Anyone who has tried to improve their eating and workout habits knows what it feels like to become overwhelmed by the abundance of information, all the possible workout and diet options, and all the conflicting information.
Sometimes food and fitness can feel annoyingly complicated.
To uncomplicate the way you eat and work out, and bring some sanity back into food and fitness, here are 24 tips that will not only simplify health and fitness but even, perhaps, help you get more benefits from it.
1. There are no women’s-specific protein powders or the like. Slapping a “made for women” claim on a product label usually means one thing: a higher price tag than the equivalent product not marketed directly at women. Protein is protein; creatine is creatine; women don’t need any extras — like BCAAs, antioxidants, vitamins — added to it to make it “just for them.” Like to use protein powder for convenience? Then stick to a high-quality protein powder, like whey.
2. Something is always better than nothing. When time to work out is limited, or you’d simply rather spend more time focusing on activities outside the gym, you can still reap benefits from twice-weekly strength training workouts, or three workouts that can be completed in around 30 minutes (just know how to make these short workouts more effective). Don’t succumb to the not-enough-time trap; make the most of the time you have and focus on doing what you can.
3. Instead of thinking I need to eat less junk food and similar avoidance-based declarations, focus on eating more nutrient-dense foods, thus embracing an abundance mindset. What nutrient-dense, minimally-processed foods do you enjoy, and how can you eat them frequently to help reach your health and performance goals? How can you work in more lean proteins? How can you get more vegetables, fruits? If you’re not getting the recommended amount of daily fiber (approximately 25 grams), what foods can you eat more often to reach that target? Try this chocolate protein shake recipe that tastes like a milkshake for a good dose of fiber concealed in a frosty combination of tasty goodness.
4. Some people will be more consistent with their food and fitness efforts by making several drastic changes all at once (a complete diet overhaul, for example) so they achieve results faster, thus amplifying motivation. Others will do better by making simple, singular changes at a time — mastering a new habit or skill (like focusing exclusively on moving their body in some way every day) — and then adding another one, to achieve slow but steady results that compound over time. Know which type you are; many people get frustrated or fail because they’re forcing themselves to follow the wrong approach.
5. Though it may be the reason many women start working out, getting skinny or losing weight is not the only goal a woman can have. You can choose to get strong. You can focus on building muscle. You may want to increase your endurance. Maybe you want to learn new skills or try new activities. You can set performance-focused goals (e.g., deadlift your bodyweight for six reps). There are myriad victories, and goals, to be attained separate from the scale; spend more time chasing these and you’ll wonder why you didn’t start sooner. Don’t be afraid to say Screw fat loss and focus on discovering what your body can do.
6. Quite often, if mild discomfort is felt during an exercise (like a hip flexor feels “tight” when squatting) or the movement doesn’t “feel right,” a simple and effective solution is to perform several very light warm-up sets. Many times, that slight discomfort dissipates. For example, if someone feels a bit of groin discomfort with the first warm-up set of squats: instead of adding weight to the bar and jumping straight into the scheduled workout or giving up entirely, they can do 3-6 sets of five reps with the empty barbell and see if the discomfort goes away or minimizes with each set, as it often does.
7. There’s an abundance of tiny details that can waste your time or increase frustration, all while providing no benefits (or minimal, at best). Like obsessing over the “best time” during the day to work out for better results. What if that so-called “best time” doesn’t fit your schedule or preferences? Do you think forcing yourself to work out at that time, despite being an inconvenience or unenjoyable, will produce any noticeable positive benefits? (And this “best time” may lead to minimal advantages at best.)
8. Exercise is a privilege, not a punishment for overeating or having fat on your body. If you don’t currently view workouts as a privilege, or something you do for reasons beyond fat loss, take time to find some reasons that are meaningful for you.
9. Likewise, the exercise you regularly engage in should be (for the most part) enjoyable. Don’t feel obligated to perform certain exercises if you don’t enjoy them. Don’t have a desire to squat, deadlift, bench press, row, or press a barbell? Use dumbbell exercises and machines, use bodyweight exercises or any combination thereof. To ensure long-term adherence, it’s important to enjoy what you do. Preferences can certainly change over time.
10. Food is food. There is no good food or bad food. By default, this means you are not “good” or “bad” regardless of what you eat. Unfortunately, current health and fitness trends have made a huge mess in this regard, leaving a smattering of disordered eating habits and body image issues in their wake by encouraging a dichotomous view of food.
11. I’ve said this since the beginning of my personal training career 15 years ago, and will continue saying it, because I’ve witnessed the immense power it has on those who embrace the approach: Make the sole goal of your workouts to improve your performance. Do a little better when possible. Focus on getting stronger (or faster, better conditioned) over time.
12. In other words: Forget about trying to calculate how many calories you burn during a workout or determining a workout’s effectiveness based on how much fatigue it induced. Track your performance over time. Set performance-based goals like squatting your bodyweight, performing push-ups on the floor, performing a one-arm dumbbell row with 25% of your bodyweight and work up to 50% of your bodyweight. The options are endless; choose a few to strive for.
One of my goals was to pull a double-bodyweight deadlift for 10 reps. It gave my training purpose and reaching it felt so damn good. What would you like to do?
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13. You don’t have to love every part of your body. You shouldn’t actively hate your body either. You can try, at the very least, to become completely neutral about parts you don’t love. Example: instead of obsessing over, and hating, cellulite and calling it a flaw, try to become indifferent to it. It’s not good, it’s not bad, it just is.
14. Don’t feel like working out? Having trouble finding motivation to get in the gym? Don’t underestimate the power of leading with your ass when your brain isn’t cooperating.
15. Did you know your body is strong and resilient and adaptable? Some resources have unintentionally created a fear of movement by making people think they must use “perfect” form and never deviate from it; reinforcing the (false) notion that the moment you do something “wrong” you’re likely to get injured. This is not true. Our bodies are, thankfully, not that fragile.
16. Instead of thinking about using “perfect” exercise technique, focus on being more efficient and employing the necessary cues to make that happen. Example: don’t think about deadlifting correctly so you don’t “blow out your back” — think about moving the barbell through the most efficient range of motion. Strive to perform exercises efficiently and confidently rather than “safely” so you don’t have an unnecessary fear of movement.
17. Health and fitness is not just about losing weight, getting strong, or building a better-looking body you’re proud of — it should build a healthy mindset about food and fitness. Fearing any foods because you’re afraid they’ll lead to fat gain (or thinking you must “earn” food) or using exercise as punishment for overeating is not healthy. Revolving your life around what you eat and when you can work out at the expense of all else in your life is not healthy. If you really want to improve your fitness lifestyle, tackle this issue first. (Think life enhancement and empowerment, not domination or obsession.)
18. Cardio isn’t mandatory for fat loss, but it does provide health benefits. It’s currently estimated that a little over 20% of adults in the USA reach the weekly physical activity guidelines. It’s generally a good idea to encourage people to engage in more physical activity, not less. (Keep in mind it can come in many forms, like participating in athletic activities; it doesn’t necessarily have to be structured cardio exercise.)
19. There are, still, no magical supplements. Anyone claiming their preferred supplement provides a lengthy list of benefits (more powerful and numerous than prescription drugs that undergo rigorous testing and research, mind you) is either delusional, lying, or selling you something. The current evidence-based supplements that can help improve performance and muscle-building efforts are, thankfully, cheap: creatine monohydrate and caffeine.
20. Choose to get strong. Seriously. The effects, mentally and physically, from aiming to add more weight to the barbell, lift heavier dumbbells, or perform more reps with the same weight can be tremendous. Too many women get lost in a never-ending pursuit of fat loss and they miss the empowering benefits of adding more weight to the barbell.
21. Medical advice, like a discussion about hormones, should be had with your medical doctor, not a personal trainer. I will happily help you learn how to lift and get strong, but I’m not going to comment on your thyroid medication regimen.
22. Some women may think they want to be very lean, but when they take into account the process required to attain that goal, they may realize what they really want is to feel great, to have a strong and healthy body they can maintain long-term without revolving their life around the gym or a rigid diet or meal plan. They want a body that serves them, allows them to live their best life, and the health and fitness lifestyle that complements that goal.
23. It’s easy to take this health and fitness stuff too seriously. To become enmeshed in a particular ideology or mindset causing us to expend more mental energy than necessary. To get upset if we had a crappy workout. To become disgusted with ourselves if we “blew” our diet plan for the day. Stop and look at what is really going on and what you’re really doing. In the gym, we’re just working out; we’re lifting weights; we’re sweating away on a piece of cardio equipment. So what if you had a bad workout? You’ll do hundreds (thousands, if you’re lucky) more workouts in your lifetime, and you’ll have many more bad workouts too. Don’t get upset. Move on. If things aren’t progressing or you’re no longer having fun, change things up. Resist the urge to allow emotion or ego to be involved in your response to a crappy workout.
24. It doesn’t matter if you’ve deviated from your food and fitness plan for one day, one week, or it’s been years since you were consistent with a plan. Getting back on track can happen with the very next meal; you can do a workout today and get back to working out after a break. Do something, anything, today, to start again.
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