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I don't look like I wanted to

In 2010 I decided to change my life and get in shape.  I spent time looking through magazines for the body I wanted and I taped pictures of my ideal body shape to the cupboards and fridge.  I was determined to look like those women.

Along the way I got hit with reality.  It wasn't that my stretch marks were forever or that I was going to end up with loose skin.  I learned that I was not built like those women. 

My ribs and hip bones stick out.  My hip structure means my legs rub.  My thighs and calves have lots of natural muscle.  I have a bump at the lower part of my stomach due to posture and genetics.  I was never going to look like the women taped around my house.

At that point I gave up worrying about how I was going to look when I lost weight and I tore all those pictures down.  I stopped trying to figure out what exercises made those women look the way they did and I started doing workouts I loved.  I decided I was going to work hard on improving how I looked and see where it got me.  Along the way I learned to love my thick thighs and wide ribs.

I am happy with where I am because this is my body.  I've done amazing things with this body.  It doesn't look like I had originally hoped it would, but I built it and that makes it even better.  


I am the Lorax

I have been told that blog posts do not fall under the same guidelines as the forums.  Our blog posts are allowed to link to threads and make comments that would get us immediately banned.  That should also mean that our blog posts can question the actions of the powers that be, without fear of punishment.

“I am the Lorax.  I speak for the trees.”

I am a long time user of MyFitnessPal.  I speak for those who lurk in the forums.  I speak for the new members.  

The forums can be overwhelming on day one.  There is so much information stored there and it takes time to understand how it is organized.  It takes time to read through even a small portion of the threads that are created on a minute by minute basis.  There are tons of conflicting views on every topic that exist when it comes to fitness and nutrition.

Many of us arrive on this site with the idea that a cleanse will fix us, spot reducing is effective if you pick the perfect exercise and starving ourselves is the way to lose weight.  We don’t know any better.  Magazines, advertising and media has failed us.  The weight loss industry has failed us.  Our educational system has failed us.

MFP did an incredible thing a couple of years ago.  They made sure that threads with solid starting points for new members were given a place of honor.  Each section now had a few points of reference that were visible when we opened a topic.  We were making a difference in correcting the misinformation and getting people on track.

A policy change has been implemented which has removed those helpful threads from that place of honor as a sticky.  In sections such as Success Stories it makes sense to highlight new stories from time to time and provide fresh inspiration.  In other sections the helpful threads have been replaced by threads that are low quality and contain contradictory ideas with little science or long term success standing behind it.

Why do I care?  It’s not about the thread I created being dropped from sticky status.  It’s that I was new here once upon a time and the way I found good information that lead to my success was from following a person around the forums.  We can no longer check the previous topics a user posted on, so we rely on helpful threads being in that place of honor as a sticky.  This tells us that the information has been read and approved by enough people that the information it contains is true.

I worried when MFP was sold, and again when they launched a pay version, that the site was becoming less helpful for those who don’t want to pay.  I have devoted lots of time and energy into this site after my success, only to see that MFP is getting worse.  I haven’t complained about the changes up to this point, but a line was crossed when good information is replaced with low quality threads.

I know I am not alone in this complaint.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” –Dr. Seuss

The axe



There was a lumberjack competition in the Northwest and competitors from all over the world came to compete. One of the competitions was an endurance test to see how many logs each competitor can split in a 12 hour period. Each competitors got one axe and a huge stack of wood.

When the competition started, all of the lumberjacks were feverishly splitting logs. One man in particular held a blistering pace and maintained a comfortable lead. 

About 50 minutes into the competition, the man with the strong lead stopped, grabbed his axe and walked into the woodshed which served as a makeshift locker room. 

The other competitors were a little surprised that he needed a break, but they continued to strike away and reduce that lead. Some even caught up to him.

Ten minutes later, the man returned and started splitting logs again, using the same pace and extending his lead once again. 

Like clockwork, at 50 minutes pas the hour, he took his axe and returned to the woodshed. The other competitors were too concerned with catching up that they never even bothered to wonder why he went into the woodshed for 10 minutes of every hour. 

The fascinating thing about this individual was not just the pace he kept but the fact that how much power he used and the ease that each log was splitting.

At the end of the competition, the man had won by a considerable margin. The one question that was on everyone's mind was:

What were you doing in the woodshed during that time?

Other competitors and spectators assumed he was taking some kind of performance enhancing drug, using some concentration techniques or getting a massage. 

When asked what he did during that time, the lumberjack answered very calmly:

I was sharpening my axe.

Regardless of what sport you are participating in you have to keep your skills sharp.  Set goals and push your limits.  Training at your current level may keep your ax sharp, but pushing your limits will make it more effective.


*I did not write this.  I copied it a few years ago and have no idea where it came from.  I'm just re-sharing. 

Sink or Swim

This morning I mentioned to my friends list that my kids passed their first level of swimming lessons last night.  Immediately after that my youngest was a bit too confident and required some lifeguard assistance when he got in over his head.  It was a frightening moment for me.

This incident got me thinking about how dieting is a lot like swimming.  You sink or swim.  Some people can jump in and be successful.  Others can't.

If you are one of those people who happen to sink, you are not doomed.  Just like in swimming there are teachers out there who can help you learn how to swim.  There will be people telling you just to jump back in or to try deeper water.  There will be people who will pat you on the shoulder and tell you it's okay to stay in the wading pool.  

Spend time learning about fat loss and exercise.  Even if you happen to swim or float in the beginning you may need help down stream.  Few of us are natural born swimmers.  There's nothing wrong with the slow dog paddle!

Cheat Days by Ari Whitten

I often get this question from people: "Do you think cheat days are a good idea?"

First off, I have personally used extreme and restrictive diets (far beyond what most overweight people typically engage in) for years in the past. And I caused myself a lot of health problems from them. In the past, I even went through periods where I put dozens of my clients on very restrictive diets (low carb, intermittent fasting, all liquid protein diets, raw vegan etc) that I now cringe at and deeply regret. I bring this up only so that you know that I've been through this stuff and done it all -- cheat days, cheat meals, cheat weeks, carb cycling, cyclic ketogenic diets, carb days on low-carb diets etc.

So back to the question of CHEAT DAYS... yay or nay?

My answer (which has been shaped by many years of doing restrictive diets) is simple: 

*** If you're doing something which is so restrictive that you can't wait for your "cheat day" to come around, the issue isn't the presence or absence of the cheat day--it's that what you're doing is TOO RESTRICTIVE.***

And whether that restriction is in the form of a low-calorie diet or intermittent fasting or low-carb, it's not likely to be sustainable or healthy. Therefore, not only is it likely to end in failure, it's even likely to be COUNTERPRODUCTIVE in the long-term. (I.e. it's likely to cause metabolic and hormonal dysfunction and make you FATTER). 

For example, one study found that “weight-loss attempts may be associated with subsequent major weight gain, even when several potential confounders are controlled for.” (1)


The notion of heavy restriction followed by a cheat day certainly makes sense on a logical level. And that's why many diet authors promote this idea, and why we have books like "The Cheat to Lose Diet" and the "3-1-2-1 Diet: Eat and Cheat Your way to Weight Loss" and the latest cheat diet book "The Cheat System Diet."

Like I said, a cheat day can perhaps seem logical--"constant restriction might end in failure because people can't follow it, so if we add in a cheat day we can get a psychological release and allow for better adherence to the diet." It is logical and does make sense.

Logic isn't the issue though. Science is. 

I could just as easily use logic to PROVE WRONG the notion of the cheat day. For example, do we say to crack and heroin addicts "ok, well, you can have your crack cocaine just one day a week, but be good the other 6 days of the week." 

Obviously not. Perhaps some could make it work. But for most, if they keep getting crack introduced to their body, they will continue to stimulate their cravings and will likely get re-addicted.

In fact, I know many people that weren't able to change their diet habits UNLESS they went 100% abstinent from their junk foods. If they cheated, it would actually stimulate them to cheat MORE, not less.

And by the way, there actually *IS* research to support that: 

For example, according to a recent study in the Journal of Clinical Investigation "What we've shown in this study is that someone's entire brain chemistry can change in a very short period of time. Our findings suggest that when you eat something high in fat, your brain gets 'hit' with the fatty acids, and you become resistant to insulin and leptin. ...Since you're not being told by the brain to stop eating, you overeat. ... Dr. Clegg said that in the animals, the effect lasts about THREE DAYS, potentially explaining why many people who splurge on Friday or Saturday say they're hungrier than normal on Monday." (2)

Perhaps for some people, doing the cheat day thing can help. 

But for others, it absolutely does NOT help you get results in the long term--it just slowly SABOTAGES your efforts. It rewires your brain's responsiveness to certain hunger-relating hormones in ways that actually promote MORE CHEATING and BINGEING behaviors. ...until you're no longer really adhering to your diet.

If you're a Type A personality who wants to implement a SHORT-TERM heavily restrictive diet with a cheat day every so often in preparation for a physique competition, cheat days may work fine for you.

*** But if you're NOT trying to get just temporary fat loss and you want to get lean and STAY LEAN, it's very likely that the "restrictive diet plus cheat day" model is NOT a good approach for you. ***


Here's my ALTERNATIVE solution to the "restrictive diet plus cheat day" model: 


Eat a diet that does NOT revolve around any sort of heavy restriction of either calories or any major nutrient.

If you restrict either overall calories or some nutrient (low-carb dieting for example), you're going to enter into a fight against your own biology--which is why you would need a "cheat day," to have the things you're body is craving. The issue isn't whether or not you have a cheat day built in to your diet that allows you to adhere to this restrictive diet--the real problem is that you're on a diet that has put you into a fight against your own biology! 

To accomplish sustainable fat loss, you must:
1) Choose strategies that are not psychologically arduous and do not rely on you constantly doing things that you find difficult and not enjoyable.
2) Adopt strategies that create fat loss while eliminating the negative metabolic adaptations that predispose you to future weight gain—that is, you want to work with your biology as much as possible, instead of engaging in a fight against it. 

The essential strategy here is making sure that you have, first of all, put habits into place that do actually cause fat loss (such as lowering food reward and food variety, increasing protein intake, increasing plant and micronutrient intake, eating a mostly whole-food diet, increasing NEAT, and optimizing your circadian rhythm), and then make sure you are doing those things at a level that doesn’t feel like suffering to you, and which you can sustain for the rest of your life without struggle.


If you find yourself needing a "cheat day" it's probably because you are foolishly engaged in some sort of overly restrictive diet that's causing you to fight against your biology the other 6 days of the week!

Having great health and a lean beautiful body doesn't need to be about ANY KIND of forced restriction and deprivation. You don't need to go all out with some crazy restrictive diet that requires you to binge once a week to deal with the suffering.

Instead of relying on willpower, suffering through hunger pangs and cravings, and waiting patiently for your cheat day each week, try this...

Cultivate the daily habits that reliably lead to fat loss, and do them in a way so that they lead to steady fat loss WITHOUT relying on suffering, intense restriction, and cheat days.



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Failure isn't final

There are times when things just click.  Diet is easy and on point.  Workouts are going great.  Everything in life seems to be carrying us towards our goals.

There are also times when the world is falling around us and we are able to push through that.  We fight on through the struggles to keep our diet on track.  We overcome things to get our workouts in.  

There are times where we fail.  We fail when it should be easy.  We fail when it gets hard.  Failure happens to almost everyone.  Momentary failures and even month long set backs don't mean we won't be successful.  We learn just as much through failure as we do through success.  

During my bulk I put on a lot more fat than I should have.  I struggled with binge eating still and I didn't want to cut if I couldn't control it.  I put aside my desire for a lean body in favor of fixing real problems. 

I don't want people to think that I am 100% disciplined because it isn't true.  I struggle just like everyone else.  My life doesn't revolve around fitness and sometimes I sleep in instead of going to the gym.  There are times where I ditch my meal plan in favor of just enjoying some pizza and ice cream with my kids.  I don't believe in trying to be perfect, just trying to do a bit better and maintain balance.  

Don't be so hard on yourselves!  Take the opportunity to learn and keep an open mind when you ask for help.

Are you just screwing around?

This is not intended for people who are starting out or struggling with the basics.  This is a note to myself and a repost from a year ago.

Are you just screwing around?

You know how to count calories.  You have the hang of weighing everything and being accurate.  You probably know the calorie and macro content of your most frequent foods.  You have a really good idea of what your maintenance calories are and what an appropriate deficit is.  Yet you are getting no closer to your goals.

Why?  Are you just screwing around?  Your food diary isn't accurate, you went over your calories a few times this week, you half assed your workouts and you didn't stick to your macro goals.  It's like you don't even care.

Are you bulking?  Are you cutting?  To me it looks like you are maintaining on accident.  Do you really want to reach your goals?  Are your goals appropriate for your current intake, level of fitness, workout schedule or even your body fat percent?  Do you know how to determine if your goals are appropriate for you and what your real current goal should be?

Listen.  I know it's not comfortable to stick to the plan 24/7.  You're used to eating what you want, when you want.  The longer you mess around the longer you'll have to wait to have a bit more freedom. 

There is so much more satisfaction from reaching your goal and feeling good about how you look than there is from eating an entire pizza (chased with a pint of ice cream).  I'm not saying you have to give up pizza or ice cream along the way, but moderation and success feel better than the binge that you went on this weekend.  That horrible feeling you get when the scale is up 5 pounds and the sight in the mirror makes you want to cry.  You don't have to go through that anymore. 

The time has come to get back on track and stop screwing around.  More restriction isn't the answer.  Find balance and you will be successful.

Start where you are

I know that my main advice for exercise is to go lift heavy.  Although it is non-specific advice for the general population, it is far from the only thing that I suggest on the forums. 

For me and many others, a five minute walk is a lot on day one.  My first exercise outside of walking was joining a senior citizen water aerobics class (I was only 26 at the time).  The first time I attempted to bench press I used five pound dumbbells.

The best exercise for someone starting out is simply something they can do and are willing to do consistently.  If it’s walking around the living room during commercials, it’s still something.  The goal is to start moving more.  Some people might be able to jump into running or lifting.  Some may not have what it takes to do day one of couch to 5k or wall pushups.  We all start where we are and make progress when we can.

If all you can manage is one minute at a time, you have your starting point.  Don’t compare your starting point to where someone else is.  My day one looks nothing like where I am today. 

Out of curiosity, what was your day one like?  Where did you start with fitness?

Flipping the mental switch

I want to start this blog out by saying that this is not an attack on people who do not lift.  I am simply going to share my experience with lifting and how it changed my mind set.  I realize not everyone sees things the way I did.

When I joined MFP I followed the typical new member cycle.  I set my calorie goal to lose two pounds per week, was given 1200 calories and realized if I wanted to not feel hungry I was going to have to do some work.  I really didn’t know much about weight loss when I started.  Thanks to magazines I was under the impression that I had to eat the right foods and do lots of cardio with a few special exercises to fight the fat in my trouble zones.  The idea of “right foods” was daunting, so I opted for restriction in the form of only eating fruits, vegetables and meat (mostly chicken and egg white).

Like many people I simply cannot function with restriction.  I would do well for four or five days, then I would binge eat for a few days.  These wild eating sessions ended with guilt.  How could I eat junk food again when I was finally detoxing my body from all the crap I had been eating?!?  I also felt like I had undone all the cardio from the week PLUS I had dug myself into a hole that required even more cardio.

The week after a binge would be filled with even more cardio.  The binge that weekend would result in more cardio the next week.  This was a bad cycle. 

Thankfully I lurked in the boards for long enough to learn the first key to fixing the negative cycle.  Despite having 70 pounds to lose I was going to be more successful setting my goal to lose one pound per week and include foods I love.  One pound per week was a pound more than what I was losing through extreme restriction and binge eating.

The second key to fixing the negative cycle was lifting.  One day I arrived at the gym and I was completely sick of the treadmill.  There was no way I was going to get on that thing and waste another 30 minutes hating life.  I walked over to the closest machine that looked self explanatory and started using my muscles.  Several months later I walked in armed with a print out from and started following a program (thankfully they provided videos for all the exercises as well).

I can’t always stick to my calorie goal.  I’m not as concerned with how much work I need to do to make up for it.  Those extra calories?  Fuel for my next workout.  On a lifting day?  Just feeding my muscles.  It’s not an excuse for exceeding my calorie goal daily.  It’s recognizing that going over is not taking a step back, I’m taking a step in a different direction.


If you can find a way to change exercise from punishment to reward it will take you far.  Also, don’t forget that Calories aren’t just evil things that keep us fat, they are fuel and you shouldn’t feel guilt for eating.

Why your progress isn't dramatic

Most people have seen transformation pictures where the before and after don't look like the same person.  The jaw dropping difference of 50, 100, 200+ pounds lost.  We look forward to the day that our bodies look completely different, just like those pictures.

Unfortunately that is not going to happen for you.

Before you come after me with torches and pitch forks let me explain.  You look in the mirror after you get dress, as you brush your teeth or do your hair, when you wash your hands, when you pass a mirror.  I know at my heaviest I avoided mirrors and only looked into my eyes or at my nose, but you still see the rest of you.

As you lose weight you look at yourself multiple times a day.  Those tiny changes in your body don't really register.  They are there, but the changes are slow enough that your view of your body adjusts with your weight.  Only when muscles, ribs, cheek bones, etc. start showing can we see the true impact of the fat loss.  

When we reach our goal we look the same as we did yesterday and the day before that and the day before that.  Our view of ourselves has slowly changed from the beginning, so we really don't see the difference.  Our before and after pictures show stunning results, but our brains have adjusted to every tiny change.  This is why we tell people to take pictures and measurements.

The same thing happens when we bulk.

We add small amounts of muscle and fat.  Over time we just look like slightly bigger and fatter versions of how we looked before the bulk.  Even worse, adding fat hides the striations and the definition.  Now we just look fluffy.  Part of me expected dramatic results from my bulk (blog to come when I am done cutting), but now I realize I am just going to end up a slightly bigger version of what I looked like before.  I'm definitely not the beefy version of me I was hoping for since that is going to take many more years of barely noticeable changes.

Don't throw in the towel just because you don't "see" the changes.  They are happening. 

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