Episode 327 – Are You Being Honest With Yourself?

Written by Jonathan

I have a client I’ve been working with for about 6 months now, she had been working with another trainer for about a year before that and lost a lot of weight right out of the gate, but had plateaued and she contacted me to switch things up or get a new perspective. This is a common problem for a lot of people, I thought I would cover it here, share my approach, show how it’s a bit different and talk about the results, which I think will be surprising for most people.

For the sake of this story we’ll call my client Lisa, about a year and a half ago Lisa started working with a personal trainer and she got some pretty good results. She lost some weight, I think around 60 pounds in the first 8 months or so and she started exercising consistently or had made exercise a regular habit usually 4 times a week. However after that initial weight loss she plateaued and contacted me to see if a different approach could get her over the hump. I made no guarantees, but after reviewing the nutrition plan and workout she was following I thought there were some areas we could improve on.

To start, I substantially changed her workout, in her original plan she was following, what I would call a traditional workout where she was lifting 10 to 15 reps of an exercise resting about 45 seconds to a minute and a half then repeating that same exercise and every workout she would do about 9 exercises – like squats, chest press, lat pulldown, shoulder fly, bicep curls, sit-ups – basically a program that would be featured in a Men’s Health or Oxygen magazine from the late 90’s until a couple of years ago, even though I personally feel it’s not the most effective way to train, anyways, after strength training she would do 20 to 45 minutes of steady state cardio, mostly straight walking on the treadmill or the elliptical.

For Lisa’s workouts I changed her strength training up to be more functional and have more compound movements, she still does the basics like squats, split squats, push-ups and lat pull downs, but I added in glute stabilization exercises, hinging exercises, carries like the farmers walk and some more spine friendly, but at the same time more aggressive core exercises, plank variations, hips lifts and hip stable cable exercises.

I set everything up in super-sets to minimize rest and maximize actual working out, but the most important change of all, I had her start going through her full range of motion and to failure most of the time. For her cardio training I split it up to the stepper mill, which is like going the wrong way up an escalator for steady state and I had her do HIIT between running and walking on a treadmill, for about 20 minutes. I also gave her the rule she wasn’t allowed to hold onto the handles, unless she was about to fall over, which will increase her heart rate by about 25%.

She started following this workout and you might be able to guess what happened, she got stronger which is of course a good sign, she dropped about 2 clothes sizes, another good sign, but she didn’t lose any weight. Her body started to go through what I call a recomposition, more muscle less fat, but she still weighed the same. Which means, you guessed it for sure this time, something is going on with her diet plan or her lack of following the diet, you know I don’t like calling it that I prefer nutritional plan.

I reviewed her nutritional plan that her previous trainer had written and to me it was pretty solid, other than the fact that it was a little heavy on protein and a little light on fibre, but I know lots of people that eat the same way that are not overweight at all so I started asking questions about it, and how she prepared the food on it. She told me she was following it exactly except for a cheat day on weekends, which I thought was fair, but then I started asking specific questions about the exact types of meat and vegetables, and then she would say things like, well I don’t eat that exactly I eat this instead, well I don’t actually really like that so I eat this other thing instead and it quickly became apparent to me that she was following the nutritional plan 70% at best, plus having her cheat day, which I’m 90% sure was actually a cheat weekend. In a way this was actually good news because it gave us more room or areas to improve in, as well I could sit down with her and go through foods she actually likes which will make it easier for her to stick with, for 3 months she told me she was following it exactly, but still wasn’t losing weight, of course I know what ‘following it exactly’ means in this case, so I thought a temporary, more aggressive approach might demonstrate that this is a food problem and that a fasting mimicking diet where she could eat a high fat, low carb, low protein diet, of 800 to 1000 calories for 5 days. There are some studies showing that doing this once a month for a year can help increase your insulin sensitivity which in theory should make your body produce less insulin and store less fat, as well by eating a smaller amount of food a person could see that being a bit hungry is actually not that bad as they think it will be and 800 to 1000 calories a day although restrictive is not a starvation diet.

I thought maybe this would be a good strategy for Lisa so she tried it, and at the end of the week she lost 4 pounds. Some of this was of course water weight, because she was probably starting to go into ketosis and using up all her glycogen stores, but the reality is that the regular nutrition plan we came up with, is only about 600 calories more per day with the major difference being I took out the meat, and switched it to olives and nuts, took out the oatmeal breakfast she was eating substituting in nuts and avocado and she continued to eat mostly vegetables but, in soup format so that it would feel more filling. During this week she was only exercising a quarter as much as well. I was expecting her to lose some weight over the week, but not 4 pounds.

After this came to light we had a candid conversation about food, and she admitted to me that leading up to the fasting mimicking week, she would often eat 7 or 8 handfuls of almonds instead of one, that sometimes she drank more wine through the week, I’m sure there was more to come, but then she stopped and said this, ‘I guess I’m not following the nutrition plan as close as I thought.’ – I guess I’m not following the nutrition plan as close as I thought.

It’s not the first time, I’ve heard something like this, I used to work with a client 3 times a week, to start each session we would run a loop outside with the intent of trying to get faster each time, of course she improved at first, but then she plateaued for a few months. Coincidentally we were starting an outdoor bootcamp twice a week in the park across the street from her house so she started coming to that instead, but we would still do an individual session once a week. After a month an interesting thing happened, she started getting faster on the loop, a lot faster so I asked her about it and she said, I thought I was working hard, but now that I’ve done the boot camp and watched how other people work hard, I realized I could try harder and push myself more.

Another client that we worked with used to do the stairs in her house for a warm-up and said she couldn’t do more than 3 times up and down, that was her limit and she felt faint after that. Which is fine who am I to challenge ‘feeling faint,’ but then one day she was worked up about how she wanted kids, but her husband didn’t, but then he got his secretary pregnant and left her for his secretary, of course I’m leaving some of the words she used to describe him out, but that’s besides the point because she did the steps 47 times that day and the only reason she stopped is because she said she felt like she had been doing them for a while, but could keep going. When I told her she did 47 she said – ‘oh, that’s more than I can normally do’. Yes – enough more that I’m questioning the validity of your -’I feel faint after 3’ statement.

I personally fall into the category of ‘something is better than nothing,’ but if you’re trying to lose weight, if you’re trying to get stronger, if you’re trying to get faster, but if you’ve only seen small changes or you’ve plateaued it might be time to have this conversation:

Am I really working as hard as I could be?
Am I actually eating the way I know I’m supposed to be eating?
Am I being honest with myself?

What are some habits I can create to help me work harder and make better food choices? It could be as simple as trying to do 1 or 2 reps more of an exercise than you would normally do. It could be packing your lunch the night before, maybe it’s as simple as putting a bowl of fruit out, so that when that sweet treat craving comes a knocking you’ve got that covered.

Of course it isn’t easy, but if you take a minute to reflect and have an honest conversation with yourself it could help you decide what’s really important to you and what you could change going forward.



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