Many years ago nutrition was actually the first certification I ever achieved, and since then as a trainer I’ve helped countless people lose scale weight along with getting stronger and healthier. I’ve got some stories that would be very hard for people to believe. Over that time, I have seen so many consistent facts come out with people that are both successful and unsuccessful, so that it’s pretty easy to narrow down the winning strategies.
I’ve come up with a list of my top five weight loss tips…facts…hacks. Whatever you want to call them. These honestly don’t have a lot to do with what you’re putting in your mouth, but more why or why not. Hopefully it can turn on the light bulb in your mind that will help you make progress in the right direction instead of constantly going back and forth battling yourself to achieve better health from a bodyweight perspective.
Calories in is the number one metric to track
The simple fact is, that the amount of energy you take in is what is going to get distributed to your body and used. Some people add calories out to this metric, but the way it works is that your body uses a certain amount of calories per day, and this can be based on a number of different factors. What’s the most important part of this equation is the energy balance, meaning that you take in a certain amount of calories and your weight either goes down, stays the same, or goes up. Finding out that number first before you worry about the amount of calories you’re expending is the most important metric.
It’s been proven in studies over and over again that you can even eat 1500 calories a day of terrible food, IE. McDonald’s, and still lose weight. Is it the healthiest thing in the world? Absolutely not, and the volume of food that you’ll be taking in might be significantly less because the items are much more calorie dense, however the energy balance equation still holds true.
So if you have no idea how many calories you’re actually taking in, sit down and actually track it honestly for a couple of weeks. The results may shock you, as I’ve had happen with many clients in the past. Some days you could be taking in 1500 calories, and other days you are taking in 3500 and what that will do is average out over time. Don’t kid yourself by saying you’re being good during the week, and then drinking two bottles of wine and going out for high calorie meals on the weekends. Once you find your average number, figure out what direction your weight is trending in and then adjust accordingly – and slowly.
Until you know the amount of energy you’re taking in you won’t be able to figure out the other parts of the equation.
You can’t out train your diet.
As you might imagine based on what I just explained, simply increasing your exercise output isn’t necessarily going to skew things enough to be able to see results in a timely manner. In fact, what often happens is that people will start exercising more intensely and then they will reward themselves with food thinking that they have accomplished more than they actually have. As an example, you can go and do a spinning class at your local gym for 45 minutes and burn 500 calories. That same gym (as a reward) will suddenly say, ‘here have a protein shake’ which is made with all sorts of high calorie things because then it will taste better. So 400 of that 500 calories just got replaced with that one protein shake, which they will claim is healthy for you. Net loss? 100 calories.
Another example might be, ‘OK I can go for a walk, David! Burn some calories!’ Again, just as an example a 200 pound person walking at a moderate pace for 30 minutes will burn 167 calories.. this type of thing is typically replaced with one yogurt or a couple of pieces of fruit.
Now, exercise has so many other benefits beyond weight loss. It’s healthy, it’s good for your joints, it increases your strength, it gives you more energy, it helps you sleep better. However, heading off to Orange Theory Fitness a couple of times a week won’t help you at all if you reward yourself with a frothy drink from Starbucks right after the class or have two extra slices of pizza when you’re out with your kids for movie night because you ‘deserve it’.
Again, exercise is GOOD. Do it. Just remember that for weight loss it is usually a small part of the equation.
Fad diets work because they drop your calories.
We all know about the different diets that are out there. Paleo, keto, vegan, carnivore. In terms of weight loss programs there are Weight Watchers, Atkins, Bernstein. Diets that will tell you to drink shakes twice a day and then have one regular meal. Diets that will tell you to eat cabbage soup all day.
The fundamental thing that all of these diets do is the lower the amount of calories you’re taking in, which is why you will see a substantial amount of weight and water loss at the beginning of a diet. Typically people who are overweight will have to eat at least 10 to 12 times the amount of their body weight in calories to maintain their weight. So at 250 pounds, one typically has to eat about 2500 to 3000 calories a day – average – in order to maintain that weight. Suddenly I go on a diet where I drop that amount to even 2000 calories (if you’re eating the right foods this can be a substantial amount) and suddenly my weight starts go down. Surprise, surprise.
Keto is a perfect example of this. It will give people the impression that they can eat whatever the heck they want that’s delicious. Meat, butter, cheese, eggs, and they get to have all these keto snacks that they think are really healthy. Well if you pick up a package of dark chocolate keto nuggets from Costco, one 20 gram serving has 120 calories. That’s one nugget. And how many people eat just one nugget? Nobody. Is it a healthier snack than having an order of French fries? Possibly (three nuggets is the same as a regular order of fries by the way), but if you want to consider weight loss you could be sabotaging yourself quite a bit.
Extreme examples like Bernstein or the cabbage soup diet typically have people crashing their calories to 500 to 1000, and of course you’re going to lose weight at that level in an incredibly unhealthy way. I’m not going to get into the negative stress it places on your body, either. So don’t think it’s a magic pill, because the magic is just basic energy balance.
You don’t need to completely change your diet
What most people end up doing thanks to marketing hype, is they think that the newest diet is going to be the solution for them. Meanwhile, human beings are extremely habit oriented people. We do the same things, at the same time, in the same way for years. And when you try to change a habit, especially one that’s ingrained in physical and emotional reward patterns it is extremely difficult to stick to it.
Do you need to completely revamp your diet in order to achieve weight loss? Absolutely not. You don’t need to suddenly start eating things that you wouldn’t normally eat, or juicing everything, or starving yourself for 18 hours a day. You can still eat the same things that you would normally enjoy. But I have two little words for you: portion control.
Does your family all eat pasta on Friday nights and it’s a nice family event? Great, just figure out ways to make your portion of that meal a little bit less. Doesn’t even have to be a lot. If there’s a celebration like a birthday and you want to participate in cake, don’t deny yourself that, just have a smaller piece. If you’re out with friends having some drinks, make every other drink a glass of water or soda water instead of having another alcoholic beverage. Did you have a big meal at lunch because of reasons? Have a smaller dinner.
So many weight loss gurus will tell you that you need to completely change your entire lifestyle and human beings don’t work that way. In fact, your brain in your nervous system will resist change as much as possible because habits are comfortable and safe. Typically people who try to do this type of thing don’t sustain it for a period of time, and then wonder why they fail over and over again. Yes, there are certain fundamental things that you may need to eliminate, especially if you want to be a healthier human being (like extremely sugary foods, moderate alcohol, and large amounts of starchy carbohydrates), but making big changes all at once is a road to failure. Make small adjustments and maintain what you’re used to by either making your portion slightly smaller, or substituting lower calorie foods for higher calorie ones, and you will be much more successful over time.
Control your emotions when it comes to food
From a psychological standpoint, this is probably the number one thing that most people need to focus on if they truly want to change their habits and become healthier. We all have emotional connections to food, and to be completely blunt, food is an addiction for many people. We use it to soothe ourselves after a stressful day, we use it to reward ourselves for something we feel entitled to, and we even use it to show affection to our family members or even sabotage them because of our own feelings.
One way I always try to get my clients to think about food, is that food is simply converted into energy and used. If you’re using it for emotional reasons, then a small amount will have exactly the same effect as a big amount. What needs to happen is you need to adjust the emotional reasons that you eat certain foods, or adjust the priority for having that food.
A good example is a recent client who struggled for years with eating potato chips. It was a crunchy snack that brought her comfort in the evenings when she was watching television. Over the years the weight kept creeping up, and just like any addiction she would stop it for a period of time and then pick it back up again when a stressful situation happened in her life. The pleasure that eating the potato chips brought to her outweighed the fact that she was gaining weight. That was, until she went to her doctor and got some blood tests back that told her her cholesterol and triglycerides were at a high point. Getting back into a healthier state became more of a priority than comforting herself with food, and she was able to look at the chips as something that was hurting her and not helping her feel better. That simple mental change allowed her to drop 20 pounds and feel a ton better physically.
I have dozens of examples of this type of thing happening throughout the years, which is why I always bring it up. If you struggle with certain habits and feel like you are addicted to eating in certain ways, sometimes it helps to take a step back and really look at why you’re doing that from an emotional and mental standpoint rather than just thinking of it from a physical perspective. And then once you’ve figured out what your triggers and habits are, try to adjust them into a way that is more productive towards your weight loss goals. With any addiction, you will get urges. Your brain does not like change, but eventually over time if you dedicate yourself to the process you’ll find that it’s an adjustment in the right direction.
If any of these tips have resonated with you, please comment and feel free to share this article. I’m always interested to hear and see who is being reached by my work. And as always, I’m here to help if you have any questions. I hope you all have a fantastic week!
When I’m driving my kids to school and heading to work, I see a ton of people out in the mornings for a walk. Sometimes with an animal, and sometimes holding a set of Nordic poles. Enjoying nature, and getting in a great workout, right? Well, as with anything – it depends.
The top thing I hear from potential clients who are overweight and want to lose weight and get more active is “well, I walk.” The invention of the FitBit and devices like it have made getting in 10,000 steps a day a bit of a craze. And I’m all for people getting more active and healthier, but for the majority of people who really want results like weight loss, more strength and pain reduction, simply going for a walk isn’t going to get you there very quickly, and here’s why:
Walking Isn’t Intense Enough
To change the body, you need to provide a stimulus that is beyond what you normally do. Now, most people will think walking for 20 minutes is great – and if it’s more than you normally do it might be. However, most people simply go for a stroll at lunch and expect to lose weight. Simple math will tell you that this walk burns 140 calories, which is replaced as soon as you eat an apple. Even five days a week the calorie equivalent is basically one good solid hour long workout of high intensity. This is again, better than nothing, but please don’t expect any miracle weight loss.
Nordic walking at 4 MPH (which is quite fast for most people) burns 220 calories in 30 minutes. This is with the added pole movement. It feels great – and can be excellent for your mental health – but for fitness it is a bit lacking.
Walking will make you better at – walking. Unless you’re getting your heart rate up significantly you’re not getting any cardiovascular improvement. Unless you’re performing some body weight movements along the way (which is very easy to do) you’re not getting any strength improvements. So, what’s the benefit? One might be getting away from a seated position for a little while and destressing in the outdoors, but this again won’t give you any benefits for strength or weight loss.
People Use It To Justify Overeating
The amount of times I’ve heard “well, I went for a walk” at Starbucks while a person digs into a caramel latte could fill ten books. It’s the equivalent of the ladies who do Zumba or Aquafit at the gym and then promptly order a sugar loaded smoothie at the juice bar (often because they think it’s healthy – thanks, smoothie bar owners), instantly replacing every calorie they just burned. Plus, because they went to the gym that day I’m sure an extra glass of wine is fine at dinner. And then they wonder why they aren’t losing weight. Unless you’re paying attention to your nutrition weight loss simply isn’t going to happen. It’s a massive part of the equation.
This does not mean that you need to severely restrict your diet! There are simple changes you can make to support your new healthy habits (read my article HERE if you want some tips). You can still enjoy social time with friends and drink green tea or something that isn’t loaded with calories.
It’s Easy to Overdo It
I deal with overuse injuries on a daily basis. In fact, just because I spent the past weekend in Toronto and walked everywhere even my joints are a bit stiff today. If you suddenly take yourself from zero to a hundred without any progression then it’s easy to run into problems in your hips, knees and feet and ankles quite quickly. Then you get discouraged and stop. Many people join a group or start walking way too far way too soon because “it’s just walking”. It’s still loaded movement and repetition. The last thing we want is for you to get discouraged or injured before you even start, and walking is one of the chief culprits for this. Don’t even get me started on running.
So What are your Solutions? Again, there are some easy ways to ramp up something as simple as a walk and it doesn’t mean you have to run, enter an idiotic boot camp or kill yourself. In fact, for beginning exercisers this is a recipe for disaster.
It’s fairly simple to increase the intensity of a simple walk into something that will provide some results:
Get Your Heart Rate High, Even For Short Intervals
Studies show that increasing your heart rate to over 83% of your maximum for even four minutes can have a remarkable effect on your heart and lungs. This doesn’t mean you need to run – simply walk faster and with deliberate speed. It won’t take long for your heart rate to increase to the point where you are getting out of breath and you feel your muscles burning. Then stay there. Use the timer on your phone or other device and hold onto that level for 3-5 minutes. Even one minute has an effect, you just have to do more intervals. This is called interval training and it’s been proven to be the most effective method for increasing heart and lung capacity.
Add Some Strength Work
People seem to think that strength training is this horrible thing you need to do in a gym. Almost daily I provide simple isometric exercises for people they can do literally anywhere against a wall. In your office, at home or even at the gym with zero equipment required you can still generate strength. Do me a favour right now and find a wall. Stand with your back to it, rotate your foot out and left the side of your foot into the wall. Feel your butt fire? Great – push a bit harder and hold it for 30 seconds. Hang onto something if you need to for balance. You just gave your glute a workout. Most people while walking barely use their glutes at all because of the motion they are doing – so do this simple isometric (and a few others) in between those interval bouts – and give yourself some strength work at the same time.
All day long you’re going to pick things up, put them down, rotate your trunk, sit, sprint for the bus and many other things that need joint strength. It’s easy to add this into your daily walk with isometrics or bodyweight movements.
This may seem like a simple breakdown – because it is! Taking something like walking as a healthy habit and turning it into something much more effective over time isn’t difficult. If you’re trying to introduce this into your life, feel free to reach out for more detailed suggestions. I have an entire isometric at home system that I can share with you.
And, as always feel free to comment, tweet, add me to Facebook and reach out if you need anything!
I have clients who constantly talk to me about nutrition. I’m not an expert (even though my first certification ever 17 years ago was in nutrition) and usually will refer out if someone is looking for specific advice. Meal plans can be found readily online (for free, don’t know why people pay money for them), but people simply don’t stick to them.
However, there are some universal nutrition items that come up in everyone I deal with who is trying to lose weight or change their body composition. These are some harsh truths, but I hope they resonate with you. It’s nothing complicated. As with exercise, people obsess about the last 10% when they should be focused on the first 90 for real results. These are simple fixes and don’t take a lot of effort to adjust, but the results in a period of time can be staggering.
Here’s a quick list of 5 nutrition basics that you’re probably NOT doing:
You DON’T eat vegetables, or enough of them.
Most of us default to vegetables being a second thought when it comes to what goes on our plate. It’s a side at a restaurant that isn’t even considered beyond what kind of topping you’ll get on your baked potato. We will also eat fruit instead of vegetables and consider that just fine because it’s the same thing. Well, it’s not.
Fructose is more easily converted into fat – if you’re overeating, which most of you are. If you’re eating within your caloric energy requirements then it gets converted into blood sugar like any other carb and you use it for energy. However, if you want to remove that small risk (and greatly reduce your calories to boot) try changing out your banana for some carrot sticks or celery. 1 large banana is 140 calories and a cup of carrot sticks is 50.
You don’t get rid of starchy carbs when you can.
“Hey, instead of the pasta or mashed potato side can you just double my vegetables or give me some rice?” said nobody in any restaurant EVER. They will do it, by the way all you have to do is ask. This falls under the heading of portion control. One small serving of (1 cup) ravioli can be 200 calories and a cup of broccoli is 30. In a restaurant where you can actually control what they make and that you are PAYING FOR is where most people don’t limit the choices they should.
When was the last time a restaurant gave you a portion that was 1 cup? Again, never. This leads to overeating. If you now look at menu items in a typical restaurant you will see how loaded they are in calories (thank God for that) and that you can eat literally half and be just fine.
You don’t limit your added sugar intake.
One of my clients’ husbands literally took one step and started drinking his coffee black instead of double double at Tim’s. He dropped 8 pounds in two months DOING NOTHING ELSE. Traps like specialty coffees at Starbucks or protein smoothies which are touted as good for you are the worst culprits. I can’t count the amount of women who would do a group exercise class and then head down to the front desk for a “healthy” smoothie loaded with frozen yoghurt, replacing every calorie they just burned plus extra and wondered why they weren’t losing weight.
There is hidden sugar in many things we consume all the time, so adding more into it isn’t a good idea especially since again – more sugar in the blood gets converted to stored fat FIRST. Believe it or not, if you eliminate it for a couple of weeks you may go through withdrawal. That’s how prevalent it is in many things.
You don’t track your calories. Honestly.
Fitbits and other wearable devices have made exercise accountability easy and mindless. If only there was something you could do to track your calories. Oh wait, there is! There’s probably about 100 apps you can load onto your phone, and god forbid you have to type something into a database and press a couple of buttons.
Many of my clients complain it’s too hard and I give them my patented withering look. It takes five minutes a day. Literally. Delay the Netflix queue and input it and BE HONEST. If you had a handful of M+M’s at work, that goes in there. If you had sugar in your coffee or a glass of wine, it goes in there. You don’t stop recording on the weekend because “you were bad” and feel guilty. This is called self control and consistency, both of which are exactly what you need to lose weight.
You indulge “once in a while”.
Be honest with yourself. If you were, you would realize that the reason your weight isn’t under control is because you reward yourself and indulge way too often. Once a week MIGHT be fine for some people, for many it isn’t if you have a serious goal and a commitment. If you’re exercising intensely several times a week (which again, most of you aren’t – be honest) then you can get away with more.
That means ONE drink at Starbucks, not 3-4 times a week. That means ONE decadent dessert a week, not a couple of cookies every night. It means getting in touch with the reasons you’re eating the stuff, not just eliminating it. All those brownies, chocolate, sodas, restaurant food and French fries add up over time. And it takes time to eliminate them. Yes it tastes good. And yes, it helps when you’re stressed or feel like you need a hit to calm you down or feel better. But if it’s contrary to your goals then just STOP. Take a good look at your habits and figure out what patterns you have or what your relationship with food is and adjust it accordingly. Easier said than done I know, but it is the right step to take if you want to get your weight and health under control.
There you have it.
Did any of these resonate with you? Maybe more than one of them? Well, the best time to start a new habit is today. Don’t worry about days past and failed diets and bad things you have done previously. Today you can start a new habit. Start with the five items here and work on them and I can guarantee that you’ll be in a better place months from now. Get CONSISTENT.
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Any active person has had it happen. You are doing whatever activity you enjoy and suddenly feel a bit of a pull, cramp, sharp pain or something not quite right. Hopefully you’re smart enough to stop what you are doing and not push through the pain to complete whatever you are doing, but maybe not.
Then the inflammatory feeling starts kicking in. Your tissue will feel full, there may be lingering low level pain or sometimes acute high level pain when you move. Sometimes you can’t move without your body telling you not to through a jolt of pain. Often this is a bit indicator of the severity of whatever injury has happened.
So you realize that this is beyond a simple pull, mild strain or simple fatigue. You’ve done something that may require intervention and some sort of attention. You’ve injured yourself.
First things first: if you have acute high level pain and can’t move a limb or joint please GO TO A HOSPITAL. You will wait a while because musculo-skeletal injuries aren’t triaged as a priority but at least you will likely get some imaging immediately. There may also be things going on underneath the surface you have no idea about so better safe than sorry.
If that’s not the case, what is your next step. Well, there is a simple routine that you should follow, and it can be done in this order:
This is what you do immediately. The biggest thing to do with any injury is STOP MOVING IT. Don’t stretch it right away, don’t think that you can “push through the pain”. You will make things worse. Stop what you’re doing. Your body is very intelligent and is already doing what it needs to in order to start fixing things. Give it a chance and don’t make things worse.
Don’t ignore pain. Pain is a signal saying “QUIT IT”. Your body is literally telling you to stop what you’re doing just like taking your hand off a hot stove. Once you have stopped moving, the next step is…
Some questions to ask yourself:
- Is the pain acute with movement or does it come and go, for example it stiffens up during sleep or is painful at different times of day?
- Is my strength compromised for certain movements, ie can I not pick something up, reach over my head or extend my leg without a problem?
- Is there soft tissue damage? Swelling is one thing, but bruising typically means a much more severe trauma that requires attention faster.
The more you have information, the easier the next step will be because you can figure out which practitioner to see first and not waste your time. Have a soft tissue problem? Massage might be best? A serious joint issue? Maybe an osteopath or chiropractor (more on this later in the article). Arming yourself with answers and figuring things out on your own can be valuable in not wasting your time. That leads us to…
This does NOT mean going to someone like me and asking them what it is, because I have no authority to diagnose anything even with my years of experience. What is does mean is going to someone with the words Doctor in front of their name and ideally getting some testing and/or imaging. I always tell my clients to push for imaging because ultrasound and x-ray can reveal things simple testing cannot. If MRIs were more easily accessible that would be my default for many things. For those of you in Canada, remember that some provinces (ie Quebec for those of us in Ottawa) do allow paid MRI’s – you just have to pay for it.
As much as I appreciate the access to General Practitioners or walk in clinics, regular MD’s have little to no experience with bone and joint injuries and often will suggest exactly what I just said anyway, so don’t waste your time. And if a GP does give you a “maybe it’s this” diagnosis please get it confirmed by someone with experience and ideally imaging as I said.
Be proactive – once you have a diagnosis, learn everything about it that you can. It will not only educate you on what the injury is, hopefully it will make you realize WHY it happened and how to prevent it in the future. Often during my initial consultation I have found that clients have never had their injury properly explained to them by anyone and have no idea what happened to them and why. Knowing the why is very important for any recovery model. And that allows me to discuss…
After you have a diagnosis, depending where you get it the first suggestion is always physiotherapy. It’s covered under benefits, didn’t you know? The only problem is that there are lots of other ways to treat an injury and in my experience physio yields the worst results overall for my clients and others I have spoken to. If I was going to suggest the order you should look into things and why, here’s my list. Again, not to knock any practitioners – there are lots of good and bad ones out there – this is simply my experience in dealing with all of them frequently.
#1: Osteopath. These people frequently have had experience in another modality and decided to move into osteopathy. From an assessment and treatment perspective the results from these practitioners seems to be consistent, and they don’t ask to see patients frequently.
#2: Massage Therapist. With the disclaimer that this is for soft tissue injuries only, a good massage therapist can help with things like scar tissue, blood flow to improve tissue and relieving stiffness and immobility. This should be included with any recovery plan.
#3: Chiropractic – Again, with the disclaimer that this does NOT mean back cracking or neck cracking. A good chiropractor who knows other treatment protocols like ART or myofasical release, or even relieving nerve entrapment are usually your best bet.
The thing with chiropractors is that a lot of them are salespeople who try to lock you into long term treatment plans where you see them three times a week – please don’t fall for this and if it is suggested, find another practitioner. This generally doesn’t have any interest in your recovery, it has interest in your wallet and benefit plan. If you need to see a practitioner three times a week they need to justify it.
#4: Physiotherapy. Again, there are good physios out there. The problem is that in my experience they are few and far between. Look for someone who doesn’t use outdated methods, someone who will actually spend time with you individually (not hook you up to a machine and walk away or leave you with an assistant), and who will progress you session to session properly.
How long does it take for proper recovery? The general rule for serious soft tissue injuries is 6-12 weeks, more serious damage like tendons and ligaments can be up to 3-6 months. Anything requiring surgical intervention can be 6-12 months. This is not carved in stone, but it will give you some perspective in that you need to assume that this is a long term fix and not a temporary thing.
In my opinion surgery should always be a last resort. It is done when there is no other option for restoring tissue. Full tears, severe arthritis, and things like broken joints often carry this load and it is totally necessary. If you have the option, see how well you can get first without it and then see about surgery if all else fails. Realize that if you meet with a surgeon, they are going to likely push for an operation – that’s their job. You have options, consider them all wisely before making a decision that can affect your body for the rest of your life.
As a final note, the number one thing I see that causes injuries to recur is that the person rushed back into exercise and doesn’t do what they need to do to fully recover. This just makes things worse and more often than not will result in a worse injury down the road. Listen to your body and ease back into exercise. Sometimes my clients have to start off ridiculously easy and it drives them crazy, but it takes time for recovery and having a guided path is absolutely essential.
So you’re hurt – there are lots of options for you to pursue and the good news is an injury doesn’t have to be the end of the world. If I told you the laundry list of injuries I’ve had (including a disc herniation and multiple tears in various places) you would be surprised – but I can still move easily and lift heavy things without a problem. Be smart, apply things properly and keep moving forward.
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