Break the Big Rocks First: Losing Weight
Breaking the Big Rocks First
A 10-ish minute read
This is the third in a series of articles aimed at helping you prioritize your actions toward specific goals. The details will be clean, simple, and to the point, without going too deep into why. Because sometimes we just need to get on with it. The basic premise is this:
You want "x" goal: Here are the areas where you should first and foremost dedicate your time and effort
Today's "x": Losing weight
Let's not overcomplicate things:
Spend all of your time actively working on taking care of the highest-priority items so you can get the biggest bang for your buck.
Simple. When I fully grasped this concept and started implementing it in all areas of my life, things changed.
What follows is the low-hanging fruit. If you can only do ONE thing, start at the top. Then add each subsequent rock as the next important once you've fully incorporated the first.
Your Goal: Losing Weight (in a sustainable manner)
When I first wrote this segment, it was strictly based on the physical sciences. I.e., my simplified take on what is most important based on the factors you would find in most exercise science books. The original list included numbers 2-5 below. Eat less, move more, and all that. But as I came back to it a couple months later, it just didn't feel right. I've seen people try to do everything I discuss, but without success. But then, I've also seen different people move leaps and bounds in a great direction. So what seems to be the separator? That was what I had to ask myself, and hence lies as the heart of this list at number one.
The beauty of this list is that it's universal whether you have 100 pounds to lose or ten. It shouldn't be a surprise, if you've gotten this far in this series, that eating and drinking (i.e. nutrition, diet, food habits, whatever you want to call it) are at the top of the list. If you haven't seen a head of lettuce in a while, you know where to start. But by the same token, if you have a head full of destructive thoughts, you can eat all the lettuce you want. I'm convinced it won't work.
Your Big Rocks:
1) Change your identity (your mind matters)
2) Consume well (broccoli and apples and stuff)
3) Be in a calorie deficit (consume less than you burn)
4) Lift heavy weights to get strong
5) Do intense cardio
Let's get all the tangible, measurable stuff out of the way first.
Quality food matters. One could argue that quantity is more important than quality when just beginning a weight loss journey, and there would be some credence to that (similar to the previous discussion about strength gain). Without a calorie deficit, it will be very, very hard to lose weight. The reality is that you need both "eat well" and "don't eat too much". But lack of quality will catch up to you in much bigger ways. Quality should be a way of life, not something that becomes peripheral once you lose the weight.
I truly believe that quantity is temporary and best used to get you over a hump. Once you lose the weight and are at a comfortable spot, a calorie deficit is no longer necessary, and can actually become detrimental for other goals. Further claim for why quality tops the list is that when you are in the calorie deficit, the quality of what you put into your body is all the more important. Every little thing matters that much more when you're eating less overall. So if your protein and your vegetables aren't in deep supply, you will likely struggle mightily to maintain the deficit (read: YOU GON GET HANGRY).
Lifting heavy gives you strength and muscle (and heart and lungs, but I'll save that for another day). Intense cardio (aka HIIT) increases your metabolism, challenges your heart and lungs, increases your power, and improves the efficiency of your body’s neuromuscular and cardiorespiratory systems at the very least. But strength and HIIT training also work synergistically. More muscle means more work accomplished on a bike sprint or med ball slam workout. Better power performance and conditioning from a sledgehammer/tire smash will, among other things, help your recovery period between heavy work sets on squats or deadlifts. Both are great, but for weight loss, they’re better together (at least programmed within the same weekly cycle).
If you need to start somewhere, build your strength first. It will give you a better base (stronger muscles, denser bones, more confidence that YOU CAN WRECK SH*T) for performing more and more volume of work later. The biggest caveat with starting strength work and HIIT (high intensity interval training) work at the same time is that you must closely monitor your recovery, and you wouldn't be stupid to find a good trainer to help you do this. Also, depending on how much extra weight you're carrying around, it's very important to recognize that jumping, sprinting, and other general high-impact training will likely not be best suited to you at first. Even things like interval speed walking (walking as fast as possible for a period of time, and then slowing down, repeatedly) can be great. Protect your joints, but understand that you still need to work hard.
But, at the end of the day, all of the above might not be enough. If you crush everything and still don't see yourself in light of where you want to be, you will never sustain what you've attained. If you work day in and day out on your physical health, weight, and everything else you can see, but neglect working on your mind, you will never allow yourself to win. Read that last sentence again.
If your subconscious, resting self-image revolves around why you are so "bad" instead of why you are and can be so good, you will remain "bad"-- regardless of how much external work you grind through. This is why people lose weight and gain it back, yo-yo diet, never seem to pass the double-digit weight loss goal, etc. Almost all barriers are self-imposed by the mind. You will never be thin if you believe you are fat. Period. End of story.
Are you hearing me?
There's a difference between:
a) Acknowledging the fact that you are heavy right now but are inspired to change because you want better, and
b) Looking in the mirror and only seeing someone who always has been, always is, and always will be fat.
Hope vs. Hopeless.
This goal is tough because it is often so emotional. Sometimes, we're haunted by a full lifetime of emotions. Often, these are perpetuated by other people, some of whose opinions we may hold very dear, and some of whose we wish we didn't. Too often, we use these emotions to hinder us rather than fuel us. Because what too often happens is that our emotions feed negative self-talk, even when we're not aware of it. If you have even micro-thoughts along the lines of "Gosh, I'm never going to get back to a size 'x'", it's going to be very, very hard to stay in the long-term fight for your weight and yourself.
Is "heavy" part of your identity?
Is it part of the story you tell yourself every day?
Can you honestly see, feel, touch, taste, and smell the reality in which you are exactly as fit and healthy as you want to be?
Are you mentally and emotionally prepared for what that new reality will bring you?
Are you prepared for what others may say, what you might tell yourself they think?
Maybe, underneath it all, are you afraid of breaking up with your "fat identity"?
Are you scared to give permission to yourself to break everyone else's expectations of you?
In short, have you permitted yourself to change?
If you don't ask yourself these questions, I suggest you start. Because brutally honest reflection is important, but it's also only the first part of the equation. After we know where we're at, we need to be able to build ourselves up to believe we are capable of going in the direction we want to go. But, hear me clearly, we cannot build ourselves up without first coming to grips with our own present, underlying state. You cannot build a bodily temple on a mind of rubble. So when we break ourselves down with these often gut-wrenching questions, we are able to see ourselves in a new, raw, maybe painful, but beautifully clear light. Even if we don't like what we see, at least we see it unmasked and bare.
So how, then, do we build ourselves up? That's the big question, isn't it? Don't stop at the pain. Continue with faith, even if it's blind at first. Next time you find yourself thinking badly about your weight, or anything else you don't like but have some control over to change, recognize the emotions that are fueling this bullying. And then remind yourself that you're now on a path to improve. It's time you stop allowing your own fearful ego to bully you. Find a way to visualize your new self and believe in this image, the worth of your achievements, your life, and your being beyond anything else.
Here's what I want to leave you with: You can.
I get it, I'm not asking you to look in the mirror and say you love what you see if you don't love what you see. I've never been someone who has believed the lies I tell myself to make me feel better. Telling myself "I am confident" has never made me more confident. In truth, it has probably only made me feel worse in times when I was truly low that I wasn't where I should be.
The only thing that has made me more confident is in doing uncomfortable or fear-inducing things that naturally build my confidence. Taking small moments of victory and then rolling them into bigger ones via a process called momentum. When I achieve, I can look back on that achievement as a source of proof that I can.
If you can't find any proof yet, you're bullying yourself and not looking hard enough. If you still can't, then go on blind faith. Millions of people have been where you are and have gone where you want to go. Find something that will move you in the right direction every day. I believe in you because I know more difficult things have been done. I believe in you because I believe in people, and I believe in potential. I believe in you because I know this process is hard, and in that exact difficulty lies its inherent life-changing importance. But my belief will only take you so far. You must take a step. You must see more than your weight.