The key is PICKING ONE HABIT AT A TIME and work on it for up to a month to ensure it sticks. Here are some ideas for healthy habits:
- Pack your lunch each day for work and stop eating fast food
- Exercise four times per week for 60 minutes each time
- Eat a piece of fruit or vegetables for your afternoon snack each day
- Get up earlier in the mornings and exercise for an hour before going to work
- Work with a personal trainer three times per week
- Take a multivitamin and a fish oil capsule each morning with breakfast
- Drink at least eight cups of water each day
- Sleep at least seven hours each night
- Perform stretches each evening before bed
- Eat every two to four hours or four to six meals daily
- Eat lean protein (e.g., chicken, turkey, bison, fish, eggs, dairy, soy) with each meal
- Replace grains with greens during each meal
- Eat vegetables with each meal
- Eat about 30% each of saturated (e.g., eggs, dairy, meats, cheeses), monounsaturated (e.g., extra-virgin olive oil, nuts, avocados) and polyunsaturated (e.g., nuts, vegetable oil, fish oil) fats daily
Remember to choose ONLY ONE habit to develop at a time and master it before moving on to another habit. After you've chosen your habit, write it down. Now write down three motivators for doing the habit, the obstacles you'll likely come across, and how to overcome these obstacles. For example, I've chosen the habit of getting up earlier each morning to do some interval sprints on the track for twenty minutes before working with clients. My three motivators are: to lean out my midsection to obtain more defined abs; to feel good and more energized during the day; and to feel good about myself. The obstacles I'm likely face are: not feeling motivated to getting up earlier each morning; not wanting to drive to the track without incentive (i.e., clients scheduled around my sprint sessions). I will overcome these obstacles by setting the alarm clock to ensure I wake up and get out of bed earlier and ensuring my clientele schedule is accommodating to my sprint sessions.
Ensure you stick to your habit by sharing it with your friends and loved ones. You can use Facebook, Twitter, email, or whatever to let your peeps know about your habit. Then make a deadline for when you expect to maintain this habit for the long-term and let your friends know to keep you accountable. Keep your friends updated on the progress of your habit to ensure you stick with it. To help you with this, schedule your habit in your calendar and keep a journal to track your progress. Check out the following websites that have tools to develop and maintain healthy habits:
It's drilled into our collective minds that eating less food is the best way to lose bodyweight. Makes sense. Eat less food and you'll lose weight. What can be wrong about this message? The problem is that eating less by following a diet plan may not be the best way to lose weight after all. The reason is that is that long-term compliance with sticking to stringent weight-loss diets is doomed to failure. Why? Because it makes eating foods seem like a guilty event rather than what eating food should really be about: pleasure.
The reality is that restraining your food intake may make you feel guilty about eating foods which inevitably encourages you to eat more food rather than less in order to provide comfort. Dieting is not the answer to losing weight. In fact, dieting may actually cause you to gain weight rather than lose it. Dieting tends to lead to unhealthy eating patterns which may cause binge eating.
So what is the better way to lose bodyweight? The answer is to listen to your body. It's that simple. Your body tells you when you should eat and how much. Purposely restraining food to the point where there is discomfort or intense hunger is no way to go about living your life. Ice cream and chips are not evil. Eating these foods in moderation while also eating foods such as fruits and vegetables is the key to healthy eating behaviors. The all-or-none attitude to eating has got to go! There is no need to severely restrict foods you may consider to be bad foods. This type of behavior inevitably leads to powerful urges to eat these foods in more amounts than we care to admit. Feelings of guilt, anxiety, depression, and reduced self-esteem from eating these "forbidden" foods can lead to an unhealthy eating pattern. Instead, eat some of these foods but also eat plenty of protein, vegetables, fruits, and slow-digesting, high-fiber carbs.
BOTTOM LINE: Eating should be a pleasurable experience and not a source of guilt. We eat food to nourish our bodies and to feel good. Dietary restrictions can easily lead to unhealthy eating patterns. Stop thinking there are "good" and "bad" foods. Instead, think of foods as sustenance. Eat slowly. Abide by your appetite and listen to the hunger signals your body is teling you. Trust these hunger cues and STOP RESTRICTING CERTAIN FOODS. There is no "right" or "wrong" way to lose weight and question any diet that has rigid rules and promotes the restriction of particular foods. Stop feeling guilty and eat what you like!
As a personal trainer, I sometimes ask my clients if they are aware of how much they are eating without even getting into caloric intake necessarily. In most cases, they usually underestimate
the amount of food they eat. This is where some psychology may come into play. We' d like to think
we're eating less food than we really are--just like we'd like to think
we're taller than we really are or weigh less than we really weigh. The reason for this way of thinking is essentially due to wishful thinking.
In other words, we subconsciously wish
we were taller or lighter than we really are. And so this may be the case with being aware of how much food we actually eat. If you were to track your caloric intake by reading food nutrition labels and sum up your overall daily caloric intake, you'd probably be surprised about how many calories you're actually eating--most likely more than you'd care to admit.
The reality is that most people eat more food than they think
they're eating and then they wonder why they find it difficult to lose body weight when exercising. Could the crux of the problem be that they're eating more food than they realize? The insidious part about eating food is that we may eat because we're bored and are not listening
to our bodies for hunger signals.
How can we avoid overeating? Here are ways to avoid the overconsumption of food:
- Eat your food from smaller bowls and plates. Studies have indicated that we tend to eat more food when the food comes in deep bowls or large plates. This supports the theory that we tend to rely on visual cues (eating until our plate is empty) rather than internal cues (hunger) when eating.
- Drink your fluids from tall, narrow glasses. Studies have indicated that we tend to pour more volumes of liquid in short, wide glasses rather than tall, narrow glasses. It's as if the mind plays tricks in perceiving there is less liquid in short, wide glasses when in reality this is not the case.
- Limit the consumption of processed foods which contain high sugar and salt. These foods tend to increase appetite due to the increase in blood insulin levels.
- Keep unhealthy foods out of sight or out of your house. As they say, "Out of sight, out of mind."
- Avoid eating when watching TV. Mindlessly eating while watching TV is a recipe for overeating because we're not aware of how much we're eating due to the distraction of TV.
- Be aware of social influences in public gatherings. The pressure to eat more food in order to please hosts, for instance, should be countered with a polite, "No thank you, I'm fine"
- Be aware of tantalizing images of foods. The mere act of seeing tempting images of foods in advertisements may stimulate blood levels of ghrelin, the hormone released that stimulates appetite.
- Avoid eating when you're stressed, depressed, upset, angry, lonely, or even happy and excited.
- Eat s-l-o-w-l-y and chew your food well. By eating this way, you're more likely to allow the feeling of satiety to reach your brain (it takes about 20 minutes) before you overeat.
- Eat with your non-dominant hand or use chopsticks. This allows you to avoid eating mindlessly and encourages you to eat more slowly.
- Go for a brisk walk when you feel a snack craving. The mere act of walking may boost your mood and lessen your desire for certain cravings for decadent foods like chocolate or chips.
- Keep a food diary. By recording the foods you eat, you become more aware of how you're really eating--consider it a wakeup call. Just be sure to be honest with yourself and be consistent in tracking the foods you eat. You'll become more accountable for what and how much food you eat.
Research has shown there is evidence that refined or processed carbohydrates (characterized by large sugar content) seem to create a drug-like effect within the brain, thus causing addictive qualities mimicking alcohol addiction. In essence, food behaves like a drug in terms of how it affects the brain, psychologically as well as physiologically. This is not really news for most of us. We know certain foods have addictive qualities (think potato chips and ice cream). The human body loves fat, sugar and salt. Why? Because fat is a macronutrient which is a slow-burning, long-term source of energy for the body needed for survival when food is scarce. Because sugar is a macronutrient (carbs) which is a fast-burning, short-term source of energy needed by the body. Because salt consists of electrolytes (i.e., sodium and chloride) needed by the body for cellular pH balance.
Excessive sugar intake may be addicting physiologically as well as psychologically. To wit, sugar affects the dopamine receptors within the brain, making us feel good. Sodas are an excellent example of sugar addiction since they are a concentrated source of energy within many people's diets. Many become addicted to soda and need their daily fix or else experience withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, anxiety and depression.
The caffeine within coffee, like sugar, has a drug-like effect within the brain which makes us feel good. We know that caffeine is a drug because it stimulates the dopamine receptors which mediate pleasure. (Now we know why people flock to Starbucks every day--it's to get their drug fix). If their is a down-regulation of dopamine within the brain, one will feel a need to get more
sugar and more
caffeine in order to satisfy the urge to obtain the same pleasure. Indeed, research has indicated that overweight and obese people seem to have this down-regulation of dopamine which lends itself to an increasing need for more sugar. Since sugar contains calories, it makes sense that a chronic sugar addiction may cause one to become overweight or obese.
If sugar, caffeine, fat, and salt have addictive-like effects on the brain, then does that mean all foods having these substances are inherently bad for the body? The answer is no. The natural sugar found within fruits is not nearly as concentrated as the sugar found within refined foods made in the lab (think high-fructose corn syrup). Fats and salts are added to chips to make them more tasty and addictive but potatoes are inherently not unhealthy.
Sugars, fats and salt are added to foods to make them more sweet, have more mouth feel (thicker texture), and more salty because the body and the brain loves these ingredients. It's simple: our brains are hard-wired to eat carb-rich, fat-laden foods because the body needs sugar and fat to survive. Regularly eating foods which have unnatural
concentrations of sugars, fats, and salts (as well as man-made chemicals) may indeed turn us into junkies. Yes, fast-food is addictive because it contains plenty of sugars, fats and salt to satisfy the palate. The regular consumption of fast food may indeed produce long-term neuroadaptations within the brain reward and stress pathways. Restricting fast-food and/or excessive sugar consumption may cause a withdrawal effect within the brain causing depression and anxiety.
If refined carbs behave like a drug within the brain, can psychological therapy resolve one's addiction to chips or ice cream, thus staving off bodyweight gain as a result of fat retention? Theoretically, this may be the case. But there are easier ways to lessen the addiction to chips and/or ice cream:
- Create new habits. Go for a walk when an urge for a candybar occurs. The exercise will lessen the immediate wanting for a quick sugar fix.
- Keep a food journal. Just the act of writing down the foods that you eat will provide a wake-up call to eat healthier foods.
- Reward yourself. Choose a small goal and then reward yourself when you accomplish the goal. Healthy rewards (e.g., a movie, bath, bike ride) make for healthy habits.
You incorporate the mind-muscle link when tuning into the particular muscle involved in an exercise and being aware of how the muscle feels. The key is learning how the muscles within your body are activated when moving. For example, your pectoralis muscle (chest) stretches and contracts when performing the flye movement. In order to become more aware of how your pecs are activated, try stepping just past an open doorway with arms outstretched. Now press your hands against the open door frame. You should feel a tensing of your chest muscles. Utilize this awareness of how your chest feels when performing the flye movement. The feeling experienced when pressing in an open doorway compared to executing the flye exercise is coalesced by your mind. Congratulations, you've just made a mind-muscle link with regard to activating your chest muscle during a flye movement.
Success at achieving your fitness goal is ultimately dependent on how your mind perceives the goal. Think of the goal as something that will be achieved rather than that which might be achieved. Mental skills such as positive attitude, visualization, confidence, focus, and performance preparation are techniques used by athletes when they train and compete in order to improve performance.
Positive attitude is paramount since your performance largely depends on your thoughts and emotions. If you don't think you can do a 240-lb deadlift, you won't. It's that simple. You must think positively in accomplishing your goal and block out any negative thoughts. Be aware of your thoughts and feelings and take charge of them by eliminating negative self-talk, leaving only positive thoughts remaining.
Visualization (or mental imagery) is imagining in your mind the act of performing the act (right down to the movement patterns) that will allow you to accomplish your goal. Neuromuscular innervation occurs when the mind imagines the movement and the muscles perceive it. After the muscles perceive the movement, muscle memory can begin to occur. Later, when the movement has been performed, the muscles of the body will "remember" the movement and how it felt when performing it. Close your eyes, relax and focus on performing the act. Imagine performing the act in your mind and perceive what it feels and looks like before actually doing it. Imagine performing the movement over and over in your mind's eye until you're completely confident you will be successful and then do it.
Confidence is absolutely necessary to be successful in accomplishing your goal. This means there should be no doubt, an unshakable self-belief, that you will succeed. Remember past experiences and how you accomplished particular goals and how great it felt. By reliving these moments, you build self-confidence to perform new goals.
Focus entails visualizing important details of the performance of your goal. Intense concentration with laser-like focus is what gets the job done. Close your eyes if necessary to minimize any environmental distractions from disrupting your focus. Be in control of your thoughts, emotions and actions.
Performance preparation means wearing the right gear (clothes), playing the right music (for inspiration), and readying yourself for the mission at hand.
After applying these techniques on a regular basis in your training you will not only become successful in accomplishing any goal, but you will also take pleasure in succeeding. Think positive thoughts, be persistent in your training, and most of all, be mentally tough. Then you will come to realize the power of the mind in accomplishing any goal or endeavor!
Some of these tips you most likely have heard before. Nevertheless, these words of wisdom bear repeating because in the great scheme of things you will lose body weight from unwanted fat if you abide by the following:
If you do this you're asking for trouble. That is, you're much more likely to make impulse purchases for junk food and stray from your shopping list. Your willpower to resist the temptation to buy that carton of ice cream or pizza will be significantly reduced when you enter the supermarket hungry. Instead, eat something healthy or have a snack (e.g., yogurt with wheat germ, cottage cheese, or an apple) at least a half hour before you go food shopping.
- Never go shopping on an empty stomach
If you don't buy junk food (e.g., soda, chips, ice cream, etc.) by resisting the temporary impulse for sugar or salt, then logically the food will not be available to splurge when at home. If the junk food is not readily available, you're much less likely to eat it. Chances are you will not go out of your way to make a run to the convenience store just to buy a bag of potato chips to satisfy a short-lived craving. If you just can't resist and do buy that bag of chips, you might as well satisfy that urge and finish the bag as soon as possible or eat some and discard the rest.
- Never store junk food in your house
Like the aforementioned tips, this one is also psychological. In this case, the visual cue of food on a smaller plate will make the food appear relatively more plentiful than on a larger plate. As a result, you'll more likely eat less food overall when served on a smaller plate than on a larger plate. Drinking about 2 cups of cold water can temporarily boost metabolic rate due to an increase in the release of norepinephrine. Water, which by the way has no calories, is nature's quick fix to satisfy temporary cravings for sugar or salt. In addition, water will satiate your appetite and therefore lessen your desire for junk food. Drinking soda inhibits your brain's ability to respond adequately to caloric intake, causing you to feel hungrier than normal and therefore eat more overall calories. The sweet taste may increase insulin release which blunts fat-burning and enhances fat storage.
- Eat off of smaller plates
This tip is especially significant for women but some men also resort to "comfort foods" (e.g., chocolate, ice cream, etc.) to manage stress, frustration, anxiety, irritability, etc. The way to avoid this trap is to confront your emotion head-on and deal with it in another manner without relying on foods to "self-medicate" to make you feel better. A high-protein diet increases satiety. This means that you'll feel less hungry throughout the day. Since protein tends to decrease appetite, it stands to reason you will eat less food overall throughout the day. Less food means less calories which means you will lose weight and possibly bodyfat, particularly abdominal fat, in the process. Good protein sources are eggs (contain all essential amino acids and healthy fats), meats (esp. fish such as salmon which are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids and red meat which supports testosterone levels), low-fat cheeses (a good source for casein protein), and nuts. Also consider drinking whey and/or soy protein shakes in between meals. Make your protein shake with a thicker consistency by using less water or milk to further reduce appetite later. Complex carbs consist of whole grains such as brown rice, oatmeal and whole-wheat bread. These foods help to keep insulin levels low and steady and therefore prevent the spikes in your blood sugar levels. A steady sugar level tends to favor more fat burning rather than fat storage. Avoid refined carbs such as white bread, white rice and pasta which can increase abdominal fat storage.
Yes, this seems counterintuitive but the reality is you can promote more fat burning from your body by eating more of the healthy, omega-3 fats found in fatty fish (e.g., salmon, sardines, trout), fish oil, olive oil, peanut butter, avocados, and nuts (e.g., almonds, walnuts). You probably heard of the grapefruit diet which is quite effective in enabling one to lose bodyweight. I'm not advocating a diet of just grapefruit because the nutrient deficiencies inherent can be substantial. Rather, eat a half grapefruit regularly (e.g., breakfast) and your insulin levels may be reduced. Apples are a complex carb which contain antioxidants such as polyphenols which may enhance fat loss. Hot peppers contain capsaicin, a chemical known to promote calorie-burning at rest as well as reduce hunger and therefore food intake. Research has shown that this chemical boosts fat-burning during exercise. Add crushed red pepper, hot peppers or hot pepper sauce to your meals to burn extra calories and fat. It's the calcium found in dairy products that can spur fat loss. Calcium regulates the hormone calcitriol which causes the body to produce fat and inhibits fat-burning. When calcium levels are adequate, calcitriol and fat production are suppressed and fat-burning is enhanced. Eat foods such as cottage cheese, low-fat cheese, yogurt (Greek is recommended) and drink milk. The main ingredient in green tea is epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) which inhibits an enzyme which breaks down norepinephrine. Norepinephrine is a neurohormone which stimulates the metabolic rate and therefore enhances caloric expenditure.
- Eat more unsaturated fats
Your success in accomplishing your fitness goals is largely dependent on psychology. Remember that your mind ultimately controls your body. Here are three aspects which will affect your success in accomplishing your fitness goals:
All three of these aspects or factors are intimately linked and therefore are not mutually exclusive. Self-confidence is the belief in yourself and your abilities. Vision is your fitness goal, whether short- or long-term. Process is the method in which you must use to accomplish your goal. You cannot achieve your goal without a road map or plan (the process) to get there--a good personal trainer can help by designing the appropriate workout program. The process is dependent on what your goal is (your vision)--you must have a goal in order to go from point A to point B. Your vision is dependent on self-esteem, optimism, motivation, and a good attitude (self-confidence)--this must be inherent or else your success in accomplishing your goal will be fruitless. A personal trainer can lead you on the path to your goal but you must believe in yourself and your abilities in order to make it happen! Your focus, determination and motivation to succeed while exercising is essential in order to achieve your fitness goal.
Another factor which will affect your success in accomplishing your fitness goals is called imagery. Imagery relies on imagining the performance of an exercise or movement in your mind before actually doing it. Athletes such as powerlifters, sprinters, football players, etc. use this technique in order to perform seemingly unimaginable feats.
Here's the imagery technique:
- Close your eyes
- Imagine the ideal posture to achieve the movement effortlessly
- Go through the exercise or movement in your mind
- Think about each joint and muscle involved
- Open your eyes
- Now perform the movement
Your success at losing bodyweight, gaining muscle mass, getting stronger or more powerful, etc. is primarily dependent on one organ--your brain. How you perceive your bodyweight and what you know it should be, or how you perceive your muscle mass and how much more you know you can put on your frame, or how you perceive your strength or power and how much more you know you can increase it to the next level, depends largely on how you psychologically approach your training. Only until you take your training seriously and understand its importance in terms of how it will impact your ability to achieve success in losing weight, gaining muscle mass, or getting stronger or more powerful--only then will you undoubtedly achieve your fitness goal. Ultimately, your success in feeling comfortable and happy with your physique or strength level is dependent on how strongly you cherish your goals and understanding how much your training will impact the rest of your life.