I should amend this title to read: The One Word Solution to Sane Fat Loss. Because anyone can lose weight if they take the train to crazy town and go way overboard with restriction, over exercise, etc. But is that sustainable? No. Will you go insane trying to keep up with it? Yes. So how can you be successful with fat loss while still keeping your sanity and enjoying your life?
One word: Balance.
Balance in your diet.
I hate using the word diet, but what I mean here is not some short term restrictive phase to drop weight quickly. What I’m talking about is your overall diet strategy and lifestyle.
Long term fat loss and lifestyle change require one thing: a sustainable plan. If you try to cut everything that you love out of your life and leave it behind cold turkey, you will have a very slim chance of sticking to that plan two weeks, two months, six months down the road. And you know what you will have a great chance of doing? Face planting yourself into a binge of those very things that you promised to leave behind.
Balance is the key to continuing to enjoy your life while still making healthy choices to better yourself. Because what’s the point in losing all of this fat if you’re just going to be miserable? The point of making changes is to enhance your life, not make you feel like you’re living in a minimum security prison for the rest of your days. (Can you tell I’ve been watching Orange Is The New Black lately?)
Balance means compromising with yourself. Balance means deciding which treats are really worth your time, and when you actually want them. Balance means including your favorite things in your life, but doing so in a way that makes you in control of your intake, instead of the food controlling you.
Take, for example, my dinner out the other night. Will and I went to this amazing southern food joint here in Boston, on the way home from a Sox game at Fenway. Now, this place makes the most mouth watering, buttery, melt-in-your-mouth biscuits I’ve ever had. And I only go to this place once or twice a year, which means — you guessed it– I’m getting a biscuit. I also kept in mind that I am trying to lose a little bit of body fat right now, so I couldn’t go all out. I wasn’t going to deny myself that biscuit, I haven’t had one since last summer after all. But what I did do was keep the rest of my meal to protein and veggies (pulled chicken, collared greens, and cole slaw), and only ate half the biscuit.
I would show you guys a picture but I truly believe that piles of pulled meat are grossly un-photogenic. Despite what some other bloggers would like you to believe.
This was an important balance for me. Would I have liked some mac and cheese with my chicken? Yes, that would have been delicious, but I had to strike a balance between the treat and the rest of my meal — especially when I’m consciously trying for fat loss. I didn’t necessarily want the mac and cheese as much as I did the biscuit, and that’s what I mean about deciding which treats are truly worth going outside of your healthy eating patterns. And the beautiful thing about that meal was that I was able to savor each bite of that biscuit (they’re huge, so half was enough!), truly enjoying each moment of it without feeling guilty. There were no feelings of “why did I eat that, I just set myself back!” afterwards, because I know that I had a good balance, and I’ve worked hard to figure out what that means for me.
But at the end of the day it was delicious, and it was everything I thought it would be. And it was 100% worth the indulgence.
Your balance can come within meals like this, or maybe throughout the day. Do you need a glass of wine after an especially long day? Okay, but maybe skip the chocolate after dinner that day. Dig into the office candy bowl today? Try going without sugar for the rest of the day. It’s all about balance, and finding what works for you. The key is figuring out which indulgences are worth splurging on, and which you are reaching for just because they’re right there in front of you. Denying yourself every little thing that you want will backfire, I promise. It’s only a matter of time.
There are only so many times that your will power will say no before it breaks down and says yes.
And at that point, it’s going to be more than just a few bites that you consume.
But balance doesn’t just pertain to diet when it comes to fat loss. Enter the other side of the equation:
Balance in exercise.
Maintaining balance in exercise is just as important as diet, not only for fat loss but for general health and well being. When many people set out on a weight loss or fat loss journey, they tend to go balls-to-the-wall for the first week or two, and then become so burnt out, frustrated, or sometimes even injured that they give up. It doesn’t have to be that way! Exercise, just as in dietary changes, must be sustainable. Don’t set yourself a goal of spending 90 minutes in the gym, five times per week if you are working full time, in grad school, and taking care of a new puppy! Know your boundaries, know your limitations, and work around those.
But back to my point. If you are crushing yourself in the gym 5-6 days per week, ending up in a sweaty pile on the floor after every single workout, you’re doing it wrong. Not only are you doing it wrong, but you will get injured at some point. To be effective, exercise must be paired and balanced with recovery. Recovery allows your muscles to heal and rebuild, is when your body replenishes energy stores, and is when you become the better version of you that you’re aiming for. Exercise simply does not work without recovery, not in the long run anyway.
Weight sessions should be balanced with mobility work, speed sessions should be balanced with recovery time, and long runs should be balanced with strength and rest. It’s an ebb and flow that’s necessary to allow your body to make the improvements that you’re asking it to, the lack of which is a recipe for disaster.
But what is the right balance for you? How many calories should you be eating? How much weight should you be lifting? How long should you be running — if at all? How many rest days should you take?
Unfortunately, there is no cut and dry answer to any of those questions. Every single person is going to have a different balance, because every single body is different. The most important thing is playing around with different ratios of work, recovery and nutrition — you may want to incorporate a coach or qualified trainer into these experiments, but experiments will be necessary. If you find a coach who tells you that you have to eat exactly the same as all of their other clients, and that you will follow the exercise protocol of all of their other clients, run the other way. That is not your balance — that is their balance. And what works for them may work for you, but it may not, and it’s going to take trip and error to find out.
Readers: How do you strike a balance in your healthy life? What are some indulgences that are worth it for you? Do you have a harder time striking a balance with diet or with exercise?