The Argument for Logging Your Food

If you have more than 20 pounds to lose, nutrition is your problem. Otherwise you wouldn’t be in this position.

I strongly encourage you to log and track your food. Especially if you’re new to fitness and dieting. Whether you want to write your log with pen and paper, or use an advanced app such as MyFitnessPal, please take a close look to what’s actually going on. I’m positive that you’ll be surprised. Not in a good way.

When a client hires me for fitness and nutritional guidance, I always talk about creating a food log. After all, when it comes to bodyweight changes, nutrition is the single most important factor. There is no amount of exercise that can out-train a bad diet. Unfortunately I’m often met with resistance.

“I eat pretty well.”
“I only drink water.”
“I probably just need to cut out a little snacking.”
“I’m too busy…”

These are all common responses. But I’m going to say it here: If you have more than 20 pounds to lose, nutrition IS your problem. You’re NOT eating well. Otherwise you wouldn’t be in this position.

Food tracking is one of the oldest and most successful forms of dieting. But lately it’s seen as “too old fashioned” and “no longer in style”. Some people, professionals included, argue against tracking calories. They see it as too intrusive, too time consuming, and counter-productive. Blasé, if you will. Some people advocate “intuitive eating.” That is, an eating plan based around eating when you’re hungry, avoiding bad foods, and putting the fork down when you’re full. This is great advice! But I’m still advocating that you log your food. Why?

If you’re seeking out nutritional advice, if you’re looking for professional help, if you’re more than 50 pounds overweight, chances are you don’t have good intuition. Chances are you’ve created bad habits and no longer have a grasp of what your body needs.

I see this on a daily basis. Clients I work with who are struggling to lose 1 pound per week. Keep in mind, these are people with a significant amount of opportunity to lose weight. Every day I ask them: “How’s your food been?”

The successful people respond with detailed accounts of their foods. How much protein, carbs, fats, overall calories. They know what triggers set them back. They know the patterns and routines they find themselves in. They KNOW because they LOG.

The unsuccessful people respond with excuses. Excuses such as lack of time, lack of interest, lack of support. Excuses are the imaginary monsters we create.  Unsuccessful people don’t know what they’re doing wrong. They DON’T KNOW.

Some people claim they keep a mental log of what they eat. They mentally track and count calories as they progress through the day. This can be a fine method for advanced dieters who are still seeing success. However, most research agrees that self-reporting is inaccurate (1). This means that most people greatly underestimate what they actually eat. This is why they don’t make progress in their weight loss journey. What they think they’re doing, and what they’re actually doing, are two different things.

I see a pattern. The greater the self-awareness, the greater the level of success.

Log your food!

 

Sources:
1) Schoeller, D.A., (1990). How Accurate is Self-Reported Dietary Energy Intake? Nutrition Review, 48, (10).

 

 

Your Fitness and Diet Programs Don’t Matter

Your fitness and diet plans don’t matter. The problem is you.

Allow me to ask a simple question: How many fitness plans have you started? How many diet plans have you started?

Did they work?

A follow-up question: How many times have you said to yourself, “This time I mean it! This time it’ll work”?

Argue with me all you want but your fitness plan doesn’t matter. Your diet plan doesn’t matter. You have to overcome YOURSELF first.

 

You Are Your Own Worst Enemy

Chances are, when you hire me, you won’t take my advice. At least at first. You’ll want to take my advice. You’ll try to take my advice, but you won’t succeed. You’ll convince yourself it’s not your fault. You’ll convince yourself that outside forces have conspired against you and your fitness goals. You’ll paint yourself as a hero fighting the good fight, barely surviving, and reward yourself with the comfortable lifestyle with which you’re accustomed. Few people who hire me have what it takes to succeed. After all, this is why they hire me. To help them make a change they can’t do alone. It’s not that my methods are unusual, or overly complicated. I don’t recommend any extreme fitness or nutrition plan. I don’t recommend a nutritional system requiring a four-year university degree to understand. Instead I find the problem lies much deeper. The problem is you.

It’s not that you don’t WANT to follow the advice given to you, it’s that you don’t know HOW to follow the advice. You’re overcome with bad habits and a warped view of what is normal. You’ve slowly, day by day, adopted a lifestyle that leads to a place you don’t wish to be. Over time your perception of normal has shifted making any variation of “eat less, exercise more” seem like an unattainable lifestyle. Before we can make any sustainable fitness changes, we have to work on eliminating your bad habits and overcoming your perceived obstacles.

 

Monsters

Perceived obstacles are like the invisible monsters that lived in your closet when you were little. You convinced yourself that something was out to get you. You convinced yourself that if you didn’t turn the light on, or get outside help, you would be EATEN. Once you turned the light on, you saw these monsters were simply shadows being cast by small objects. In much the same way, your daily life has turned into a monster that is out to get you. Metaphorically. You’ve created your over sized monsters from things like a busy schedule, managing a family, running a business, or even saboteur family members. You perceive these obstacles as an unstoppable outside force bent on destroying your fitness goals. They deliberately prevent you from taking my advice.

However, the reality is that these monsters don’t exist! Just like when you were a kid, you’ve created a scary illusion. I’m not saying you don’t have a busy schedule or that your family doesn’t deserve 100% of your attention. I’m saying that you’re making them bigger problems than they need to be. You’re NOT planning around these obstacles appropriately. You’re allowing them to interfere with your goals more than they should. By putting your fitness and nutrition at the bottom of your priority list, nothing I prescribe to you will work. It doesn’t matter what exercise plan I lay out. It doesn’t matter what nutritional guidelines I recommend. You won’t do them. You will allow your monsters to eat your dreams. You will allow the illusion to overcome reality. You’ll have to conquer yourself first. You’ll have to identify your monsters and shine the light on them. Only then you’ll realize that these monsters – these obstacles – are simply shadows creating the illusion of monsters.

 

Shine the Light on Your Monsters

In order to break down the illusion of monsters, you have to shine a light on them. Take a close look and see what’s actually causing them. Moving from a metaphor to reality, this means you have to analyze the patterns and behaviors that are setting you back. Look at them objectively and see how you can work around them. Don’t try to fix them. Don’t try to avoid them. Plan around them. Be prepared for what could set you back, and have a contingency plan in place. Planning and preparedness is one of the secrets to success. Keep a calendar and write down your workouts ahead of time. Set reminders to visit the gym like you would set reminders to visit the doctor. Log your food and see what you’re actually eating.

I’ll give you two real-world examples of success from people I’ve worked with who have taken their perceived monsters, shined some light on them, and planned around them. These are real people who went through the same struggles as everyone else, and still found a way to succeed.

Candice – a 36 year old mother and wife with a full time job. She came to me to help her lose weight. She wanted to lose 30 pounds. She wanted to be fit and feel better about herself. Yet she didn’t want to commit to a consistent workout schedule. She didn’t want to log her food. She didn’t want to put her fitness needs above the needs of her family or job. She assumed that she could exercise whenever she was available. She assumed that she didn’t really need to change her nutrition. She was quickly met with frustration. I offered various exercise and nutrition strategies but was consistently met with resistance. She claimed she couldn’t modify her eating habits because her kids were accustomed to a certain lifestyle (they were 2 and 5). She claimed that her job responsibilities overshadowed her workout schedule – (she worked from home and controlled her own schedule).

After much frustration and a closer look, she realized that, leading by example, her kids would respond to her authority. She realized that she was in charge of what she ate, not her family. Even if they had to eat separate meals, she was the only one responsible for putting food in her mouth. She eventually began changing her nutritional habits. She also realized that she was, in fact, control of her schedule. She could plan her workouts as if she was planning a business meeting and block out a routine. Once she made these realizations (and it seems obvious in writing), she quickly lost 30 pounds and reached her fitness goals. Her obstacles appeared like monsters at the time. But by taking a closer look, she was able to see through the illusion.

 

Barb– A 47 year old woman who, along with her husband, lived with her mother-in-law. Both her and her husband were diagnosed as morbidly obese and with a host of health problems. Her husband especially was diagnosed with extremely-low cardiac output, type II diabetes, and would later go on to be diagnosed with cardiac failure. Unfortunately for Barb, her family refused to accept from their doctors that their weight and inactivity was the root cause of their health problems. Barb’s husband passed away before he turned 50, causing her to reach out for fitness help. She wanted to make a change to her lifestyle so that she could see her children start a family. Her mother-in-law, however, was acting out on their family’s loss by sabotaging Barb’s weight loss strategies. By constantly keeping bad foods in the house, cooking high-fat, high calorie meals, and creating schedule conflicts with Barb’s workouts. Barb wasn’t seeing the weight loss or health improvements that she desperately needed and was blaming her mother-in-law.

It took almost 6 months, but with enough practice, Barb was able to see that her mother-in-law wasn’t trying to sabotage her efforts, but was instead trying to reach out to her in the only way she knew how – through her son’s favorite foods. Once this realization hit, and with the help of a therapist, Barb was able to connect to her mother-in-law without the use of food. Like Candice, Barb realized that nobody else was in control of what she ate. What she perceived to be a monster living in her house was merely a cry for help. She was allowing her old habits to control her lifestyle. She took what appeared to be an obstacle – a family member stopping her fitness journey – and turned it into a better experience. After that, Barb lost over 60 pounds, reduced her medication, and improved her lifestyle.

 

These are just two examples of people who have overcome their monsters. They took a close look and shined the light on them and were able to come to one conclusion – They were their own worst enemy. They were letting other things control their life.

 

Last question: Are you doing the same thing?

Pyramid of Fitness

Build a foundation of good movement, add strength, then skill. All within a framework of nutrition.

Often times when someone approaches me to help them in their fitness journey, I’ll prescribe exercises and movements that they may not have expected. For instance, someone interested in weight loss might expect to be doing circuit training to increase their heart rate, or a combination of diet and cardio training, which I would usually recommend. But then they find themselves on the floor going through range-of-motion exercises! What gives? There’s more to fitness than just having endurance, or being strong. There are many domains of fitness, and each is equally important. 

When we take a holistic approach to fitness, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the hierarchy of each domain. We begin to ask ourselves which is more important, strength or flexibility? Endurance or explosive power? While there can be some debate on the topic, I believe there is one answer than can help put things in perspective. I call it the Pyramid of Fitness.

Fitness Pyramid

 

The pyramid of fitness is a classification tool for all the domains of fitness. It allows us to understand how each domain fits with our own personal goals. The fitness pyramid is built like any pyramid, with the base being the most important. The top of the pyramid occurs after the base has been built. You can’t have pyramid top without a bottom.

The elements of the pyramid are:

  • Nutritional framework – The shape and structure of the pyramid
  • Base of quality movement – Flexibility, mobility, range of motion, and joint integrity
  • Body of strength and endurance – General strength and physical preparedness
  • Skill specific strength & endurance – Goal oriented movements and physicality

 

Nutritional Framework

Before any part of the pyramid can be built, the nutrition must be in place. The nutritional framework will set the shape of the pyramid. You can’t lose 30 pounds if you’re overeating your caloric limit, and you can’t build muscle or strength if you’re not getting enough protein.

I have a saying: “Your nutrition determines what size you are. Your exercise determines what shape you are.” If you want to be bigger, that’s easy. Just eat a ton of food. If you want to be bigger and visibly muscular, you need to eat the right amount of calories and lift weights. If you wish to be smaller, eating less is a start. Eat less and exercise, though, and you’ll be leaner.

 

Base of Quality Movement

The most important part of the pyramid is the base. The wider the base, the taller the pyramid can become. The base of any fitness program should be comprised of quality movement which incorporates full range of motion in the joints and muscles, overall flexibility, and the ability of all the muscles and joints to work together to create stability and function.

A few examples of quality movement include the ability to squat low and allow the hips to move through their total range of motion, or the ability of the shoulder blades to retract and protract. This is especially useful for competitive athletes or anyone looking to get stronger, as good mobility and range of motion improves overall posture, pain management, and injury prevention.

If someone comes to me with the goal of losing 30lbs, I’ll check their overall hip mobility and flexibility first. If they can’t stand up out of a chair without hunching over? That’s where we’ll start.

 

Body of Strength and General Physical Preparedness

General Physical Preparedness, or GPP, is a popular theme in the fitness world. In short, GPP is what I consider to be the “basic requirements” of strength and endurance. Can you do ONE bodyweight pushup? Can you walk briskly uphill for 15 minutes, or tolerate a few minutes of light arm resistance?

Very early in most beginner’s workout regiment, they’ll experience a moment of sickness. During a light circuit workout they’ll feel ill and need to sit or rest (or worse, vomit). This is especially common in VERY untrained individuals or people who overestimate their fitness capabilities. These symptoms are indicative of low GPP. Once functional movement and range of motion have been established, I focus on building the body of the pyramid.

An example of GPP would be someone who comes to me to improve their arm strength or bench press, but can’t do more than 10 minutes of exercise without feeling like their stomach is churning. How could their body tolerate a heavy bar overhead if they feel like passing out after the first two reps?

 

Skill Specific Training / Goal Specific Training

Once the base and body of the pyramid have been built, we can focus on the last few details that make everyone’s program unique. These last few details can be the difference between success and failure, but can only be trained after a base has been built.

A practical example of this would be a young, high-school athlete who wants a bigger vertical jump for basketball. After assessing overall fitness it’s determined that he’s lacking hip mobility and leg strength. In this case, it would be more beneficial to perform good quality leg exercises that improve flexibility, range of motion, and total strength BEFORE having him jump up and down.

Another example, and the one I see the most often, is someone who wants to be leaner with visible abs. After a comprehensive assessment, it’s determined that she lacks the nutritional component to change bodyweight and the strength to support her current weight. Doing hours of ab exercises everyday wouldn’t be the primary focus, it would be nutrition. The ab exercises would only be beneficial after nutrition and general strength have been established.

 

Understand the Pyramid, Understand Your Weaknesses

Don’t get too caught up in the flashy components of fitness. It’s important to understand how all the domains of fitness fit into your personal exercise plan. Too often I see people training the top level of the pyramid without an appropriate base of support. This inevitably leads to failure and frustration.

Does your fitness pyramid match your fitness goals? Are you focusing on the goal-specific training instead of the base of your pyramid? Remember it’s important to seek out a mentor – someone outside of your circle of influence – to help you understand your weaknesses. Contact me today and make sure you’re focusing on the right things!

A Starter Guide on Supplements

What are the four basic supplements I recommend to anyone, regardless of their fitness goals?

So you’ve been in the fitness game long enough to ask yourself one of the following questions:

“Do I need to take supplements?”
“Should I drink a protein shake after working out?”
“Are multivitamins any good?”

While supplements are not required to reach your fitness goals, strategic supplementation can have many health benefits and improve your rate of progress. If your nutrition is lacking in any area, the right supplements can pick up any slack. However it’s important to keep in mind that supplements are just that: Supplements. They can help a good diet be better, but they can’t fix a bad diet. Most of your nutrition should come from real, quality foods. Don’t rely on any quick fixes or alternatives.

The list of supplements is long. Very long. In fact, for every type of nutrient or function in the body, there’s a nutritional supplement for it. Each supplement has a purpose, but not all supplements will comply with your fitness needs. If you were to take the advice of every article or magazine telling you which supplements will help you lose belly fat, you’d be a walking GNC store spending thousands of dollars per month.

It’s also important to keep in mind that, unlike prescribed medication, the supplement industry is NOT regulated. This means that not all manufacturer claims can be verified, and not all supplements do what they’re intended. This means you need a good reference to compare your needs with the product you’re buying, and a good understanding of what each supplement is meant to do. For a full list of supplements and an in-depth analysis of scientific literature on the topic, I use a website called Examine.com. It’s a third-party, non biased website that looks at all the current scientific literature and breaks down the purpose of any given supplement.

With that out of the way, here’s a short list of supplements I recommend regardless of your fitness goals.

  • A simple daily multivitamin
  • Protein powder (as an addition or meal replacement tool)
  • Fish Oil
  • Vitamin D

 

Multivitamin

The daily multivitamin is the simplest and most common supplement that comes to mind. The daily multivitamin has been around for a long time, and the ability to produce the ingredients is so widespread and common means that multivitamins are cheap. Very cheap. Multivitamins get their name because one pill has many different micro-nutrients, such as vitamins,  minerals, and other organic compounds that produce health benefits.

The obvious question is: Do they work? Many studies have been done on multivitamins. Such studies examine everything from whether the vitamins have all the advertised ingredients, to whether your body actually absorbs all the ingredients properly, to the effectiveness of multivitamins to prolong lifespan. Most studies agree, multivitamins work – up to a point. They won’t make up for glaring deficits of nutrients (say, extreme fasting), but they’ll help fill the holes.

Some studies suggest proper absorption of each vitamin and mineral is impaired due to various factors. For instance, how each vitamin interacts with food and consuming other vitamins at the same time. Perhaps they don’t all absorb together. Even if not all of the nutrients are absorbed, it still helps cover the bases if there is anything severely lacking from your diet.

To put simply, a multivitamin is cheap, and probably works. It won’t make you live forever, but there’s no reason NOT to take it.

 

Protein 

Once someone starts a strength training program with me, protein becomes the most commonly asked about supplement. There’s no one single recommendation because your protein needs are unique and entirely based around your personal goal. If you want to build muscle and gain weight, protein supplementation is probably necessary. If you want to lose weight but maintain muscle and strength, protein supplementation is probably necessary.

Protein is a macro-nutrient, like carbohydrates and fats. This means that the structure of the protein is physically BIGGER than a micro-nutrient like vitamin C or iron. Protein can’t be consumed in adequate amounts using just a pill. It needs a large delivery system like a powder or solid food.

Protein supports muscle repair and overall function. It also supports immune system health and other bodily functions. Because it’s so important, protein should be an important factor in your nutrition planning. However, consuming protein supplements is no different that eating food. At least in a caloric sense. Protein has calories, so consuming protein is the same as consuming food. If you eat too much of it, say 500 calories over every day, you’ll eventually gain weight. Consume what you need, as long as it fits in your overall caloric needs. This means that, yes, you need to LOG YOUR FOOD!

Different brands of protein supplements contain different amounts of overall nutrients. on top of that, there are different TYPES of protein supplementation. Whey, Soy, Isolates, etc. Some brands are PURE protein, meaning the powder contains nothing else. Some brands are mixes of protein, carbs, and fats. You’ll need to analyze your nutritional needs and fitness goals to determine what works best for you.

Finally, keep in mind that each brand has a different taste and texture. You may have to experiment to find the brand and flavor you like.

 

Fish Oil

As a supplement, fish oil has been becoming very popular and mainstream as a way to improve overall health. Fish oil is a common name for two types of omega-3 fatty acids: EPA and DHA. The details of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are best left for another article, but long story short – Omega-3s help balance your body’s ratio of healthy fats. This has a wide-range of benefits including heart health, blood vessel health, lower triglycerides in the blood stream, and reduced plaque in the heart and vessels. In addition, research has strongly suggested that fish oil supplementation can help reduce the risk of diabetes, overall inflammation, improve various skin and hair ailments, and even help prevent certain types of cancer.

Nearly every day more and more health benefits from fish oil supplementation appear. This is why I strongly encourage everyone to supplement with fish oil – regardless of fitness goals. Search for a brand high in EPA and DHA.

Keep in mind, since fish oil is found naturally in fish, it’s also beneficial to consume actual fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, trout, and albacore tuna.

 

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a critical micro-nutrient for our bodies for cognitive function, bone and immune health, and overall well-being. We use UV light from the sun to convert cholesterol into vitamin D. This means that, with a little sun exposure, we can naturally make our own vitamin D. If you get about 20 minutes of sunlight per day, you’re good. This also means that most people are not deficit on Vitamin D. However, while the low range of appropriate Vitamin D may be easy to meet with a little sun, that doesn’t mean we can’t get more. Some studies suggest that many people do not have optimum levels, either due to lack of sun exposure or overall poor diet.

The current USA guidelines recommend 500 International Units (IUs) of Vitamin D every day. However, other countries like Canada recommend upward of 10,000 IUs as a safe limit. This means that there is a wide margin of what is considered “normal”. Because the health implications of Vitamin D are so wide-spread, it’s hard to get too much. A typical multivitamin has about 500 IUs, so extra supplementation, in the form of Vitamin D3, could be beneficial.

 

Your Needs May Vary

While this list is limited to only four supplements, your needs may vary. Depending on your nutritional or fitness goals there may be additional supplements that can help you. Unfortunately that list is very long, nearly endless. Instead of going through each supplement individually, it’s best to come up with your fitness or health needs and go from there.

For help on determining your optimal nutrition and supplementation plan, contact me for a free introductory online consultation or personal training session today!

 

Jeremy Bushong, MS, CSCS