Beat the Holiday Season

With two weeks until Christmas, the season is in full force. With Christmas/Holiday parties, special events, school functions, and just tons and tons of sweets and generally unhealthy foods available, many of us simply give in to the temptations.

“It’s the holidays! I’ll start in January,” seems to be the mantra of most people, which at it’s core, doesn’t sound like that big of a deal. It might be bigger if those same people made the connection that 6 weeks (Thanksgiving to New Years) is 12% of the year! Add in a few more holidays, and it becomes very easy to continue to put on lots of weight, and get farther and farther from our “ideal.”

So, what do you do? Here are some quick tips that can help survive the holidays.

  1. Start where you are – as they say, “you can’t unscramble eggs.” If the last 3 weeks have already been filled with overindulgence, don’t let it derail the next 3 weeks, just pick up and start a new day and a new plan.
  2. Don’t wait for New Years. New Year’s resolutions are a joke, and probably the biggest self-lie that people tell themselves. Why wait? What’s special about the first day of the year? Why can’t today be special? Start today.
  3. Set goals – how do you want to finish the holiday season? Are you wanting to make progress towards your fitness goals, just maintain, or what? Whatever those goals are, write them down on note cards. Put them in the bathroom, in your car, and carry one in your pocket, so when you walk by the Christmas cookies someone left in the break room, you can remind yourself what you’re working towards.
  4. Plan your indulgences – Look at your calendar and decide what events might create additional temptations for you, and have a plan to deal with them. That might mean giving yourself permission to have a couple of cookies at the party on Friday. That doesn’t mean you give yourself permission to have some on Friday, take some home, and eat the rest all weekend! Stick to a plan that has minimal impact on your goals.
  5. Eat before you go – this is an old recommendation, but if you’re going to a party, or an event where lots of food will be served, with little chance of healthy choices, make sure you eat a high protein, high fibrous veggie snack before you go. That way it’s much easier to control your portions and intake, and more importantly, to avoid the sugary temptations. I not only eat before I go, but also pack food with me so that if dinner is a little late, I’m not getting super hungry.
  6. Prepare for an emotional battle – the road to fitness is filled with emotional potholes, and often, they come in the form of the good intentioned (and often not so good) people in our lives. “Oh, just have one, it’s not a big deal,” “man, you’re really obsessed with this fitness thing, aren’t you?” “I can’t believe you won’t even try that pie that I made.” It’s easy to be embarrassed or guilted into derailing your plan. If you were a recovering alcoholic, would it embarrass you to turn down a drink, or would you take one just because someone made it for you? I hope not! Treat food the same way. You’re choosing to be healthy, and don’t let other people derail or make you feel badly for your choices.
  7. Get your butt in the gym – the holidays are exceedingly busy, so you have to really plan out those workouts. Keep weight lifting as part of the plan, and put it on the calendar. You won’t miss your kid’s recital, right? So, make your workout just as important. Protect that time, adjust your schedule to make it happen.
  8. Give away the treats – in my house, baking is part of the culture, and it’s a fun part of the season. That doesn’t mean we just stop doing it, we just need to have a plan. If you’re anything like me, the longer you walk by a plate of cookies, the higher the likelihood that you’ll grab a couple on the next trip. So, If you make treats, decide how many to keep (a small amount for each person,) and give the rest of them away…there are a multitude of options for giving away treats.
  9. Get accountability – this is true for any fitness journey, but especially this time of year. Having a workout/nutrition buddy that you can be accountable to will help with your success.

So, there you have some ideas on how you can get through the holidays in better shape than you started them. I’m working towards keeping my metabolic furnace stoked with plenty of protein and good carbs and fats, and I’m killing it in the gym. I hope you will do the same!

All I want for Christmas? Bigger shoulders and an awesome v-taper.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Fit at 40

In years past, I haven’t been particularly interested in my birthday. Growing up, it really wasn’t that big of a deal, and I’ve carried that into adulthood.

This year, it was a bit different. Not because it’s my birthday, but because of a new significance I placed on that date. You see, I’ve just turned 40…cue minor-key piano music! For most, including myself, this particular age has signified a sort of turning point in life, middle-age, beginning of the end, Mayans were right, that sort of thing. For me, though, it was a date to prove all of that wrong, that 40 can be better than 30, and anything is possible with the right kind of guidance and hard work.

Here’s my story: Despite a degree in Exercise and Fitness, I have struggled with weight/fat gain over the last few years, and have been searching for a way to get it all under control. While I’m not a “magic pill” kind of a guy, and haven’t gone down that route, I have found that I’ve spent 100′s of hours working out and eating “right,” and still gaining fat and getting less fit. It came to a point where I simply was at a loss for how to “do it right.”

Rewind to 8 months ago, my wife Michelle and I began conversations with our trainer, Pamela Sampson (and STS’s resident expert.) Over the last 8 months, she has helped us develop exercise and nutrition plans to get us to a point of fitness that we’ve never had, and we’re not done yet.

My birthday became a sort of interim goal date for me, trying to get as lean as possible by that date. Unfortunately, like everyone else, sometimes life just gets in the way. I had a couple of set backs. The first one came from a partially torn bicep (not from weight training, from lifting a dishwasher in a bear hug,) and then a fairly serious bacterial infection. While I never stopped working out and eating right, it did derail my overall progress by a few weeks.

So, how did I do? Well, the pictures tell the story pretty well. In 2008, at my heaviest of 205-206lb, and more than 22% body fat (I actually think it was quite a bit higher,) I was absolutely miserable. The sad thing is that I was actually “trying” to keep the weight off, but nothing was working. Even with all my knowledge, I was still failing. It sucked, and I never want to be there again. As I write this, I’m just under 8% body fat, 179lb. The 18lb weight loss is a little misleading, though, as there is a fairly significant amount of Lean Mass gain, along with a ton of fat loss. With the right program, it IS possible to gain muscle and lose fat at the same time.

This is the before and after from April to December:

This is me at the worst I’ve ever been. Those are 36″ shorts. Now, a pair of 34″ literally fall off, and 32″ are really lose. Interestingly enough, working out also may cause a sudden loss of body hair. ;->

Some specific numbers since I started tracking at the beginning of April 2012.

Total Weight Lost: 18lbs (this is why relying on just scale weight can be misleading.
Fat Loss: 26lbs
Fat Loss %: 13%
Muscle Gain: 9lbs (before I started cutting 6 weeks ago, this was more like 13lbs)
Ab Inches Loss: 5.25inches

My soft goal for my birthday was to be under 8% body fat. I made it there, but I am still somewhat disappointed because without my setbacks, I think I could have been sub 7%. But, it is what it is, and I’m moving on, sights set on April. My lower abs are the hardest part to lose fat for me (we all have those areas,) so it’ll take a lot of work to get that area leaned out.

The new goal is for April 20, 2013. I need to build size, stay lean, and work on my posing…next stop is the stage at my first Men’s Physique bodybuilding competition. For those of you unaware, Men’s Physique is a category that has come along in the last few years, and focuses mainly on the “beach body” look for competitors. Not so much huge muscles and tiny speedos, but rather overall fitness, leanness, shape, and balance, plus stage presence.

Over the next few months, I’ll concentrate on building more of my “wings” on my back, adding some more shoulder mass to keep those “caps,” and continuing to shape my abs and obliques. This will be my building phase, and then I’ll revisit a cutting phase, dropping body fat again to stage-ready levels (somewhere around 4-6% I’d guess.) To get there, my nutrition will basically have to be perfect, down to the gram of my macro-nutrients (protein, fat, carbs.) At this point, I’m more than a little nervous about it all, and realize it’ll take a huge amount of mental fortitude to make it all happen. I’m up for the challenge.

Okay, so enough about all of this bodybuilding stuff. What’s the takeaway for my readers? If you’re a 19-year old male, you can pretty much get ripped abs by eating decent and a few strong sneezes! If you’re not, then let me give you the no-bs answer. Anyone that says getting fit is easy, and you just need this dvd, this supplement, or this program is absolutely full of crap! Getting fit requires guidance, a huge commitment, tons of hard work, and lots of planning. It doesn’t come by cutting out a few junk foods and taking a walk around the block a couple of times a week.

Don’t get me wrong, that’s all good stuff, and will help you be healthier. I’m talking about really being fit. To be really fit, it requires meal planning, knowing what you’re eating for every meal of the day, packing a cooler with you, lifting lots of weights 5-6 days a week, measuring your food, doing HIIT training, stretching, and cardio. As I’ve heard said, “this ain’t no beauty parlor, get your ass to work!”

BUT….do the work, and get the rewards. I’ve never felt better. I’m fitter at 40 than I was at 30, and plan to be fitter at 41 than I am right now. Success comes through perseverance and hard work. So, let’s get our sweat on…we’re all in this together!