How much exercise do you need?

People frequently ask me how much they “should” be working out.

For the record, I hate “shoulds” because they sound like punishment. Exercise shouldn’t be a punishment — movement is a gift and the more you do it, the better you (generally) feel! If you hate a certain form of exercise, find something else that makes you happy.

I created the infographic below to outline how much exercise experts recommend we get each week for general health.

You might look at the numbers in the chart and feel overwhelmed, but it’s not that much, I swear.

Basically, go for a brisk 30-minute walk 5 nights a week, do two total-body strength-training workouts on nonconsecutive days and follow them up with some light stretching, and you’re DONE! (click the image for a larger version)
howmuch

If you want extra credit in terms of even greater health benefits, the Centers for Disease Control suggests upping the moderate intensity cardio (like brisk walking) to 300 minutes a week or the vigorous activity (like jogging) to 150 minutes per week, or an equivalent combo of the two. The weight training recommendations stay the same, at two or more sessions per week.

What do you think? Does that sound doable? Yes? No? Maybe?

Find this helpful? Please click “like” and/or “share”! Thank you!

Controversial (and cheap) ways to stick to your diet

Controversial (and cheap) ways to stickWe spend an awful lot of time thinking about food.

I mean, a lot. And by a lot, I mean: A LOT.

Mention anything having to do with recipes or “clean eating” or diets in the women’s locker room and all conversation stops, because everyone wants to hear what’s being said.

We think and worry about food and diets so much that we get confused. Or we create a lot of conflict/drama surrounding food because we feel overwhelmed.

We forget what we already know and start to second-guess ourselves: What should I eat? When should I eat it? And how much should I eat? We worry about the minutiae – are carrots okay? Should I be eating fruit at night? – instead of the bigger picture.

Maybe it’s the fact that it is spring and we’re focused on getting ready for swimsuit season, but lately I’m getting a lot of questions via email, social media, text, in person and more. The bottom line is: HELP!

“Perfect” doesn’t exist

It is the rare client who doesn’t make a confession to me:

  • “My number one problem is my diet.”
  • “I eat too much.”
  • “I was so bad this past weekend.”
  • “I’m good all day but then at night, watch out!”
  • “I do great for a couple days and then it falls apart.”
  • “Sometimes when no one is looking I’ll sneak some candy at work.”
  • “I gotta get control of this thing.”
  • “I am so confused. I can’t get the hang of it.”
  • “Wine.” (Yes, generally these are one-word confessions). “Beer.” “Cookies.” “Ice cream.” “Chips.” “Pizza.” Or sometimes it’s just: “Carbs.”

Coaching clients about their diets is the single most confounding aspect of my gig as a personal trainer – and it’s also the single most important aspect of body transformation and overall wellness.

No one eats “perfectly” all the time. What does that even mean? Sometimes I feel guilty when I tell clients about my own occasional dietary “treats,” when I eat something like pizza or donuts. It’s as if I’m telling them the truth about the Easter Bunny – I’m letting them down and/or bursting their bubbles.

But for real: perfect does not exist. In fact, being “perfect” is an eating disorder and it’s called orthorexia.

Don’t eat this

Why do we get so confused? Because everyone has an opinion about what “works.” About what’s “right.” And they seem so adamant about those opinions.

I can pretty much guarantee you that no matter what you eat on any given day, there is someone out there who would find fault with it.

Our food beliefs can come from our family, religion and our culture. Many of us have control issues dating back to childhood (oh the stories my brother and I could share about dinnertime rules at our house!). Some of us are picky eaters, and others are used to the souped-up flavors found in restaurant food and also in fast food/takeout, and the very thought of eating fresh/whole foods/vegetables makes them gag.

And then you get the gurus who tell you to cut out all sugar, or animal products, or gluten, or fruit, or they say that you have to go low-carb, or that you need to eat for your blood type, or maybe you have food sensitivities, or you should eat 6 times a day, or they say that intermittent fasting is the way to go, and suddenly you don’t dare to eat anything.

Or maybe you decide to eat everything. Who could blame you?

(Seriously, I get at least 10 emails a day from various gurus telling me what/how/when to eat – or not eat. I don’t know why I don’t unsubscribe from their lists, but the truth is I kinda like knowing all the stuff that’s being shoveled online.)

Chew on this

What if instead of focusing on losing weight (or fat) you started thinking about something more positive – eating to improve how you feel? How is that for a controversial plan?

It’s a heck of a lot more motivating than grabbing your muffin top (if you have one) with disdain and viewing diet as a punitive method of correcting something you don’t love about yourself.

Beyond any fat-loss/muscle-gaining goals you might have, your nutritional intake has a major impact on your mood, energy, pain levels, your hunger and more.

We tend to have a major disconnect about what happens after we put food into our mouths. It’s like we expect a salad or sandwich to fuel us the same way an Oreo Blizzard or a meat/potatoes/veggie square-meal would.

Take a sec and think about you feel after eating each one of those things. I know I feel a heck of a lot better an hour after eating a salad than I do eating a Blizzard. And a square meal – protein, starch and veggie? That really makes me happy. (For more on this, check out this article.)

If you eat like sh*t you feel like sh*t

I know that to be a fact because I’ve experimented on myself numerous times. I’ve goofed up an otherwise energetic day by eating a big slice of frosting-slathered cake – it made me feel sluggish and bloated, and I needed a nap an hour later, and then I woke up feeling like I had been hit by a truck. Or how about eating too much while on vacation and needing almost a week back home before feeling strong and energetic again? Ugh.

I’ve also woken up feeling like I had a hangover because of eating too much before going to bed the night before. Blah.

And I’ve also had periods when I felt amazing, when I could jump high and run, felt positive about life, and had a ton of energy — and those times correlate with when I’m fueling my body with stuff it loves.

I know I’m not alone.

The magic formula

There is, in fact, a one-size-fits-all formula for weight loss. It’s really simple. If you create a calorie deficit – if you burn more calories than you take in – you will lose weight. Even if you eat crappy foods.

That’s how Weight Watchers and other calorie restriction programs work. They don’t restrict WHAT you eat, necessarily, and they do encourage healthy eating, but mostly they control your overall fuel (calorie) intake.

And that works for weight loss, pretty much every time.

I know a lot of people tell you that all calories are not created equal. And they are correct. But still, you will lose weight if you eat crappy foods as long as the overall intake is less fuel than you burn.

Maybe it’s not politically correct to write this, but think about the terrible ordeals suffered by people held in prison camps. They are stressed and starved – they clearly do not eat a vegan/paleo/pegan/40-30-30/macro/whatever buzzword you want diet. And they definitely lose weight.

But yes, they feel terrible and their weight loss isn’t the kind you would wish on anyone.

So what do you eat to lose fat healthfully? What diet will make you feel – and look – great?

This is where it gets kinda tricky and confusing. There is good (and evolving) science surrounding optimal diets, and we are learning new things all the time. Every time something new is uncovered, people start espousing why it’s so awesome, even as other people (coughTheGovernmentcough) push diets based on old science and beliefs.

That’s why it’s so confusing.

For instance, they used to say that to optimize your metabolism you should eat 5 to 6 times a day. Now, they are saying that might not be the case and for some of us, eating once a day is, in fact, enough.

But there are some basic truths about a healthy diet, and I am guessing if we sat down to talk about this you would outline for me the following as key points. And maybe you’d add a few other nuggets, too.

  • Eat less sugar.
  • Stay away from processed foods.
  • Eat protein at every meal.
  • Eat vegetables.
  • Get enough fiber.
  • Drink 8-10 glasses of water a day.
  • Take a good quality multivitamin to fill in any nutrition gaps.

And then if you wanted to lose weight, you would figure out how much you’re currently eating every day (keeping a food journal) and then calculating how many calories you need, and then eat slightly less – say 500 to 750 calories a day – than you burn.

That’s really not so tricky, is it? And you pretty much already knew all that, right? Imagine taking back the power over your diet! Actually listening to your own body and finding out what works best for YOU.

I’m working on a few projects right now to help people stick with their plans, which I know can be tough until you find the groove that works for you (and that, for some of us, is a moving target). But it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m really excited about helping people make that connection!

What’s your take on “diets”? Does it all confuse you, or have you found a plan that works for you? Let me know! I want to hear your thoughts.

Next time you’re tempted by unhealthy foods …

… ask yourself: what am I trying to avoid? What am I scared of? sad about?

I’m not talking about the occasional treat. I’m talking about the call of the food — that crazy craving when nothing but a cookie (or pizza, or ice cream, or Chinese buffet) will satisfy you. That’s not hunger talking. That’s not even about willpower.

That craving erupts because you’re trying to avoid something. Maybe it’s boredom with your life. Maybe it’s relationship issues. Maybe you’re sad or worried about something, but you don’t want to think about it. The truth is, even if you don’t think you’re avoiding something, you *know* somewhere that you are, in fact, not wanting to deal with something in your life. You’re just not willing to acknowledge it.

Be brave. Put down the cookie, and do something quiet for a while — go for a walk, make the bed, sit on the porch. Just get quiet and when you figure out what you’re trying not to admit to yourself, you won’t need the food distraction.

You’ve got this handled. Don’t worry. You already know the answer, and you won’t find it at the bottom of a pint of ice cream.

Epic quest: Increase your life by 10 years!

I’m going through a lot of things — literally and figuratively — as I clean out my family’s home and it’s been fun to find little memory-filled surprises. It’s also been really hard. My family, in one way or another, has lived in this house for 40 years, and I keep finding things that I didn’t know were here.

Yesterday I stumbled across my mom’s keepsake box, which I initially had thought was just a box of old photos. Nope — beneath the photos were practically every card, letter and certificate of appreciation she ever had received. It made me smile, and also have a twenty-minute spell of seriously ugly crying as I read through some of the items in the box. (I had a crushing amount of guilt over the last bit of my mom’s life, but as I looked over the items in the box, I wasn’t nearly as bad a daughter as I had thought. In fact, I think I kind of rocked at it.)

Of course, going through the belongings of someone who has died (my mom passed away five years ago) makes you think a lot about mortality. The idea of dying is not new to me, as I also lost my dad more than 25 years ago. The dying doesn’t bother me so much, it’s the summing of a life …. the things that we leave behind, the evidence that we were here …. that kind of got to me, and made me think about what matters and what doesn’t. Which is a whole other story (or book, or set of encyclopedia).

So anyway, it was a roller coaster kind of day, and last night I couldn’t sleep so I watched a TED Talk, which is one of my insomnia habits. And as often happens, I found the perfect talk to soothe me and make all the many things that are shifting in my life become fun. I want to share it with you and hope that it helps you discover that things are easier, no matter what they are (battling illness, changing your lifestyle, transitioning to new phases) if you turn them into games.

I’m looking at a lot of the many changes going on in my life as Epic Quests. Watch the talk (or just listen), check out superbetter.com, and get started on your own Epic Quest. (My bad guys are cookies and popcorn and time-sucking activities. What are yours?)

How to lose weight

Losing weight is, mostly, pretty simple. But we sure as heck do a lot of things to make it complicated, don’t we?

I’m going to lay it all out here: Dieting 101. Now, I am not a registered dietitian, so I’m not going to get all fancy with meal plans, but this is all generally accepted information based on science, for healthy adults. In deference to those who like their information a little overcomplicated with a touch of “advanced techniques,” (heh), I will throw in some tweaks to make you feel better about it, and also some math.

How much do you really need to eat?

How much energy (i.e. how many calories) do you burn over the course of a day? This should be the starting point of any eating program, whether to maintain your weight, gain weight, or lose weight. We need real facts and figures if we want this to work, right? I much prefer working with actual data because it won’t lie. Plus it beats kinda/sorta having an idea of what you kinda/sorta think you might be/should be doing, and then saying a little prayer before you mount the scale for your weekly weigh-in, doesn’t it?

First:

  • Weigh yourself
  • Measure your height

Second:

  • Go to this site, input the numbers plus your age, and you’ll see how many calories you would burn WITHOUT any activity (your BMR). This is an estimate, obviously, but it’s based on a formula that’s been tried and true for years.

Third:

  • Now, use the Harris Benedict Formula to calculate the additional calories you use during activity. Here’s a little helpful complicating info: Almost everyone overestimates their activity level. Be a rebel and be honest about it. 🙂
  1. If you’re sedentary with little to no exercise: Calories = BMR x 1.2
  2. Lightly active (light exercise/sports 1-3 days a week): Calories = BMR x 1.375
  3. Moderately active (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days a week): Calories = BMR x 1.55
  4. Very active (hard exercise/sports 6-7 days a week): Calories = BMR x 1.725
  5. Extra active (very hard exercise/sports and physical job or twice a day training): Calories = BMR x 1.9

Here is an illustration of what activity levels ACTUALLY are, vs. what you might IMAGINE they are: I’m a personal trainer who strenuously works out several days a week, teaches group ex classes 4 or 5 times a week, plus works in a pretty big area and easily walks 10,000 steps a day, not including the steps taken during classes/practicing. I also practice choreography for my classes between clients almost every day. I routinely pick up and carry weights as part of my job and demonstrate exercises many times over the course of day. Bottom line, I’m pretty much constantly on the move.
Reality check: I fall into the “very active” category above, NOT the “extra active” one. So, chances are, YOU fall into the category just below the one you chose for yourself. Sucks, huh?

Now we have real data to work with — how many calories your body burns every day.

Fourth:

  • Eat less than that amount every day, spread over 4 to 6 feedings a day. Now, this number is kind of controversial. Jillian Michaels of Biggest Loser fame touts 4 meals a day, while bodybuilders spread their meals out even more. More on this below.
  • A few very minor guidelines, not written in stone. Unless you’re obese and/or a binge eater (in which case, you should be talking to a professional, anyway), don’t eat a LOT less than the estimated caloric burn you came up with above — a general rule of thumb is to create a 500 calorie daily deficit, which equals a pound a week (1 pound = 3,500 calories, so 7 x 500 would theoretically get you to that goal). Eating too little isn’t sustainable long-term. Don’t believe what you see on The Biggest Loser — that is on TV because it’s not normal and is a “show.” Slower and steadier is the way for people living normal lives.
  • If you’re a small woman who already burns a relatively small number of calories a day, you need an even smaller daily deficit, over fewer meals a day. Dividing a relatively low number of calories into 6 meals doesn’t work. I am in this group, and I am here to witness to you that safe, sustainable weight loss for smaller people takes longer. And that means little slip ups mean bigger problems for us. Again, it sucks, but it’s life.
  • Play with your calories it a little and see how your body responds. Don’t eat less than 1,200 calories a day. Going much lower than 1,200 puts you at risk for not getting enough nutrients and also for getting super hungry and veering off course into an all-out eating frenzy, something we want to avoid. If you’re an athlete and you ramp up your training significantly and drop your calories really low, don’t expect good things. Lower calories generally mean a lower training volume. If you want to train hard, you might have to allow yourself additional calories (and again, this goes mostly toward advanced exercisers/athletes — if you’re not sure whether you’re in this group, you’re likely not.).

Fifth:

  • You should make sure that your meals and snacks (and btw, I don’t really like using the word “snack” because it conjures up visions of potato chips and Ho-Hos. I am not talking about snack products. I am talking about mini feedings of “real” foods between your regular meals) are balanced — ideally, they all should contain a veggie or fruit, a protein, and a small amount of fat. Some of them can contain starchy carbs (whole grains, rice, potatoes, legumes, etc.), but watch carefully your calorie expenditure on the starches because they add up fast.
  • Try to eat whole, real foods. If something contains more than 5 ingredients, it’s a food product. Avoid loading up on sugar or fake foods. Don’t eat junk. Eat your veggies. You know all this, but chances are you don’t do it. Very few Americans eat a balanced healthy diet any more. We’ve been conditioned not to, and in fact, some of my clients report being ridiculed by others when they start making healthy choices. Sad, huh?

Sixth:

  • But I’ve done all that, and the scale isn’t budging!
  • REALLY? Have you really done all that? You’ve figured your caloric needs, tracked how many calories you REALLY are eating (including all the little nibbles you might have grabbed here and there), and the scale ISN’T moving? Huh. REALLY? (If you’ve been dieting successfully for a period of time and then the scale stops budging, I’ll stop with the REALLYs? Otherwise, I want to follow you around for a day and see what’s really happening.)
  • If the scale is stuck, we can get a little bit fancier (i.e., complicated), looking specifically at the macronutrients in your diet (the ratio of protein/veggies/fruits/starches/fat) you’re getting. But I’m not going to go there now, because there are so many what-ifs involved. But look at how many starchy carbohydrates you are eating, and if they make up the bulk of your calories, eat fewer of them, and add more veggies and lean proteins.

Seventh:

  • Keep a food journal. Use one of the great online tools — through myfitnesspal.com, livestrong.com, fitday.com, sparkpeople.com, or your favorite — to track your actual calorie consumption. It’s very educational.
  • You can’t be bothered? I know it’s a pain, but if you are looking at weight loss (or gain), do it anyway. It’s the best tool you’ll ever use in your journey to reshaping your body, and also in improving your health.

Your grandma, the athlete.

Training geek time! 🙂

Sometimes when I am training clients, you will see me stop dead in my tracks and look off into the distance, my head slightly tilted. That’s my, “How the heck am I going to train that movement pattern today?” look.

Almost all of my clients — except for the teenaged athletes, and I can’t really even say that for them — are busted up in one way or another. And by “busted up,” I mean they have some sort of muscle imbalance/injury/issue that screws up my training plans. (I kid! That’s why they hire me, to work AROUND those issues, right?)

And because I’m huge on functional/movement-pattern training — training for a fitter, healthier, funner life — that means I have to find ways to train movements (like picking things up) in a way that is safe and allows them to get stronger without incurring any further damage.  Also key is to let them know what a movement SHOULD feel like, and how to attend to that so when they are on their own they learn to move properly and engage the right muscles at the right time (honestly, almost a losing cause. HAHAHAHA!).

That means everyone (from my 15-year-old high school hockey star to my 73-year-old piano-playing grandmother) does the same kinds of exercises. HOWEVER, and this is the key, sometimes that means PROgressing exercises — or making them more challenging. And, more challengingly for me, I have to REgress movements (make them easier/safer). I also like to keep them interesting whenever possible so the client doesn’t get bored and continues to get stronger/fitter/etc.

I ran across this geeky column today on how that works — and why grandmoms can still train like athletes. Sort of, anyway …

(and hey, why did the original blogger pick on grandmothers and not grandfathers? hmmmm …. that’s another post for another day.)