of the less nutrient rich green vegetables like green beans or snow peas (yes, both technically legumes) won’t do much damage when eaten in overload. If it’s a green plant – don’t hold back.
Meat: I’m a fan of using the size and thickness of the palm for appropriate steak, chicken, and pork servings (and venison, alligator, or ostrich if you’re freaky like that). I believe this measuring technique was originally made popular by the Adkins Diet, but I’ve read so many diet books over the years that they all tend to blend together. Regardless of the source, I find this has worked well for myself and my clients. This also applies to sea food.
Nuts And Seeds: Use the center of your palm without the nuts or seeds overlapping. That’s about 6 – 8 almonds for most people. Or about 8 pumpkin seeds. Or 7 – 10 macadamia nuts. Nuts and seeds are probably the most overused food source for new clients. Make no mistake, nuts and seeds are calorically dense. And even though they can be a healthy source of fats, they can also wreck the basic math of calories in versus calories out if you are trying to lose weight. If you do eat nuts or seeds, be sure to go with the raw variety (no added oils, salt, or other ingredients).
Fruit: This is a tricky one… Over the years I’ve found that clients (and myself) have weight loss issues with the sweeter fruits such as banana, pineapple, mango, and melon. If weight loss is your goal, I recommend steering clear of most fruit due to the high sugar content (albeit natural sugar). Two fruits that I have not had any issues with are grapefruit and berries. For berries I tend to lean towards blue berries due to their vitamin content, but I don’t think black berries, raspberries, or strawberries are poor choices from a weight loss standpoint. My not-so-specific stance on fruit is to proceed with caution.
Train In A Manner That Is Continually Challenging
Challenges come in many forms in the context of exercise. You can increase the number of repetitions performed, add more weight to the bar, go faster, or go farther. An often overlooked aspect of fitness challenge is learning new skills. Learning new training methods can have carry-over from the attributes we normally associate with fitness (strength, endurance, flexibility, balance, etc.) into the mental and emotional. Learning new skills, whether that be a kettlebell snatch or riding a skateboard, helps keep us sharp and happy. I found the video below (nearly 8 minutes long, but well worth the time) especially inspiring and I’m ready to start throwing knives and walking slack lines.
But What Is The Real Answer?
The real answer is that you have to test and track your results. That is the only way to know what works for you. As an experienced trainer, I can give you a damned good educated guess on what exercise and diet protocols will help you reach your goals. But all of my clients keep workout and food journals that I review weekly to ensure that my plan is helping them achieve the desired outcome. And when we’re off course, we make adjustments. Rarely does the original plan that I design not get tweaked along the way.
There is no one-size-fits all fitness or weight loss plan. A program such as my 40 Days Fit will give you a good place to start, but you may have to adjust the program to make it uniquely yours due to injury, equipment limitations, food allergies, or other factors (which is why I provide unlimited email support to all customers).
When testing and tracking to find the training and diet that works for you, follow these three steps:
1. Keep detailed notes. For training log the exercises, sets, reps, and weights used. Also consider writing down other factors such as the time duration of the session and even subjective variables such as how you “feel” before and after the workout. For diet keep track of what you eat, when you eat it, and an approximate quantity. Also be sure to measure your goal at regular intervals whether that’s your body weight, 5K run time, or your deadlift one rep max.
2. Allow for adequate time to see results. Program hopping is one of the most common reasons that people do not see results. For fat loss training, allow at least two weeks before judging results. For muscle and strength building, stick to the program for at least one month.
3. Adjust as necessary. Once you have allowed for enough time to see results, make adjustments if you are not on track to reach your goal. In most cases it is best to make one adjustment at a time rather than scrapping the entire program and starting over.
So there you have it, the real answer is that there is no universal diet or training program that works for everyone. If you find methods that resonate with you, test them and track the results. And then use the results to make the decision to either stick with the plan or make adjustments.
What diet and training methods have worked for you? What hasn’t worked? Share your thoughts in the comments below.