I absolutely hate the word "diet." Everywhere you look, there is some new diet people are swearing by or that some "guru" is suggesting will be the solution to all your problems. Well, I'm sorry to inform you, but unfortunately, that is all a bunch of bull.
The reality is that there is no diet that is going to work for everyone long-term. The word "diet" in itself implies that the changes that will be made are not permanent. A diet is simply a temporary eating habit for someone with a short-term specific goal in mind.
Getting ready for a bodybuilding show?
You need a diet.
Want to get in front of the camera for the next swimsuit magazine?
You need a diet.
However, if you're like the other 99.999% of the world that is simply trying to feel good and look great naked, then a diet is not what you need. What you need are a few simple strategies to decrease your body fat that fit into your lifestyle. These are the secrets that've helped me stay lean and keep a six-pack intact for the last 10+ years:
Yup, that's right. All through college, during my depressing early 20's (strange, I know), despite starting a business and even at Christmas…I stayed lean. Before you even ask, no, I have not always been this way.
At one point, I was the chubby kid with man boobs who was completely clueless how to change it. It took some time, but after a lot of trial and error, I've been able to keep that chubby guy away for a long time. Here are the two "secrets" I believe have had the biggest impact on helping me not only get lean, but stay lean over the long haul.
1. Train Hard
Let's just say that my workouts have been known to be a little "overkill" sometimes. While this is true, I also attribute the higher intensity of those workouts to my ability to stay lean. It's simple. The higher the energy output you are creating, the more fuel (food) required to keep the engine running. Training at such a high intensity over long periods of time (with proper rest and recovery, of course) will gradually raise your body's metabolism.
At one point, I had my Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) tested using direct oxygen consumption measurement. The results showed that at 170 pounds, I burn almost 2,200 calories per day at rest. I realize that those numbers probably mean nothing to you, but to put it simply, that's high. Really high. Like, hyperactive teenager higher.
This may sound so obvious, but the truth is just "going to the gym" isn't enough. You've got to actually work hard while you're there. Investing in a heart rate/activity tracker like an iWatch can help you quantify how many calories you're burning day in and day out, and your training will play a big part in that. Training hard does not mean getting on a treadmill and plodding along at a slow pace for an hour every time you hit the gym. If you don't already, slowly integrating more resistance and interval training into your routine are two ways to crank up the intensity.
The beauty about training intensity is that it can be varied...What I mean by that is you don't have to train at an extremely high intensity every day. Why? Because if you do that, you'll eventually get burnt out and your results will come to a screeching halt. So let's say you are training four days per week. You would make two or even three of those days, depending on your daily schedule, higher intensity training days, and the other day can be a lighter intensity. The big thing here is to listen to your body. Notice I said body, not your mind. Your body can go through a lot more than your mind would lead you to believe. If you're extra tired and extra sore, it's probably because you're not recovering properly. If you train hard, you need to recover hard. The biggest ways to do that are to get plenty of sleep and eat lots of nutrient-dense foods.
2. 80/20 Consistency
Results, particularly sustained, legit results, are the product of consistency. Ask anyone you deem to be "fit" and I guarantee that it didn't happen overnight. Chances are it's been a work in progress for many years. The same goes for the opposite end of the spectrum. Understand that if you've been overweight for a long time, your body is used to that state, so it's going to take a little longer to change it. The longer and more consistently you execute healthy lifestyle habits and follow a training program, the easier the results will come and stay.
The problem is that most people tend to yo-yo up and down with their routines. They will be good for a few months, and then fall off for a few, following this cycle for years on end. Then they wonder why they can't get sustainable results. The key is to find a training program that works for you and eat a "diet" (there's that word again) that fits your lifestyle.
Quite honestly, the more restrictive a diet is, the less likely you'll be able to stick to it. Instead of thinking about being on a "diet," you need to re-think your foundational relationship with food. The reality is that if you can't imagine yourself eating and training the way you do today 12 months from now, then chances are you won't. I truly believe that this has been the single most important factor for myself in being able to stay lean for so long.
Instead of obsessing over counting calories, completely cutting out certain food groups, entirely avoiding carbs, or anything that can be tough to stick with over the long haul, focus more on eating "as little or no added sugar, if possible, as little or no refined grain, if possible, and as many vegetables as you can." That's what the participants in a massive study from the Stanford University School of Medicine were instructed to do, and it led to significant weight loss over the year despite significant differences in age, genetics, carb intake, dietary fat intake and insulin levels. "We advised them to diet in a way that didn't make them feel hungry or deprived," lead author Dr. Christopher Gardner said.
When someone asks me how I've gotten and stayed lean for so long, I simply reply: "Well, for the last 10-plus years I've been training at least four days per week consistently and eating healthy most of the time." Notice I said "most of the time." I'm human just like you, and you better believe I like my sweets, chips, pizza and every other unhealthy food that most humans enjoy. The difference is that 80% of the time I choose not to eat those things. If you're sitting there thinking I already do that without results, then maybe you need to start keeping an eating log and evaluating if what you think is 80% is actually 80%.
Now, I know what you're probably thinking—a balanced diet and regular exercise aren't really secrets. Well, the quicker you realize there are no true secrets in the game of getting and staying lean, the more realistic and the better off you'll be. There is no secret, special formula, pill, patch or even workout plan that is going to guarantee results. You simply have to consistently implement the best habits that fit your lifestyle and capabilities. Training hard and 80/20 consistency have been the two biggest staples of my lifestyle that've helped me stay lean. It's not fancy, and it doesn't require you to shell out hundreds of dollars on "detox" juice cleanses or complicated exercise equipment, but it works.
If you're looking to jumpstart your path to a six-pack, check out my latest program Strong & Shredded in Six.
Photo Credit: vladans/iStock
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