Losing body fat doesn't need to be an excruciating process that is devoid of anything good in this world. It need not be an arduous process consisting of counting calories, emotionally and physically draining bouts of cardiovascular exercise, and it sure as hell doesn't require you to lift weights in a sweat suit, or shadow box intensely between sets of pull ups.
We rationalize these extreme behaviors, admire them even, because we feel that these are the only things that will help you get over the hump, past your plateau, and onward towards the land of everything lean and defined. It is these obsessive behaviors that are required in order to achieve even the most small progress in fat loss, let alone achieve the sort of immortality that we all fantasize about to some degree in our minds.
The irony of these assumptions is that more often than not they couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, you could make a valid argument that the majority of individuals who are happy with their body composition do not engage in extreme restriction or excessive exertion. Rather, these fitness enthusiasts have developed a series of behaviors through trial and error that have helped them have a system in place.
Now, of course fitness models and competitive athletes who are judged upon their physique or are required to fit into a particular weight class must take things many steps further than the average fitness enthusiast. Their practices require a level of fine-tuning that most will never need nor desire in their lives.
So, here I am saying that you don't need to be obsessive about your practices regarding fat loss and your physique. I'm saying it isn't all that hard and that you just need to do one simple thing in order to jump start your progress again.
And yet, I'm not saying what it is yet...
Oh God, does this make me a politician? Has living in D.C. during the election cycle changed me?
I sure hope not.
The "secret" if there is one is as follows:
Conduct an Honest, Self Scouting Report
It simply requires you to be attentive to what you are doing. Moreover, it requires an honest scouting report of yourself - good and bad - in an effort to create a plan of action that better aligns with your intentions.
What are habits that you know are helping you achieve your goals, or at the very least, helping you avoid a backwards slide?
What habits do you have that you know are taking you further from your goals, or at the very least, not helping you push further towards them?
Now, on paper this sort of analysis seems a bit "no shit", but in reality it is a practice that very few can actually master. It can be incredibly hard to be objective towards yourself and call your own ish when you aren't doing things correctly.
Moreover, this beautiful phenomenon known as rationalization begins to take over and you'll soon find yourself justifying every cupcake, cocktail, and skipped workout you've ever had. Everything will have a reason to defend, and every event will have a meaning that extends well beyond the actual purpose of the event.
"The cupcakes were from Georgetown, I couldn't pass them up", "but it was Bob and Stacy's wedding", "I skipped my workout so I could watch the debate", and "I didn't eat at all today because I was at work" all become valid reasons for your behaviors.
And they are...in your head.
Yet, in reality they are nothing more than excuses cooked up in a back room by the emotional side of your brain that doesn't like feeling like you've made a mistake and the logical side of it that can stand its ground on a concept or reason.
Enter old school paper and pencil. Pros and Cons. A T-chart if you will.
What have you done/are doing well?
What are you not?
If you can objectively place this information on a piece of paper or electronic device for later viewing, then you will effectively provide yourself a constant rubric for which to grade your actions against.
Sports Analogies always Help
The best teams in sports are the ones that not only know who their opponents are, but also the ones who truly know themselves, strengths and weaknesses alike. If their opponent suddenly switches up the strategy, then the team in discussion will be better able to adapt and respond to the sudden change in plan simply because they better understand their own capabilities and potential.
For example, if a football team who is well known for passing the ball in Spread and Shotgun formations shows up on game day and starts running the ball heavily out the I-form, or the Full-House - the defense must adapt.
See, the defense likely spent all week preparing coverage and assignments to disrupt their opponents passing attack. Yet, here we are on game day and suddenly they are being gashed for six to ten yards an attempt.
A bad defense would either stay the same because it is what they invested their time in and they truly believe they can succeed best in that scheme, or they'll start making mistakes trying to do too much at once to compensate for the surprise. Often times these teams will make a radical adjustment and show their fear, which allows said offense to attack them EXACTLY how the defense feared they would attack them in the first place.
Meanwhile, a good or great defense will already have contingency plans in place in the form of substitutions, blitz packages, or formation adjustments to subtly counter the success of the opposing offense. The coaches know who they can put on the field and the players understand their jobs; thus, creating a winning strategy is significantly easier - even on the fly. They might not win the game, but they sure as hell will put up a better fight.
OK, Thanks John Madden; How does that Help me Lose Fat?
If you aren't scouting yourself you can't possibly be ready for the curve balls, or deviations that life will throw you. Meetings that weren't on your calendar, kids who are sick and can't go to school, and "oh shit, we did tell the Murphy's we'd be there at 8" will all disrupt your flow and make it nearly impossible to win the game.
You'll either throw up your hands and say "screw it", or you'll resort to some radical measure of restriction or excess in an effort to balance scales. Either way, you've tipped your hand and life has got you.
Thus, engaging in an honest conversation with yourself - even if someone is present to help moderate (such as a trainer, workout buddy, or spouse) - is critical to success. A non bias third party may even help call your bullshit when you attempt to justify those extra drinks last night.
How am I so Sure?
I'll be honest, I didn't exactly sit down and write out my own. I did mine more on the fly as I experienced growth in a new relationship. She, being a fellow trainer, is driven to push herself and do right by her body - even more so than I.
The glorious addition of her to my life brought two, three, and even four mile runs into the picture when previously I'd scoff at the idea of putting sneaker to pavement unless the cops were chasing me.
Suddenly weekends had less nights of hard partying and junk food. The weeks also provided a better variety of vegetables and fish upon my plate.
Lastly, I wasn't staying up until midnight to finish a blog, watch sports, or play some games with friend. I am in bed by ten-thirty at the latest and up at my normal time of just after 5.
These changes made me assess my behaviors versus my intentions. Of course I wanted to be in incredible shape, and by most standards, I was. Yet, I wasn't happy with my body composition, how I felt, or how I performed. Thus, by being honest (through dying on runs, gnawing on kale, and begrudgingly going to bed at ten) - I was able to identify the key components preventing my success.
Now, I can honestly say I see things differently now that I've climbed past the things holding me back from what I really wanted all along.
It isn't about me though. Learn from my mistakes and take the time to critically look at what you can do better to get you closer to your goals. Sleep, training, and nutrition all play integral roles in your success. Chances are that you are missing on one of those keys if you aren't seeing the results you desire.