Special-occasion weight loss and what happens the day after

measuring tape around waist
Foot on scale with flowers for weight loss post

Special-occasion weight loss and what happens the day after

This post originally appeared June 18, 2018.

I’ve had a lot of clients come to me with a specific goal or date in mind. It’s the wedding dates or the high-school reunions that have motivated them to take the first steps to weight loss. Whether powered by a desire to transform themselves or fit into a magical size, these are some of the most committed people that I’ve ever seen.

They meet with me multiple times a week.

They follow the diet rules. (BTW, I hate the word “diet.”)

They track their food and obsessively count calories.

And they count down to that special day.

And, not surprisingly, many of them achieve their goals. When you’re dedicated and have an end date in mind, your own laser focus can take you wherever you need to go. As a trainer, I work with my clients to target specific areas and celebrate weight-loss milestones. I love seeing my clients achieve their goals, but there’s always this little voice in my head that haunts every weigh-in.

“What about the day after?” it says.

Don’t backslide

Because I’ve seen it happen so many times. The day after the marathon is completed or the cake is cut. What happens next? What happens when real life sets in and there’s no focused end date for this fitness-first mentality?

Sadly, I’ve seen the most motivated people cancel workouts and slide back into unhealthy habits without a solid goal and a date. I’ve seen all the good work replaced with weight gain and frustration. Without the focused goal date, it’s difficult to get re-motivated until the next big event. We’ve talked about the challenge of maintaining commitment before. And the cycle continues.

That’s why I always recommend that my clients train for life — real life and not a cut-off date. By integrating healthy habits into the everyday, you can avoid the disappointment of special-occasion weight gain … that follows special-occasion weight loss. Focusing on overall wellbeing develops patterns and a healthy baseline.

So, train for today and not tomorrow.

Laura's question of the week

Have you ever resolved to lose x amount of weight for a specific occasion? What was it for?

  • Wedding?
  • Christening?
  • Bar / Bat Mitzvah?

Were you able to maintain it? Let us know!

stock shot of tape measure around waist of woman in bridal gown

What happens when the whole idea of exercise triggers anxiety?

Is there a link between exercise and anxiety? / Image source: 3steplifestyle.com
Is there a link between exercise and anxiety? / Image source: 3steplifestyle.com

What happens when the whole idea of exercise triggers anxiety?

It’s difficult not to be anxious in these turbulent times. Just turning on the news can trigger any number of emotional events. For those of us who suffer from anxiety, the outside world can be a scary place when matched with our internal predisposition for catastrophic thinking.

Recent studies have found that exercise can significantly help you reduce anxiety. Scientists believe regular aerobic exercise decreases overall levels of tension, elevates and stabilizes mood, improves sleep, and elevates self-esteem. While there’s no one single reason why exercise helps, we know it increases endorphins. These natural painkillers reduce stress and make us feel good about ourselves.

But what if the idea of exercise causes anxiety?

Being afraid to start something new or even getting back into exercise can be a source of anxiety. We judge and compare ourselves to others who effortlessly pick up moves or look like they were born to be at the front of the class. We can’t even imagine that these people were ever crippled by self-doubt as they approach the gym like a second home. Insecurity matched with our personal narratives about fitness can create more fear. A vicious cycle keeps you from engaging and your brain reinforces these negative relationships.

The best advice is to start off small. Instead of turning to rigorous routines that get your heart rate up, look into activities that you may enjoy. You might benefit from a calming environment instead of a competitive one. Activities like spin, with darkened rooms and loud music, can provide overstimulation for some people — while others will take comfort in the darkness  and the way the class relies on predictable routines. Hot yoga can feel claustrophobic with soaring temperatures — but many classes follow a set sequence of poses which can alleviate the worry of what comes next.

Your first step in using exercise to help alleviate anxiety is to find a routine that works for you. Routine removes surprises and putting yourself in uncomfortable situations. Try to exercise frequently for smaller amounts of time so you don’t feel overwhelmed. Then focus… concentrate on every movement you make, your breath, and being fully present. Even if you are just going to a walk, make every step count.

Using exercise to combat anxiety doesn’t need to make you feel more anxious. If you are working with a personal trainer, open up and let them know what you’re dealing with. They can modify your workout to improve both your mental and physical well-being.

You don’t really hate exercise. It just feels that way

Exercise with personal trainer / Image credit: besttrainer.co.uk
Exercise with personal trainer / Image credit: besttrainer.co.uk

You don't really hate exercise. It just feels that way

We all need to exercise. It’s essential to our well-being and it kicks our endorphins into high gear. After exercising, we feel better and we can congratulate ourselves on our accomplishments. Whether it’s a walk around the block or a marathon, exercise is fun, stimulating, and challenging. Exercise is everything!

So why do we hate exercise so much? Why does it feel more like punishment or a chore than something we want to do? Yes, our logical minds can remind us of the benefits of exercise but the rest of us can come up with hundreds of reasons not to exercise.

For many of us, exercise was a childhood punishment. Being picked last for teams or repeatedly told we were unco-ordinated has left its mark on our psyche. We feel we’re bad at sports and lack confidence about our ability to be physically active. Exercises, especially team sports, were terrifying. Even today, exercising in public is another opportunity to pick away at our self-esteem and reinforce everything we were once taunted about.

Alternately, maybe exercise was previously an important part of our lives. If we grew up as athletes or in a career that required us to be physically fit, and situations have changed — we might be haunted by our previous ability. Changes in lifestyle, illness, or even a new work environment may have deprioritized your commitment to maintaining a level of strength or endurance. So we’re afraid to start  again from scratch and we’re haunted by what we once achieved and ashamed that we aren’t our previous selves.

Finally, maybe we hate exercise because it’s tied to dieting and our overall feelings of negativity about our bodies. We exercise to compensate for eating dessert. We stay away from certain types of exercise because we don’t want to compare ourselves to people who look better. We believe that exercise only counts if we’re dripping in sweat and can’t catch our breath — anything else is just a waste of time. The only reason for exercising is to lose weight. Period. So if you aren’t burning calories, you are wasting your time.

With so many reasons to hate exercise, how do you start embracing it? Working with a personal trainer in a body-positive environment is the first step. I’ve stressed honesty and compatibility when finding the right trainer for you. Once you start working with someone who doesn’t just understand your goals but understands your story, you will see that you are co-ordinated. You are able to regain some of that muscle mass. Results will detangle themselves from calories burned.

Whether it’s that scared kid or that former Iron Man or Woman, there are ways to unlock our potential. Nobody is good at everything but everyone is good at something. Working as a personal trainer, I’ve yet to encounter the client who is bad at everything. I’m often surprised by the secret depths of skill, co-ordination, and strength that lies in my clients. I take pleasure in their victories and watch them attack a challenging new routine with not just the confidence to succeed but the confidence to fail.

Working with a personal trainer will help you untangle your emotional exercise story from what you can really accomplish. You are an athlete. You are strong. You just might need some help accepting it.

Economics 101: is joining a gym worth the investment?

Is a gym membership worth the investment? / Image credit: Victor Freitas
Is a gym membership worth the investment? / Image credit: Victor Freitas

Economics 101: is joining a gym worth the investment?

Thinking of joining a gym?

Last week, we talked about how to make New Year’s resolutions that last longer than February 1st. If you’ve taken my advice, you’ve focused on a single resolution with small, realistic changes. We’ve also discussed setting SMART goals and how having a measurable goal makes it easier to keep track of your progress.

If your resolution is to train for that 5K, lose 20 pounds, or take a new fitness class, you might be thinking of joining one of the big box gyms that are found on almost every main intersection. They are convenient and provide you with both cardio and weight machines. They also offer a range of classes from boxing to dance. For some people, the gym is a one-stop-shop for everything fitness. For most, they are a terrible investment.

While membership fees vary, the industry-wide average falls in at $58 per month, or $696 per year. On top of the monthly fee, some gyms often tack on an “annual fee” (paid at the start of each new membership cycle), and an “initiation fee” (a one-time fee that can run as high as $250, due upon signing).

If you were to use the gym seven times a week, every week, you would be getting a great deal. However, a study run by UC Berkeley economists found that while members anticipate visiting a gym 9.5 times per month, they only end up going 4.17 times per month. That works out to 50 visits per year.

If you are serious about achieving your goals but don’t want to pay for something that you don’t use, think about the role the gym will play in your workout schedule. What does it offer that you currently need? Will you be joining just for a place to run while the weather is cold, or do you want the guided instruction of classes?

If it’s to take a specialized class, are there other studios dedicated to this activities that can fill the gap (e.g., spin, crossfit box, or yoga studio)? These places don’t have monthly maintenance fees and work on different payment schedules. You can find group fitness classes to fit your budget and figure out which studio or activity best fits your goals.

If you are looking for a place to run and lift weights on your own, there are several contract-free gyms in Toronto. With low monthly fees and no perks, you might miss your scented towels, but you will have a basic gym with well-maintained equipment.

Finally, consider building your own home gym. If you have the space, you can turn that spare room — or even spare corner — into your perfect gym. Investing in durable pieces of gym equipment may feel like an initial expense, but once you add up the payments, it’s a great investment. And if you don’t want to commit to purchasing a cardio machine, free weights from Winners or Canadian Tire are a good starting point. There are many apps (free and paid) that can take you through heart-pounding workouts and require minimal equipment. Buy a wall-mount bracket for your tablet so you don’t have to keep checking your phone during a workout. You can also use this during your cardio sessions to replace those gym televisions which always have poor reception or shows you can’t change.

Joining a gym gives you a place to work out, but is it your best fitness investment? The truth is that it may be. You might like the convenience, classes, and services. However, for many people, being stuck in a contract will result in overall frustration. Figure out what role the gym will play before you give them access to your bank account.

When it’s not just you: is Crossfit the new step aerobics?

Crossfit with kettlebells / Image credit: crossfitthebridge.com

When it's not just you: is CrossFit the new step aerobics?

Maybe you’re like me and remember when gyms boasted Step Aerobics classes by the dozens. Or maybe you can still do a grapevine. But it’s also possible that you are young enough not to even know what a grapevine is. In the 90s, Step and low-impact cardio aerobics were everywhere. These classes had one intention: get your heart rate up.

Cardio was the key to weight loss. And that was it. It’s funny to think of this now because we wouldn’t imagine a cardio-only option in group classes. Even spinning has incorporated short weights sets.

There are trends we hope to never see again. If you talk to someone who was an avid stepper, they probably have knee problems. Slamming your leg on a plastic step in time with the music will undoubtedly leave you with physical scars. Of course, at the time, we didn’t really know any different.

But if we look at the history of group fitness, we can see a direct evolution between our past and our future. While we can laugh about classes of women all hooked up to vibrating belts, we can actually see a correlation between this and current EMS training. Sure, the equipment of today is much more sophisticated but the intention remains the same. Those 1970s leggings of Jazzercize have become the 2018 leggings of Barre. As we learn more about the body and what works (and what doesn’t), exercise trends edit themselves.

And no matter what the exercise was, one thing remains consistent. Community has been a large part of most group exercise classes. Whether it’s a friendly face at the door or recognizing your best fitness friend or that nemesis in the front row who performs every exercise with too much energy, exercising in groups has always been part of the equation.

For many people, being part of a class provides them with more than motivation. If you look at the rise of CrossFit boxes, the emphasis is on working out together. A recent F45 studio that opened in my neighbourhood has asked everyone attending classes to pose for photos to promote a more communal feeling. Knowing people by name reduces barriers between the instructors and class attendees. It also makes it easier to call you for a simple correction.

Humans are social creatures. Getting a friendly smile from someone who is also trying to wrestle with a kettlebell or cheering on those who cross the finish line last in a running club provides us with a dopamine rush of success and belonging. If you’ve ever wondered what happens in a mysterious exercise class, you’re more likely to enlist a friend to join you. There is strength in numbers and shared motivation through friendship. And it’s more difficult to cancel on a friend than cancelling a class.

As exercise trends will continue to develop in weird and wonderful ways (mermaid class anyone?), class fitness isn’t going anywhere. In fact, it’s becoming more and more segregated with studios popping up for very specific purposes. So whether you prefer to attend anonymously or are looking forward to joining your crossfit friends for a full fat latte to celebrate how you’ve crushed the W.O.D., trying a class can shake up your routine.

Image sources: crossfitthebridge.com, crossfithavoc.com, beautyheaven.au.com

Electronic Muscle Stimulation: a high-intensity workout, but you need to be prepared

Electronic muscle stimulation provides an intense and high-energy workout. Image source: Ebenezer Samuel / Men's Health

Electronic Muscle Stimulation: a high-intensity workout, but you need to be prepared

If you love to learn about new exercise and fitness trends, The Future of Fitness explains it to you in a way you can understand and separate the hype cycle from actual results.

Electronic Muscle Stimulation (EMS) is muscle contraction using electric impulses. When you EMS train, the impulses are generated through electrodes placed near the muscles being stimulated. A number of studios have sprung up touting EMS Training as more efficient than traditional workouts. But what’s it like to be strapped into a bodysuit that makes you look like you should be fighting zombies instead of doing squats?

The first thing to know about EMS training is that your studio will provide you with the high-tech undergarments that you see on their site. These are meant to be worn without underwear (no sports bras!). They are tight. Really tight. Then, the studio trainer will spray you with water. The suit you wear will also be sprayed with water. This allows for increased conductivity. Each electrode will be adjusted to your specification, and you’ll feel a tingling sensation, a vibration, that focuses on a specific muscle group.

You’ll be led through a High Intensity Interval Training routine (6 seconds on, 4 seconds off) through a number of exercises like squats, mountain climber, side planks, and bicep curls. Working with a trainer who will adjust the pulses in the electrodes throughout the 20-minute workout, you will sweat your way through the circuit. You’ll also burn a number of calories.

The next day, you’ll feel sore but nothing unusual after a good workout. Also, depending on your shoulder strength, you might feel the pressure of the suit.

There’s no doubt that EMS training burns calories, but is it a good workout? I would recommend that if you want to try EMS, you should already be familiar with basic exercise moves and intensity. You should already know how to  perform a proper squat confidently, because the workout moves fast. While the trainers will adjust the activities, you need to be secure in your own abilities and understand your limits. Asking for alternatives to replace exercises you already know are not good for your body is essential. Like most training situations, you need to speak up and let people know when you are uncomfortable or in pain (and not a good pain).

I also wouldn’t recommend EMS to people with claustrophobia. The pressure of the suit combined with the increased intensity of the pulses may trigger feelings of being trapped. The workout moves quickly, so your heart rate will increase. Combine these factors with a new studio and a trainer you don’t necessarily know and it may make for an uncomfortable environment.

However, if you are curious — and feel physically and mentally prepared for a fast moving workout in a heavy suit — you should give EMS a try.


Have you done EMS? How was it? Awesome? Traumatic? Meh? Let us know in the comments!

Spinning isn’t scary: a group workout that lets you forget about what you’re wearing

Spinning class / Image credit: Duvine.com

Spinning isn't scary: a group workout that lets you forget about what you're wearing

At its very core, spinning is a cardio workout on a stationary bicycle in a group exercise environment. Despite the rise in studios with their expensive merchandise and inspirational mantras, spinning is not an elite activity that should be only attempted by those looking for a transformational experience. It can be intimidating to set foot in these highly curated environments and feel out-of-place in your worn gym clothes.

But if you are curious about trying spinning, here’s what happens once you enter the darkened world of the studio.  It’s not scary. It’s fun, challenging, and highly individualized. And you are in control of the workout the entire time.

At your first class, make sure to get the instructor’s help setting up your bike. Every studio has slightly different equipment so it’s worth checking in with the staff about proper form. If you need to clip in with special spinning shoes, don’t worry if it takes you a while to get the hang of it. Even between studios, each bike may have their own particular quirk. It helps to step into the pedal and snap down as if you were in motion. Like any piece of equipment, the more you are familiar with it, the easier it gets. Again, don’t be afraid to ask the staff for help clipping in.

Most spin studios are incorporating one session of arm exercises as part of the 50-minute class. Make sure to check the weights on your bike and adjust as necessary. The arm workout is not long but it can be challenging. Choose a weight that you think you can work with and will accommodate biceps, triceps, and shoulder reps.

During the class, the instructor may turn up the music or their microphone very loudly to encourage an atmosphere of intensity. Some studios have earplugs available so don’t be shy about grabbing a pair (or bring your own!) if you are sensitive to noise. It’s better to be comfortable than in pain — some of the instructors are loud. Really loud.

Throughout the class, you’ll be guided through each song. The instructor will suggest how much tension to add to the bike. You can adjust as necessary. Because spin is an individual exercise in a group activity, it’s ideal for people who are just starting out or recovering from an injury. You can work at your own pace or even feel free to change up the activity. Studios are usually dark, even candle-lit, so it won’t be obvious if you are unable to keep pace with the pack. Do your own workout or follow the instructor. As long as you are challenging yourself, you’ll be fine.

In other blogs, we’ve discussed exercise types that are conducive to forming cults of personality. Lead by charismatic instructors or studio owners who believe their own hype, these people can cloud the true purpose of the activity. Spin has recently become one of those places where aesthetics appears to be more important than athletics. Don’t be dissuaded. By focusing on what is happening inside the studio, and ignoring the racks of t-shirts with inspirational sayings, you will be treated to a 50-minute workout that will push you and have you returning for another session.

The Choose Your Own Adventure Cardio Workout

Cardio workout: guys playing basketball. Image credit: Tim Mossholder / Pexels

The Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Cardio Workout

When you commit to strength training, you are building muscular endurance and strength while keeping your bones and joints healthy and strong. Fat loss is a side effect.

To balance out the good work of strength training, I recommend that my clients participate in some kind of cardio exercise. And cardio is not an exact science. There’s no X times of week + Y speed = Results. Cardio does burn calories but it also helps you keep your heart healthy and prevents disease.

Should I do cardio in the morning or in the evening?

Studies say that you should exercise first thing in the morning. They also say you should exercise in the evening. I say you should exercise when it’s most convenient for you. If this means going for a quick run on your lunch break or waking up at 5 AM — the most important part in finding a place for exercise in your day. Make it part of your schedule and find a time that works for you. You know when’s not a good time to exercise? Never.

What kind of cardio should I do?

The kind of cardio you should do is the kind that you like. Forget about keeping an eye on the calories burned square on the machine. Those numbers are estimates and often exaggerations. This means there’s no point looking for the machine that burns the most calories — instead find something that you enjoy. Some people love spending the focused 30 minutes on an elliptical, catching up or rewatching their favourite TV show. Others would describe this as one of the circles of hell. For others, hiking on the weekend or taking a dance class contribute to their cardio.

Like my advice when it comes to finding exercise time in your schedule, the same goes for cardio equipment and type of cardio. The most important thing about cardio is that you do it.

How Long Should I Spend on Cardio?

If you’re getting started, you should spend 20-60 minutes on cardio, three to five days a week. If you are new to training, three days a week is a good start. If you are more experienced, I would aim closer to the five days a week to increase your heart rate. And this doesn’t mean that you need to run five days a week. You can mix it up with a combination of classes, activities, and cardio machines.

Cardio is one of the few things in life that really is all about you. So be selfish and find that me time. It’s your adventure, so what will you choose?