3 Steps to Success

You probably heard this one before. All you need to do to lose weight is exercise more and eat less. But if it is that simple, why so many people fail miserably?

While the energy equation makes total sense on paper, it is an oversimplification of the process. The truth is that as human beings, we are complex organisms. And each one of us has unique characteristics. That’s why a one-size-fits-all approach cannot possibly work for everyone.

Now, while you will have to discover what works for  you, there is a common denominator in the equation: CONSISTENCY. Doesn’t matter what you do, if you don’t stick to it long enough, chances are you won’t see results.

What’s the secret? Motivation? Willpower?

Motivation is the excitement you feel when you begin a new project. It can definitely help you get started. However, it tends to fade away as time passes and you need to constantly remind yourself why you chose to go through this path.

Ah willpower! Willpower is great but it is a limited resource. When you force yourself to do something you don’t want to, you are using your willpower. The problem is that it won’t last forever.

So how can you make it work?

First of all, you need a plan of action. A plan of action is a step by step guide, a fool-proof system that is easy to follow. When you are writing your plan, break down your big goal into small manageable steps. Focus on behaviours (things you can do on regular basis) that when performed over a period of time will lead you to your ultimate goal. If you don’t know how to do this, look for professional help. An experienced trainer or coach can guide through this process.

The second step is accountability. The goal here is to make sure you are taking the small steps you devised on your plan. You can use your trainer or coach to make yourself accountable. Or find a friend with a similar goal and keep track of each others progress. Another idea is to use your social media as a diary  and post your plan and daily progress. If you prefer something more discreet, create an accountability sheet and stick to your fridge door or bathroom mirror. Fill it out everyday to keep track of your progress.

Need a sample? Download it here.

The final step is support. Surround yourself with people who understand what you are going through. This way you can talk about your frustrations, celebrate your successes, and find solutions to problems.

Keep in mind that results come from performing simple things over a period of time. If you trust the process and work on staying on track, you will see that the work you put in will pay off.

Why Exercise Alone Will NOT Lead to Massive Weight-Loss

You may be exercising for a while but not seeing the results you were expecting. Here is why:

To burn 1 kg of body fat, you must burn 9000 kcal (this is the equivalent of 30 hours on a treadmill!)

A high intensity workout such as a spin class burns on average 500 kcal/hour. How many of those sessions do you perform in a week? Two or three?  Let’s say you are burning about 1500 kcal/week. This means that to lose 500 g of fat in a week, you still need to cut 3000 kcal. This cut should come from your diet.

In order to lose weight, we must create a negative energy balance (burn more calories than we consume).  So, if you want to see faster results you MUST adjust your caloric intake.

Energy Intake < Energy Output → Negative Energy Balance

Don’t know where to start?

A conservative approach to weight-loss is to modestly reduce your daily caloric intake by 250 kcal to 500 kcal, while increasing the energy expenditure by 250 kcal to 500 kcal per day (through exercise). These steps will create a modest energy deficit with which the body can easily deal with. Following this guideline may lead to a weight-loss of one to two pounds per week without putting too much stress in your body.

Keep in mind that exercise will determine the quality of your weight loss. After all, you want to lose just fat not muscle or water. A regular exercise routine will also enable you to  maintain your fat loss for longer.

The 3 Week Diet

Do You Have a Scale Addiction?

Ah, the scale. As a woman seeking to lose weight, it can be your best friend or your worst enemy.

Sadly, though, a lot of women get addicted to that number on the scale. They see it not just as measure of their weight but as a measure of their success, their value, and their worth.

When that number doesn’t say what they want, they know without a doubt they’re going to have a bad day.

Here are a few signs that you have a scale addiction:

  • You weigh yourself multiple times a day. This activity is a big waste of time and gives you no indication of your true weight, since it fluctuates multiple times per day based on what you eat and drink and when you go to the bathroom.
  • You let the number you see upset you greatly. Stop getting so upset! The number doesn’t really tell you much since weight looks different on different people.

Remember, the scale can’t really tell you much at all. It is just one measure of your success, and other indicators, like skin fold (body fat percentage), girth measurements, progress pictures, are much more reliable.

The trick, though, is not to be obsessed with any kind of number or measurement, but, instead, just to focus on being as strong and healthy as possible. In the end, that’s all that matters.

12 Tips for Calorie Control

You don’t need to measure/weight your food in order to control your calories. Calorie counting is not only troublesome but also inaccurate so there is no point in doing it anyway. However, you can take control of your caloric intake by adopting these 12 fool-proof strategies:

  1. Clean your pantry – Some foods are supposed to be eaten in MODERATION, meaning once or twice a month. If you keep those foods at home, chances are you are going to eat them more often than you should. So get a garbage back and throw away (or give it to someone you don’t like) any following items: Sweet biscuits, cakes, desserts, Processed meats and sausages, Ice cream, lollies and chocolate, Meat pies and pastries, Crisps, chips, and other salty snacks, Margarine, Soft drinks, fruit drinks, and sports drinks, Alcoholic drinks.
  2. Home cook most of your meals – Restaurant foods are usually rich in fat, sugar and salt, tending to be  extremely palatable and easy to over eat. Keep in mind that your meals should be tasty, but not so tasty you can’t stop eating! Also, the portions are usually larger than you would normally eat at home.
  3. Surround your close environment with healthy foods – If all you see around you are fruits, veggies, lean protein, whole grains, nuts, and healthy fats, you will be more likely to eat them. Those foods are packed with nutrients and fibre and low in calories (when compared to processed foods).
  4. Eat slowly and without distractions – Did you know that it takes at least 20 minutes for the fullness reflex kick in? So if you eat too fast, you will be more likely to overeat.  Pay attention to your fullness level and stop eating when 80% full. Eliminate any distractions, meaning no phone, work or TV during your meals.
  5. Don’t skip meals – You will get overly hungry and be more likely to overeat on the next meal.
  6. Pay attention to your portion sizes – A serving of grain is about the size of one cupped hand (a restaurant portion size of pasta/noodles usually have about 4 servings!).
  7. Don’t turn to food for psychological comfort – Find other ways to cope with stress, boredom, and anxiety.
  8. Eat only when hungry. Before grabbing a muffin, ask yourself “Am I really hungry? Could I have an apple instead?”. If the answer is no, you are not hungry, you just feel like eating.
  9. Plan your cheat meal – This is important to avoid going overboard. Choose what you are going to have in advance. Eat slowly and enjoy it. And remember, it is a cheat meal NOT a cheat day.
  10. Focus on your breakfast – When you start your day with the right foot, you set the mood for the rest of the day. Eat a high protein breakfast to avoid overeating throughout the day. Protein keeps you full for longer.
  11. Avoid high carb meal late in the day. Keep in mind that excess carbohydrates are converted into fat and deposited into your waistline. At night is even worse because most of us are not very active which means there is no time to burn the extra calories.
  12. Don’t drink your calories. It doesn’t matter if it is orange juice or coke, liquid calories are readily absorbed and spikes the blood sugar levels. A big no-no for calorie control.

The 3 Week Diet

Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead

fat sick and nearly deadThis is not a new movie (from 2010) but I have just watched it and I really recommend it. It is a documentary based on a guy’s quest for the cure of a rare skin condition. After being on medication for years with little results, Joe Cross decides to reboot his life through juicing. He spent 60 days cruising the USA while on a complete juice fast[1] interviewing Americans along the way.

Even though it seems quite a radical approach (well, in fact it is radical) he could restore his health and even help others along the way. However, the real lesson in the movie is hardly about a new fad diet. I believe that his goal was not trying to convince people to engage in his challenge, but to understand what motivates people to eat what they do on regular basis.

I would say that the movie is more about behavior change than it is about diet. Several interviews throughout the movie clearly showed that people know what they are doing wrong. They just don’t see a reason strong enough to change it. All they say is “I know I shouldn’t eat that much fast food but” or “I should eat better but.” There was always a “but.” Not even the threat of debilitating diseases seems to compel people to change. Most call themselves weak or say they have no will-power. Some say that they need the instant gratification they get from food which means that eliminating that little pleasure from their lives is perceived as bad as, if not worse than, a debilitating illness or even death.

Which makes me think: What has to happen in someone’s life to push her/him into a new direction? What do you think?

[1] The only thing he ate for the duration of his self-imposed challenge was fresh fruits and vegetables in the form of juice.


Carla Torres is an AIF Master Trainer based in Rhodes, NSW. Her mission is to promote exercise, proper nutrition and healthy habits as a way to empower individuals to make decisions leading to better quality of life.

Can an Old Dog Learn New Tricks?

habit loopBehavior change is one of the major components of weight management programs. It is true that exercise and diet play important roles in weight loss, however if the individual cannot build healthier lifestyle habits, the results won’t last. This is because once the person goes back to his/hers old habits chances are that the pounds are going to begin piling up again. Therefore, long-term commitment is a must.

Changing someone’s behaviors is not an easy task. First, the person must be open to change (for more on that read “Increasing the Odds of Successful Change”). Keep in mind that change is only possible if the individual is willing to change. However, once the person is on board, change is possible if habits are addressed.

According to Charles Duhigg author of “The Power of Habit,” a “habit is a formula our brain automatically follows: when I see a CUE, I will do a ROUTINE in order to get a REWARD.” This is what he called the habit loop and it is an energy-saving strategy used by our brain in order to become faster and more efficient. This means that habits are instinctive pathways created by our brain in which we don’t have a conscientious participation. Not that we don’t know what we are doing – we do. Actually at some point we made a choice, but after some time the routine became ingrained in our brains and we stopped thinking about it.

The truth is that habits are powerful because they create what it’s called a neurological craving. This means that your brain start waiting for a preset reward whenever you see a particular cue which automatically unfolds a routine. Ok, but what does this mean? Let me break it down for you.

A CUE is a factor that triggers a behavior pattern. It could be something you see, a feeling, a smell, even a specific time of the day. The thing is that when you are exposed to this factor, it will drive you to inevitably perform a predetermined routine.

The ROUTINE is the habit itself. It is a sequence of behaviors performed spontaneously once you experience the cue.

A REWARD is the actual craving. It is the reason that pushes you to perform a routine. This craving appears immediately when you see the cue.

So how can we use this information in our favor? Keep in mind that it is almost impossible to just get rid of an old habit (neurological cravings are too powerful to be simply ignored), but we sure can try manipulating its variables (cue, routine and reward). In his book, Charles Duhigg suggests the following:

Initially, you must identify and understand the variables that compose your habit loop. Therefore, your first step should be recognizing the routine – the behavior you want to change. What exactly have you been doing that you are not happy with – smoking, mindless eating in front of the TV, having too much coffee, alcohol drinking? That’s the easy part. Everybody seems to know what needs to be changed; the hard part is actually doing it.

Then, discover what exactly you have been craving. Is it nicotine, caffeine, social interaction, need to do something fun? This is tricky and to figure this one out you have to experiment with rewards. It may not be that obvious; this step requires a bit of self-awareness. For example, some people may smoke because the act of holding a cigarette provides a sense of self-assurance in socially awkward situations, so in the end the expected reward is not nicotine, but confidence. Charles suggests slightly changing the routine in order to notice how you feel afterwards. This means that once you feel the urge to smoke, you should try doing something else instead, such as playing with your phone, calling a friend or reading a newspaper. Later you analyze your feelings. Did your craving go away or is it still there? I never said it was easy, but once you discover what you are craving, you can redesign your habit. The goal is to create a new routine that will provide de same reward, just in a different way.

The next step is to identify your cue. What is triggering the undesired behavior – boredom, stress, the smell of freshly brewed coffee, food commercials? To isolate possible cues, you should look for patterns. Charles recommends writing down details of what is going on the moment you feel the craving for several days. Then, compare and analyze your notes to find common points.

Now that you’ve identified all components of the habit loop, all you have to do is to set a plan of action. This means that you will actively choose to behave in a certain way whenever you see the cue that triggers the habit. Keep in mind that the reward is still going to be the same; all you are changing is how you are getting it. The goal is to teach your brain a new pathway that will lead to the reward you’ve been craving. Once it is ingrained, it will become a habit and you won’t have to think about it anymore.


Carla Torres is an AIF Master Trainer based in Rhodes, NSW. Her mission is to promote exercise, proper nutrition and healthy habits as a way to empower individuals to make decisions leading to better quality of life.

Adjust your mindset

As a new year starts, millions of people make resolutions that they don’t believe they can accomplish. In the US, the number one resolution for 2014 was to lose weight (University of Scranton). Unfortunately, only 8% of people are expected to be successful in achieving their goals. Why these statistics are so pessimistic? Well, the truth is that most people want something, but few are willing to work for it.

Keep in mind that just because we write down a simple statement, it doesn’t mean it will magically happen, no effort needed. Therefore, if you really want to achieve your goals this year, it is time you change your approach.

According to Carol Dweck, PH.D., author of “Mindset: the New Psychology of Success,” there are basically two types of mindset: the fixed and the growth. People with a fixed mindset think in a black and white manner (smart or dumb, weak or strong, successful or failure). They believe their attributes are carved in stone, seeing themselves as a finished product.  Because of those beliefs, they tend to be judgmental and have the need to prove themselves all the time. When faced with a challenge, they run away, trying to avoid a possible failure. If they “fail”, they tell themselves that they are not as smart as they thought; they feel sorry for themselves and resign. This means that they lack motivation to keep going through adversities. Consequently they can’t achieve their full potential.

People with the growth mindset, on the other hand, believe that a person’s true potential depends on effort, that everyone can change and growth through practice and experience. They see challenges as an opportunity to learn. When facing an obstacle, they ask themselves: “how can I overcome this?” or “what can I learn from this experience?” Because of this way of thinking, they are highly motivated people and are more likely to succeed in life.

In fact, studies in neuroscience shows that challenges do make you stronger, faster, and smarter because they force your brain to make more neural connections over time. Thus, if you adjust your mindset to be OK with assuming risks, making occasional mistakes, and learning from experiences, you may accomplish whatever you want.

Don’t be afraid of struggles and setbacks. Life doesn’t go in a straight line anyway. More likely than not, obstacles will appear and you can look at them as an opportunity to learn or you can feel sorry for yourself. It is your choice.

However, changing your mindset is not a simple process. There will be times in which willpower won’t be enough; you’ll need strategies. Make concrete plans determining what, where, when, and how you want. It is also important to put effort into your goal. Writing it down and waiting for it to happen, won’t do the cut. Move towards your goal. And when you face setbacks, don’t give up. Analyse what happened and ask what you can learn from it. Oh, and try to enjoy the process.

mindset


Carla Torres is an AIF Master Trainer based in Rhodes, NSW. Her mission is to promote exercise, proper nutrition and healthy habits as a way to empower individuals to make decisions leading to better quality of life.

Count Your Blessings… More Often

Yes, it is Thanksgiving and we are ready to deliver our little speech at dinner table. But are they just meaningless words that were put together nicely or do we really feel blessed for all those good deeds?

According to well-being researches, the regular practice of gratitude is strongly associated with happiness and life satisfaction. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity,” and it seems that happiness contributes to mental health.

Positive Psychology is the branch of psychology that studies “the strengths and virtues that enable individuals and communities to thrive[1].” Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology, developed the Well-Being theory which states that personal well-being is composed of five elements: positive emotions, engagement, meaning, positive relationships, and accomplishment. Happiness evidently contributes to positive feelings.

Interestingly enough, the factors that seem to be strongly correlated to happiness and life satisfaction are not exactly the same things most of us tend to pursuit in life. Happiness studies point out that gratitude, optimism and self-esteem have a greater impact in one’s happiness than income level, education or physical attractiveness. Maybe this explains why so many people seem to be so dissatisfied nowadays.

Practicing gratitude on a regular basis seems to increase happiness and life satisfaction, strengthen relationships with others, lead to peace of mind, and even improve physical health. This is because gratitude shifts your focus to the positive aspects of your life, builds positive relationships, gives meaning to one’s life, and creates a sense of accomplishment, all of which are components of the Well-Being theory.

However, to be valid, gratitude has to come from within. Sitting at the Thanksgiving table and blabbing words without feeling them, doesn’t count. To improve feelings of gratitude, positive psychologists suggest a few exercises. Write a letter of gratitude to someone you never thanked properly. Then deliver the letter personally and allow this person to read it, noticing his/her reactions. You can also start a gratitude journal in which you daily record three things that went well in your day. And of course, say “thank you” more often.

Thank you for reading this article!

References

Seligman, M. Flourish. New York: Free Press. 2011.

Peterson, C. A Primer in Positive Psychology. New York: Oxford University Press. 2006



[1] Available at http://www.ppc.sas.upenn.edu/


Carla Torres is an AIF Master Trainer based in Rhodes, NSW. Her mission is to promote exercise, proper nutrition and healthy habits as a way to empower individuals to make decisions leading to better quality of life.

Exercise May Diminish Desire to Eat

It is well-known that a healthy diet and regular exercise regime contribute to weight-loss. However, restricting the amount of calories consumed seems to lead to faster results than exercise alone.  On the other hand, exercise helps burning calories ingested through food, helps build muscle mass (which increases further the calorie expenditure), and is a fundamental part of weight maintenance. Besides, experts point out that people who are more active tend to have healthier dietary habits than their sedentary peers.  Now, a new research showed that exercise may also change the way we react to food. This study from Brigham Youth University showed that after 45 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise, there was a decrease in brain responses to the pictures of food. And don’t be afraid that increasing your activity level will make you eat more, later in the day. The study showed that the participants did not consume more food to compensate for the calories spent through exercise. Good news!

Available at “Exercise Can Reduce the Urge to Eat.”

To Eat, Or Not To Eat: That Is the Question

Have you ever wondered whether or not you should eat before working out? Many folks tend to avoid eating before exercising in the hopes of burning more fat. Even though many fitness gurus defended this idea, a study published on the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism refuted this myth. The study compared a group of volunteers in two different states: fasting and having a light breakfast before training sessions. The goal was to measure the caloric expenditure after the exercise session and the amount of fat that was being used as fuel. It was found that when the subjects ate before exercising, they burned slightly more calories 12 to 24 hours after the session than when fasting. In addition, it seemed that when they had breakfast before training, they used more fat as fuel after the exercise session.

Bottom line: If you want to get rid of unflattering body-fat, fuel up before hitting the gym. Experts recommend having a light breakfast 20 to 30 minutes before your morning workout composed mainly of carbohydrates that are easy to digest such as fruits, breads, energy bars, or energy drinks.

Available at “Eating or Fasting For Fat Loss: A Controversy Resolved.”