This is Part 2 in the weight regain series. Go here to read Part 1: How It Feels to Regain Weight You’ve Lost
The title of this blog may fall into the category of, “No duh,” but I explain in detail the nuance of the argument below. But first…
A little story …
I received an email last week from a woman telling me about her plans to compete in her first figure competition in three months. She’s 45 years old, in great shape, lean, with a good amount of muscle at around 15% body fat. Amazing, right? She weight trains heavy multiple times per week and eats very clean, with the exception of a glass of wine or two on the weekends. NBD.
However, she wrote to ask my opinion on something her competition coach told her. He sent her her competition meal plan last week and told her, “Don’t start this until January 1st.” She reviewed the meal plan and wrote him back saying that the plan was 99% how she ate already. Effortlessly. It was just the way she’s practiced over months and years and it was now just “what she ate.” NBD.
Her coach wrote her back and told her, “Oh, really? Well, make sure you indulge and eat anything you want between now and January 1st so that your body responds to the competition diet once you start it.”
Understandably, she was thrown. And emailed me to ask my thoughts on it. “Eat everything I want? WHY would I do that? Eating everything I want makes me feel gross and heavy and unhealthy and I’m even to the point that I don’t crave that stuff anymore. And why would I voluntarily gain weight? Does this make any sense? What should I do?”
Crash Dieting vs. Living a Fat Loss Lifestyle
So, is there any truth to what the trainer said? Actually, from a biochemical standpoint, yes. We can argue that a little indulgence will reset leptin levels and studies have even shown that the body likes change when it comes to nutrition and that it can adapt as a result of eating the same foods day in a day out.
But. Buuuuuuut, what about the other consequences of dieting? Losing and gaining weight is not a benign experience. The body is not just a machine where you take in X number of cals and get a very specific result of weight gain or loss.
The more you gain and lose weight over and over, the less responsive your metabolism gets AND … how about your mind? Mentally, eating a bunch of sugar, especially when you’re not used to it, affects the brain on a chemical level. And the taste of sweet, for many people, is a slippery slope. Not to mention the body esteem issues that can develop as a result of crash dieting. The physique becomes the primary attribute of self-worth. It’s a dangerous place to me, mentally and physically.
So what do you think? Should we take a woman who is effortlessly maintaining her leanness and tell her to overindulge just so that a diet will work better later?
Sounds silly, right? Saying it like that? And please know that this is not to point out stupidity on the part of the trainer or the client. Or to make fun of the situation because shit, crash dieting and mental challenges are anything but funny. It’s simply to point out the difference in mindset between that of crash dieting (which 99% of competition prep diets are) and living a lean lifestyle effortlessly.
The point I want to make with the story is this: for all intents and purposes, this client was already lean, healthy and fit eating clean with zero effort. So her coach reasoned that in order for her body to actually respond, she’d have to start eating junk so that when she went back to *her* usual eating that her body would respond further.
But how about instead of “pushing it to respond,” we just stay the course, take our time, work the process we’re already in and make small adjustments over the long haul?
Why mess with it? She’s basically already achieved the holy grail of what we all want, right?
How to eat for leanness with little effort
Finally, we come to the point of this post, ha! You’re probably already confused about the title of this article.
Let me clear it up.
But first. You’ve probably heard of The Law of Attraction, and you’ve probably read the international bestseller, ‘The Secret’. The idea behind the Law of Attraction is that wherever we spend our mental energy or focus is where we experience results. Without taking us all the way down the esoteric rabbit hole, the premise is simply: what you think about is what you tend to act on, which leads to outcomes related to those thoughts. It’s not magic and really, the idea of attracting into your life the very things that you want was popular even in the depression era, when Napoleon Hill wrote this classic ‘Think and Grow Rich.’
Bottom line–what you think about is what you end up doing, and doing leads to practicing and practicing leads to mastery. Like learning to play an instrument–you practice and over time, you get better. A + B = C.
However we eat regularly–whether consciously or unconsciously–is exactly what we get good at doing. Whatever we practice is what we get amazing at. It becomes effortless precisely because it’s what’s been practiced.
With every day and with every meal, you are reinforcing that meal or that day. Three days in a row of drinking wine after work? It is now getting easier to drink wine after work.
Are you someone who does the weekly deprive-then-binge cycle? You know, Monday through Thursday is flawless and Friday through Sunday is a blow-out? When you do this week after week, you are actually getting GOOD at this. BETTER at this. You’re becoming a pro at this.
Ugh. How depressing!
And yet, how empowering …?
Personally, I think this is good news. Because it also means that I have somewhere to go, some action to take, a way to change my outcomes. I am not a victim of my habits. I can choose to implement new ones and work hard to make them stick.
See, when I was competing, I had a specific “on season” paired with a “bulking season” in which I was supposedly gaining muscle, but really it was a green light to eat with abandon. I trained myself to have periods of deprivation, followed by periods of binging. I got really good at count downs and planning my show schedule because I needed another show in my sights as a goal to motivate me to get lean again. There was always a deadline at which point I’d have to inevitably stop eating crap so I knew I’d better EAT ALL THE FOOD RIGHT NOW because come contest prep time, that stuff was off-limits. There would always be another show I could get down for. And even then, I had a harder and harder time coming in as lean as I had previously. I had to do more cardio or cut carbs more to achieve the same look. I got really good at metabolic compensation. And mentally, it was a roller coaster.
Have a courage to CHOOSE to TRY a new way
The turnaround for me came after a 6-month period of time where I was dieting constantly for shows and a number of photo shoots. By the time I reached the last shoot I had on my calendar, I was fried. Physically exhausted, miserable, cravings through the roof, mentally feeling like I could never ease up on my exercise for fear of blowing up.
So one Sunday when I was staring down my usual routine–go to the grocery store, buy the same old disgusting food, prep it as fast a possible, throw it in Tupperwares for the week and then cry (Just kidding! But sometimes I wanted to! :)). I was so stressed just thinking about the routine that I just said, Fuck it. Not doing it this week.
But I was terrified! Because what if I turned into a whale?? What would happen if I didn’t have “my food” prepped and ready? Surely I’d binge like crazy! Surely I’d lose all control, right?!
Something funny happened in that week, though. I experienced the beginnings of SELF-trust. I experienced the very first bit of food awareness. I paid just the tiniest bit of attention to things like hunger and cravings. And miraculously, I DID NOT GAIN. Was I perfect? Nope. Not by a long stretch, but the small amount of consciousness I paid to my urges paid off. I didn’t have food prepped and ready, so I had to learn how to wing it and make the best choice possible wherever I ended up. Things like, “I know it’s been 3 hours but … am I hungry? No, not really. So I won’t eat right now. But I might be hungry in an hour and at that point, I can have this protein bar or make some eggs real quick.” NBD.
Over time, I learned how to eat healthy on the fly and tuned into my body’s signals instead of EITHER eating on a strict schedule OR eating with abandon. In short, I started PRACTICING a more moderate approach. An approach that I would never have even considered had I not been forced into it out of sheer misery of doing things the old way.
So, I did finally try a new way.
And so can you.
Because how you eat day after day is what you become good at. It’s what becomes effortless.
If week after week, month after month you practice the all-or-nothing 100% clean OR bingeing approach, you will get damn good at it! And unless you find the will to YANK YOURSELF out of it using a new approach, you’ll get even better at it and it’ll keep on, year after year. Like Tony Robbins says, “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.” Can’t generate a new outcome using the same old crash dieting tactics.
Another example. If you beat yourself up using negative self-talk and have an “I suck, I’m weak and undisciplined” attitude, then guess what? You’ll get exactly that. In essence, you’re CREATING the very thing you say you don’t want because your attitude is such that you already expect it. Remember The Law of Attraction? You get amazing at what you practice. So choose your practices carefully.
When you see someone who is able to stay lean year-round and makes it look effortless, that’s not by accident. They’ve practiced and practiced and practiced to the point that it actually became effortless.
Someone on Instagram asked me the other day how I “manage to stop at eating at a third of a protein bar” (moderation). Easy. I practice that shit. In fact, I am so practiced at moderation that if someone asked me to go on a competition diet right now, I simply couldn’t do it. I’m too practiced at the middle road. But I certainly wasn’t when I first started out. I WORKED THE MIDDLE ROAD. And that work paid off.
WHATEVER YOU PRACTICE IS WHAT YOU BECOME PHENOMENAL AT. The good, the bad or the ugly.
And oftentimes, we don’t even consciously choose what practices we’re improving! So, time to try a new way. Time to actively choose where you go with your physique and lifestyle. Ask yourself, How am I TEACHING MYSELF to eat? What kind of eating do I practice on a daily basis? And if it’s not getting me results, can I make a different choice and practice a new way?
Let 2014 be the year you take a chance on a new way. Because the old way? The black-and-white way? The crash-dieting-up-and-down way? We know for sure it doesn’t work. All-or-nothing always ends up being nothing.