Depriving Yourself for Fitness Success Doesn’t Work

“8 out of 10 dieters fail.”
“95% of people who diet gain the weight back.”
“New Year’s resolutions fail.”

You’ve probably heard all these alarming and pessimistic statistics and maybe even felt quite defeated by them. Well, if you’re a nerd like me you’ve looked up a few scientific studies on diets, weight loss and willpower and while the results regarding the possibility for diet failure (i.e. regaining the weight) are inconclusive, the studies often lacking in proper sample size and sometimes using unreliable methods, there is one thing I am certain about: You are not doomed to fail if you decide to make positive changes in your life.

Unfortunately, many diets don’t focus on positive habits. Instead, they remind people they need to sacrifice, just try harder, give up things we love to get smaller and ban certain foods altogether. Even if there are certain bad habits and poor choices in our lives, we will do better without, I have found that focusing only on trying to quit them is not as effective as you would think.

There is a huge difference between dieting vs. creating new healthy habits. Dieting is depriving yourself ample calories so that your hangry outbursts make your friends want to shove giant chocolate croissants in your mouth to shut you up, becoming a cardio bunny who runs for hours on the treadmill and eats nothing by carrots, lettuce, ice cubes, Balance Bars and fat free Jello pudding snacks, and telling yourself that your favorite foods are now “Off limits!” which lasts until about 7 pm when you then eat the fridge and then in a final act of “fuck it” thinking make a trip to the 24-hour drug store for a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey.  Positive lifestyle changes i.e. adding healthy habits into your life that modify the way you make decisions is a much saner, happier approach.

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Calorie Counting vs Macros

I used to count calories in my head while I was running. I distinctly remember the feeling of pounding the pavement as I rounded the bend at the Hollywood reservoir trail adding up the sandwich I ate for lunch and the cereal I had for breakfast and subtracting the 380 calories I had burned in three and a half miles and wondering if I should do another loop so I could have dessert after dinner. It was a horrible feeling. I don’t wish compulsive calorie counting on anyone and that is why I want to share with you how I more mindfully track my nutrition now.


Calorie Counting is Only a Fraction of the Big Picture

I’ve spend a lot of time researching how to lose body fat and gain lean muscle (i.e. “get toned”). It’s my job, so I’ve done a ton of research, tried everything under the sun for myself and worked with a bunch of clients in the 10 + years I’ve been a trainer and here’s the bottom line: Calories matter, but there are a BUNCH of other factors that also matter to fat loss and muscle gain. Here are just a few: macro-nutrients, food quality, sleep, stress, hormones (that’s a BIG one), current muscle mass, genetics, intensity of exercise performed, mindset (yes, the way you think matters!), gut health. This list alone is enough to make your head spin and it’s only a partial list of all the factors that affect fat loss and body composition. Also, if there is anything certain I have learned in counseling people it’s the different approaches work for different people.  You cannot tell someone to do something  you do and expect them to get the same results you do. Just because it worked for you doesn’t mean you should write a book (or blog) telling everyone you found the definitive answer to fat loss, individuality matters.

Basic Take Away: Instead of only focusing on calories in and calories out, focus on creating healthy habits that will stay with you for a lifetime. Here’s how…

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Flex Your Willpower Muscle

This article was originally written in 2008 for Wfighter.Com a site that doesn’t exist anymore, so I am republishing it here. Edited and updated with lots of sources. I noticed (thankfully) that my writing has improved since this piece was first written and I also saw I did a horrible job of linking to studies and references. So I researched again and added the goods 🙂

If this topic interests you I suggest the book, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney (Aug 2012) as recommended additional reading on this topic.

If you are interested in health and fitness, you know the importance of willpower. We use willpower to get us to the gym, to run that extra 10 minutes, to choose carrot sticks over cookies, to get to bed early, to pass on a second cocktail, even to hold off on telling off our boss.

If we can understand how willpower works, we can conquer many of the demons that prevent us from optimal success. We will train harder, eat healthier, and be calmer. We can unleash a powerful, disciplined fighter in us all.

Fighters are notoriously disciplined, training 2-3 hours a day, following a careful diet, sacrificing social activities for the sake of a good night’s sleep. No fighter is perfect; we all have areas we would like to improve on. However, the world’s top fighters are inspiring because they have an enormous amount of willpower and discipline

In the last ten years, scientists have made some exciting discoveries regarding human willpower. First, it’s important to note that willpower is a mind-body response, which means that when we exert willpower, it affects our physical state and when our physical state gets altered a certain way, it will change how we can use willpower. Willpower is an evolutionary characteristic we developed to help us ignore instinctive instant gratification and focus on long-term goals. Willpower has helped us become the educated, career-focused society we are today and where it gets interesting is in the details of how it works.

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