I have yet to meet a person who is in excellent physical shape, who does not feel amazing and does not get the most out of life. As such, in order to support you to look and feel your best, we start with getting into excellent physical shape, which comes down to exercise and nutrition, the subject of this first section of the book.
Many people spend $100 per month on petrol, and $150 on Foxtel, yet they won’t spend more than $30 per week on health. Is there anything more important to spend money on? I see people driving a Mercedes with a monthly car repayment of $1,500, but they won’t spend $400 per month on personal training. I once had a client who was too physically inflexible to get into his Lamborghini. Another man I recently started working with, a 31-year-old corporate client, is so stiff that he has great difficulty putting his shoes on in the morning. His tummy also gets in the way, his joints are immobile and his muscles are inflexible. Working 60 hours per week to have a heart attack at 43 years old doesn’t seem like the right approach for an intelligent, driven person. That’s why living your peak life starts by looking at your overall wellbeing and putting into practise long-term daily actions to get you into peak health.
The thing with health is so many people put it in the “important, but not urgent” category. What this means is that while people recognise that the state of their health is very important, it doesn’t seem urgent to address on a given day as compared to, for example, paying the electric bill that is due that day (or the electricity will get cut) or replying to a work email about a project due in the next week. Those more mundane but important tasks often get prioritised over putting in the time to exercise, sleep an adequate amount, or eat healthy food. The exercise, sleep, and healthy food typically get put off until later because, though they are “important”, they seem not as urgent to do today as those other pressing things. I argue that health, and really anything you put in the “important/not urgent” category, in fact, is critical for you to tend to today and every day. However, because it is “not urgent”, it gets put off until tomorrow, and then the next day, and next month, and next year. The ramifications are not always immediate, but eventually they will show up. Unfortunately, they show up for many people as a heart attack in their forties or a cancer diagnosis. I argue that exercise plans and nutritional considerations should be the first thing in your schedule, not the last.
Essential Elements: Your First Stage + Fun
Your first stage—sometimes trainers meet new clients and ask them to change 17 things straightaway in order to get fit. They’ll dump all the following, plus more, on the new client:
- Drink more water.
- Exercise five times per week.
- Reduce your bread intake.
- Reduce your dairy intake.
- Skip breakfast.
- Eat more protein and natural fats.
- Do not drink alcohol.
- Reduce your sugar and gluten intake.
Bombarding someone who is embarking on their fitness journey with all of these mandates is too much to ask. The person will get overwhelmed by all the many changes and demands to the point where they will likely give up and abandon their attempt to get fit. My approach: we need to begin with the end in mind and develop a program that is sustainable over the long term and still achieves great results. How this works is that for a person to get fit, the plan for them should happen in manageable stages as opposed to everything changing all at once. Plus, the stages aren’t one-size-fits-all. The starting stage and each stage thereafter depend on the individual, where they are at when they start and how much change they can manage per stage and also their particular end goal.
What’s the best first stage for you? For example, it might be exercising three times per week for thirty minutes each time, for one month. Maybe, this isn’t right for you. Maybe two exercise session of 20 minutes each is your first stage. Would that be an achievement? Would this progress your fitness? Let’s focus on that, and then we can reassess.
On fun—I meet lots of people who are looking to establish and maintain a consistent exercise regimen after not exercising or eating healthily for a few years or more. It is common to meet people when they are somewhere between five kilograms and 15 kilograms overweight, who are at a point where they feel uncomfortable and their current level of health and fitness is no longer acceptable to them.
Everyone at this point has quite a clear goal—to lose that extra weight, feel more comfortable and increase their fitness—and it only takes a few tweaks in terms of improving both their exercise and nutrition to see some great results in the short term. Immediately after cleaning up their eating habits, people typically experience an increase in energy and feel better. With just a small amount of consistent exercise, improvements in strength, fitness, and energy happen almost immediately. Someone who commences an “inShape” journey begins to experience a lot of positive emotions, they feel a renewed sense of vigour, and it becomes an inspirational part of their life. And it is wonderful.
Then there’s the next stage, which happens around three to five months into their “inShape” journey. For those people who experience the initial positive turns in their “inShape” journey, I sometimes wonder if their newfound adherence to exercise will be a three-month fad, or if it is something that they will stick to for the long term. The critical element to a person continuing their exercise over the course of the next year, two years, decade, and lifetime is whether or not they enjoy it. If they find it fun or not. Or perhaps “fulfilling” is a better word? This certainly applies to you, my reader. Enjoying your weekly exercise routine is paramount because it does not matter how good something is for you–if you don’t enjoy it, then it won’t last.
The best exercise routines are the ones you spend doing activities you enjoy. To repeat: it doesn’t matter how good an activity is for you … if you don’t enjoy it, then it probably won’t last long. It should be noted that broadly speaking, improved health comes down to exercising consistently and eating nutritious foods. Between exercise and eating healthily, for most people, it is eating healthily 24/7/365 that ends up being the challenging part. There’s a saying that you can’t out-train a bad diet, but you can out-train an average one. I see a lot of food diaries that contain pizza, red wine, chocolate, and cheese and crackers, and people are still losing weight because they are exercising in a regular and formulated way.
I should also note that there’s a difference between eating for health and eating for weight loss. You can include yummy treats in your nutrition strategy every day and still lose weight and end up with an amazing body, if your overall total weekly calorie intake is not excessive. For someone eating for good health, then for breakfast I might consider a banana smoothie with spinach, avocado, and blueberries, which contains a healthy amount of vitamins and minerals. However, for someone eating for weight loss, that same meal could be inappropriate because it’s at the wrong time of the day and it’s not an ideal macronutrient composition. I’ll explain: eating early in the morning stops the fat-loss process, and the smoothie contains too many carbohydrates and too many calories overall. We’ll talk about this more in a later chapter. The point to notice here is simply that eating to promote good health versus eating to lose weight can be very different. I meet a lot of people who think they are eating well, and are frustrated or disappointed with their lack of weight loss, and they are simply eating too much good food, for example too much fruit.
Exercise and eating well is a package deal. You eat well, you train well. You train well, you eat well. It is easier to keep up doing one if you are doing the other at the same time. They reinforce each other. If people don’t exercise, the focus often goes off health and fitness, and nutrition habits regress. After all, people with great bodies don’t wake up and ask themselves if they will exercise that day. They do it every day. It is part of their lifestyle. Why? Because, again, exercise and eating well is a package deal.
The Four Phases of the inShape Journey
The diagram below illustrates four stages in the journey to inShape well-being that can be helpful to understand in terms of managing your expectations and being clear that your approach to wellness needs to be something that lasts long term.
- Initial Phase: The first four weeks. This is when you establish habits, increase your education, begin your program, and start to feel better.
- Visual Phase: This happens from weeks five to eight. It’s when you notice results because they show up in your appearance, and others notice these positive changes in your appearance as well.
- Result Phase: This happens in months three to 12. It’s when you have achieved your initial goal. Please note that this can be a dangerous time of regression, and it is critical that you break through to the next stage! The reason that the timeframe here is broad is because it depends on your starting fitness level, and the quality of your nutrition and exercise.
- Lifestyle/Maintenance Phase: This starts at 12 months and is ongoing. This is when you have maintained your results; exercise and healthy nutrition are part of your lifestyle; and now you have new, more exciting goals.
In terms of staying on track over the long term, one of the best philosophies to live by is getting your exercise to be a 10 out of 10, and your nutrition to be a seven out of 10. These are scores relating to the quality of each category with 10 being the highest quality and 1 the lowest. Not many people can get their nutrition to be a 10 out of 10, so aiming for seven or higher is more realistic yet still healthy, and allows for vices such as alcohol, dining out, and some chocolate after dinner. With many people, exercise often ends up being the easy bit, and a 10 out of 10 can be whatever that means for you, as well already discussed how individual an ideal health plan is. Your ideal exercise plan might include walking the dog, doing yoga, swimming laps at the local pool, doing Pilates, playing tennis, lifting weights, or doing a spin class five days a week. It could mean exercising three times per week or eight times per week. Again, it is individual.
On another note, in order to achieve the 10 out of 10 for the exercise portion of getting healthy, you must place exercise in your diary first and everything else will fit around it. Many people place their exercise in their weekly schedule last. It doesn’t work very well that way. You might think you should get everything else in your personal and professional life done first before you exercise, but the personal and professional to-do list never ends, so determine when and where you’ll get your exercise in and watch how you magically get everything else done anyway. This is a key aspect to achieving 10 out of 10 with your exercise: prioritising it. It’s an issue we’ll return to later because it is just that important.
In terms of managing your expectations around getting healthy, it is useful to know that there will be some sacrifice and an element of deprivation when it comes to food choices, even when you aim for a seven out of ten for your daily nutrition. I would like to think it’s all pretty effortless; however, there will be times when you have to say no to chocolate and custard tarts. Getting in great shape can involve reducing things like alcohol, soft drinks, carbohydrates, and overall calories. Sometimes this is a small reduction. Other times, according to where your health is at and where you want to take it, it could involve a major reduction.
There will also be times when you don’t feel like doing an exercise session or you are pushed for time. Recently, an older gentleman said to me: “If I only ever exercised when I felt like it, I would never exercise”. I thought this was a good point.
Personally, I love to exercise. However, I would estimate that around 50 percent of the time I am scheduled to do a training session, I don’t feel like it. I can always think of 25 other things I could be doing instead. Those other 25 things will still be there in 45 minutes, but the problem with missing an exercise session is that we cannot go back and do today again. So, we must make it a priority to do the exercise consistently in order to achieve results. And please, schedule exercise at a time when it is not going to be interrupted by work and family commitments. As tough as it is, this could mean doing it at 5:30am. There’s a much greater chance of the day getting away from you if you’re a busy person trying to exercise at 5pm.
If you have been out of shape for 20 years, you won’t fix it in three months. Get used to saying no for a while, especially when making food decisions. Every positive decision adds up. Consider every momentary compulsion, urge, or craving to be like a fork in the road. Habit says to eat it. Discipline says no. The more times you make the healthy choice, the fitter you get, step by step. A large part of my work involves assisting intelligent people who know what to do but are not doing it. What I repeat to them and what they soon experience themselves is that every positive resolution you make is a step forward. Unfortunately, positive decisions relating to food usually involve saying no to something. Especially in the beginning that’s the reality.
Please note that the only way to lose weight and also eat junk food is if you find a way to eat junk food and still remain in a calorie deficit. This means that you burn more calories than you eat, even if what you are eating is junk food. It can be achieved. It’s called flexible dieting, or IIFYM, which stands for “If It Fits Your Macros”. While I don’t advocate this kind of eating plan, it exists. It’s even basic common sense to know that everything is ok in moderation.
Your ability to succeed at getting fit and healthy largely depends on your ability to delay gratification in the moment. Eating foods, you know are bad for you could be referred to as self-sabotage. People tell themselves they can always start tomorrow. Or next Monday. Or in January. And five years later it’s still happening. So, get used to being hungry. Go to bed peckish. When you are hungry, quieten the stomach with a snack or drink. Not a large meal.
Delayed gratification is only hard at that moment. Be strong! There is no magic fix. It will feel like depriving yourself of something. But, it passes in 60 seconds. Move on. Then you’ll be proud of yourself. Then it becomes a habit, then routine. Small changes over time add up and become big changes.
Most of the time when I meet a new client, they are ready to make a change. In an initial consultation, we cover goals which are usually things like weight loss, increasing strength and fitness, and being consistent with exercise. That’s all fair enough, but the true goal runs much deeper. If you were to ask someone why they had these goals, they might say something like, “So I can look good at the beach” or “So I can fit into my old clothes”. If we were to probe a little further, the deeper reason always comes back to emotion: “So I can feel more confident”, “So I can be happier”, or “So I can take pride in my appearance”. Losing 10 kilograms and being able to do 30 push-ups is one thing; however, it’s the way that improved health, wellness, and a better body shape makes you feel emotionally that is the most exciting part!
Read on to learn how to make your overall approach to getting inShape simpler, smarter, more efficient, personal, and realistic, while achieving better results and ultimately become happier and more confident.