This article originally appeared on JillFit, a health and fitness blog by Jillian Coleman. Coleman was a co-founder of Metabolic Effect, Inc. and has over 15 years of experience in the fitness industry.
In order to attain a very lean physique, it takes a certain amount of obsession.
And I say that with zero unkindness and with no judgment. It’s just a fact. It’s difficult to attain a super lean body without prepping and cooking your meals at home for the week. It’s nearly impossible to achieve a low body fat % without scheduling your workouts into your weekly schedule and being consistent.
In other words, you can’t wing your way to a lean body.
It takes a certain level of awareness, conscious effort and planning. Time. Mental energy. Prioritizing. Focus. Like any goal, a very lean physique is something you dedicate yourself to, 100%. You make sacrifices.
And that’s perfect for those who want that above all else and choose to place their energy in those places with a large chunk of their time, like fitness or figure pros or fitness models whose job it is, or even full-time trainers who have been able to automate the other parts of the their lives to leave the time and mental space available for getting their leanest body, not unlike the life I led for many years while competing and modeling.
But like it or not, our focus is finite.
I like to think about mental energy like a pie chart. We choose how big of a slice we dedicate to physique endeavors. Or to our career. Or our family. Or our personal relationships and friends. There’s no judgment, it all simply comes down to a choice. None better than another. But if you add energy in one place, realize you take it away from somewhere else, bottom line.
Chances are if you’ve seen someone who seemingly “has it all,” they have areas in their lives that get neglected. Of course they do. That’s natural. That’s normal. That’s human nature. Everyone is doing the best they can, and side note: the LEAST helpful thing we can do to ourselves is hold ourselves to some arbitrary standard of perfection that does. Not. Exist. It’s impossible and honestly, it’s the quickest way to misery.
Breaking the Obsession
If you’re on a physique mission, have at it. This post is not for you. This post is for people who, like me, don’t want to be obsessed with food every second. Who don’t want to be stressed about the number of cardio minutes they have to get in today. This post is for people who want to establish a way of eating and exercising that is effortless. (And FYI, “effortless” doesn’t mean “give up and get fat” either :))
This post is for people who are frankly exhausted from trying to keep up with all “the rules” associated with eating and exercising. Doesn’t mean you stop caring. It just means you question the rules and start to establish some workarounds for yourself.
In case you missed it, Jade and I put together an insanely awesome 60-minute interview here. And in the interview, I talked a lot about how I went from eating 5-7 times a day straight from Tupperwares to a more relaxed approach (and by “relaxed” I don’t mean eating anything I want–that’s anything but relaxing!). Instead, I stopped living and dying by every single nutrition rule out there and started listening to my body and getting back in touch with my internal signals–like hunger and cravings.
Relinquishing the reigns on all of the nutrition rules takes a leap of faith. It takes a level of SELF-trust. It takes questioning the experts and instead asking YOURSELF one question: Will this work for me long-term?
That’s it. Not, “Does this work for other people?” or “What does this expert recommend?” or “So-and-so is doing this diet, maybe I should do that?” Hello. Remember you? YOU matter. Only YOU.
And part of getting in touch WITH YOU is learning to release the obsession. For all you know, it might be the stress itself about “the rules” that is preventing you from attaining the results you seek.
And ironically, I’ve found, in my own journey that once I managed to give up “the rules,” all of a sudden the urgency and illicitness associated with food fell away. My obsession with food dissipated almost entirely. It was as if I could take it or leave it. I still love yummy food (and wine!) but I don’t NEED it like I used to.
So, here are the ways I’ve used to stop the obsession and build a better relationship with food and exercise. Check them out. They may or may not work for you, but without trying, you’ll never know 🙂
1. Freely share your food more.
This is a food FOMO issue. I remember one time I actually STARTED CRYING when Jade took some of my Reese’s Pieces. Seriously. WTF. Talk about food obsession! Get a life, Jill! And though that’s a little extreme, you know what I’m talking about! You portion out whatevertreat you are going to have to “reward yourself” and someone asks, “Can I have a bite?” And you want to claw their eyes out, but instead you reluctantly nod and then mourn that precious bite you’re now going to miss out on.
So instead, could you see how the practice of sharing your food–offering it up before someone even asks, even faking your generous at first (ha!)–helps get you out of the FOMO mindset? Try it. And this point also brings me to the next one, which is…
2. Remind yourself, “Any food is available to me at any time.”
This was a big mindset switch for me. I think when we establish some foods as “okay to eat” and others get put on the “off limits” list, automatically we tend to crave the ones we decide we can’t have. And then they become illicit. But once you realize that any food you want is available whenever you want it, the urgency of needing to EAT IT ALL RIGHT NOW falls away.
Seems counterintuitive, right? Like if we make foods “available,” then we’ll just eat them all till they’re gone. But the opposite tends to be true over time: access dissipates urgency. In fact, I’d argue that it’s precisely BECAUSE of the way we put some foods on a prohibited list that makes them desirable. The forbidden nature increases longing.
So remember, you want sweets? You can always go out and BUY THEM. Anytime. So you really don’t need them tonight. Maybe tomorrow though. And then when tomorrow rolls around, ahh, you might not need them then either. Maybe the next day. And on and on. This practice puts you MORE in control, not less. You get around food and you don’t automatically need to binge. This is an abundance mindset.
3. Stop packing Tupperwares when you travel.
I know, I know. Experts say: you have to plan for success. And I agree. But remember, if the goal is to quit obsessing then what better way to do that than TRUST YOURSELF to navigate food and exercise situations when traveling? If you know how to order for health and maintenance, then it doesn’t matter if you end up at McDonalds, you can find something to order that won’t put fat on you.
I like this practice so much, because it helps us break those “situational eating” scenarios. If we have the mentality that we need our Tupperwares or else, then OF COURSE we’re going to feel like it’s a vacation every time we dine out. It’s going to feel like a “special occasion” to go to a restaurant or to the movies, so we’re helpless to make a good choice because it feels like a reward to NOT be eating out of Tupperware.
Instead, intentionally leaving the house without a plan forces you to navigate every circumstance you end up in to make a healthy choice. And the more you do that, the less stressed you get when presented with situations when “your food” is not available.
4. Relax about ”catabolism.” You’re not losing muscle by the second if you’re not eating 30g of protein every 3 hours.
I received an email from a reader last week asking about my email where I explained what I eat daily. I don’t eat before I work out in the morning because I do a 14-hour fast every night and I train best on an empty stomach. She asked if I was worried about “catabolism” and isn’t that bad and not recommended?
I totally understand her question because I used to be worried about this too. There’s a lot of experts cautioning against going too long between meals or not eating before training. And I understand why they say it. But again, this is simply a standard “rule” that doesn’t take into account the actual person. And fitting the person (with all their unique metabolic tendencies and psychological sensitivities) to black-and-white rules is simply shortsighted.
The truth is that, yes, chronically high stress hormones like cortisol can, over time, strip muscle. BUT, it doesn’t happen after mere days or weeks AND every single person is 100% unique in this regard. Some people can get away with more fasting or going longer between meals or not eating before training, and not only is it okay, but they feel great and it’s effortless. So why would we ever ask them to change that?
5. Never force yourself to eat because “it’s time.”
This was a huge mindset shift for me. I used to eat according to a clock, every 3 hours. In the interview, Jade talks about the idea of eating being both physiological AND behavioral. In other words, if you eat every 3 hours, YOU TEACH YOURSELF to be hungry every 3 hours. And sometimes, you’re not even hungry, are you? You’re just stuffing food down your throat because a) it’s time and b) what if you don’t and become ravenous?? Then you’ll surely eat every sweet within a mile radius, right? Wrong.
Remember, you don’t go from not hungry to famished in a split second. It’s possible to expose yourself to slight hunger in order to reacquaint yourself with the sensation of it, and then IN THAT MOMENT, make a good choice. This takes practice. Which bring me to my next point …
6. Stop being scared of getting hungry. Instead, practice minute exposures to hunger and get mindful.
I used to be scared of getting hungry. Because I worried that if I did, then I wouldn’t be able to stop myself from eating everything in sight. And because that was my mentality, of course that became my reality. I deprived, then I binged. Of course I did.
Furthermore, I didn’t trust MYSELF to handle hunger or be able to navigate it. So I did everything I could to prevent it, in effect never giving myself THE OPPORTUNITY to learn how to deal with it. So of course in the inevitable instances when I did experience hunger, I was helpless to handle the resulting overindulgence.
Over the last few years, however, I’ve started seeing the value in exposure to hunger. In small doses. I allow myself to get a little hungry and then IN THOSE MOMENTS, harness MINDFULNESS in order to make a good choice. Essentially building my willpower, like a muscle. There’s value in getting in touch with your physical sensations: hunger, cravings and energy balance. They give you immediate feedback into your metabolism.
And I like being able to make a wise choice in any circumstance. To feel in control of my choices all the time, regardless of where I end up. I don’t like the loss of control I use to experience in the throes of ravenous hunger years ago, as a result of zero practice with it. And when I don’t get practice, I’m helpless to handle those situations.
7. Pick your 1-3 daily “nutritional commitments” and just do those.
Yesterday morning on Twitter, Stuart Phillips, professor at McMaster University in Ontario, tweeted that for him, “protein is king, the rest just flows.” I agree with this insofar as I know that for me, protein satiates and satisfies so eating it at every meal is not only effortless, but one of my “my daily nutritional commitments.” I don’t like to call them “rules” because that makes it feel like a job. And when I feel like it’s my job, it’s not effortless anymore 🙂
“Daily nutritional commitments” (or DNCs) are 1-3 high-impact, low effort behaviors that you’ll do every day without fail. These are actions that, for you, if implemented consistently, leaves you very little wiggle room to “mess up” or “blow it.” Why? Because they are behaviors that limit feelings of deprivation. They help us feel more satisfied and satiated. Thus, we don’t ever reach the point of needing to overindulge. Yours will be different than mine, because you are different You need to take into account your unique metabolism, personal preferences and psychological sensitivities. Mine? Here:
1) Eat one huge #BAS every day, either at home or when dining out.
2) Eat protein at every meal.
3) Always keep a preemptive cheat (like a protein bar) in my purse.
That’s it. That’s all I commit to daily. It’s effortless and automatic and keeps me from ever getting into too much trouble.
8. Realize that a physique is not made or broken in a day, a week or even a month.
What’s up with the URGENCY? I kind of sort of hate that our industry has used so many sensationalist and alarmist tactics to the point that people are scared they might mess up every single second and as a result wake up like a whale overnight. There is no “right thing”–there’s only YOUR thing. And you don’t figure out your thing without trial and error. It’s not scary. It’s just eating. And you never reach a point of no returns. You’re never “too far gone.” Nothing is ever irreversible. Every meal is an opportunity.
And if you don’t make the best choice, don’t sweat it. Just move on to the next one. And the next one. Because your body currently is a result of your past choices–all of them. Not last night’s binge. You always have another chance to do better. Quit the all-or-nothing and realize that “good enough” gets results too.
9. Give yourself permission to not have to kill it every single day at the gym.
This goes to the black-and-white nature of diet and exercise. We think if we can’t do it all the way and follow all the rules to perfection, then why even bother?
I remember when I started personal training at 18 years old, I’d train a client for 60 minutes and the price was $35 for an hour. I had people canceling all the time. Probably a) because I was a shitty trainer and thought making people puke was okay, but probably it more likely had to do with the fact that b) THE SESSIONS WERE AN HOUR. #idie No wonder people didn’t want to come at 7pm to get their ass kicked for an hour!
I loved exercise so it never stressed me, but most clients don’t love exercise. It doesn’t actually feel good for many of them. It’s painful and exhausting and wine and cheese at 7pm sounds better. They thought, “Geez, an hour? I’d rather kill myself, why even bother going?”
But you know what happened? I switched to 30 minutes sessions after a few years and barely had ANY cancelations. They got BETTER results in less time and long gone was the all-or-nothing mindset. My clients started to see that in 30 minutes they could still get a lot done. And even if they were tired, they could make it 30 minutes.
So for us, let’s remember the same thing. Simply getting to the gym is perfect. You’re going to have shitty days of no energy. It happens to all of us. Honor it. And don’t stress. Do your best. And then you’ll also have great days, and on those days, go in and kill it. If you don’t feel like going because you don’t feel 100%, go anyway and do whatever. Seriously. I did an hour leisure walk on the treadmill this morning while talking to my friend on the phone (yes, I was that person). It was the best I could do today, and I let it be enough. Doesn’t mean I’ll never have a great day again. But I realize all I can do it my best and “my best” will change from day to day.