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April 25, 2014

When Hardcore Turns Into Harmful

I realized something recently: I don’t want to work that hard.

See, I posted last week on Twitter the questions I often ask myself when it comes to nutrition. Instead of, “what foods will help me get lean?” and, “how can I lose 10 lbs by summer?” I ask things like:

  • How effortless does this feel?
  • How stressed am I eating like this?
  • Could I see myself eating like this a year from now? Forever?
  • How deprived do I feel?
  • How much willpower am I using?
  • Is this sustainable?
  • Am I obsessed with food or not?

In short, I am always asking: IS THIS EASY?

You might think, “But Jill, it’s not supposed to be easy. When you work hard, that’s when you get results.” We’ve all heard the famous quote: “If it were easy, everyone would do it.” And some would say you need to have discipline and sacrifice for your results.

And I get that.

In fact, I have been wondering a lot recently about the whole “hardcore” thing, and I’d be lying if I said I haven’t asked myself those same questions. I wonder, “Am I just taking the easy route? Am I too weak to give up the foods I want? Am I just trying to justify my way of doing things?”

In short, I realized that yes, yes I am.

I am taking the easy route. I am working to incorporate the foods I want. I am justifying my way of doing things—the way that has worked for me to maintain my physique these last 3 years.

I realized I am not hardcore.

I’m just not.

I don’t sacrifice anything. I’m not willing to put in the drudgery, the discipline, the sacrifice it would take to lose 10 lbs. I really don’t want it badly enough.

That’s the truth.

But I’ve also come to realize this: it’s totally fine and it actually works in my favor.

Why? Because see, over the last 3 years, I’ve realized that I really don’t like feeling dissatisfied with my physique. I don’t like feeling stressed over every bite of food that passes my lips. I don’t want to compromise my quality of life. And I definitely don’t want to stay obsessed with food.


On the left: my leanest ever (140 lbs) vs. on the right: unfiltered April 2014 (155 lbs where I’ve stayed for 3 years)

Hardcore: Doing More Harm than Good?

The two photos above represent a 15-lb weight difference. On the left, I was killing myself–my feet where actually bleeding in this photo from all the cardio I was doing. On the right, current, unfiltered and effortless. Could I be leaner? Of course. Could I have more muscle or work to get my love handles down a bit? Sure.


Buuuuuut, the mental EFFORT and physical TIME it would take for me to do that or to lose 15 lbs is too steep a jump. It’s too hardcore for me. It’s simply not worth it, for me. And to take it one step further, not only is it not worth the effort and time, for me (besides, is the goal to get to 0% body fat??) but IT WOULD ACTUALLY DO ME A DISSERVICE TO TRY. Why? Because it would make me more neurotic, more obsessed and a metabolism that’s even less likely to respond in the future.

And I’m not saying this is the case for everyone, but for many, especially those who write in to JillFit, “hardcore” causes more harm than good. It turns into body dysmorphia, food obsession, yo-yo dieting, regains, rebounds and a black-and-white approach to dieting that can be really, really hard to yank yourself out of.

When I was “hardcore,” I was also miserable. I had zero perspective and my self-worth was 100% reliant on my body fat % and if my abs were popping or not.

Holy shit. No. Nooooooooo.

For me, “hardcore” led to a metabolism that was less responsive than ever and a head that was more messed up than ever.

Because an “all-or-nothing” approach to eating always, ALWAYS ends up being … nothing. Doesn’t it? Hardcore is transient. It feels good to be hardcore when you are prepping for a show or doing a 21-day sugar detox or a weight loss challenge at work. You feel on top of the world! I know I did. But it inevitably doesn’t last. It can’t, simply because of the nature of deprivation. Feeling deprived leads to overindulgence, whether that happens this weekend, next month or in two years.

And so, my goal is actually NOT to lose 10 lbs. It’s to not feel deprived, ever. I WANT EASY. And if that makes me lazy, then so be it. I’m fine with that.

In our culture, we don’t appreciate easy. We think those who take the easy route are lazy, can’t “cut it” and are just making excuses for not getting results. And I agree, sometimes that is the case.


On Willpower

But research on willpower—arguably the #1 predictor of success—reveals that those who find easier ways to do things are the most successful. They save their willpower by finding workarounds, shortcuts and lowering the activation energy it takes to do a thing. They also periodically recharge their willpower batteries by taking down-time and not going, going, going constantly. So if that’s the case, why on earth would we look for hard?? Why wouldn’t we instead take shortcuts and workarounds? Why wouldn’t we embrace self-acceptance and balance?

You might be saying, “Well geez Jill, must be nice for you! Of course you’re fine, you’re still fit!” :) 

I get that too. And yes, yes, I am. But I also worked on my balanced approach for THREE YEARS. I did that my building my willpower incrementally. Not white-knuckling my way through strict regimens. I actually threw myself a bone (finally!) and had the courage to not hold myself to a standard of “perfect.” I let “good enough” be good enough.

So, can willpower be built? You bet! It’s similar to a muscle that becomes strengthened as you work it. But that’s precisely why we don’t jump right to the cold-turkey mentality. It’s too big of a jump. You have to strengthen your willpower through the practice of mindfulness. One of the ways I strengthened my own willpower over time (so that everything is actually effortless at this point) was to start letting myself get a little hungry. I used to be scared to let myself get hungry because I thought if I did, I’d just say, “what the hell!” and proceed to eat with abandon. And often that was the case, because I wasn’t equipped with the mindfulness and willpower I needed to resist. But by slowly exposing myself to hunger AND THEN IN THOSE MOMENTS, staying mindful, I was able to feel hunger and not binge. And then over time, I began trusting myself more to handle any situation. Just because it was 4 hours (gasp!) instead of 3 between meals, I could still handle it and I didn’t need to immediately go home and clean out the cabinets in compensation.

The bottom line is that easy doesn’t mean no results. It means working your mental game to the point of effortlessness. It means training your mindset to be okay with a more moderate approach–never eating everything you want and never ever feeling completely deprived. THIS IS A PRACTICE. And by definition, when you practice something, you mess up. That’s how you get better.

And remember, “easy” doesn’t mean eating everything you want either.

Because that’s stressful as hell, too, isn’t it?

Easy is effortless. Easy is rolling with what’s in front of you. Easy is not stressing out when you are without your Tupperwares. Easy is not being afraid to get hungry because you know you can handle it. Easy is trusting yourself to do your best 100% of the time. It’s knowing that one misstep doesn’t inevitably turn you into a whale overnight. Easy is trusting that you can always turn things around at your very next meal.

How liberating!

If you were to ask my what my mission with JillFit is, it’s this: To help women break the crash dieting cycle and realize a black-and-white approach to eating does us a disservice in the long run. And by that definition, I am the anti-hardcore. Because hardcore is not sustainable.

“Go hard or go home” always ends up going home.

We know this intuitively, don’t we? The harder we “diet,” the more of a rebound we experience later. The more foods we add to the “off limits” list, the more we want and crave them, and when willpower inevitably flounders, we dive headfirst into binging on them. And yet we still don’t learn our lesson. We don’t like the idea of taking the middle road. It’s too easy, and we don’t really believe we can get results with a more moderate approach. And that just sucks because I don’t know about you, but every time I’ve gone “hardcore” I ended up fatter later with a metabolism that’s less responsive.

So, what do you think? Could you begin to start overcoming your attachment to needing to be hardcore? Could you loosen the reigns on your need to be perfect? Could you try a more moderate approach where you don’t feel deprived but you also stay mindful, not eating everything you want, either? This is a practice! And it doesn’t happen overnight, but it’s also the only way to sustain results in my experience.

So next time you find yourself needing to “tighten up on my diet!” or “start on Monday!” remember, that’s the old way. Only unsuccessful people hold themselves to the standard of perfection and then start on Monday with “a new plan.” Start right now with a moderate choice. Taking the edge off earlier in the week will prevent the binging on the weekend. #Moderation365

You’ll know you have it mastered when you eat the same on Saturdays that you do on Mondays.

Good luck! Let me know what you think on the JillFit Facebook page! Where are you in your process? I’d love to know! :) Ox, Jill

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