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

With weight training, it’s not how much you lift or how many reps, but how hard you work the muscles​

woman athlete weight training / Image source: Leon Martinez/pexels.com
woman athlete weight training / Image source: Leon Martinez/pexels.com

With weight training, it's not how much you lift or how many reps, but how hard you work the muscles

Lifting weights is an essential part to achieving any fitness goal — and this includes losing weight. Once my clients embrace the benefits of weight training, they begin researching how they should lift weights. Apart from queries about good form, the most common question I get about weight training is: should I lift heavy or should I lift light?

And believe me … everyone has an opinion about this. Websites will debate this in forums with the bodybuilders encouraging people to lift as much as they possibly can with holistic fitness forums praising lighter weights at multiple reps. But I am going to set the record straight.

You might have heard that lifting heavy weights for a low number of reps builds muscle, while lifting lighter weights more times tones them. But what is muscle tone? This is just an expression to describe how firm a muscle looks. But the fact is that your muscle tone doesn’t change — exercise or not. The way your muscle looks depends on two things: the amount of fat that covers it and the elasticity of your skin. So your goal shouldn’t be toning your muscle. It should be reducing the amount of fat that covers the muscle. Muscles closer to the surface, without a barrier of fat, will be more visible — and look more “toned.”

But really, it’s not about how much your lift. You can lift heavy or you can lift light. What really matters is how much effort you put into the exercise. Regardless of how much weight you feel you should be lifting, the real key is to fatigue your muscles by taking each set to the point where you can’t do any more with good form. How hard you work is what it’s all about.

This means you have to get uncomfortable and challenge yourself through using a heavier weight or performing one or two more reps. Light weights will be effective in the beginning, but this will eventually wane. It can be hard to force yourself out of your comfort zone, but without gradually increasing weight or reps, your progress will stall. By lifting heavier weights, you build more muscle, and more muscle leads to a faster metabolism. Stay in the comfort zone and get used to being comfortable. You need to challenge yourself for real progress.

How hard you work is the secret to maximizing weightlifting efficiency. Forget heavy versus light. Like most things in life, with weightlifting what you put in is what you get out.

Don’t take bad habits on holiday: Three tips to keep vacations good for your health

Don't take bad habits on holiday: Three tips to keep vacations good for your health

I remember being at an airport a couple of years ago and seeing a sign that made me laugh and think. “Vacation calories don’t count!” it exclaimed. For so many of us, vacations are a break from the routine. This doesn’t just include work but can extend to diet and exercise. We can see vacations as a free-for-all, a magical time period where calories don’t count and exercise is an inconvenience.

I get it. When on vacation, you want to indulge in the things that you normally wouldn’t touch when you’re at home. So how can you find a healthy balance? Here are three things you can do to make the most of your vacation while staying committed to maintaining your health goals:

Avoid the buffet — if possible

Whether you’re at an all-inclusive, on a cruise, or at a hotel, the lure of the buffet is an on-going temptation. Because of the choices on offer, it can be easy to go back and overindulge. But the days of the 99-cent buffet are long gone.  Today, buffets can be just as expensive as eating in a proper restaurant.

If a buffet is your only option, use smaller plates and focus on the foods you will really enjoy. Don’t look at a buffet as a FOMO experience — much of the same food will be available the following day. While there may be slight variations, by day two or three, you will know your buffet’s offerings by heart. Also, take advantage of the chefs to prepare fresh choices.

Eat local

As our world becomes increasingly commercial, it’s not surprising to see a familiar restaurant chain on the main street of your vacation destination. Instead of gravitating towards what you know, a holiday can be the opportunity to try something different and local. Find those little restaurants and eat like a local. This may require venturing off the resort, so get a recommendation from your hotel. People are eager to share their regional cuisine and culture. One of the best Chinese meals I ever had was in Cuba.

Eating local also means eating at different times of day. When in Spain, head out for dinner at 10 PM and don’t be afraid to ask questions as you peruse the menu. Eating is an adventure and while you might not like everything, you’ll definitely come home with one or two unexpected new dishes that you’ll be excited to incorporate into your routine.

Keep active

While you may not want to spend 30 minutes of your vacation on the treadmill at the hotel fitness centre, there are many ways to stay active on vacations. If you’re on a city break, walk as much as you can. You’ll see more and uncover hidden gems that you never thought you would experience. Walking immerses you in a new place and slows you down to take in your surroundings.

The same goes for exploring nature. Hiking, rock-climbing, zip-lining, discovering ruins, or paddling a canoe lets you experience different environments and landscapes — and reminds us all why we need to protect these places.

If you’re on a beach vacation, swimming can get your heart rate up. We’re not talking about mindless laps in the pool while dodging an unruly game of Marco Polo. Snorkelling can introduce you to a beautiful undersea world and the strange creatures that live there. Even walking along the beach provides resistance which can turn a leisurely stroll into an activity that raises your heart rate.

A vacation can be a break but it’s not an excuse to return to bad habits and destroy all your good work. By making sure that each indulgence is deliberate and taking the time to get some well-needed rest, you can come back home reinvigorated and ready to commit to yourself.  

Forget dancercise comparisons: appreciating barre for its isometric benefits

Barre exercise / Image source: Yoga journal
Barre exercise / Image source: Yoga journal

Forget dancercise comparisons: appreciating barre for its isometric benefits

Barre studios are springing up as quickly as spin studios were a couple of years ago. With strange socks with jelly grips and unitards that send you into Flashdance flashbacks, is this new fitness-dance hybrid for you? Will you have to learn difficult combinations and wear a tutu? What exactly is a barre class?

Barre classes combine strength training and cardio by focusing on small, isometric exercises. Isometric exercises are contractions of a particular muscle or group of muscles. During isometric exercises, the muscle doesn’t noticeably change length and the affected joint doesn’t move. Isometric exercises help maintain strength.

The barre is the primary prop used to balance while performing these isometric exercises. Depending on the class and instructor, you will also use very light weights (1 to 4 lbs), a strap, weighted balls, and those squishy exercise balls that only seem to exist in fitness studios.

Each class begins in the centre of the room and moves through a specific set of poses. You start with core (planks, modified push-ups), then move on to arms (small biceps curls, tricep extensions). Following this, you will find a place at a ballet bar and perform exercises that target your legs and glutes. Each exercise focuses on small pulses movements — you will hear “up an inch, down an inch” so many times — and works to fatigue.

There are a number of benefits to barre classes. It’s a challenging workout that focuses on tiny movements. You can be a fitness novice or an expert and still find yourself tired by the end of the hour class. The class is also good for joints as there are no high-impact components. Each studio seems to follow its own flow so once you have taken one class, you will have some idea what to expect. Of course, different instructors will change and modify based on preference and experience.

While barre classes do boast benefits like improved posture, muscle definition, weight loss, increased flexibility, and reduced stress, they really are no different from any enjoyable group exercise, yoga, or pilates class. The techniques are ballet-like but they won’t give you a dancer’s body. You will feel taller and stronger, more aware of your core and posture, but you won’t be asked to dance lead by the National Ballet of Canada. There are also a lot of squats, or pliés to use the correct ballet term — so if you suffer from knee issues this class may not be for you.

Like many group exercise classes, barre studios can be expensive and may require a monthly or class number payment commitment. Fortunately, the first class is often free so you can try out the class and determine if it’s a right fit. ClassPass (link to Committing to a class blog) also includes a number of barre studios and classes options to make this group fitness class more affordable.

And barre isn’t just for women. Like many lower impact studio classes, barre classes seem to predominantly attract women. However, all of us can benefit from an hour of tiny, exhausting movements, and being reminded how our abs work.

Measuring your progress means finding the right way to measure

Don't let the scale be the only measure of your progress. / Image source: Pixabay
The way your clothes fit you can be a great measure of progress. / Image source: pixabay.com

Measuring your progress means finding the right way to measure

You step on the scale … and the results are enough to reinforce all that negative self-talk.

It feels like you will never reach your goals. You don’t see enough progress and get frustrated. Is it time to throw in the towel and give up? Do you need another pep talk about how you aren’t working hard enough, how you don’t have will power, and aren’t committed to achieving what you’ve promised yourself?

But the scale doesn’t tell the whole story.

It’s impossible for those numbers to tell you that you’re losing the right kind of weight in the right kind of places. There are so many other aspects to consider, including how you look, feel, and where the weight loss is coming from — your muscles or your stored fat.  

If you count out the scale, how else can you measure your progress? What are the markers you can use to ensure that you’re moving in the right direction?

  1. Use Measurements

Scales don’t track muscle or fat. Even those body-fat calibration scales aren’t entirely accurate. If you are interested in seeing how your body composition has changed, take measurements over time. Using a tape measure to capture your waist, hips, chest, biceps, thighs, or calves can demonstrate how you are reshaping your body.

  1. Take photos

Everyone loves a good before and after photo. If you don’t mind posing for the camera, get a friend or loved one to take a picture of you in the same outfit over time. You can see how these items of clothing fit differently and how your body composition shifts over time. Being committed to a photo shoot every month can help you see the results that those numbers on the scale gloss over.

  1. Small Activity goals

By gradually increasing your reps, your weights, or your endurance, you will be able to experience your progress. If you were lifting 10 lbs with one arm and your trainer moves you up to 15 lbs, how can you not be getting stronger? If you are using a running app like Couch to 10K and you find yourself running more than walking, how is this not progress? It’s hard when we’re in our own bodies to assess how far we’ve come, so take a moment to realize how much you’ve accomplished … and then set your next goal.  

  1. Know your numbers

At your next physical, get your key markers of heart health like blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, and waist circumference. These numbers are key to understanding what your healthy lifestyle is doing in your body. More important than the number of your size tag, these heart health numbers can help you refine how you eat and exercise. This is the real reward for all your hard work — living longer in a body you deserve.

While I don’t necessarily recommend throwing out the scale, it’s essential that it’s not the only way we measure success. If you must weigh yourself, I recommend stepping on the scale only once a week at the most.

Our bodies are complicated machines and always in flux. There are other ways to calibrate success rather than these numbers that may undo all your good work.

With weight training, it’s not how much you lift, but how well you lift it

Weight training / image source: Isabella Mendez / pexels.com
Weight training / image source: Isabella Mendez / pexels.com

With weight training, it's not how much you lift, but how well you lift it

No matter if you are a beginner or a pro, the benefits of weight training are far reaching and long-lasting. We’ve debunked the myth that weight training makes you bulky  and have emphasized its importance as part of a balanced fitness regime.

You might learn weight training techniques by watching friends or others in the gym, but sometimes what you see isn’t safe. Incorrect weight training technique can lead to sprains, strains, fractures and other painful injuries that may hamper your weight-training efforts.

Proper form matters — and this starts from the moment you take your weight from the rack. The better your form, the better your results. If you find your neck kicking in when you should be using your arms, decrease the weight or the number of repetitions.

If you’re new to weight training, work with a personal trainer who can introduce you to the basics of proper technique. They will be able to instruct you on good form and even provide modifications to accommodate any injuries.

If you are using classes like Body Pump or another group barbell workout to introduce you to weight training, start with light weights. This way you can focus on the instructor’s (or virtual instructor’s) technique. Your instructor will demonstrate good form and give you many verbal cues throughout the workout. Once you’ve conquered the mechanics, you can move on to heavier, more challenging weights.

If you’ve been using weights for a while, consider scheduling time with a trainer to double-check your technique and identify any changes you may need to make. We all get into patterns and our bodies can compensate for weaknesses. This can result in incorrect technique and potential damage. Even trainers can use a check-in with another professional to correct bad habits and assess technique. There are always small adjustments that can be made to improve alignment and efficiency.

By prioritizing good form over heaviness of weight or amount of repetition, you will get more out of your weight training workout. You will protect yourself from injury and build a foundation for future success.

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.

Hello 2019: a realistic approach to New Year’s resolutions

Best take a realistic approach to New Year's resolutions. / Image credit: Peter Dazeley/Getty Images
Best take a realistic approach to New Year's resolutions. / Image credit: Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

Hello 2019: a realistic approach to New Year's resolutions

New year … new you! Do you plan a complete life overhaul the moment the clock strikes twelve on New Year’s Eve? In 2019, you are going to lose weight, read more, eat healthier, be more present, take up a new hobby, learn a musical instrument, enrol in a cooking class, stop online shopping … and the list of self-improvement measures that click into place as of January 1st goes on and on.

But the truth is that few of us are still keeping our resolutions by February 1st. We start off strong out but quickly bad habits and life get in the way. Shame and fear take over and we become disappointed that we’ve failed to keep yet another resolution.

So how can you make a new year’s resolution stick? How can you emerge triumphant and build a new sustainable habit?

  1. Focus on one thing at a time. Changing a lot of things at once is difficult. Focus on what you really want and the one goal you believe you can accomplish. What is the one thing you can do for yourself this year that will improve your life? Pick this as your resolution and go for it.
  2. Start small. Starting off small will help you stay on track. Instead of revamping your entire life, find a small change that you can make every day to work towards a larger goal. Add in a high protein breakfast or cut one teaspoon of sugar out of your coffee. Add one cardio day to your schedule instead of going in for five.
  3. Be realistic. 2019 might be the year that you run that marathon. Or it might be the year you complete a 5K without walking. Both are good resolutions but which one sounds more like you? In fact, running that 5K or 10K might be the perfect stepping stone to 2020’s run a marathon resolution. Being realistic will help you achieve your resolutions.
  4. Be patient. Experts say it takes 21 days for something to become a habit…and six months of it to be become part of your lifestyle. If you are committing to something, you have to know that you will need to be patient and persistent. Nothing happens overnight— and not automatically when the date immediately switches to 2019.
  5. Chart your progress and reward yourself along the way. Break down your resolution into smaller pieces and set deadlines. These deadlines are for motivation and not to discourage you. If you want to lose 40 pounds this year, start by losing five and keeping it off for three weeks. Then move on to another five. And once you’ve accomplished it… celebrate!
  6. Work in small time increments. Recommit to yourself for 24 hours. You can do anything for 24 hours. The 24-hour increments will build on each other and help you focus on your resolution.

Keeping your resolution is about prioritization and planning. It’s up to you to make the change and stick to it. These achievements are under your control but it’s your actions which need to change to see the results you want.