Perhaps one of the biggest problems with typical weight loss and muscle-building programmes are that they are one-size-fits-all despite the fact that people’s lifestyles vary a lot. The key to long-term success is to take your lifestyle and improve it by making small changes that you actually like rather than trying to drop a certain programme into your lifestyle and putting all of your effort into making it when really, it’s just not right for you.
Of course the problem often isn’t knowing what to do, the problem is implementation. Knowing how to fit the changes into our lifestyles and actually doing what it takes to get the results that we’re after.
This is an important topic, simply because we often have a few things in life that we don’t have full control over. We may have a heavy work load in our jobs, we may have less time or less money than other people. We might want to be fit and healthy really badly but consistently fail to stick to anything we’ve tried because it is a mismatch for our lifestyle.
Let’s look at the two most common goals people have, weight loss and gaining muscle.
Most people have a good idea of how to lose weight, in fact we as a population know more about how to lose weight now than at any other time in history, yet we are fatter than we have ever been.
To lose a pound each week, you need a total deficit of around 3500 calories each week. The simplest way to do this is, on paper, to eat 500 fewer calories each day however you may have social events on a Friday night or have some days where you simply prefer to eat less and others where you feel you need to eat more. To lose a pound each week, the only thing that matters is that the weekly total deficit is 3500 calories, how many calories you eat each day is up to you and I encourage you to explore and find what works best for your lifestyle.
For those who work in metric, as I do, you can expect half a kilogram of fat loss (just over a pound) with a daily deficit of 550 calories or a total weekly deficit of 3850 calories.
It’s all very easy on paper, eat 500 (or 550) fewer calories each day, recalculate your TDEE every month or so, keep your protein intake on the high side and enjoy your lean, attractive body in however many months it takes for you to hit your desired look.
Gaining muscle is, believe it or not, harder than losing fat. When you first get started it is generally quite easy, you can expect quick gains in strength and muscle mass as your body adapts to the unfamiliar stress on it. Some of this is improved coordination and some of this is the fact that muscle comes quickly when you don’t have very much of it, these combine to produce what we often refer to as ‘beginner gains’.
Achieving a muscular body however takes years and if you want to look superhuman then it will take at least five years but in most cases closer to fifteen (I have high standards, most people will be pretty happy after five). This isn’t all doom and gloom however, for those who enjoy the process the diminishing returns aren’t really a bother, there are still a lot of benefits to be had from strength training and it’s effectiveness for venting stress is unbelievable.
On paper it’s all pretty easy. Get in the gym and lift progressively heavier weights and eat lots of calories and protein to fuel your training and growth. Do this for five years and you’ll feel pretty happy with yourself.
Achieving Your Goals with Your Lifestyle
Here’s the thing, on paper nearly EVERYTHING is easy. In practice? There’s a fair bit more to it. The changes you make have to work around you, your family, your work, your social life. If you negatively impact all of these areas to stick to a new programme I can assure that you your chances of long-term success are practically zero. Instead, focus on working around your lifestyle to create a plan actually improves not just your results but your life as a whole.
Living The Life: Training
If you want to have good fitness, and especially if you want to build a lot of strength and muscle, you will need to train with intensity and consistency. You’ll need a good gym (atmosphere makes a big difference!), some knowledge of exercise programming or someone to do it for you (you’ll pay money for knowledge or far more in time working it all out yourself) and a schedule that works for you.
If you can only consistently train three times per week and everyone tells you that you need to train five, forget them. If it’s not sustainable then you won’t keep at it and if you don’t keep at it then you won’t get anywhere.
Get a programme for three times per week, hit the gym at your preferred times and keep moving forward.
Living The Life: Nutrition
Here’s the thing that no one tells you about changing your body. It’s not willpower that stops most people. You need to have the right setup and the right preparation to succeed. If you get that right then it’s all pretty easy. We’re creatures of habit and while that sometimes works against us, we can lever it to great effect.
Shopping is very important. It’s a reasonable assumption that the food you eat is the food that you bought. Buy the right foods in the right amounts for your goal and you’ll end up eating the right foods in the right amounts and achieving the goal you set yourself. If you find yourself getting distracted while shopping or getting lured in by offers then do your shop online, save it and simply order again next week. Sure, it might seem a bit clinical but it works so well.
Some people pay £500+ per month to have the right foods in the right amounts sent to them each week to make weight loss easier. Take advantage of what the supermarkets offer and set this up yourself to save time and completely bypass the need for willpower.
This is the other half of the nutrition puzzle, if you can’t cook good meals then you’re probably not going to eat good meals. If you aim to learn one new recipe each week then after 12 weeks you’ll be able to cook well enough to make good nutrition easy and even impress your friends.
If you’re busy then learn meals that don’t take much time, these form the bulk of my diet and fast food doesn’t mean bad or tasteless food. I can’t think of many meals that can’t be cooked in less than half an hour.
Eating Out At Restaurants
Being flexible in your approach offers many benefits, such as allowing you to eat out at restaurants and enjoy your food without breaking your diet. Eating socially is so much more than food; the people and the atmosphere can deliver a lot of enjoyment which you shouldn’t have to miss out on because you’re choosing to improve yourself. If you’d like some suggestions to keep your meals out healthy and lower in calories, you can find some good tips in Healthy Options For Meals Out. Perhaps you want to have a good, hearty meal and not worry about it being healthy, there’s a place for that too!
It doesn’t matter if you have less food on Monday and a little more on Tuesday as long as it balances out over the week. If you want to have a big meal out Friday with your spouse and you know that you’re likely to go over your target calorie intake then there’s nothing wrong with eating less in the days leading up to it. There’s certainly ways in which this can be applied as an unhealthy behaviour but in itself it is just a way of managing your calorie intake over time. As long as your diet comprised mostly of wholesome foods then there’s no harm in this approach and it allows you improve your health without losing out on life’s pleasures.
Living The Life: Mindset
Keep Getting Better
You have got to have the mindset of continual improvement or you’re not going to continually improve. I don’t keep training because of a deep dissatisfaction with my appearance or some form of body dysmorphic disorder, I’d just like to be a little better tomorrow than I am today. Does anyone think there’s anything wrong with that?
Be a Problem Solver
Things will go wrong! In every damn thing in life you can rely on at least something not going as planned. Expect it and have the mental fortitude to adjust and press on. If you can’t solve problems then you’re shit out of luck because they’re intricately weaved into the fabric of life, don’t get hung up on them, use them as learning experiences and keep moving forward.