Ask a Health Coach: Consistency, Control, and Chronic Cardio
Hi there, folks! In this week’s Ask a Health Coach, Erin is back to answer your questions about the pros and cons of consistent eating patterns, how to avoid chronically overdoing it in the gym, and staying motivated when everyone around you is addicted to a SAD lifestyle. Do you have questions for Erin? Post them in the comments section below or over in the Mark’s Daily Apple Facebook group.
“I read somewhere that eating the same foods at the same time every day is best thing for fat loss. You know, for consistency. Can you tell me what times you recommend eating for the fastest results?”
Instead of telling you the best time to eat, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. The key to fat loss isn’t eating the same thing day after day after day — or eating it at the same time. Your body isn’t keeping score on what you ate and when you ate it. And it’s certainly not built for sticking to a rigid schedule that goes against everything our bodies and brains are designed to do.
Yes, Your Body Thrives on Inconsistency
Life, by nature, is totally inconsistent and training your body to adhere to a strict eating plan is the fastest way to fail because life will always get in the way. Always. There will always be curve balls: waking up too late to make a satiating protein-packed breakfast, forgetting to go grocery shopping, enjoying a much-needed vacation one day with free-flowing margaritas that in no way, shape, or form fit into your daily macros.
Hanging your hat on consistency in an inherently inconsistent world might yield results, but you deserve better than obsessing over food, sticking to a strict eating window, and constantly trying to force the situation.
Listen, the body is highly adaptive — it thrives on inconsistency. When the body gets used to a certain way of doing things, it starts to conserve its efforts (i.e. stall progress). You’ve likely seen this in the fitness world. Train your body the same way day after day, and after a while your strength will plateau. That’s why personal trainers recommend changing frequency, intensity, and type of activity every so often, so that you can increase your ability to adapt to new variables (and keep crushing it). Same thing goes for food.
Ever Heard of Metabolic Adaptation?
Sure, your body will adapt at the beginning of a hyper restrictive eating plan, but then it won’t change again until you change the variable. When it comes to cutting calories for fat loss, the body will adapt to that consistently-delivered lower number of calories. It gets used to what you give it! The problem, is, you’ll need to continue going lower and lower until you can’t possibly decrease your calories any further. You won’t win this one, trust me — your body will keep adapting.
That response is called metabolic adaptation.1 And it’s a good thing. While it works to conserve more energy when there’s a deficit, it also works to burn more energy when there’s a surplus. Got some high-calorie days and some low-calorie days? A few glasses of wine here, a few chocolate-chip cookies there? Your body can totally handle what you give it. The body isn’t wired for a steady, expected delivery of fuel. It is designed to roll with inherent, inevitable inconsistency. And I’d argue that you’d be much better off if you learn to love that about it.
“Recently, I’ve been asking myself why I’m working so hard on my health when so many folks
around me have surrendered to a SAD diet and sedentary lifestyle. What can I do to stay
motivated when everyone else seems not to care?”
First of all, I applaud you for giving these thoughts the attention they deserve. I know from experience that it’s hard to be the only one who seems to care about their health. And the fact that you’re consciously chewing on these thoughts means you care about yourself and the outcome. While there’s tons of data out there about how eating Standard American Diet (SAD) foods and having a sedentary lifestyle can lead to cardiovascular disease and diabetes, there are just as many people plopped on their couches, downing their daily dose of refined grains, overly processed snack-foods, and sugar-laden drinks.2
The Only Person You Can Control is You
Here’s the deal though, you can’t control other people or their actions. You can, however, decide that your health and happiness are worth making the effort to continue working on yourself. You can decide that you’d prefer not to take a conscious role in adding to your chance of developing a chronic disease. You can decide that obesity doesn’t have to be in your future, regardless of what your inner circle does or doesn’t do.
What Motivates You?
Getting clear on your motivation for change is going to make the biggest difference here. Sure, avoiding medications and doctor visits down the road plays a big role, but really think about why your health is important to you. That why is the driving force behind your actions, and it’s likely influenced by a variety of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators, meaning you’re either motivated by something internal (eating fresh veggies makes you feel more energetic) or something external (you like the way your pants fit when you’ve been eating supportively).
Your own personal and important internal motivations are what you want to really anchor to; these will be your strongest why. It’s really important to discover your own deep-down reason for staying committed to the path you’re on — and letting the naysayers carve out their own.
“Now that my gym is back open, I like taking the hour-long spin classes they offer, but I notice that my heart rate gets very high. It’s definitely not slow and steady cardio like Mark recommends in the Primal Blueprint and it’s too long to qualify as sprints. When or how do I fit these workouts into a primal lifestyle?”
If we were sitting face-to-face on a Zoom call, I’d have so many follow-up questions for you. But since we’re having more of a one-sided conversation today, I’ll do my best to answer. In a nutshell, I’d say that the best way to fit these workouts in depends on your goal. If your goal is to have fun and your spin class is the most fun-filled hour of the whole day, I say go for it. That said, if your goal is to lose fat or improve your fitness, I’d take a closer look at why you’re committed to doing this chronic cardio, especially when you have a hunch it’s not in your best interest. For reference, some of the key fitness takeaways of the Primal Blueprint include:
- Moving around at a slow pace
- Lifting heavy things
- Sprinting every once in a while
Clearly, sixty minutes of moderate-to-high heart rate doesn’t check off any of those boxes. Instead, it sort of puts you in this black hole of intensity that’s not easy enough to be easy or hard enough to be hard.
Exercise Isn’t a Form of Punishment
Diet culture tells us that we should use exercise as punishment or compensation, rather than joy.3 And unfortunately, a lot of money is spent on marketing to make you feel bad for not fitting into a certain mold. That’s why it’s so important to get clear on why you’re so committed to this class. Like I said above, if you love the social aspect, the music, getting out of the house, whatever, that’s a good thing. If you’re using it to cope with or avoid emotions, you’re obsessed with the calories burned feature, or you’re using it to ensure you’ve “worked off” last night’s dessert, I’d dig a little deeper.
What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Let’s go.
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