Before beginning my Twelve-week Fitness Challenge at The12 gym in Irvine, I considered myself to be a pretty healthy person. I exercised regularly. I ate whole foods, primarily organic. I even tracked my calories (though somewhat irregularly) using MyFitnessPal. But the results just were not there. I would lose and gain the same 8-10 pounds over and over again. I was in a rut where my body was not responding and I knew there had to be a better way.
Now that I am in week six of the challenge, I can look back and see many of the reasons for my poor results. What I realize now is that diet is about 90% of the equation. You can’t out-run, out-lift, out-exercise a diet that isn’t working for your body.
Here is a list of the things I was doing wrong before I started this challenge: (Well, in my diet anyway. We don’t have time or space for the all-inclusive list of my wrong-doings.)
1. Not Eating Often Enough
Before the challenge, I was eating a meal only about twice a day – lunch and dinner. I would usually just have coffee and maybe a banana for breakfast and then go to work out. I wouldn’t eat much throughout the day, and finish with a fairly large dinner. My body was all out of whack, not having the proper fuel to stay energized throughout the day. Now, I eat six smaller meals a day (pre-workout, post-workout, followed by four to five meals throughout the day). I feel like I’m constantly eating, but I’m losing weight.
This single change is so key to maintaining your body in the optimum fat-burning zone. It doesn’t have to be six meals. Maybe four works for you. That’s fine, as long as they are regular and provide you with some good nutrition to sustain you throughout the day. Once your body becomes accustomed to being fed on a regular basis, your metabolism can stabilize and your fat-burning engine can get to work burning that stubborn belly fat that creeps on as you get older.
2. Not Eating Breakfast and/or Before my Workout
We’ve all heard “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” a million times yet somehow, most adults ignore this advice. It’s an old and overused saying – BECAUSE IT’S TRUE. Ideally, you should eat within an hour of waking so your body doesn’t go into “starvation mode”.
Plus, you need food to get through a morning workout. Some good carbs and lean protein in your stomach help you go longer, be stronger and perform better. Your body needs fuel to perform.
3. Not Determining my Specific Calorie Needs per Day and Tracking My Food Consistently
I have been using MyFitnessPal for over a year with mixed results. I was pretty good about logging during the week, but went dark on the weekends. Just those couple of days of not logging made a huge difference in my calories intake, and therefore my results.
“But it’s so time consuming”, I hear people say. Honestly, after you become accustomed to the program and it saves your favorite and most-eaten foods, it’s really doesn’t take that much time. It’s probably about ten minutes per day. Plus, the app is on your phone so you can log it anywhere, anytime. So put down the Candy Crush for a little bit and track your food. It works. I promise.
The first step to tracking your food intake is to determine the amount of calories you need on a daily basis. Here is some great advice from Josh Boyd, CEO and Founder of The12, on how to determine that for your own body –
“Determining how many calories you need to lose weight is one of the most confusing parts of the weight loss process. The simple way to determine this number is to eat 10-12 times your body weight in pounds. For example, a 200lb person would eat 2000-2400 calories.It is always best to start high and come down only if necessary. Your ultimate goal is to eat as many calories as possible that still enable you to lose weight. If eating 9-10 times your body weight results in no weight loss over a period of 3 weeks, you likely have some metabolic damage or down regulation.
To put it simply, a damaged metabolism is typically caused by prolonged excessive calorie restriction combined with excessive physical activity.Your goal should be to eat as much food as possible that still allows you to drop body fat. When you don’t eat enough, important metabolism regulating hormones begin to down-regulate. Hormones such as thyroid and leptin start to lower to create a homeostasis in the body. Not only that, but muscle tissue begins to break down and be used for energy. This reduction in lean body mass also slows your metabolism since muscle is very metabolically active – “eating” fat and burning calories at all hours of the day. ”
This is exactly why determining your caloric intake is so important. You need to eat enough calories to lose weight, but not so many that you don’t get to your goal.
4. Not Eating Enough Protein & Eating Too Many Carbs
As someone who eats primarily vegetarian/vegan, I was loading up on fruits, vegetables and whole grains, but sort of ignoring my protein intake. I was more concerned about the impact of my food on the environment than I was on the impact of my food on my body. Now, I realize that protein is key to my health, fitness, and weight loss.
I am becoming accustomed to eating organic chicken, wild caught fish and organic cage-free egg whites – like EVERY DAY. Egg whites, who knew? I really never ate them before, and now they are my new go-to source for protein. I hard boil my eggs, and just grab one, pop out the yolk in the middle, and eat them whenever I need a quick snack. I also cook them for breakfast, and even add them to my smoothies (the pasteurized egg whites in a carton). They are my new BFF.
To give you an example of the kind of tweaks that I am talking about, here are some photos of my old salad I would eat for lunch –
Sure, it has a lot of good stuff in it, but it’s pretty much all carbohydrates and fat. Very little protein to be found.
I have replaced those old salads with something more like this:
Still lots of organic greens, but adding a substantial amount of protein – wild caught cod fish in the first photo and egg whites and nitrate-free, low-sodium turkey in the second.
The flip side of not eating enough protein is that I was eating far too many carbohydrates.
Now that I am doing the challenge, I get almost all of my carbohydrates from vegetables and fruit. I refer to this drawer of my pantry as the “food I no longer eat”.
Come to think of it, I pretty much don’t eat out of my pantry at all right now. Almost all of my food is fresh and contained in the meat, vegetable and fruit drawers of my refrigerator.
Right now, my goal is to get 50% of my calories from protein, 30% from carbohydrates and 20% from fat. That is a little extreme, and really only maintainable for me in the short-term. Once I complete the challenge, I plan to go for more for a 40/30/30 split.
So how do you determine how much protein, carbs and fat are right for you? Here is some more advice from Josh specific to determining the right protein, carbohydrate and fat ratios for your needs:
“Try to get at least 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight each day and eat some protein at each meal. The more active you are, the more protein you’ll need. The lower your body fat percentage becomes, the more protein you will need to intake. Fill the rest of your calories with healthy fats and carbohydrates. The numbers of each will be different for each person, but generally speaking, the more active you are the more carbs you will eat relative to fat. Aim to eat at least 15 grams of fiber for every 100 grams of carbohydrates you consume.”
5. Not Planning my Meals in Advance
The key to maintaining the right macro ratios (protein/carbs/fat) is to plan your meals in advance. Many of the folks at The12 plan them for the whole week, but I am more a day or two at a time kind of person. Also, because I go to at least one grocery store pretty much every day, advance planning is not as important to me. So, find what works for you, but plan it out in advance and log it.
On many days, I log all my food into MyFitnessPal in the morning, then just follow the schedule to hit my macronutrients. When I log early, I can see if my macros are off and adjust accordingly – BEFORE I EAT THE FOOD. By then, it’s too late. You can really “undo” what you already ate, but you can easily tweak a meal in advance.
6. Overestimating the Calorie Burn of my Workouts
Before I started this challenge, I would rely on the calorie information in MyFitnessPal or Runkeeper, or the reading of a friend in class. Now I know that these these measurements were way off. The calorie burn of each person varies greatly depending upon their effort level, weight, percentage of lean muscle mass, etc. My results will not be yours and vice versa. I have also learned that different activities can vary widely in their calorie burn. Workouts should be matched to your goals – weight loss, muscle sculpting, etc.
Now armed with my Polar watch (calibrated to my own individual resting heart rate), I know exactly how many calories I burn during each workout.
More on workouts and sample calorie burn for many different exercises coming up in a future post.
7. Too much Wine, followed by too Much Whine
I love wine – like love. I love to buy it, share it, store it, taste it. I love everything about it. I have this sign in my house and I believe it to be true.
But, drinking wine on more nights of the week than not was not doing my body any favors. I was drinking too much wine, and then whining about not being able to lose weight. See the problem?
So, do I not drink wine at all anymore? Hey, let’s not go crazy. Yes, I do still enjoy wine but now it’s more the exception than the rule. My favorite part of the day has always been the post-kid-shuttling, dinner-prep time in the kitchen. I pour a glass of wine to relax while cooking and helping with homework. So, I do still do that, but not every night. And when I do, I actually MEASURE MY WINE before I pour it in my glass. After that, sparkling water in a wine glass works just fine. I have noticed too that one nice glass of red gives me that warm lovely feeling – that promotes joy and relaxation. It doesn’t require three.
Less wine, less whining, more results.
Speaking of results, here’s a quick update. I’m still making progress on the challenge but it’s a little bit slower now, which is to be expected at this point of the challenge. I am still losing body fat but my muscle mass is stabilizing rather than increasing, which is why I just upped my protein consumption.
But more importantly, I feel amazing – lighter, healthier, happier than I have in a long time.
Also, you know those “when I get skinny jeans” you hold on to in your closet. Yep, those are coming out of the bottom of the pile. They may not even be in style anymore but I’m wearing them. Skinny jeans be damned, I’m busting out my actual “skinny jeans”. It’s time to let them see the light of day.