Tag Archives: weight loss

4 Reasons to Quit your Cardio Routine

I have a bone to pick with the world today, and it relates to running.

As athletes and even as a society, we rely way too damn much on “cardio” to get us fit.

Seriously, when did we decide that “cardio” was the best way to get back in shape?  Sure, long duration cardio is good for your heart health, but the negative effects completely outweigh the positives when you’re looking to FIRM and TONE your body (read “lose the fluff off your midsection or tighten up those thighs”).

4 Reasons to Quit Doing so Much Cardio

4.  It requires tons of foot-strikes per workout.  Running a mile can mean your feet hit the ground 1300-1500 times in that 10 minutes.  This pounding really adds up!  Ouch!  Your poor joints!!!

3.  The “after burn” effect of steady-pace cardio is pretty crappy.  It’s especially awful compared to lifting where the “after burn” lasts up to 24-36 hours after the workout is over or even sprints.

2.  Over time too much cardio puts undue stress on the body.  Any workout stresses the body, but this moderate intensity/long duration BS that everyone is doing creates a high stress environment in the body.  This can KEEP you from losing weight or even make you gain weight!

HINT: If you look a little puffy or water-logged all the time and you’re doing a lot of cardio? You might be in this stressed state.

And the #1 reason to quit cardio???

1.  You have to do more and more to continue to see results!   Your body isn’t stupid.  It adapts quickly to new challenges.  Every time it adapts, you have to lengthen your workouts to see results.  Who the hell has time for that??

I go into more detail in my DIY workout program, but if you want to get back in shape – if you want a tighter bod – then you have to stop doing so much damn cardio!!

For all you doubters….

I’m sure some of you are thinking, “Sorry Lauren, but there’s no way I’m giving up cardio.”

To you I say this – I know it’s scary to think about NOT running or biking or ellipticizing every day…

But I’m not telling you to quit working out; I’m telling you to ease up on cardio so that you have time and energy for more efficient workouts.

All this cardio is NOT helping you reach your goal of a hotter bod, so to get different results you gotta DO something different.

Baby steps towards this “less cardio” goal will work, too.  You can get in an effective cardio session in by trying a workout like this on the cardio machine of your choice…

(best in “Manual” mode)

-Warm up for 5 min
Part A
-Go as fast as you can for 20 sec (increase resistance as needed)
-Go extremely slow (aka recover) with low resistance for 40 seconds
–Repeat 4 more times
Part B
-Go as fast as you can for 30 sec (increase resistance as needed)
-Recover for 30 seconds
–Repeat 4 more times
Complete Part A and B once more each
-Cool down for 5 min

Total workout time: 30 min

Here’s the beauty of sprints, aka high intensity interval training (HIIT) – the total time you’re “working” in this session is barely over 8:00, but you gotta realize that in those minutes, you’re working WAY harder than you ever did during a regular bout on the elliptical.

Why?  Because when you’re pedaling for 30 min at a steady pace, you can’t keep up a super high intensity… not like when you’re sprinting.

This makes the training extremely efficient, and it’s also extremely effective.  Not to mention that as your body adapts, all you have to do is increase the resistance on the machine or sprint faster.  You don’t have to keep increasing your workout time… just the intensity!!  Isn’t that awesome?!?

Now that you have all this information on why boring cardio is killing your “get in shape” efforts, I’m going to challenge you to a duel!

Juuuuust kidding.  It’s not a duel!   That would be kinda fun though… except that I’m not really into violence… so scratch that…  Though I’m sure we could put our heads together and come up with a non-violent duel.  Hmmmmm


Your challenge for the week

Substitute the sprints above for at least half of your cardio sessions this week, and let me know how it goes.  

I will say you’re gonna have a tough time watching TV or reading a book if that’s what you usually do during cardio.  So put that thought out of your mind right now.  It’s gonna be 30 min of actual WORK.

Can’t wait to hear what you think of sprints!  Love em or hate em, I want to hear from you.  Ok??  Good!

Until next week!!

<3 Lauren

P.S. – In my Survive the Holidays workout program, our training sessions will get your heart pumping like cardio but take half the time that you normally spend working out – and I can guarantee you’ll be just as exhausted by the end.

If you haven’t signed up for this FREE program yet, click this link to do it.  Clock’s a tickin’ so don’t delay!

Scales are from the pit of hell & other ways to track your progress

So word has it around the fitness industry that September is becoming more like January – people are paying more attention again to what they eat and wanting to workout more.  Basically, people are renewing their resolutions to get healthier.

My guess is that it’s due to school starting up again, vacations ending, and most of the summer holidays being over.  So it’s time for a fresh start with the new school year (kinda like a fresh start with a new year!  seeing the January connection?? :D ).  Totally makes sense to me!

I think I’m kinda doing that too, actually.  I’m planning on enrolling in THIS AWESOME PROGRAM from Metabolic Effect cause honestly, my nutrition could use a little more structure right now.

Between vacation and being a permanent tourist in NYC (hello unlimited bars and restaurants to try!!!), I’ve allowed myself more “treats” than I have in probably the last year.  I’m not going for a drastic overhaul – my breakfast and lunch tend to be fat loss friendly choices… but snacks and dinner have moved to foods that won’t get me to my fat loss goals.

Anyway, so the program will give me a little more structure and accountability, which I think is a critical component to any fat loss program.  I’ve done this program before back in January, and it truly was a jumpstart to my fat loss efforts.

One thing that I struggled with during the program though was keeping track of my progress.  It wasn’t that I didn’t have ways to keep track of my progress, but the way I was tracking wasn’t helping me attain my goals and creating mental tornadoes.

 Tracking your progress

No doubt, it’s important to be able to measure your progress.  As a chemist, I’m a data girl through and through.  [I can analyze the $h*t out of anything! Lol!]  I KNOW the importance of having data to analyze so that you can make adjustments if what you’re doing isn’t working.  Plus, doing the same thing over and over and over again, expecting different results, is the definition of insanity!  So you need a way to track progress.

My issue is that when I or anyone else wants to measure their progress on a new diet/exercise plan, the first thing they turn to is the bathroom scale.

Why do I have a problem with the scale?

Because it lies.

It is a number that too often gets tied to our self-worth or whether or not we’ll feel beautiful for the rest of the day or how confident we’ll feel in our afternoon meeting.

Not only is it feeding into all this negative self-talk, when used alone, it’s not an accurate way to measure fat loss or muscle gain.

All the thing does is measure your relationship with GRAVITY.  A basic scale will not make the distinction between whether you have lost fat, muscle, water or a combination there of.  All it says is that you’re exerting more/less force on the ground.  That’s it.

Too often, it’s easy to get hung up on the number on the scale.  Say for 2 weeks, I’ve been eating fat loss friendly foods, done my workouts, slept enough, and are doing cortisol lowering activities.  I feel great, I’ve had an increase in energy and I just *feel* tighter/smaller.  My attitude towards how this meal plan is working for me is SUPER positive, so I can’t wait to jump on the scale for “proof” of how well it’s working.

So I hop on and look down… and then BAM!  To my horror, the scale only reads 1 pound lighter… or worse yet, it hasn’t budged.

That’s when the mental tornado starts.  ”But I’ve been working so hard!!  I HAD to have lost more than that!  This is ridiculous!  I’ll just have to eat less/workout more…  But I have so far to go; at this rate it’ll take forever.  I’ll never get there.  Oh who the hell cares, I’ll go eat a family size bag of potato chips since eating strict isn’t getting me anywhere – besides potato chips taste WAY better.”

Ummm, has anyone else ever done this??  If you have, you know it’s a miserable feeling.  You go from super jazzed about what you’re doing to rock bottom.  Your motivation is gone and your confidence is likely shot.  One moment you felt like you could do what you were doing forever, now you’re ready to dive into a bucket of ice cream and never leave the couch.

All this because some flat, square electronic device showed a higher number than you weren’t expecting???  I say screw it.  It’s time to stop giving the scale all the power in your relationship (because yes, you are giving the scale the power to squash you and your confidence).  

There are MANY other ways to measure your progress to your health/fitness goals, so if the scale can crush you just by stepping onto it, then it’s time to choose other methods.

While I’ve never been addicted to the scale (e.g. daily weigh-ins), I found I was still addicted to what it had to say.  The thing had too much power over me, so I stopped.

Yep, you read that right.  I stopped weighing myself.  I no longer use it as a way to track because I don’t have a healthy relationship with the scale.  And why set myself up for mental tornadoes when I can use other ways of tracking?

So since September is becoming like January and there may be some of you out there deciding to eat better/workout more efficiently, you’ll likely want to track your progress, and I’m going to give you my top 3 ways of tracking that DON’T include the scale.  One thing to remember is consistency – for the things that require measuring, try to do it at the same time.  So if you measure weekly, try to do it at the same time on the same day each week (makes it more reliable).

1.  Photos of yourself in the same outfit.
I LOVE this method of tracking!  I usually pick a swimsuit or spandex shorts and sports bra, set up the self timer on my camera, and snap away!  Used to be that I took photos weekly, but I found that I got too critical too easily if I “couldn’t see progress” from last week.  So I started doing it 1x a month.  It’s really amazing to see how much your body can change over the course of a few weeks!  Definitely my top choice for tracking progress.

2.  How do my clothes fit?
Another favorite tracking method of mine!  And you can do it a couple of ways.  One is to just pay attention to how your clothes are fitting.
Good questions to ask yourself
– Is there more room in the waist than the last time I wore these pants?  Are the sleeves looser in this shirt?  How does the back of this jacket pull when I cross my arms in front of my body?  Eh-hem… Am I no longer filling out my bra?? (ALWAYS a way for me to tell I’m making progress – sorry guys!!)  –
So that’s one way to do it – just pay attention to what you’re wearing every day.  Another way is to have a single piece of clothing that you try on once every few weeks and gauge how it fits (use a scale of 1-10, 1 being crappy fit and 10 being awesome).  For me, it’s this pair of gray work pants.  Since I can get too easily hung up on the numbers, I actually put the pants on and take pics of how they fit/look.  It’s a very objective way for me to track progress.  Do they feel looser/tighter?  How do they fit through the thighs? Etc…

3.  Circumference measurements.
This was something I had to give up after a while because I started *expecting* to see certain inches lost based on how I felt that week, but for most people this is a great way to track progress objectively!  All you need is a flexible tape measure and something to write with/on, and you literally measure the circumference at different spots on your body.  The ones I say that are best for gals are the fullest part of your bust, your natural waist, the fullest part of your butt, and the fullest part of one thigh (use the same thigh each time).  I find that I tend to see changes also in my arms, so I’ll measure my right bicep at a certain freckle (helps with consistency).  Also, I measure right under my bust (where the band of my bra would sit).  For me, those tend to be good spots for tracking.  Measuring once every 1-2 weeks can be very helpful and much less mentally taxing than the scale.

There you have them!  My top 3 ways to measure your progress WITHOUT the scale.  Let me think here… Pretty sure the last time I weighed myself was mid-June.  Before then, sometime back in February or March.  It was more for curiosity’s sake, not a “I HAVE to know what I weigh”.  There were no expectations or wishes or hopes for a certain number when I got on.   The whole idea is that the scale is just a number.  I mean, you could get even more creative and not focus on something related to your size/shape at all!  Maybe you just start focusing on how much weight you’re able to throw around in the gym now.  You did your metabolic circuits a month ago with 12 lb dumbbells and now you gotta use 15′s to get your B’s and H’s?  AWESOME!  That is HUGE progress there!  The point is - No matter what method you choose to monitor progress, remember that the key is focus on your wins and be grateful for them.

Now here’s a challenge for you – toss the scale for 3 months.  Put it away in some corner of your apartment, buried in your winter clothes and stash that box under tons of other boxes so that you’re not tempted to use it.  Choose another of the 3 methods above (or all of them at once, that’s fine too!) and track your progress that way.  Then I want to hear from you how much more free you’re feeling mentally/emotionally since you’re no longer chained to a number.

If you’re with me, in the comments below say “I’m gonna #tossthescale” and then we’ll start this awesome journey to freedom from the scale together!

Super excited!!  <3, Lauren

Recipe of the Month: Happy Summer Salad

Oh man, I’m SO excited!  Memorial Day is finally here, which means we are on the cusp of a 3 day weekend!  Yayayayay!

For a lot of people this 3 day weekend means they will be cooking out, and this can present all sorts of challenges for folks trying to eat for fat loss.  There’s always so much tasty food at cookouts, and no one wants to feel deprived by not eating anything while you’re there.

I know my FAVORITE part of cook-outs are the hot dogs… and potato chips… OH and the beer!

One of my strategies for NOT stuffing my face with hot dogs, chips and beer till I’m full (which is what I really want to do) is to bring something that I know I can eat tons of.  Then I can have plenty of that and piece on the other stuff.

My mentor Jill Coleman (@jillfit – go follow her on Twitter cause she shares tons of good info!) likes to talk about playing “dessert defense” where she brings a fat loss friendly (and tasty) dessert to parties.  I think the principle can be applied to any food, and it works for me so I use it  :)

Today I give you a modified version of a favorite salad from my childhood.  I’m calling it a Happy Summer Salad because, well, my mom usually made it in the summer!  And it tastes good.  And makes my belly happy.  Therefore, Happy Summer Salad.

It makes 8-10 servings, if your portions are on the small side.  If you have dairy issues, use almond cheese (I personally like the Daiya brand) instead of the mozzarella.

Also, this recipe is for a salad as a side dish.  If you want to make it into a main dish, dice 3 cooked chicken breasts, increase the coconut milk to a full can, and now it’s a main dish!

Make it and enjoy!  Then let me know if/how you tweak it :)

Recipe for a Happy Summer Salad

Happy Summer Salad

-1 head cauliflower, grated with biggest holes on box grater
-1 large broccoli crown, diced (you want about a 50/50 mix of broccoli and cauliflower, so you may need a 2nd broccoli crown)
-1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
-1 cup mozzarella cheese or 1 cup Daiya almond cheese mozzarella flavor if you’re watching dairy
-3/4 of a 16oz can light coconut milk
-packet of Hidden Valley ranch dressing seasoning mix

Add the light coconut milk (start with 3/4 of the can) to a large mixing bowl, and stir in the entire packet of ranch seasoning.  Add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine.

The mix should seem “damp” – I’m not using the word “moist” cause I know it freaks some people out… but oops, just said it :D .

Serve immediately, but it’s best if you stick it in the fridge for at least an hour to let the flavors really seep into the veggies :)

Happy Memorial Day!  And don’t forget to thank the men and women who serve our country – the reason for this season ;)

Remember, let me know how you like the Happy Summer Salad!
<3, Lauren

The Best Way for Former Athletes to Lose Weight

UPDATE:  Hey y’all!!  So in the post below, I share the secret to getting in shape for good (hint: it’s your lifestyle:)).  Trust me, I know it can be overwhelming to think about changing your lifestyle cause I’ve done it myself, so I’d recommend changing one thing at a time.  As former athletes, we tend to have an affinity for exercise, so many times it’s easier for athletes to change up their workout routines FIRST before changing up other aspects of life in order to lose weight and get back in fighting shape.  

To help support you as you take your first steps towards changing your lifestyle, I created a 6 week DIY exercise program that you can learn more about by clicking here.  The workouts are ass-kicking and in a word, AWESOME.  So read on, grasshopper, then check out the DIY program :)

<3, Lauren


It’s not a magic pill.  It’s not a crazy “eat only caviar and radishes” diet.  And it’s not a workout routine from some trainer to the stars.

The secret to get back in shape is to alter HOW YOU THINK so that body change becomes a lifestyle – a journey really - instead of only a crash diet.

To adopt a new lifestyle, it’s going to require a shift in your thinking and perspective.

Maybe you just need to tweak your perspective a little – or maybe you need to tweak it a lot (**raises hand**).  But whether you’re looking to hit cardiovascular goals, strength goals or lose some body fat permanently, you’re gonna need to change up your definition of “better” options.

Change your mind, change your life

Let’s ruminate on this a bit…

Back in our heyday, “more” usually got us the results we were looking for.  More practicing, more eating whatever, more running, more studying, more partying, more late nights, more intense workouts…  It all focused on “more” in order to get results.

Welp, not anymore.

If you’re going to lose weight as a former athlete, you’re going to have to learn that “more” is not better.  BETTER is better.  That is something that my mentor’s husband and a founder of Metabolic Effect (Jade Teta) likes to say.  And it’s worth repeating.

More is not better.  BETTER is better.

This is what I mean by a change in perspective.  This is why I’ve had to look at life through different lenses.  The “more is better” perspective worked in the past, but I’m seeing that more of something doesn’t necessarily get me the results that I’m looking for.  Instead of just doing more, I can see better results when I make “better” choices.

Let me give some specific examples of what this means in my life.

It means I actually don’t need to hit up the gym every single day of the week for at least 1 hour or more.  It means I shoot for efficient workouts, not longer or more frequent workouts.

It means that instead of carb-loading like I used to the night before the game (or just eating a ton of carbs in general), I make better choices about WHICH carbs to consume and figure out my optimum amount of carbs.

I remember sometimes deliberately pacing myself during Belmont practices cause I didn’t want to be dead by the end of the session. [And subsequently have to run more because I was one of the last people to cross the finish line in sprints - ugh.]  Adopting the “better is better” approach means instead of pacing myself in order to get through the workout, I push as hard as I can until I get breathless, my muscles are burning, the weights I’m lifting feel heavy and I’m hot and sweaty.  And I rest when I need to.

[Of course I sweat at the drop of a hat so that part is not too tough for me]

It also means that instead of constantly pacing myself in life, I intentionally push myself (maybe at work or with family stuff), then I set aside time for relaxation and recovery time.  So it means I carve out time in my schedule for things that truly rejuvenate me instead of just zoning out in front of the TV or mindlessly surfing FB or Twitter.  I don’t need more downtime, it means I need better spent downtime.

It also means I set boundaries in my life and enforce them.  I don’t take on more things because I feel like I have to.  I better invest my time in things that I REALLY want to do and things I feel like I can really contribute in.  

See?  More isn’t the answer.  Our lives have changed drastically since our college or high school sports days.  Our bodies are different both inside and out.  We have stress we didn’t have before.  We have families.  We have taxing jobs.  We have bills.  So the approach we took in the past probably won’t work anymore.

We have to find better ways of doing things, and I believe that changing our thinking will allow us to do just that.  To me, that is the “better” approach.

I firmly believe that when you change your thinking, you truly can change your life.  And while it’s not easy, it’s possible.  And if you set out on a fat loss journey, I can guarantee you will learn TONS about yourself and your body in the process.  And I’m guessing lose some weight and improve your health along the way ;)

So tell me, are you in it for long haul?  Leave a smiley in the comments if you are, and if you have any questions, please feel free to find me on FB or Twitter and ask away (see right side of this page).  I’m always here for ya!

<3, Lauren


UPDATE Cont’d…. Remember if you’re interested in changing up your workout routine to something that’s BETTER (not more), then check out this awesome program I made to help you transition to a smarter lifestyle.

Destroy your Cravings Without Destroying your Diet

Things in my life have been a little bit crazy recently.  Ok, they’ve been A LOT crazy.  I am finishing up projects for a job assignment that ends the first week of June and am preparing for my next assignment with the same company that will take me from Michigan to the New England area.  Eek!

I’ll be working in New Jersey, but this nutty Midwestern gal has decided to live in New York City for the next 9 months.  I’ve always wanted to live in a big city for a while, so why not go for the biggest one, right??  Lol, yeah I have no idea what I’m getting myself into… I realize this :)  

While this is all SUPER exciting it’s kiiiiiinda stressful at the same time.

[Apparently, the unknown freaks me out a little even though I can manage it pretty well.  Lol]

Anyway, with all of this and trying to finish projects and orchestrating a pretty big move, my stress levels have been higher than normal recently.  This means then that my appetite is funky and mainly that my cravings for chocolately and any sweet things are through the roof.  And that is telling because my close friends and family all know that this girl normally craves salty stuff – potato chips, hamburgers, fried foods, etc. 

So the fact that I’m craving sweets means my stress has taken over…  My brain is probably dying for some dopamine or seratonin or something. 

Cravings like these make it kinda tough for this former athlete to lose weight, and I don’t want them to derail the progress I’ve made so far!  Soooo….

When cravings, especially for sweets, are this strong I turn to cocoa powder.  Pure unadulterated, unsweetened, 100% cocoa powder. 

This stuff is the bomb.com.  For realz. 

It is a miracle worker on my cravings and crushes them within almost minutes (usually the cravings have chilled about 30 min after I first start consuming the cocoa powder). Why does it do this?  Cause it’s awesome.  And cause it stimulates the pleasure centers in the brain. 

See cocoa powder contains some pretty cool compounds like seratonin, phenylethylamine, and anandamide

-We know seratonin levels are related to eating patterns (higher seratonin levels often mean less food intake). 

-Phenylethylamine is like an identity theif - it passes as dopamine in the brain and carries out transactions like dopamine would.  It’s waaaaay sneaky.

-As if these weren’t reasons enough to consume cocoa, anandamide has actually been referred to as “chemical bliss” for its ability to find and push the “buttons” in the brain that create feelings of euphoria (slightly more technically, it binds to receptors in the brain that stimulate euphoric feelings). 

This is why cocoa is such a power player when it comes to crushing cravings.

Now the question is — How to incorporate it into your diet?  Until I found this suggestion from Metabolic Effect, the only way I knew to incorporate it was to bake brownies or chocolate mint cookies.  And since that’s kind of counter-productive to our weight loss efforts, well then we need other options…

Metabolic Effect suggests making it into a hot drink.  Stir 1 tablespoon into hot water and then sweeten with stevia, xylitol or other low/no cal sweetener. 

Be aware, it’s bitter when you first try it.  Now I can do my drinks with just a smidge of stevia and 2 Tbs cocoa in ~10oz hot water.  But I had to work up to that.  I will tell you though, it’s great for an after-dinner option when you really feel like pulling out the snack items or sweets.  This gives you something to sip on for a while, and by the time you’re done with the drink, the bioactive compounds listed above are already starting to work their magic. 

**Do be careful though if you’re pretty sensistive to caffeine.  There is caffeine in cocoa powder, so proceed with caution when consuming in the evenings.

But there are times when I don’t really want a hot drink, and I want something that feels like dessert.  That was me this weekend, so I whipped up this dessert and thought I’d share it with you all.  It’s a paleo chocolate pudding and it’s so yummy!

 Destroy your Cravings Without Destroying your Diet

The cast of characters are cocoa powder (obviously), light coconut milk, chia seeds and chocolate stevia drops (can sub any other low/no-cal sweetener here but I LOVE these things).

Craving Killer Pudding

-3/4 c light coconut milk
-2 Tbs unsweetened cocoa powder
-1/4 c chia seeds
-2 droppers worth of chocolate stevia drops (or another no-cal sweetener to taste)

Whisk together coconut milk and cocoa powder until there are no visible lumps of cocoa powder (a hand mixer with whisk attachment helps with this).  Stir in chia seeds and sweetener until well combined.  Cover and place in fridge for an hour.  Mixture will thicken into a pudding-like consistency (this is from the chia seeds).  Stir and dive in.

 Craving Killer Pudding

See it’s that easy!  Throw a couple sliced strawberries on top and I’m in heaven!  It’s sooo good!!  Even though it looks a little funny with all the puffy chia seeds, hehe, it’s a far better option than eating several chunks of a sheet cake or a quart of ice cream… which I may or may not have done before… **cough, cough**  Anyway, you get your cravings fighting cocoa powder and the feel of eating a dessert, plus it’s not too coconut-y which is good because I despise coconut.

So there ya have it!  TWO ways to use cocoa – the cravings crusher - to help you get in shape!

Try making either the drink or pudding this week to destroy your cravings and let me know how it goes!

<3 Lauren

Be a Bombshell in a Bikini: Part 1 – Save your Muscle!

There are a few times each year when people get especially motivated to lose weight or lean out a little (New Year’s resolutions, anyone?).  Well with temperatures rising, the official start of spring, and vacation plans in the works, another one of those times is upon us. 

Brace yourself.  Swimsuit season is just around the corner. 

If you are like me, as the details of your beach vacation are starting to come together (I’ll be off to Gulf Shores in May!  yay!), you realize with slight panic that, um, you aren’t necessarily feeling ready to peel off your cover-up at the beach and reveal your somewhat soft and pale self (ok maybe pale is just me).  If you’re hoping to rock a bombshell-esque bod in that bikini, what can you do?

Well as I see it, there are a couple different options.  You can choose a crash diet that, if you really stick to it, will likely work to get you basically beach ready.  But guuurl, trust me!!  You do NOT want to do that. 

Crash diets are an eat less/exercise more approach that are unstainable longterm, meaning you eventually quit the diet, and the worst part – they result in INDISCRIMINATE weight loss.  This means that the weight lost can be water, fat or muscle, and if you’re eating less and doing lots of steady state cardio it’s likely the lost weight is mostly muscle.  Not good.

Why save your muscle?

First, muscle is responsible for giving you those shapely, goddess-like curves that many gals crave.  When you starve away your muscle, you significantly decrease the potential of sculpting a tight tush or shapely shoulders precisely because there is no muscle to sculpt

Remember, you can’t “tone” muscle that you don’t have.

Second, muscle is metabolically active tissue – this just means that it uses resources (calories) even when it’s at rest – like when you’re watching TV or sleeping. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn without doing a thing.  Uh, sounds like a pretty good deal to me!

Third, when you inevitably come off the diet that probably had you exercising exorbadent amounts of willpower in order to stay on track, binging and rebound weight gain is in your future.  You will likely eat everything “bad” that you craved while on the diet and probably lots of it.  Couple this with LESS metabolically active muscle tissue and it’s a recipe for disaster.  In fact, research shows that a large percentage of people who go on crash diets are fatter than when they started 2 years after the diet ends.

[Are you starting to understand why I want you to avoid crash diets like the plague??] 

Fourth, indiscriminate weight loss will not change your body shape.  You will become a smaller version of your current shape.  But if you want to decrease the width of your hips in relation to the rest of your body, crash diets won’t do it. 

Take a look at the photo below from Metabolic Effect that illustrates just this.  If you’re a pear and lose “weight” on a crash diet you will only shrink to be a smaller pear (green to green).  This is why you can train for a half marathon hoping to make your saddlebags disappear and all you do is shrink everything – so proportionally, the saddlebags look no smaller.  But if your focus is on fat loss, you can change your body’s shape (green to red).

Weight Loss vs Fat Loss

Alright, now that we are clear on why it’s good to keep muscle around (and dare I say, build some??), we still need to figure out how to get rid of excess fat while holding onto our muscle so we look friggin’ hot in our bikinis this summer, and the next, and the next…

Fat loss with muscle retention happens when you approach body change with a “hormones first, calories second” perspective.  And there are 4 big themes to think about here – nutrition, exercise, sleep and stress.

You might wonder -  How many calories do stress or sleep have??  As you’d expect, they don’t “contain” any number of calories BUT the hormones associated with sleep and stress can drastically affect whether your body decides to store fat or burn it.  The same goes for the types of foods you eat (and how much and when) and the type of exercise you engage in.

The next few posts, I want to take the time to dive deeper into each of these 4 aspects.  But since we’re on the subject of muscle right now, I want to share some ideas for what you can do to hold onto your muscle as you prep for summer.

How to save your muscle

1.  Eat plenty of lean protein.  It keeps you full and satisfied much longer than say donuts would (not to mention you won’t have the same type of sugar crash!). 

Also, the energy required to process lean proteins is pretty high too (this is known as the thermic effect of food).  The thermic effect is why something like celery is essentially negative calories – it takes more calories to break it down than the celery contains. 

Another thing is that when you’re in a lower caloric state, you don’t want your body to break down your muscles for energy.  If you make sure you’re eating enough protein, the amount of muscle chewed up will be minimal. 

How much is enough?  A generally accepted amount for women is 0.8-1g of protein per pound of bodyweight.  So if you weigh 150lb, your goal should be to consume 150g of protein throughout the day.  Now, I know this seems like a TON of protein, and compared to the standard Western diet (and even to what you ate in your college athlete days), IT IS a lot of protein.  But don’t fret.  When you break up that amount over several small meals through the day, it’s definitely doable. 

We’ll talk more about the why/how of meal frequency next time, but for now, think of it this way. 

All of these things have 20-30g protein per serving – 5 egg whites, 1 scoop protein powder, 1 medium chicken breast, 6oz white fish, 4oz lean beef cut.  If you have egg whites at breakfast, a salad with chicken at lunch, a protein shake in the afternoon and fish or steak for dinner, you’ve EASILY consumed at least 100g protein and probably more. 

At the minimum, include a serving of lean protein at each meal.

2.  Lift heavy weights.  And try it rest-based style.  I talked about the importance of efficeint exercise already, but it’s important enough to repeat.  As you may have experienced since you finished your college career, if you don’t use muscle you will lose it.  Thus the importance of consistently lifting heavy weights. 

In all honesty, getting to the gym regularly is something I struggle with.  It’s an easy routine for me to get out of and a tough one to get back in to, but I notice huge differences in my strength, lung capacity, and general feelings of self-confidence when I have been at the gym regularly.  

If you struggle with getting to the gym, try this Jedi mind trick that I use on myself…

Tell yourself you just have to walk into the gym and do 5 minutes of a circuit then you can leave.  Usually by the time I get myself there, warm up and get going, I’m mentally ready to do a whole 20 minute workout.  Voila!  I just worked out!

3.  Lower cortisol.  This is key because cortisol can signal to your body to eat up stored muscle for energy.  And yeah… we don’t want that.  So we need to make sure that we are not constantly in a high cortisol state. But a constant environment in the body of high cortisol can drastically impair your fat loss results, and one of those reasons is because you can end up losing muscle. 

How to control cortisol? 

Walk – leisurely (no power walking). 

Take a hot bath with delicious smelling bath soak (I love the Sleep Lavendar Vanilla scent from Bath and BodyWorks) and light some candles around the tub.  This is my go-to stress relief option.  I take at least 1 bath a week, more when I’m really stressed by work stuff (like now). 

You could also spend quality time with friends who make you laugh, get it on with your partner, read a good book, do a restorative yoga class, or journal.  Find something that relaxes you then engage in it consistently.

My Favorite Addition to a Hot Bath

4.  Sleep more!  More on this later but it is SO critically important that you sleep enough (8-10 is ideal but even 7-9 hrs is better than what most people get).  I know it’s difficult to make time for this, but sleep is prime recover/rebuild time for your muscles.  Getting enough sack time is critical to keeping your muscle around.

So this week please please PLEASE avoid the temptation to drastically cut your calories and do hours of steady state cardio.  It is bad for your muscles, your physique and your health in the long run.  Instead, show your muscles some love.  A role model of mine is bodybuilder Tom Venuto and I love his approach to body change.  He says that you want to “burn the fat” and “feed the muscle”.  LOVE that visual.   So let’s all ditch the crash diets and feed our sexy muscles!  Who’s with me??