Is more cardio the answer to your fat loss problems?

“I think I just need to up my cardio.”

I’ve been hearing this a lot lately, usually in the context of someone who’s frustrated with their progress. Honestly, I cringe a little every time I hear someone say this.

As a personal trainer, who loves to be active and to sweat, I get it. Fitness feels more doable, more enjoyable than changing my nutrition habits. Plus, I know how to do it and I know how to teach it. This was my thought process for many years, but eventually, I could deny it no longer. Exercise alone wasn’t helping my people reach their fat loss goals.

In fact, increasing cardio often times increases hunger and cravings! So you eat more, then you feel like you need to exercise more and it becomes a rather unhealthy cycle.

That’s why I cringe every time I hear a client mention it. That’s why I’m writing this blog. Because I spent years on a literal (and metaphorical) hamster wheel and I know how frustrating it is to be putting in the work and not seeing the results.

kettlebell swings

So here it is friends: if you really want sustainable results, then you need to accept that it’s going to take a different kind of work. Work that starts with getting to know yourself a little better, recognizing your inner dialogue, and figuring out why you think and do the things you do. Work that starts with changing the way you think about yourself, about health, and about food and fitness.

Trust me, I spent years trying to just up my cardio or get myself on a strict eating plan. My body became addicted to adrenalin and cortisol from high intensity workouts six days a week, which sent my hormones into a tailspin, and I was either binging or depriving myself around food. It wasn’t until I stopped making fat loss and my looks my one and only priority that I was able to make real progress and find balance and joy in a healthy lifestyle.

So no, cardio alone will not help you lose fat. However, adding more movement into your daily life absolutely can have all kinds of positive effects that get the ball rolling into more positive changes.

So if cardio does this for you, then by all means, add some more cardio into your life! Do it for the way it makes you feel. Do it because your body is worth treating with kindness and respect.

CHANGE TAKES TIME. Pursue health and wellness in your body and mind and fat loss will eventually ensue.

Start fixing your dysfunctional relationship with food

If we are honest with ourselves, most, if not all, of us have a pretty dysfunctional relationship with food. We love it. We hate it. We break up with it, vowing never to see it again, and then we see it at a party and it looks so good.…all of the sudden you’re back together again. You tell yourself that this time will be different. But each time it ends, your self-esteem gets a little more fragile and you’re left wondering where you keep going wrong.

I know this sounds a little silly, but isn’t it also a little scary how true it is?!? WHY DO WE DO THIS?!

If you pay attention to the fitness world at all, you’d think nutrition came down to just what you eat, right? Diets, nutrition articles, and blogs are all about what food this celeb eats, what food that celeb swore off, which 5 foods to avoid for a flat tummy, the evils of sugar and french fries and soda, top 10 super foods….there’s even a whole series of books called Eat This, Not That. 

The biggest problems with this are 1) trying to make something universal that is actually really individual, 2) chances are if you read more than one diet book or nutrition article, you’ll start hearing contradictory things about which foods are good and bad (which just gets really confusing and frustrating), and 3) because of some people’s strong convictions, it’s created a kind of morality based on what foods you do or don’t eat.

So without really realizing it, we start mentally assigning foods to the good or bad category. But the minute you put a food into the bad category it becomes forbidden fruit. The worse it is for you, the more you want it. The longer you deprive yourself of it, the stronger the cravings become and the more out of control you feel. Until you eventually give in. You binge. You feel terribly guilty. You make the next attempt even more strict in order to make up for it, and the cycle starts over. And now here we are, in this highly dysfunctional relationship that we just can’t seem to break free from.

So here’s the tough love part: it’s not food, it’s you. 😉

Let me explain by giving you 2 examples:

Guy #1: In a documentary called Supersize Me, gains 25 pounds and his health severely deteriorates while eating only McDonalds for 30 days.
Guy #2: Science teacher decides to do an experiment of his own and loses 56 pounds and improves all his blood markers eating only McDonalds….FOR 6 MONTHS.

WHAT THE WHAT?!?

It was the same “bad” food, so what made the difference? Well, Guy #1 decreased his exercise, had to say yes if they asked if he wanted his meal super-sized, and had to eat the entire meal. Guy #2 increased his exercise and had his students plan out his meals so that they always totaled 2,000 calories/day and hit a number of nutrient requirements as well.

The moral of the story: Food doesn’t make you gain weight. Behaviors do.

We’re going to get to the behavior later, but I’m starting here because this really has to do with our mindset towards food. What you think determines what you do. 

Repairing our broken relationship with food will help with the behaviors to come. And it’s also SO friggin’ freeing!!! 🙂

I was at a nutrition seminar back in May and the speaker said something that really stuck with me. He said that he believes that the guilt we associate with food is far more detrimental than the food itself. He then asked how many of us had ever gone out to eat with a loved one and had a great time and enjoyed a decadent meal, but left feeling guilty because of what we ate. We all raised our hands.

It was eye-opening and saddening to realize how much shame and guilt I carried around because of food. How much we all do. Eating was given to us to be a pleasure with a purpose – to nourish our bodies. I see no other reason for taste buds. Somewhere along the way, though, it’s become more of a lose-lose situation for us.

Go to a party and eat something that’s not “on the plan” and you feel guilty.

Go to a family event and don’t indulge and you feel left out.

Give up, stuff your face with everything you want and then you feel miserable both physically and emotionally.

This false morality of “I’m good if I eat these foods and bad if I eat those foods” has done us no favors. In order for this relationship to work, we need to make peace with ALL food. And it starts with understanding and believing this truth:

Food is not the enemy. It is not good versus bad. You are not virtuous or sinful based on what you ate today. It has no actual power over you. It’s just food. Sure, there are foods that make your body feel better than others (and that is highly individual mind you). But it’s still… just food.91E0HB20F8apples

Isn’t that a freeing thought?!?

Or are you more like me and thinking, “I can’t think this way or I’ll for sure just let myself go and live on Lucky Charms and pizza!” ? 🙂

This is where I’m going to ask you to trust the process. Start small by dropping the guilt and allowing yourself to just enjoy food again. In other words: Have the pizza. Enjoy the pizza. Move on with life. Have the salad. Enjoy the salad. Move on with life. Ate a little too much? OK. Noted. Moving on.

I think you’ll be surprised by how these things actually level out as you take away the good and bad categories. Over time, the urge to binge will fade because you’re no longer coming from a place of deprivation, but from a place of I can have this whenever I want.

More importantly, instead of making decisions based on what you think you should be eating, you can actually start choosing based on what your body is telling you. You do have a choice! Food is not in control. You are. There’s no better expert on you than your own body. Trust it!

“Experts agree that we were born with the ability to eat based on our body’s cues. But often, we train ourselves to ignore what our body is telling us because it doesn’t fall in line with what we feel like we “should” eat—or what others are telling us we should be eating.”
~Robin Hilmantel

(Excerpt from The Hunger Solution e-course)

How do I change my mindset?

“Have the humility to admit to yourself that, of all the things you need to know and don’t, one of the things that you don’t know well enough is yourself.” ~Eric Greitens

Last week, we established why mindset is so important for transformation and that you can in fact change it. Now let’s talk about how one might go about changing their mindset.

First, you must understand that your mind is constantly taking in internal and external input and adapting to what it learns. This is why our environment, culture, and inner dialogue are extremely powerful in shaping our mindsets.

This is why we start craving something we just saw in a commercial and also why we find ourselves becoming like our parents even when we swore we never would. 😉

Let’s take a look at the body image issue in America.

Everywhere you look, you’ll see a very specific body type being presented as what health and beauty look like. These bodies are dressed, lit, and then edited to unrealistic levels of perfection and then held up as the “standard”. This is what you need to look like to be confident and “bikini ready”.

Then, we grow up hearing women routinely complain about, pick apart, and tear down their own bodies. Instead of accepting compliments, there’s a smart remark. Instead of gratitude, there’s comparison. Instead of confidence in who they are as people, a million reasons why they’re not good enough.

Day in and day out, this is what we see and hear. So there you stand in front of the mirror and what have you been taught to do? Focus on the outside. Search for all imperfections. Compare with unrealistic images. Remind yourself why you’re not good enough.

And then we wonder why contentment feels like an impossibility, why we don’t know how to feel comfortable or confident in our own skin (no matter what our size), and why we can’t seem to dig up even a smidgen of love for our bodies.

body image

It’s weird the way these things just kind of seep into the cracks and settle in our minds. Without even realizing it, your mindset is formed and shaped. No one is immune to it.

Once you understand this though, then you can actually do something about it.

Like it or not, this is the age and culture that you live in. It’s probably not going to change any time soon. This doesn’t mean you’re doomed, but it does mean that there’s really no room for passivity.  When you just accept everything that’s coming in, that’s when you get into trouble. You have to pay attention and engage. You have to get to know yourself and become more discerning about what you let into your mind and more intentional with your thoughts, your words, and the way you live.

Internal input

“Don’t wallow in the godless messages. I mean the messages in your own head.” ~ John Piper

What we think and say about ourselves is some of the most defining input our minds take in. Unfortunately, our flesh loves to point out all our shortcomings and imperfections and most of us have let our emotions take over our inner dialogue. We must do something to combat all the messages coming in. Instead of just listening, you gotta start preaching truth to yourself on a daily basis.

Here’s an example from my own life: I’ve struggled with body image for as long as I can remember. I was especially self-conscious about my butt and thighs. So I used to joke about them a lot. First, it was noticing the jokes. (Seriously, sometimes we get so used to saying certain things, we don’t even realize how often we do it.) Then I had to correct myself…..Out Loud. I’m sorry. My legs are not fat. I don’t know why I say stuff like that.

Over time, I started catching it before I said it. Then I started thinking it a little less. Now I  struggle with it a whole lot less. In fact, I feel the most confident and comfortable I’ve ever felt in my own skin. Not because the imperfections aren’t still there or the thoughts never come up, but because I stopped listening and I started choosing to tell myself something different…THE TRUTH.

My legs are fully functioning and strong and allow me to do just about everything I love to do. Picking on the imperfections is not glorifying to God and not worth any more of my time. Plus, what if they never change? Do I really want to let that cast a shadow on my entire life? On my deathbed, will I be happy that I spent so much time and emotion on the size and shape of my legs?? I’m thinking….No.

I’m not sure if it ever goes away, but it does get easier the more you practice. When your mind starts to go to that dark place, when you hear the negative and harmful messages start up, shut it down. Fix your eyes back on Jesus and remind yourself of your values, your priorities, and what you know to be true.  Changing your mindset starts here.

“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” ~1 Peter 1:13

fitness photo

External input

 

We are the most sold to society in history. Everywhere you turn there are ads telling us what we need or magazines reminding us of what we don’t have. We have constant input coming at us and that input is usually not telling us the truth.

You can’t avoid everything of course, but there is some external input that you can control. You can be discerning and intentional about who you follow online, how much time you spend online, what you read and watch, and who you hang around with. How often do you really unplug and just let your mind wander and relax?? Knowing how the mind works, can you see how important this is if you’re looking to form your own opinions and thoughts and mindset?

Another personal example: I had to quit buying health magazines and following fitness competitors. For me, all they did was distort my ideas of what health looks like, both in my body and my diet, and encourage my perfectionism. I cut out a lot and got much more particular about the images of health that I was letting into my life. This allowed me to focus on my health as a whole. When I wasn’t seeing images every day of what some advertising agency wanted me to believe health looked like, it became easier to see through the lies and not let those images get into my head.

I’m not saying you have to do this exact thing. Everybody has different triggers.

It’s just so easy these days to be distracted and never tune in and figure out what works for you. I think it’s safe to say that most of us could stand get to know ourselves a little better and take a more active role in our own lives. You do have a choice as to how input makes you think and feel, but without some help and space, your mind can only withstand so much.

The point is not just to think nicer, more positive thoughts. The point is to filter input in a way that leads to better thinking and to think in a way that leads to better living. 

Changing your mindset changes how you think, how you engage, and how you show up in your life. Change your mindset and you will change your life.

Is mindset really that important?

“But how do I get my mind to stop thinking this way?! How do I change my mindset??”

I was talking with a client who’s been struggling with her weight for years. She wants to get away from being so all-or-nothing, but it feels impossible. I mentioned that we needed to keep working on her mindset and this is what she blurted out.

The way she asked it really struck me because I totally know that feeling. That feeling of frustration and desperation, of “I really do want to, but HOW?!?!” 

For years, I could see the terrible cycle I was in and yet I could not get out of it…

I would look back at old pictures of myself and think, “Wow, why did I hate my body back then? I looked pretty good!” I knew I didn’t want to go my entire life never appreciating my body in it’s current form, but I honestly could not figure out how to stop seeing all the imperfections and things I hated about it. I understand the frustration.

beth burns fitness

But is mindset really that important?? Is mindset what really makes the difference in a transformation?

Usually people with health and fitness goals struggle in one of two ways:

  1. They struggle to make changes, even when we want to make them.
  2. They struggle to maintain the changes they’ve made. (I believe the statistics are somewhere around 5% for people who lose weight actually keep it off for more than a year.)

In the first category, we have people who are completely physically capable of making the physical changes but they just can’t seem to stick to them. In the second category,  as evidenced by 95% of the people who make the physical changes and achieve the physical goal, IT’S NOT ABOUT THE PHYSICAL. It’s almost always about the mindset.

Traditional eastern medicine and religions have known for centuries the vital role the mind plays in the physical. You see it woven into their everyday life with things like meditation and in every physical activity from martial arts to yoga. Unfortunately, over here, we’ve got it backwards. We’ve made our health purely about a certain look and size. So we put all of our focus and energy into the physical (working out, what we eat) thinking that if we can fix that then the mental side will automatically fix itself. We think once we look a certain way then we’ll be happier and it’ll make our relationships and our lives better.

If this were true, then there wouldn’t be so many fit & healthy people who still have low self-esteem and hate their bodies OR people who’ve lost sometimes hundreds of pounds but still can only see their imperfections. If the mental weren’t that important, if all we had to do was practice a habit for 3 weeks in order for it to stick, then we’d all be happy and healthy!!

mindset

Here’s the real truth….

“Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” ~Romans 12:2

“Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.”  ~Luke 6:45

What we think and believe determines what we do. True transformation happens from the inside out. This is why your mindset is so important.

Thankfully, our mindsets are not fixed. I promise. While you may feel like you lean heavily one way, that’s just because you’ve been thinking that way for a long time. But the mind is constantly taking in it’s environment and developing and adapting from what it learns. Change how it does that and you can absolutely change your mindset.

You just have to be willing to put some focused time and effort into it. You have to cultivate it in your heart and in your life.

For how to do this, check out part 2—> How do I change my mindset?