A Fat Loss Journey

Silhouettes of tourist ascending the mountain at sunset
Weight loss is often a journey of self discovery

As much as marketing campaigns and the media want us to believe that fat loss is achievable with their latest supplement, a hew hype fitness food or some random exercise technique (all my shake weight crew say heyyyyyy). Fat loss is not a simple phenomenon, there are many levels as to what goes into allowing someone to lose not just weight but body fat. We’ve all heard the “you should eat more protein, use high intensity interval training until you puke” advice. On the other hand we can simply embark on a journey of self discovery. This is the least popular answer as it takes time and doesn’t give instant results. Spoiler Alert – Nothing gives instant results.

The purpose of this article is not to highlight how great of a coach I am and “hey everyone, come see how my client lost all this weight” in my best Ron Burgundy voice. In fact its a story of how you can have a coach, have all the information at hand as to what you should do to get closer to your goals. However, if you are not ready to embark on a journey that will include changing habits then theres a high likelihood that change may not happen for a long time. That is exactly what happened here.

The Pillars of Health podcast lays out the four areas that we believe need to be in balance in order to live your best life. The pillars of health include stress management, sleep, exercise and nutrition. If you are excelling in one and none of the others then that will not help you create homeostasis within your own life.

“Put people in a position to be successful”.

My client Jose gracefully agreed to be my case study for this article. Jose successfully changed course and lost 30lbs over four months in 2017 and now feels and looks great, sleeps better and has more energy than before. So how did he get to the promised land?

A quick synopsis of Jose as well as his training history with yours truly.

We started training together five years ago and at the same time we started a two way journey of education. I coached him on areas incorporated in the four pillars of health. In return I was also educated on how the human brain works and primarily how as a coach your job is more complex than “you need to eat this, go to bed at 9pm and stop stressing”. Simply telling people to change their habits is probably the worst way to try and move the person forward towards their goals. Read “The Power of Habit” for a more in depth explanation of this. Here’s a clue, your brain uses reward to choose what you do. We would also discuss the NFL and how the Patriots (Jose) and Giants (JC) fare. Needless to say he has had more ups than downs in this department. Jose is from Puerto Rico and laid some knowledge on me when I was preparing for my citizenship test. You could say he my favorite Boricua!

When it comes to fat loss I sometimes think of the Bermuda triangle. The Bermuda triangle represents your brain not fat loss in this example. There are a lot of ideas and myths swirling around as to what you need to do in order to accomplish fat loss and a lot of these can get lost in the triangle (our brains) when it comes to understanding what and how to succeed in accomplishing fat loss.

Education plays a huge role in losing weight. When people have a realization to want to change themselves and their habits instead of it being forced down their throat (insert “The Biggest Loser” show here) they are more likely to embrace a new habit to improve their life than simply trying to follow orders. That instant when you know you need to make a change and incorporate ways to help this new habit stick is down to intrinsic motivation. No matter how good of a coach you are, you cannot force someone into change, all you can do is provide reasons and value as to why they should.

If your coach does this, run, quickly……

Down through the years, Jose would go for his annual doctor check up and after weighing in he would return with the same weight year after year if not an increase. If you allow for stressful events that occur in ones life, it is fully expected that an individual will put on weight during a divorce, unemployment, loss of a loved one etc. This can be unavoidable in the majority of cases. A stressful life event such as the examples mentioned previously may be in addition to a bunch of current bad habits such as a stub optimal sleep routine, eating out a lot, too much screen time, a high stress job that comes home with them; you get the idea.

From talking to Jose during his training sessions and also outside of the gym I was initially alarmed by how late he was going to bed. The “I have to get this work done” mentality was robbing him of priceless hours of shut eye. He was also ordering out a lot and not preparing any meals at home. To cap off the list he tends to worry and stress a lot about things he may not necessarily be able to change or impact in any way. My first action was to recommended he track his sleep patterns and even for a while his Heart Rate Variability first thing in the morning. We discussed guidelines on sleep and best practices, eliminating screen time and planning meals for the week ahead. Some new habits stuck, some didn’t. Depending on how much sleep Jose got the night before, his lift that day would be altered to suit how he was feeling.

Sub optimal sleep hygiene

Something had to give. Jose decided to make a change. It took a mini series of events to change his habits. Jose and his girlfriend, Sarah, wanted to eat better as the the weight gain had gotten to a point where he was aware of it more and more. Jose had a friends wedding coming up and tried on an old suit. It didn’t fit, not that Jose was surprised but that hit home, hard! The realization took over, “If I dont make a change then my health will continue to deteriorate”. A line was drawn, a realization occurred.

Around the same time Jose received a weight loss initiative card from his employer and he decided along with Sarah to pursue a healthier more balanced approach to how they ate. It was an online food guide with a once weekly meet up with the group in person.

What changed?

Jose had a blue print of what was acceptable portion sizes, what counts as a snack…….what one cup of almonds looks like, yes, much smaller than he previously thought!

  • Meals were now being planned for the week ahead
  • Meals were being prepared at home and as a couple with his girlfriend Sarah.
  • They ate out less as a result
  • Sticking to a set bed time was prioritized
  • Not allowing outside events to drastically increase stress
As Jose’s sleep improved, so did his deadlift numbers. Coincidence?

The card in the mail was the straw that broke the camels back. Not only did they decide to create a new habit, it stuck because they held each other accountable. Food planning for the week is a big first step, putting it into motion week after week is an enormous second step. Jose also started to go to bed earlier and not look at certain political articles that would raise his stress levels……..not mentioning any specific political figures names here.

Over the course of three months Jose lost 30lbs and continues to reap the benefits of an optimal nutritional program, proper stress management and better sleep hygiene. My role in all of this was to plant the seed early on. As a strength coach you cannot force someone to create a new habit, let alone make it stick. Jose had a few realizations in a short space of time. He was always consistent with his workouts but allowed the other pillars of health to fluctuate out of control. Now that he has more of a balanced system in place he enjoys meals out once in a while and can also do more chin ups than ever before.

Great job Jose!

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