Note: You can download a free PDF version of this article for offline viewing, here.
You’ll also receive a quick start checklist with a short overview of each point with action steps.
Hey, guess what?
It’s the new year.
I know, we made it another year without being hit by a comet or invaded by aliens or blowing each other off the face of the earth with nuclear warfare – hooray for us.
It being the New Year also means that many of you are about to enthusiastically embark on your New Year’s Resolutions. And seeing that you’re reading this, undoubtedly, it’s something fitness related.
And so I got to thinking: How could I help everyone begin the new year on the front foot? How could I ensure that people are set up to be as successful as possible with their fitness goals in 2018?
While pondering this, an idea occurred to me: Why not ask my readers?
I mean, I’m just one person and my own experiences are limited, so why not ask multiple people to share the advice that worked for them?
So, after having hi-5’d myself for the great idea I sent out an email asking anyone who was interested to answer this question:
– Imagine you had to give advice to a friend starting their fitness journey. What would you tell them 1
And I received a ton of great responses. I then vetted them, picked the best ones, and added some thoughts and commentary to each and put them together in this article.
In no particular order, here they are.
1. Be careful with social media
This came up a lot, among both men and women – the discontentment with their own bodies after constantly seeing the flawless demigods and goddesses of Instagram. As one reader lamented, “I don’t feel confident in my body most of the time. I compare myself to others too much, and social media makes that even worse. Ugh. Don’t even get me started.”
As I’ve said before, I’m not going to tell you that you shouldn’t compare your progress to others because we all do it. And despite what your friendly neighbourhood motivational speaker told you, comparison can be a good thing – It shows you what’s possible and what can be accomplished.
But, you have to remember that you don’t know what someone else’s circumstances are. Maybe they’re genetically superior, and regardless of what they do they get results; maybe they’re on drugs; maybe they’ve been training every day for the past decade.
So what can you do?
“But, you know what? When I look at my progress photos and how far I’ve come, I feel really good. I feel accomplished and it makes me want to push myself even harder. My point is, compare yourself to YOU. Notice the progress in your own progress photos, and screw the shit on social media.”
The issue here is not that of comparison, well not entirely, but rather you not stopping and appreciating your own progress. If all you’re doing is scrolling through Instagram and comparing your current self with someone else’s final form, of course you’re going to feel like shit you fucktrumpet.
Sure, look to others for inspiration to see what you can accomplish, but also take the time to stop and appreciate how much progress you’ve made. Here’s a great example of exactly that from one reader:
“I need to appreciate all of the GOOD I’m doing for myself. Hell, I remember when I couldn’t even do one pull-up. Today, I can do eight in a row. That is fucking badass for a chick, in my damn opinion! And, I’ve learned that getting stronger is so empowering.
I’ve forced myself to get out of my comfort zone in the gym. I’ve gone from squatting 135 pounds to 200 pounds. I’ve progressed from doing the dreaded Bulgarian split squats with 50-pounds to 140 pounds. (I still hate those fuckers!) My bench press has improved from 75 pounds to 150 pounds.
Why do these numbers matter? Well, in the past, my motivation was the number on the scale. Now, I’m completely focused on getting stronger. I feel so empowered, focused and dedicated to this process.”
While social media has its downsides, it also has its positives. One reader offered an alternative to the insta-model body perfection:
“Everything I know and everything that’s kept me on track is coming from reddit.com/r/loseit.
I found going to this subreddit on a daily basis throughout my weight loss really helpful in terms of staying motivated by reading about others’ failures and successes as well as being reminded about what I need to do in order to achieve success and not get discouraged.
I also went on to reddit.com/r/progresspics a couple days a week for motivation to understand that it’s possible for regular people like me to transform their bodies (as opposed to the ripped/ideal bodies of Instagram and such)”
There’s a huge difference between seeing someone with shredded abs and tight glutes constantly reminding you how pretty they are, and someone who’s where you are right now showcasing their struggles.
Join online forums and communities like r/loseit or Facebook groups like Eat, Train, Progress. Seeing stories of real people, like you, making a positive change to their body and health can help motivate you to start and stay on track, and also offer encouragement and advice. (Here are some of my clients who have transformed their bodies, chances are there’s someone in there who was where you are now.)
Some other recommendations (updated 12/01/18):
Note: If you know of, or recommend, any other FB groups or online communities, email me and let me know so I can add them here.
2. The importance of tracking calories and macros
3. Not everyone can ‘eat in moderation’
“I know that I’m going to go overboard if I allow myself to eat peanut butter. So, it’s best that I just stay away from it entirely.”
While ‘moderation’ sounds great in theory – Eat all the foods you like as long as you eat them in moderation – it doesn’t work for everyone. And if you know there are certain food items that you struggle to control yourself around, you’ll be better served not bringing them into the house.
For most people, it’s far easier to abstain than to moderate.
“For me not keeping tempting food in the house is key. Even if I am not cutting I still don’t buy tempting foods because I know I will overeat. I have always envied people who have a natural self-control and actually don’t even think if they’ve had too much or too little. They naturally stop. I’ve always loved food and am a hedonist, I cannot rely on my brain telling me I’ve had too much.
I tried in the past to train myself to eat in moderation but I always seem to find ways to trick myself into eating. It took me many, many years to accept the fact that I can’t eat in moderation. You will almost never find sweets in my house, and even when I go to the supermarket I simply don’t go into the sweets aisles.”
“During a fat loss phase do not keep hyperpalatable foods in your home. Even with the greatest will power the knowledge that delicious foods are at an arm’s reach can be very draining and something as trivial as a stressful day at work can be enough to break you.”
4. Fuck willpower
‘Don’t rely on ‘willpower.’ People say that they wish they had my willpower and I tell them that I have enough willpower to get out of the store without buying the junk, but know that if I brought it home, planning to dole it out over a length of time, it would be GONE! Don’t bring it into the house!’
For the longest time, willpower was seen as ‘finite resource’ – We all had a limited supply and eventually it ran out.
Turns out this was incorrect as recent research is finding that those who exhibit the most self-control engage in “less frequent impulse inhibition in daily routines.” Meaning, they ensure that they’re not putting themselves in situations where their willpower will be tested.
As I said, for most people it’s far easier to abstain than to moderate. This is why it’s easier to say no to a single Oreo than to consume a single Oreo and then try to fight the temptation to eat more.
Change your environment and your environment will change you.
People downplay how important one’s environment is to their success and failure.
When I say ‘environment’, I’m referring to both your personal environment (like say, your house) and your social environment (the people you frequently hang out with).
Personal Environment: If your house is filled with high calorie, hyperpalatable foods, there’s a very good chance you’re going to eat them even if you have healthier alternatives available. An apple? LOL, fuck you, gimme that Snickers bar.
On the other hand, if your kitchen is filled with fruits and vegetables you’re more likely to eat a piece of fruit.
Social Environment: It’s a popularly touted platitude that you’re the sum of the 5 people you commonly hang out with. If your friends and family aren’t supportive of your goals, it’s going to be really hard to achieve them.
This makes sense: If you’re trying to lose fat, but every weekend your friends want to go out and party so hard they don’t remember their own names until Sunday morning; you’re that much more likely to do the same. (Humans are social creatures and being a social pariah is, like, the worst.)
Conversely, if you have people in your network who also exercise and eat well – you’re more likely to do so. In one study, researchers found that the number of friends someone has in a weight loss community was directly correlated with how much weight they lost.
1) Go through your kitchen and remove any high-calorie, hyperpalatable foods. Cookies, candy, cereal, ice cream – whatever. Put them all in a bag and instead of throwing them away, donate the food (e.g. to a homeless shelter). And the next time you go shopping, make sure you don’t buy any of this stuff.
Look. You probably don’t want to hear this but tough because you need to: If you want to achieve your fitness goals, you’re going to have to give up certain things. And one of those certain things are foods that will tempt you to break your diet and overeat.
Leave all the tasty stuff for when you go out. This way you’re less likely to overeat. 3
2) The people you hang out with will play a huge role in how successful you are in achieving your results. This is why I encourage you to join online forums and communities – it’s a way for you to engage with like-minded people and share your troubles and achievements with those on the exact same journey as you.
– For more ways to set up your environment for success, read this
5. You can’t out train your diet
“Don’t rely solely on lifting weights or cardio to get into shape. Abs are made in the kitchen. I don’t care if you work out 20 hours a week, if you’re eating like crap you’ll never see the results you want.”
It’s common for people to resort to exercise when they want to lose fat. Unfortunately, this is a losing strategy.
Here’s why: If you run at a moderate pace for an hour, you’d burn around 500 calories. If you did this every day for a week you’ll have lost a pound of fat. 4
BUT. You’ve also wasted 7 hours of your life slaving away on the treadmill, and, not forgetting the amount of energy and willpower required to do this.
If you simply reduced your food intake by 500 calories; which is roughly the number of calories in a Snickers Duo or a Big Mac, not only will you have saved yourself 7 hours to spend as you please – like, you know, living your life – it’s also infinitely easier to do. 5
What this means for you: Set a calorie deficit by reducing food intake. Strength train to build and retain muscle. And aim to be slightly more active throughout the day by increasing your NEAT.
6. The scale: A double-edged sword
While the scale can offer a way for you to gauge your progress, it can also backfire, as one reader pointed out.
“(I know this won’t work for everyone, but I had to do it or I would have lost my damn mind.) I know some people have to weigh themselves daily for accountability, but not me. For me, it was a total mind fuck. Even though my mind knows that one’s weight fluctuates daily for a number of reasons, I still let it really upset me. If my weight went up on the scale in the morning, I was PISSED. And that’s the way I would start my day. It was horrible, and I felt so defeated.”
What can you do instead?
“Take progress pictures at least monthly. I never tire of looking at them. My god are my starting photos embarrassing. Like, bury me under a rock embarrassing, but you will feel so, so good looking back at them, I swear!
Also, measure yourself. Even if the scale doesn’t change or you can’t take pictures for whatever reason, your measurements will change if you’re on the right track!”
– Amanda C
Another great way to track progress is to track and record your lifting progress. As Amanda goes on to explain:
“Record your weights. I just started recording the amount of weight I lift for each exercise. Why I wasn’t doing this the whole time is something I kick myself over. I didn’t really think about it and when I did, I didn’t think it was that important. Now I wish I could know what I lifted in April compared to now. I know it’s more, but I don’t know how much. I’ve started recording during my second round of my program but I missed out on four months of recording my strength gains.”
7. Set realistic expectations
“You didn’t gain weight overnight, therefore weight loss won’t happen overnight either!”
Perhaps the biggest reason people fail with their fitness goals is due to what I call an Expectation-Reality Mismatch.
Let’s assume you thought you’d be six-pack lean in 6 weeks. In the early stages, your motivation is high because all you know is in six weeks you’re going to be ripped. But as you get closer to the six-week mark and your progress is not where you anticipated it to be – motivation starts to dwindle. Eventually, six weeks come and go and you haven’t achieved the six-pack you were convinced you’d have by now, and so, you give up.
This is an Expectation-Reality Mismatch. When your expectation of achieving a goal (like, abs in 6 weeks) is mismatched to the reality of achieving that goal (you actually needed 16 weeks) – you become demotivated and give up.
This is why setting realistic expectations from the start is so important. If you know that, based on your starting position, you need 16 weeks to lose fat – and six weeks go by and you’re not there yet; you’re not stressing because you know that you still have another 10 weeks left.
It’s awesome that you “want a six pack”, or “a bigger ass”, or whatever – but, at the same time you need to have realistic expectations of how long it will take for you to achieve the goal based on your starting position.
Here are some guidelines.
Fat loss expectations: Set fat loss targets between 0.5 – 1% of your total body weight per week.
The benefit of using percentages is the rate of loss automatically scales with your body weight, like so:
Muscle gain expectations: There are quite a few muscle growth models out there that provide us with a good guideline. However, the two that I often refer to are the Lyle McDonald Model and the Aragon Model.
NB – The more you weigh the nearer the higher end, and the lighter you weight the nearer the lower end of each range.
I’ve taken averages of both the McDonald Model and the Aragon Model and put them into the graph above to make things simple.
Please bear in mind that these are just guidelines and will vary from person to person. You won’t always gain this exact amount of weight per month. Like with fat loss, use the numbers as a guide but be more focused on the process; namely, are you progressing with your lifts over time? If you are, then you’re very likely gaining muscle.
8. Celebrate your Small Wins
“I’m trying to learn to celebrate the small accomplishments daily, and not get so bent out of shape when I have a “bad day” at the gym. I’m showing up. I’m putting in the work. And, I have to learn to appreciate that and NOT be so damn hard on myself.”
“I have to remind myself of this on a weekly basis. It takes time and effort, day in and day out. It’s easy to become disillusioned when you don’t see the results as quickly as you’d like. So be patient, set small goals and celebrate the victories, no matter how little they may be.”
“One thing that I would do differently and I wholeheartedly recommend is to look back at your starting point in the moments of doubt and lack of self-content. And if you’re just starting for the first time, realise that you don’t have to go balls to the wall. If you’re not active, if you never exercise, merely implementing walks few times a week, or short daily distances, signifies that you are doing infinitely more work than before.”
– Darko Botic
You have to learn to celebrate your Small Wins.
I know you want to lose fat and build muscle and have washboard abs and tight glutes and thicccc legs and arms that pop out your sleeves, like, yesterday. I know. But, if you don’t celebrate the Small Wins – you’re going to very soon become disheartened at your apparent “lack of progress.”
– If you never tracked calories before but you just went a month tracking everything – WIN.
– If you were intimidated to go to the gym, but you went in and did your entire workout – WIN.
– If you prepped and ate your own meals for the whole week – WIN
– If you went out with friends and didn’t go YOLO up in dat bishhh – WIN
Seriously, this is SO. FUCKING. IMPORTANT.
Here’s why: Every small win feeds the positive feedback loop. This, in turn, builds confidence. This means you can do something a bit more challenging. Slowly you start to see progress – bingo! Motivation increases. Now you want to continue doing this because it feels awesome – bingo! Another boost in motivation. Now you’re really seeing changes – again, bingo! Another boost to your motivation.
Yes, be focused on your end goal but also take the time to stop and congratulate yourself on the progress you’re making towards it.
9. The best plan is one you can stick to
“The number one priority of any workout or nutrition program should be adherence. You can have the best goddamn program on the planet, but if you can’t stick to it, it’s useless.
Do bodyweight training if you hate lifting weights, don’t restrict yourself to certain foods, don’t do cardio if you hate it (it’s not necessary for fat loss anyway), etc.
The fitness game is a long one. You won’t build pounds of muscle in 1 month or shred loads of fat in 1 week.
Sure, you could diet on 1000 calories or do high-volume soul-crushing workouts for a week, but could you sustain that for a month, 6 months, 2 years? Most men will need 2-3 years(of proper training and dieting) to achieve their desired physique.
Make your program work for you, not against you, and you will be able to stick to it and reap the rewards.”
– Mark H, simplyfitblog.net
“Find a routine and stick to it. Like waking up at the butt crack of dawn and breaking a sweat while the rest of the world is tucked in bed? Do you, bruh. I, personally, find working out on my lunch break works best for me. It gets me away from my computer for an hour and gives me some midday energy when I have lost the will to work need an extra boost. Then, I plan my day around it by scheduling meetings either in the morning or afternoon. If there is a lunchtime meeting I can’t wiggle out of, I plan to go first thing in the morning or after work.”
– Kristin M
“Do your best to figure out what works best for you. Never be afraid of experimenting, never falter from the idea to try something that you might find more sustainable.”
– Darko Botic
I’m about to blow your mind, so take a seat. Ready? OK: You’re less likely to continue doing something if you don’t enjoy it.
Hear that? That’s the sound of your mind being blown.
Ok, now go pick up all the tiny pieces of your mind that were just blown to smithereens and put them back together so we can continue.
Done? Good, because I’m about to make a point, so listen: Pick what’s sustainable for you and do that.
– If you enjoy eating low-carb, eat low carb; if you can’t imagine your life without carbs, then eat carbs.
– If you enjoy callisthenics, do callisthenics.
– If you enjoy eating Paleo and doing CrossFit, eat Paleo and do CrossFit.
– If you enjoy putting butter in your coffee, what the fuck is wrong with you?
Not to go all cliche on your ass, but this fitness thing is a lifelong commitment and the only way to stick to it is by doing something that’s sustainable long-term. Hint: Exactly what juice cleanses and crash diets are not.
10. Bad days are going to happen
“I have accepted the fact that some days you are just going to feel
like you suck. For women, this VERY MUCH coincides with their monthly cycle.
I AM NOT KIDDING. THIS IS SERIOUS SHIT.
Hormones can make you feel like a crazy person. And, for me, it really showed up in the gym. There have been many days when I just wanted to say FUCK IT and go the fuck home. I felt like I sucked and was a total loser.
But, I’ve learned, more often than not, the feeling of suckiness is very much related to my monthly cycle AND IT WILL PASS. More importantly, I DO NOT SUCK.” (Emphasis mine.)
“Every time you think you blew it, just ask yourself: What is going to happen if I miss a training session or if I overeat for one day? And be rational with the reply.”
– Darko Botic
When you see someone who has achieved a goal, like say fat loss – there’s a tendency to think that this person always has great days.
– They always crush their workouts
– They always hit their calories and macros, or simply, eat well.
– They always get their 8 hours of sleep and take all their vitamins.
The truth is – they don’t.
Those people struggle just like anyone else and they also have bad days where their workouts suck and they eat poorly, and they don’t want to go outside to get their steps in because it’s raining so fuck it.
There’s one key difference between the people who have achieved the goal and those, like you, who are on the proverbial journey: The people who seem to have it all figured out know that the bad days are going to happen – heck, they know that the bad days are going to far outweigh the good days. And because they’ve understood this, when the bad days do happen they don’t freak out. They do the best they can, accept what’s happened, and move on.
Doing this leads to consistency, which leads to incremental progress, which eventually leads to huge changes.
11. Consistency > Intensity
“The key to all of this is consistency. Just keep showing up. Keep putting in the work. Keep holding yourself accountable for what you put in your freaking mouth. The results will follow. Just not as fucking fast as we want them to.”
– Stevie L
“If you stop, you’re gonna gain again. In the beginning, I lost quite a lot, then I became complacent. I stopped. Next time I weighed myself again, I re-gained 5kg. This will happen to you, too. So for the sake of all your hard work, please don’t stop. Don’t go back to your old habits, they will bring you back to your old weight. I still struggle with this, the only difference is I catch it after .5 to one kg – and then, I adjust what’s been going wrong and my weight goes down again without needing to diet. So, please, keep yourself in check. It’s ok to take a break, but never stop.”
– Veronika L, Instagram: @scorpionlady77
“It’s fine to not be in deficit every single day. If I’m starving due to PMS, or going out for drinks later randomly followed by a kebab – the damage isn’t a deal breaker. As long as I log everything and am aware of how bad a day/evening was, I know what steps I can take later to counteract it. Or sometimes I didn’t even need to counteract it – if I didn’t go over maintenance, I could just wake up the next day and try to hit my regular deficit goal knowing my weight loss would simply be slightly slower – but all is not lost!”
– Klaudia S
“When I started, I did everything, every day. No rest. I was punishing myself. I would run longer distances three times a week, lifting weights five times, doing those ridiculous Beach Body programs like P90X and Insanity, and walking every day. When I broke, I broke severely. On days when I couldn’t train – even if the reason were as serious as testicular surgery (not joking) – I would get severely depressed.“
– Darko Botic
Take a look at this graph:
The red line represents Person A: This is the person who starts a new fitness plan and goes all out. They drastically cut calories; restrict all their favourite foods; stop going out with friends; start training 7x/week.
They make some progress at the start but eventually hit a wall and as their enthusiasm and energy start to fade, so does their progress. And they quit.
The blue line represents Person B: This is the person who starts slow. They set a reasonable deficit they can adhere to, they only go to the gym 3x/week because it’s what makes sense for them and their schedule, they still go out with friends on the weekend, and enjoy their favourite foods now and again.
Person B may not be making progress as fast as Person A, but because they’ve made sensible choices that they can stick to, it allows them to be consistent; and as the graph shows, they end up making more progress in the long run.
The likelihood of you achieving your fitness goals this year is predicated not on how hard you can go; but how long you can keep going. 6 So, to quote Master Yoda: Be like the blue line you should, fuckface.
12. Make it a priority
“I’ve been super committed to fitness and eating right (for the most part) for several years – at least 8 years +. I’ve found that if I don’t get a workout in, I get really crabby. It HAS to be a part of my day, it has to be a priority, it has to become a HABIT, and other things simply have to wait or be lower on the totem pole. I’ve made many sacrifices to get to my workout, but it’s for my own benefit. Sometimes, I am my own priority!! And dammit, deservedly so.”
– Katie W
“My takeaway from all of this is that while I was a size 16 through all of this… from 52-38% body fat… through 30lbs of weight (up and down). I still showed up. I still made fitness a priority. I still took care of myself. I still tried. I still kept learning. And maybe I will never break that darn size 16 barrier, but I’ll be the fittest size 16 out there.”
Something being a priority simply means it’s important enough for you to dedicate the time and attention to it. And the simplest way to make something a priority is to schedule it into your day. Physically putting something in your diary marks it as important and makes it palpable, in turn, you’re more likely to do it.
13. On the importance of strength training (and the “bulky” myth)
When I sent out the email, I specifically asked my female readers to share their thoughts on strength training and getting ‘bulky’ – take it away, ladies.
“I wish I would have started lifting earlier. I had a horrible experience when I was in school and I just thought I hated lifting. Then I thought, “If I lift, I’ll probably get all bulky and look creepy.” So not true. Even during my first five months I was continuously losing fat and looking longer and leaner.
I know it’s crazy, but I feel like I’m taller now. Which I’m not, but I am leaner which adds to that illusion (at least in my mind!). I was always one of those girls on cardio machines, eating salad and slaving to lose weight.
I never realized how “skinny fat” I looked even when I thought I was lean. Once I started lifting, I could totally see the difference and why lifting was so important to overall health and wellness.”
“And LADIES!!!!! For fuck sake. You are not going to turn into a beefcake if you lift weights. You’re just going to look fit as hell. So get OVER it. This is still hard for so many women, even for my own friends (who can SEE my results), to understand.”
– Katie W
“Lifting will not make you bulky. If I had a penny every time a girl said she doesn’t want to lift weights because she doesn’t want to “get bulky”, I’d be rich. I started lifting light with high reps because I didn’t know how my body would respond. I had come from a cardio-centric fitness routine, mostly doing spin classes with my friends, park runs on the weekends and HIIT classes during the week. When I first implemented weight lifting into my fitness routine and nearly stopped cardio altogether, I noticed my glutes and quads start to fill out. I wanted to stop because I was noticeably getting bigger, but after a couple months of sticking to strength training, I started to lean out and realised I was gaining muscle while losing fat. It’s been 8 months now, and I’m looking better than I’ve looked for years.”
– Kristin M
“The big shift in my exercise routine came in mid-2015 (age 27) when I started running and working out with a male friend. He promised me I wouldn’t bulk up and so I followed his fairly typical guy split of back/bi, chest/tri, shoulders/forearms, and leg day. For the first time, I noticed an actual change in my body. I was still thin but I was building lean muscle and I liked the way I looked. My legs, which had always been absurdly skinny (I wouldn’t wear shorts because I always got called chicken legs growing up), started to fill out some. My butt was growing. I could actually see my abs. Also, I just really enjoyed lifting. It was a lot of fun and I liked watching my body change and seeing myself get stronger.”
— Ashton H
As I’ve pointed out before, regardless if your goal is to build muscle or lose fat – you need to be strength training.
14. Setting Constraints
While calorie balance will always be king, setting up constraints on how you consume those calories can help. For example, Katie has found controlling portion sizes and using fasting beneficial: “Portion control is huge, and also, I try not to eat late at night. I also try to fast as much as I can between my last meal and the first meal of the day.”
Now, just for the record, eating late at night isn’t going to lead to fat gain as long as your daily calorie totals are in check. However, setting limits on when you do and don’t eat can help aid in controlling your calorie intake.
Another point to consider on setting constraints is when it comes to tasty, hyperpalatable foods. James offers a really insightful tip here: “Make a conscious decision when to eat for enjoyment. Too much of good thing makes everything dull, but when limited to special moments a cheeseburger is fucking amazing!”
Constant exposure to hyperpalatable foods increases your hedonic setpoint – meaning, you don’t get the same satisfaction so you need something just that bit tastier. By limiting your exposure to these sorts of foods means that when you do eat them you derive infinitely more satisfaction and pleasure.
Some suggestions for setting constraints:
– Set a rigid eating schedule: Choose a period of the day when you’ll eat and when you won’t – also known as intermittent fasting. You don’t need to eat ‘six small meals a day to lose fat’ nor do you need to continually snack – what are you, 12?
– Meal Planning: Planning out your meals a few days or a week in advance means you don’t have to think about when and what you’re going to eat. Which reduces the amount of mental energy you spend on making decisions.
– Restrict certain foods to special occasions. As mentioned in point #3, not everyone can moderate certain foods. If you know this is you, don’t bring them into the house and only consume them when you’re out or on special occasions.
15. Be honest about your reality
“I weighed about 260 pounds, on my 5′ 7″ frame. I was in denial – I wore leggings instead of the size 18W/20W jeans that fit. I told myself that they just “ran small” since I had “bought them at Target.”
– Meg C
“I was looking through my phone at pictures from the trip to Hawaii I took in late February. I saw a picture of myself in a dress and the only thing my eyes were drawn to was how fat my arm looked. I hated the way I looked and all the extra fat that was on my body. I immediately began to try to find something to help me fix how off track I’d gotten. So when I started my journey, I weighed in at around 190 lbs. It was the heaviest I had ever been. I knew I wanted and needed to make a change.”
– Amanda C
“Yes, it’s “just a number”, but this number has huge implications for your health, energy, self-esteem and health (yes I know that’s in there twice, that’s because health is fucking important, duh). So get over yourself and start telling yourself the truth. I know it hurts, I’ve been there. I got up to an obese BMI until I got the heart to step on a scale and I wish I’d done it sooner.”
– Veronika L
“Exposing the True fucking Lies that you tell yourself will open the door to real possible change.
I am using all these True Lies as an excuse to not get off my ass and bring some fucking effort and discipline to the table and create the change in my life that no one else can”
“The original motivation was fuelled with the incredibly firm resolve to never experience, or consider, dying again. Life of morbid obesity brought me depression, anxiety attacks, two suicide attempts, many more contemplations of ending my life, and the final event that made me completely change into a man I am today.”
One thing I noted in a lot of the emails was that moment – an epiphany of sorts – where the reality of their situation hit them. Whether it was something as innocuous as seeing an old photograph and realising they’d let themselves go, or, in more extreme cases being hospitalised due to their weight and realising that dying wasn’t such a good idea.
Whatever the case may be: Your body (and health) is your responsibility. And until you decide to make a change – nothing is going to happen.
16. Use your fitness goals as a way to self-improvement, not to fill a void or find happiness.
“Looking back, and despite all this, I reflect and I realize that there is no defining moment that made me miraculously happy, or feel that my life was somehow “better.”
Crossing the marathon finish line was somewhat anticlimactic for me. I felt fine. I never had any internal struggles, or any “fuck this shit. I’m out” moments during the race. This is what people told me I’d feel, and I didn’t feel any of it. I still had gas in the tank, and while I didn’t WANT to go any further, I could have easily done another 4-5 miles. I was mildly…disappointed. I wasn’t disappointed because of my pace – I finished within the window I knew I was capable of. I was disappointed because I didn’t feel like a better person than the person who crossed the start line.
Honestly, it was the same as all of the other moments I described before: I felt a fleeting “wow! This is cool” moment. But, at the end of the day, it’s always “What’s next?”
Weight loss is the same. Sure, I may be happier now that I’m 60 pounds lighter – but that’s because I’m taking care of myself, and surrounding myself with people who are supportive. I’m cutting loose from people who were always holding me back, or who were jealous of my success. I’m doing things for me.
It’s not the weight loss that has made me happy, it’s all that other mushy human woo-woo stuff. That’s the kernel of information that I wish someone would have really stressed to me, although I’m sure my 260-pound self would have had the message lost somewhere in the fat residing in my thick skull.
But, what I do know is that I need to lose another 20-ish pounds of fat; even if that happens within the next 3 months, I’m only going to be a happier version of myself at that point if I’m doing more to enrich who I truly am. If I’m neglecting social events, eating separate from my family, or skipping treats at work only to lose 20 pounds of fat and I’m sad all the time because of that – it won’t be worth it or sustainable. I’ll be 20 pounds lighter and miserable, which could spin me back to where I started from in the first place.”
– Meg C
Getting in shape is an admirable goal, certainly. But if that comes at the cost of everything else – friends, family, work, your mental and physical health: Is it worth it?
As I pointed out in this article, “Use your fitness goals as a way to self-improvement, not to fill a void or find happiness.”
Your fitness goals should add to, not detract from, your life. And if they are, you need to take a hard look at what you’re doing.
Yes, you should have periods when you’re intensely focused on a goal – say, during a dieting phase. But you should also have periods where you’re not so neurotic over your physique and eating a fucking ice cream. Or two.
17. Be process oriented versus goal oriented
“I was becoming obsessed with numbers – measurements, weight loss on the scale, etc. This stuff fluctuates. But when I started focusing on consistency with calories and setting fitness goals (come onnnn 10 pull-ups), the personal challenge became much more rewarding, and a much less toxic frame of mind”
Most people who want to change their body and health focus on the end goal – “I want abs or a bigger ass.” You want abs or a bigger ass? Cool. What the fuck does that even mean? It means nothing. Worse, you become so fixated on the end goal you don’t even realise the progress you’re making and sabotage your progress.
I see this happen with new clients all the time: “I’ve been dieting for a month and I’m not making any progress because I don’t have abs yet”, oh really? What about the fact you dropped 5 inches from your waist? Or that you managed to get 5 pull ups when you couldn’t do one a month ago? Or that you tracked all your food intake and went to the gym consistently for an entire month when previously you didn’t have a clue about nutrition, and the only time you saw the gym was when you walked past it on your way home from work?
Like Victoria pointed out, shifting your focus away from things you have zero control over – like the scale and measurements – and to tangible, actionable things like “get 10 pull-ups” or “consistently track calories for a week”, is far more effective.
It’s also something you have full control over. Not losing weight? Manage your calorie tracking better. Not getting stronger? Tweak your programming.
And here’s the thing: The more you focus on the process, the more those other things – weight, measurements, visible abs, bigger glutes – also improve.
Have your end goal in mind, but be more focused on what you need to do to get to it.
18. Focus on keeping the goal the goal
“I wanted to run a marathon, get down to 20% body fat, AND STILL have energy for 3-4 days of 5am Crossfit per week. Although none of those goals are mutually exclusive, you have to prioritize and be gentle with yourself.
I’ve learned that if I want to be 20% body fat as quickly as possible, I need to cut out the endurance running, eat more protein, lower my carb intake, and do more weightlifting.
If running is really important, I may really only see negligible increases in strength or strength maintenance, as well as very little movement of fat loss due to the nutritional requirements and overall stress on my body and constant inflammation from hours of pounding the pavement or braving trails.”
What’s your biggest goal right now: Do you want to lose fat or build muscle?
Whatever it is – focus on that one thing. If you’re carrying a lot of body fat, then forget about building muscle and getting jacked until you’ve dropped down to a healthier body fat percentage. If you’re lacking muscle mass, then forget about dieting to get ‘ripped’ until you’ve spent some time gaining muscle. 7
To make progress, you need to focus on one thing. Trying to do everything at once will overwhelm you and prevent you from making progress at all.
19. Start small
“Just start! Find one habit you can change now. Maybe it’s switching from that daily 400-calorie, sugar- and cream-laden coffee to black coffee. Or it could be walking 3 miles, 3 days a week. Stick to that one thing for a month and see how much better you feel. No, you won’t have your dream body right away but you changed a habit and developing good habits is what maintaining your weight loss is all about.”
“Start small. I used to have the worst eating habits. I could finish a large bag of chips and drink a few sodas in one sitting. I would have palatable foods in the home almost all the time and my sugar intake was through the roof.
When I made the decision to change my lifestyle, I started with cutting sugar. I ordered coffee with half the sweetener. I changed my sodas to sparkling water. I stopped buying junk food from the grocery store. I made myself read the labels and record my calorie intake.
After a year, I noticed a huge difference in how I ate. I now preferred having black coffee and I actually enjoyed healthy foods.”
BJ Fogg, the world’s leading habit researcher, agrees with this suggestion. He’s found that the best predictor of whether someone establishes a habit or not will be if they start small. 8
Start with the smallest change you can. Make it ridiculously small so that there’s no reason you can’t succeed with it.
- Maybe you swap your calorie-laden drink for a zero-calorie alternative.
- Put sugar in your coffee or tea? Swap it for a calorie-free sweetener like Stevia.
- Instead of going to the gym every day, start with 2 or 3 times per week.
It all sounds so underwhelming, right? That’s the point. These small changes allow you to start – which builds momentum and confidence. And then, slowly, over time you can build on them. (Refer back to the positive feedback loop in point 8.)
20. Learn how to cook
“The best thing you can do for yourself (if you don’t already know how) is to learn how to cook. Cooking your own meals means you have control over what goes in them, which makes it easier to track your calories.
Plus, if you’re eating out less you’ll end up saving some money which is always nice.
Once you get the hang of planning and cooking your meals and figuring out what you like, you can start meal prepping. I try to at least prep my week’s lunches every Sunday. I don’t go crazy and make a week’s worth of meals in one day, but I do get groceries every weekend and prepare one or two large batches of protein and veggies that I can take with me to work for lunch, or grab in the evening for dinner if there’s no time to cook.
I also make overnight oats for breakfast most days and eat them cold so I don’t have to cook anything in the mornings.”
– Robyn B
I’m always shocked at how many people can’t cook a basic meal. I’m not suggesting gourmet meals here, either; but everyone should be able to cook simple, basic meals.
21. “Be strict with what you can control, so you can enjoy what you can’t control”
This was such a great point that it deserved its own section entirely.
“Train for the unexpected – If you’re like me and have a serious case of FOMO when a picture of your friends pops up as you scroll through your Instagram feed and you have to decline the invite because you didn’t get your gym sesh in for the day, this advice is for you.
Train every day you can. Some weeks I train three days and some weeks I train six days. That way, when Meaghan calls you up on a Thursday evening after a tough day at work and says she has two tickets to see Jay-Z in concert, you can gleefully sing you’ve “got 99 problems but skipping the gym ain’t one” without feeling a glimmer of guilt.
This also holds true for nutrition. Say you woke up and scarfed down a full English breakfast and a fat stack of pancakes. Then for lunch you sunk a Big Mac and washed it down with a strawberry milkshake. Then your friend Lucy calls you and invites you to dinner at a new restaurant opening that you’ve been dying to go to. Do you a) go and dig yourself deeper into the pit of a calorie surplus or, b) politely decline and sit at home all evening shaking back and forth into a FOMO fit? So my trick is to not put yourself in that situation to begin with. Eat healthy during the day/week so that you’re on track for success, so you can say yes to a social life and not feel bad about it.
So, the lesson here is: Be strict with what you can control, so you can enjoy what you can’t control (in the name of FOMO). It is a lifestyle, after all.”
– Kristin M
22. Work with a trainer or coach
“Work with a trainer at first, even if it costs extra. Or, if you have a buddy that works out, ask to join him if he doesn’t mind. You’re going to need someone to help you get started, get you on a workout routine, and show you the correct form. This is a must.”
23. “There are no shortcuts, there is no easy road”
I want to end on this point from Darko:
“If you want to see progress and reach your goal – eventually you’ll need to work hard for it. There are no shortcuts, there is no easy road. For some, it will be easier, but for most of us, it comes down to long-term discipline, smart planning, keeping the goals realistic, maintaining sanity, and packing everything into a box of rationality and resiliency.”
Don’t forget your free downloads
Here’s what you get:
• A PDF of the article. To print out or read offline.
• A quickstart checklist: A TL;DR of each point with action steps.
Get the best fitness emails on the internet.
I send out weekly emails to over 14k people on training, nutrition, mindset, and everything in between to help you with your goals. These aren't published anywhere else, and my subscribers tell me they're the best fitness emails on the internet.Get my emails