Two months ago I set myself up for the most predictable failure I have ever had. I vowed to go a lengthy 66 days being "the perfect me." This included an immaculate diet, frequent exercise, productive lifestyle changes, regular blogging, and so on. I figured if I pushed myself hard enough, the habits would stick and I would come out a better version of myself. But I didn't factor in one element: I am human. And we as a human race have a limited amount of energy and motivation. You can't just say, "I'm never going to eat poorly or drink again, but I'll still hang out with all my friends and continue my overall lifestyle." It just doesn't work that way. Some people might be able to do that, but most can't.
Our lives are full of unpredictable surprises that we never see coming. These surprises are what make life so beautiful, yet so challenging. Almost every person I've talked to about dieting says that they were doing great, until this or that event came up and they couldn't help but eat half a pepperoni supreme pizza. Then, of course, after the event they continue eating poorly because they already failed their diet. In their head, they've already broke their stride, so the sting of failure no longer occurs. "I already had pizza yesterday, so it doesn't really matter if I have some chips with queso dip today." It's a psychological game of willpower and reasoning.
My Surprise Roadblock
Working in the advertising industry, I sometimes get to go out on location for the shoots. Some last only a day while others may last a week or more. In this time, we're working 12+ hour days on our feet running around all over town. It's fun work, but you don't have any free time to prepare your own lunch or snacks. Even if you did, the lunches are usually catered, so it's delicious and free; both attractive qualities while working on a fast-paced shoot.
So at the end of my third week of health bingeing, one of these shoots came up. It was three long days running all over Seattle. Snacks and lunches were provided, but they were obviously not within my strict diet plan. On the first day of the shoot I held off on snacking since there were only sugar-loaded Clif Bars available. But as my energy started to drain before lunch was even near (this shoot day started at 6:00am sharp), I knew I would need some fuel to make it through the day. So I took the Clif Bar and scarfed it down. A couple hours later and I'm standing in front of literally a dozen pizza boxes full of cheesy, meaty, carby goodness. There were also a couple dry-looking salads that you could dish up alongside your pizza. After devouring my first truly 'sinful' meal in three weeks, I had broken my stride. I was now focused on the shoot rather than my diet. This even extended after each shoot day ended. My dinners became lazier and less healthy.
This didn't stop at just my diet, though. I had accidentally given myself permission to stop doing pretty much all of the goals I had set out to do:
- Kickbox 3 times per week
- 7-minute workouts daily (stretch, workout, abs)
- Eat right (eggs, chicken, fish, legumes, veggies, seeds, nuts)
- Drink water
- No more than five alcoholic drinks per week
- Write 3 blog posts per week
- Minimal videogames
- Minimal television
Because I had set up for myself such a rigid set of rules, I was damned near predestined to fail hard. In theory, this list would be amazing to follow; I would be getting in shape, I would be more productive, I would enrich my brain. But like I had mentioned, I am human.
The biggest weakness of my life plan was that I didn't design any flexibility into it. If I had a Clif Bar: failure. If I skipped one 7-minute workout: failure. If I could only make it to kickboxing twice in a week: failure. If I got a jonesing to play video games one afternoon for five hours: utter failure.
I had designed the plan where the slightest misstep meant failure.
We can learn a lot from my experimenting and failure. First off, me and exercise really don't mix. I've tried time and time again and can never get into the habit for more than a couple months. Something always comes up that acts as a perfect excuse for my to skip one, two, or a dozen classes. "I should really hang back and finish this project at work. I should be able to go on Tuesday though!" Fast forward to Tuesday, same song and dance.
The one thing I've found that helps me keep an exercise regimen is extreme convenience and proximity. I live in an apartment complex with a gym on the main floor that's open to all residents. Some mornings, my girlfriend and I wake up a bit earlier and head down for some cardio and maybe a bit of weights. Because it's so close, it takes no more than 20-30 minutes for a complete workout. That includes travel time, getting changes, etc. On the other hand, going to kickboxing is quite the commitment in comparison. Kickboxing is an hour-long class and the dojo is a 30 minute walk from my office. Add in the few minutes it takes to grab all the gear and change and you're looking at 2 hours and 15 minutes give or take. That's a huge chunk of time to dedicate multiple times a week. The gym in my building saves me 1.5 hours per session. Not to say kickboxing isn't amazing, though. If you can commit to 2-3 times per work, you'll see noticeable results.
A Diet Plan That Will Last
This time around, I wanted to design a diet plan that wouldn't be a short burst of insanity, but instead a long-term plan that I would be able to stick to. Forever. In order to do so, I would need a plan that has some flexibility. I need to be able to eat pizza and frozen yogurt every once in awhile. I need to be able to have a few picklebacks and beers and not feel like I have forever tainted my track record.
In comes The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman (link). This book by Timothy Ferriss, as I have mentioned before, contains my favorite diet plan of all time. It's the slow-carb diet with a weekly cheat day. Let me let Wikipedia elaborate:
"The Slow-Carb Diet is based on eating foods with a low glycemic index. It can be summarized as the elimination of starches and anything sweet (including fruit and all artificial sweeteners) and a strong preference for lean protein, legumes and vegetables. The main foods are eggs, fish, grass-fed beef, lentils, beans, vegetables (like spinach, broccoli, cabbage, radish), mushrooms, fermented foods and drinks (natto, kimchi, sauerkraut), unsweetened tea or coffee and water. Calorie-dense nuts and legumes such as pecans, chickpeas, hummus, and peanuts are allowed under careful portion control. Plain coffee is allowed, but all milk products are to be avoided except cottage cheese."
In addition to this lean grocery list, you're allowed one day a week to go crazy. On this cheat day, you're required to binge out on all your cravings from the week. Cake. Pizza. Ice cream. Alcohol. Pasta. Whatever your heart desires. As counterintuitive as this may sound, it works. This massive spike in calories makes sure your metabolism doesn't slow down too much from eating all the lean, healthy foods during the week. And in the end, you're way more likely to stick to this diet plan since you still get the benefit of weight loss while getting to indulge in all the naughty foods you could imagine.
This marks my seventh day back on track. I'm not following my last set of rules but instead just sticking to the slow-carb diet as long as possible while mixing in exercise when I see fit. This time around I have a much better feeling about sticking with it. I'll be sure to post updates on what I've found to work the best. I have a secret little trick that I'll be sharing soon :)