It’s March 1st as I write this*. The year is two months in. Seems like just a moment ago it was New Year’s Day and we were all committing to our better selves for 2021 as so many of us do. It’s been a tough year for people around the world with the pandemic, work stress, crazy elections and uncertainty. Anybody would forgive you if your plan slipped.
Still, it’s March 1st. Let’s get going. There is still time to recommit to your plan to make 2021 a better year than 2020 and if predictions are right that many of us will be vaccinated by the summer and you’ll be back to a somewhat more normal life by the autumn then it’s time to be in better physical & mental shape for all that’s ahead of you.
However your year has gone, I’ve some ideas for you because all isn’t lost. A date is just a date and starting on March 5th and committing to 10 great months is just as productive as starting on January 1st. The vaccine plans are kicking in, the spread of the virus is trending down, we have our best days ahead of us — so wouldn’t it be amazing to feel even 10% better when we start seeing each other in person again?
I’ve seen all outcomes listed in the graphic above in various years of my life: weight loss, rebound, flatline and struggling. Below I have some ideas for you to consider in each scenario.
If you haven’t read it already I wrote a post on weight loss at the start of the year that had over 1 million readers. I also wrote about some of my food choices and how I supercharged my workouts. Today is the last in my series dealing with food intake / weight loss (at least for now) and I’ll shift my next few posts to my workout regimes, my gear and how I improved my nightly sleep dramatically.
I hope that if you see yourself in any of thee archetypes below you can see a plan for staying the course and having a successful 2021. And to everybody who reach out to me with success stories from this year so far — thank you. You’ve truly made my day. Nothing makes me happier than helping others with something that I personally have struggled with.
I’ll cover each of the archetypes individually but I’d like to start with a general, March 1st, let’s recommit to the year goal notes…
- Food is the answer. If you eat healthier and in smaller portions you will lose weight, have better metabolism, sleep better, have more energy, have better concentration. End of story. I know this sounds simple. But honestly — it is. How you eat less and eat better is, of course, the hard part. But if you want a true north — that is it. Food.
- I tell you this because many people believe that to be fit they need to exercise more. I believe in exercise. It has many benefits and combined with eating better and sleeping more are the foundations of health.
- Many people who ramp up their workouts without getting control of what they eat end up gaining weight. It’s very hard to burn more calories than you can save by eating a balanced diet and when people workout they tend to eat more. As I like to say, “you can’t outrun the fork.”
Want some evidence?
See that big spike above? I ran 16 miles on that Saturday and biked for 90 minutes on Sunday. Yeah, I’m in pretty good fitness shape right now. But I ate pizza, sushi and chicken wings that weekend. And while this weight of course has some temporary nature to it, it took a lot of hard work to get my month back on track.
I had been trying to get my weight down to 152 while focusing on increasing muscle mass but monster workouts and eating 2,700 calories / day wasn’t cutting it.
So I took one week and decided to cut back my workouts and cut back my calories to 2,000 / day.
When I focus on the inputs the weight falls off of my and when I ramp up the workouts I feel hungrier, eat more and tend to convince myself that little cheats are ok. I can tell you that having lost 70 pounds now in 20 months … it’s the food.
- Set an end of March goal today. Screw January. Whatever you thought you might do in January or February is irrelevant. Whatever success you had or didn’t have is irrelevant. If you’ve been successful don’t let complacency sink in. If you haven’t don’t let your lack of progress in January be an excuse for not committing now. If you’re still reading you obviously want to have a great March or you already would have clicked away.
- If you feel comfortable telling somebody your end-of-March goal then tell them and text them every night with some form of update. It can be how your eating went that day, how your exercise went or even what your weight is if you feel comfortable. I get it if that’s out of your comfort zone. There is nothing better than having an accountability partner who will cheer you on but not let you off the hook either. If you don’t feel comfortable sharing with somebody else write the goal down somewhere that you will see it daily.
- You can have a bad day of eating. Try not to make it two in a row. Try not to make it 2 days in one week. It’s ok to have “up days” but not “up weeks”
- Remember that if you REALLY want to see progress, you manage what you measure. Step on the scale every morning — no matter what. If you have 4 bad days in a row at least log them. Own them. Emotionally be honest with yourself why they happened and have a plan to correct them. I have a Withings scale and it uses Wifi so it automatically updates my Apple Health, which imports into any other app with no hassles.
- If you want good emotional help and a plan to lose weight download Noom and use it daily. If you just want to log your food download MyFitnessPal. Log everything. It’s honestly super easy. If you quickly log as you eat it takes 5 seconds. Seriously. I’ve been logging for 18 months and haven’t missed a single day. If you’re kidding yourself that it’s too much of a pain or it’s too obsessive I promise you that’s just an excuse. I’m not an OCD guy. I’m as averse to doing tasks as anybody. It’s just not that hard.
Some things that will really make life easier
- Try your best not to eat early in the morning. Can you drink coffee and avoid eating before 10am? The later you can delay your first meal the easier it is not to over-eat during the day. This isn’t a requirement but if you can do it, it sure helps.
- Cut off eating MUCH earlier than you’re accustomed to. I try to stop eating at 6:30pm or 7pm. Sometimes I can’t help myself and it’s later but I try my best. You will sleep better, you will digest better and you will lose more weight. Evenings are when most of the cheating happens so if you can set an absolute rule and stick to it you’re going to be much happier. “just one …” is a slippery slope.
- Have healthy snacks sitting in your fridge or freezer. Notice I didn’t say pantry. There’s very little in the pantry that will be healthy. Energy bars are just candy bars whatever they say. Crackers, cereal, bread, chips, pretzels … not of this is real food. None of this is healthy. None of this will help you lose weight. Go to the fridge. My go to’s are things like pickles, tomatoes, cucumber, eggs, etc. I pre-buy or pre-make foods that I can grab when I’m feeling snacky. I use Territory Foods (we are an investor) and stock my fridge with low-carb 350–400 calorie whole foods.
- My “cheats” are things like a tablespoon of peanut butter, a slice of cheddar cheese, a fudgsicle (40 calories).
- My snacks are things like pistachios (I measure 1/2 cup, which is 160 calories) or half an avocado (120 calories). You get to know what food has in it, what it’s nutritional value is and you end up reaching for the right things and not the wrong things.
- I stock my fridge with three SweetGreens salads / week (500 calories) that I eat as lunch or dinner. We are not an investor. I wish.
Think if it this way. If you don’t have a simple eating plan with go-to’s to grab when your hungry you’re likely to make bad decisions. It’s like a football coach on 4th and 2 with 3 minutes left in the game and you’re on your own forty down 4 points. Do you go for it or punt? You don’t want to be thinking about that under pressure. You need the playbook in advance that tells you what to do.
Now some thoughts for the various archetypes:
ARCHETYPE 1: WEIGHT LOSS
The picture says it all. You’ve had a great year. You might be down 5 pounds or maybe you’ve even been super compliant and your best self and have lost 15 pounds. I’ve heard from many of you. Congratulations — you must feel really fricking great. It’s a new you. Your clothes feel looser, your face looks narrower, some people have noticed and you have a spring in your step.
Still, let’s be honest. We both know you’ve been here before. Maybe once before but more likely 5 or 6 times. In fact, it was probably around this same time of the year as New Year’s motivation is powerful. And today’s success can lead to a loosening of what got you here.
This is the riskiest state of your journey. Now is the exact time to double down
The problem with hitting your first major milestone is that you start to mentally and emotionally feel you’ve earned a few cheats. The fact is you HAVE earned a few cheats. But often a couple of days of a splurge leads to your stopping to step on the scale and hold yourself accountable. A few days off the scale leads to burying the thoughts that you’re starting to gain back some weight. A few days of Mexican food and pizza and ice cream and wine and no walking or jogging or lifting and then it feels like even a small effort isn’t going to get you back on track. So you suppress the plan that got you here, remind yourself that you never were going to get to your target weight anyways and decide you’ll pick this all back up again when you’re “ready” for it.
Do not let this fucking happen to you. Again. You’ve worked too hard to get here. If you’re still in a good weight loss situation here’s one way to get focused:
- Get out of the mindset of thinking “10 pounds is enough. I wasn’t made to get back to my college weight.” I started at 222 and always got to 205 before rebounding. I thought the best I could ever do was 195. When I hit that I set a target of 185 — my “I’ll never be that weight again” weight. When I hit that I redoubled my efforts and blew past 175 then 165 then 155. I currently weigh 150 and I’m 5'9" and wear a size 31 pants. I only started this journey 20 months ago and I’ve never starved myself or done any crash diets.
- It’s only possible if you set goals, measure your progress and stick to your plan. I didn’t do anything more complicated than that. I had some setbacks. I had some bad weeks. But I kept watching the scale, not letting myself slip too far and I kept coming back stronger.
- Whatever progress you’ve made already — if you’re not at your personal preferred target weight — keep going. If you think February 28th’s weight felt great — just imagine when you double your weight loss again. It’s life changing.
- What is your end-of-March goal? What is your end of April goal? Work backwards. Set weekly targets. Draw a graph. Hold yourself accountable. No excuses. You’ve told them all to yourself before. Let’s go.
ARCHETYPE 2 — THE REBOUND
I’m not gonna lie — this is actually the hardest state to be in emotionally. When you’ve just lost weight and then regained some or all of it then it feels so demotivating. Any time you feel like you want to restart and you make a bit of progress you feel so angry that your retreading ground that you covered just 4 or 6 weeks ago (or 4 or 6 months ago).
The good news is that you actually know it can be done and you know exactly HOW to do it because you’ve done it before. You can’t beat yourself up for your slip or for your past. We have all been here — I promise you. The first few days back on a program suck really bad. After a week if you’re strict with yourself you’ll feel a glimmer of hope and see progress. So just commit to one really good week and that should get the ball rolling and the memories started.
Two weeks in will be contagious. Sure, you’ll kick yourself for having to retread old ground but — hey — at least you’ve gotten the program going again. Retreating old ground is so hard emotionally because you want to beat yourself up daily for letting yourself slip back again. Don’t go there. Move forward. You’ll revisit your old low weight if you let yourself.
You simply have to pick your most recent weight loss minimum weight and write that somewhere that you need to stare at it every day and remind yourself that you’re not quitting until you hit that number again.
Don’t worry about getting beyond that weight. You can deal with that when you get there. Just commit yourself to only three things if you’re reading this and this is your situation:
- Set your target goal to hit and if you can’t get there by the end of March then at least set an end-of-March interim goal
- Get on the scale first thing tomorrow morning and record your starting weight. Promise yourself to weigh yourself every day — no matter what. Good days and bad. Don’t let 1 bad day become 3. Don’t let 3 bad days mean you stop weighing yourself. Personal accountability is the first line of defense.
- Write down everything you eat. You manage what you measure. And remember that inputs matter more than workouts. A 30 minute jog will burn no more than 300–400 calories. 500 max. That’s a bagel with cream cheese or a piece of pepperoni pizza. Which is easier — running or skipping one cheat meal / day?
If you can find an accountability partner. Agree that you can message them daily. Let them know if you prefer nice / encouragement or the drill sergeant coach yelling if you cheat. Either way, be honest and be open and let them hold you to account.
Get going. You have nothing to lose. Starting March 7th is the same thing as starting on January 1st. Just an arbitrary date. But if you start on March 7th, or March 11th or March 14th … any which way — commit to having the end of March be lower than today.
ARCHETYPE 3 — FLATLINER or STRUGGLING
You started the year in the right mental space but you never really got beyond January 6th. The chaos of that day, that week, that month and the stresses of the pandemic made it too difficult for you to start.
The truth is that I WANTED to start my weight loss journey for 20 years and I started and stopped and failed many times. In retrospect I wasn’t ready emotionally and mentally for some reason but eventually I found the focus and if I’m honest once I made some simple things into a daily habit it actually was much easier than I thought.
I recommend going back and reading my original post on how I lost weight without any gimmicks or fad diets. I put a lot of ideas into that post on how to get started, how to deal with the emotional issues around eating and an action plan of how I started.
If you’ve struggled to get started I recommend:
- Seeing if you can figure out what you think is holding you back and whether you think you’re ready now. Weight loss is mental and emotional. The actually actions you need to take are not that complicated so it really comes down to your mind and willpower. Of course you know that but it’s easier said than done.
- See if you can join a program like Noom or some other online program that addresses the mental aspects as well as gives you a step-by-step plan. Often times just having somebody else tell you what to do takes the guessing work out of it.
- If you have the resources maybe consider a dietician because that’s much more important than buying a Peloton or hiring a trainer. Sure, you can do that, too. But it’s 100% a waste if you don’t focus on the food intake part.
- If you want me to help you figure out how to get started I will. Just send me a message on Twitter @msuster and I’ll try to find a way to get you the resources you need to get started. If you know me then text me or email me. It would truly be my pleasure to help.
In the end, maybe you’re not ready now. That’s ok, too. If you’re not ready to lose weight or don’t want to that’s 100% your prerogative and nobody should judge you for that. If you do decide you want to try at some point in the future then maybe bookmark my original weight loss post and revisit it when you’re feeling more motivated or ready.
*You may have noticed the asterisk around the first sentence where I said it was March 1st. It was when I wrote that. In the middle of writing my post the power at my house went out, a transformer across the street blew up and the hill caught on fire. We raced to pack our stuff and put it in the car and prepared in case there was a forest fire. Luckily the LA winds had died down earlier that afternoon and the fire department had put it out with a couple of hours.
I hope this post didn’t ramble too much. I lost the writer’s momentum I had and had to slog it out today to finish. I’ll be back soon with my posts on how I started working out more.
There’s Still Time to Commit to Your 2021 Health & Fitness Plan was originally published in Both Sides of the Table on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.