Your mindset is the key to success. You will never see any fat loss program through to the end unless your head is in the right place. In fact, being in the wrong frame of mind will often prevent you from getting started altogether. This is, in my opinion, one of the biggest obstacles that a lot of people face in the beginning.
Let’s take my client and friend Lori for example. It’s not unusual for her to work long hours every day of the week doing mostly physical work. It’s a well paid job and she loves it but it takes a toll on her physique and her moods too as she seldom gets to spend quality time with her family in between work, cooking, house chores and sleeping. She is in her mid 40’s and she has been carrying a little bit of extra fat around the middle. Like most women do when they approach peri-menopause.
In the past she joined a weight loss group and lost a lot of weight but eventually gained it back with a little bit of vengeance and is now unhappy with both her weight and shape. Her body type is somewhere in between an ectomorph and a mesomorph and so the spare tyre round the middle is even more prominent as her limbs are long and slim.
Whenever we meet she talks about “going on a diet”. She is not happy about the prospect of dieting as she sees this as a period of time in which she will have to make sacrifices and give up all the foods she loves in order to lose 10Kgs in time for her Summer holidays. Because she hasn’t quite set her mind on a date when the dieting is going to start she is making sure to fill up on large portions of all the comfort foods she can find: fish and chips, pies, mash potatoes, beans, jacket potatoes drowned in butter, sausage rolls, etc. not to mention cakes and chocolates and the occasional glass of wine.
The point here is that this “giving things up” is only meant to be temporary, until she has had her holiday and then she is most likely get back to her old habits. Because in her mind the sacrifices have to end once the reward has been obtained.
My other client Carol has instead rejected the “dieting mindset” altogether. In order to get the results she wanted and keep them over time she accepted that she had to embrace change and create a new way of doing things for the rest of her life. Not radical changes, just a few tweaks to her meals here and there with a view of including all of her favourite foods on a regular basis but in moderation. In fact, over time, she stopped wanting her “favourite” foods which were high in carbs and saturated fats and instead elected more fat loss friendly foods as her new “favourites”.
With regards to exercise she started off wanting to do this 3 times per week but soon discovered that it was hard and stressful to fit 3 workouts around her existing commitments and so she settled on two sessions per week that she could easily find the time for. This allowed her to remain consistent with her efforts thus reaping the rewards in the form of a different shape and the slow but progressive release of fat from the more stubborn areas.
As time went on she was able to sustain her new habits knowing that if she “slipped” from time to time, like she might do at Christmas, she would soon be able to go back to her routine and lose all the festive plumpness in a fairly short time. The compliments started to pour in fairly soon and she became even more inspired to stay the course.
Do you see the difference in the mindset? One client is dreading getting started because of the perceived sacrifices she will have to make whereas the other one was willing to learn how to read her own metabolism and embrace the changes that worked for her. Not what the latest fitness fad says she should do.
Needless to say Lori has been having frequent guilt trips every time she has a slice of cake or an extra portion of chips, whereas Carol can’t really be bothered to have either but if she does she enjoys the cake or the chips knowing that she will be able to use them to her advantage.
How we turned Lori’s story around
The first step was to take a good look at Lori’s weekly schedule to determine just how much walking and lifting she did during the course of her work. The answer was mildly shocking: it turned out that she was on the move all the time and constantly lifting and carrying moderate weights over short distances. This was great news in a way because movement is actually more beneficial than structured exercise for your health and wellbeing BUT too much of it will start causing issues with rising levels of cortisol resulting in increased belly fat. The same goes for adding exercise to a lot of movement.
We decided that we would skip the exercise altogether for the time being and we focused on slowing down the pace a little bit at work by changing from a fast walk to a normal walk. We then tried to create a good sleeping routine as this was an area that she struggled with somewhat. We found a good time to go to bed every night and eliminated any stimulants for up to 3 hours before bed time: no coffee, no wine, no tea, no chocolate, no tablets or electronics.
This worked relatively well but she found that her mind was often racing when she first lay down in bed and this meant a lot of tossing and turning before she could fall asleep. So we went back to the drawing board and found that for her the best thing to do was to have a little bit of wine half an hour prior to bed. Although this wouldn’t be a good policy for some it worked brilliantly for her: not only she could almost fall asleep on command, she would also stay asleep waking up feeling rested and refreshed.
In addition to “fixing” her sleep we tried to find times throughout her day in which she could relax by perhaps adding 5 minutes to her bath or just chilling with her family. She started to benefit from these small changes fairly quickly. Before we even looked at her diet she already lost a little bit of fat all over but especially around her midsection. Nothing dramatic but a good step in the right direction AND she loved it. Most importantly she felt that so far she didn’t give anything up and instead gained in relaxation and downtime. Win.
Once we established the new routine we started to look at her diet to see where we could introduce changes that would support her fat loss efforts. Her problem was the large amount of foods combining fats and starches that she was consuming on a weekly basis. This was both because she loved them and because they were convenient as she often bought them ready made from the grocery store and only needed reheating.
The first change was to replace some of the starchy foods with fresh non-starchy produce. She was game so for a couple of weeks she made herself bring a salad to work instead of a pastie. We left the option open for her to have starches for dinner but bearing in mind the glass of wine before bedtime (this counts as carbs). After the first two weeks she found that she didn’t really fancy anything other than the meat + salad for lunch as this was keeping her full and feeling better than when she ate convenience foods. Plus she became very creative with the mix of veggies that she used by treating her salad almost like a work of art with lots of different colours and textures. She also learned how to make dressings that were both interesting and flavoursome without adding too many calories from either sugar or fats.
At this point the results really started to show. Her skinny jeans became baggy around her hips and thighs and the muffin tops were soon gone. Most importantly, again, she felt that she gained from the changes instead of losing out. Win.
As soon as she abandoned her dieting mentality she was able maintain her new shape and size and to help her get a little bit more toned before her holiday we introduced some exercise. But not all in the form of workouts… because she had very little spare time available we decided to make the most of her work at the warehouse. We agreed that every time she picked something up or drop something on a pallet she would do a squat to get to the right height and then, when possible, she would do a biceps curl to lift the object close to her chest and then reverse the movement.
Squats are a great compound exercise and can strengthen your legs, glutes and core muscles simultaneously. When you learn to do them correctly and to apply them to everyday situations you will find that lifting heavy objects becomes a lot easier and you won’t tire out so quickly. Lori found this change also easy to implement and whereas she managed to do a few squats here and there at first, she was soon able to turn this into her normal way of lifting things.
At this point we introduced workouts at home too but these only consisted of doing a few push-ups and planks a couple of times per week to make sure her upper body also looked a bit more muscular. These exercise sessions would only take up 10 minutes of her time so she found it easy to stick to them. As she got closer to the start of her holiday she was delighted with the results and still surprised that she went through a complete body transformation without dreading the process or feeling like she had to make sacrifices.
As you can see it’s as simple as changing your perspective about nutrition and exercise to make the experience more interesting and certainly not one to fear. Once my clients get over this initial hurdle and make the mental switch they begin to enjoy the process of change knowing that they will achieve and often surpass their initial goals.