BPF Blog

Why You're Not Getting Fat-Loss Results

So you’re working hard in the gym and eating better and the weight is just not coming off or you’re not seeing those abs or biceps like you wanted to. Is it a hormone imbalance? A genetic problem? Are you too old? Not taking the right supplements? It’s tempting to go first to these explanations because they are largely out of our control, or need some extra measure beyond plain old (boring, tedious, time-consuming…) diet and exercise to fix, so we can throw up our hands and not look too hard at the things we can control, but that require a lot of consistent effort.

The truth is much more likely to have a simpler explanation. Once you’ve got all the following on point and are still not getting anywhere you can look for more complicated solutions, but almost no one I know who is not an elite athlete is actually doing the simple things correctly and consistently.

And honestly, it’s totally ok to recognize that you simply don’t want to work out as often as you would need to or be as restrictive in your diet as you would need to in order to look like a fitness model (fitness models don’t even look like fitness models all the time, actually). I love John Berardi’s infographic: the cost of getting lean, which outlines what an average person would need to do in order to get and stay at varying levels of leanness. It’s a great tool for reflecting on your goals and what you’re willing and able to do to achieve them, and to modify those goals if you decide to. You don’t need a 6-pack to be healthy or live your best life, though if you really want one that’s fine too!

All that said, here are the most likely explanations for a lack of fat loss or muscle building results in your gym and nutrition endeavors:

1) You’re underestimating how much you eat / drink.

Even when we’re being careful to record everything we eat, it’s super easy to underestimate our caloric intake. And most of us aren’t that careful to begin with. Do you pay attention to portion sizes when you dish up your dinner? If so, do you carefully measure with a food scale or measuring cups or spoons? Especially with calorie-dense foods like butter, oil, nuts and nut butters, it’s incredibly easy to overeat. When you splash what you think is a tablespoon of oil into the pan to cook with, it’s likely you’re splashing 2-3 times that much, adding 200-400 more calories to the dish. I read a case study in which a guy was unknowingly putting 16 tablespoons of olive oil in the pan, that’s 3200 calories, and that one mistake was completely stalling his progress! Salad dressing? A serving size is 2 tablespoons but you’re probably not measuring when you pour it out of the bottle, and even if you get it on the side at a restaurant those little cups they give you are usually at least twice that, adding up to 600 calories to your nice, light salad. Spreading some peanut butter for a dose of protein and healthy fats? Awesome, but a carefully measured tablespoon and an overloaded one with twice as much look awfully similar, and with each tablespoon containing about 95 calories, it adds up fast. Do you grab a piece of candy a couple times of day at the office?  Grab an uneaten chicken nugget from your child’s plate? Little stuff like this often doesn’t get recorded or considered because it’s just a tiny little thing, how could it make a difference? But many of these instances over the course of a day or week can become a big caloric surplus. The calories you drink are important too. Soda, juice, milk, and anything with alcohol in it has substantial calories in it and you can’t forget to take them into account. Pay attention to the serving size. A 20-ounce soda isn’t one 100-calorie serving – it’s two and a half. That’s a pretty rookie mistake, honestly, but even if you feel it’s an obvious one, don’t assume you don’t fall into the other calorie traps. Multiple studies suggest that most people underestimate how much they’ve consumed in a day by an average of 500 calories. A pound of fat is equivalent to 3500 calories, so it adds up quickly.

Many people focus hard on food quality or type of food they eat (no carbs! whole, plant-based foods!) and while that can be helpful for general health and satiety, overall energy balance (calories eaten vs. calories expended) is THE defining variable for how much fat you’ll have on your body. To complicate things even more, people who start working out often grossly OVERestimate how many calories they burned doing so and allow themselves large meals as a reward, thinking they still burned off more energy than they’ve eaten. Well, surprise! Maybe you burned off 750 calories at a kickboxing class (being generous), but that restaurant meal you grabbed afterward can contain anywhere from 1000 to 3500!

Look, there are plenty of articles out there about how to reduce the number of calories you eat. Every single diet out there: keto, intermittent fasting, low carb, weight watchers, etc. rely on getting you to a calorie deficit; the difference is just in how. But the bottom line is that you have to pay attention, don’t assume anything, and be disciplined enough to stop when you’re less than 100% satisfied much of the time if you want to operate in a caloric deficit, which is what is needed for fat loss. You can go wild on veggies, which don’t have a lot of calories per ounce or cup or whatever you want to measure with. Most other things you have to be careful with.

2) You’re not paying attention to NEAT. 

Lots of people assume you can lose weight working out 2-3 times a week, and you can, IF you’re otherwise active. If you are sedentary the rest of the time, you’ll likely reach a plateau very quickly.

NEAT stands for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis, and it means the energy you burn up by all your activities that aren’t focused exercise. Taking the stairs instead of the elevator increases NEAT. Sitting all day at work decreases it. I love Fitbits and similar trackers, because it gives us a picture of the movement we’re getting all day long, and can inspire us to up our game.

A trap many people fall into when they’re new to exercise or even when they’ve been working out for awhile is that in response to being tired from working out, they sit more and do even less general activity than before. This can lead to stagnation and even fat gain depending on how severe it is.

On the other hand, you can create a calorie deficit pretty quickly without doing hard workouts if you just make it a point to keep moving throughout your day. It doesn’t even have to be hard stuff. Go for little walks. Take the stairs. Park far away. Set a timer on your phone and get up out of your chair at least once an hour. Take a walk with your family after dinner. Play a game with your kids, or someone else’s kids (don’t steal anyone’s kids though). Stand up and move around when you talk on the phone. Do a few jumping jacks when you wake up in the morning to get your energy flowing. Get up for commercial breaks. You get the idea. You can’t lose fat by not moving except at the gym 2 nights a week. On balance, NEAT may be even more impactful than your actual workouts.

3) You’re not working out hard enough.

Women and men both get caught up in this one, but women tend to be at a higher risk. Every workout picture of a woman in mainstream media is her lifting pink, 2 pound weights. Many women worry about “bulking up” if they lift heavy, which is BS. The truth is that the more muscle tissue we have, the more energy (calories) we will burn even at rest. That’s why guys can eat so much more than women without becoming overweight – in addition to being larger overall, they naturally have more muscle mass (this is in general; everything exists on a scale including masculine and feminine body traits). Women on average have a higher body fat percentage, which is needed for pregnancy, breastfeeding, and our general hormonal balance, but it means we don’t burn as much energy pound for pound. We can change that somewhat by building muscle. It doesn’t have to be huge and bulky, and most likely it won’t be, as most women don’t have the testosterone required for massive hypertrophy (muscle growth).

Then there’s that old gem “the fat burning zone,” which is still printed on half the cardio machines in gyms, telling you to not work so hard because you won’t burn as much fat. Basically, scientists figured out a long time ago that at 55-70% of your maximum heart rate, or about 5 or 6 out of 10 level of effort, people burned more fat vs. carbohydrates in the blood, percentage-wise, than working out at a higher intensity. The problem is that higher intensity (characterized by a higher heart rate and a feeling of more difficulty) will burn much more energy overall, INCLUDING fat.  It will also stress the body more, creating an “afterburn” effect as it recovers, thus creating much more of an energy deficit than the slower, easier workout. So, if you haven’t got a heart condition, working out harder and faster will give you greater fat loss results. An easy way to get this effect is through interval training, sometimes called high intensity interval training or HIIT, which alternates periods of easier exercise with periods of maximum effort. There are a million different ways you can do this, but the takeaway here is that easy workouts are not going to be the most effective workouts. They’ll help with your heart health and stress, and they’re absolutely worth doing some of the time. But fat loss won’t happen easily if you keep all of your workouts easy.

4) You’re not being consistent.  

Humans are impatient. Especially humans living in first world countries. We want everything now, now, now, and when that doesn’t happen we get frustrated. When we’re talking about diet and exercise plans, that tends to mean we don’t give any program long enough to work. If we don’t see big enough results right away, we get frustrated and often give up too easily and too early, when if we had just stuck it out for awhile we would have seen the desired results.

There’s also a lot of talk about “cheat days,” and people don’t like to maintain discipline on the weekend. It’s incredibly easy to erase the carefully built-up calorie deficit on a work week with a couple of out-of-control weekend meals. That’s not to say you should never have a treat! I’m a huge proponent of building in the foods we like best as part of our sustainable eating plan, but you can’t just forget about any restraint for days at a time and expect fat loss to occur. It just doesn’t work that way.

5) You’re not changing up your workouts.

Consistency is super important, yes, but bodies are efficient machines that adapt to whatever we ask of them. If you do the same routine over and over again, it’s bound to start feeling easier. That means your body has gotten used to it, and isn’t burning as much energy doing it. And that means your body isn’t going to continue changing. What to do? Well, you can increase your intensity (do whatever you’re doing but go faster, or lift heavier, or squat lower), increase your duration (do it longer), or you can change it up. Instead of chest presses do some pushups. Try some compound movements (using more than one muscle group at once, like doing squats and shoulder presses in the same movement). Introduce some new exercises you haven’t tried before, even some you may be intimidated by (burpees anyone?). You have to keep challenging your body if you want it to change, and that’s not happening if you’re doing the same thing all the time. You’ve got to embrace discomfort if you want to make progress.

5) You’re under too much stress and / or not getting enough sleep.

If your hormones are indeed off in some way, stress and lack of sleep are often the culprits, and medication and supplements won’t solve the issue as well as learning to manage your stress and creating some discipline around your sleep routine will. I know, everyone’s life is busy and stressful, and no one wants to put away the electronics before bedtime, but, until you’re able to take the time to address these issues, your physical and mental health, not to mention any goals of fat loss, will suffer.

There are lots of resources out there for working on this, and like anything else you’re not going to reach perfection in the pursuit of a stress-free Zen master life, but you can make progress. And that’s all we can hope for in any life pursuit.

6) You’re not recognizing progress even though you’re making some!

Most people rely solely on the scale and / or BMI to measure their fat loss progress (including doctors, which is a whole other rant!). When you start to exercise, there are many other factors to consider. Your body composition may be changing, building muscle and shedding fat, which may look like no change on the scale (or BMI, which is solely based on your height and weight), but you WOULD see change if you were measuring circumferences (usually at the waist, thighs, hips, arms, etc.), paying attention to how your clothes fit and taking progress photos (this can be an invaluable tool!). If you want to get super fancy you can get various forms of body scanning done. You may also notice things like more energy and productivity, better posture and a more confident feeling, and better blood test results at the doctor’s, which may not be what you’re focused on, but which shouldn’t be overlooked. And sometimes those things precede the visual and clothing size changes you’re looking for.

So! If you have all that under control and you’re still not seeing results? It’s probably worth it to talk to a doctor or other health professional. Preferable someone who is actually a professional and not going to try to sell you overpriced protein shakes or put you on a special diet of exclusively overprocessed foods.

Do you have trouble with any of these or a story about how you overcame an obstacle to meet your fat loss goals? Let me know in the comments.

A Little Bit Better

I talk a lot about the “all-or-nothing” mentality, but today I want to talk about what to adopt instead.

All-or-nothing is when I decide to “go on a diet” and be super restrictive, with NO carbs, or sweets, or whatever I’ve decided is causing all my problems. Maybe I make it a week, or a month, perfectly. Then, in a moment of weakness, I eat a donut or something, and suddenly I’m a failure, and my diet has failed, and why even bother, and I may as well eat whatever I want because I’ve blown it! Sounds dramatic when I put it that way, but it’s incredibly common (I struggle sometimes too!) It’s self-destructive and counterproductive and makes us really unhappy too.

So, instead, consider embracing the concept of “a little better.” John Berardi of Precision Nutrition talks about this often. What he has discovered in years of studying nutrition, fitness and habit change, is that habits are more likely to stick when we don’t try to make them all at once or make them drastic. Most of us, when deciding to get healthy, decide that everything we’re doing needs to change, a lot, right now. Well, people who are successful with habit change start small and build.

Let’s say my average breakfast is 2 pop tarts and some orange juice. It’s a sugar spike and crash that leaves me feeling terrible, and starving by lunch, so I overeat. A nutritionist advises me to eat an egg white omelet with vegetables and black coffee. I know that’s not going to happen – I’ve got no time for that, and also I hate eggs, so I think about what could make my junk food breakfast just a little better.

For the first week, I cut down to one pop tart. It’s not so bad. Week 2, I replace the orange juice with milk. Wow, I start to feel a little less starving at lunchtime because I got a little bit of protein. This is going well. I’m encouraged. Maybe in another week, I’m ready to take a further step. Maybe instead of a pop tart, I can have some toast with jam on it. Not bad. Later, I make the toast out of some whole grain bread instead of the white stuff I started with, and maybe eventually use some all-natural reduced sugar jam. Maybe I add some Greek yogurt for a little more protein and put some berries on it to make it taste better. So here it is, a couple months down the road, and my average breakfast consists of some Greek yogurt and berries, a piece of whole grain toast with reduced sugar jam, and a glass of milk. MUCH different from my original two pop tarts and juice, and much better for my health and well-being. But if I tried to make that change all at once, I probably would have been back to pop tarts almost right away. Doing it this way, my tastes have had some time to adjust and I even kind of prefer this now. A drastic change would have resulted in “yuck,” and I would have forced myself to do it for awhile, but at some point I would have gotten frustrated and gone back to my old habit, and probably stayed there until the next time I decided I was fed up and everything needed to change.

So, what could you make just a little better right now? Maybe you’re not exercising at all and could add even just a 5-minute walk to your day. You’re doing takeout every night and could prepare your food at home one night a week. You’re not sleeping enough but maybe you could hit the sack 15 minutes earlier than normal. Keep evaluating and making things just a little better, and after awhile they add up to a lot better.

Lazy Meal Prep

I don't have a lot of time for cooking, as I imagine most people don't these days. I frequently get home at 9 or later at night just because of what I do. Logically, this means I need to do at least some of my food preparation ahead of time unless I want to rely on takeout all the time. 

I don't like spending a ton of time on meal prep though, because frankly I have better things to do than chop vegetables all day! I get so mad at the "5 ingredient" cookbooks because they usually have a list of 20 or so "staples" that somehow "don't count" in the 5 ingredients because you should just have them lying around anyway. So really, the recipes have closer to 10 ingredients that I have to buy, store, measure out, etc. False advertising!

So anyway, I take serious shortcuts when it comes to meal prep. I buy pre-cut vegetables. Thin-sliced boneless skinless chicken breasts that cook faster. Microwaveable rice in a bag. Single serve greek yogurts so I can divide one cup in half to put in my overnight oats instead of trying to find a container that will measure it out without it getting all over me. I know it's more expensive that way. I don't like the plastic packaging, though I do recycle everything. But for me, these shortcuts are the difference between preparing food at home and relying on much less healthy or environmentally friendly restaurant options. Judge me if you want to, I'll be over here doing me. 

So, if any of that resonates with you, I give you permission. Do the slightly lazier, slightly more convenient thing if it gets you to where you can put in the effort to do a little better. It doesn't have to be all or nothing, You don't have to be Martha Stewart to cook at home. 

That said, here's a thing I did last week that turned out great - feel free to copy or adapt for  yourself! 

Super Lazy Sheet Pan Roasted Chicken & Veg (adapted from a recipe I found on Pinterest, because of course it was on Pinterest)

Preheat oven to 500. Yes, 500. 

Spray your sheet pan with cooking spray. 

Get yourself a pack of pre-chopped veggies. I used Trader Joe’s Asian stir fry veggies and a pack of pre-sliced white mushrooms cuz I like a lot of mushrooms. You can use what you like. Pour that on the pan and spread em out. 

Get yourself some thin cut boneless skinless chicken breasts (even easier to cut into small pieces than the non thin cut). Cut em up in small pieces. I just cut the breast lengthwise and then across 2-3 times each chunk. Spread those chunks throughout. (And yes, you will want to cut them up so they cook faster)

Dump a bunch of Italian seasoning on top. If you want to add other spices, great, go for it. 

Gently drizzle olive oil. I got a thin stream going and did like 5 diagonal stripes across, then a couple tiny splashes where it seemed dry. Don’t overdo it, which is easy to do. 

Put the whole thing in the 500 degree oven for 15 minutes. 

That’s it! I divided and packed this in 4 Pyrex containers to eat for lunch throughout the week. Packing it in smaller containers instead of one big one helped it cool faster too, so I could stick it in the fridge pretty quickly.  When I felt like it I warmed up some of that Trader Joe's frozen Jasmine rice (3 minutes in the microwave) to go with it. 

Hope this was helpful! Are you doing any meal prep this week? Let me know in the comments. 

 

chicken veg sheet pan dinner.jpg

Motivation hack: Act As If

One of the more interesting pieces of advice I’ve come across in the world of motivation and self-improvement is to “act as if.” This concept is used by addiction counselors, psychologists and coaches to help people motivate themselves, complete tasks and achieve goals. The idea is to imagine yourself having already achieved whatever goal you’re working toward. Imagine how you would behave, how you would feel, how you would carry yourself, what decisions you would make, and then do those things. If you’re able to put yourself in the mindset, the habits and practices you adopt will move you toward achieving the state you’re seeking in reality.

So, let’s say you want to run your first 5k. You’ve never done something like that before, and maybe you doubt your ability to do it, or even to stay motivated enough to train for it. So, you decide to “act as if” you are already someone who enjoys running, and runs 5ks with relative ease. How would that version of you act? Dress? Carry yourself? Etc. The “old” you might drag your feet after getting out of work and skip your planned run. This version of you looks forward to getting out there, knowing you’ll feel accomplished and relaxed after you’re done. Your whole body language changes – it’s time to run, so you are smiling, head up and shoulders back while the “old” you might have slumped your shoulders and made a comment about how you didn’t feel like it. It’s like acting – you have to get into character! When you adopt the mannerisms of a more confident, excited version of yourself, the actual feelings of confidence and excitement don’t take too long to follow. You’ve probably heard the phrase “fake it ‘til you make it.” Same concept.

Sound interesting? Try it out on something small. What’s something you have to do but aren’t looking forward to, or you feel nervous about? Now imagine yourself feeling confident and happy to be doing the task. Really picture it in your mind; feel it in your body. Then, act as if that’s really you, and do your task. Bet you’ll notice a difference!

 

Sunday Ritual - with lots of shortcuts!

Sunday Ritual, with lots of shortcuts!

Lots of trainers and nutritionists talking about setting up a “Sunday Ritual” – using some of our time on a hopefully otherwise leisurely day to plan ahead for the week, food-wise, to make it easier to meet our nutrition goals for the week. Some folks go all out, cooking, packing and organizing food for hours. Personally, I’m very lazy in the kitchen and use as many shortcuts as humanly possible to meet my needs. There’s just other stuff I want to spend my time on! Here’s how to make a Sunday Ritual that works for you.

1) Look at your week ahead. What days are extra busy? What days have a lunch meeting? Do you have kids to feed? Make a list for each day of the meals you’ll need available. To keep things SUPER simple, I like to eat the same breakfast every day in a week so I don’t have to make different stuff; and maybe have a couple different lunch and snack options I can choose from. This week, I made refrigerator oats for breakfasts and cooked a bunch of chicken breasts I can throw with some steamed veggies I use my microwave steamer to make in literally 5 minutes. On a couple days I’m throwing an Amy’s frozen meal in the microwave. That’s fine! They align with my nutritional goals, fill me up, are tasty and take NO time – you don’t have to be fancy or go all out to be healthy and plan ahead!

For dinners, I’m partial to stuff I can dump in the crock pot, turn it on, and come home to a yummy dinner. I also LOVE microwave rice from Trader Joe’s! Rice goes with everything, and is a reasonably healthy option, especially if you go with brown. But if you don’t want to be -that- lazy, you can cook a big batch on Sunday and have it ready to go for the week.

2) Make a shopping list. Looking at your list of meals you’re going to eat this week, what do you need to buy at the store? Write it down on paper or in your smartphone. It helps to have an organized-ish pantry and fridge, so you know what you already have; but don’t worry too much about that right now.

3) Go to the store. (Eat something first so you’re not shopping hungry -that never works out!) Buy the stuff on your list. Check it off as you go. Be on a mission. You’re not here to browse and make impulse purchases! You’re here to get your list and get out of here!

4) Go home. Get the groceries out of your car. Put it away in a way that make sense to you, so that you can find it when you need it later in the week. Get in the habit of clearing all the expired stuff out of the fridge before you go, so you know everything you have before you go, and have a nice clear space to put things.

5) If you have some things that can be prepped ahead of time, do that. Put together your refrigerator oats in a jar. Put your crock pot meal ingredients together in a big zip lock bag so you can just dump it all in when it’s time to cook it. Cook some chicken breasts and stick them in some Tupperware or Pyrex to grab and go. Cook a big batch of rice and stick it in one bowl to use for the week or portion it out in smaller containers if you like. Chop up some veggies if you don’t already buy them pre-chopped. Make it easy for your frazzled weekday self to grab and go as much as possible.

6) Put your list up on the fridge, or stick it in your planner if you have one, or otherwise keep it handy so you remember what the plan was, and can grab the stuff you planned out so well.

7) Embrace imperfection. If you try to make a week’s worth of gourmet meals on Sunday, taking 8 hours, you’ll hate it and not do it again. Choose things you like and find relatively easy. We’re just trying to go a step better than ordering takeout every night. If you currently eat out every night, plan just a couple meals at first. Don’t overwhelm yourself. If you aim for just a little better each week, you’ll be much more likely to stick to your good intentions and find it a lot more enjoyable!

Hey! Following are some of my favorite easy things to prep ahead of time. Pinterest is amazing; you can find anything on there, and how to make it easier.

Mason Jar salads make a great lunch, are easy, and super customizable.

This Teriyaki Chicken slow cooker recipe is the bomb!

Crustless quiche can be made ahead, tossed in the fridge and eaten cold or warm when you’re ready, for any meal!

And here is my own lazy crock pot beef stew recipe: ridiculously tasty and easy as can be!

Put this stuff in the crock pot in this order. Serves 2-4 people; you can double for more.

-1/2 jar of Aunt Nellie’s Holland Style Onions (with liquid)

-a pound or so of pre-cut stew beef from the meat case

-salt & pepper & powdered garlic and any other spice you might want

-a package of white button mushrooms, sliced or whole

-a package of mini potatoes

-a package of baby carrots

Cook on high for 4-6 hours or low for 8+ hours. When you are ready to eat, mix it all up and spoon into bowls.

Enjoy! Let me know your own Sunday ritual shortcuts in the comments!

Happy New Year! Let's talk habits.

How is your new year going so far? I really love January ( I mean, not the snow, but...) because it has a “blank slate” feeling. And yes, we can have that anytime we choose to, but there’s something a little magical about a brand-new year. Possibilities seem a little more possible. Maybe that’s why we tend to make grandiose resolutions around this time.

Do you know 70% of people who make New Year’s Resolutions give them up after just 2 weeks?

That’s 2 days from now, and if that’s you, that’s ok!

I’ve talked about SMART goals before (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic & Time-Bound). Most folks make vague or unreasonable resolutions, leading to a quick spurt of activity and almost immediate burnout.

It’s part of the “all-or-nothing” attitude most of have about our fitness and nutrition that ends up making us crazy and results in our goals remaining unmet. “I’m going to work out hard for an hour every single day and not eat any carbs ever” is not really a reasonable goal for someone who’s starting out completely sedentary and loves pasta. Yet that’s the kind of thing we do to ourselves all the time!

We doggedly pursue our unreasonable goal for a short period of time. It hurts, or disrupts everything else in our lives, or bores us to death, or just sucks. We skip a day. Just this once. Then another. Then we decide we’ve gone completely off the rails, and that’s it! No exercise until next January!

It doesn’t have to be this way, and it shouldn’t!

First off, January isn’t the only time of year that it’s ok to state goals or intentions. Driven, successful people review, modify and renew their goals frequently. They write them down and keep them where they will be top of mind. And they break them into manageable pieces.

Lately I’ve been LOVING habit tracking. You can do this with a paper planner, with an app, tally marks on your jail cell walls, or whatever works for you!

Let’s say my goal is to lose 20 pounds in 3 months. Great – that fits the SMART criteria.

Before we break it down into pieces, it’s really a good idea to know WHY we want to achieve our goal at a deep level. Most people want to lose weight or get more fit, but a vague desire is not very compelling when it comes time to exercise self-discipline, which working toward any goal will entail. So, maybe your true desire is to be able to get up and down the stairs in your house with ease. Or keep up with your kids. Or not feel so tired all the time. Or be able to hike the Appalachian trail with minimal pain. Or feel a renewed sense of confidence. Whatever it is for you, get really clear on it. Acquire a picture that represents it that you post on your bathroom mirror or wherever you’ll see it daily, preferably multiple times a day.

Then, think about what pieces will need to come together to make the goal happen. There are a lot of potential puzzle pieces to weight loss. Pieces can include drinking more water, eating less overall, eating less junk food and more vegetables, walking every day, making sure to get enough sleep, managing stress, cardio, strength training, etc. etc. etc. Some of these may be realistic and reasonable for you; others may not. PICK A COUPLE. When we try to overhaul our whole life at once we get quickly overwhelmed and return to our old way of doing things. Don’t try to change everything at once.

Then, KEEP TRACK.

So let’s say in order to support my goal of losing 20 pounds in 3 months, I decide, after taking into account my general habits currently, that I will start by walking for half an hour each day (which can be all at once or broken into parts) and paying attention to portion sizes in my meals (this can be done in a number of ways, but an easy one is with your hands – see this article for how).

Then, I need to track how often I successfully do this. I can make a printed or handwritten tracker like this or this (this works well for people who use a paper planner), make a spreadsheet on my computer (Google Docs works great for this) or use an app on my smartphone such as Productive (this works great for folks who are on the go all the time and feel they won’t have time for this – set it up once and just check stuff off or not as your phone prompts you to).  

For the walking habit, that’s relatively easy. I can check that off once each day. For the portion sizes habit, I’ll need to check it off for each meal. So, I can make a space or column or checklist for each meal I typically eat (like breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack).

Tracking is helpful for a couple of reasons. It helps us see our successes and associate positive feelings with each time we check off something we’ve done. It helps so much more to feel good about something we’ve done than to dread it! It helps us see where we’re having trouble. Do our checkmarks fall off on the weekend, or during stressful times at work? If so, we can plan ahead to help ourselves be more successful (oh, I’m having trouble getting y walk in when I work late; maybe I’ll get in in before work on those days!).

Understand that you will miss checkmarks. Maybe even several in a row! It’s ok! Coaches say to aim for 80% success. Don’t beat yourself up when you don’t do your habits; negativity and kicking yourself just contributes to the all-or-nothing cycle! Just get back on track the minute you can. (Not “tomorrow” or “Monday”, unless it’s 11:59pm on Sunday night!)

After month 1, look at your track record. Re-evaluate. If you’ve begun doing these things as second nature and feel good about them, maybe add another habit, like limiting sweets to a few times a week; or upgrade a habit, like adding another 10 minutes to your daily walking total. If they’re still a challenge and you still feel they’re the right goals, keep them up. Are they helping you reach your ultimate goal of losing 20 pounds (have you lost weight)? Perhaps you need to consider changing them to something different. Portion control feel like it’s ruining your life? Maybe try drinking a big glass of water before each meal to help you feel full sooner. There are no right or wrong answers here – it’s what works for you. Have an attitude of doing an experiment, not one of success or failure.

Hope this helps. Happy January! Here’s to a year of possibility!

Creating a daily exercise habit

Someone asked me recently how I help people develop a daily habit of exercising. I have a few methods.

As a starting point, I ask people for their “why.” Why do you want to change your habits? Change is hard and you need a good reason for it. What do you think will change in your life when you develop an exercise habit? Not “my doctor said I should,” or “my blood pressure numbers need to go down.” What makes you -excited- to do the work? What’s important to you? And can you -see- it and -feel- it? How will it feel when you achieve your goal? Imagine it. Visualize it. Be present in that feeling and hold on to it. Revisit it often. Is there a picture, or words that help you bring it to mind? Post that up on your bathroom mirror or somewhere you’ll see it all the time. Let it be ever present in your mind.

As practical matters, consider your obstacles. Run out of time at the end of the day? Get it done first thing. “Too busy” to get a “full workout”? Break it up. Something is better than nothing. Do short spurts when you have a break in your day.

Keep track. I recently discovered habit trackers as part of paper planners, which I’ve fallen in love with and will write a separate post on soon. But here’s how they work: you make a grid (like this), and write down the habits you want to track for the month or week or whatever period of time you want. Then, each day you complete the habit, color in or check off the corresponding box. (You can, of course, use a variety of phone aps for this, and if that works better for you then do it. I’ve found I like seeing the sheet of paper and coloring in as I complete the habits. It makes me feel more accomplished.) Don’t worry when you have a day or two or three where you don’t get the box checked. Just try to fill as many as you can. And next month, try to get more.

Don’t view it as a temporary thing. It’s not. If you make some herculean effort to get fit, get to whatever your goal was, and then stop doing what it was that got you there; you’ll go back to the way things were. There can be periods of heavier training to get to particular goals, but you’ll never not have to exercise. Same for nutrition. If you go on a crazy diet then go back to your pre-diet habits, you’ve gotten nowhere. Make sustainable changes, and don’t try to make them all at once.

Finally, if you’ve been trying all of these and you’re still struggling, reflect on the negative. How do you feel when you don’t complete your habits? Physically? Mentally? Emotionally? What are the consequences of continuing not to make the changes you had decided to? What will your life be like in 6 months if you continue on the same path? In a year? In five? In ten? Don’t like the answers you get? Then go back to the drawing board. What happened? Maybe you tried to change too much, too fast. What’s a smaller change you can make? Maybe half an hour of exercise every day was not something you were ready for. Maybe ten minutes is a better starting point. After you’ve got that down, you can build from there. Don’t be in a hurry to do everything all at once (but don’t put off doing anything at all, either). Small, sustainable change leads to big, impactful change over time if you build on it.

Has something else worked for you to build a daily exercise habit? Tell me about it in the comments!

Springtime and sweat

It's getting warmer, and suddenly exercise seems harder, even if you're working indoors. For a few weeks around this time, you'll wonder where your stamina went if you exercise regularly and live in a state like Michigan with pronounced seasons. Worry not, your body is just adjusting to the temperature change. Make sure to get lots of water during this time, especially if you are outside and active. 64 ounces per day is a reasonable minimum! In the meantime, enjoy the weather!

Who do you want to be?

Think about it for a moment. Who do you want to be? What would your ideal life look like? What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind? 

What are you doing about it today? Right now? This week? This year? 

Do you have a plan, or are you just drifting?

If you have a plan, are you following through?

If not, what's holding you back?

Is it obligations to family or work? Not having enough energy? Not believing you can get to your desired destination in the first place? Lack of resources (money)? Lack of knowledge?

All of these things can be fixed, but first, you have to decide that you're willing to fix them. To seek answers. To put in the work.

Most of us are overwhelmed by our dreams - they seem so large and far away from where we are now. If we allow ourselves to continue to just feel overwhelmed, we will never reach them, because we will never take that first step toward them.

The key is to think small. Sometimes, really small. What can you do today, no matter how small, to get you a little closer to your eventual goal? Maybe it's just looking up some information online. Expressing your goal to someone else and talking it over. Writing your goal down and putting it someplace where you will see it. If you want to run a marathon and have never run before, you run for 30 seconds today. You'll be able to run longer tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that, until finally you can do it. 

Your dream might take years to achieve. Maybe a lifetime. But that's what lifetimes are for. To strive. To seek. To get where you are going, one tiny step at a time.

All you have to do is start.

New website, new blog

Hi all, you may have noticed a change in BPF's website, like, pretty much everything! Thanks to Steve Krile for helping me put the new site together and dealing with my ignorance of all things tech-y. I will be continuing to work on improving the new site, and welcome suggestions. I've transferred my favorite blog entries from the old blog, and since this one seems simpler to use I hope to update more often. For now, feel free to peruse the older entries (some good stuff in here!) and we'll see you soon!

Target Heart Rate, Elliptical Machines and the "Fat-Burning Zone": (Not So Much)

Here is a question a received recently (and I receive ones like it often): "Hi Lynda. I attended a workshop you gave in February, and I have a question that I bet you can answer. I joined a gym this week! My target heart rate is 112 and it doesn't go much above that when I use the treadmill. I tried the elliptical trainer today and my heart rate got all the way up to 130. Is this bad? I did have a stress test about 6 months ago and the doctor found no problems. The elliptical seems like a much better workout, but I worry about my heart rate. Should I?"

Here is my answer, plus a bit more info:

I am not at all concerned about your heart rate at 130, especially given that your doctor found no problems on your stress test. Target heart rates are a confusing issue since there are several formulas determining them and so much individual variation. But a target heart rate given as a single number instead of a range represents a number somewhere on the low to middle end of what your heart is theoretically capable of doing based on your age, gender, and depending on the formula used, sometimes your fitness level and resting heart rate. Many times, it is recommended that people stay within their "fat burning zone", which is a number about 60-65% of their maximum heart rate and sounds like your 112 number. The reality is that while you burn more of a percentage of calories from fat in this range, at higher heart rates you burn more calories, and thus more fat, overall. Studies are also suggesting that exercising at a higher heart rate will actually cause the body to burn more calories even after you finish exercising. As far as your general health is concerned, your heart is more than capable of sustaining a higher heart rate than 65% of your maximum, and exercising at a range between 65 and 85% of your maximum will definitely increase your cardiovascular health if you have no other health issues that would contraindicate this (this would include high blood pressure and coronary artery disease, so if you are concerned that you may have these issues be conservative about your exercise intensity and ask your doctor specifically about heart rate recommendations!).

About.com has a short article here explaining more about this principle.

Your number of 130 is well within a normal range and again, I am not concerned. Always pay attention to how you are feeling, though. If you are exercising comfortably at that heart rate, you're fine. If you start to feel weak, dizzy or otherwise off, you may need to slow down (although often this just means you just didn't have a snack before you worked out and your blood sugar is low).

Personally, I love elliptical machines because you can work harder without the strain on your joints from pounding as you step, which is why it tends to feel so much easier on your body. So keep it up, enjoy, and good luck!

Visualize it

I have a short post for you today on a motivation technique. Everyone has heard of visualizing success, but most of us seldom use it. In the realm of fitness, everyone has different goals. Perhaps you want to be pain-free, or have more energy. Maybe you want to look better in a swimsuit. You might want to be able to do something like cross the finish line at a 5K or even a marathon. Whatever it is, visualization is a great technique to keep you motivated and even get you better results. You can try it while you're exercising, when you get up in the morning before you start your day, before you sleep at night and whenever you need a little extra boost (like when a carton of ice cream is staring you in the face).

It's called visualization, but vision doesn't have to be the only sense involved. The more you can get involved in the moment you're imagining, the better. For example, if you want to lose weight, you can picture yourself looking the way you'd like to, feeling lighter, moving with more ease. Imagine what your clothes feel and look like on you, how it feels when you walk or run, your breathing being easier as you exercise. Get wrapped up in the experience and enjoy it. Don't chastise yourself for not being there yet. This should be a positive time. Smile and know you are on your way to making this vision a reality, then continue about your day, whether it be going to sleep, getting up, continuing to exercise, or ignoring the ice cream newly at peace with not needing it.

Reward yourself without sabotaging yourself: weight loss goals

Most people, when starting a new nutrition or fitness program, reward themselves along the way to keep themselves motivated. This is a great concept and in some ways essential. Unfortunately, a lot of people go about "rewarding" themselves in very self-sabotaging ways, creating vicious cycles that counteract their attempts at improving their health and well-being, creating frustration and eventually causing a return to old, bad habits.

Here are a few self-sabotaging "rewards" that don't work, and some better alternatives:


-over-the-top treats

Hitting the gym and then deciding to splurge on a hot fudge sundae (or chili fries with the guys, or margaritas with the girls, or whatever) is a classic example of self-sabotaging rewards. 

If you take a look at how many calories your exercise efforts are burning vs. how many are in that splurge food, most of the time you'll be shocked and appalled. Food treats are not altogether bad and you *should* allow for some decadent foods occasionally or even on a daily basis; but NOT in huge amounts and NOT as a "reward" for following your fitness plan. If you're craving something, try a small portion, like a mini candy bar or a few bites of a shared dessert. Don't go crazy on a regular basis and expect to achieve good results. 

-teeny-weeny clothes

Seen as a

n incentive to diet and exercise, too-small clothes tend to cause more anxiety and backsliding than motivation. Better to purchase clothes that fit as you lose weight - this is a very positive reinforcement of your efforts that can make you feel great, instead of a constant guilt-trip that may make you feel bad about yourself and thus trip up your healthy plans. 

-things you should be doing for yourself anyway
The occasional day off, self-care you never seem to get around to, time to relax: these should not be contingent upon whether you're losing weight or not. In fact, neglecting these things can really sabotage your diet and exercise plans as stress mounts and overtakes your ability to cope with life. Take care of yourself as a baseline practice, not as a reward for something you've done.
-stuff you can't afford
There's not much worse than being saddled with large amounts of debt, whether it's from one big splurge or a bunch of small things adding up. Make your rewards within, rather than above your means in order to maintain a happy, healthy you. 

Some examples of effective self-rewards: (remember, you can always purchase things used to avoid spending too much, if that's a concern) 
-a new book, cd, dvd, video game or whatever entertainment item floats your particular boat 
-a trip to someplace you'd like to go: museums, concerts, amusement parks, operas, parks - whatever interests you
-non-food-centered outings or parties with friends and loved ones: go bowling or rollerskating or surfing or swimming or something else fun that you don't normally do, and enjoy the activity and company
-attractive, properly sized clothing that makes you feel fabulous at the size you are.
-time at the spa, hair salon, manicure place or massage place - anything that makes you feel good and refreshed in your own skin and isn't part of your normal routine

The important thing is that your rewards please you and help keep you on track without causing guilt, anxiety or sabotaging your efforts. So make it about you and not anyone else. Good luck, and enjoy!

When (not if!) and what to eat before exercise

I've seen it in almost everyone I work with at some point or another. They have no energy; they can't lift as much as they normally do; they can't keep moving; they feel like crap for no good reason. Depending on the time of day, I ask the appropriate question: "did you eat breakfast / lunch / dinner today?" They look thoughtful and say "no... is that why I feel like this?"

The opposite problem happens too. Someone comes in for a workout right after a big meal and feels nauseated from warmup to cooldown.

There is a right way to fuel your body for exercise, so that you're feeling energized throughout, don't run out of steam and don't feel nauseated and overfull. Lots of people who are trying to lose weight figure they will exercise without eating beforehand, thinking that this will force their bodies to burn fat. In actuality, the body will react by slowing the metabolism, burning fewer calories overall both during and after exercise. It also ensures that the exerciser will be unable to work out with as much intensity as their normal potential would allow; making exercise less effective.

This does not mean it's okay to overdo it on junk food before hitting the treadmill! Putting in more calories than you will expend in exercise will result in gaining weight, not losing it. And while sugary foods might give you a rush of energy to begin with, the quick blood sugar crash makes for the same problem you would have had if you hadn't eaten at all half an hour into the workout.

The best way to prepare the body for exercise is to eat a healthy meal around 2-3 hours beforehand, or if it has been longer since the last meal, a smaller snack about half an hour to an hour beforehand. Whatever you eat should have a balance of simple and complex carbohydrates and protein, which will provide lasting energy throughout your workout. Some of my favorite pre-workout snacks are below:

*1/2 peanut butter & honey sandwich on whole wheat bread
*"cottage doubles" cottage cheese & fruit
*1/2 whole wheat bagel w/ 1 tbsp cream cheese
*1/4 cup of trail mix with nuts & dried fruit
*1 apple sliced with peanut butter

Be creative, or just stick with things you like. Just don't try to workout with no fuel!

Also make sure to drink 16-24 oz of water before exercise, and have more available during and after exercise. This will keep your body properly hydrated, energized and able to keep going. Give it a try and see how much better you feel!

First of all, just move more every day.

Fitness does not have to be an epic undertaking, especially if your expectations are realistic. Supermodels and actors are a) genetic anomolies, b) paid to look the way they look and spend a good amount of time and money to do it and c) costumed, airbrushed, photographed from good angles and sometimes nipped and tucked to look the way they do. For the average person with a desk job, kids, and a budget, looking like Madonna is going to be a lot harder than it is for Madonna. That doesn't mean you should get discouraged and neglect your fitness altogether in despair! American attitudes tend toward the all-or-nothing, and it is killing us. Nearly everyone can benefit from increasing their physical fitness, but many people think of it as such an enormous endeavor that they never begin. Increasing your fitness doesn't mean you have to run a marathon tomorrow, or for that matter, ever! You don't have to be an extreme fitness enthusiast to be healthier, just like you don't have to be an auto mechanic to get regular oil changes to keep your car in good working order.

One step you can take toward better health is simply to look for ways to move more than you do now on a daily basis. Government guidelines say that you should exercise for at least half an hour each day (more if you're trying to lose weight), but that doesn't mean this needs to happen all at once. A few minutes at a time will all add up. This doesm't mean there's no merit in longer workouts, but if you feel you have no time and have to start somewhere, stealing a few minutes here and there is a great way to go.

Here are some ideas:

-Take a few minutes to walk around at the office instead of sitting all day. Go over to your coworkers' desks instead of emailing. Take a 5 minute break to get up, stretch and walk around. This actually helps your productivity and mental health as well as your physical well-being.

-Use commercial breaks during your favorite shows to get up and walk up and down the stairs a few times, jog in place, stretch or do something else active for a few minutes.

-If you're at your kid's sporting event, don't just sit in the bleachers. Be up and walking around while you watch, for at least part of the time.

-If you have an exercise bike, treadmill or other piece of unused exercise equipment sitting around, make a commitment to use it for 10 minutes in the morning before you start your day. You can do it in your bathrobe, with very little fuss.

-If a song on the radio makes you feel like dancing, do it!

-Take the stairs. If you don't want to take the stairs all the way, take the stairs for a flight or two before getting on the elevator.

-Play with your kids (or someone else's!) instead of just watching them play. Let the energy of youth inspire you!

-Find ways to make spending time with friends and family active. Bowling instead of a movie; a walk in the park instead of a coffeehouse chat.

-If you're in the middle of a stressful project or bad day, take a few minutes to punch a pillow or stomp around and blow off steam. The physical release will help your mood and get you back on track.

Be creative in looking for opportunities to move your body. The more you do it on a daily basis, the better your health will be in the long run - you'll feel, look and function better than if you let those opportunities pass you by.

Simple Things: Eating Healthier

Eating healthier can be a daunting task. It's hard to know where to start. Like most things, it's easier to take small steps, one at a time, and shift behaviors until you have a new set of habits insetad of trying to overhaul everything at once, becoming overwhelmed, giving up; lather, rinse, repeat. Below is a list of small steps you can take in order to begin shifting toward a healthier way of eating over time. Try one (an easy-sounding one, even!), get the hang of it, and once it becomes comfortable (a couple of weeks or a month), try another.

- Figure out what portion sizes are and start using them. 

This page

 is an excellent resource: it contains pictures of many foods next to common objects for size comparison. Most Americans vastly overestimate the amount of food that they can reasonably eat at a time. Check the 

food pyramid

 for guidelines on how many servings of each food group you should be getting on a daily basis, but mostly, start being mindful of how much food you are taking in.

- Slow down. It takes 20 minutes for the stomach to report to your brain that you are full, but most of us eat much faster than this. Try chewing your food thoroughly, savoring the flavors and putting the fork down between bites in order to give your "full" indicator more time to kick in.

- Plan your meals and snacks ahead of time instead of grabbing them on the go. If you're always getting a candy bar from the vending machine at the office mid-afternoon, for example, try bringing some nuts and dried fruit from home to satisfy your hunger instead. If you're too hungry to think about cooking when you get home and always end up grabbing takeout, think about putting something in a crockpot in the morning so it's waiting for you. This will not only save you calories, but usually money as well.

- Shift toward complex carbohydrates. Carbs are not evil, but some are (much!) better for us than others. In fact, it's very important for us to get enough fiber, and can help us to maintain a healthy weight, among other things. Complex carbohydrates are the ones that takes our bodies longer to digest, like the ones in whole wheat, whole grains, oats, brown rice and vegetables. Simple carbohydrates like the refined sugars and white flour in baked goods, white bread, sweets, ice cream and "junk food," are digested quickly, dumped into the blood sugar, used up and leave us feeling hungry again quickly. Eating more complex carbohydrates and fewer simple carbs means we stay fuller longer, take in fewer calories overall, and stay more energetic and healthier.

- Revamp your drinking habits. You may be taking in far more calories in liquid form than you think. Soft drinks are some of the worst culprits at about 100 calories per cup. Even diet soft drinks are being looked at with skeptcism, as studies have shown they may make it difficult for people to lose weight despite being calorie-free. Alcoholic beverages are worse and mixed drinks can be up to 400 calories a pop when they contain sugary juices as well as the booze. Fruit juice, while it sounds healthy, takes most of the fiber out of the fruit and concentrates the sugar content, making it very expensive calorically speaking. A 16 oz. glass usually contains 200+ calories. Better beverages include teas (hot or cold)and coffee (preferably unsweetened, though a packet of sugar adds only 15-20 calories). The best drink of all is plain water.

Change your 'tude to change your life

Humans are made to move. Our bodies are amazingly put together to allow us to run, jump, dance and play - all the things you see small kids doing all the time. What is it that happens to us as we get older that makes us stop taking joy in in the ways our bodies can move and start seeing movement as a chore? The cues we receive are myriad - from our parents telling us to sit still, to our teachers expecting us to be quiet in the classroom, to our first desk jobs, to a sudden shift in messages from everywhere as we get older that movement isn't about FUN - it's about being FIT, and that we should all feel BAD about not doing enough of it. I don't know about you, but guilt trips tend to take any possible fun out of something I'm doing and make it positively grueling. But these are the messages we receive as we move through our lives as Americans, and it's no wonder so many of us end up with exercise continually on the bottom of our to-do list, constantly feeling lousy about it, with health problems piling up because of it.

WE NEED TO LEARN HOW TO HAVE FUN MOVING AGAIN!

You knew how to do it when you were small. There wasn't any complication to it - your body was new and it felt good to move. Moving wasn't about health or looks or guilt. It was just fun. Now, you have the habits and the aches and pains and the attitudes of an adult. You're probably going to be a little hard to convince at first. But - would you rather keep your current attitude that exercise is a difficult, annoying chore and hate every minute of it, if you ever manage to make it a habit? Or would you rather try and get some joy from it if you're going to try and do it anyway?

So. How to start working on making movement a fun thing again when it sounds like anything but?

- Take cues from your kids. If you don't have kids, you probably know some. Kids love it when adults are willing to play with them - but you have to actually play. Run around, roll around, dance, jump, crawl, play! If your kids are already caught up in the video game or computer's maws, tell them you're going outside. Bring squirt guns, or balls and mitts, or a frisbee, or sleds if it's winter, and a determination to have fun!

- Let the dog take you for a walk. Don't just take the shortest route possible and go back inside - let the pup have an adventure and share the excitement.

- Indulge your silly side! If you're in a good mood and feel like skipping down the sidewalk, or dancing to a song you like, or running up a hill and striking a king-of-the-mountain pose, do it!

- Use your imagination! Yes, you're a dignified adult, but that doesn't mean your imagination has dried up and died. Sometimes, when I'm running laps on the track, I'm actually Batgirl chasing criminals. It's much more interesting than running in circles on a track, and it gets me done faster. Yes, it makes me a total nerd, but I'm a total nerd who can run for miles.

- Pair exercise with things you like. Listen to music that makes you want to move and use it to energize you. Work out in front of your favorite tv show. Put a comedy skit in your ipod and laugh through your routine.

- Take a fun class. There are all kinds: Zumba is latin dance aerobics. Drums Alive lets you beat on stability balls with drumsticks. Hip Hop Abs is pretty much what it sounds like. My own Sunday Kickstart class is largely spent giggling. If you're uncertain, bring a friend so you'll both be in the same boat.

Whatever you do, it has to be something that works for you. The more you focus on having fun, the less of a chore exercise will be, and the easier it will be to make it a permanent part of your life. You might be sore and tired at first, but remember, consistency is the key to getting rid of these symptoms. As they exit stage left, you can have even more fun!

Body Fat Percentage, Body Mass Index, and What It All Means

Most of us now understand that the our weight alone doesn't tell the full story about our health or fitness. Neither, frankly, does body mass index (BMI) or body fat percentage, but these are additional pieces that can help us put the puzzle together. Unfortunately, there is a lot of confusion about what these numbers are and what they mean, so here is an attempt to clear them up.

First off, BMI and body fat percentage are different things! BMI is a set of numbers used to estimate the body composition of average, non-active people based on their height, weight and gender (as compared to a large data set of people of the same height and weight). You can get an estimation of your BMI here. A BMI of 18.5 or lower is considered underweight, over 18.5 to under 25 is considered "normal," 25 and over is considered overweight and a BMI of 30 or more is considered obese. The problem with BMI is that it is based on averages and not on your individual makeup. A very muscular athlete, for example, would probably be classified as overweight according to BMI. Muscle weighs more than fat, after all. If you begin an exercise program and begin developing muscle and losing fat, the scale might not budge, and neither will your BMI since it is based on your weight and height. Frustrating!! What will change, besides the image in the mirror, the fit of your clothes, and the way you feel, is your body fat percentage.


Your body fat percentage is how much of your body is made up of fat, including the essential fat that you need to survive and function. It can be measured in several ways, with the most accurate being hydrostatic (underwater) weighing, which is done in a medical facility and somewhat impractical for repeated measurements. Other methods include circumference measurements (using a tape measure), skinfold measurements with a caliper, and bioelectrical impedance, in which a small electrical current is sent through the body - muscle conducts electricity better than fat since it holds more water (but this method varies depending on the hydration level of the subject). The easiest method is probably bioelectrical impedence and a variety of scales are now available for home use that include this function. Whatever method you choose, note that you should measure under similar conditions each time. Drink plenty of water before measuring, measure before exercise and measure at the same time of day if possible. Try not to measure every day since daily fluctuations are not as meaningful as weekly or monthly patterns of gain or loss.

According to the American Council on Exercise, the following ranges of body fat percentage have been classified under these categories. Women have higher fat percentage needs for reproductive and hormonal functions.

Description: Women Men
Essential fat 10–12% 2–4%
Athletes 14–20% 6–13%
Fitness 21–24% 14–17%
Acceptable 25–31% 18–25%
Overweight 32-41% 26-37%
Obese 42%+ 38%+

Keep in mind that these numbers are not the only numbers out there - there are other professional opinions. Also, if you are classified as overweight or obese, this is not the end of the world nor something to browbeat yourself about - it is just a number, another tool to use in assessing and improving your health. If it makes you crazy, set it aside and focus on being active and eating well. This is, after all, the point!

Bonus Activity Points

If you're trying to lose weight, a good tool is simply increasing the number of calories you tend to burn throughout the day by cultivating specific habits. Small things add up, and with little effort can make a big difference. Here are some ideas:

-Whenever possible, stand rather than sit. Or walk around rather than stand still. For example, when waiting for the bus, talking on the phone, reading the paper or a book, or even watching tv (try just getting up during commercials and walking around).

-Stand and sit up straight. Roll your shoulders back and take full, deep breaths. Keep your head up and alert instead of looking down at the ground. Good posture is better for your entire body, keeps you burning more ambient calories, and as a bonus makes you appear more confident and attractive instantly.

-Alter a bad mood quickly by busting out a few jumping jacks or taking a quick walk. Research has proven that such physical resets can help alter emotional states, plus you'll be blasting calories while you're picking yourself up.

-Communicate in person. Instead of emailing or phoning at work, if the other person's desk is just in the other room, walk over and talk. You'll spend the same amount or less time than you would sending several emails back and forth answering and asking questions, and studies have shown productivity goes up when people with desk jobs get out of their chairs once an hour or so.

-Walk purposefully whenever you walk. Like good posture, this has the bonus of making you instantly look better and more confident. You'll probably get compliments, or at least comments, if you're doing this right. Walk with you head up, shoulders back, stomach pulled in, and don't just shuffle along. Stride. Take long steps and let your arms swing freely.

- Take the stairs. Walk up the escalator. Attempt to use your body rather than mechanical means as much as possible to move yourself from place to place, especially when the places are within the same building.

This stuff works. Studies have shown that slimmer people move and engage their muscles more constantly all day long than overweight people, not just when they are working out. You may not see dramatic weight loss from adopting these habits, but if nothing else they will help maintain a healthy metabolism and prevent future weight gain. The more inactive you have been in the past and the more you commit to using your body all day long, the more change you will see as a result. Good luck!

What a personal trainer is and isn't.

If you’re looking for help, results, motivation and information in your quest for better health and fitness, a personal trainer is a great resource. Trainers have a wide range of expertise and are generally respected professionals (do be careful of uncertified trainers, but that is another blog post entirely). However, many people expect more of trainers than they are actually able to provide. Eager to give their clients what they want and need, some trainers fall into the trap of trying to sell services they are not qualified to provide. Consumers can save themselves a lot of frustration by knowing what to expect, and what NOT to expect, from a qualified personal trainer. Here is a short list of things personal trainers are and are not.

A personal trainer IS a great sounding board for your health and fitness challenges and trained in problem solving for these issues.

A personal trainer is NOT a psychologist. If you have an eating disorder or deeply seated issues that are keeping you from changing your habits, you may need additional help from one of these professionals. A good trainer will refer you if they believe it is necessary.

A personal trainer IS a good source for general nutrition information. Your trainer might help you use food diaries to address your eating patterns, educate you on nutrition and diet concepts and help you change to healthier nutritional habits.

A personal trainer is NOT a dietician or nutritionist, unless they are separately certified or licensed for these. It is out of the scope of practice for a trainer to prescribe specific meal plans or supplement regimens. Be careful of trainers who push a specific supplement or meal replacement line heavily. Some have done the research and truly believe in the products they offer. Others just want the extra cash.

An experienced personal trainer CAN make suggestions and give you exercises that may help your injury or pain patterns. A good trainer is armed with lots of information and exercises for general things: sore backs and knees; inflexible areas and general range of motion issues.

A personal trainer is NOT a physical therapist, unless separately licensed as such. Specific rehabilitation is not in the scope of practice of a personal trainer, so if you’ve just had surgery or a bad injury, ask your doctor whether you should be going to physical therapy.

A personal trainer is NOT a doctor, either. If you have any serious medical issues or suspect you might, talk to a doctor before hiring a trainer. A good trainer will get your fitness and medical history before you begin and refer you to a doctor if any red flags come up.

Within their scope of practice, trainers are great at getting results and helping people change their lives for the better. That’s why most of us got into the business in the first place – to help people. The best trainers will “stay in their lane”, refer to other qualified professionals when necessary, and focus on what they can do to help their clients get fit, strong and healthy for life.