The 80/20 Principle: an argument against exercise

How many times have you heard me say, “When it comes to weight loss, whether it’s two pounds or eighty pounds, nutrition is 80% of the solution”? I’d like to take some time to clarify that statement. A better way to phrase it would be, “Nutrition will provide you with 80% of your results.”

“Pareto’s Law,” or the “80/20 Principle,” was originally an economic term, but has been found to apply just about anywhere. A good way to summarize it would be to say that 80% of the outputs result from 20% of the inputs. Read on:

“80% of the results come from 20% of the effort and time.”
In a healthy lifestyle, if you put 20% of your effort into good nutrition, you’ll get 80% of your results from nutrition. By contrast, if you put 80% of your effort into working out, you’ll only get 20% of your results from working out.

Let’s break it down a little further. Let’s say you spend 6 hours a week working towards a weight loss goal of 2 pounds per week. If you spend 20% of that time, or 1 hour and 12 minutes, on cooking healthier food, writing a grocery list, or generally making conscious food decisions, you’ll lose 1.6 of your 2 pounds.

If you spend the other 80% of your time working out, or 4 hours 48 minutes, you’ll lose 0.4 of your 2 pounds. And let’s not forget, working out is hard.

Which would you rather do?

Too often, we put the majority of our efforts into the things that provide us with the smallest payout. In relation to diet and exercise, it’s because we’re programmed to believe that the harder we work at something, the bigger our results will be. Unfortunately, this simply isn’t true. And it sets us up to lose motivation really quickly: “I worked out 6 times this week and I only lost half a pound! This is a waste of my time. I quit.”

Sound familiar?

Ok, so let’s break the cycle. First of all, begin with the understanding that having the “perfect body,” whatever that means to you, is usually the result of small choices made repeatedly over several years. It means finding a sustainable lifestyle, because “dieting” implies that although you might get to your goal quickly, it often requires you to do things that you know you can’t or won’t continue once you get to your goal. The most maintainable weight loss is usually the kind that comes around slowly, as in 1/2 pound-1 pound per week. Maybe even less.

“80% of the consequences flow from 20% of the causes.”
So let’s go back to our 80/20 principle: A healthy lifestyle means making the right decisions (mostly about nutrition) 80% of the time. That’s kind of the cut-off. If 20% of the stuff you eat and drink is crap, you can probably still maintain your body shape, at the very least. You may not lose weight, but that’s a maintainable, healthy lifestyle.

The problem is, most of us have absolutely no idea what it feels like to eat healthy 80% of the time. In fact, I ask every prospective client how they eat; the vast majority of them think they eat “pretty healthy.” At the same time, they can’t figure out why they’re not losing weight. And in every case, a closer inspection of their food habits (via food journal, or even better, a photo food journal) reveals that they are nowhere near that 80% healthy mark.

The odds are pretty stacked against us, though (you’ve heard me say that a bazillion times, too). Our food culture prizes convenience and speed, loading us with foods that make our blood sugar spike and lead to cravings. Our stressful lives lead to mindless eating, or even emotional eating to deal with the stress. We need to cleanse our system of all that crazy sugar before we can really learn to feel what 80% healthy feels like. Because when our unhealthy decisions push past that 20% mark, the consequences are exponential. Remember, if you have a bad weight-loss week, 80% of the weight you didn’t lose (or the weight you gained) can be traced to just 20% of your decisions.

So how do we start over and learn what 80% healthy feels like?
Good question, and I’m glad you asked. I’ve been teaching my clients this method for quite a while now. Originally called the slow-carb diet, my colleague Lisa Van Ahn and I started teaching it to small workshops over a year ago. We called it Body ReDesign, and we’ve been refining it ever since, adding recipes, fiddling with the rules, and figuring out ways to add more support for our clients. Now, finally, we’re able to offer it in a 100% online format.

Our program turns the 80/20 healthy lifestyle around, focusing 80% of your time on nutrition and only 20% on exercise. Why put so much time into something that delivers such small results? Plus, I’ll say it again: working out is hard.

Here’s why Body ReDesign works: It is a 4 week program designed to reset your blood sugar levels and teach you what it feels like, physically, to have the right fuel in your system. It is so much easier to make the right decisions 80% of the time when you’re not a slave to your blood sugar.

Body ReDesign starts out with an intense 6 days of 100% healthy decision making. I’m not going to lie: it’s hard. But it’s only for 6 days. On Day 7, you get the day off. 100% unhealthy decisions.

No joke. That’s the plan. Of course, we supply you with the rules that outline those 6 days, as well as lots of recipes and grocery lists to get you started, plus the videos for the workouts you’ll do that week.

Yes, there’s exercise. But it’s only about 30 minutes per week. And if that’s 20% of your time and effort, that means that the other 80%–about 2 hours per week–you can spend on conscious food choices. For a total of 2.5 hours a week. It’s seriously simple, guys.

The next 3 weeks follow the same pattern, but it gets infinitely easier to make the right decisions after that first week. And by the end of the fourth week, you’ve started to ingrain those healthy habits.

And guess what: 6 days of 100% healthy decisions + 1 day of 100% unhealthy decisions = 85% healthy decisions over the course of a week.

But after 4 weeks, we’re not going to leave you hanging. That would make this one of those four-letter words I keep dissing: “Diet.” Think of Body ReDesign as a jump start. We cleanse your system, teach you what 100% healthy feels like (6 days a week), then teach you how to back off and turn it into a sustainable, 80% healthy lifestyle. Best of both worlds.

We’re launching our new online Body ReDesign program in June, and we want you to be a part of it. If you sign up to be on our mailing list now, you’ll receive an offer for an early-bird discount on the program, plus access to the 5 Simple Rules to Fat Loss that make up the backbone of our program. You can see what we’re talking about before you buy, and you’ll have to opportunity to buy it at a discount. Visit the Body ReDesign website here, or simply sign up below to get on our mailing list.

 

See you all in June!

Exciting new opportunities!

In this blog:

New Online Program: Body ReDesign

New class: TRX+Kettlebells

New class: Yoga+Kettlebells


Hello everybody! It’s been so long since I’ve posted a blog, I’m afraid I might have forgotten how. But I’ll give it my best shot, because I’ve got a lot of new, exciting things to share with you! I’ve been busy collaborating with other trainers to develop new and better ways to share Real Fitness Solutions with a lot more people…even if you don’t live in Minneapolis! The biggest, best project so far is Body ReDesign, a 100% online program that will teach you how to drop inches and transform your body in only 4 weeks. Read on to find out more about Body ReDesign, as well as two new classes that I’m excited to be offering.

See that buff chick over on the right?  That’s Lisa Van Ahn.  She and I are teaming up to offer you Body ReDesign, a seriously simple body transformation program that will have you dropping fat and inches with less than 30 minutes of exercise per week.  It’s true!  But the most exciting part of Body ReDesign is that it is 100% online.  That’s right: you no longer have to live in Minneapolis to get the benefits of my expertise.  In fact, you can get the expertise of two awesome trainers, and you don’t have to leave your living room.  We’ll send you everything you need: recipes, workout videos, cooking videos, plus tips and tricks to help you out, and weekly live check-ins to make sure you have all the support you need.  Check out the Body ReDesign website here for more information.  Or sign up below for a sneak peek of the program, free stuff, and access to our 5 Simple Rules of Fat Loss:


 


Don’t miss this opportunity! We launch in June, and Lisa and I want to see you there!

 

TRX + Kettlebells

Over on the left you’ll see Juliet Alden.  She’s my co-teacher for an exciting class combining kettlebells with TRX Suspension Training.

It’s hardcore. :)

Juliet has been involved in the fitness industry since 2002, teaching and training locally as an avid cyclist, personal trainer, group fitness instructor, TRX instructor, and yogi.  She’s the TRX expert; I’m just here for the kettlebells.

TRX+Kettlebells is first and foremost a phenomenal core workout.  But why stop there?  It’s also total-body strength training, as well as one of the most intense cardio workouts you’ll ever find.

Classes are held on Monday mornings at 10am, at Balance Fitness Studio.  Space is limited, however, so we run the class on an RSVP basis. Sign up here to get on the invite list:

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You’ll be added to our list, so you can receive your invitation each week.  You’ll also receive a confirmation email with more information about the class.  Juliet and I will see you there!

 

Kettlebells + Yoga

On the left is Pauline Kaplan, Certified Ashtanga Yoga/Meditation instructor, on one of her many travels (this one’s from Nepal, with Mount Everest in the background).  Pauline and I are combining our talents to bring you an inspired new class.

The union of kettlebells and yoga creates an unsurpassed, full-body workout that promotes profound strength and supple flexibility.  Too often, fitness fads fall short by emphasizing one aspect of fitness over another, leaving you strong but rigid, or pliable but weak.  Kettlebells+Yoga addresses this shortcoming by developing strength and flexibility for practical, physical confidence and stamina.

We’ve just started our very first 6-week introductory session, but we’re already looking ahead and figuring out how much interest is out there.  Would you like to be included in our next session?  We can’t do it without you, so sign up below to get on the email list and be notified when we roll out the next session.

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My new favorite cookbook!

For those of you who think you don’t have enough time to cook healthy meals every night, have I got a cookbook for you!!

Last week I got “The Best Make-Ahead Recipe” by America’s Test Kitchen and I’ve been itching to try the recipes ever since. Yesterday I got my chance: I made chicken enchiladas. And today I’m making barbecued pulled pork (it’s in the slow cooker as I write this).

You know how I’m always saying that preparation is key? And if you make a good home-cooked meal, you should make extra and store it so you don’t have to do it again so soon? “The Best Make-Ahead Recipe” heard me!

Every recipe in this book is designed to be made ahead of time and stored, so you can cook it later. And since it’s from America’s Test Kitchen, you know that they designed each one perfectly so that you don’t end up with a mushy mess of leftovers. And, to make it even better, they tell you how to split up most of the entrees into meals that serve 2-3 people (this is a big deal for me, since most recipes are for 4-6 people but most of the time I’m just cooking for me and my husband). A lot of the recipes even come with “supersize” instructions, so you can make a huge batch, then freeze individual portions, to be reheated at your convenience. Like Lean Cuisines, only with real food.

Seriously, I think this is the best thing ever. I had enough time to make dinner yesterday, but had I known how well the recipe would turn out, I could have made up to 6 dishes of enchiladas (each for 2-3 people) in the same amount of time that it took to make 2. Next time, that is exactly what I’ll do…after I eat the one that’s left in my freezer.

Sure, you’ll need a little freezer space. But maybe there’s a lot of processed food in there that you could get rid of in exchange for real, home-cooked meals. Tomorrow I’ll make several individual servings of manicotti; the day after that I’ve got my sights set on 3 chicken pot-pies. That means that in the spare time I had over 4 days, I managed to make dinners for about 2 weeks. Look what you could do in your spare time, and it’ll save you time when it comes to getting dinner on the table!

Aside from casseroles and single-dish entrees, the book also offers side dishes and many other entrees. How about stuffed chicken breasts? There are about 5 different recipes here. Make a dozen stuffed chicken breasts with one or two of the side dishes and you won’t have to worry about dinner for a while.

I’m so excited about this that I’m going to pimp it here on my website. Check out “The Best Make-Ahead Recipe” here. Then buy it, and start cooking…whether you’re ready to eat or not!

Another nutrition tip

Lately, you may have noticed, I have been all about trying to help people sort good food from bad. Of course, there is no hard-and-fast rule that applies all the time, to every situation. Like working out, the key to eating right is to pick and choose which rules work best for you: which ones you understand, and which ones fit your lifestyle and personality. Those are the ones that you’re most likely to follow without feeling like you’re being constrained.

So here’s another tip for looking at food. This one is a two-parter. The first question helps determine whether or not a packaged food is real food; the second question can help determine portion control.

When you’re in the grocery store, ask yourself, “Do I know how it’s made?” Or better, “Could I make this myself, in my kitchen, if I had to?” If the answer is yes, it’s probably a whole food. And you should feel pretty good about purchasing it. If not, think twice about buying it. Do you know how to make Doritos? What about Honey-Nut Cheerios? Or Cheez-Whiz? The thing is, real food does not contain proprietary information. Real food doesn’t have any secrets, and you should be able to recreate it yourself, or at least conceptualize how to do so.

Second question: “How often would I actually take the time to make this myself?” I love convenience as much as the next person, and I understand the need for it in today’s society. However, the more time-intensive a food is–even a whole food–the less you probably need of it. Take bread, for example. I know I use this a lot, but it’s such a good one. Making bread at home, from scratch, takes a lot of time. Even with a bread machine. If you spend that much time making a loaf of bread, you probably want it to last more than a day or two, so you don’t have to make it again so soon. So you eat less of it, trying to make it last.

French fries are another great example. We all know how they’re made: slice up a potato, fry it, and add salt. Super simple, but time consuming. Would you eat them even once a week if you had to go to that kind of trouble? Or how about one of my favorite overindulgences: cheese! I do technically know how to make cheese in my own kitchen, but I also know that if I had to make it myself, and wait a couple of months for it to ripen (in the case of hard cheeses), I’d certainly be eating a hell of a lot less cheddar. Would you drink apple juice if you had to press the apples? Or would you save yourself some time and effort and just eat the apple or drink a glass of water? So if you find yourself thinking, “Yes, I know how to make it, but I wouldn’t do it often,” go ahead and buy it…but only as often as you think you’d make it from scratch. It’s long term portion control.

So if you read my last post about the Fooducate app, but you don’t have a smart phone, remember these two questions instead. They pretty much guarantee that the food you buy will have a short list of ingredients, that you’ll understand everything in that list, and that the product will be minimally processed. In other words: real, honest food.

Fooducate yourself!

If you all read my last post about my somewhat haphazard plan for eating better this year, you may have found yourself thinking, “Well, that’s nice, but let’s say I want to try it? How do I actually know what to eat?”

Good question! And thanks to my friend Nick (thanks Nick!!) I now have a simple solution for you: the Fooducate app for smart phones. Nick introduced me to Fooducate last Thursday, and I’ve been having fun with it ever since.

Most of you are pretty familiar with my crusade against fake “healthy” foods. How are we supposed to sort out the truth when most of the 40,000 products in the grocery store come with big labels touting their health benefits? “The American Heart Association currently bestows (for a fee) its heart-healthy seal of approval on Lucky Charms, Cocoa Puffs, and Trix cereals, Yoo-hoo lite chocolate drink, and Healthy Choice’s Premium Caramel Swirl Ice Cream Sandwich.” (Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food.

The Fooducate app is a quick (and kind of fun) way to help you figure out where the booby traps are in the grocery store. It turns your phone into a scanner; simply aim it at the bar code of the product you’re thinking of buying, and it comes up with a grade (A-F) for that product, as well as several options if you’re looking for something better. It also gives you a ton of information about why that product deserves the grade they gave it.

I LOVE this app! And I don’t think I’ve ever uttered that phrase in my life. For the most part, I’m averse to technology; in fact, Fooducate is only the second app I’ve ever downloaded since getting my smart phone almost a year ago (Angry Birds was the first).

As an example of what to expect: When Nick was describing this app to me, I asked if he’d tried scanning a loaf of bread. Bread is always one of my favorite examples of how food in the grocery store is not always real food. Nick told me he scanned a package of Health Nut Bread (I’m not sure which brand; I know Brownberry and Arnold both make bread with this name, and I’m sure there are others). Anyway, sounds healthy, right? Lots of whole grains, maybe some actual nuts (which are good for you, right??)… Fooducate gave this bread a grade of “C.” And–this is what won me over and made me download the app right there–it actually asked, “When was the last time you made something with over 35 ingredients?” Woo Hoo!! An app after my own heart!!

I spent the weekend scanning all kind of random stuff in my kitchen, including the things I eat almost every day. Now, Fooducate is not infallible; and you may value different things in your food (for instance, as far as I can tell, being organic doesn’t necessarily earn extra points). But for the most part, it sends a few simple messages: 1) The less processed something is, the better. In fact, I scanned the refried beans that I prefer to eat almost every morning and they got a “B-”. The best alternative a was package of dried black beans…which obviously would require me to soak, cook, and refry them myself. 2) The fewer ingredients something has, the better. Bread, by the way, only requires 4 or 5 ingredients. 3) If it comes in a package with a bar code in the first place, it’s probably not going to rate higher than a “B.”

You can probably see why I think Fooducate is so great. But it gets even better: if you scan something that isn’t in their database, it gives you the option to add it simply by emailing them 3 pictures (of the package, the nutrition label, and the ingredients) and they’ll add it. It’s all automatic; you don’t have to switch apps to your camera and your email…the app has it all. It’s really easy. You also have the option of “liking” whichever products you think are particularly good; and if you want to comment on a product or the grade they give it, that’s really easy too. For instance, I buy Mrs. Renfro’s Green Jalapeno Salsa because I understand everything on its ingredient list and it doesn’t have tomatoes (I’m not a fan of jarred tomato salsa). Fooducate gives this product a “C” because it doesn’t have any Vitamin C; it’s making an assumption that salsa has tomatoes, which are rich in vitamin C, and since Mrs. Renfro’s doesn’t have Vitamin C, it must use really poor quality tomatoes. So I commented on it, and if you go to the store and scan a jar, you’ll see my comment there. It’s kind of a Wikipedia for healthy eating.

Long story short, if you want to know “what to eat” and all the rules I’ve spouted before seem too complicated, get the Fooducate app. This app, along with a basic understanding of portion control, could be the tool you’ve been looking for in your endeavors to eat real food.

New Year, new goals!

Happy New Year, fitness fans! 2012 is here, and with it comes (drumroll please)…RESOLUTIONS! With no further ado, here’s mine:

Many of you have followed me through various “tests” of diets that hopefully demonstrate the healthy possibilities that are available. No single diet is perfect for everyone, so I’d like people to try to recognize the examples that will work for them. In 2010, I did the 30-day “No Convenience-Food Challenge.” 2011 brought on the Slow-Carb experiment. And through it all, I’ve been leaning towards the local and/or organic side of things.

This year I resolve to combine them all, without strictly following any of them. That sounds pretty loose, doesn’t it? But there are things I like about each of these options, and I like the freedom to pick and choose. I also like to keep the restrictions to a minimum, so that other people still want to eat with me.

I tell my clients all the time that being healthy means making the right choice 80-90% of the time. So my goal is to make sure that 90% of the food I eat is either local, organic, home-made (non-convenience), or slow-carb. The 10% that doesn’t fit into that category is left open in case someone else is cooking, or if I want to go out to a restaurant.

I already follow these rules pretty closely, but my weakness has always been cereal, and baked goods. I definitely consider cereal a convenience food, and along with baked goods (cookies, muffins, sweet breads) it is my main source of excess sugar. I figure that if I’m required to make all of these things myself, I’ll probably eat less of them. And I don’t want to give cereal a bad name; if you’re a normal human being and you eat raisin bran for breakfast, that’s fine. Personally, if left to my own devices, I would eat half a box of Peanut Butter Cap’n Crunch for dinner every night. So clearly I have cereal issues that don’t apply to most people.

I have another, bigger reason for this cuisine-altering resolution. I’m doing it for you, my readers and my clients, to try to change the American food culture that is so difficult to navigate. I’ve said multiple times that our food system is booby-trapped. Our grocery stores are stocked with more unhealthy food than healthy, convenience and speed is the ultimate measure of “good” food, you can’t walk a block down any street without coming across fast food, and our groceries are labeled with misleading tags about what’s healthy and what’s not (from the Cap’t Crunch website: Peanut Butter Cap’n Crunch is “fortified with seven essential vitamins and minerals and has zero grams of trans fat.” No offense to the Cap’n, but that’s bullshit. The ingredients list hydrogenated oil, which means it contains trans fat–it’s just less than one gram per serving, so they can claim zero).

How does my plan make a difference to you? Because of the amazing, wonderful law of supply and demand. If we demand local, organic food, and convenient products that are made naturally with ingredients that we recognize as food, then suppliers will provide those things. It’ll take some time, but it can happen. And eventually, the prices of that good food will go down. Every dollar spent on real, good food is a dollar that combats the industrial food system and its lobbyists. You can write your congressperson if you want, but this year I’m putting my money where my mouth is (an occasionally where my blog is). Every time you spend money on real food, you’re letting your voice be heard far louder than if you were to just send money to whatever lawmaker supports your cause. You have a direct vote every time you sit down at the dinner table, every time you pass by a fast-food place without entering, every time you choose the organic broccoli over the non-organic.

So that’s what I’m doing. I’m spending food money (money I would have spent on food anyway) in a way that will help remove the booby-traps from the system, so that someday you won’t have to rely on willpower alone to eat healthy. I want the “bad” choices to be more rare, and more expensive.

If you want to join me, I’d love some company. And I don’t care if you join me 100% or 5%; remember, even I am only in it for 90% of the time. So try it out for one meal per week. Or one meal per day. Or whatever is easiest for you. But remember, your food money speaks no matter where you spend it; so ask yourself, what do you want it to say for you?

To run, or not to run…

Let me start out today by saying Thank You!! to everyone who commented on last week’s blog, or wrote me an email in response to it. I got so many emails that I haven’t had time to answer them all personally, and I apologize. But I really appreciate everyone’s support; it’s nice to be missed. And my favorite thing in the world is to hear from clients I haven’t seen for a while, with updates saying they’re doing well and keeping up with the program. Congratulations to you all! I’m so proud of you!!

And now I get to give you all an update of my own. I have not been keeping up with the program I set for myself several months ago. You may all remember my hare-brained idea to run a marathon, while only running once a week and doing all my other training with kettlebells. I signed up for the Seattle Marathon, on November 27th, and started swinging those kettlebells.

Well, it didn’t take long for my hands to get ripped up by the kettlebells, so I couldn’t train with them more than once a week. And it took even less time for me to realize that I only like running when I don’t feel like I have to do it. I did a couple of long runs, getting up to 11 or 12 miles, back in September before I admitted to myself that I didn’t want to spend more than 30 minutes running at a time. It was a surprisingly good training plan, and the kettlebells gave me huge gains in both my endurance and my speed over long distances. But I was doing it for all the wrong reasons.

I ended up ditching the training plan and going back to various workouts that I enjoy; swimming, running short distances, weight training, and some kettlebells. I thought I’d just drop out of the marathon all together. But I ended up switching to the half-marathon at the last minute, and made a happy discovery: for the first time in my life, I’m at a place where I can essentially hop off my couch and run 13.1 miles, without specifically training for it. It wasn’t the fastest run I’ve ever done (I finished in 2 hours and 4 minutes) but considering that I wasn’t prepared–especially for the hills–I’m pretty happy with that.

The moral of the story is this: whatever you decide to do for a workout, make sure it’s something you enjoy. And do it for the right reasons. We all have that little rebellious voice in our head that says “I don’t wanna” every time we make a plan to challenge ourselves. You’re more likely to skip a workout if it feels like a chore. I mean, I love running, I love kettlebells, and I have plenty of marathon experience. So it seems like this would have been a great idea. But I’ve never been particularly competitive, so signing up for this marathon put a deadline over my head that triggered my inner rebel voice. What was I trying to prove? And to whom?

I ran the half marathon because I wanted to go to Seattle either way, to visit my friends who were running it as well. But I spent the entire summer not enjoying my workouts, until I decided that I wasn’t going to run it. Then, all of a sudden, running became fun again, because I could do short, fast workouts if I wanted to. Kettlebells became fun again because I wasn’t limited to hundreds of snatches. And a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders.

So if you’ve been feeling a little weighed down lately, or your workouts have become a chore, take a step back and ask yourself why. Just because you used to enjoy something doesn’t mean you still enjoy it, even if you do it out of habit. Don’t be afraid to try something new. It’s getting close to that time of year, anyway. Close your eyes and ask yourself: If I could do anything in the world, without physical limitations or the expectations defined by what you’ve done in the past, what would it be?

Maybe it’s time to step out of the box, and let go of who you thought you were. We all get stuck in a rut sometimes, and it can be hard to see it from the inside. So take a few moments, before the new year, and consider the idea of taking a new direction with your fitness. It can be pretty exciting to breathe new life into your old routine.

4 months later…Welcome to December!

Ok, so, some of you may have noticed that there hasn’t been a new blog post since the end of July…4 months ago. It started off as a summer break, and then turned into some sort of sabbatical. Imagine my surprise when I woke up this morning and there was snow on the ground; it makes it a little hard to call it a summer vacation. So let’s just say that I took the time to figure some stuff out, and in the coming weeks I’ll let you in on some things I’ve learned.

But first things first. I have a challenge for you.

It’s December, the time of the year when we give ourselves over to eating and family. It’s kind of nice to spend more of our time and money on everybody else, and have the opportunity to eat cookies all month without the usual guilt (because they’re Christmas cookies, right?). But come January, we’ll feel the repercussions. It’s the same every year: binge for a month in December, and pay the price in January, February, and maybe even March. Why do we do this?

So let’s not do it this year. Have the cookies if you want. Skip a couple of those long gym workouts to spend time with family and friends. But don’t wait until January to try something new.

This is the challenge: 10 minutes of working out per day, 6 days a week, for the month of December. You can add it to your usual routine, or scrap your routine and try this instead. And you don’t have to limit it to 10 minutes, either. You could do 30 minutes. Or you could do 3 10-minute sessions in a day.

The only requirement is that the 10 minutes has to be intense. I’m not talking about a 10-minute stint on the elliptical. I’m talking 10 minutes of burpees. Or mountain climbers. Or jump rope. Or hill sprints, or push ups, pull ups, jump squats, kettlebells swings, snatches, or clean-and-presses. Pick something that requires minimal space and equipment, and preferably something that you can do at home. It should be a movement so intense that you can’t do it for 10 minutes without a couple of breaks. The good news is, the breaks count towards your 10 minutes…so you may actually only do about 5 minutes worth of work during your 10-minute workout.

Studies have shown that short bursts of high-intensity effort can have just as much or better effect than long, slow workouts. So why waste your time? December is a time-crunched month anyway. So take 10 minutes a day, 6 days a week, and start to make it a routine before January gets here. You might find that in one month, you’ll like the new pattern so much that you won’t need a New Year’s Resolution.

Here are some 10-minute workout suggestions:

1. Jump rope until you can’t anymore. Rest until you can jump again. Repeat until you hit 10 minutes (rest included).

2. 3 pullups/ 8 pushups/ 10 squats. Take one minute to do the entire set; anything left over within that minute is rest (example: if it takes 48 seconds to do all 3 exercises, you get 12 seconds of rest). Repeat 10 times.

3. Pick a heavy kettlebell and do some swings. Take 2 seconds of rest for each swing that you do (example: 10 swings/ 20 seconds of rest). I like to do 50 swings/ 1 min 40 sec rest; 40 swings/ 1 min 20 sec rest; 30 swings/ 1 min rest; 20 swings/ 40 sec rest; 10 swings/ done. That’s 150 swings in about 10 minutes.

4. Single-arm clean and presses. Start on one arm and switch to the other when the first side gets tired. Go back and forth for 10 minutes. Just try to make sure that you do the same number on each side.

5. 20 situps/10 pushups. 18 situps/9 pushups. 16 situps/8 pushups….all the way down to 2 situps/1 pushup. Don’t take breaks; just try to get it done in 10 minutes or less.

6. 20 squats/10 stiff-legged deadlifts. 18 squats/9 stiff-legged deadlifts. 16 squats/8 sldl…all the way down to 2 squats/1 sldl. Don’t take breaks; just try to get it done in 10 minutes or less. Alternate this workout with #5 for a total body rotation.

Hopefully you get the idea. Feel free to submit your own quickie workouts at the bottom of this post. Don’t wait until January to get started on your New Year’s Resolutions. Make December your best month of the year! Good luck!!

We are not alone!

When you’re trying to change your eating habits, it’s common to feel like you’re doing it all by yourself. Eating a meal is something that most people do at least 3 times a day. And hopefully you’re spending at least a few minutes preparing that meal as well. That’s quite a bit of time out of every day that’s devoted to food. So do yourself a favor: make sure you have a partner in crime.

One of the biggest mistakes that I see my clients make is trying to eat differently than their family. While the spouse and/or kids are eating one thing, the client is making and eating something entirely different: the healthy food.

DON’T DO THIS. It sets you up as an outsider; it creates extra work; it allows the food that you don’t want to eat to still be in the house; it forces you to test your willpower over and over and over, setting you up for failure; it attaches a stigma to the food that you’re eating and makes good, healthy food look and feel like some sort of punishment (“I have to eat this while they get to eat that”).

You are not alone. And there’s no reason that your family and friends can’t eat healthy food too. In fact, if you really care about these people in your life, you want them to eat the food that will help them live longer and enjoy life more. Every time I hear about a client keeping Cheetos or Oreos in the house “for the kids” I want to slap them. Nobody wins in that situation.

So take control of the grocery shopping and the recipe planning. If your spouse doesn’t like the meals you prepare, tell them to fend for themselves. If your kids don’t like the food, too bad; they’re not paying the bills or cooking the meals. When they get hungry enough, they’ll try your delicious healthy cooking. And as far as guests, go, you wouldn’t expect a vegetarian to cook a chicken for you if you go to their house; so you shouldn’t be expected to cook food you wouldn’t normally eat. If your family cares about you, they will eventually learn how to support you.

Don’t be a martyr. You don’t have to separate yourself from the people in your life in order to eat healthy. In fact, you have a wonderful opportunity to create your own little healthy community, which will in turn support other healthy decisions you make.

So remember: what’s good for you is good for everyone else in your life. Rather than feeling like an outsider, think of yourself as an insider—and the more people you can bring in with you, the better off everyone will be.

Plan ahead to save the day

Yesterday I found myself in this situation: dinner time, with plenty of slow-carb approved food in the house, but nothing that could be prepared in the time available. I had 30 minutes to prepare and eat my dinner before leaving for work, and the meat and veggies that I could have eaten were in the freezer. Not enough time to thaw, cook, and eat before work.

I ate a grilled cheese sandwich.

Well, there’s a better solution than going for the quick and easy, carby dinner. And as usual, it involved planning ahead…but I’m not talking about simply remembering to take the meat out of the freezer earlier. I mean making sure that you have slow-carb meals prepared well in advance, and preferably frozen in individual portions. Like a Lean Cuisine that you cooked yourself.

I’ve always been an advocate of preparing meals in big batches and freezing them individually, so that you never find yourself in a tight spot like I did yesterday. Sure, it’s nice to have plenty of ingredients in the freezer, but if you don’t have time to prepare them, what good is it? Last summer, when I did my “No Convenience-Food Challenge,” the only reason it was possible was because every once in a while, I’d spend a little more time than usual cooking, and then I’d freeze the whole thing in individual-sized portions. Preparing meals this way means that when it’s time to eat, you can have a hot meal on your plate in less than 5 minutes. Faster than a grilled cheese sandwich.

And, lucky for us Slow-Carbers, it just so happens that a lot of easy-to-cook slow-carb meals are also easy to double (or triple, or quadruple), and they freeze really well. I’m thinking stir-fries, Indian cuisine, and Mexican cuisine.

So, next time you’re craving a tasty Asian stir-fry, substitute chickpeas for the more traditional rice, and double the recipe. The only other thing you’ll need is a large number of single-serving storage containers.

I’ll see you all at the Tupperware party. ;)

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