A 5-Step Guide To Getting Back on The Horse When You’ve Fallen Off

Weeks without training. Consecutive days of binging. Terrified to step on the scale.

We’ve all been there.

At this point in my life, I’ve probably fallen off the fitness horse a dozen times or more.

Some people fall of the horse once and never get back on. I’ve seen this with some of my clients, unfortunately; if I don’t get to them before it’s too late, they have dropped fitness for the immediate future.

Luckily, I’ve saved many of them and have been able to iterate and tweak the steps that I recommend.

Here’s exactly how to get back on the horse when you’ve fallen:

Step 1. Realize that falling off the horse is normal

I’ve written a lot about self-compassion, so I won’t beat that horse to death. (Otherwise you won’t be able to get back on it, amirite? What is it with all of these equine metaphors anyway…) But it’s important to show yourself some self-compassion.

Look, falling off the horse is completely normal. Everyone does it, and it doesn’t make you weak-willed or undisciplined. It makes you human. It’s important to come from a place of self-compassion here so that you can try again.

We’re going to go through an exercise that’s used in the field of social work in order to improve self compassion around this situation. It may seem silly, but it will greatly increase your forgiveness for this misstep.

Split yourself up into three different personas.

The criticizer – The person who is angry that you fell off the horse.
The criticized – The person who is defensive about the potentially hurtful things that the criticizer is saying.
A compassionate mediator – Someone who is going to look at things objectively and help figure out how to move forward. You can pretend that this is the most compassionate, understanding friend that you have.

Now, run through the dialogue that the criticizer would say. You know, the things that you’re internally berating yourself about for stopping your regimen. Notice the charged words that are said and how they make you feel.

Secondly, run through the dialogue that the criticized person would say. Talk about how hurtful the criticizer’s words are and how they don’t make you feel like continuing.

Lastly, go through the compassionate mediator’s role. You’re going to show an extreme amount of compassion for the person being criticized. It’s important to note that this does not mean making excuses, but rather, be empathetic and understanding of the situation at hand.

Mediate those two sides. Talk about how the criticizer’s intentions are probably good, but the way that they are expressed hinder the ability to progress. (Remember, the mediator should be compassionate towards both parties.)

Go through a plan of action in which the criticizer will be happy that you’re going to prevent this misstep in the future (This is a good place to run the Time Machine Exercise in order to talk about what you could’ve objectively done to minimize the amount of derailing), and the criticized person will feel supported in his endeavors and understand that he/she is not defined by his misstep.

You’ll find that when you practice going through this exercise, you’ll start to show yourself a lot more self-compassion for falling off the horse.

Step 2. Evaluate your losses objectively, without judgment

Once you show yourself some self-compassion, you can now evaluate your losses objectively, without judgment.

Your losses can be broken down into two categories.

Muscle and Strength Loss

If your layoff was under three months then chances are you did not lose very much muscle.

According to Sports-Specific Rehabilitation, “Strength trained athletes retain strength gains during short periods of inactivity (2 weeks) and retain significant portions of strength gains (88% to 93%) during inactivity lasting up to 12 weeks.”

If you’ve gone without training for longer then that, don’t fret. Bodybuilders and strength athletes have long observed that even after a long period of inactivity outside the gym – sometimes lasting years – previous levels of strength came back relatively quickly. It’s almost as if one’s muscle retains a “memory” of how strong it once was. (Hence, the term for this is “muscle memory.”)

Scientists were actually perplexed about this phenomenon until recently, when it was discovered that the nuclei of muscle actually stays in-tact even through atrophy.

tl;dr – strength comes back quickly.

Fat Gain

If you have been feasting and binging for several days, or even weeks, the number on the scale may shock you. It’s typical for clients to put on as much as 5% of their bodyweight (10 lbs for a 200-lb man). One female client put on 8% additional bodyweight (about 10 lbs for a 135-lb woman).

But most of this weight is probably from excess water retention, not fat.

Basically, the scale is lying to you. Realize that it takes a surplus of 3,500 calories to gain one pound of fat. Think objectively and without judging yourself – Do you think that you racked up that much of a surplus?

Possible, but not likely. In all likelihood, most of it is water weight. Take a week on a relatively moderate caloric deficit (20% or so) then step on the scale again so that you can come to an objective conclusion. Additional water weight should subside by this time.

Taking the scale at face value is particularly dangerous without doing the protocol above. I’ve seen clients who fell off the horse completely, because they assumed that they undid all of their progress. In reality it would have only taken a week or two to undo damage.

Often it’s not the two-week vacation that someone takes that leads to their fitness doom, but the illusion that this doom had already occurred.

I have personal experience with creating this self-fulfilling prophecy. In 2006, I lost 40 pounds in 4 months and then competed in a bodybuilding contest. After gorging myself for two days straight post competition, I stepped on the scale and saw that I had gained a whopping twenty five pounds. Rather than realize this caloric accounting is impossible, I felt defeated, allowed myself to continue gorging, and ended up weighing 200 pounds within six weeks. (And no, that was not water weight.)

The moral of the story is this: When you fall off the horse, whether you think you’re past the point of no return or not, you are right.

So analyze objectively, without judgment. Better yet, talk to an experienced coach if you don’t feel like you can be objective with yourself.

Step 3. Show gratitude for how far you’ve come

Let’s say you won the lottery tomorrow. You’d be pretty fucking happy, right? Of course you would.

But that happiness fades away quickly. As it turns out, research shows that you probably wouldn’t be happier than the average person, and only marginally happier than someone who was paralyzed in an accident.

When it comes to happiness, us human beings are equally incredibly resilient and stubborn. We are always establishing a new baseline of happiness, and I see this in my clients all the time.

One client went from dumbbell chest pressing 40 lbs to 100 lbs in a few short months. (Honestly, there were some amazing genetics at play here, since that took me a total of 3 years.) Yet, after a short break he was incredibly displeased that he could only do 80 lbs.

When you focus on how much you “once could do” you idealize your past similar to the paralyzed individuals in the study above. (Note: Apologies in advance. I really don’t mean to equate losing 20 lbs on your bench press to becoming paralyzed, rather than display what happens when you idealize your past.)

Idealizing the past will lead to preemptive feelings of defeat, hopelessness, and self-hate.

But this can be prevented by showing a sense of gratitude. Take a step back. Think about how far you’ve come and how much work you put in to get there.

If you show a sense of gratitude with your progress to-date, you no longer focus on the 100 lbs that you used to do, but the 40-lb increase that you’ve accomplished. When you do that, you can again focus on continued growth rather than previous glory.

Step 4. Create a todo for list for “Reboot Week” and establish a baseline

The very last step is to designate a week to get back on your program – we’ll call this “Reboot Week” – and create a detailed list of all the things you have to do.

For example, if you’re struggling with going back to the gym because you’re worried about how weak you’ll feel, then your checklist will look like the following:

Hit macros within +/- 3%

– Put on workout attire
– Get in car
– Drive to gym
– Do 3 sets of dumbbell chest press
– Do 2 sets of incline dumbbell chest press

Hit macros within +/- 3%

– Put on workout attire
– Get in car
– Drive to gym
– Do 3 sets of barbell squats


Now here’s the important part. Just get through your list without thinking about outcome whatsoever. It doesn’t matter if you’ve completely lost all of your strength (which you likely didn’t) or if you’re still up 10 lbs on the scale. Focus on getting through your checklist.

Whenever you feel that voice inside of your head reminding you of where you once were, gently refocus back to your checklist and remain in the present.

By the end of the week, you’ll have your totals for your major lifts, as well as your weight and waist measurements.

Step 5. Crush your previous baseline

That’s it. Once you beat all of reboot week’s previous totals, you will have re-established a positive feedback loop and you’ll be ready to keep kicking ass.

Why I Recommend Strength Training and No Cardio for Beginners

Almost all of my prescribed programs for beginners involve strength training only, not cardio. That means lifting (relatively) heavy weights.

I am insistent, in fact, that you do not do any form of cardio to start out.

Here’s why: while cardio may be great for heart health, general health, it has horrible return on time.

One study showed that a it took an average of 35 hours of cardio to lose 1 lb of fat. Further support can be found in a meta-analysis, a “study of studies” examining the relationship between cardio and weight loss. The researchers conclude “Our results show that isolated aerobic exercise is not an effective weight loss therapy in these [overweight and obese populations].”

In many people, especially the beginner, cardio will exacerbate hunger (beyond the amount of calories that you burn) and increase the pain of dieting.

But shouldn’t I still be doing cardio for overall health?

Recall that I said that in learning to love fitness and become intrinsically motivated, you will undergo what I call the “rewiring of the brain.” Part of that rewiring is realizing that while some activities seem “healthy” (I don’t think anyone would ever call cardio unhealthy) that does not automatically mean they should be part of your regimen.

More important than whether or not an activity is healthy is how it fits into the big picture. What impact does that activity have on your limited resources of time, money, and willpower? How does the activity affect your overall fitness feedback loop?

Cardio, for example, may take time away from activities like sleep (if you do it in the morning before work) or strength training if you only have 3 hours/week to exercise. It’s not uncommon for cardio to cause a level of hunger that makes you want to consume more calories than you burned. These are all detrimental, and common, examples of cardio negatively impacting fitness motivation.

There is also a very important psychological benefit from shifting your energies towards weight training and away from cardio.

After a weekend of bad eating or indulging in a Thanksgiving meal, pounding on the treadmill’s pavement is often “payment” for your actions; exercise is an acute caloric expenditure.

This creates a certain mentality around exercise – people think of it as paying off a credit card bill.

Strength training, however, gets you to think of exercise in a different light.

Strength training builds muscle, which increases your ability to burn calories both through a higher resting metabolism and the ability to lift heavier weights. Add the fact that you’ll be simultaneously plain ol’ looking better naked, and suddenly exercise serves a very different purpose.

Rather than “paying off a credit card bill,” exercise now becomes slowly paying for a house. You are building an asset, not punishing yourself for an expense.

You can see how this has tremendous psychological benefit. It doesn’t end there.

Most of you will probably have a day where you derail from your diet and eat everything, including the kitchen sink. Old you would have wanted to pay your dues on the treadmill. But from a physiological perspective, strength training does something very different.

If you are training using my prescribed methods, which you can find on this blog, that overconsumption of calories actually helps build additional muscle, thereby further increasing your ability to burn calories.

You might feel stronger and more energized at the gym in the following days. Most importantly, you’ll mentally beat yourself up less for indulging in food.

In other words, strength training dampens the negative impact of screwing up on your diet from a physiological perspective. All of these things contribute to the rewiring of your brain that will get you to love exercise.

The shift from cardio to strength will teach you an important lesson, for cardio is representative of many things in fitness.

What might be healthy in isolation may be unhealthy in the grand scheme of things. Is something like cardio truly healthy in the scheme of your own fitness if it decreases your adherence and prevents an important mental shift around exercise?

Therefore, judging something’s “healthiness” cannot be done in isolation. It is different from person to person. It depends on your physiology, psychology, environment, and lifestyle. The converse is true as well: things normally deemed as “unhealthy” in isolation may be healthier in the large scheme of things. (Alcohol can be one of these things.)

As someone who’s been in the trenches of startup life, I am making the call that cardio is not conducive to your lifestyle… right now. At least not until this important mental shift is made and you can see that you can be successful without cardio. If you truly enjoy running and have copious amounts of time, you can add it back later.

The greater point is that you cannot think in black and white, healthy or unhealthy. That’s the only way to experience enlightenment and the “rewiring of the brain.”

Strength training can be intimidating at first, but there are ways to get started with it. I highly recommend checking out Man vs. Weight’s “Calisthetics training for beginners” guide to get started.

Further Reading: Why Tracking Calories from Exercise Can Sabotage Your Weight Loss

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Why You Shouldn’t Call Yourself a Trainer

If you “train clients” in the fitness profession, chances are that you call yourself a trainer.

I say the phrase “train clients” loosely enough to encompass anyone in the fitness industry who works with clients towards some fitness goal.

But if you are like most forward-thinking fitness professionals, especially the ones who play in the online space, you shouldn’t call yourself a trainer. Moving away from the trainer/trainee mindset might be the most powerful thing that you can do.

The Trainer, The Coach, and the Designer

What we call a “trainer” is really one of three roles: a trainer, a coach, or a designer. Let’s look at what distinguishes these roles from one another.

The Trainer

The defining characteristic of a “trainer” is the assumption that the trainer’s client will follow orders.

In other words, the client is expected to live in the trainer’s reality, where the trainer has complete control. The trainer directs the client with the complete, utter, unflappable assumption that those instructions will be executed.

trainer and client

Of course any fitness professional worth a dime is spilling their whey in a hissy fit about the fact that – similar to Lyle McDonald’s friends – this only exists in an imaginary world.

But in specific contexts, there are times when client adherence isn’t an issue. Think about fitness professionals who work with clients on the gym floor. During the hour-or-so session that they’re together, that person is a trainer.

One of the implications about not worrying about adherence is that recommendations can be physiologically optimal. Getting a hypothetical 3% extra return in MPS by perfecting a client’s post workout timing or carb-to-protein ratio makes sense.

But what if we can’t assume complete adherence? What happens if you introduce the notion that clients can choose not to obey you. This is where psychology comes into play.

The Coach

When you can’t assume complete adherence, you cross over into the “coach” realm. The distinguishing characteristic from trainers is that coaches have to deal with a client’s psychology.

Coaches have to deal with the fact that clients won’t always do what they say. Even worse, you might not even know if a client isn’t adhering; the client might be smiling and nodding at your recommendations while mentally telling you to fuck off.

This means that a good coach can no longer optimize for the physiologically optimal. Good coaches need to understand things like the limitations of your client’s willpower, the countdown to client activationdisrupting binge eating thought patterns, or why your clients obsess over the scale like a cat with a laser pointer.


It was you the whole time? R U kitten me?

So all you have to do is motivate your client to follow your plan? Simple right?

Not quite. It turns out people aren’t easily motivated. Even worse, the act of attempting to motivate them may push them the other way entirely. I write more extensively about this here.

After a while, many coach/client relationships turn into a tug-of-war over whose version of reality is correct.

nou1 nou2

Let’s use some concrete examples to explain the images above.

The client above didn’t hit her macros, because she was stressed with work, didn’t feel like her macros are attainable, and ultimately felt frustrated with her coach.

Her coach thinks that she’s simply making excuses.

“She could have hit her macros if she really wanted. I don’t understand why she’s even upset with me. She’s paying me to coach her.”

As a coach you will absolutely encounter the scenario above. The temptation will be to tell her to jump off a cliff or join the nearest CrossFit box. (Same thing, right?)

I’ve been there. It’s much easier to write this off as a hopeless client. But if you do the hard thing and understand that this is a very naturally occurring phenomenon, you can turn the situation around.

In order to do that, however, you have to become a designer.

The Designer

In the example above, the client and the coach are “wrestling” over the client’s recommendations.

As explained in Motivational Interviewing, a successful relationship between you and the client needs to look more like dancing, not wrestling.

Fitness designers are different from coaches in that they take into account the client’s environmental factors. By adopting this paradigm, you can elevate yourself to the most powerful of roles and become a “fitness designer.”

Designers takes it one step further than coaches by utilizing their knowledge of motivation, habit design, and nutrition. They then work with the client to describe an objective reality and use this reality to make decisions.

Let’s use a real client story to see how this works.

I have a client (let’s call her K) who typically trains after work. K is typically splendid, but she hasn’t been able to motivate herself to go to the gym lately.

The first thing that I wonder is why her motivation is low. She says that work stresses her and seems to depletes her of mental energy. I see if she can train in the mornings, but her schedule makes this impossible.

After digging around more, I then discovered that she was going home before the gym and the temptation to get off the couch was too much. She was going from a high-stress environment to a low-stress, relaxing environment, making it hard to leave the house afterwards.

Knowing BJ Fogg’s research on changing small habits and knowing how the habit loop works, we worked together to find a solution, which ended up being simple:

Change into gym clothes at the end of work, before going home.

As a designer, you can describe a shared reality that both you and your client agree with, and then figure out the best course of action.


Wearing Different Hats

Notice the thought process at the two different ends of the spectrum.

The trainer is concerned about the physiologically optimal. The perfect squat form and whatnot. The client is in the trainer’s world, and the trainer could care less about the client’s life.

The designer is concerned with the client’s habits, environment, and thought patterns. Understanding these requires knowing as much as you can about your client’s life.

These three roles aren’t mutually exclusive. You’ll need to switch between all three, just like you might need to switch between being a parent, a boss, etc.

One role isn’t necessarily better than the other. It depends on context. For example, Dr. Layne Norton is one of the fitness experts in the world. Because he focuses on making champion bodybuilders, he will most likely be in coach mode.

But if you, like most fitness professionals reading this, are hoping to change the lives of Average Joe and Average Jane, the best thing that you can stop doing is thinking of yourself as a trainer. (Again, this doesn’t apply to all folks, such as those whose clients have strength or physique goals, but it does apply to those who want to reach the masses.)

Once you have a good understanding of evidence-based fitness (this should be a prerequisite) you’ll become a better coach if you spend your time elsewhere. The material that makes the most powerful of these hats isn’t made from fitness. It’s made from empathy.

One thing that I’ve noticed is that the best coaches aren’t just the fitness-obsessed. They appreciate philosophy, art, culture, music, as much as they appreciate science. This is no coincidence; designing around your client’s life means relating to it as much as possible. These are things that you must learn outside of PubMed or the gym.

In reality, you’ll probably still call yourself a trainer. Or a coach. That’s totally fine. It’s the paradigm shift, not the label, that’s important.

Although please don’t ever say “I’m a fitness designer,” because that would just make you a tool.

p.s. If you’re interested in online coaching, make sure to sign up to be a Fitocracy Team Fitness coach where you can connect with a platform of 2-million users.

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Let Me Coach You 1-on-1

Why Work With Me?

Have you ever been blown away by a transformation picture? If you’ve ever seen any supplement ad or infomercial, chances are you have.

“Seth” made the transformation above in only 7 weeks.

And, if you’re like most people, you wish you were the person in that before-and-after picture.

But if transformations were common, you’d see them everywhere. Sadly, only a very small percentage of people are able to make them.

… That is, unless you are a client of mine.

That’s because I churn out these transformations like it’s my job (jk, it is). My clients, everyone from celebrities to everyday Joe, have called me a “fat loss wizard.”

Apply to Train With Dick

Why I Can Get These Results

What’s special about me that allows me to help others get results like my client Ben here?

Ben actually increased all of his lifts throughout his transformation.

A major reason is that for most of my life I hated exercise. Yep, if you thought that I loved exercise because I’m one of the co-founders of Fitocracy and a prolific fitness coach, you would be wrong.

Actually, I was obese growing up and had been for a majority of my life. I actually looked like the kid from Up, except much rounder and plumper. I topped 230 lbs at 5’7 (I’m now 5’10) at my peak.


Yep. Even the homeless laughed. :c

The funny thing is that both of my parents were Medical Doctors and had me “eat less and move more,” whatever that means.

I tried eating less and moving more with as much willpower as I could muster, but nothing worked. I loved food and I hated exercise too much. (I’m still actually quite neutral about exercise, to be honest. I don’t hate it, but I don’t love it either.)

Even worse, no amount of will power or motivation seemed to work . If you’ve ever tried to lose weight before, you know what I mean. Eventually, you give in to your urges. First once, then again and again. (I eventually learned that willpower only plays a small role in making your transformation.)

These days, I am now grateful for growing up as a fat kid. It’s the single most important thing that influenced me as a coach.It allowed me to find the “secret sauce” to a successful physical and mental transformation.

First, I’ve spent thousands of hours reading everything that I can about exercise and nutrition, and believe me, you’d be surprised how little most people know. (Did you know that breakfast is not necessarily the most important meal of the day?)

Secondly, through my many clients and my own self-awareness, I figured out the psychological aspect. This is arguably more important and I’ll tell you about the details in a bit, but let’s fast forward for now.

Four years after the picture above, I looked like this.

Only 4 years after the picture above

Get Started on Your Own Transformation

What’s Different About My Methods

Here’s the secret to why I can produce such amazing transformations with such high accuracy.

Fitness isn’t about willpower, motivation, or “being tough.”

Willpower is finite, motivation is fleeting, and good luck toughing it out on days when life massively gets in the way.

Rather, fitness is a cerebral skill, one that I will teach you. (For more on this, see my article on Schwarzenegger.com.)

jeremiah 100 lbs

Jeremiah lost 100 lbs working with me…and by doing the minimum that he needed to do.

All Programs Work

(…but good luck sticking to them)

Making an amazing transformation isn’t about finding the perfect program. After all, what good is the perfect program if you hate exercise like I did?

A successful transformation is about YOU and YOUR psychology, physiology, and your specific environment.

Denise created an internal transformation to make a huge change in a little more than 8 weeks

How many times have you dieted perfectly, only to be tempted with a slice of pizza or cake. If everyone could say no to cake and pizza all the time, everyone would have a six pack. After you give in, one slice turns into another, until you’re left devouring the entire shebang.

Here are more examples. How many times have you wrecked your diet eating out of boredom? Or because your spouse pressures you into eating something “unhealthy” and everything snowballs from there?

These are the things that prevent you from having an amazing transformation, not lacking the perfect diet and training program. I will teach you how to tackle these things through manipulating your thought patterns and habits.

In the end, you’ll finally make the transformation you deserve.

“Not only is Richard one of the most knowledgable people in the industry, he is tough when necessary, but understanding of life and circumstances. He’s available for questions when you need him and he pushes you to be the best version of you. I looked to Richard on a daily basis for help and encouragement. He was by and far one of my greatest assets as I prepared for Miss America 2013!”

– Mallory Hagan, Miss America 2013

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The Difference Between Me and Most Coaches

If you veer off of your diet, most coaches yell at you and tell you something along the lines of “ stop being lazy” or “just toughen up.” Most people are actually afraid of telling their coach about their failures.

While there is a time and a place for accountability, this technique rarely works for most people.

Rather, I’ll teach you to dissect and manipulate your thought patterns and habits, then work with you to find a plan which you will then practice. (Remember, fitness is a skill.) The result is that you will learn how to squash things preventing you from getting fit, such as binge eating.

I’ll teach you how to develop fitness as a skill.

Most coaches also haven’t had the breadth of clients to understand difficult physiologies. Between looking at client data and data from Fitocracy’s 1.5-million members, I’ve gotten experience with many different types of trainees and have found patterns. For example, it’s much harder for women who are already overweight to lose weight.

Many clients' weight did not want to budge until working with me.

Many clients, like Kim above, didn’t lose weight until working with me.

Why one-on-one with me?

Because you get a world class coach who you have access to 24/7 (you’ll go directly to my phone and have priority with real time help) who can help you with ANY fat loss goals. Whether you want to lose weight for the first time or you want to compete in your first bodybuilding show, I will make sure that you succeed.

The plan is extremely tailored. I might have some people starting off with light weights that they can do in their apartment gym. I might have some people squat every single day.

I also have training groups that you can join, but this is an opportunity to work 1:1 with me PRIVATELY. To make sure you succeed, I learn everything about you, your life, and your physiology and psychology.

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Taming the Scale: Why do we get emotional about our weight?

There are few things that have the power to dictate our mood, confidence, or self-worth more than the weighing scale.

Those that have never struggled with fitness likely have an innocuous relationship with the scale. It’s simply a piece of equipment that reports one’s weight.

But for those who have struggled with their body image, the scale represents much more. It’s a deity to which they pay homage by enduring great pains in hopes of a favorable number.

On some weeks, the scale loves you back.

baahs2Now, this isn’t such a bad thing. The scale can be a form of feedback that lets you know that you’re on the right track and allows you to build a positive feedback loop.

But no matter much you try to appease the scale – even with a perfect diet – natural weight fluctuations inevitably set in and the scale will output an unfavorable number.

This is what it feels like when the inevitable happens.


The image above seems harsh, but it’s not an exaggeration.

A person’s relationship with the scale can be downright abusive to the point of bringing people to tears. (Yes, I have witnessed it. A few times, actually.)

If you’re wondering how the scale can hold so much power over many of us, it’s because this isn’t just any household item.

Our imaginations transform the scale into a very unique creature, one that manifests the relationship between you and your body.

Like a shark that smells blood, the scale senses any and all of your body’s insecurities and feeds off of them. We’re not just talking about overweight people here.

Even people who see themselves as “too skinny” can be terrorized by the scale.


The Scale’s Source of Power

Before we dive into exactly how to fix our relationship with the scale, it’s helpful to know why the scale wields more power over us than Roose Bolton over the Starks during a wedding. (Obligatory Game of Thrones reference)

1. We think we are our weight. (And mistakes. And failures.)

Think about the statement “I am fat” for a second.

In this sentence, a person is literally defining “fat” as a characteristic akin to being male, female, Asian, black, or white – and all the while knowing that one’s level of “fatness” is malleable.

Unfortunately, there’s a cultural notion that being fat is a character flaw, much like laziness or gluttony.

This is actually an example of a much broader societal theme where mistakes and failures are inextricably linked to your identity: Failing means that you are a failure and making mistakes makes you a bad person.

By coupling people with their failures, weights, mistakes, etc., we are subtly instilling a “fixed mindset” into individuals.

People with a fixed mindset believe that one’s strengths, weaknesses, failures, and successes are relatively immutable traits; you either have them or you don’t. They don’t differentiate between outcomes – such as failures – and themselves. They avoid failure and improvement.

And remember how the scale feeds off your insecurities?

When you have a fixed mindset, the scale can tell.


Contrast this with someone who has a “growth mindset.” They believe that  through education and hard work, things can be improved. They embrace challenge, criticism, and set out to get better at different skills.

Someone with a growth mindset knows that you are not your mistakes. You are not your failures. To think so would be silly, since everyone fails or makes mistakes at some point.

The irony here is that those with fixed mindsets tend to be harder on themselves. This makes it more difficult to think about their weight (and fitness in general) objectively, because they feel immense shame and guilt from their failures. Instead, what they should do is show themselves some self-compassion.

On the other hand, someone with a growth mindset can assess failure much more objectively, thereby understanding what needs to be done in order to improve.

The fact of the matter is that you are not your mistakes.

2. Metrics are powerful.

Numbers, even those that do not tie into your sense of self, can have a profound impact on your mood.

Consider how many people are greatly influenced by the stock market, fantasy sports, or World Cup scores. Or perhaps there is a number at work that determines your job performance.

Important metrics strongly impact our feelings about ourselves and the world.

And the examples that I listed above are nothing compared to your ideal weight – a number that you’ve probably been focusing on (or possibly even obsessing about) for a long time now.

Anyone who has ever worked for a company that tracks key metrics absolutely knows that employee morale rises and falls with these numbers. For example, if you’re tracking app downloads and sharing it with your company, then a spike in signups leads to high motivation, whereas a slump may create a sense of listlessness.

It’s not hard to see how this ties into your weight. The difference between losing two pounds or gaining two pounds may be night and day to your mood, even if these results are completely within your weight’s normal fluctuation.

scale results mood

Why the Scale is Flawed

Ok, so we know that people heavily tie their weight to their sense of self and that numbers are powerful. Let’s see why this isn’t a good idea for many people before discussing what to do instead.

Weight loss as a proxy for fat loss

When people say that they want to lose weight, what they really mean is that they want to lose fat.

“But Dick, that’s a nitpick. Fat loss is a pretty good proxy for weight loss,” you might retort.

But is it?

Let’s consider this image, courtesy of superstar trainer Borge Fagerli.

That’s the same person in all three pictures, 14 lbs heavier by the end. This image is a quick way of demonstrating, by counter example, that weight loss isn’t always the best proxy for fat loss. In the picture above, the client likely replaced a lot of fat with a whole lot of muscle, leading to a net weight increase.

Got it? Good. Eh, actually here’s one last one for safe measure.

This is a client of mine who lost 10 inches off of her waist while staying the same weight.


Still, the images above were taken months, if not years, apart. What if the scale is good at measuring short term progress? Is there a better proxy for fat loss?

The answers to these two questions are intertwined, so bear with me while I explain.

A better proxy for fat loss – waist measurements

In the two images above, weight either stayed the same or increased, while the clients’ waist measurements decreased dramatically, reflecting the true fat loss that occurred.

In fact, waist measurements tend to be more stable despite natural weight fluctuations (I touch upon this here.) and may provide more consistent indication around fat loss.

Now there are some interesting patterns between weight loss and waist measurements that I see over and over again.

One of these is that, as a rule of thumb, losing 1 lb in the short term is equivalent to losing approximately 0.20-0.25 inches from your waist. That means that for every inch off of your waist measurements, roughly 4-5 lbs of fat is lost.

What’s really interesting about this observation is that I’ve seen it across many different training cohorts – men, women, trained individuals, untrained individuals.

This graph shows the correlation between average decreases in waist vs. waist measurements in 58 trained individuals from my “Your Ultimate Transformation” group, grouped by gender.

Weight vs Waist Slope

The slopes of the fitted trend lines roughly reflect the weight-loss-to-inches-lost relationship. Men lose 0.25 inches and women lose 0.20 inches.

In another analysis, I looked at mostly untrained individuals across from my “Weight Loss Made Simple” group and their average decreases in waist vs. waist measurements in trained individuals, grouped by gender.

WLMS Scale Results Man Update

Results were within a similar range. Men lost an average of 0.27 inches from their waist for each lb lost, whereas women lost 0.19 inches.

If the 0.20-0.25 inch/lb rule-of-thumb is correct, then we should be able to see this in individual clients as well when plotting their weight vs. waist measurements. A quick analysis of individual client data seems to corroborate this claim.

Individual Client 1

Individual Client 2

Individual Client 3
For the most part, individual data corroborates the analysis above. Clients lose 0.20-0.25 lbs for every inch that they lose from their waist. The lone counter example is a clear outlier who weighed mid 300’s at 40%.

Of course, one can always claim that I’m “cherry picking” data to fit my analysis, so I highly suggest that you try to run these yourself with your own measurements. You’ll find that 4-5 lbs is a consistent, reliable approximation for how much weight is lost when a client decreases their waist measurements by 1″.

Why weight loss misses the mark

We’ve already established that your weight can greatly influence your self-esteem, and normal fluctuations can make you feel like shit. It’s obvious why this is problematic, but it’s not even the biggest reason that weight loss misses the mark.

Take a look at the following graph.

Weight vs Waist Average Min Three

This is the average weekly decrease in weight and waist measurements of my most recent clients (minimum 3 data points), a total of 82 clients.

Let’s assume that all of these clients are equally emotionally attached to their weight. Who do you think is most susceptible to being terrorized by scale?

Weight vs Waist Average Underperform

The data points in the rectangular area above represent clients who should be losing 1 lb/week or more, as predicted by their decrease in waist measurements. Yet, their average weight loss is less than 0.5 lbs/week.

For whatever reason, this subset’s average weight loss is a poor reflection of fat loss.

There’s something else noticeable about the data points in that region – They are overwhelmingly female as a proportion of the entire dataset (38% vs. 14%, p=0.017).

Whether gender universally plays a role in those who underperform or something specific to the female cohort that I train is anyone’s guess. I suspect it’s the former. Anecdotally, when talking to other coaches, it seems like women get the short end of the stick (as with many other things in fitness, sadly) when using weight loss as a proxy for fat loss.

The major point – You are not a failure

There are certain individuals who are susceptible to being emotionally abused by the scale. For them, relying on their weight is analogous to entering an abusive relationship. It’s an automatic death sentence to their fitness motivation and self-esteem.

No matter how hard these individuals try to please the scale, it will not love them back.

But they think things might change. It might seem like the scale will give them the affection that they have always craved. Abusive relationships always seem like this – such is their nature.

As to why you’re in this subset of unlucky individuals, I’m not completely sure. But the “why” doesn’t really matter in the large scheme of things. If you are one of these people, the more important point is this:

It has nothing to do with you, your ability to get fit, or any sort of failure on your part.

It’s a simple matter of probability. If you walk into a random room full of people, some proportion will inevitably be abused by the scale’s lying.


Fixing the Relationship

The simplest, yet hardest, part is identifying that you’re in an abusive relationship with the scale.

This is easier said than done. After all, there is a reason that people stay in abusive relationships. Hopefully the information above is enough to help people objectively assess how the scale makes them feel. After that, you can then begin to heal.

In order for that to happen, I’d like to introduce you to “Mr. Nice Guy” – the tape measure.

If the weighing scale is the emotionally abusive, womanizing bad boy that women want but shouldn’t have, then the tape measure is a caring, mature, gentleman who just happens to love wrapping his arms around your waist.

Remember that for every inch off of your waist, you’ve probably lost somewhere in the neighborhood of 4-5 lbs of fat. If you have a horrible relationship with the scale, ditch it cold turkey and swap it out for waist measurements.

Option 1 – Completely ditch the scale

Those with the worst relationships with their weight will likely do best completely ditching the scale.

Instead of focusing on a “goal weight,” you’ll probably want to get your waist down to roughly 24-28 inches for women and 28-32 inches for men. Take a measurement once/week and aim to lose half an inch from your waist every 2-3 weeks.

These measurements will be more stable and less tied to your sense of self.

Option 2 – Build a story using different data points

If you have a tolerable relationship with the scale, then it will be easier to learn to objectively assess your weight without emotion.

If this is the case, then you can use weight and waist measurements in conjunction with each other, using your weight as a primary metric and waist measurements as a secondary metric by following the following rules.

If your weight decreases by the amount projected in your caloric deficit

Your progress is fine. There’s no need to further interpret your waist measurements, so leave that analysis alone.

If your weight does not decrease by this amount 

Take your waist measurements. Convert your projected weight loss into the conservative waist measurement equivalent by multiplying that number by 0.2. You should see that decrease from your waist.

In the end, the goal is to see the scale like the image below. It is neither good, nor bad, but simply a household gadget.

That’s because you are not the number that appears on it. Nor are you your mistakes or failures. You’re worth far more than the number on a device.

Objective Scale

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Chest Training and Your Boobs: Why Women Should Train Chest (NSFW)

***Important Note: This isn’t meant to be pornography by any means. Rather, this seems to be an important topic for women, and there is no other way to convey the important insight in this post, other than using the NSFW images below***

Some of the most frequent questions that I get from my female clients include “Should I train my chest? What impact will building muscle have on my breasts? I’m paranoid about building muscle in that area.”

Anecdotally, I’ve heard nothing but good things, especially from clients who:

1. Are relatively “flat-chested” (quotations to emphasize that it’s their words, not mine. I’m equal opportunity here.)
2. Have lost a significant amount of weight before.

While I’ve seen great results – raving testimonials even – from women about their boobage, I’ve yet to actually show evidence of what chest training can do for women. Until now.

Here is a client’s before-and-after picture after improving the musculature behind her chest as well as reducing her body fat.

This is taken almost exactly a year apart. She obviously gave me very explicit permission to post these.

Image is obviously NSFW. Click to see the actual image.

Image is obviously NSFW. Click on the image to see the actual image.

As you can see in this image, this woman’s chest aesthetics are tremendously improved. The extra muscle in her upper chest creates a “lift,” while the muscle in her lower chest fills out her breast region. In addition, the additional leanness creates improves the “perkiness” of the breast. (Remember, boobs are made of breast tissue and fat – mainly fat.)

Moral of the story? Work out your chest. Don’t be afraid or paranoid about the impact of added muscle in that region. It can only help, not hurt.

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Fitness Is A Skill

In the last decade, as a fitness coach and the co-founder of Fitocracy, I’ve been exposed to the stories and data of millions of people and countless successful transformations, including my own.

Despite these success stories, most people fail at fitness and obesity rates are increasing. Yet, if people understood the secret to fitness, success would eventually be inevitable.

You see, the one thing that I hear the most is “If I just had the motivation…”

People think that the secret to making a successful fitness transformation is about finding motivation.

They think motivation is like some sort of fitness Tinker Bell that you can pull out of your pocket at any time. She’ll sprinkle magic pixie dust that makes you instantly hate the taste of pizza and love the treadmill.

You know who has motivation? Your average Joe who joins a gym in January. He’s motivated as hell. Sadly, he doesn’t stick around come March. He stops going to the gym, feels guilty, then blames his lack of willpower.

Little does he know fitness success is not about motivation. Motivation is fleeting and unreliable. Most importantly, it’s not a skill that you can improve.

The truth is that despite the fact, everyone is capable of achieving his or her ideal physique. What’s the secret? It’s realizing the following…

Fitness is as much of a skill as riding a bicycle.

If you find your own transformation difficult to achieve, then you’re about to find out why and learn how to improve your fitness “skill.”

The Growth vs. Fixed mindset

But first, let’s talk about an important concept – mindset.

In psychology, people can be bucketed into two different mindsets – a fixed mindset and a growth mindset.

Those with fixed mindsets believe that success is based on innate talent. You’re born with these characteristics, and you either have them or you don’t. Failures – such as the failure to follow a diet – are the result of a flaw in character, such as self-control, discipline, or intelligence.

Those with a growth mindset believe that success is reliant upon improving their different skill sets. That is, through hard work, learning, and experience, these people can improve their success in different facets of life.

Some subjects, like riding a bicycle, are universally seen through a “growth” lens.

If you fell and scraped your knee the first time you attempted riding a bike, you wouldn’t say “Something is horribly wrong with me. I don’t have the willpower and discipline required to ride my bike.” would you?

That would be silly. Instead, you’d realize that you just haven’t fully developed that skill yet. You’d think about why you fell. Perhaps you didn’t know how to navigate your bike through new terrain, such as a bumpy road or a patch of grass.

Unlike riding a bicycle, however, fitness is almost always seen through the lens of a “fixed mindset.” When people slip up on their diets, they automatically beat themselves up for being undisciplined and lazy, rather than think about why they slipped up and how to prevent this same mistake in the future.

Unfortunately, those with a fixed mindset try to “brute force” their success with willpower, which is a recipe for failure. That’s because willpower is a finite resource; relying on it will not lead to success.

The 5 Skills of Fitness

If fitness is a skill, then by definition, it can be improved by improving its component skills. Let’s take a look at what they are and how to improve them.

Knowledge –

Knowledge is simply the evidence-based understanding behind training and nutrition. It allows us to create a plan and execute on it.

Knowledge can be either basic – understanding the tenets of calories and how they impact your weight – or it can be relatively advanced – correctly incorporating a carbohydrate refeed in order to raise leptin during your diet.

You can improve your knowledge by reading sites like this one. Find a credible fitness pro like Alan Aragon and Layne Norton to trust, and absorb their encyclopedic knowledge.

Beware, however. Knowledge is the most important of all skills, but paradoxically, it’s also the most overrated.

There is more information about fitness now than ever, thanks to increasingly-easy access to scientific research because of resources like PubMed. Because of this, knowledge is often glorified and romanticized. Many, in fact, actually think that it’s the only fitness skill, a fatal mistake when it comes to improvement.

Knowledge can easily be overdone. After all, what good is understanding the optimal meal timing to optimize muscle protein synthesis if you cannot, say, stop binge eating.

That’s where mindfulness comes into play.

Mindfulness / Self-Awareness –

Mindfulness is the examination of your feelings, surroundings, and being self-aware.

Below is a common conversation with a client.

Client: “I fell off the wagon yesterday and messed up my diet. It was bad. I binge ate and just ate all the things.”
Me: “Can you elaborate? What happened and what triggered it?”
Client: “I ate all the things… like I failed epicly and had no self-control.”
Me: “Hahah, no you goober. I mean what were you feeling before the point of binging? What triggered this feeling?”
Client: “Huh? I mean I just messed up.”

In the conversation above, the client sees a binge as a failure without any underlying context. They’re actually confused by the fact that you can expound on a binge.

An interesting thing that I’ve noticed about failing in fitness more so than any other subject matter is that people do not learn from their mistakes. In other subjects, such as business or relationships, people look for patterns so that they don’t make the same mistakes again.

Me: “Think back. What were you feeling at the time? What caused that pattern?”
Client: “Well, let’s see… on training days you have my calories at about maintenance. I actually ate 50 calories above maintenance and I figured I screwed up anyway. That led me to feel anxious. Eating everything in sight was a way to cope with that anxiety.”

By practicing mindfulness, the client eventually broke down their binge into discrete events and related them back to the decisions that were made. We objectively agreed that going 50 calories over maintenance is hardly a slip up.

The next time this client sees this same pattern, he can use previous experiences to disrupt his usual course of action.

Think of mindfulness as fitness wisdom. It’s the ability to learn about yourself and your feelings. Without it, you wouldn’t be able to learn from your mistakes. You can improve mindfulness by following the “totem exercise” that I write about here.

Self-Compassion –

What are the typical feelings of someone who messes up on their diet? Hate. Guilt. Self-loathing.

For many people who have never been able to lose weight, their failures have created a lifetime of these feelings. Yet they keep trying over and over again, often relying on willpower to overcome their deficiencies.

Each time, they face the same disastrous outcome.

The solution for these folks is to think of fitness as a skill, and research has shown that developing self-compassion allows people to do just that. Those who show self-compassion forgive themselves for their mistakes so that they can try again.

While this is slightly “meta,” think of self-compassion as “the skill that allows you to think of fitness as a skill” and therefore something that can be improved.

The next time you mess up, cut yourself some slack, then exhibit mindfulness to figure out what went wrong.

Humility –

The first time I heard Martin Berkhan of Intermittent Fasting fame mention that “Breakfast is not that important,” I was outraged.

Seriously, Martin? Everyone knows that breakfast is obviously the most important meal of the day.

Think of a time that someone credible presented fitness information contradictory to what you knew to be true. You were probably angry, no? What you felt is what I affectionately call PubMed rage. (It’s usually displayed by an “Internet warrior” in a fitness forum of some sorts)

It turns out that this reaction is normal. Research has shown that when people’s deepest convictions are challenged by contradictory, credible information, they actually cling on to their existing beliefs even harder.

I later found out that Martin was correct. I started skipping breakfast and was rewarded for doing so; as an entrepreneur who works 80+ hours/week, skipping breakfast has added countless hours to my productivity. (There are considerations to suboptimal muscle protein synthesis, but I’m willing to make that tradeoff.)

The only way that I was able to realize that was showing humility – suppressing my ego and being open to the possibility that I was wrong. The more you learn about fitness (or any other skill for that matter) the more you realize the amount that you don’t know.

Humility is the skill that gives you the motivation to improve all other skills. Without it, we would stagnate. Whenever you feel the need to be an Internet warrior because someone contradicted your beliefs, make sure to examine your beliefs and be open-minded first.

Discipline (Habit Building) –

Decisions are taxing from a cognitive point of view. If you’ve ever felt mentally exhausted after a day full of meetings, then you know what I mean.

This poses a problem when it comes to fitness. Subjecting yourself to this cognitive overload depletes the same pool of resources that you need to exhibit the willpower and self-control to do things like go to the gym.

Hell, thinking really hard depletes self-control so much that it impacts maximum voluntary strength.

Put another way, making hard decisions at work, deciding whether or not to go to the gym, and saying no to that piece of cake all compete for the same pool of mental resources.

How do we solve for this pesky little problem? Luckily, Mother Nature provided us a nifty solution.

When something is repeated often enough, the decision to execute that task moves to a part of your brain called the basal ganglia. Once there, the decision is processed in the background and no longer requires a costly conscious decision. This is what’s known as a “habit.”

Discipline is the skill that allows us to create habit. You do this by repeating a task over and over again – going to the gym at the same time every day, preparing tomorrow’s meals at the end of every day, etc.

Habits require willpower at the start, but it is the correct use of willpower.

Discipline allows us to utilize willpower as the “battery” that starts the car, as opposed to the energy source that keeps it going.

How to Improve Your Fitness Skills

Like any other skill, you’ll need to improve by doing.

First, find a diet and training plan to follow for at least 8 weeks. This takes research and adding to your “knowledge” skill set. You’ll have to invest some time to find a plan that fits your goals and lifestyle.

Now, here’s the important part. Stick to the program as best as you can, but expect to slip up along the way.

When this happens, go through the skills in order that they’re listed here (I was sneaky and listed them in order of priority) to find out what needs to be improved.

Did you find yourself straying off your diet frequently? Exhibit mindfulness to find out why.

Perhaps you feel guilty after skipping multiple training sessions and can’t get back on the horse? Time for a dose of self-compassion.

Perhaps you realized that the morning is the only time you can train. Utilize some discipline and create habit around waking up early every day, no matter what.

Run through each skill and determine what you need to improve. Sometimes, improving a skill – like mindfulness – is as easy as being aware of it.

Do you see the difference in understanding that fitness is a skill? Small failures can be examined and improved upon. If you do not think about fitness in this way, failures are all the same, big or small, and they are all tied to your sense of worth.

Want to know what’s the best thing about embarking on your own fitness transformation? It’s that it makes you an even more amazing person.

You will become disciplined enough to do the mundane, tough enough to relentlessly forgive yourself when you fail, and brave enough to be willing to being wrong.

That’s because a successful transformation on the outside first requires a transformation within.

Good luck!

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Is the Fitness Summit a Circlejerk?

I’m not sure why, but I get pensive and analytical at the end of these conferences. Whether it’s the physiological impact of alcohol withdrawal trickling into my mood or the fact that I overanalyze human interactions (sometimes I think I may be a high-functioning sociopath…) is anyone’s guess.

Last year, immediately after the summit, I wrote about my analysis of the fitness industry and why it’s broken. This year, a few comments about “The Fitness Summit” being a circle jerk, coupled with a Facebook post by my brilliant friend Clifton Harski (this guy totally gets it, by the way) left me wondering the same thing.

On a scale of 1 to Judy, Clifton’s post is somewhat judgy (he admits so himself), but I always respect a bold opinion. It’s interesting that I would be open to agreeing with Clifton’s overall sentiment, because I absolutely adore everyone who spoke and all of the people that I met. Echoing Clifton’s sentiment, at the atomic level, everything was great, and I truly enjoyed (if not idolize) almost all of the presenters. Something, however, also gave me pause.

So… is The Fitness Summit a circle jerk? To answer this question, let’s look at some characteristics of the fitness industry.

The Fitness Industry as Political Factions

In politics, factions appeal to particular user bases in order to garner their vote. Politicians position themselves along divisive issues in order to appeal to a specific group of people.

Many of those issues, such as gun control, are emotionally rooted in nature; people have firm opinions that rarely change, no matter how much information is presented. The voter density of these niches (which we can think of as market sizes) behind these issues will vary. For example, you won’t find many African American Jews who are pro-life. Market sizes will additionally dictate the ways that politicians position their brand. Obviously, you want to be where the voters are.

Also relevant is the fact that relationships are central to politics. There is a barter economy where politicians trade favors and endorsements. Alliances are strategically formed for the purpose of strengthening one’s political brand. Conversely, politicians mudsling simply as a marketing tool in order to garner attention and position their brand far away from their targets.

If you’re familiar with the fitness industry, this should sound eerily familiar. Have you ever heard Gary Taubes making his media rounds in order to promote Paleo? It literally sounds like he’s hitting the campaign trail making his stump speech.

Like politics, the fitness industry is comprised of various camps. You have a Paleo camp, a vegan camp, an evidence-based fitness camp, a running camp, a functional strength camp, Lyle McDonald a̶n̶d̶ ̶f̶r̶i̶e̶n̶d̶s̶, and so on and so on.

Some of these camps play well together. For example, there’s a high degree of overlap between the CrossFit camp and the Paleo camp.

Some don’t. Belonging to the Paleo camp automatically means that you are mort enemies with the vegan camp. (By the way if vegans like animals so much, why the hell are they eating all their food?)

Relationships are arguably more integral to the fitness industry because of the way that digital product economy works. Barter economies exist between fitness pros leveraging each other’s email lists. The larger your network, the more people you can reach with your product. On the flip side, calling yourself a friend of Lyle McDonald means a necessary trip to the psychiatric ward.

I’d like to note that the formation of these systems in both politics and fitness is completely natural. I’m not judging in any way, because they organically evolved this way for a few reasons:

  1. Within domains that tie strongly to their sense of self, such as politics and religion, people are highly susceptible to marketing. And the only other domain that I’ve seen right up there with politics and religion is – you guessed it – fitness.
  2. Within these domains, people look to personalities in order to make their decisions. I’m not exactly sure why. (Probably has something to do with being much simpler to default to an authority figure when there’s so much information.) If you are a fitness persona, people will look to you for their health. This is a huge responsibility.
  3. Within these domains, people will follow these personalities first, evidence second. We’re more susceptible to this than we think. People often backwards rationalize their favorite fitness persona’s beliefs and recommendations. For example, if Alan Aragon told me that consuming semen would raise my testosterone 1000% and I didn’t think he were trolling, then… well… I’ll leave this PG.

Ok, now that I’ve neckbearded enough about this, let’s talk about The Fitness Summit.

The Fitness Summit

The Fitness Summit contains all of my fitness crushes (to borrow the term from my friend Kevin Packer), and this is no coincidence. Like-minded people who approach fitness like me (geeky autodidacts who are always trying to improve their mental models) inevitably end up following guys like Alan, Brad, Mike Nelson, etc. That’s why we feel a bond whenever we discover someone in real life follows them as well; it’s like finding a kindred spirit.

That is because this particular faction of fitness is the evidence-based faction. Like the Starks in Game of Thrones, they are the good guys. They’re the guys you root for. You want to see them win the throne.

How do you position yourself as being part of the evidence-based camp? It’s simple. You do so by paying little attention to marketing yourself as evidence-based at all.

You simply do whatever you can to help people. Actions, not words. That’s what makes you a good guy that people are rooting for. Ok, one last time, because this is what leads to the circle jerk phenomenon.

You position yourself as being part of the evidence-based camp by paying little attention to marketing yourself as evidence-based at all.

And that’s where the circle jerk is prone to happen.

Whenever someone aligns themselves with one of the good guys (or positions themselves by bashing the “bad guys”) purely for the sake of personal brand, social capital, or any other personal gain, they are circle jerking.

This includes agreeing for the sake of agreeing or trying to build rapport, asking questions for the purposes of making yourself sound smart, or bashing Kiefer because it’s the cool thing to do.

This, of course, isn’t unique to The Summit. You’ll see this phenomenon at all conferences. To occur at The Summit, however, is particularly nefarious, because of an implicit, unspoken, understanding by folks in the evidence-based camp.

The understanding is that if you are in the evidence-based camp, your main purpose is to seek and disperse knowledge, thereby helping others in their fitness endeavors. They are not willing to make the same tradeoffs that other camps make for marketing purposes. It’s an unspoken oath.

Positioning yourself as “evidence based” for the purpose of winning over a crowd or a relationship, breaks this oath. It becomes circle jerking.

To clarify, I am not saying it’s wrong to get down and drink/network all weekend with cool, smart peeps (i.e. why I went). That’s different. The key characteristic that determines circle jerking is motive.

Now, all that being said, I didn’t catch who was engaging in such behavior. Nor do I care. I just wanted to discuss the reasons that it exists and it’s inevitable, given the industry and the conference’s positioning. Frankly, I was drunk the whole time, so I probably wouldn’t trust my own recollection.

But I want to shift the topic to something that I do care about.

We Are Asking the Wrong Question

The biggest thing that stood out to me is this – We, as fitness professionals, are asking the wrong questions.

Too many people ask “What should my client’s macros be?”

Not enough people ask “How do I get my client to adhere to his/her macros?” And that is the question that needs to get asked more.

Questions like… How do we maximize adherence for Average Joe, who is undoubtedly not like us? How do we help clients identify habit loops? How do we help a client who is working 80 hours/week develop a positive feedback loop around fitness and teach them that fitness is a skill.

These are the questions that need to be asked in 90% of cases, because 90% of clients are Average Joe.

In one of the seminars, Brad and Alan asked the question “Is there an anabolic window?” This is a great question to ask, as it has amazing implications for ROI based on the client’s fitness level (Brad actually started talking about this but was low on time) and therefore, a chance to improve client adherence.

But this is only one piece of the puzzle. The second piece of the puzzle is to ask “So what?”

We need to learn how to take these concepts and package them into a gummy vitamin, something that people will want to consume. (Metaphor coincidentally stolen from Clifton)

We also need to stop asking the wrong questions, such as whether walking on a treadmill is superior to walking outside. This is circle jerking, and here’s why. As evidence-based fitness professionals, our goal is to seek and disperse knowledge to help others in their fitness endeavors.

Knowledge for any other reason is mental masturbation (or neckbearding) and equally nefarious in nature, because it ignores the main mission – helping others – in favor of sounding smart. The question above is akin to asking how to maximize MPS for an obese 500 lb male. We don’t need to figure out the solutions to third order problems.

So is The Fitness Summit a circle jerk? No, it’s not, because motive is important. The overall motive was overwhelmingly good. As were all of the speakers and attendees.

But we need do need to start figuring out how to take the brilliant insights that were discussed by the experts and distribute them to the mainstream; we need to learn how to create a gummy vitamin. Otherwise the evidence-based camp relying on evidence alone to compete with the other factions will truly lead to the same fate as The Starks.

And I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my head chopped off by some asshole who puts butter in his coffee.

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The Ultimate Guide to Cheating – Planning to Fail… Part 1

This is the second part of a two-part series on The Ultimate Guide to Cheating. If you’re looking for Part 2, “Implementing the Cheat,” you can find it here. Also make sure you’ve read the Persona-Based Strategy Guide to Hitting Your Macros.

There’s been a lot written about the physiological justification behind overfeeding, cheat meals, and cheat days. (John Romaniello has a pretty good writeup using the example of “cheat days” here.)

I want to talk about a different perspective – more specifically the psychological importance of deviating from diet and how it can make or break your success.

If you are the type of person who’s always trying to maintain your diet through countless work dinners, happy hours, weddings, and weekend benders, listen up because this is for you.

A Quick Thought Experiment

John and Brad are identical twins. They live together, weigh the same (not surprising given that they have identical genes) and are following the same macros and training program in order to lose weight.

Their diet is rigid, cutting out all alcohol, processed food, or anything that they deem “unclean.” It has seemingly paid off; after a month of aggressive dieting and “eating clean,” they’ve lost a respectable 10 lbs each.

There’s just one problem. Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and they don’t want to undo all of their progress, knowing their family likes to throw big feasts. On Thanksgiving day, John and Brad go into a feeding frenzy. They eat the exact same identical items and stuff themselves silly with the exact same calories.

Now their physiological actions have been identical thus far, but the next day their fate takes two very different turns.

John is still in feeding frenzy mode, binging on everything in sight, while Brad easily gets back on the horse. By the end of the holiday season, Brad eventually ends up losing 15 lbs, while John eats himself back to where he started.

Brad did one thing differently from John on Thanksgiving day. This thing is something so minuscule, yet in many cases, powerful enough to determine one’s diet success.

What did Brad do differently? Brad planned to fail.

Planning to Fail

“Planning to fail” is a tactic that I started cultivating after reading Lyle McDonald’s philosophy on “diet breaks.”

Diets suck. Not only are they difficult to adhere to, restarting a diet after “falling off the horse” is notoriously challenging.

If you are an experienced dieter, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. Like John in our example above, cheat days often turn into cheat weeks, which turn into cheat months, which turn into cheat years.

So it came as a bit of a surprise when researchers, in order to find out the trouble with “restarting” a diet, instructed participants to take a short break from their diet. The researchers found that not only did dieters not gain weight during the break (compared to the control group), but they had no problem getting back on the diet.

What gives?

Unfortunately the explanation was outside the scope of this study, but client feedback and my own experience with dieting were more than enough to come up with a very plausible answer.

Mindset – Same actions, different outcome

I’ve written before about cases in which two people can perform identical actions, yet have drastically different outcomes due to mindset. One example of this is whether or not cardio leads to weight loss.

In some cases, the tie between mindset and physiology is remarkably inextricable, such as this study, which demonstrates that the amount of ghrelin released by your body depends on your belief about a meal’s caloric contents.

The explanation of the “diet break” study is one of these cases.

I’ve found that when unplanned, diet failure is de-motivational, anxiety-inducing, and downright mentally taxing. It’s a big hit to the resource pool of willpower, self-control, and motivation that drives you towards your goals. Think about what you felt the last time you had a sizable diet failure. It was probably a mixture of guilt, anxiety, and listlessness.

Planned (legitimately planned… not rationalized in the moment) failure is different, however. At all times, the course of actions that you execute are intentional. Strategy and execution are in harmony. While you may feel physiological discomfort after something as large as a “cheat day,” the psychological repercussions listed above should be close to non-existent.

Thinking about risk vs. reward when deciding to cheat

The information above allows us to create a very powerful tool at our disposal – the ability to analyze tradeoffs between risk and progress when making future cheating decisions.

Let’s say that you have a wedding coming up next week. You have two options.

1. Power through the wedding and hit your macros. If you decide to hit your macros, then you do not lose any progress. You do, however, run the risk of a very costly mental and emotional setback should you stray from your diet.

2. Plan to fail. (There are various degrees of “failing,” each with a separate tactic. We’ll discuss these in the second part of this guide.) If you “plan to fail” then you lose anywhere from 1-3 days of progress; however, you eliminate the risk of failing epically.

At this point, it’s helpful to ask yourself the following question honestly: “Will I be able to hit my macros through this wedding?” If you are like most normal human beings, the answer is likely no, so you plan to fail.

Or perhaps you have a bodybuilding show coming up, and you absolutely want to win. In this case, you have a higher risk tolerance and decide to power through your macros. The point is that you now have a framework which you can use to assess risk vs. progress.

Before developing this framework, I’d go into many events with the “power through” mindset, only to fall prey to a piece of cake – probably a subpar slice too (crusty, stale, skimping on icing), since I spent the better half of the wedding trying to stick to my diet. Let me tell you… this method is infinitely better.

A Quick Case Study – “Max”

“Max,” a real (and current) client of mine weighed 405 lbs when he started with me. A few weeks into his diet, he seemed demotivated and unable to make progress. I did some digging into his lifestyle and adherence to find out why.

While his diet adherence on the weekdays was great, he found himself restless and compulsively eating on the weekends, thereby nullifying his progress.

Knowing that people of his weight may respond better to lower carbohydrate diets, and that it would be far easier to allow Max to fail on the weekends, I figured that the Cyclical Ketogenic Diet (CKD) would be a perfect fit for Max.

CKD would allow Max to create a larger caloric deficit on the weekdays without increasing his level of hunger, while allowing him the freedom of eating whatever he wanted on the weekends. (This might be dangerous for some, but Max wasn’t a huge binge eater so much as a boredom eater.)

The result? Max was down to 380 lbs in a few short weeks and actually ended up consuming the same amount on the weekend, while maintaining his sanity.

Onward to part 2 on “implementing the cheat“… i.e. the various degrees of “planning to fail”

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