How to Stop Binge Eating

I’ve struggled with binge eating for as long as I can remember.

Some people might be shocked by this, but for those of you who know me offline and have seen me scarf down not just one whole – but two or more pizzas – you already knew this.

For the most part my binge eating is completely under control; that is, I only binge eat for funsies. Let’s face it, there are few things more fun than shoveling a bevy of delicious pastries down your throat until you create the perfect environment for mandatory nap time. I take that back. It’s more fun if it’s after all-you-can-eat sushi.

Anyway, I don’t know anyone with a more powerful “inner fat kid” than myself. Here’s how I was able to squash binge eating in its tracks for both me and my clients:

1. Fix the physiological triggers

In my experience, the cause of binge eating can be broken into both the physiological and psychological.

Astute readers will realize that I’ve always said that you can never truly decouple these two things, but here’s what I mean – there is almost nothing that you can do to stop binge eating if you create a physiological environment that creates insatiable hunger. In particular, there are two things that will physiologically cause this to happen:

– Excessive cardio. (For some reason, this seems to impact women more than men.)
– An overly-aggressive calorie deficit.

I always start here if a client has binge eating issues. If you are trying to control your binge eating and doing excessive cardio you need to drop all cardio until you get your binge eating issues under control. Yes, all cardio. You can always slowly bring cardio back later.

If cardio is not the issue, then it’s important to check your calorie and protein intake.

As a rule of thumb, work your way up to 12-13x your weight in calories for women and 13-14x your weight in calories for men. You should be consuming at least your weight in grams of protein and slowly increasing your carbohydrates to hit your caloric goals after that requirement is met.

It’s worth noting that I train about 80 people in Fitocracy’s “Weight Loss Made Simple” group. Most of the students have 20-30% or more of their bodyweight to lose and also suffer from binge eating. A majority of these cases were resolved after getting men and women to consume upwards of 200g and 150g of protein respectively. (The patterns in obese individuals that I have seen warrant a whole separate article… or book…)

2. Manage your willpower

Whenever I travel home to my family’s house, I always feel the urge to binge. I haven’t figured out exactly why, but I suspect that it has something to do with going from my New York apartment’s paltry pantry to my sister’s cooking – which, if I had to use one word to describe, it would be “crack.” (My sister runs

About a dozen times over the last three years, I tried to will myself to abstain from binging. Almost all dozen of those times, I failed. It took far too much willpower to abstain. Each time that I failed, my self-esteem took a bit of a hit.

The last few times, I tried something different. I planned to fail.

I dieted perfectly the week leading up to my trip home and then fasted all the way up until I got home. Once home, I binged on as much as I wanted and tried to practice moderation. (Tried being the key word.)

The result? A much lower intake in overall calories (There was barely a blip on the scale. Compare to the usual +5 lbs in water weight.) without needing to dip into my precious willpower stores, as well as the feeling of control throughout the entire trip home.

There is a world’s difference in planning a binge vs. attempting to abstain from binging and losing self control. The latter will tax your motivation and willpower far more than the former.

You should always err towards planning to fail for a special occasion, rather than leave adherence to chance. In particular, birthdays, holidays, and big feasts should be planned. Don’t assume that you’re just going to will yourself to get through these events unscathed.

3. Use a Totem

I want you to think about the phenomenon of dreaming for a second. In particular, the fact that when you’re dreaming, you never know that you’re in a dream.

Think about just how incredible this is. Seriously. Your dream might contain pink elephants walking around, pigs flying, and Quest protein bars growing on trees, all while you’re trying to finish your last exam to graduate from school, and you still won’t know that it’s a dream.

Amazing, no?

Binge eating is no different. Before every binge begins, it is preceded by a psychological trigger. Think of this trigger as a little voice inside your head saying something along the lines of:

“It’s ok to eat one more pistachio, Dick. It’s just one more.”
“You had a great week of dieting, Dick. Time to gorge yourself with cake.”
“I know that you’re super hungry now, so go ahead and binge. You can always fast the next day.”

If you take note of the thoughts that precede every binge, you’ll only end up with one or two. These are binge-inducing thought patterns.

If you examine the times that these thoughts have occurred, you’ll realize that their rationale is completely false. Examine them objectively; historically, you’ve never benefitted from giving in to these thoughts.

Guess what. These binge-inducing thought patterns are no different than dreams in that you don’t know that they’re occurring while they’re occurring. That is, your binge will seem just as rationally justified as stopping at a red light or taking out the garbage when it smells too much.

So how do you stop these thought patterns from occurring? You can’t. You can only disrupt them.

In the movie Inception (which, by the way, might be the best movie of all time, and I will fight you to the death if you disagree with this statement) the characters all have a “totem” which tells them whether or not they’re in a dream. A totem might be something like a spinning top or a Rubik’s cube. Characters are extremely familiar with their totems and can sense the difference between their totem within a dream vs. their totem in real life.

Similarly, I want you to create a “totem” around these thought patterns. Rather than an object, your totem will be a checklist of characteristics belonging to a particular thought pattern.

For example, I’ll often feel the urge to binge when I accidentally go over my caloric maintenance during a diet. This urge/thought pattern has the following characteristics which I will use as my “totem.”

– It’s triggered when I’m approaching caloric maintenance on a day that I should be at a caloric deficit.
– It’s justified by the notion that I can just fast the next day.
– I’ll feel the thought pattern start to “egg me on.” It will tell me that I could benefit from binging, because if I have a mini-binge then fast the next day, I’ll consume less overall calories.
– It’s usually accompanied by the feeling of anxiousness, loss of control.
– I’m usually with someone else.
– I’m six drinks in or more.

Let’s say that I feel this urge coming on. I mentally go through this checklist and objectively think about whether it meets the characteristics. For the most part, I realize that this thought pattern matches my totem.


I then objectively examine the historical results by giving in to this thought pattern and see that binging will leave me feeling worse off overall. The sheer examination of this thought pattern acts as a disruptor, and I am less likely to binge because of it.

I used to think that overcoming binge eating meant that I no longer felt the urge to binge. On the contrary, I’m now quite positive that because of the way I’m hardwired, I will always feel the urge to binge eat. But the tools above are just enough to keep the demons away.

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The Secret to Overcoming The “Impossible” in Fitness

When it comes to fitness, how do we get past the impossible? You know–how it’s impossible to find the time to exercise, stop your cravings, or [insert reason that you ended your New Years Resolution here]. Here’s how to break down any impossible fitness problem into something you can overcome.

Suppose we have an impossible-seeming problem–for instance, ending world hunger. (Yes, the irony of using a metaphor around world hunger here when most people are concerned with weight loss isn’t lost on me.) What if I told you that the solution to world hunger is simply feeding people more? Stop looking at me funny–you can’t deny that feeding the hungry would absolutely end world hunger!

But seriously. It should be intuitive that this is an idiotic solution, yet when it comes to fitness, people do this all the time without even blinking.

Here is a list of oft-cited fitness problems that many find impossible to overcome:

  • I can’t stop my carbohydrate cravings.
  • I never have time to exercise.
  • I can’t lose weight because I binge eat.

The reason that these problems seem impossible, is because they’re not problems at all. They’re symptoms. In fact, focusing on symptoms instead of problems is the crux of why most people fail in fitness before even scratching the surface.

Unlike problems, symptoms are irreducible; you can’t break them up into actionable steps that further your progress. To make matters worse, they give an illusion of holding the answers to your fitness problems. Well duh. Of course they would be the effing cure-all to all fitness problems, because they are simply restating ways to eat less and move more. They aren’t valid solutions to your fitness any more than “feeding people more” is the solution to world hunger. Or that poor people should just make more money and spend less. Or that the Starks could win the Iron Throne if they just stopped dying. You get the point…

These “solutions” simply restate their original symptoms and not in a way that can be acted on. What we need to do is break the symptom down into problems and actionable steps to fix them. We can use the following steps in order to do so:

Step 1. Try to break your symptoms up into a smaller set of actionable problems. In order to uncover these problems, you must first ask “why?”

  • Why do I crave carbs?
  • Why don’t I ever have time to exercise?
  • Why do I binge eat?

Step 2. Answer honestly. Asking “why” will require you to be mindful and do some self-reflection. Be honest with yourself, and break down these symptoms into their root problems.

Step 3. Create action steps associated with each problem. This part might require you to do a little bit of reading or seek help from someone more experienced. Here are some hypothetical solutions to the three examples above.

  • Use a program like f.lux to make your computer light more sleep-friendly in the evenings. Cease computer usage one hour before bed.
  • Nifty! That also fixed your morning exercise problem. (You’ll find that many symptoms are interrelated.)
  • Use balancing macros in order to balance your target protein, fat, and carbohydrate totals by the end of the day. When the urge to binge eat arises again, use a totem in order to learn more.

When you break your symptoms up into problems, and then actionable tasks, what was once impossible becomes a very solvable puzzle. If you’re new and looking for a place to start, I suggest starting here.

Lastly, approach all solutions with self-compassion. Solving your personal fitness puzzle requires starting fresh, and that means forgiving yourself for past mistakes. In contrast, self-hate leads to a mindset that focuses on symptoms (“Why can’t I just control my cravings???” *OBLIGATORY TABLE FLIP*). The next time you focus on a symptom rather than a problem, just remember you’re essentially saying that we can end world hunger by feeding people more…i.e. you’re being an asshole when you should be kind to yourself.

Also, God kills a kitten, so there’s that.

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A Guide to Counting Macronutrients Instead of Calories

You’ll likely find more success counting macronutrients (or “macros” for short) than plain ol’ calorie counting. The concept of counting macros can be intimidating, so I’ve written this “how-to” guide on how to nail your targets like a pro.

(Note: This guide assumes that you already know the basics of macronutrients…if you don’t, check out my Lifehacker article here.)

Part 1: Macro Tracking for Beginners


Step 1. Calculate Your Macros

This part is easy. Calculate your target macros using a website like IIFYM or the nifty macro calculator that I built here.

Step 2. Plan to Eat: 80% Whole Foods, 20% Whatever

From a physiological perspective, it doesn’t really matter whether foods are so-called “clean” (chicken breast, broccoli, brown rice) or “unclean” (pop tarts) when it comes to fat loss. This professor lost nearly 30 lbs eating twinkies – while improving all his biological markers – but there will be a marked difference on whether or not you can stick to your diet.

For that reason, your macros should be hit using a majority of whole foods. The rule is that 80% of your macros should come from unprocessed, whole foods. Think chicken, beef, brown rice, quinoa, couscous.

Step 3. Start Tracking Throughout the Day

Next, you’ll want to do is track your food intake on an app like MyFitnessPal and get within +/- 5g or so for each macro by the end of the day. Let’s say that your daily macros are 150g protein, 65g fat, 130g carbs. At the end of the day, your macros might look like this:

Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 5.30.51 AM

Those macros are close enough. Some of you might become frustrated trying to hit your macros. For example, trying to hit your protein amounts might surge carbohydrates or fat amounts way beyond your targets. (Don’t fret too much…hitting your macros is a skill. It takes time to get better at it.) As you near the end of the day, you’ll want to play macro tetris.

Step 4. Round out Your Targets at the End of the Day

Towards the end of the day, you might realize that you have way too much of one macro and way too little of another. Typically, beginners will find that their protein intake is quite low compared to their carbohydrate and/or fat intake. In this case, you can use something called “balancing foods.”

“Balancing foods” are foods that will increase carbs, protein, or fat without increasing the other macronutrients very much. They’re great at the end of the day if you still have a certain amount of one macro to go, but your other macros are close to their limit.

I tend to only count the dominant macronutrient in balancing foods. This is because you’ll find that the other macronutrients are in trace amounts and only counting the dominant macronutrient will help make them truly a balancer. Save yourself the headache of these trace macronutrients.

Balancing Foods


  • Whey protein (25g protein/scoop)
  • Casein protein (25g protein/scoop)
  • Chicken breast (8g protein/cooked oz)
  • Egg whites (3g protein/egg white)


  • White rice (45g carbs/cooked cup)
  • Bread (25g carbs/slice)
  • Candy (mmmm… depends on the candy. Have fun with this one.)
  • Fruit (25g for a medium piece)


  • Olive oil (13g/tbsp.)
  • Coconut oil (13g/tbsp)
  • Butter (Yep.)
  • Bacon (Yep. Just count the fat content. Again, have fun.)

Let’s look at how to incorporate balancing foods.

Joe’s macros are 170g protein/<=40g fat/200g carbs for his training days. He’s had a lot of fat with his lunch and he’s sitting at 120g protein/40g fat/130g carbs.

Joe can use chicken/rice for his last meal. He needs 50g of protein and 70g carbs, so he’ll eat 7oz chicken breast (7oz x 8 = 56g protein) and 1.5 cups cooked rice (45g x 1.5). He’ll eat this with a ton of broccoli, which is a free food and will keep him full. Oh right…

“Free” Foods

Free foods are foods that are so negligible in calories and so voluminous in nature that it’s not worth the mental hassle to count them. The inclusion of fibrous vegetables into your meals will also help increase the satiety from that meal over a longer period of time, so they can make or break a diet.

Free foods include:

  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Okra
  • Fresh green beans
  • Asparagus
  • Any calorie-free beverage
  • Any <= 5 calorie gum
  • Sugar free jello

Part 2: A Cheatsheet to Estimating Macros

When eating out, you often won’t have a digital scale or measuring cups on hand. Even if you did, it’s not the most polite thing in the world to measure your meat in public. (hehe, measure your meat…)

In times like these, you’ll need to stick to a few rules that allow you to gauge just how much you’re eating. I’ve listed these rules in the cheat sheet below. You can either simply add the accompanying dominant macros to the right OR plug the portion sizes into your favorite macro calculator on the fly.

Lean Proteins

For lean proteins, including chicken/turkey breast (skinless), super lean cuts of steak, and lean fish, use this rule:

3 ounces is the size of a deck of playing cards.

Three ounces of lean poultry or beef will come out to 25g protein. Three ounces of fish will come out to 20g of protein.

This rule also works for fattier cuts of protein with this one modification – add HALF of that amount in fat. So a deck of cards of fatty-ish steak will be 25g protein and 12g fat.

Of course, like I said, you can always just plug those amounts into your trusty app.

Starchy Carbohydrates

This one’s easy. For any cooked carbohydrate, such as cooked rice, cooked pasta, cooked couscous, use this rule:

Half a cup is equivalent to half a fist or the size of a tennis ball. This is equivalent to 20g of carbs.


A medium piece of fruit is 25g of carbs.

Dealing with Added fats / Breading

Perhaps that piece of chicken breast from the Italian restaurant had an abnormally bright “sheen” on it because it was cooked in oil (damn lying menu lied and said it was “grilled”). How much additional fat do you have to track?

In a totally unscientific test, I looked at the amount of additional fat that existed in parallel fried vs. baked recipes on MyFitnessPal’s food database. The additional amount of fat on fried vs. non-fried counterparts never exceeded 13g. Using this knowledge, if what you were eating tastes like it had some fats added to the cooking process, go ahead and add 13g of fat – the equivalent to a tbsp of oil to your tracker.

Furthermore, If there was some breading, go ahead and add 25g of carbs. This will allow you to remain relatively conservative in your estimations.


Technically alcohol is a macronutrient all on its own, but most people don’t have an alcohol macro budget. The easiest way to work in alcohol is to substitute each with 10g of fat + the amount of carbohydrates in that drink. (This is just one of many ways you could go about working in alcohol.) For example, a glass of red wine would count as 10g fat, 3g carbs. A serving of whiskey would only be 10g of fat.

Now… back to macro strategies…

Part 3: Macro Strategies

The “Planner”

You should use this strategy if you have a pretty routine job, have the ability to cook ahead of time, and can transport food easily.

Take your daily macros and divide them into your total desired number of meals – I suggest two or three for convenience.

Let’s say your rest day is 150g protein, 50g carbohydrates, 65g fat. Let’s say you prefer 3 meals. 50g of carbs isn’t much to split into 3 meals, so let’s satisfy that with a cup of rice from one meal, leaving us with 50g protein/21g of fat per meal.

So we’ll need a meat that is relatively fatty but not too fatty. Quickly browsing MyFitnessPal, it seems that 8 oz of raw flank steak yields 50g protein and 18g fat. I’ll just whip up 24 oz flank steak the day before or even more than that at the start of the week.

That gives me three meals for the day:

Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 5.54.52 AM
Meal 1 – 8 oz flank steak (yield after cooking) and broccoli
Meal 2 – 8 oz flank steak (yield after cooking) and broccoli
Meal 2 – 8 oz flank steak (yield after cooking), broccoli, 1 cup of rice

When you cook these foods, you’ll want to make sure to stick to the following rules:

  1. Don’t use marinades with a ton of additional calories. Spiced rubs, salts, etc., are delicious.
  2. Don’t cook with additional calories like oil, butter, etc. Use a non-stick spray.

If you prefer using a recipe, there are plenty that you can find. Here are some examples courtesy of The Epicurean Bodybuilder.

Roasted Harissa Chicken
Oven BBQ Chicken
Chicken Bulgogi
Anita Los Chicken Paprikash
Treat Yo-Self Steak
Balsamic Flank Steak
Bistro Steak
Slow Roast Beef
Pan-seared Oven Pork Tenderloin
Roasted Tarragon Pork Loin

Some people, however, don’t have the pleasure of being able to predict exactly what they will eat every day. (I will warn, however, that most people use this as an excuse – myself included – it’s quite easy to prepare meals ahead of time.) You can always wing your macros.

The “Winger”

Winging your macros and still nailing them at the end of the day is a skill. It requires some thinking ahead of time, the ability to eyeball macros, and the ability to resist more temptation. Frankly, it’s often a lot less work just to plan macros ahead of time.

Let’s take a look at your typical day.

Imagine that you wake up at 7am in the morning. You have no clue exactly “what” you are supposed to eat today, but you know your macros:

It’s a rest day, so you have to hit 200g of protein, 65g of fat, and 75g of carbohydrates.

How are you going to accomplish this during your day?

1. Envision foods as their individual components

The main “overwhelmingness” stems from the fact that many people visualize their intake as “full meals” rather than their individual components.

When you think about a typical “meal” eaten by Americans, what comes to mind? Burgers, pizza, General Tso chicken. To complicate matters, these are probably meals that you must simultaneously cook for your family and fit into your diet.

Instead of thinking in “meals”, I want you to think of your food as component parts.

Burgers are bun + burger patty. Pizza is dough + cheese + sauce + meat. General Tso is… well… no one really knows what the hell is in there.

Anyway, let’s zoom in on the example of a “burger and fries” meal. I want you to break down this meal into its individual components along with their macronutrients, namely:

– The hamburger patty: protein + fat
– The hamburger bun: carbs
– French fries: carbs + fat

If this is starting to overwhelm you already, take a deep breath and stick with me. I promise it will all make sense soon. I am simply trying to get you to see that meals can be broken up into individual components.

2. Stock up on ready-to-eat protein-dominant, carb-dominant, or fat-dominant “components”

The second thing that you will want to do is surround yourself with a few ready-made protein, carb, or fat dominant “components” that you can consume at any point in the day.

Let me explain what I mean by this.

By “protein/fat/carb” dominant, I means that a majority of that item’s calories are taken up by that macronutrient.

I also use the term “components” here, because these cannot be broken up any further.

Sample Protein-dominant Components:
– Deli meat (chicken, ham, roast beef, turkey)
– String cheese
– Beef jerky
– Ready-made chicken/turkey/tuna. Some examples include canned versions, or ready-made versions like Tyson’s. (Non-breaded, no sauce.)
– Whey protein
– Casein protein

Sample Carb-dominant Components:
– Multigrain/wheat bread, bagels, etc.
– Quick oats (not necessarily ready-to-go, but microwaveable)
– Fruit
– Couscous (not necessarily ready-to-go, but microwaveable)

Sample Fat-dominant Components:
– Peanut butter
– Olive/coconut oil
– Heavy cream
– Sour cream
– Salad dressing

Your pantry should be stocked with these items. You can probably see where I’m going here.

3. Separate Meals Into Protein/Fat or Protein/Carb:

a. Always break things up into components.

Only prepare meals that can be broken up into these component forms:

Lean Protein + Fat + Starch + Steamed fibrous vegetables
Fatty Protein + Starch + Steamed fibrous vegetables

b. Use cooking methods that don’t add any additional calories to your meal.

Lean and fatty proteins should be grilled, baked, fried/sauteed in non-calorie spray, steamed, etc. They should NOT be breaded, fried, deep fried, marinated in super sugary or oily marinades, etc. Instead, cook them with as many zero-calorie seasonings as you like. Soy sauce, rubs, marinades, are all fair game.

As for carbohydrates – Brown rice, White rice, Couscous, Baked potatoes, and Baked sweet potatoes are some good examples. The key here is that there should ideally be no added fat to your carbohydrates. (This makes counting incredibly simple.)

4. Measure As You Go Throughout Your Day

Here’s the most important part.

Rather than plan ahead meticulously, you’re going to slowly hit your targets as the day goes on instead, then balance everything at the end.

Let’s bring up our targets again for a refresher. Let’s say you have to hit the following on a rest day:

200g of protein, 65g of fat, and 75g of carbohydrates.

For example, for lunch, you may feel like a sandwich. You plop some meat on a scale and measure out 5 ounces. You put it between a toasted bagel and a slice of low fat cheese. Then, you log everything on MyFitnessPal. You are now at:

50g protein, 60g carbs, 10g fat.

It’s the middle of the day and you want to get closer to your numbers. You eat a container of cottage cheese, a tablespoon or peanut butter, and two scoops of whey. You are now at:

150g protein, 75g carbs, 25g fat.

Uh oh! Your boss says that you have an important dinner with a client. Well, you need to hit 50g of protein and 40g of fat. You order the closest thing at the restaurant that you can find to balance your 50g of protein and 40g of fat.

There’s a lean fish option, but you’re not exactly sure how it’s cooked or how big the portions are. From a macronutrient ratio standpoint, you need protein and fat, so it looks like your best bet.

The fish comes out and it’s the size of “two decks of playing cards.” You recall that this means it’s 6oz and 40g. BOOM! It tasted a bit oily, however, even if it was a lean piece of fish. You go ahead and add 13g of fat to account for that.

You’ve nailed your protein and have about 27g of fat to go. You make this up using 2 orders of whiskey (recall you can substitute one drink with 20g of fat). You still technically have 7g of fat to go, but you decide to just call it quits today.

Ta da! You hit your macros. Now, there’s just one problem with winging every single day… Let’s see what that problem is and how to solve it.

Meal Portfolios

Here’s the problem with winging. It’s mentally taxing. Each time you want to eat something, you have to decide what to eat, then add to your macros.

You have to constantly make decisions around food. This means that you have to constantly think about food. Constantly thinking about food, combined with a caloric deficit, might not be the best idea. (Have you ever watched The Food Network while you’re on a diet?)

In order to remove your mind away from food and make less mental decisions (which means more willpower and more self control), you can develop a meal portfolio.

A meal portfolio is a list of meals that you don’t have to think about and fit your macros in some way.

Similar to planning your macros, you’ll want to split them up into 2 or 3 meals, depending on preference.

Let’s say you prefer 2 meals and your macros today are 150g protein, 130g carbohydrates, and 60g fat.

That means each meal should be 75g protein, 65g carbohydrates, and 30g fat. Now, make a portfolio of meals that you can select from that hit this amount. For example:

– 1/2 scoop whey, 1 chipotle burrito bowl with double chicken/black beans/brown rice/very small dollop of sour cream
– 9 oz cooked chicken, 1.5 cups cooked brown rice, 1.5 tbsp olive oil

You get the idea. Building a food portfolio can be rather fun! The only problem is that if you have a macro adjustment, you’ll have to adjust your entire portfolio, which can be a pain.

Closing Out

Most people will use a hybrid of strategies instead of just one strategy. If you are a busy, professional, working woman who also cooks for her family, then perhaps you’ll want to plan dinner’s macros ahead of time (you can cook a family meal with separate starch and meat components) and then wing the remaining macros during the day. There is some combination here that will work for you.

If this is your first time looking at macros, this might sound tedious. In some ways, it is.

But rest assured of the following:

1. This style of eating will soon become second nature. I’ve been eating this way for half a decade now, and I used to think that I was hopeless.

2. As you get accustomed to this style of eating, your meals will become more advanced. You’ll be able to piece together components in a more sophisticated fashion and make meals that more closely resemble what you were eating before. (Although I strongly suspect that most people – after losing a ton of weight – will not want anything to do with their former styles of eating.)

3. Consider that the main difficulty of this part of dieting is in the macronutrient accounting.

That’s right. If you are complaining about something in this diet, it is the need to keep track of things.

No, you’re not complaining about being hungry all the time. You don’t have to push yourself in the gym to the point of collapse. You don’t have to get up every single morning to run.

Unlike most diets that do not work, the fact that the challenge is cerebral – and mastering the challenge will lead to success – should be something that you embrace.

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When It’s Better Not to Make Progress on the Scale: A Mathematical Look


When it comes to making progress–be it in fitness, startups, or pretty much anything–I have a strong focus on using the correct metrics in order to see consistent progress. It’s important to see your weight decrease from week-to-week as consistently and frequently as possible in order to build a positive feedback loop around fitness.

But your weekly weigh-ins doesn’t tell the whole story. In fact, the most important client victories occur when no weight was lost, but instead, the client didn’t gain weight or had another breakthrough. In fact, pushing yourself every single week in order to see a budge on the scale may backfire. Let’s take a look at why.

A Model of Fitness Input vs. Progress

There are an infinite amount of variables that determine your weight loss progress. The most important ones: your environment (the people who surround you, your job, and so on), genetics, exercise program, diet, and your level of effort. When these variables remain constant, your weight loss remains constant as well. Extending this one step further, individuals will reach an equilibrium weight when factors remain steady.

This is why an individual’s weight tends to stabilize at different points in their life. However, after a life event that changes these variables–going to college, a new job, a new girlfriend, etc.–they’ll see a change in weight patterns until it hits a new equilibrium.

In economics, you’d call this a “production function” that looks something like:

Q = f(physiology, environment, exercise program, diet program, effort)

Let’s take a look at some of the input variables. “Physiology” is a multiplier that accounts for things such as genetics, current lean body mass, insulin sensitivity, whether you are trained or untrained (e.g. untrained folks have a higher multiplier because they’ll see more progress early on) etc. This multiplier can increase or decrease over the span of weeks or months, but is unlikely to change too much on a weekly basis.

Exercise and diet program are also relatively constant week-to-week and interact with everything else. Some programs, may yield results only with high effort, whereas others may allow for lower levels of effort.

The two most important variables to examine are environment and effort, as they are the most likely to change week to week. Let’s say that you want to lose two pounds per week (Q=2). On a week where you have a consistent regimen in place, plenty of time and no stress at home or at work, let’s say that it arbitrarily takes 5 units of “effort.” However, if you are traveling and on vacation with the family, the level of effort may double to 10 units.

Effort is essence, is the only variable that you’ll have direct input into multiple times a day.

The Relationship Between Effort and Success

The most important thing to realize is that effort is also part of a related model. For a given time period, if you don’t see enough results for the effort that you put in, your motivation will suffer, potentially leading to burnout.



The graph above shows cumulative effort plotted against cumulative results. Everyone has a certain “threshold” of effort that they’re willing to put in until they give up because of lack of results. There are two important characteristics of this threshold:

  • Your threshold isn’t linear, and that’s because we what economists call “diminishing marginal returns” from results. Given that we have a limited amount of resources like time, willpower, and money, each marginal amount of effort we put in becomes more difficult than the last.
  • This threshold is constantly evolving based on where you are on your journey; someone who has only been dieting for a month will, of course, be willing to put in more effort in order to see results.

A better analogy may be to imagine a health meter, like in a video game. You deplete your health when you expend effort. By seeing results, however, the health meter generates. The main point is that if we need to double or triple effort in order to see the same results when our environment makes things difficult, we risk burning out and losing motivation. It would be far easier to wait for the storm to pass, so to speak.

Relating this Model to Real Life

Here’s what this model tells us: there are points during the month, year, and in our lives when we shouldn’t be focusing on making numerical progress, but rather, focus on preventing yourself from backtracking. Seeing negative results is one of the most demoralizing things of all, especially if you’ve been making steady progress. By preventing yourself from taking a step backwards, rather than expending an incredible amount of effort to move forward, you’ll be able to progress more consistently over the long run.

Some example life-scenarios include:

  • Life events: Moving to a different city, switching jobs, going through a divorce, or any temporary situation where your dieting plans always seem to be derailed.
  • Certain…ahem…times of the month (for female dieters): Some women have a disproportionate amount of difficulty during menstruation. For those individuals, it may be best to just maintain.
  • Annual Events: During the holidays or going on an annual family trip, it may be much better to plan to fail rather than to keep progress linear.

In these scenarios, true progress occurs when you are able to use your efforts in order to hold progress steady until you can move forward again.

A word of caution: don’t use the message above to backwards rationalize stagnancy when you can make progress. In order to do that, you must obviously practice mindfulness. However, you’ll do better to ride the ebb and flow of life instead of having that one magical numerical target on the scale that you must hit week-in-and-week-out.

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The One Thing That Successful Fitness People Have in Common


Shortly after I began coaching, I started recognizing patterns in those who are successful vs. unsuccessful in their fitness endeavors. People who find fitness success all have one thing in common, and it has to do with the way they think.

Unsuccessful people think about fitness through lists.

Successful people think about fitness through mental models.

As a predictor of success, this model is so powerful that using it gives you a “spidey sense” of sorts for predicting who’s going to succeed.

A Look at The Two Ways of Thinking


First, it’s important to understand context: there is more fitness content now than ever before. There are other factors other than sheer volume that add to the confusion–contradictory research and authority figures selling health immediately come to mind.

List thinkers cope with the myriad of information by adhering to simple rules. The rules tend to use binary adjectives in nature and anything health related is characterized as “good or bad,” “toxic or healthy,” “these exercises lead to abs, but these will give your child autism.” A cursory look at Yahoo’s aggregation of nutrition articles will show you exactly what this persona is particularly vulnerable to.

On the other hand, the successful type of persona creates a mental model of how fitness works. They then use this model to make decisions. For example, a carbophobe might subscribe to the insulin hypothesis of obesity–you get fat when insulin is chronically raised. (Even when you don’t eat anything apparently. I guess they believe you can store air as fat?)

Now here’s the kicker.

Subscribing to a mental model is so powerful that they don’t need to be completely factually correct. In fact, they’re often effective even when they’re downright wrong, because they allow someone to make decisions during imperfect scenarios. As economists would say, they allow people to deal with the issue of “scarcity.” (“Let’s see…I’m at a party I can go with the insulin-raising donuts there, or avoid the path to diabetes altogether and go with those sliders. As long as I peel the buns off.”)

List thinkers are doomed from the start. There is no possible way to mitigate all of the information they’ll encounter. For that, you need a mental model…a framework of sorts…for that. In lieu of a framework, they constantly seek the newest, most up-to-date content. They replace one list with something equally bad, presumably because someone somewhere sells them on the fact that there’s been groundbreaking research.

Cheesy “Where to Go From Here” Section

Fitness professionals, stop fucking making lists. I don’t mean all lists–just overly-simplistic ones that people may use in lieu of a mental model.

Non-fitness professionals, find a mental model that resonates with you. Whether it’s tracking calories, eating intuitively, or even going full Paleo, any mental model is better than none.

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Images by Great Beyond and vassilis galopoulos.

Figure Out Your Body Fat Pecentage from Waist Measurements

Figuring the body fat percentage of you or your clients can be tricky. Sure, you can use images, calipers, or a something more accurate like a Bod Pod or hydrostatic test, but sometimes you need a way to figure it out on the fly. In this case, you can use the simplified charts that I created below.

Semi-Scientific Methodology

First off, take these with a grain of salt. They’re based on a few hundred data points that I had from men and women, for whom I had waist measurements and a reasonable guess about their body fat percentage.

A Gompertz curve did a pretty good job predicting body fat percentage when plotted against waist measurement, so I used the data points to create a rather unwieldy function, then spat it out into two tables for ease of reading.

While there are obviously cases that don’t fit, the lookup tables have been surprisingly accurate. Try it for yourself.

Lookup Table for Men

Waist (inches) Approximate Bodyfat Percentage
25 5%
26 6%
27 7%
28 8%
29 9%
30 10%
31 11%
32 13%
33 15%
34 17%
35 19%
36 21%
37 23%
38 26%
39 29%
40 31%
41 34%
42 36%
43 39%
44 42%
45 44%
46 46%
47 48%
48 50%
49 52%
50 54%

Lookup Table for Women

Waist (inches) Approximate Bodyfat Percentage
25 15%
26 15%
27 16%
28 17%
29 18%
30 21%
31 23%
32 26%
33 28%
34 31%
35 34%
36 37%
37 40%
38 43%
39 46%
40 48%
41 51%
42 53%
43 56%
44 58%
45 60%
46 62%
47 63%
48 65%
49 66%
50 67%

The Dark Truth About My First Fitness Transformation

Almost everyone loves a good before-and-after picture. Like watching a feel-good romantic movie where the awkward guy/girl finds an attractive mate at the end, it awes and inspires. But there’s a dark side to many fitness transformations that you don’t see…one that doesn’t have a happy ending.

Those reading this probably know about my former-fat-kid background by now. There’s a side-by-side before and after picture that made its way around the Internet, even being covered by CNN.

Before/After picture from CNN’s article describing my transformation.

But pictures like these are misleading. They merely describe a snapshot in time, and not a true ending. The truth is that many fitness transformations are like a Kardashian marriage: destined to fail, short lived, and full of psychological repercussions at the end.

Most before-and-after pictures are like this. Who wants to bet this couple didn't last?

Many fitness transformation pictures are like this. A nice glimpse at some point in time… but who wants to bet this couple didn’t last? (see: prom tattoo)

Dieting for my Bodybuilding Show

In 2006 I decided to enter a bodybuilding show. At the start of my diet–16 weeks away–I weighed 203 pounds.

Right before deciding to do a bodybuilding contest.

Right before deciding to do a bodybuilding contest.

For four straight months, I ate six perfectly times meals each day, consisting of only “healthy food” such as chicken, broccoli, whey, and brown rice. Here was my diet:

Sample Training Day Diet

Meal 1: 8oz chicken breast, 1 oz almonds, broccoli
Meal 2 (exactly 3 hours later): 8oz chicken breast, 1 oz almonds, broccoli
Meal 3 (exactly 3 hours later): 8oz chicken breast, 1 oz almonds, broccoli
Meal 4 (exactly 3 hours later): 8oz chicken breast, 1 oz almonds, broccoli
Post Workout Meal: 2 scoops whey, 50g dextrose
Meal 6 (exactly 1 hour after post workout meal): 4 oz chicken breast, 100g of carbs from potatoes

Sample Rest Day Diet

Meal 1: 8oz lean steak breast, 1 oz almonds, broccoli
Meal 2 (exactly 3 hours later): 8oz lean steak, 1 oz almonds, broccoli
Meal 3 (exactly 3 hours later): 8oz lean steak, 1 oz almonds, broccoli
Meal 4 (exactly 3 hours later): 8oz chicken breast, broccoli
Meal 5 (exactly 3 hours later): 8oz chicken breast, broccoli
Meal 6 (exactly 3 hours later): 8oz chicken breast, broccoli

I also did an hour of cardio every single morning and trained 4x/week for an hour each session. Sure, I had some slip-ups, for which my coach yelled at me, and told me to stop being a lazy and show some self-control.

It paid off…or so it seemed. By the end, I weighed 155 pounds and was in the best shape of my life. I also ended up placing third in the contest.

I was on top of the world. Finally fit, I’d conquered my fat-kid demons…right?

Not So Happily Ever After

The evening after finishing my contest, physically starving and psychologically deprived of food, I had a (well-deserved) day off. I gorged on everything imaginable… pizza, cupcakes, gummy bears, and some incident with a sandwich made up of marshmallow fluff, peanut butter, and honey that I don’t fully remember.

The next day, I stepped on the scale and weighed a whopping 20 lbs. Could I have gained 20 lbs in one whole day? Thankfully, the Internet assured me that I couldn’t have, and it was only water weight.

Then something funny happened. Like the movie Groundhog Day, I couldn’t stop repeating my actions of the previous night. I developed an uncontrollable hunger and started putting on real weight. Feelings of guilt would lead to a vicious cycle–I would binge until physical nausea, then feel extreme guilt the next day, which only led to more urges to eat uncontrollably.

My roommates noticed that I was gaining weight, so I started hiding food. Binge sessions started to take on characteristics of what I can only describe as an out-of-body experience. It was like I floated above my body, watching myself in third person, helplessly unable to put on the breaks.

My bodybuilding contest was on November 16th, 2006. By the middle of January, I looked like this:


As you can tell by my face, Dick was not happy.

In a little more than two months, I got back to 205 pounds, roughly where I started. My back-of-the-envelope calculations tell me that I was eating upwards of 6,000 calories a day for months straight. (My toilet confirmed this.)

A Cautionary Tale: Where to Go From Here

While some people make true, sustainable transformations, my story isn’t uncommon. For example, most Biggest Loser contestants end up regaining their weight and then some.

But I’m glad I had this experience; it was the first event that gave me an inkling that sometimes we can’t just exert more willpower and self-control, and it’s the reason I preach this passionately as a coach.

There was no amount of willpower that could have kept me from binging daily, and now I know that it’s likely a limited resource. This experience is the reason that I write so much about self-compassion, protecting your willpower, and loving yourself.

My mistake is that I tried to transform my outside without first transforming myself inside, and I now know that because of this experience.

Instead, focus on transforming yourself inside first and understand that fitness isn’t about simply “eat less, move more.

These days, I use the picture below as my signature “before and after.” This transformation was made by truly understanding myself, rather than futilely relying on willpower. (Also it has a cat.)

In reality, there is no such thing as an “after” picture. That’s because side-by-sides like these are merely a snapshot in time… “After” pictures are constantly becoming our new “before” pictures, and we’re all trying to try to find our final form.

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The Word You Should Never Use

I’m fortunate enough to have a rare insight into what makes people successful in fitness.

There’s nothing really special about me, except for one important fact – I’ve trained hundreds of clients and pay close attention to patterns that lead to success and/or failure.

When you look at the subset of clients who have made amazing transformations, there are key commonalities that can’t be ignored. I want to share the most powerful one with you.

Never use this word again

What if I told you that there were one word which, if you stopped using, would instantly make you better at fitness. And life.

That word is “mistake.”

I’m completely serious, ditch this word. Nuke it from your vocabulary.

Mistakes are completely natural; all humans make them. They’re a learning opportunity thatwill make you better at life.

The problem with the word mistake is that its negative connotation is deeply rooted in society. People are so prone to defining themselves by their mistakes that there is a belief that they necessarily stem from character flaws.

Recall the last time you uttered the words “I made a mistake.” You probably subconsciously cast your character in a bad light for making it.

How does this translate to fitness? Let’s see.

A Case Study on “Mistakes”

Let’s pretend that you have been on a strict diet for three months now. You’ve been disciplined about hitting your macros and have seen great results.

Your friend’s wedding is coming up soon, but you don’t want to interrupt your diet. Instead, you decide to diligently plan your macros around the food that’s being served at the wedding. You’re not exactly sure what that food is, except that you checked off “chicken” on your wedding invitation.

As you’re sitting at your assigned table, passing up the champagne, and hoping that “The Rains of Castamere” doesn’t start playing, the chicken dish arrives.


You expected a grilled piece of chicken with a side of vegetables. To your absolute horror, it was breaded and doused in more oil than the Deepwater Horizon’s backyard.

You rationalize eating it anyway, and your diet goes downhill from there. Six thousand calories later, you realized you made a mistake.

But wait, thankfully Dick told you not to use that word.

Missteps vs. Mistakes

One thing I’ve noticed about my clients who make this amazing transformations is that they don’t make mistakes.

Instead, they make missteps.


A mistake implies a dead end – that a shameful decision, often a perceived personality flaw such as the lack of willpower or discipline, led to an undesired (and final) outcome.

Instead, the word “misstep” reminds you that the decision is part of an overall journey, and that you always have the ability to course correct.

By reframing the experience as a stepping stone to mastery, you can show yourself self-compassion, which makes you less likely to make the same bad decision again.

After all, unless you’re Walder Frey, you’ll probably be invited to more weddings.

The Time Machine Exercise

Let’s go back to our example. Now that we know that we made a misstep (a decision that you can avoid in the future) rather than a mistake (the result of a potential character flaw), we can now learn from it.

One of the exercises that I have my Your Ultimate Transformation clients do when they make a misstep is the “Time Machine Exercise.”


Pretend that you had a Time Machine and could go back to the day of the wedding. What could you have done to have created a better outcome? (Aside from buying stocks, that is.)

In this exercise, you’re not allowed to default to “I would have shown more discipline” or “there was nothing I could do.” (Sometimes these are legitimate answers, but more often than not it’s a cop out that your brain will default to in order to prevent learning.)

Well, perhaps you should have known that there was no way that you would have stuck to macros at your wedding and should have given yourself an off day, which is far less mentally taxing.

Alternatively, rather than try to stick to your target macronutrients, you could have created a caloric buffer instead. (I have an entire guide on planning to fail here.)

Regardless of what you think would have worked best, reframing the wedding as a misstep allows you to perform the Time Machine exercise and obtain a better outcome in future similar situations.

A word of caution… Don’t be fooled, because this is no easy experiment. Every single bone in your body, every single cell in your brain, even all of your friends who “like you just the way you are,” will fight against change.

You’ll try to convince yourself that this exercise is silly, or that you already knew what you should have done – just don’t eat the damn chicken.

Change is hard. Allowing yourself to change is even harder.

Your Ultimate Transformation client Denise showed herself self-compassion during the process.

The Secret of Transformations

Want to know the secret of creating your own permanent transformation?

Your Ultimate Transformation client dpalacio made this change in only 8 weeks.

It’s that you cannot create an external transformation without first creating an internal transformation.

So many people try to start with the external, rather than the internal.

You see this on shows like The Biggest Loser all the time. They grind themselves into the ground and give it everything to simply “eat less and move more.” External actions might work in the short term, but not the long term.

Maybe that’s why most contestants (and dieters in fact) end up gaining back their original weight.

As I’ve said before, fitness is a skill, and an internal one at that. To make true transformations like my clients above, you’ll need to change yourself on the inside. This change can only happen if you drop the word mistake from your vocabulary.

After all, you are not your mistakes.

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The Dicktionary: A Glossary of Dickisms

If you’re having some trouble understanding me, don’t worry! This glossary of common Dickisms (Dictionary imo) should help you figure out what I’m saying:




meow Now I need you here right meow.
meow… (or meow!) Feeling of discontent I lost another e-cig. meow…
popsicle Article Did you see the popsicle I wrote yesterday?
grate Great Yes I did and that article was grate!
sank you Thank you Why sank you
herro Hello Why herro there!
tho Signifies a counter argument or a superior example. You: “I love Justin Bieber”
Me: “Zac Effron tho”
imo Proceeds an opinion, a fact, or a dickism. Proposed dickisms may also be fair game. Opinion – Deadlifts aren’t that grate imo.

Fact – Yeah, protein has 4 calories per gram imo.


Dickism – You: “Hey Dick, did you finish your article? Me: “Popsicle imo.”


Double Proposed Dickism

Dick: “Did you bring the silverware?”

Ali: “Civil war imo.”

Dick: “Shovel whore imo.”

lettuce beef air Let us be fair Lettuce beef air the Saints are grate
whore moan Hormone Leptin is the main whore moan driving your body’s settling point
ty Thank you ty imo
tea why ty tea why
nty No thank you nty
an tea why nty cardio? an tea why
here hear Can u here me meow imo?
right write I have to right a popsicle.
cloud Phone, computer, book, website or anything that relates to technology. Might also be an actual cloud. Ya I just programmed a cloud yesterday… wait sec I gotta turn off my cloud I can’t here you.
ovary acting Overreacting sank you for not ovary acting
goober You. Because you’re a goober. Omg you’re such a goober
Im drunk tho Really means tho. It’s an autocorrect after Dick’s goober sister messed with his cloud. Dick Test 1: “Yeah I’m ok Im drunk tho”

Dick Text 2: “Grrr I mean I’m ok tho”


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4 Reasons Why Fight Club is the Exact Opposite of CrossFit

This is a guest post by Clement You, CPT is a personal trainer based in Singapore and fitness blogger at

Conspiracy theorists, take note. There is something very eerie going on between CrossFit and Fight Club…

Ignoring the obvious fact that their initials are backwards (CF vs. FC), there are some very compelling reasons that Fight Club is the exact opposite of CrossFit. Could this be mere coincidence?

Similarity #1

Image credit:

Fight Club: The first rule of Fight Club is not to tell anyone about Fight Club.

Image credit:

CrossFit: The first rule of CrossFit is to never shut up about CrossFit.

This one is pretty self-explanatory. Although the burning question remains… if a CrossFit vegan introduces himself to you, which does he talk about first?

Similarity #2

Took a screenshot from the movie; generated the meme. Cool dudes know how to this.

Fight Club: You purposely try to injure others.


CrossFit: Meanwhile…

I once had a friend that did CrossFit, and he was always injured. Like literally, always injured. It never crossed his mind not to train, take some time off, or listen to his body. I guess that he wishes that he were a wounded bird in another life.

Similarity #3


Fight Club: The brown bubbly stuff is often ingested before a fight.

CrossFit: The brown bubbly stuff is excreted afterwards.

This is one of the “similarities” that I wish I were joking about. Rhabdomyolysis, a condition that hardcore CrossFit athletes are so familiar with that they “endearingly” call it “Uncle Rhabdo” is no joke. It’s a fatal condition that some people wear as a badge of honor. Because to some people, peeing brown is cool(?)

Similarity #4

Gif from

Fight Club: The leader realizes he’s delusional at the end.


CrossFit: well… I’m just going to leave this here…

“We can take you from a 200 pound max deadlift to a 500-750 pound max deadlift in two years while only pulling max singles four or five times a year. We will though work the deadlift, like most lifts, approximately once per week at higher reps and under grueling conditions. It may intuit well that if you can pull a 250 pound deadlift 21 times coming to the lift at a heart rate of 180 beats per minute, then 500 pounds for a single at a resting heart rate is perhaps manageable.” – CrossFit Founder Greg Glassman


Clement You, CPT is a personal trainer based in Singapore and fitness blogger at He believes in heavy lifting, flexible dieting, the psychology of fitness and the League of Assassins (in no particular order). His previous struggles with depression and bulimia have helped his expertise and successful work with clients with eating disorders. They influence him to look deeper than exercise programming and into the intrinsic determinants of psychology and motivation on fitness success.

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