Hey gorgeous (or handsome), you already have a great body 🙂 We only get one, and it’s honestly so amazing what it’s able to do. It’s the vessel we live through, and without it we’d be nonexistent and useless. You can make a vast difference in this world through your body no matter WHAT it looks like.
HOWEVER – we are all allowed to have goals and aspirations! It feels so good to feel good and healthy, and proud of the fitness and appearance and strength of our bodies. At times I have let others tell me that I shouldn’t aspire to a healthier, fitter body, or that I shouldn’t set high goals because I “might not be able to” reach them. Yes, while we must be happy with who we are in this moment, we are SO allowed to improve our bodies. Lift heavier. Run harder. Experiment with changes in our diets. Tone up. Lean out. We are allowed to pursue more defined abs, and more muscular shoulders to do pull-ups with. We should never let these things define us – but wouldn’t it be fun to see ourselves make the progress we’ve dreamed of?
Aside from aesthetic and functional improvements, we can pursue health solely because our body deserves it. It’s respect. If you’re a Christian, your body is the place where God’s spirit dwells! It deserves to be taken care of in the best way. Personally, I’ve struggled with both obsessing over perfection of health and giving up – just eating everything I wanted in order to feel good. Sometimes, I’ve even struggled with both extremes in the same day. Can you relate? Have you ever measured out your cereal just perfectly in the morning, flicking one piece back into the box, only to dive face-first into the nut jar later without a care in the world? Our bodies deserve so much more stability than that. More love and care.
Discipline is good, and healthy, and necessary for us in all aspects of life. If you think about people you respect, they probably put a good deal of discipline towards the things that they love and succeed at. Discipline in school gets you the grade – show up to class, study what the teacher says until you understand it. Of course, you aren’t going to study every second, but you’re going to study the right things, and you’re going to put effort towards it. The same principles apply to diet. Eat for your goals, move closer to your goals… eat however you want, move further away from your goals (or maybe stand still if you’re lucky). Of course, every little bite doesn’t make or break the bank, but an accumulation of little bites will. The planning and effort have to be there. As a general rule, reaching toward our goals is healthy, is admirable, and will help us achieve them.
So what prevents people from wanting to change their diets/lifestyles to reach their health and body goals? Whether it’s losing 50 lbs., pursuing better bodily health, or just leaning out the legs a bit for summer?
- Not knowing how.
- Fear of failure.
- Fear of discomfort.
Let me just settle these. #1 – If you really don’t know how, I’m going to teach you – keep in mind, there’s always more things to learn, but you don’t have to know everything to make some progress. Also, it’s fun to keep learning. #2 – Complacency is always, always worse than failure! Even if you fail, it’s worse to have never tried. And if you fall, you can get back up and try a different approach until you make it! #3 – Discomfort will come for you if you don’t seek it out. If you’re not willing to fight it during your race, it will come for you afterwards when you see your time on the clock at the finish line. If you’re never willing to feel it in your eating habits – never willing to wait till you’re truly hungry to eat, never willing to say no to anything yummy – discomfort is coming for you later when you have to face not meeting your goals.
So let’s get started.
I’m about to share the most basic (nutrition-based) method for determining what will get you to your goals. Let’s say you’d like to tone up before summer. You want to lean out a little bit, and keep your muscle mass, so you’ll look good on the beach. Let’s call you Jane, and let’s say you weigh 145 lbs, are lightly active on a regular day (maybe some cleaning, walking, etc.) and plug your numbers into the MyFitnessPal app (myfitnesspal.com works just as well). Technology makes this all so simple to figure out. We like to complicate things, but I’m taking away your excuses here.
Here, I put in “your” stats. Now it’s time to choose a goal – let’s say there are 5 weeks till summer, and Jane thinks she’d like to lose about 5 lbs. by summer.
I’ve set your goal to lose 1 lb. a week, which will totally get you there! And, because we want to make sure you preserve muscle mass, let’s up your protein a little. Here’s what you need to eat in a day – as stated above, 1,490 calories – 168g carbohydrates, 93g protein, and 50g fat. How are you going to do that?
Here’s your blank canvas – a new day. Tap on add food, and we’ll start with breakfast. You can plan it out in here, or log as you cook, or after you eat. Let’s say you cracked an egg… here’s an egg. 72 calories, 6.2g protein. You add that to your breakfast. Then you made an omelet out of that egg, with 1/4 cup of egg whites and some spinach. You popped a couple of pieces of toast in the oven with just a dab of butter on them, and then ate all this with a side of gorgeous strawberries. Here’s breakfast –
And it’s setting you right on track to your goals. Check this out.
We’ve had a good chunk of the protein we needed, some sustaining carbs, and a little fat. We just have to do this 2 more times, and balance any snacks and drinks we might have in as well. You can monitor progress here, see your totals all day, and give it your best shot at reaching your goals! Many people call this method “tracking your macros” – trying to consume goal quantities of the macronutrients (carbs, fat, and protein) – and sweat by it as a great method of accountability. It gets easier as you learn about tracking, and what’s in the foods you commonly eat. You’ll quickly discover that one chicken breast has generally about 20g of protein. Boom. See, it’s already getting easier!
This system has also been nicknamed “If It Fits Your Macros” or “IIFYM,” because, well, you can make progress eating even some “not-so-healthy” foods if they fit your macros! For example – I could have a donut for breakfast, and make the rest of my day fit around that. However, after a few days on IIFYM, you’ll realize that you’d rather have that big ole’ breakfast of egg whites and oatmeal, because it’ll fill you up more for a whole lot less “cost.” You can get way more volume when consuming foods like lean meats, fruits, veggies, etc. It’s way cheaper, if you think of the macros like money. But, if you want the donut, you can splurge, and it’s totally cool! Then a big cheap salad with chicken for lunch balances you back out.
All goals aside, MyFitnessPal and other diet trackers can be a great tool for evaluating your diet and where you’re “at.” You can see your daily consumption of many vitamins and minerals, and you can assess this over a few days and see what you need to work on (like iron, potassium, or even protein – those are what I’ve noticed in my stent of tracking lately). You become more aware of what you’re eating even after tracking for just one day, and can think about the positives of what you’re doing and what you might work on.
It can also be a great tool to help with weight maintenance. You can check in every so often, log your weight, and compare it on a graph with your weight over time, even if you only log it once a month. Then, you can even plug in what you ate yesterday, compare it to MyFitnessPal’s estimated calorie needs for your day, and see what is or isn’t working for you. You can see weight trends over time, and think about what you were doing at times when you were most happy with your weight, even if you never log a single bite. There’s also a new progress picture feature, and you can use it to make before-and-after’s! Because, remember – it’s not all about weight.
MyFitnessPal can also be used to work on gaining a little muscle. You can set a goal to gain a certain amount per week, increase your protein a bit, and lift weights like crazy. I may try this at some point, after I shift my focus away from running and more towards overall fitness. I’ll let you know how it goes if I do!
Once we’ve got our plan – lose fat, gain muscle, or just get healthier – and we’ve taken the leap to go for our goals, what stops us from being able to to reach our goals?
- Our own conflicting desires. We want it, but we want cake more.
- Others, who knowingly or unknowingly tempt us into falling off the wagon.
- Not enough preparation for when “life happens.”
- Lack of progress – needing to tweak the plan or get help, and giving up instead.
- Stress – is tracking too much for you?
Sometimes, you have to fight against your own emotional desires that conflict with your true needs and goals. Remember, you want to treat your body well, not abuse it, and that means for the long haul. Other times, others will unknowingly try to drag you down when you’re actually feeling strong and good. It’s not their body, so ignore them! I’d love to do a whole post on shaking off the “well-intentioned” comments of others. I think I will. Also, you need to be prepared for when “life happens” – when you get hung up at work and are tempted to grab “something quick” on the way home – oh wait, I prepped my meals on Sunday. I’ll just go home and have my wonderful grilled fish and baked sweet potato fries that’s waiting on me. Preparation is good. Or if you’re in class forever, but you remember you threw an apple in your bag, so you eat that as soon as you get out and then can think rationally about your decision. And finally, don’t let lack of progress derail you! It takes time, and hey, you might need to reassess your activity level and adjust your macros. You might need to throw in another workout, or see a dietitian for more professional help. Whatever the case, don’t give up on your goals just because you’re not getting there overnight! It’s going to be worth it!
If you don’t think you can manage to track all the time, take heart – you can use it as a means for awareness, and remember how it felt to hit your calorie goals one day. Model your other days after that! When you’re a seasoned pro, you’ll even be able to estimate the macros in a meal if you wanted to!
My final advice – treat yourself. Make health and fitness fun. Because, especially when you look good, it so is!
Disclaimer – I don’t track my macros all the time – only if I have specific goals or want to check in with how I’m doing on my consumption of certain nutrients. Other times I eat intuitively, which involves listening to my body, its hunger and fullness cues, etc. I’m also not a dietetic professional yet, so don’t take any of these tips as medical advice. Use them at your own discretion, and consult a RD or RDN if you need help determining the right intake levels for you.