If I know one thing about habit formation, it’s that life gets in the way
That’s the mentality I will always take on board when I start a new habit and that’s the philosophy I will encourage all my clients to understand too.
Life will not just move aside because you want a new outcome, and it’s important to adjust around life and not hope life adjusts around you.
When Steve messaged me in September 2018, he was not in a good place.
He was a personal highest weight of 155kg/341 pounds and he had the “moment”.
He saw a picture of himself on holiday and decided he didn’t like what he saw.
Now, I knew Steve. I worked with him long ago.
He is a very smart guy, but like many people held dietary notions that were silly at best and debilitating at worst.
He messaged me looking for a little advice. I was only too happy to give it to him. Little did I know he was looking for a trainer but too shy to ask.
SO HOW DO YOU BEGIN A JOURNEY TO LOSE 50KG/110POUNDS?
With a single first step
Steve was under the illusion we were ready to commit to another broccoli and chicken diet.
What he hadn’t considered was that this approach had never worked, nor was it necessary.
The first thing I did was got him to download the My Fitness Pal app
“How many calories per day?” he asked.
I told him it didn’t matter, and I meant it.
There is nothing more satisfying as a trainer than when you feel a client just “get it” and this was strategic. I needed him to get the “ah-ha” moments and make them his and his alone.
One of his previous mistakes was a “healthy food fallacy” of sorts.
For fat-loss, portion control really matters. He had gone on rice diets before but due to the nature of having a poor eye for portion control, he would eat un-quantified measures of rice and inevitably be back on the pizzas, take-away’s and multi-pack chocolate by the end of the week due to the bland nature of the diet coupled with the mental fatigue of absolute restriction.
These two illogical extremes made no sense, so portion control was my priority here.
By logging food on My Fitness Pal, I got him to see that certain “health foods” are crazy high in calories — all you have to do is measure a drizzle of coconut oil to understand.
I also wanted him to see that certain foods weren’t as bad as feared — bread being a great example, often only 80 calories a slice.
Liquid calories were also a big one.
Caloric coffees, full sugar fizzy drinks and the aforementioned oils were proving to be a killer.
Yet, another hard part is often convincing people to not worry about any one food in isolation, just the repeated consumption, unmeasured and uncontrolled for by someone simply unaware of their habits.
Steve is a very smart guy, so I knew once I encouraged him to truly connect with his decisions he would be in a strong place.
WHAT HAPPENED NEXT?
In the first couple of months we worked together Steve dropped 40 pounds by just logging his calories and adhering to a step target.
We didn’t add in workouts due to Steve’s busy lifestyle and the fact I like to try not to overwhelm people who live already busy lifestyles.
He was very flexible in his approach. His love for scones ensured there was enough flexibility for a jam and butter scone.
Understanding exactly what energy balance is can often be like someone finding the winning lottery numbers.
He began to start sending me back genuinely thought-out things that I would say to him prior
“I had a bar/ piece of cake/ donut. I enjoyed it and I stopped as there’s nothing I’ll get from the next one really that the previous didn’t satisfy.”
Assuming this is genuine, this thrills me. A massive part of the issues I see is people’s inability to think logically around food — the black or white mentality, the all or nothing.
I wanted him to understand you don’t eat good or bad foods. You either have a good diet or you don’t, as such.
As Steve began to share his journey on Instagram, he gathered momentum. This had a profound effect on his fat loss as people telling him he was having a positive effect on them impacted him, yet at the same time he was so internally focused and not relying on the approval of anyone — a wonderful contradiction.
I took Steve for a one-to-one Personal Training session and completely re-evaluated his technique with weights.
From here, I had a man that knew good gym form, understood the need for progress, understood calorie balance and was actively enjoying the process.
SO WHAT NEXT?
Steve continued with what really mattered.
The steps being one!
I probably haven’t done justice just yet to just how important steps are to an over-weight or obese person.
They are something we should all strive for. It’s easy. It’s free and you can listen to audio content that makes you think differently about life.
Added to that was the component of NEAT (non exercise activity)
Don’t under-estimate it. Steve was parking further away from shopping centres, started walking for coffee in the morning, took every flight of stairs he could and decided to walk to places he used to drive to.
I would make the argument that once you begin to be aware of calories, NEAT/steps will be an over-weight person’s best friend.
I suggest thinking about awareness and habits as the base of all habit formation, and then hone in on the nuances.
Calorie balance only became useful to Steve because he stopped thinking in extremes and began to be very aware of his choices
CHOOSE THE BEHAVIOUR AND ACCEPT THAT CONSEQUENCE
“I’ve a night out coming up soon. What should I do?”
There was some anxiety the first time we encountered an event.
“What do you want to do? What do you think the target or slimmer or healthier version of yourself does?”
Once you become aware, thinking for yourself becomes easy.
Steve was a little afraid of a night out without realising that the temptation would be to let a few drinks roll into a duvet day, a couple of take-aways and zero steps or movement.
That’s where I find the danger often lies in drinking — the next day and the potential roll-over. The “I’ve ruined it now” mentality.
I encouraged him to make his own mind up, to think for himself, to start acting in a way that would set him up for long-term consistent success whilst enjoying the social events that were seemingly only there to test his willpower as opposed to bringing fun and connection into his life.
What he wasn’t understanding is that this extreme emphasis on short-term decisions was ironically the reason he wasn’t where he wanted to be.
If all your decisions are mindless, then so too will your results be.
If 1 or 2 of your 28 weekly meals are some booze and take-away, you’ll be fine.
You have to look at the bigger picture.
I met Steve for coffee a number of times
He said something that will never leave me
Whilst buttering a scone he said “It’s sad. Most people will over-worry about this (pointing to the scone) and not really think about this (pointing to the butter he was spreading). I know because I would have been that person”
He was referring to the scone only being 2–300 calories and the butter being a similar number, yet the butter is so small and insignificant you may not think that way and the excessive fear we often put into certain foods.
It was great to see a really healthy dietary mindset in action — one that was being empowered to become a lot healthier.
I watched Steve lose 50kg/110 pounds before my very eyes
But much more important I got to watch him do so happily
HOW CAN YOU SAY “HAPPILY”?
Well, for starters he really enjoyed the process of betterment.
He was not attached to an outcome.
I think the fact he documented the journey on Instagram helped him, but that’s irrelevant to someone who doesn’t wish to do so.
You have to get comfortable being uncomfortable. You have to face things that scare you. You need to appreciate your strengths. You need to understand you are where you are for a reason and that you only have the present. You have to seek moments of gratitude and use them to cultivate a better future.
Challenge yourself. Look in the mirror even though it’s scary.
Go walking even if it’s raining. Water dries. It’s not as big a deal as you’re making it. I promise.
Steve really committed to the fact that this would be an unspectacular, mundane day-to-day process that required the formation of habits, and not the reliance on motivation.
The irony in that was because he enjoyed the journey so much, his progress was quicker and it shone through in his personality. you can listen to him speak about it on my podcast and Brian Keane’s podcast .
His goals have obviously changed as the bar moves with time, but the job is never done per se.
That’s why it’s so important not to attach yourself to an end date.
You can’t be miserable and begrudge yourself for 89 days and be thrilled on day 90.
As we’ve just passed the one year mark, Steve is about to complete his first half-marathon this weekend — a far cry from the man that once complained about how hard it was to get 10k steps.
Great work man
You’re an inspiring man and you’ve made me a very proud trainer to be associated with you.