Getting in Shape Doesn’t Have to be Hard

There’s this idea, now, that getting in shape — good shape — is difficult.

You need to sweat. You need to bleed, and you generally need to flail about for hours on a treadmill at the gym. You need to spend long hours pumping iron and ‘maximizing your core,’ pausing every few reps to eye yourself idly in the wall-sized mirrors. You need to run miles upon miles every day of the week, eat seven times a day, and always eat breakfast (because your metabolism will slow down if you don’t, right?).

Wrong.

Don’t get me wrong! I’m not saying these techniques don’t work. They seem a little overblown, when I paint them like that, but I can’t deny how many people do exactly what I described above and see great results. I don’t think that’s a real testament to their workout, though. I’d call it evidence of the body’s remarkable ability to adapt to how you live, and maybe it’s a reason, too, for why so many people have so many different ideas on how to live healthy.

But what if it were simple? What if good health was practically effortless? That’s possible, right?

Right.

For what it’s worth, I’m not a certified nutritionist or personal trainer. I’m a formerly fat dork who has a keen interest in how the body works, though, and a few tips to share on how I lost the weight.

YOU NEED TIME

I hate this part.

But that’s the truth: you need time. You’ll need more or less depending on where you’re starting, weight-wise, but this core requirement never changes: minutes. Lots of them. Months, even, and maybe years.

That’s probaby the most disheartening part of the entire process. Remember that day you decided to lose weight? That day you said “enough is enough!” and decided to change the way you lived? And remember how, six months later, you still don’t look like you did in high school?

It takes time. I can’t stress that enough.

I’m (generally) a patient person, but the last few months found me pinching my hips and wondering why the fat wasn’t just melting before my eyes. Healthy habit? Probably not. But it’s a sensation I think most people are familiar with, especially those who buy into the promises of weight-loss plans to drop the gut real fast.

Again: you need time. You probably can lose a lot of weight very quickly, if you’re determined to do it, but just remember that a) it’s probably not healthy, and b) it usually isn’t sustainable. The alternative is a slow, steady approach that you’re comfortable with, the kind of incremental progress your body is far better equippd to handle.

So do this: decide, now, that you’re in this for the long haul. Remember that your body is one of the most important things you own, and that you’ll give it all the time it needs to return to a happy, healthy state.

Your body is worth it. Don’t try to rush the process, and don’t let yourself backtrack when the scale doesn’t move as quickly as you’d like. Why? Because if you stick with it for six months, a year, or however long you need, you’ll wake up one day and realize something incredible: you have the body you want.

Those months you spent ‘finding’ it, though? They won’t seem so bad after all.

YOU NEED TO MOVE AROUND

But not as much as you think!

Consider this: an hour on the treadmill at a pace of fifteen minutes per mile can burn between 500 and 600 calories for the average person (average, in this case, being 200 pounds or higher). Doesn’t that seem odd? Doesn’t it seem really low for how much time and sweat you just put in?

Exercise isn’t a magic bullet. It’s good, of course, and definitely worth including in your routine, but it’s not the easy road to success that we’ve all been led to believe.

Those 500 calories? That’s a hamburger at your favorite dive — a celebration, maybe, for all the good work you just did at the gym. And a soft drink, too, because you’re still thirsty, and because a small Coke never killed anyone, right?

Right. But that meal just killed your workout, calorie-wise, and suddenly you’re inching closer to a hard realization about all those hours you spend at the gym.

Exercising is not a great way to burn calories.

You still need to do it, believe me. Exercise offers incredible benefits when it comes to fat loss, tweaking insuling resistance, etc., but I’d argue that it’s not the foolproof plan for a bikini body that you’d like to think.

So do this: sprint (on foot or on a stationary bike) once a week, do some kind of weight-training (simple bodyweight works too!) once or twice a week, and try to walk an hour each day.

That’s it. That’s all you need to do. You can fiddle with it and incorporate more or less stuff per your individual goals, but the basic plan works just fine on its own. Want to lose weight? Start walking. But don’t expect that hour-long stroll to suddenly undo all of the snacks you just ate, and don’t ever kill yourself doing forty-five minutes of heavy cardio because you’re worried about your caloric intake for the day.

Why not just keep it simple? (And make sure follow the next step, too.)

YOU NEED TO EAT LESS

Eat when you’re hungry.

That’s simple, timeless advice, and the exact kind of approach that hardly anyone uses anymore.

Try it for a day. Eschew the usual routine of three (or five, or six!) meals a day that you normally follow and make a serious effort to eat only when your stomach is flat-out asking for food. Want to be bold? Ignore it. Maybe skip a meal on occasion, or maybe just eat lunch and dinner most days of the week.

Your body isn’t going to wither away before your eyes. Your metabolism won’t slow to a crawl, and your hard-earned muscle won’t fade either. I’m not sure where the idea that we need to eat all the freaking time came from, but the benefits of the alternate approach — you know, listening to your body — are enormous.

Accelerated fat loss? A better relationship with both my body and my food? I’ve seen both of those and more, honestly, and all I’ve done is started skipping breakfast most days of the week. I used to deal with ravenous hunger every time I crawled out of bed, but my switch to the Primal lifestyle changed that, meaning I was eating breakfast out of this weird sense of obligation — this sense that I should, even if I wasn’t actually hungry.

Which is dumb. Not hungry? Don’t eat.

Just do this: only eat when you’re actually hungry. Can’t finish your plate? Save it for later! Not hungry in the mornings? Don’t eat breakfast! Standing in the kitchen between meals? Don’t snack because you’re bored or because you think you might be a little hungry when you’re stealing glances at a bowl of leftover Halloween candy. You don’t need to eat all the time.

When your stomach grumbles for more than fifteen or twenty minutes, give it food. Otherwise, don’t. It’s stunningly simple when you break it down it like that, and yet we all eat far more than we actually need to.

YOU DON’T NEED A DIET

I’m arguing semantics, I guess, but I think there’s a worthy distinction to be made here.

A “diet” implies you have an endpoint — some imaginary stage when you are completely happy with your body and will no longer need to follow your strict dietary routine. You probably don’t enjoy it all that much in the first place, but hey — whatever works, right?

A “lifestyle,” however, is something different. It’s something personal. You’ve taken it upon yourself to learn how the body works, to learn how to live a happier, healthier life, and you really don’t see any reason to ever go back to your “old ways.” Sure, you’re still changing your habits with a goal in mind, but you don’t see your desired number on the scale as an endpoint. Rather, it’s just a natural result of the steps you’ve made to increase your health, and encouragement to keep doing what you’re doing.

That’s why I don’t call the Primal Blueprint — and the larger Paleo movement — a diet. Why would I stop? Why, when Primal eating lets me a) eat bacon and b) get closer and closer to the body I’ve always wanted, would I ever hop off the train and go back to stuffing myself on processed food?

You don’t need a diet.

You just need to care. About what you eat, and how about how the body works, and you need a pretty fiery determination to not end up popping pills as part of your daily routine.

You need to take care of your body.

Lucky thing, then, that it’s not so hard after all. Be patient. Exercise a few times a week in a brief, intelligent way. Eat less than you used to, but never to the point where you feel like you’re starving yourself. And, lastly, don’t hop on board with the latest and greatest fad diet. Make your weight-loss goal a part of your life, and don’t just stop when you accomplish it: keep going.

Take care of yourself. For your family and friends, sure, but for another important person too: you.

***

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8 Comments

  1. Chase Night says:

    “Not hungry? Don’t eat.”

    Thank you! This is so simple, but so hard for people to wrap their minds around. I stay skinny (ok, maybe too skinny) because I stop eating when I’m full. Simple as that. I don’t eat healthy. I don’t anything from the fruit, nuts, or veggies groups. I subsist on meat, potatoes, cheese, and bread. I don’t gain weight on these things because I only eat as much as my body tells me I need to have energy for the day. I have a yearly blood test, and my cholesterol levels etc have stayed at the same healthy level for the last five years since I began doing so. Food is just one more area of life where we think more means better.

    (I don’t advocate this diet for others. It just seems to suit my body. Fruits and vegetables literally make me sick. Maybe I’m a werewolf.)

    • Matt Madeiro says:

      Haha! That’s an awesome name for a diet, man.

      I’m puzzled at the fact that fruits and veggies make you sick, but I can’t deny that you have the right idea — eat when you’re hungry, and stop when you get full. It’s kinda crazy how little we end up eating (by comparison) when we do that. So many people eat past the point of fullness that it’s no real surprise they gain weight.

  2. Great post on Real life weight control. It really is about self control not the latest fad. I have tried many different avenues of losing weight but until I had a brain change and just started controlling my urges. I never hit the results I was looking for. My stomach has been growling for a few minutes and I am happy I found this post in the blogosphere. It further cemented the idea I was having about not eating on a routine, and moving to hunger only eating. Thanks

    • Matt Madeiro says:

      Thanks, Justin!

      It’s a shame that eating only when you’re hungry can be so difficult. I still struggle with knowing whether I’m legitimately hungry or just want to eat — the brain, after all, can send some pretty mixed signals. Still, it’s a worthwhile change to make, especially when your stomach doesn’t grows accustomed to eating smaller portions only when it actually needs food.

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