Calories In, Calories Out

Why does this matter? Welll, nutrition plays as strong of a role in your success as exercising does. Its a known fact that to lose weight we need to ingest less calories than we expend through energy use. To maintain, we need to ingest the same amount of calories we expend through energy use. And to put on weight, or lean mass/size, we need to ingest more calories than we expend through energy use. Seems simple, right? Well it is. Sort of.

The more weight you have to lose, the quicker you will lose it. This is great for people just getting starting. The scales show progress quickly! And, usually lots of progress! But then the plateau comes. The scale stops moving so quickly, or stops moving at all. Common sense tells us that we are building muscle. So as fat is lost, it is replaced by muscle, thus making the scale move down more slowly, or not at all. And eventually, in come cases it will move back up. This is why it is important to base health goals on your percent of body fat (body compostition), level of overall health and the way your clothes fits. Not just the number on the scale.

The reason manypeople see a plateau is living in a state of calorie reduction that is too extreme. I cant tell you how many people come to me eating 1000 or 1200 calories a day!! Id be STARVING!! Your caloric intake needs to align with your energy expenditure in relation to your goals. But…. now hear me out. If your calorie intake stays too low for too long, your body adapts. It becomes effecient at running on minimal fuel. It goes into starvation mode (and panics) and holds onto every ounce of fat it possibly can. This then triggers more cortisol (the stress hormone). And we all know cortisole reduces our ability to burn fat and lowers our energy levels. Its the bodys method of self preservation. And makes losing fat almost impossible.

When the body isnt getting enough fuel, basic survival needs set in and the body adjusts accordingly. The body’s job is to stay alive, thats it. So if you maintain a grossly low calorie diet for too long, your body starts shutting down non essential processes to ensure enough energy (calories) for essential bodily function. What does this mean? Hormone function usually suffers first. That doesnt sound like a big deal, but it is. Without balanced hormones everything in the body is off, including metabolism. Moods, energy, health, cravings… everything!

In addition, when you arent ingesting enough calories or have been living on a very restricted diet, your body is not recieving enough nutrients (vitamins, minerals, etc) for essential body functions to be working optimally. When we want to shed fat, increase muscle or even just maintain our current weight/lean muscle we must provide the body with enough energy, through calories, vitamins and minerals to be able to stay in balance. When our body is in balance, it does not panic. It does not go into starvation mode, or self preservation mode. It can shed fat easily because the body has what it needs. The body will then more easily release excess (fat), within reason. When we do not provide our body with enough energy (in the form of calories), our body will hold on tight to the excess fat, for emergencies. The body may even start to use muscle tissue as fuel, since it is less essential than fat. Of course if we provide our body with much more energy (calories) than we need we will gain fat. So it is a balance.

It is a known fact that most people grossly underestimate their calorie consumption on a daily basis (even when logging). And over estimate energy expenditure during exercise sessions (cardio machines are not accurate for calorie burn!). When you consider your daily calorie intake you must take everything you put in your body into consideration. The soy sauce with your sushi, the dressing on your burger, the olive oil your roasted your veggies in, etc… These are just a few of the items most people forget to account for. Do you have to record every single little thing? Not if you dont want to. Its a way of life that doesnt work for everyone. But if youre perplexed by seeing a plateau on the scale…. at least start thinking about these things.

So what is the solution? A diet? Nope. I honestly do not beleive in diets. Diets create roller coasters. They arent sustainable.. You have weight loss through restricted intake. Then you have weight gain when you resume normal eating habits. And so starts the cycle. The solution is lifestyle change. Small changes made over time to create new lifestyle habits that allow you to maintain the progress you make, almost effortlessly. How can it be effortless? It becomes habit. It becomes your new normal. You dont have to think about it, you just reach for the cleaner, better for you, food.

So although I encourage everyone to eat clean, you must still always consider calories in and calories out. You will see tons of foodie bloggers online posting “healthy” meals or snacks. What they dont tell you is these clean healthy items are very calorie dense. They are also nutritionally dense, which is great! But, the marketing around these foods often confuses consumers into eating these foods without considering the caloric intake associated with them. So overdoing on these clean foods may still leave you in a calorie surplus. These nutrient and calorie dense foods provide your body with many good things! Just be mindful of the calories. We need fats, we need calories and getting these things from an unprocessed source is ideal. Avacados, Nuts, Olives, Olive Oil, all provide our body with good stuff and should be included in the regular diet! The foods pack tons of nutrients, but also are high calorie by volume. They provide healthy fats, instead of saturated fats.

In an ideal world, for the average person that just wants to be healthy and live in balance, 80% of your food choices should be clean. While considering the caloric density of the foods and how it adds to your whole day nutrition plan. Remember the more a food is processed, the more nutrients have been removed. And these processed foods contain high levels of saturated fat. We need fats. Fats are good for. us. They are essential. We do not need saturated fats. Saturated fats are terrible for us. These processed foods are always calorie dense as well, but typically provide little to no nutritional value.

On a day to day basis we have many choices to make regarding our health and the foods we fuel our body with. Educate yourself on the food you are putting into your body. Remember that marketing has a purpose and it is easy for consumers to fall victim to foods labeled as “healthy” or “clean”. Clean foods are usually found on outside edges of the grocery stores. Clean foods do not have an ingredient label. Foods with minimal processing have a very short ingredient label and you will be able to read and pronounce everything on the ingredient list. Do your research, ask for help or hire a proffesional to help you if you are unsure. Your health is always worth the investment.

Motivation

Over the past couple weeks I have been asked by 5 or 6 different people how I stay motivated. Ive been asked by individuals finding difficulty in maintaining motivation, and individuals starting their fitness journey. I answered everyone as soon as I was asked without putting much thought into my answer. My initial replies were:
*The adrenaline of pushing limits and working hard motivates me
* The feeling of wanting to feel good and look good
* The ability to maintain a fitness level that allows me to hike the way I want and participate in other physical activites that interest me, knowing I can successfuly participate.
And to some, I was honest and replied, “Im not sure what keeps me motivated day after day. I just am”.

But then I started to think about it more. Most people struggle with motivation at some point. At the beginning of a journey, the middle, sometimes the end or anytime in between. I am not any different. There are definitly days when I am NOT motivated. Days I have to force myself to execise.But it never seems impossible. And I never lack such motivation that I feel like I want to quit. Its just more of a struggle some days but I truly still want to do it. I want to sweat. I want to exercise. On the days I struggle a bit, discipline trumps motivation. So although it looks like motivation, its actually discipline. However, once I get started its easier to keep going than it was to start. When I finish I am ALWAYS (without exception) happy that I pushed through and did the work. I have benchmarks for every single time I exercise. Some days those are harder to reach than others. Some days it takes longer. But, some days I surpass those benchmarks or reach them more easily. But at a minimum I will meet them every single day I exercise because I told myself I would. So what holds me accountable to that? Discipline. Most of the time I exercise alone so no one knows if I meet my goals and benchmarks, just me.

To go a bit deeper, there still has to be a “Why?”, right? Yep! Always. If youve started this journey I am sure you have discovered your “Why?”. But when the “Why” is not enough on some days, thats when discipline and HABIT clicks in. Habit is another key here. At this point I have exercised so consistently for so long that when I dont exercise (a rest or travel day), it feels “off” not to get it done. Its a disruption to my routine. Ive developed a habit of exercising daily. And we all know how hard it is to break habits! You wont develop a habit overnight or even a month, but with discipline you can develop a habit in about 6 months.

We only ever try to break “bad habits” and we all know how hard that is. Well, guess what? Its just as hard to break a “good habit” but most people dont know that because we never try to break our good habits! So if you make exercising a solid habit you will find it hard to skip a day meant for exercising.

So getting back to motivation…..most days, Yes, I am motivated. I like being strong and fit. I enjoy liking what I see when I look in the mirror (yes that may sound like ego, but if we are honest with ourselves, we all want to like what we see in the mirror). And on the days when it takes more effort to exerise I fall back on discipline. I do it because I know I should. I know its good for me in more ways than I can list. I made a promises to myself that I am going to honor. Its like going to work, there are days we dont want to go but we have to. Discipline makes you walk into work on those days that you dont want to. Discipline can be used the same way with exercising. You know you want the results. You know you feel good when youre done. So be discplined and get it done. No excuses! Your goals dont care about excuses. Discipline is a choice. It is taught. Its learned. It can be strengthened. Its mindset. There are few things in life we can control, our self discipline is one of them. If you can control your mind everything becomes easier.

I know some of you are still thinking its easy for me. Well its not easy for me every day. On days when motivation runs low, and habit and discipline are all Im riding on, sometimes I have to get creative. We all have the works outs we love and prefer and the ones that are just not our favorites. This is where I cut myself some slack. I may not be mentally or physically in a place where I can crush my upper body day (my least favorite!), so if thats the case I do something else. Leg day, maybe? Yes please!!! Whatever I find FUN is what I do on my hardest to motivate days. I will still hit the benchmarks I make for myself. There is no exception to that, but I will not be so rigid in my routine that I burn out or skip a day I shouldnt be skipping. If Im not feeling leg day, maybe Ill hike. Whatever it is, on my hardest to motivate days I think about what feels easiest for me to do (while still hitting my benchmarks) and I do that. If it means I get off schedule with leg day/upper body/athletic conditioning, who cares?!?! At least I exercised!!! Some days Ive done leg day two days in a row. So wrong, right? Well, I was running low on motivation that 2nd day and I know leg day pumps me up, so I did it! Twice! In a row!!! And its fine!

(To quickly clarify when I talk about switching it up, I know I cant avoid upper body day for a week. So I still need to use discipline to make sure I am hitting upper body 2-3x a week, but maybe not exactly on the day I intended to. I switch on the days when just doing any exercise is a struggle.)

The point is, be disciplined enough to exercise every day, but not so rigid that you burn yourself out. Remember, something is always better than nothing. And once you get started its easier to keep going. The first 10-15 mintues are hard, then youll find your groove and it gets easier. Im SURE you can make yourself do 10-15 mintues. And after those 10-15 minutes youll probably keep going. Just start. That first step is the hardest on the days when motivation runs dry. Motivation comes in waves. Somtimes its there every day for weeks or months, and some days you cant find it for weeks or months. When motivation runs low and habit isnt formed yet, try some of the following things and see if it helps:

* Get an accountablity partner. If you have someone to exercise with you are more likely to show up.
* Pack your work out bag the day before. If its ready to go, its easier to get going.
* Sleep in your work out clothes! (Thats what I do!).
* Aim for just 10, 15 or 20 minutes and you might suprise yourself and keep going after those minutes.
* Vary your routine. Not motivated to go to the gym? Then dont! Do something else active and FUN! Take a walk, go for a hike, try Yoga, take a new class, go to a new gym! The options for variety are endless.
* In a rut? Look at progress photos of yourself. Acknowledge how far you have come already. Or look at where you once were and use that to motivate you to get back to that place if you have fallen back into old habits.
* Hire a health / wellness coach or personal trainer. Maybe you are running in circles. The right person can help you be more effective and effecient with your time. Then youll see gains sooner and that will motivate you.
* Eat WELL! I cant stress enough how much the right foods give you more energy, which means exercise is easier! If you arent eating foods that help increase energy, you are easting foods that make you sluggish. Of course that also sucks away the motivation!!

Everyone will need their own motivators. What motivates me might not motivate you. But what you can do is work on discipline. Build a habit. Then motivation wont be all you need to get your daily exercise in.