fat loss

Five Tips For Managing Stress And Winning at Fat Loss

Managing stress is hard. And when the hits are piling up on you as the week goes on, it can feel like there’s literally no end in sight. Worse, it can also feel totally hopeless, like theres no way you could possibly manage the barrage of obstacles, work crisis, and relationship issues that are sure to come at you.

But alongside proper sleep, nutrition, and fitness; dealing with this stuff—and handling it all gracefully—is just as important for hitting your fat-loss and muscle-building goals. Not some, but ALL of these factors play a role in balancing our hormones and helping our bodies to run most optimally. And that's really what physique goals are all about: making things run nice.

So, while there’s no real quick fix to dealing with stress; and you’re totally right girl, you cannot control all of the things that the universe has in store for you; there’s definitely some proactive steps you can take that will not only give you quick relief and a little more center, but also help you become more mindful of the relationship between your body and your mind. So that down line, you get learn to get better at responding to the beautiful mess that is life, rather than succumbing to it.

I know, I know. If you’re like me when I’m feeling bratty, trapped, sorry for myself, and even defensive of my stress; you’re already thinking “this is just the way it is right now.” That’s one of my favorite excuses for shirking off the responsibility of self-care as well. You're not alone. The body and mind naturally resist change. 

But trust me. You can change your mind. YOU have the power to make it better in this very moment. And I bet you’ll feel a whole lot less stressed when you start making progress on your fitness goals again.

Uh-huh, girl. I went there. So, save yourself some time and misery. Let’s get to feeling better, so that we may also look better, shall we?  

This particular post is about some quick interventions that can serve as catalysts for turning your thoughts around when you feel yourself getting overwhelmed. So that you have space in your brain for long term improvements that we’ll discuss later on.

Do a Quick Movement Flow

Your brain holds a map of your entire body. And the more you move, the more clear that map is. But when you dont move, that map gets blurry and so does your perspective. All the negative sensations like irritation, pain, and anxiety become amplified and stress can become increased. One of the easiest ways to decrease threat and calm yourself down is to move! And you don’t need a full on workout to send your brain those good vibes it craves. Making some shoulder and neck circles at your desk every hour helps. Getting on the floor for a quick side plank or a shin box can totally turn things around. A little bit of movement here and there will dial down your nervous system and put your body in a more advantageous state to make progress on your goals.

 

Go For a Walk

Walking is one of the best activities for alleviating stress. Walking is movement, so you will absolutely benefit from all those good vibes we talked about in the previous paragraph and improve your mood. But walking also helps improve digestive function. The quality of your thoughts relies heavily on the quality of your gut. If you can improve your metabolism, you can improve your response to stressful situations. Not to mention, you can ensure that you expend as much energy as you absorb, which is key for weight-loss and weight maintenance.

 

Call a Friend

Go for that walk, and call up a friend to go with you. That stress ball gets infinitely larger when we imagine that we are alone or that we are the only ones who have to deal with whatever it is that’s going on. But, the truth is, you’re never alone unless you choose to be. And EVERYONE has their own struggles. Just like we are meant to move, we as humans are also meant to be highly social. Blowing off some steam doing positive activities with someone who knows you and supports you can completely shift your perspective and help you get back to focusing on crushing your life and fitness goals.

 

Zone Out

There’s tons of pressure from your boss and social media hustle culture to be super focused and on your grind all day long. But, there’s a reason you are driven to scroll through instagram or pull up a game window behind your actual work. The brain fatigues just like any other muscle in your body. And while I encourage you to instead use this time to get away from all the screens, make sure it feels just as mindless. I like to grab a book for a few minutes or wash the dishes. For real. But, you can simply use the yoga practice of finding a drishti gaze and literally try to stare off into space as far as you can, even if there’s a wall two feet from you. Look past it. Zone out. And then get back to business when you’re ready with greater productivity.

 

Focus On Your Breath

Breathing is something that happens whether we try or not. But if we can think about it consciously for just a few minutes throughout the day, we can guide the whole unconscious side of it in a better direction. Shallow breathing, mouth breathing, chest breathing—all the ways breath can go wrong—these inefficient strategies can send your thoughts in the wrong direction. But, a few good breaths—with focus on expanding the sides of your ribcage and belly— can bring you back to center, Sit tall, lay on your belly, or throw your feet up the wall. Get your spine nice and long(the surest way to neutral) and try to elongate your exhales, and the pause between the exhale and the inhale, as long as you can. Around 8 seconds is a good goal to shoot for. Be sure to inhale through your nose and blow air out through pursed lips. Two rounds of 5 breaths can calm your body and help you think and act from a more positive place. 

 

Be Proactive

Maybe you have some other strategies that work really well for you already. Maybe only a few of these will resonate with you. The point is, you’ve got to know and trust that you have the power to change your mind at any time, and it's a simple as taking one small action with the decisive intention of feeling better. 

Looking for more advice to look and feel your best? Getting your nutrition and fitness dialed in is one of the most important ways to both manage stress and make progress on your fat-loss goals. Don’t know where to start? Message me today to learn more about distance coaching and how it helps my clients find confidence and clarity. 

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The Easiest Nutrition Fix For Fat Loss

As I discuss in an upcoming vlog (you can peep the latest one here), I've got a few major priorities when it comes to fat loss. You can certainly never underestimate the impact of consistent sleep and workouts, but right now, I'm talking about the easiest nutrition skill you can starting practicing right now!

And that is to simply eat more protein.

Eat More Protein

Eating more protein has multiple benefits. This macronutrient is involved in pretty much every chemical process that your body carries out. Proteins are kind of like the raw material of all your body's projects. Of course, they are first broken down into amino acids and reconstructed into more purposeful combinations that your body can use. But, in any case, they are needed and necessary.

By ensuring our bodies get enough protein, we fulfill an essential requirement of the myriad of processes we commonly refer to as our metabolism, making the whole thing run that much more efficiently . In simple terms, that means that we can make the most of what we've got with the least amount of energy expended.

And that my friends, is what fat-loss is all about: finding the most benefit, with the least amount of cost.

SNAP!

*** BTW You should write that one down in your notes. It's a gem.

Anyways, let's move on to your potential protests regarding this recommendation...

You're Not Eating Enough

Now you might say "But Coach, I heard eating too much protein can damage your organs."

Well, dear I have an answer for that.

Of course, if one eats TOO MUCH protein (which is a very subjective value btw), it's reasonably possible to assume the kidneys can be affected. BUT, it's also very unlikely that you are anywhere close to this very subjective amount. It's also very unlikely that you are anywhere close to consistently hitting the number you need to support fat-loss in the first place, which is typically the lowest benchmark that nutritionists suggest you hit. So, we really don't need to discuss what "too much" is anyway.

And even further, formation of kidney stones and other potential harm to these vital organs (which is really what we're talking about), has much more to do with the amount of water you are drinking. Byproducts of increased protein intake are excreted normally, without any harm done, in the pee of adequately hydrated humans.

"But Miss Ashleigh, I eat enough protein every day."

Oh dear, I've got an answer for that too. I know you came up with that reply way too quickly. You likely scanned the last 24 hours, and the ease with which two to three instances where you ingested some protein came to mind, led you to conclude that you're doing just fine. But, unless you ran some numbers and calculations in your head, I'm going to say this is not really a fact you could know with any kind of certainty.

Not to worry. It's a common human error to highlight the negative possibilities and grossly overestimate the actuals, as demonstrated by both of these complaints.

The Fix

Let's work together to figure out the truth. In the next three days, I want you to plug in what you eat to any macro app. I personally like to use MyMacros+ as it easily connects me to my clients, but choose whatever program suits you. 

Figure out the average amount of protein you eat. You'll find this number represented in terms of grams. And then just try to increase it by about 20 grams. That's as easy as adding one quality Greek yogurt, two eggs, or half a cup of chicken. And since that amounts to an average of less than $2 per serving, it's also way cheaper than that weird skinny tea or the currently trending fat-loss superfood.

Hit that number consistently for a few weeks(I said weeks, not days! And a "few" means at least three. I did not say "a couple"). Forget about why you were practicing this skill in the first place. And then pull on that pair of skinny jeans you reserve for the moments when you feel really good about yourself, and try em' on again. I know you also save these for your greatest self-shaming moments too, but this won't be one of those. See also: stop doing that.

And stand in front of the mirror as long as you like admiring your work. Because real talk: you're most beautiful when you're being the most kind to your body. And giving it the nutrition it needs is part of fulfilling that purpose.

Even More Fat Loss

Increasing your protein intake by 20 grams will make a huge difference. However, you might have even further room for improvement, and by that I mean, more room to create in those sexy, skinny jeans. To find out what that fat-loss benchmark is, plus even more fat loss habits, check out my latest vlog here.

Running Requisites

When contemplating a running program, the question that often comes to mind first, is “Where do I start?”

I mean, you inherently know you cannot just go out and run a marathon on day one. 

So you vow to be sensible. You grab the latest issue of Runners’ World or Google the best beginners’ 5K program you can find.

You might even buy yourself brand new Nike’s to protect your joints or a cute new Lululemon outfit to get motivated.

You promise to follow the plan and take things slow.

You think you’re doing all the right things. You’re being responsible.

But, what if I told you, you’ve likely already jumped the gun?

Hold up, WHAT?

Your Body Needs Preparation

September is like the second coming of the new year for fitness. The weather is just right to lace up your kicks and get outside. It feels unquestionably like the perfect time to get started on some new goal.

Your mind is definitely poised for the challenge. But maybe your body is not is not so prepared. 

Just as a football player needs to have a certain amount of skills to cut down the field, a runner also requires some foundational strengths to traverse the trails or hit the pavement.

Like any other sport, running is stressful, and in a repetitive fashion.

Your body needs to be resilient enough to withstand that stress and strong enough to power you through the mileage with relatively good mechanics.

So before we get into what you need. We must talk about what running actually is.

 

What Is Running?

As we said, running is repetitive. One run of any distance, is a very, very, very long series of single-leg hops from one leg to the other.

That means you’ve got to be able to complete a real nice hop. And repeat.

So you need all the components of this skill. Lower body joints that work really nice. Hamstrings and calves that can withstand heavy loads. Trunk stability to keep you from leaking efficiency. And then the related strength to keep executing it well.

These components of preparedness are necessary to ensure that along the way of your fitness journey, you don’t hit the wall with an unexpected injury.

As many of my new clients were surprised to discover, running does not have to, and should not hurt. And it is absolutely possible to get more fit without that seemingly inevitable breakdown. 

For real.

 

You Need Skills

So I’ve enlisted the help of my good friend and colleague, Dr. Kyle Balzer, to compile a list of skills that we believe, are good indicators of a potential athlete’s readiness to run. And this includes the more casual recreational runner as well. You don't have to be a competitive athlete to call yourself a runner.

It all starts with showing up to the line with the right running requisites. How do we know what we're talking about?

Kyle is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and Board Certified Sports Clinical Specialist, with specific expertise in ensuring athletes return to the field or gym in better condition than ever; and helping clients who are injured, continue to train.

I myself am a highly qualified running coach. I’ve studied intensively under the LSU track coaches with special focus on the sprints. I’ve been around Olympic athletes in the gym. And I’ve coached cross country and track and field teams with great success, due mostly to getting my high school girls STRONG. 

Before you begin to run…

 

You should be able to forward lunge…

And what we’re really focusing on here is ankle mobility. If your ankles are locked up tight, you’re going to find lunging and running to be very tough endeavors.

How can you be sure that your joints are working well? Use a simple half kneeling assessment. Position your forward foot 4 inches from the wall. While keeping your heel down and the knee moving straight forward, can you reach the wall? 

Kyle adds that perhaps asymmetry between the two assessments is even more important. ROM in both should be within 5-10% of each other. 

What to do if they are not symmetrical or close to that 4 inches? You might want to check in with a good clinician like Kyle, or even an experienced and educated trainer to figure out why your ankles aren't moving adequately.

If you are not experiencing pain, you can also try working on the following mobility drill.

 

You should be able to load up a deadlift…

And what we’re really focusing on with this one is your ability to hinge well from the hips (as opposed to the waist), to ensure stride efficiency. And the ability to load up the legs and build strength to withstand the stressful and repetitive nature of running.

The deadlift, and all it's lateralizations, is super important for building that posterior chain strength that many runners are lacking.

Kyle points out that the single-leg version has even greater carryover. Runners should have great balance on both legs independently prior to getting started.  If that stability is present, single-leg deadlifting is a great way to build capacity within the tissue involved in single-leg landing.

Here is my absolute favorite cue for a successful single-leg deadlift.

 

You should be able to land a single leg hop…

Once you can  balance and then deadlift on a single leg, you can progress the challenge with jump training. We said running is a series of single-leg hops. So you better be able to execute one.

Kyle says plyometrics are great for creating the adaptations runners need for their sport, like creating power and absorbing stress. Hopping, bounding, and skipping are all great progressions that you can practice in the gym.

The video below is from my exercise library on YouTube. Hop out to a distance you can land successfully. Push the limit a little bit further when the hop becomes easy.

 

You should be able to dead bug like a pro…

As Kyle points out, running doesn’t require a whole lot of upper body strength. But it does require you to be able to dissociate or separate your shoulder and arms from your torso. And specifically in a reciprocal and alternating fashion. That means you need to be able to move your arms independently of your body. A dead bug requires you to do just that. Can you say core stability

Here I show you what to focus on in your dead bug practice.

 

Now let's be clear! Kyle is a doctor. But this check-list by no means serves as a doctor's clearance. If you've got major issues going on, or you're working through an injury, be sure to check in with a qualified professional IN PERSON.

We do however, wholeheartedly believe, that for the average recreational to competitive runner, proficiency in these skills can keep you much happier and healthier on the path to fitness or performance.

And contrary to current trending beliefs, running is a completely valid and useful way to increase your fitness. You just better be ready for it.

 

For more nutrition advice, fitness articles, and workout sign up for my newsletter. You'll also be the first to get access to the second round of the Sophisticated Stride Coaching Group for runners.

So You Are Totally Body Positive, But You Still Totally Want To Be Lean?

Not so fast! Before we get into this story… Am I calling out the Body Positive Movement? The one that is sponsored by mega companies like Dove and American Eagle? The one that is being pushed by some very smart and influential fitness professionals?

Yes. Yes, I am.

I have some beef. But, I’m not here to attack the idea that women shouldn’t love their bodies, accept themselves, and be intuitive about self-care. I actually believe these skills are imperative to any kind of body composition journey and I am so incredibly happy that they are seeing the spotlight. I consider myself on board.

I’m simply sharing my story of prepping for figure competitions,  maintaining a svelte body on the daily, and the small shift that can divide stressful weight loss from self-loving and intuitive leanness. OK?

I've got love for everyone. But when it's implied that all lean individuals must be some measure of crazy and MY clients start coming in ashamed of or intimidated by their goals...

Let’s get into it.

A New Hope

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away (or maybe just New Jersey), there was a little lost girl named Ashleigh. Maybe not so little. She had definitely just put on about five pounds of muscle and had competed in figure division. But I digress.. 

Anyway, Ashleigh was 13% body fat (which is a pretty lean body composition reading on the scale). And she was not happy.

I want you to keep reading here. Stay with me, because unlike all the rest of the typical body positive posts, this one doesn’t really end up the way you’ve come to expect. At the conclusion of our tale, little Ashleigh is all grown up (ok, or maybe just a few years older and wiser), and she is 13% body fat and lives happily ever after…

…I'm sorry, What?

That’s not how the story is supposed to go, right? Where are the before-and-after photos that look like a reverse transformation?

I mean, I definitely put on close to 10 pounds of muscle since then. i weighed about 128 lbs. in 2013. Right now it varies from 136-138 lbs.

I mean, I definitely put on close to 10 pounds of muscle since then. i weighed about 128 lbs. in 2013. Right now it varies from 136-138 lbs.

Isn’t she supposed to put on like 10-20 pounds and four inches on the waist in order to finally feel at peace with her feminine body?

People.

Come on.

While I may be referencing Star Wars, this is not a fucking fairy tale.

I am a 28 yr-old perpetually single girl running my own life and business on my own in the very real hustle that is New York City. I ain’t got no time for fairy tales. 

Been there. Done that. He was a complete disaster. ANYWAY… back to the 13% body fat.

First, I am a PERSONAL TRAINER. THIS IS WHAT I DO FOR A LIVING OMG. I have a responsibility to myself and to my clients to maintain an athletic body that can perform at a high level and also rock a fitness photo shoot when asked. I need to be a role model and set a high standard for my clients.

But more importantly than that, I don’t personally have the mental toughness required to live in a body that doesn’t feel right to me. And when I am 13% body fat, my body can feel so damn good. And when it does, it’s because I am being so damn good to my body. 

I give it the nutrition it needs. I challenge it with training, but I respect it’s capabilities.

I give it yoga and meditation. I challenge it with work, but I offer it rest.

 

Same Bod, Different Mindset

Ok, ok. I know what you’re thinking. This story doesn’t make any sense. How could I go from being unhappy to happy at the same 13%? 

And this sounds like sunshine and rainbows, not dark clouds and tough times. 

Where is the typical horror story that all these fit pros narrate? Where does the external transformation come in? Where is the crashed metabolism and the low self-esteem?

Again, this is not a fantastic piece. And it certainly isn’t any kind of nightmare.

But… there was a time that Ashleigh woke up in a cold sweat. And this is where the story really begins.

She was about 24. She had completed a figure competition with ease. And I mean EASE. She used Dan John’s Easy Strength program to get there. "What are macros?" she wondered. She had never felt better or looked better.

First figure comp, feeling so damn good!   

First figure comp, feeling so damn good!

 

But somewhere between that first prep for May and the following show in September, little Ashleigh lost her goddamn mind(wouldn’t be the last time lolz).

Her family and personal life spiraled out of control. Those tales are not part of this story so we’ll skip the details. But suffice it to say, our little Ashleigh found escape from it all by preparing for the next competition.

And that is when she took it too far. Way too far.

She measured her progress far too often. She ate almost no carbs. She trained at least two hours a day. She experienced a heinous injury. And she really did not like herself at all.

Ashleigh knew something had to change. She was caught in a vicious cycle. As the days passed, it seemed as though it became increasingly difficult to maintain her ideal body composition.

More restriction was required. More working out was necessary.

But she still wanted to to be lean. And she was not willing to give that up so easily. Purchasing a new padawan wardrobe was not going to fit her budget.

Our reluctant heroine had come to an impasse. She had to choose a new ending.

 

Reacting Vs. Responding

Now in life, when we are faced with a problem — We don’t like the way things are and we need a change — It was originally thought that we have one of two options. 

There really are no unexpected plot twists in real life.

We either react

Or we respond.

That’s it.

Reaction, meaning that we act too quickly and impulsively, and let emotions rule the decision. Response means that we take time to reflect and let logic and intuition direct our move.

Found this gem on Pinterest.

Found this gem on Pinterest.

But somewhere along the line, the Body Positive Movement created this new third option.

Do nothing.

Do nothing. Forget the goal, and convince yourself that you are content exactly where you are now.

WHATTTT????

I’m sorry. This option might legitimately be the right choice for some people. And I have to believe that these reverse transformation posts are directed at that specific audience.

We’re talking specifically about physique goals here. Perhaps a person wants to achieve something too extreme or it’s an unhealthy pursuit for their current head state.

But in most cases (even beyond training goals), I believe the following to be true:

You can try to play lots of Jedi mind tricks with your brain to pretend like you’re not being called to some kind of higher goal or purpose.

But even Luke Skywalker had to go on the Hero’s journey just like everyone else. 

It would have been a really boring movie if Luke had stayed on Tatooine and pretended he didn’t want to go on an adventure and learn what he needed to know about himself.

Let's apply this to fitness. You can react, respond, or do nothing. 

And this is a really, really important note: If you want defined abs and body positive culture (or your trainer, or some "expert") is telling you that’s not a sufficiently righteous enough purpose, as seems to be the current trend, consider me the omnipotent presence that shows up to reassure you. 

You can even call me Obi Wan if you like.

But like, Obi Wan if he was a woman and wore lots of platforms. BTW this is me, any given day.

But like, Obi Wan if he was a woman and wore lots of platforms. BTW this is me, any given day.

Your desires are real and valid. They are a call to action. And aesthetic goals are ABSOLUTELY a legitimate purpose as they correlate directly with adopting healthier life habits and building strength and good movement patterns(See I’m with you on prioritizing strength and movement, body positive people!)

You can either react by dieting erratically and over-exercising, you can do nothing by attempting to love yourself just the way you are (and ignoring the call), or you can…

Respond.

Aesthetic physique goals, even seemingly “elite” ones, are absolutely attainable in a safe and sustainable way.

Let’s go back to our reluctant heroine’s story…

Well, baby Ashleigh reacted, fueled by the negative things happening in her life, to the task of staying lean for her second competition. She had experienced a certain amount of luck in her first prep. She tested out her theories on how to prepare and they worked. And she did it all on her own. 

But despite her success, she didn’t trust herself. And she crashed on the second round. She felt terrible about herself. Even though she looked pretty great. 

You see, body image is directly related to our overall health. This is where the whole self esteem thing comes in. She was unhappy at 13% because she wasn’t healthy.

She had restricted her body to the point where it was in a constant state of stress. And because this state was so threatening, she had no idea what was going on inside that body and kept comparing it to ever other body. She didn't even think she looked good half the time.

Now this last part of the self-esteem problem might be tough for you non-fit pros to understand. But it's an important note. She questioned her competence as a trainer in this shaken state. 

And so as painful as it was, this crash prompted Ashleigh to make a change. To respond.

#WhatWouldCampbellDo?

She knew she had to get a squad if she was gonna go on a tough journey. Some Han Solo types if you will. People who could be objective. So she found support.

She went out and learned. She had to find the Yodas. Real experts and research to discover why things worked the first time and what was so wrong abut the second.

And she had to find the force again. To realize that she was going to need to go deep and trust her soul voice. 

She tested out her own theories, but with newfound confidence. She learned to trust her intuition, while relying on others.

Of course, there were Siths who tried to throw her off course. People who said it couldn’t be done. But she learned the ways of the force, to drown out these voices and only hear her own heart.

She didn’t let fear guide her. She resisted the dark side.

 

How You TOO, Can Defeat The Dark Side

Of course your big goals are always going to be somewhat scary. You’re signing yourself up for struggle and discomfort and work! 

But there are certain truths you need to remember when you feel like you want to hesitate.

There Is Always Someone Who Can Help You Find Your Way

We all need a coach, someone who can guide us through the process and prevent us from veering off course. Find yourself a Yoda, someone more experienced and wiser, with the practical expertise you desire, who can act as your spiritual guide. Put trust in someone else.

You Can Learn To Master Your Fear

When we get discouraged by our failures or frustrated by someone else’s success during this very personal journey, that’s just our ego getting pushed around a bit. 

We have to be able to hear that fear without acting(or not acting) on it. That’s the difference between the dark side and the force. Choose the force. Choose strength.

I failed on my odyssey several times. I look forward to falling down again. Failures are part of life. Keep smiling and keep fighting.

Change is Inherently Uncomfortable For Everyone

Realize the process is going to push you out of your comfort zone. But the second we get started on something that seems too big and daunting, the anxiety begins to diminish immediately.

Take the first step. and just keep putting one foot in front of the other. 

You Need a Squad

You need caring listeners who will hear your struggles and let you talk out your fears. You need objective judges to tell you when you’re making progress. And you need your girlfriends to warn you when you start sounding straight crazy.

You Hold The Power

The Obi-Wans, the god-like characters that appear in stories to light the fire --  the ones who show up at just the right moment in the middle of the battle when all seems lost? They’re not real in the sense that they are human or separate from the main character. They are an extension of the Hero — A projection of your own divinity to remind you that you alone hold the almighty spirit required to get where you want to go. All of the power lies within you.

And finally...

Chart Your Own Course

This is your story!

Luke had to answer the call. He had to look to within. He couldn’t have done it without R-2 and the rest of the crew. And he couldn’t have done it if he stayed on the farm.

Ashleigh had to get real uncomfortable. She had to silence her fear, learn more about herself, trust others, and work smarter.

Me, on Thursday. Any Thursday, really. But it was last Thursday.

Me, on Thursday. Any Thursday, really. But it was last Thursday.

These are the things you never hear from these one-man show reverse transformations. And there are certainly great lessons in their stories.

But the experts who tell you your goals are unhealthy or not worthy evade the power of response -- the self-discipline, wisdom, time, effort, and accountability that goes into crafting truly elite or transformative fitness goals.

You don’t hear about how they change things and try again. Or how they bring in other experts to guide them through. Because they thought they knew everything. I get that. As I explained, I've been there too.

I don't want to assume too much, but I would venture to conclude that these pros attached their self-worth not only to their physiques, but to their ability to coach themselves successfully as well. 

That's their story. 

But that doesn’t have to be your story.

and speaking of squads… I'd love to be part of yours! E-mail me any time ashleigh@sophisticatedstrength.com

#bodybuilderpositive #followtheforce #sophisticatedstrength

Why Stress Is the Insidious Enemy of Fat Loss

...And Your Body Is Not

We cut out ALL sugar. We walk past the pastry counter practically drooling. We sign up for as many classes as we possibly can. Even giving up drinks with friends to hit that last spin class on Thursday night. We are tired. We are sore. Bruised even. And we still get to the beach on Saturday and look around, wondering how many of these chicks do we look better than? If it’s at least 50% it’s ok, right?

And we are frustrated. Nothing is changing! Except maybe we can’t sleep. But Instagram told us to go #beastmode with HIIT workouts and the 21-day fix said all we need is 1200 calories.

So we pack up our gym bags Sunday night and vow to leave a little more sweat on the floor and a few more crumbs on the plate than we did last week. And maybe, just maybe, by next weekend we’ll look good enough for that itsy bikini bottom that has yet to make it out the dresser drawer. 

And the cycle continues. Welcome to New York.

We look at fat loss like it’s a war. We strap on our Nikes and go to battle on grounds like Barry’s Bootcamp and Tonehouse. We congratulate ourselves on hitting two workouts in a day. Every meal we go without carbs is a definitive win. Our bodies with their stubborn fat and sharp cravings and exhaustion are rebellious. They must be conquered.

You are in the midst of an all-out war but you are hungry. You are overtired. Your workouts are breaking you. When did this knee pain thing start? You don’t like what you see in the mirror. You’re losing morale.

You cannot win like this. Planning endless attacks day after day, week after week. You’re exhausting your power, battling on too many fronts. Waging guerrilla warfare without strategy. Shooting in the dark.

Fat loss is not a war. 

At least it’s not a war against your body. You’ve chosen the wrong side. You let your evil head sway you. And I don’t mean the intelligent, rational side, I mean the dark side.

The side that reads magazines articles with opposing literature and immediately questions herself. The part of the brain that can look in the mirror and decide she got fat over night. You know this voice. The one that your yoga teacher says makes up stories about how unsatisfactory you are. The one that makes you feel shameful for that late-night slice of pizza at the office yesterday.

Yup that's me, aught on a particularly stressful day in the winter.

Yup that's me, aught on a particularly stressful day in the winter.

This ego of yours has convinced you that stress is your friend and your body is the enemy. This voice is not your ally! She has lied. And you have betrayed your body and become dependent on her shaky approval.

STRESS KILLS! You know this! Your body has been trying to tell you all along! It tried to warn you when it saw the dark side gaining control. That same body that you pummeled with burpees and starved of calories. The body that you rebelled and revolted against. 

It’s always been there trying to communicate with you, sending up smoke signals and transmitting encrypted messages to warn you of the impending harm. When you don’t eat, your body tries to remind you by shaking your focus. When you don’t sleep, it makes you feel slow. When you go too hard at the gym, it tries to grab your attention by creating pain.

The realist truth in the world is this: Stress is the enemy of everything.

If you really want to win, you need a a new strategy. Ask not what your body can do for you, but what you can do for your body. It’s time to join forces against the real enemy of your fat-loss goal, and really health in general. 

You want to combat stubborn fat? You need to listen to your body and declare war on stress.

Stress Is The Enemy of Fat Loss

There are different types of stress. There’s physical stress. There’s mental stress. But your brain interprets them all the same. And it responds with a release of hormones that make it particularly difficult to cut fat. When the body feels threatened, it goes into fight or flight mode. If we live here constantly, our cortisol is chronically increased. This can kill our ability to break down fat and raises our ability to destroy hard won, fat-burning muscle. 

And there are more obstacles. Our leptin sensitivity changes, owing to our inability to put the bag of chips down until the whole thing is gone. We are even more likely to get sick in this state, as the immune system can become suppressed. You cannot battle fat from the convalescence of your couch. You cannot fight fat when you are hormonally compromised.

Prepare For Battle

So minimizing stress… How can we do that? I said listen to your body. Easy for me to say right? You’re correct. It is. I’ve seen the other side. I’ve cultivated that relationship and I can intuitively sense what my next move should be most of the time.

But I also know(from experience), the transmission can be difficult to interpret when you’ve been pummeling that voice with shame and guilt and kettlebell swings. You gotta get back in touch with it somehow. And I’ve got some tips to help you rebuild your relationship with your soul voice.

This is the voice that is always your ally. She is the true caretaker of your body. The one who knows exactly what you need and when you need it. The only one your crazy head can never win against. IF, you let her speak.

But the first thing, the most important thing I want you to consider, is that your body is in fact a fat-burning metabolic machine. It is a an absolute war machine. And it’s loving loyalty is with you alone.

You’ve been scheming up new ways to restrict and limit your body rather than aid it. It’s not your fault. The fitness industry has taught you to think aggressively. I dare you to instead change your perspective and imagine what you can do to fortify your defense. What can you supply your body with to help it function better? 

Fat-loss is the cause. And your body and all of it’s biological systems are the army. To function at it’s best, you’ve got to give it what it needs. Essentially, anything that helps relieve stress can also help rip fat off of your body. Because when the body is less stressed, the fat-loss machine, your metabolism, can run most efficiently. 

So, what can you do to eliminate the impact of stress on your body and soul?

Supply The Right Basic Training

Training is by definition: intended physical stress. You break your body down on purpose, hoping that during recovery, you build yourself up better than you were before. 

But it’s got to be the right dose of stress. We’re all different. We all need to work on building stronger muscles and stronger hearts, yes. But that doesn’t mean we should all be doing the same workouts to achieve these qualities. 

And if the training plan is too stressful for where you are right now? And this could mean many things — it’s not appropriately progressive, or it’s too intense, or the exercise selection is not right for your level of athleticism and skill — It’s not the right dose and you won’t get any of the results you want, fat-loss included.

In yoga, we say that training is all about finding the edge. To push the edge further, you must train within that line. So all of your workouts should be something like comfortably difficult. There should be some amount of ease even on your toughest days. Because when we push past our limits too often, we find dis-ease. Did you read that? You find disease.

And this is why the extreme high intensity competitive bootcamps like CrossFit and Barry’s can be very frustrating for most of us. If every day is game day, and you are constantly disrespecting the sacred edge, you find all kinds of stress in the form of tightness, injury, pre-workout anxiety, post workout exhaustion, and chronic inflammation to name a few.

So I challenge you to accept two big concepts that will help you train smarter. I’m even going to give you some action steps for applying them.

Exercise Your Strength(DOn'T Exhaust it)

The first, is that you should always leave some reps in the tank and some weight on the rack. Constantly going for max lifts and training to failure can fry the nervous system and exacerbate your muscles. This is too much stress on its own.

Also, consider that when you train, you are incurring a certain amount of risk. And the more fatigued you become, the more that risk increases. That gamble isn’t worth the short term success. 

And really, if you leave yourself in a puddle of sweat on the floor today and you wake up so sore that you can barely move in the morning, how do you expect tomorrow’s workout to go? I mean, will you even be able to pull yourself out of bed to do it? You cannot win a war if you can’t get to the battlefield.

My favorite lifting session for fat-loss is 10x3. Lifting relatively heavy weights for a good amount of volume can be a recipe for hormonal happiness that results in the torching of those last couple of pounds.

But I mean it when I say RELATIVELY heavy. You cannot expect to use anything even CLOSE to your 1-rep max here. You should be able to complete 11 rounds if you had to, but you will just choose not to.

Day 1 Superset

Barbell Deadlift

Barbell Bench Press

Day 2 Superset

Barbell Front Squat

Pull-Up

3 bodyweight pull-ups is my prefect 10x3 sets. But you can add bands to remove some resistance.

3 bodyweight pull-ups is my prefect 10x3 sets. But you can add bands to remove some resistance.

*For both workouts, perform the two lifts back to back. That is one set. Rest 90-120 seconds between sets. Repeat for ten rounds.

Here’s the important part: For novice and intermediate lifters, choose a weight that is about 60-65% of your 1-rep max. Expert lifters may play with a weight that is closer to 70% of their 1-rep max. 

Be of Strong Heart

The second, is that you should always include some rhythmic cardio in your training plans. We said you’ve go to train the heart, right? And I mean something like rowing, biking, or sprinting. These exercises allow for a sequential turning on and turning off of muscles that allows blood to flow MORE freely through the body in a way that strength work cannot. 

And restricted blood flow is the chief reason lifting weights for speed, is not true cardio. Weight bearing exercises require too much tension and accordingly slow the blood flow back to the heart. This concept also helps explain why those who lift weights, REALLY need not to ignore cardio training.

Rhythmic cardio is also EXTREMELY therapeutic for mental stress and that is because much like meditation and yoga, you will be challenged to take control of your breath. When you can breathe better, you can deal with all of life’s unexpected but inevitable shit, better.

Longer intervals are a great way to fight stress.

Longer intervals are a great way to fight stress.

And control is the important part here. If you lose control of the weight when you are strength training, you have failed. This is obvious. Much less obvious, if you lose control of your breathing during cardio work, you have lost control of the interval and well, you lost the battle. You will reap no great cardio or fat-loss rewards as a result. 

My favorite workout here is 10x2min. 

Warm-Up

Progressively increase intensity on your chosen appropriate medium(run, bike, row)

Workout

Complete 10 2-minute long intervals at 70-80% perceived intensity, resting 1 minute between each interval.

Here’s the important part: Utilize long slow exhales during the work intervals, blowing air out of pursed lips. No matter how fast you move, the breath should ALWAYS be relatively slow and controlled. Modify speed according to ability to maintain that control. Honor the edge!

This bootcamp protocol should help you make some real visual changes to your body. But more importantly, you should start to make some real philosophical changes in your brain. Pay attention to how you feel after each activity, after training mindfully for a couple weeks. Throw in a yoga session of choice as your fourth session each week and you should start to pick up on some valuable transmissions from your soul voice about what really serves your body and your fat-loss goals. 

Give Your Body The Right Fuel

You have but one concept to adopt here. And as you march yourself down the queue at Dean and Deluca, I want you to remember that your battle cry is no good if you’ve got nothing to back it up with. You cannot fight if you don’t have the energy. Fat-loss takes fuel.

Your body and brain are fueled by two things: oxygen and food. It’s very simple. To function optimally, you need to breathe well(as we already covered) and you need to eat well. This means that starving yourself is not an option. 

I work in NYC and I can tell you that my clients who have the most trouble losing weight are the chicks who don’t eat at all, or don’t eat enough. For one, the lack of satiety causes more mental stress. Anxiety and guilt then become a part of every food experience.

But more importantly, they are lacking the adequate nourishment that is necessary to allow for results. To fuel your workouts, your body needs carbohydrates. Think of carbs as the engine of your metabolism. 

This is my actual breakfast 4 days per week! Packed with protein and carbs!

This is my actual breakfast 4 days per week! Packed with protein and carbs!

To recover from workouts, your body needs protein. Think of protein as the building blocks of your muscles. And having more muscle makes the engine stronger and drives your metabolic capacity up nice and high.

And your body also needs fat. Fat allows protein and carbs to do their jobs efficiently. And it also serves to help you absorb other necessary nutrients like vitamins and minerals. 

As we already outlined, workouts are stressful and sophisticated breakdowns that are contingent on recovery. But they are also only as good as the energy you have to put into them. You need all three of these macronutrients to ensure your success. But we’re going to focus on the first two to get you started here.

Tip #1

Up your protein. To whatever you normally eat, add another chicken breast or another three egg’s worth of whites. Mix up a protein shake. Just get that number up. Take note of how you feel and look over two weeks time.

Tip #2

After you have completed your protein experiment, play with carbs. This one is particularly important if you have been carb-less or very low carb for any significant amount of time. On your tougher lifting days and on your cardio days, add in extra carbs. White or brown rice, regular or sweet potatoes, even oatmeal is a great option here. Add a full extra serving on these days. Take note of how you look and feel over two weeks time.

Don’t skip the instructions to run these tests independently of each other! It’s important to realize how each individual change affects your body. Change one thing at a time to really hear what your soul voice has to say about it.

Keep Morale High 

There are unlimited opportunities for mental stress. I cover relationships in a different blog. But there’s family stress. There’s financial stress. There’s work stress. All of these potential stressors can mess with your hormones and negatively affect your decision-making skills. If you want to focus on fat loss, you’ve got to eliminate outside threats. 

I’m going to focus on tech stress here as it can lead us to multiple problems. Two in particular that are easy to get a handle on.

One, too much tech can scramble your brain. That makes even normal daily tasks more stressful. Increased tech usage late into the day can also make it difficult to sleep. And sleep is a necessary part of the recipe for good results. 

So, look for ways to limit your usage. Trade your google calendar for an actual calendar. Yeah, like a planner. Remember those? Trade your iPhone alarm clock for an actual alarm clock. That way, you can shut the phone off, leave it in another room, anything to get the actual device away from your brain while you catch some z’s. 

And two, quite possibly the more important of the two, get off Instagram! I know you, dear. When you’re frustrated trying to lose weight, you’re on there listening to false fitness idols and comparing yourself to hydroxy-cut hotties. Stop that. Comparison is the enemy of progress. You need confidence here, not questions. And too much doubt will drown that soul voice again. 

So, cut your time on tech. And instead of comparing yourself to others, focus on yourself. Start keeping a diary of how you’re feeling each day. What’s going well? What’s actually getting you down? And you don’t have to limit yourself to just fitness related topics. Keeping track of your personal and professional life in tandem with your fitness tracking will also help you recognize important patterns. (Hint: The way we see ourselves, influences the way we move!)

Take real photos of your body and compare them every six weeks. NOT EVERY DAY! There are natural ups and downs. Progress is not completely linear. So you need to allow a decent amount of time to pass to accurately gauge results. 

I actually keep these tiny notebooks that I journal in throughout the day!   

I actually keep these tiny notebooks that I journal in throughout the day!

 

DECLARE YOUR INDEPENDENCE

This is a manifesto of war on stubborn fat, yes. But it’s also a treaty of peace with your beautiful body. A declaration of independence against the restrictive and punishing way you’ve been fighting for your physique goals. And a vow to be the best ally of your most inner soul voice.

I challenge you in training to exercise your strengths; not to exhaust them. I challenge you in nutrition to nourish your body; not to ration it. And I challenge you to eliminate outside threats to your soul voice; to rally your spirit. Because we’ve got some leaning to do, ok? Life is too short to get caught up in confidence killing conflicts and uphill battles. And that itsy bikini(with you in it!) deserves it’s day in the sun. #fatlossisstressloss #sophisticatedstrength