Forget Weight Setpoint. What’s Your SANITY Setpoint?

 

Weight setpoint is a topic that comes up in diet/fitness/health circles quite often. If your body has a natural weight setpoint that it defends, is there a point in trying to change your weight? Will you end up back at your setpoint no matter what you do?

There is no question that calorie balance is the ultimate determinant of weight. Every metabolic ward study ever conducted confirms this. While different kinds of calories and different conditions can affect how many calories you consume and burn, in the end that balance is what determines your weight. Lyle McDonald wrote an excellent piece on this, so I will simply link to his rather than reinvent the wheel (although I’ve discussed this myself, here and here).

Additionally, there is ample evidence that roughly 20% of dieters are able to reduce their weight and maintain the loss long term. This review looked at several studies on the subject of long-term weight loss maintenance as well as the members of the National Weight Control Registry. If some people DO lose weight and keep it off, there is more to this setpoint theory than meets the eye.

What’s your Sanity Setpoint?

There are a few common behaviors that tie the people who are successful at maintaining weight loss together. I don’t think the specifics of those behaviors are really what is important (they are: reduced calorie and fat intake, regular exercise and eating breakfast daily – I know lots of people who’ve successfully lost weight and kept it off who don’t do all of those things). I think what is really important is that they all made permanent changes to their behavior.

I propose that it is their new behaviors, and not their new weight, that is the real setpoint.

Rather than focusing on a goal weight, or weight at all, perhaps it would be better to focus on goal behaviors. This is something I have talked about numerous times before (herehereherehere). Systematically change your behavior, and over time your new behaviors will change your body.

So what is your sanity setpoint? It’s the level of behavior change that you can sustain comfortably, indefinitely. Perhaps exercising for 90 minutes a day six days a week and eating 1500 calories a day of chicken breast and broccoli (behaviors that will support a low goal weight, depending on numerous factors) is too extreme for you to maintain long term. Perhaps a more moderate approach, that is more sustainable, but that will support a slightly higher weight, is more realistic. Your sanity setpoint is the range of behaviors that you can incorporate into your lifestyle consistently and remain sane and happy.

For me, the behaviors that I am able to maintain consistently, and without undue stress, support a weight of between 165 and 170 pounds. I can, and have, gotten lower than this in scale weight, but I could not sustain it without making some serious quality of life sacrifices. The costs to my mental and physical health outweighed the positive effects of staying at that weight (most of which were social, not health-related).

All of our behaviors are shaped by the complicated interplay of cost and reward we experience. Focus on creating behaviors for which the rewards outweigh the costs, so that you set yourself up to maintain those behaviors long term.

Change your behavior and your body will follow.

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Learn to change your behavior systematically and sustainably. The Habit Project was created by the pioneers of habit-based coaching (me and Sean Flanagan) and is one of the only Body Positive habit-based coaching programs in the industry.

The next session of the Habit Project ON-Ramp is starting next week, Monday August 1st!!! Find your own Sanity Setpoint with a group of other people, all working together to change their habits in a supportive and fun environment. Click here to learn more: The Habit Project On-Ramp

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The Healthiest (and Leanest) I’ve Been Was When…

A few years ago I had a blog series called ‘Inactivity and Metabolic Health‘. It was an examination of the science of physical activity as treatment for metabolic issues caused by insulin resistance. Exercise improves insulin sensitivity. As far as I’m concerned, that is exercise’s most important effect on the human body. The reason I was interested (and continue to be) in the subject was my own experience – a long history of hormonal and metabolic issues that disappeared when I changed my habit of inactivity and became physically active.

I’ve written about it before, but to review: from my early teens I struggled with a constellation of symptoms that traced back to insulin resistance. Severe cystic acne, weight gain, irregular (and frequently absent) periods, ovarian cysts, fibrocystic breasts, elevated blood pressure as I got older, blood sugar dysregulation and panic attacks, depression, migraines. My doctor told me year after year after year to exercise, and I resisted and resisted. Went so far as to convince myself she was ‘blowing me off’ and just didn’t know what to do. I consulted natural health books and tried things like putting garlic suppositories in my vagina and drinking bentonite clay. Funny thing, those things never worked. I tried fad diet after fad diet, some worked temporarily, but most just made the problems worse.

At 35 (eight years ago), weary from the decades of being battered by the predatory winds of natural health mythology, I decided to finally do what my doctor had been admonishing me to do for so long – start exercising. And the rest is sort of history. It completely changed my life and my health. I lost weight I’d been unable to lose for years. Many of my health issues resolved. My depression and anxiety receded. It was pretty amazing. And flew in the face of the entire diet industry which ties weight and health almost solely to diet, and the fitness industry, which fixates myopically on the aesthetic results of exercise with very little attention to the health benefits (which are much more profound).

As I got more into fitness and began to lift weights, I became aware of the ‘cardio bunny’ meme, and noticed a certain disdain for cardio among the crossfire/strongman/dude bro element of the fitness industry. I read lots of blog posts about how ‘cardio makes you fat’ (hahahahahhhhaaahahhaahahahhhaah, yeah right), and how people who did cardio were all ‘skinny fat’, blah blah blah. If you’ve been around for a while, you are probably aware of the memes I’m talking about.

But I did enjoy cardio, especially the way it made me FEEL, and so I kept doing it even if it meant I would end up the dreaded skinny fat (PS, what the fuck is wrong with being skinny fat? Nothing.)

The more cardio I did, however, not only did I not get fat or even skinny fat, in fact I continued to get leaner. And I continued to get healthier. By 2012 I was training for a half ironman. I was doing as much as 4 hours of cardio a couple times a week. Don’t get me wrong, I was lifting too, but not nearly as much as I was doing cardio. I can look back at the time I was training for the half ironman and see that that was the leanest and healthiest I’ve been in my life. I had tons of energy. My depression was non-existence. My blood tests showed I was off-the-charts healthy. My period was like clockwork. And I was maintaining a body fat percentage of like 15% while eating as much as 4000 calories a day. See for yourself:

160-ish pounds. Training for a half-ironman. 1-4 hours of exercise a day, 4 days a week, including 2 strength trainign sessions a week. 4000+ calories a day.

I. Felt. Fucking. Awesome. I felt like I could take on the world, and win. I didn’t just feel physically awesome, I felt emotionally awesome. Confident. Strong. Outgoing. Optimistic. It was one of the best times of my life.

And so, I talked a lot on my blog about the benefits of exercise, especially for those with predispositions to insulin resistance (like me). Exercise did for me what no dietary intervention had ever been able to – normalize my blood sugar regulation, improve my insulin sensitivity, allow me to eat anything and my body metabolize it just fine and use it for fuel. Exercise made my body work right. And all of this was supported by decade upon decade of credible peer review research showing exercise – specifically cardio – is a primary intervention for metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance. Exercise improves insulin sensitivity, there is absolutely NO question of this in the scientific literature.

And when my body was working right, it was able to use the food I ate – WHATEVER food I ate – to build muscle and create energy. Energy I used to go out and live an awesome life. Write prolifically. Make huge waves in the fitness industry. Piss off the fad diet gurus ROYALLY.

Ah, but it was fun.

Things started to fall apart a little about a year and a half ago when my knee arthritis got really bad, bad enough to affect my ability to exercise the way I had been. The first thing to go was running. Then cycling. Then I had to cut down the amount of time I was spending on the elliptical, because it would make my knee swell and ache badly. I had surgery 9 months ago in an effort to increase my range of motion and pain levels. That sidelined me completely for a couple months, and then when I got back to exercising, it was more lifting than cardio. I like lifting, don’t get me wrong. And I’m glad I’ve been able to keep doing it!  but it’s been a long slog through recovery and trying to get back to the amount and intensity of cardio that was so helpful for me. I’m still not there.

And the result has been that in spite of still lifting, I’ve seen my depression came back. BOY did it come back. I’m still really struggling with it, somedays I can’t even get myself out of the house. Recently my cystic acne has cropped back up. I recently had my first migraine in 6 or 7 years. My HDL is creeping downward. My period is no longer like clockwork. And my weight has crept up in spite of reducing my calorie intake (this is due in large part to some meds I’ve been taking, but I have a gut feeling that my weight gain would have been smaller if I’d been able to keep exercising the way I need to exercise). Creep may be an understatement, I gained 25+ pounds in 2015.

A year without the kind of cardio that my body needs has resulted in a lot of my health issues re-emerging.

FUCK.

Cardio, not lifting, completely turned my life around. And the more cardio I got, the better. My friend Sol (from examine.com) did a guest post here a couple years ago addressing head on the ‘cardio makes you fat’ meme. In short, it’s bullshit. Cardio does not make you fat. And if you’re like me and prone to insulin resistance, it may even make you leaner and healthier than lifting alone. The research certainly bears out the value of cardio for metabolic health. Sure, ‘lifting weights faster’ may work for some young healthy people. Heck, it may work for some older healthy people.

For me? Older and predisposed to insulin resistance? I need the cardio. And lots of it. I get my hour a day of heart pumping cardio and I can eat pretty much anything and take it in stride, and THRIVE. Take away my ability and access to that level of cardio and my health deteriorates.

This is important. KEEP THIS IN MIND next time you start judging ‘lazy people’ for not ‘doing what it takes’ to get the exercise they need to be healthy.

Some people simply don’t have access. You know what I had that allowed me to get 1-4 hours of cardio a day? Lots of spare time. A gym membership. Safe spaces to exercise. Money to spend on equipment. Did I mention time? Lots of free time? Oh, and transportation to and from the gym. And different options at that gym. I can swim, well, because I had years of lessons as a child and access to a pool.

Do you know how many people don’t have any those things I just mentioned, let alone all of them? At times, I fell into thinking ‘if I can do it, anyone can’. But, not everyone can. Many, MANY people can’t, whether it be because they don’t have access to a gym, a safe space to exercise, money for equipment, or the ability to swim (or one of any number of other privileges that makes exercise a luxury).

For many people, exercise isn’t a matter of ‘priorities’. They are not ‘making excuses’. They simply do not have access.

Let me tell you about how things are for me now. I am semi-disabled. There are a lot of physical things I can’t do. Yet, at least. My knee is healing very slowly. And, I am depressed. There are days I can’t make it out of my house. This isn’t a matter of not being motivated. This is a real medical condition. I know that getting more active will help with the depression, but sometimes the depression is so bad it keeps me from being active. And when I CAN be active, I am not strong enough yet to exercise as long and as intensely as I could when things were going so well for me physically.

I have lost several of the privileges I enjoyed 3-4 years ago that gave me the option of getting the exercise I needed to thrive. I will probably get them back – and I still have several other privileges that increase my likelihood of getting them back. I still have the gym membership. I still have transportation. I still have a safe space to exercise. I still have enough money to afford equipment. As my knee (and head) heals, I’ll be able to continue building my activity back up.

But there are many people out there that are far more trapped than I am. Who may not have ANY of the privileges I enjoy. People for whom the fight to be active isn’t currently winnable. Judging those people as lazy and unmotivated isn’t fair. The answer isn’t to judge and ridicule them. It is to create safe spaces. Make facilities accessible. Provide reliable transportation. Provide fair and equal medical treatment (I will be writing about this in the near future). Taking mental illness seriously. No, it’s not laziness or lack of motivation. Depression is REAL, and debilitating. Mental illness deserves compassion and treatment. NOT ridicule. And that’s just the invisible disability. Many people are visibly disabled, and they need access to safe fitness options as well.

Why? Because fitness isn’t about APPEARANCE. It’s about health. It’s about quality of life. It’s about saving our country billions of dollars in medical costs. It’s about guaranteeing everyone the same quality of medical care, fitness accessibility and compassion.

We need to do a couple things.

  1. Reframe fitness from ‘aesthetics’ to health.
  2. Improve accessibility. The Y is on the frontline of this massive endeavor, and has been for decades. Look into what your local Y is doing in your community. Volunteer, donate.
  3. Stop judging and ridiculing people for not exercising (if you do). You don’t know what barriers they may have, and just because YOU have been able to overcome barriers doesn’t mean everyone has the same barriers and abilities to overcome them. Welcome people of all shapes and sizes and colors and ages and abilities to your gym. Fitness can and should be for everyone. Not just the already fit and able.
  4. Stop spreading the elitist and misguided meme that cardio makes you fat. It can be LIFESAVING for people with insulin resistance. It can also be more accessible than lifting for many people without access to a gym and equipment. And it doesn’t need to be an either/or question either – both are beneficial and it’s perfectly fine to combine them. And EVEN IF CARDIO DID MAKE YOU FAT, there are worse things to be than fat. Like, an elitist asshole.
  5. Stop, also, spreading the myth that exercise is for aesthetics and isn’t important for health. IT IS VITAL for health. VITAL. An exercising body doesn’t need fad diets. An exercising body can metabolize carbs and fat and protein and use it all for fuel. People with medical conditions may need special diets, but those diets should be prescribed and administered by medical professionals, not diet books and internet gurus. Fad diets serve NO ONE, except the bank account of the fad diet book authors. They are also generally quite elitist, time consuming and rely on expensive, and hard to find foods that most people simply don’t have access to. OR NEED.

Cardio is awesome (especially for people with a predisposition to insulin resistance). Lifting is awesome too. Fad diets SUCK and no one should be using them. People with medical conditions that require dietary intervention need to work with a medical professional to administer that dietary intervention. Fad diets offer false and misleading hope that all our problems can be solved with diet. NOPE. The research suggests that if there is anything close to a magic pill, it is EXERCISE. Not magic diets.

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Got something to say about this post? Join the discussion on Facebook!

I mentioned that it was the habit of inactivity that kept me from improving my health. In order to make long-term changes, I needed to change my habits to support regular and sufficient exercise. I did it by focusing on making one small change at a time, and practicing those changes consistently over time. It worked. It worked so well that it’s the approach I take with my coaching clients. And it’s the foundation of the group coaching program I created with my coaching partner Sean Flanagan (The Habit Project™). We’ll be enrolling our next session of the Habit Project on April 5th. If you’re interested in learning more about this approach to behavior change that we’ve seen work for hundreds of clients over the years, get on our pre-enrollment list here. Only people on the list will be getting the invitation to enroll in the program! Putting your name on the list does NOT obligate you to join the program.

 

 

What it Means to Take Up Space

Screen Shot 2016-03-16 at 11.41.43 AMTaking up Space means recognizing your right to exist, have opinions, speak without apologizing, pursue your own goals, and have a body. Any kind of body. A body you don’t apologize for. A body you don’t feel ashamed of. A body you get to dress and decorate and shape and display and use exactly the way YOU want to.

That’s it. You can stop reading now.

But, if you’re still reading, Taking up Space means YOU get to choose. You get to choose what to eat. You get to choose how (and if) to exercise. You get to choose who to love. You get to choose who to have sex with. You get to choose how big or small to be. You get to choose what to think. You get to choose what to say. You get to choose what to wear. You get to choose how to behave. You get to choose. You get to choose. You get to choose.

This may all seem obvious, on the surface. But from day one we are inundated with messages about the appropriate way to exist. The appropriate way to have a body. The appropriate things to do with our bodies. The appropriate way to behave. The appropriate way to love. The appropriate people to have sex with. The appropriate amount to eat. The appropriate THINGS to eat. The appropriate amount to weigh. The appropriate way to feel. The appropriate way to speak. The appropriate opinions to have.

And those messages become so deeply ingrained that we don’t realize they are messages from outside. We don’t recognize that they are cultural demands that we are expected to bow to. We just accept them as The Way Things Are. The Way WE Are.

Taking up Space is the gradual recognition of the way we’ve been conditioned. The gradual discovery of our own voice, our own opinions, our own preferences for our bodies. And then the expression of those things. The defiant acceptance of our natural healthy bodies as perfectly NORMAL. The rejection of the expectation of culture that we change ourselves to conform to it’s demands. It’s not just about our bodies, although our bodies are the most outwardly visible manifestation of Taking Up Space. We stop trying to shrink into nothingness in the physical world. We allow our bodies to be the size of strength, and health, and power.

But we also raise our voices to fill a room. We remain confident in our choices even when others try to undermine us. We cultivate within ourselves the strength and resilience to meet and conquer challenges and doubt. We decide what is right for ourselves. We decide. We decide. We decide.

Call it the patriarchy. Call it the suffocating weight of cultural expectation. Call it the overbearing voices of shame. Whatever it is that is holding you back: Taking Up Space means recognizing it. Taking Up Space means rejecting it. Taking Up Space means replacing it. Taking up Space means overthrowing it. Taking Up Space means becoming wholly YOU. Choosing. Deciding. Acting in ways that honor YOUR goals and preferences and opinions.

And that is what Taking Up Space, The Coaching Program is here for. To teach you how to recognize what isn’t working. To reject the expectations of others. To replace them with your own goals and preferences. And to cultivate the internal resilience and strength to keep doing it even when the dirty rotten fingers of doubt and discouragement start to creep in.

Taking Up Space isn’t a diet program or exercise routine. Those things are a dime a dozen all over the internet. It’s something BETTER. It will give you the tools to change the behaviors holding you back from your goals. It will build your self-reliance and self-confidence, so that you’ll know when something isn’t serving you or supporting your goals. It’ll give you the perspective to spot people and programs that are designed to keep you spinning your wheels. It’ll teach you why true, lasting change only happens when it comes from a place of self-love, not self-loathing.

Taking Up Space teaches you how to be a badass. And once you know that, nothing can stop you.

So This is Obesity, Huh?

One of the reasons I’ve been laying low lately is that I just haven’t been well. My health (mental AND physical) started deteriorating about a year and a half ago. I had a surgery, I’ve been on several different weight-gain inducing pain medications and my capacity for exercise has deteriorated significantly.

I tried to power through for a long time, knowing that I am a role-model for my kids, and that many people ‘out there’ expected me to maintain a certain level (and look) of fitness. But recently I realized I need to take my own medicine and back-the-fuck-off of pushing myself so hard when my body is demanding rest and recovery time.

I wanted to post this now because I’m at a weight I doubt I will stay at, and I wanted to use it to make the point (again) that BMI is a God-awful measure of a person’s health status, and that when people imagine what overweight and obesity look like, they aren’t always right. What do YOU imagine an obese person looks like? I doubt you imagine this:

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According to BMI, I am obese now.

I’ve gained roughly 25 pounds over the last year and a half. My ‘Sanity Setpoint’ weight is 170-175 pounds (which is itself overweight). I am now, depending on the time of day and where I am in my menstrual cycle, 195-205 pounds. I say I doubt I will stay here because I am successfully reducing the number and amount of medications I’m using, and my capacity for exercise is slowly, slowly increasing. But my current weight, at my height of 5’9, puts my BMI right at 30, the point where ‘overweight’ ends, and ‘obesity’ begins.

I am obese! Huzzah!

Up until the last year, I’d been successfully maintaining my Sanity Setpoint weight for several years. It was a weight I could maintain without having to engage in any extreme measures. A reasonable amount of exercise, a reasonable level of calorie intake, and a balanced, varied diet that included both foods I eat for nutrition and foods I eat purely for pleasure. I don’t doubt that as I slowly work back to those behaviors and continue to reduce the medications that have affected my weight, my weight will trend downward and I’ll eventually get back there, or close. But hell, if I stay where I am, I don’t think it would be the end of the world.

The reason I wanted to share this image and this post is that I want to provide perspective for all the people out there agonizing about the obesity epidemic, BMI numbers and the number on the scale. See that picture up there? That’s what obesity can look like when the obese person is active and eats a relatively healthy diet. In spite of my pain, arthritis and surgery, all my health markers are excellent. My pain is affecting my health, but my weight isn’t.

I’m going to continue to call on healthcare providers and the general public to shift their focus away from the number on the scale, and toward BEHAVIOR. Balanced, healthy habits will contribute heavily to health outcomes, regardless of what the number on the scale is. It’s clear that our cultural fixation on numbers hasn’t resulted in improvements (and in fact is probably making the problem worse). I’m calling for a complete paradigm shift. Screw the numbers. Work on the habits. And we’ll begin to see progress.

Body Positive Fitness Isn’t Always Rainbows and Unicorns

Untitled drawing-11I think one of the things people are frequently surprised by when they join my Facebook group is that we don’t always tell people what they want to hear. Nor are we unquestioning cheerleaders. This throws people for a loop if they’ve joined under the impression that “Body Positive Fitness” means perpetual cheerfulness and consummate harmony.

I think that general Body Positive culture, and the size acceptance movement (both of which I support) DO tend to be those things, so when one of my coaches calls someone out on their self-destructive or manipulative behavior, things can get uncomfortable.

Body Positive Fitness isn’t always comfortable. Body Positive Fitness is, at it’s core, about respect. Respecting ourselves, and respecting others. And where there is respect, there are boundaries. Run up against those boundaries, and you should expect things to get uncomfortable.

In my last post, I spoke to fitness professionals. This post is for clients. It’s for the people who are curious about this new approach to fitness but not quite sure what it’s all about. This is what you can expect, from the movement and from the Professionals driving it.

Respect For The Client

We, the fitness professionals representing Body Positive Fitness, will treat you with respect. We will respect you as a person, we will respect you as a grown adult, and we will respect your body regardless of it’s size, shape, ability, color, age or gender.

We will respect you as a person. This means we will spend time learning about your goals and limitations. We will create programs for you based on those goals and limitations, as well as your personal preferences, time constraints, and available resources. We won’t dismiss your circumstances by assuming we know what you want to look like or be able to perform. Your program will be what works best for YOU, in your circumstances, and with considerations for your limitations.

We will respect you as a grown adult. Essentially, this means we will be honest with you. Sometimes, being honest with you means telling you that your behavior is self destructive. Sometimes it means telling you that you’ve been given bad information by someone else (Fit 1.0), and it’s keeping you from being successful in your goals. Sometimes it even means telling you that the actions you’re taking will hinder your progress toward your goal. But none of these things means you are a bad person. All of these things happen to EVERYONE, and it’s our job to help you identify barriers to success, and overcome them. When those barriers are coming from yourself, it can be hard to hear. We know that. So we do our best to present compassionate honesty. Being honest with you, even when it’s hard to hear, is one way we respect you. Being dishonest is disrespectful, even when it’s the easier thing to do. Respecting you as a grown adult means we treat you like one. We tell you the truth. We are honest. Because that is how grown adults treat each other.

We will respect your body. Respecting your body means we support you in creating habits that will help you reach your goals. If we recognize that your habits are hindering your progress toward the goal you’ve identified, respecting your body means we will let you know. If increasing your daily step count is one of your stated goals, and we recognize that you’re passing up opportunities to work more walking into your day, respecting your body means we’ll discuss it with you. Compassionately. It also means that if we recognize that you may be struggling with disordered thinking about food or your body, we will talk to you about it and refer you to an appropriate professional. Sometimes this can be a very uncomfortable conversation for both of us – but respecting your body means we place your health ahead of our own comfort.

On the other hand, we will NOT project our own assumptions about what your goals should be on to you. For instance, if you haven’t identified weight loss as a goal, we won’t give you advice on creating a calorie deficit. And if one of us slips up and does something like that, please speak up. Your own goals are what we are here to support. Not our own projected goals.

Respecting Each Other

I mentioned boundaries above. Most Body Positive Fitness interactions will happen in group environments. Creating a culture of respect for each other often means that BPF professionals will have to create firm boundaries that clients will be expected to respect. Respecting those boundaries is a way the clients can support each other. It may not always be easy – sometimes one person in a group may have to compromise their own preferences because they don’t work for the group as a whole. But respecting boundaries is the way we show respect for each other in group settings.

One example of this is the rule in my Facebook group that if a person makes a health claim, they are expected to provide evidence to support it (read my last post about why Body Positive Fitness MUST remain evidence-based). Ultimately, this rule (i.e., boundary) is there to prevent pseudoscience from taking root and spreading within the group. Sometimes an individual will run up against this boundary, make a claim, and not have evidence to support it. That individual may feel they are being treated unfairly by being required to provide evidence – but the rule is there to respect the group as a whole. In this case, an individual has to either compromise (not make the claim), or decide the group isn’t the right place for them. They won’t be able to disrespect the other people in the group by making unsupported claims. Even though that one person may feel like the group isn’t ‘positive and supportive’ to them specifically, in the end, the boundaries and rules are there to respect and support the group as a whole. All the other people in the group, who matter every bit as much as the person in question, will recognize that the group’s boundaries are there to protect them.

Body Positive Fitness group interactions require boundaries, and those boundaries must be designed to respect and protect the cohesiveness and safety of the group as a whole. Individuals within the group can show respect for each other by respecting the group’s boundaries and rules. Sometimes those boundaries might make an individual within the group feel uncomfortable, but that doesn’t make the boundaries ‘negative’ or ‘unsupportive’. That individual might see them that way (as sometimes happens in my Facebook group), but people who can’t see that respecting a group’s boundaries is in itself body positive simply aren’t ready for Body Positive Fitness.

One way coaches can affirm the group’s boundaries is by calling out manipulative behavior when it arises. This takes some wisdom and skill, and the ability to first recognize manipulative behavior (which is why critical thinking skills are SO important to Body Positive Fitness coaches). Again, this can be uncomfortable for the entire group, but in the end, addressing and challenging manipulative behavior will help everyone in the group learn to recognize the way they, and others, can sabotage their progress. Calling out manipulative behavior in the group ultimately supports every individual’s personal journey. It is a vital skill for Body Positive Fitness Professionals, and is there to support the clients’ goals.

Body Positive Fitness will have uncomfortable moments. This is one thing that sets it apart from more general body positive culture. We expect those uncomfortable moments, and approach them with respect, as adults.

If Body Positive Fitness were rainbows and unicorns all the time, we’d miss opportunities to recognize and overcome barriers to success. We’d lose clients and coaches to the chaos of boundary-less classes and programs. We’d allow people to continue on in self-destructive behavior patterns without understanding why they can’t seem to make progress.

Respect means telling the truth, with compassion. Respect means creating boundaries, and respecting them! Respect means saying things that are hard to say, and sometimes harder to hear. These things are the way we show we respect each other, and respect is the foundation of Body Positive Fitness.

 

 

 

 

Why Body Positive Fitness MUST Be Evidence Based

Untitled drawing-9The Body Positive Fitness movement is growing. More and more fitness professionals are realizing the value of this approach to coaching, and more and more individuals are being drawn into fitness for the first time by this brand new way of approaching fitness and health. The focus on quality of life rather than appearance is changing the climate of the fitness industry, and it is exciting!

There’s something really important I have to say about it though.

 

We MUST leave the pseudoscience and woo behind. That bullshit has to stay with the old fitness industry. The Body Positive Fitness industry we’re building needs to be evidence based, and STAY evidence based.

What pseudoscience do you mean, Amber you may ask? There is so much. Oh my god, so much. I can’t list everything, so I’ll share some of the most egregious examples. Fake diseases like adrenal fatigue, candida overgrowth, “broken metabolism”, and leaky gut. Most supplements. All MLM products. Fad diets. So. Many. Fad. Diets.

WHY do we need to leave the pseudoscience behind? Don’t some people like it? Doesn’t it work sometimes, even if it’s not supported by science? Placebo is powerful after all! What’s the harm, Amber? 

The HARM is that when we use these non-evidence based products, diets and practices on our clients, we are essentially experimenting on them.

And experimenting on our clients is disrespectful. Come on people! Stop experimenting on your clients!

RESPECT for the bodies of our clients is the core value of Body Positive Fitness. We put that respect into action by grounding our coaching in proven, established, evidence-based practices. We do NOT subject our clients’ bodies to unproven techniques and fantasy-based diets. I mean, best case scenario, nothing will happen. Your client spends a lot of their money on magical pills and potions and nothing happens. Worst case scenario, though, is that you hurt or even kill someone by making unproven, fantasy-based recommendations.

Do you know what drives the use of unproven techniques and fantasy based diets? Ego. The ego of a coach who thinks they know more than the kinesiologists, doctors, dietitians  and scientists who develop standards of practice and nutritional guidelines. The opposite of evidence-based coaching is EGO-driven coaching. I see it all around me, douche-bros who belittle women for having the wrong kind of body, coaches who use crystals and herbs to treat their clients’ adrenal fatigue, gurus who tell their fans that they got their abs from isagenix (and not the combination of genetics and calorie restriction that is reality), trainers promoting paleo or low carb or vegan diets…EGO. These coaches are basing their recommendations on EGO. Not evidence.

Sometimes a person will come to my page or group with some beliefs they’ve gotten from a coach or trainer – beliefs that are inaccurate. That carbs are evil for instance, or that paleo is the ideal human diet, or that they have adrenal fatigue, or that they need to buy shakeology to succeed, etc. And they sort of look foolish to the people in the group, because they believe the bullshit they are spouting. But it’s not really their fault. Someone they looked up to, someone they PAID, taught them bullshit. Someone they trusted with their health taught them bullshit. THAT is what Body Positive Fitness MUST LEAVE BEHIND.

People trust us with their health. We can’t teach them bullshit. We can’t make them look foolish. Let ‘professionals’ from the OLD fitness industry do that to their clients. Not us. No.

Body Positive Fitness Professionals need to stick to evidence-based practices. It is the way we put Body Positivity into practice. We respect our clients’ bodies by not subjecting them to unproven methodology. We respect our clients’ bodies by basing our coaching practices on evidence, not our egos. We respect out clients’ bodies by not gambling their health on something that might or might not be true, by not experimenting on them with new fad diets and supplements.

Join the revolution. Leave the bullshit behind. Whether you are a fitness professional or an individual getting active for the first time, there is a place for you in the Body Positive Fitness movement.  And some day, there will be enough of us to completely shut down the old, ugly, shame and ego based fitness industry of before, and all there will be will be the awesome evidence and JOY based fitness industry of the future.

 

Image courtesy of Real Body Stock Fitness Photos

What is a Healthy Weight?

I’m going to try to do more video blogs this year. Here’s the first one!

 

How to Determine the Nutrient Profile of Home Made Meals

Screen Shot 2013-11-25 at 2.21.16 PMOne of the questions I get pretty regularly is “How can I determine the nutrition information of recipes I make at home?” When you’re trying to lose weight or build muscle, or working to ensure you’re giving your body the protein and vitamins and minerals it needs to thrive, knowing the protein, nutrient and calorie content of your meals can be super helpful. But cooking at home using whole foods can make it trickier, as whole foods don’t come with a nutrition label! There is a way to figure out all these values, and with the right tools and tricks it’s not too complicated.

The first few times you do this will be a learning process – expect imperfection. But you’ll get the hang of it quickly. Hang in there!

You’ll need two tools to get an accurate idea of the nutrient profile of your recipes. First, you’ll need to find a recipe analyzer you feel comfortable with. There are dozens available online. I would say they’re all pretty comparable, so check out a few and get a feel for which one seems most user friendly to you. I use this one at Calorie Count. Many of my clients use this one at MyFitnessPal. Spark People has a good one, as does Self Magazine. Here’s one from Fit Watch. Dieticians of Canada also has a good one. Some of these analyzers require you to create an account, but the accounts are free. The benefit of creating an account, though, is that you can save your recipes for future reference and only need to analyze them once.

You’ll also need a decent food scale (I like this one, although there are many to choose from at different price points).

And now that we’ve got the tools, here’s how you do it:

1. Enter all the ingredients of your recipe into the recipe analyzer of your choice, and tell the analyzer how many servings the finished product will produce. The analyzer will give you the nutrient profile for a serving of your recipe.

2. Prepare the recipe.

3. Weigh the entire finished recipe. Make sure to subtract the weight of the container you’re using to weigh the recipe. You can do this by weighing the empty container before weighing the recipe, or if your scale has a tare function, simply place the container on the scale and press the tare button to zero out the weight reading, then add the finished recipe to the container and the scale will read only the weight of the food.

4. Divide the finished product into servings by weight.

Here’s an example:

Our imaginary example dish is going to be beans and rice. Enter all the ingredients into the analyzer, in this case we’ll enter 2 cups uncooked rice, 1 cup dry beans, 3 carrots, 3 stalks of celery, 2 large tomatoes, a tablespoon of olive oil and a teaspoon of salt (we’re going for simple here). Then we tell the analyzer this recipe makes 4 servings. The analyzer will make it’s calculations and spit out the nutrient profile for one serving. Then, we prepare the recipe. When the recipe is finished, we place the entire dish on the food scale. After figuring out and subtracting the weight of the container the food is in, we determine the finished recipe weighs 36 ounces. We then divide the recipe into 4 equal 9 ounce servings, and either serve and eat, or package up for later. Viola! Home made meal, accurately profiled and divided. You now know your home made meal’s macronutrient, micronutrient and calorie profile.

One benefit of determining the nutrient profile of your recipes is that you can see if they are balanced to meet your goals, and if not, you can alter them. For instance, this beans and rice recipe may be too low in protein for someone on a fat loss diet, so seeing where the protein is coming from can give them ideas for improving the protein balance (perhaps by increasing the bean to rice ratio, or adding another protein dense ingredient). You can also determine if your recipe is calorie dense enough to meet your energy needs, or if it lacks micronutrients you may need to increase your consumption of. Remember, being aware of the nutrient profile of your diet IS NOT and SHOULD NOT be about restriction, it should be about ensuring you are meeting your nutrient and energy (calorie) needs adequately. Spending some time learning about the way your diet balances out over time can help you create new eating habits. Once those habits are in place, you can leave the tracking behind.

Related blog posts:

Calorie Primer
Habit: the Real Key to Weight Loss Success
Body Composition


eMeals Meal Plans

The Real Key to Long-Term Weight Loss Success is Not What You Think

habit-2Most diet programs involve dramatic lifestyle overhauls, massive shifts in behavior, and rigid dietary prescriptions that require a great deal of effort and attention on the part of the user to implement and maintain.  Willpower, they say. Stay focused on your goal (a lean physique, a specific weight or body fat percentage, etc) and WORK HARD, they say. You can do it! You can win the war with your body! It’s just a matter of focus, willpower, self control.

We all know how well most diet programs work out in the end, though.

My Own Habits

Five years ago I had an epiphany of sorts. I realized that my body was the result of my lifestyle habits. The way I ate, the way I moved, the way I slept, the way I dealt with stress…all these things worked together to produce the body I had at the time. My body, and my health, were a product of thousands of small, seemingly inconsequential behaviors (both conscious and unconscious) I engaged in on a day to day level. Trying to undertake massive behavioral changes all at once, as I had done so often as I tried fad diet after fad diet, rarely worked in the long term, as those massive behavioral changes gradually gave way to the ingrained habits that had established themselves over the course of decades.

I shifted my focus. Instead of focusing on an aesthetic goal and trying to force my body to that goal, I decided to focus on those small, seemingly inconsequential habits that formed the vast majority of my day to day activity. I identified the habits, the nearly subconscious behaviors that I fell back on automatically, that shaped the body and health I had at the time. And once those habits were identified, I identified new habits that could replace them, and I focused on shaping those new habits, slowly and methodically. The end goal wasn’t ‘weight loss’. The end goal was a new habit, a nearly subconscious behavior that I would fall back on automatically in my day to day life. I believed that with new habits and new behaviors, my body and health would change. I was right.

The Science

Research has established that what we term ‘self control’, or willpower, is a finite resource (1). As a person exerts conscious control over their behavior, they use up and eventually exhaust their reserves of self-control, at which point they revert to habits, which don’t require the use of self-control, as they are largely automated responses to stimulus (2). The more self-control a person exerts, the faster they deplete their self-control reserves, and the more they fall back on habits as they fatigue. So the more dramatic and extreme a diet plan is, the more likely the dieter is to exhaust their self-control reserves and relapse back into established, ingrained habits.

Researchers from the University of Southern California examined the role of habit in goal achievement through a series of studies (3). Their results confirmed that people fall back on habits, both good and bad (or ‘goal-congruent’ and ‘goal-incongruent’) when their reserves of self control are depleted:

In general, the present results suggest that habits are a regulatory mechanism that can enable people to engage in goal adherent action. Across all of the five studies we report, habits worked to compensate for low levels of self-control. Participants were especially likely to fall back on their habits when willpower was low, either because it had been reduced through prior self-control efforts or because it was chronically limited. This reliance on habits promoted goals when the habitual behaviors were goal-congruent, but was detrimental to goal pursuit when habits were goal-incongruent.

The last sentence is the money. ‘Good’ habits promote goal achievement, ‘bad’ habits inhibit it. The goal itself is almost incidental. For the best results, focus on those habits, because at the end of the day, those habits are gonna be largely what determines your progress.

What Does it Look Like in Real Life?

This concept is great in the abstract. Applying it to real life is trickier. My big ah-ha moment came when I shifted my thinking from ‘I want to have a lean healthy body’ to ‘I want to be exercising regularly, eating a nutritious, calorie appropriate diet, and getting adequate sleep consistently, because those are the things that will produce a lean healthy body.” How to get there from where I was was the big question mark. Ultimately, I ended up applying a lot of the behavior modification techniques I’d learned from my years of pit bull training to my own behavior.

I applied shaping techniques to my own behavior. Shaping involves breaking a desired behavior down into small, successive steps. In animal training, any behavior that is similar to the desired behavior is reinforced, and continued reinforcement can ‘lead’ the animal closer and closer to the desired behavior. With practice, the behavior becomes more and more automatic – it becomes a habit that requires no conscious effort.

I had a lot of behaviors I wanted to change. But I had tried making dramatic lifestyle changes before, and it required so much effort, so much ‘willpower’, that I reverted to old habits quickly. This time I decided to focus on much smaller changes, to ‘shape’ new lifestyle habits one at a time, to practice each new behavior until it was automatic, so that when I was tired or stressed out and reverted to habit, it would be GOOD habits I reverted to.

I started with exercise. I knew that reputable public health organizations recommend 30-60 minutes of exercise a day, 5-6 times a week, for best health outcomes, and up to 90 minutes a day for weight loss. But I also knew there was no way I was going to be able to jump straight into that kind of exercise volume when my HABIT was to be sedentary. As soon as I ran against a road block, I would fall back on my habits. So I broke it down. My initial goal was to 15-20 minutes at the gym, 3 days a week. At first, my goal was to swim for those 15-20 minutes, but in the beginning, even that was difficult. So I made it even simpler. All I expected of myself was to get there. There were many days that I got there, and sat in the jacuzzi, or chatted with the front desk staff, or even surfed the internet. But I got there. I was establishing a habit of getting there. Most of the time, once I was there I did something active, but in the beginning, getting there was my expectation, and having a manageable expectation made it more likely for me to follow through, and the more I followed through, the more automatic the behavior became. After a few months, I realized that I was scheduling my trips to the gym into my week without thinking about it. It had become a normal part of my life. It had become a habit. In the months and years since, I have increased the volume and intensity and frequency of my workouts so that now I easily meet the minimum public health recommendations. But had I not established that habit of making time, that habit of fitting it in, I wouldn’t have gotten past the initial stage. I would very likely still be sedentary.

My eating habits were another behavior I wanted to change. After decades of fad diets, I was worn out with kitchen overhauls. This time around I made a simple change – more vegetables – and practiced it until it was easy. And when I was including more vegetables in my day to day without stressing out about it, I added in some calorie tracking. And when that was easy, I started tracking protein too. And over time, my eating habits shifted, so that now I am able to put together a balanced, calorie appropriate, protein sufficient meal without needing to really think about it. I just know what to eat and how much, because I slowly, methodically changed my habits and practiced them until they were automatic. I no longer need to track my calories or protein, because I used tracking to create new habits that I can now rely on.

Sleep and stress management are other behaviors I’ve changed. I focused on one small change at a time, and practiced it until it was habit. I started turning off electronics a little earlier in the evening. I started making sure I was done drinking coffee by late morning. I stopped listening to the news in my car, because I realized it was making me anxious. And lots of other small changes.

Now when I’m tired or stressed out, I don’t need to think about these things, they are habits. I can fall back on these healthy behaviors and focus my mental energy on more pressing things, because I took the time to slowly, methodically change the habitual behaviors that form the bulk of my day to day life. And the result has been an improvement in my health, weight loss that I’ve been able to maintain with minimal effort, and a whole lot more mental energy to devote to things like my family and my career and my blog. Because the behaviors that I engage in automatically are, by and large, healthy behaviors. I’m not perfect. I’m still working on some things. But I’ve learned that humans are creatures of habit, and we have the power to change those habits. And those habits are what really make us who we are.

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Just starting out? Wondering where to begin? Check out my collaborative habit-based coaching program with Sean Flanagan, “the Habit Project”, if you’re looking for some habit based support and structure.

 

 

Guest Post: What is a Personal Trainer Supposed to Look Like?

Today’s post is by my friend Bree, a personal trainer based in Sydney, Australia. You can find her on Facebook. Thanks for your wise words, Bree!

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First things first- thanks Amber for even considering that this post was worthy of being featured on the Go Kaleo blog. I tried blogging, but I’m not very good at it. To be honest, I’m an absolute wuss when it comes to revealing too much about myself. Which is why I’m way too pathetic to post this somewhere like my own blog where only my family, friends and colleagues might see, because this is about something that is very personal to me and is a topic that I will do anything to avoid discussing ‘in real life’: my weight. And how my weight is perceived by the industry I work in, which forms the basis of the love/hate relationship I have with that industry.

I’m a personal trainer. I wanted to be a trainer for many years, but kept putting it off. I’d lost a lot of weight and had been on a personal journey (like most people who change their life habits) but never thought I had ‘the look’. For seven years I waited until I had abs. I was so worried about how I would be judged, and thought surely my training business would fail if I didn’t look like the model on the cover of a fitness magazine. The abs never came, despite my best efforts, but as I reached my 30s, I realized that if I kept putting certain limitations on myself, I might never get to have a career that I was passionate about.

This week I had a conversation with a fellow personal trainer that triggered every one of those insecurities that stopped me becoming a trainer for so long. It highlighted the judgement that can silence the voices of those in the industry who genuinely love fitness, health and exercise and want to share that passion. We were talking about the new Zumba instructor at our gym, and how much the class numbers had dropped. Zumba has never been popular here, but the old instructor had worked the floor and recruited as many participants as possible. The  trainer I was talking to saw the cause of the drop in participation as something very different. She blamed the new instructor’s appearance. “She is disgusting… Who would be inspired by someone who looks like THAT?”.

Despite the temptation to reach out and punch my colleague, I went silent. Why? Because this hit home.

The new zumba instructor is probably an Australian size 12-14 (US 8-10). She’s Latino, with a body that is built for shimmies and serious booty shaking. Damn it, even her hair whip has attitude. Every moment of her class is filled with a joy and energy that embodies the enthusiasm of Zumba (and having spent three days at a convention across from a Zumba stage, I know a lot about the enthusiasm of Zumba). I’ve watched this instructor dance and thought ‘that chick can move!’ Sadly, to some in the fitness industry, her skill is irrelevant. Skill alone is not enough to make her a good example for those she teaches. This hurts me. Because just like that Zumba instructor, I do not have the ‘right’ look. I am overweight, my thighs touch, I have cellulite.

This whole scenario has spun around in my head for a few days and has made me angry. I am angry at myself. My own paranoia, that not fitting the widely held stereotype of how a personal trainer should look, damages my business. It stops me from approaching people in the gym, because I often think ‘who would want to look like me?’ I am incredibly fit, healthy, and can lift like a demon. All inspirational things. And I am a damn good trainer who really cares about my clients and has helped them reach their goals. But I have gained seven kilos since December 2012. The judgmental element of the fitness industry expressed by my colleague this week makes it tough for me, every single day, to show that I have more to offer those I train, or could potentially train, than my weight gain.

It also upsets me because I know how hard it is to walk through the doors of a gym for the first time. You think everyone is looking at you. You think about how different you look from everyone else in the gym. You already think you are being judged because you don’t ‘look fit’. I’ve walked through the same turnstile for eight years as a gym member, and now as a fitness professional, and I still feel it. The last thing you need is some trainer staring you up and down, making you feel like you don’t belong. That is not what personal training is about. It is not why I joined the industry. And I don’t believe that most fitness professionals enter the industry to just train the so called ‘body beautiful’. We join it because we want all people to learn how much exercise can make you feel awesome, and help you lead a long, productive, quality life. I want those of us in the majority to stand up and outshine those who make you feel that you are not good enough, because you don’t have body fat under twenty percent, or your boobs jiggle when you run.

I want every reader to understand, there are people in the fitness industry just like you. We don’t always look perfect, and we have factors in our lives that mean exercise and diet aren’t always our top priority. This year, my mother has been diagnosed with cancer, my father died, I suffered a major injury to my wrist that is going to involve a six month recovery period and I started a new business. The last time I gained a lot of weight it was during a time of major upheaval, just like this time. There are, quite simply, times when food prep and training aren’t especially important. Sometimes it is just about getting through the day. I’m sure many of you understand what that is like.

Please don’t think we look at you and think ‘lazy/not good enough/slacker’. Please do not think that all of us believe in the ‘no excuses’, train-until-you-spew model of fitness. Most of us believe in healthy balance, and that is what we want most for you to have in your life. Fitness is about something much more important than your appearance. Don’t be like me and allow the real and imagined judgement of others to limit you. There are many more fun, loving professionals like the Zumba instructor, than the narrow minded. Judge us on our passion, our experience, our empathy, our knowledge…just remember that our bodies, like yours, are shaped by our lives, and are not the sum total of our value as a trainer.