"Whatever You Look For, You'll Find." #OneThing About Mastering Your Mind

Subtitled: When a large man in a kilt stands in front of you and bends a full size wrench in half with his bare generally listen to what he has to say.

Meet Iron Tamer Dave Whitley, wearer of the kilt, bender of the iron, breaker of chains, lifter of the (maybe/probably Hammer of Thor), and welcome to part 5 of my #OneThing series, in which I reflect on the amazing weekend I spent learning from the best and brightest in San Diego at the Strength Matters Summit. The topic of Dave's conversation? Unleashing Your Superhuman Self...a topic that felt especially near and dear to my heart as I spent a good part of the weekend contemplating how the hell I would pull a 10,000 pound truck the weekend AFTER at California's Strongest Woman. 

The clarity with which we define something determines its usefulness.
— Tony Blauer

When we set out to make a change in our lives, why do we succeed? Why do we fail? What makes us take action in the first place, and what happens in our brains in that perilous first few weeks when we, for whatever reason, stop doing the shiny new thing? 


What is the current situation? Have an honest conversation with yourself (hint: this is where a coach can be REALLY useful in compassionately helping you sort out how to break down your goals in a manageable way, and if you're prone to falling victim to your own bullshit we can gently help you out there as well). If you suspect that your nutrition could use some work, this is a great opportunity to spend a couple of days journaling your hunger and food intake to see what's really happening. Feeling plateaued in your fitness? Assess the past few months. Are you a serial program jumper? If you've stuck religiously to a program, is the best fit for what you're actually trying to accomplish? 

What does success look like? Get detailed and descriptive. How will your success carry over into other areas of your life? Do you see yourself leaner and stronger? Do you see you and your family enjoying homemade pizza night together once a week instead of mindlessly zoning out in front of tv with delivery? Do you see yourself closer to being out of debt because of the money you've saved? Do you see yourself sleeping more soundly and waking up more refreshed?  Write it down. Repeat it when things are going well AND when they aren't. 

Define your WHY. A HUGE gap when it comes to most nutrition and fitness programs. I use the 5 Why's to help my clients really start to attach their goals to their values. It's easy to say "I'm gonna stop eating sugar" or "I'm going to run more," but when you start to dig into the real reasons you're pursuing this new activity it helps with keeping you motivated when things get hard. If we tease out the fact that you're cutting back on pizza BECAUSE you want to lose weight BECAUSE you want to be healthier BECAUSE your father passed away of a heart attack at a young age AND you want to be healthier for your kids, that will feel a lot different than cutting back on a pizza habit BECAUSE you know you spend way too much money on takeout food and BECAUSE you want to get your finances under control. Overall, it becomes a lot easier to "remember the long game," as OPT says, and keep you motivated for the long haul. 

Change your attitude. Dave pointed out that the primary cause for success or failure is our own self-image. When we talk about our future selves using the language we've always used in the past, we set ourselves up for failure. If you embark on a new journey counting the minutes until you get a sugar craving and fail, because that's what you've always done, that's what you'll continue to do. Using that image of success you wrote down earlier, reaffirm that you're ALREADY THAT PERSON using actions rather than outcomes.

Example: "I've always struggled with cravings and have battled my weight for years. I'm doomed to be overweight forever. I may as well just order pizza tonight. I'm so tired." 

Instead, try this: "I'm a person who exercises regularly, and who eats vegetables and protein with each meal. I model healthy behaviors so my kids will develop a good relationship with food as they grow up. I'm mindful of my intake of foods like pizza because  I know they're delicious but don't leave me with a lot of energy to play with my kids." 

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
— Viktor E. Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning


Build in compassion. Most of us have spent our lives idealizing a future in which our perfect self shows up for business, day after day, with nothing ever going wrong. Kids don't get sick, the landlord doesn't suddenly raise the rent, the car doesn't get broken into, you get the big promotion and continue to be Wonder-Person, cooking freshly prepared perfectly balanced meals every day for your eager family. You Have Your Shit Together. And when that inevitably doesn't happen, we throw up our hands, declare that it's too difficult, and promise to start again on Monday (which of course means I will TOTALLY order cheese fries tonight, because hey! #DietStartsMonday!) 

What if your path to achievement included compassion for yourself? 

What if you talked to yourself the way you'd talk to your kid? Or your puppy? Or your friend? 

What if, instead of demanding perfection and failing, you started small and worked on consistency? 

What if you made it easier on yourself rather than harder? 

What would you do if you knew you could not fail; and what could you accomplish if you set yourself up to be successful? 

"Leave One Bite." #OneThing About #OneHabit That Clicked

Welcome to part 3 of the continuing series "One Thing," in which I do my best to process the Niagara Falls-like amount of information I took in at the Strength Matters Summit I recently attended in San Diego. We got to sit in on about 30 hours of lectures over three days, delivered by some of the most notable individuals in the health and fitness industry - in order to keep us focused and not-overwhelmed (hah!) our hosts suggested that after each presentation we go back to our notes and circle One Thing that stood out or particularly resonated with us. 

One of the reasons I was most excited to attend the summit was to hear Josh Hillis and Georgie Fear speak about habit coaching. I've been following them both for awhile now (they're both masters of using the psychology of behavior to help people dial in their nutrition) and anyone who has worked with me in the past year or so knows that habit-based nutritional practices have pretty much become my M.O. for helping clients develop plans to achieve their health/body composition goals in a way that's sane and sustainable. 

As a group, we worked through a sample Nutrition Assessment form (a basic intake form that's a way to assess the quality of your current diet. Caveat - there's really no way that's perfect, but a questionnaire that asks about general food frequency combined with a dietary record paints a pretty good picture of where someone might be struggling/lacking and where they're already successful. The first set of questions were pretty generic:

"How frequently do you eat orange veggies/pasta/chicken/eggs/bread/cheese/etc?" (Options for answering ranged from "Never/less than once per week" to "more than once per day." 

Easy stuff, especially if you're like me and are pretty in tune with thinking about what you're eating (for better or worse). 

So what resonated particularly? 

Assessing BEHAVIORS. And one in particular...

Quick side note. Behavior change, I think, is one of the key aspects that's missing from the education of most coaches, nutrition or fitness or otherwise. It's one of the things that originally drew me to certify through Precision Nutrition - half of my Level 1 course addressed science and physiology but the entirety of the second half discussed the psychology of coaching and behavior change. (My NSCA book spent a whopping half chapter on it.) God knows there are plenty of terrible coaches out there who assume that a lack of results can be attributed to laziness or a refusal to just eat the right things (Disclosure: I totally used to be this way too.)

Recognizing the need for behavioral overhaul has been a game changer for my coaching business, and for my own nutritional practices as well. Because in the end, it's really not about simply providing my people with the perfect list of "good/clean food" and "bad/dirty food," and, in all actuality, continuing to chase this perfect list usually means people end up on a rollercoaster of poor adherence and therefore, bad results. After all, it's pretty easy to Paleofy cake and ice cream these days. And even if you have a medical reason to be avoiding certain foods (gluten, for example), you cannot eat an entire gluten free pizza or a pan of paleo brownies in one sitting on a regular basis and expect to feel, look, and perform your best. 

I think we're all in agreement here, right? Right. 

So, what was the #OneThing that resonated with this portion of Josh and Georgie's respective talks? It was actually kind of obscure. One little question on one little page of that sample Nutrition Assessment: 

How often do you stop eating, even if food is left on the plate?


For some reason, this question stuck out to me. I was intrigued. So, for the last few weeks, I decided to start paying attention and note a few reactions that popped into my head. Here are a few that I jotted down.

  1. -------------- (This means, I didn't have a reaction because I wasn't paying attention. Probably because I was hoovering my lunch between clients, while answering emails and checking Facebook. Or eating hummus while watching a movie. Ahem).
  2. "I'm still hungry...." but only because I rushed through my meal and didn't give my brain time to catch up to my stomach.
  3. "I'm still hungry..." because I was actually still hungry, maybe because I'd under-eaten in some form or another earlier (note: this usually happens when I don't have my act together in the AM and train fasted, or come in low on protein. Not the case for everyone, but it's something I know about me).
  4. "This is too good, I don't want to stop eating it." 
  5. "But this is the last time I'll get to eat (special dish) at (special restaurant) in (special city I'm never coming back to)!"
  6. "I need to eat all of this so it doesn't go to waste."
  7. "Seriously, it's just one bite, how could it possibly matter?"
  8. "But I need these carbs/fat/protein, I'm supposed to eat x number of grams, today was a training day." 

Clearly, there's a lot to unpack here (and I'm the professional!) So, why can something as simple and seemingly inane as simply leaving a bite or two behind at each meal help you lose fat/weight, maintain your current weight, or simply develop a healthier relationship with food?

  1. It helps create a caloric deficit. The mack daddy of fat loss, is, of course, burning more calories than you take in. The trouble with planning to restrict calories is that it usually doesn't work, or it works and then stops working. Most of us usually attempt too big a deficit, which can lead to reactionary binging (sound familiar, hello weekend warriors!) OR, react to the mere suggestion that something is limited by promptly craving it more. It seems so small, but if your weight and/or body composition has remained stable for more than a few weeks, you're eating at caloric maintenance. Simply shaving a few bites off of each meal (stuff adds up!) can tip you into enough of a caloric deficit to start seeing changes again. And you can do it while still eating foods you enjoy.*** Hey, the Okinawans have been using this practice (hari hachi bu - eating til 80% full) for centuries, and it seems to be working pretty well for them. 
  2. It helps you fight the lure of the Scarcity Mentality. The Scarcity Mentality is your brain, still stuck in the caveman days, convinced that food is scarce and when you find it, you better eat it all to stock up for the inevitable coming famine. The trouble is, these days, there isn't any coming famine, and the calorically dense "treats" have become commonplace, whether you live in a great food/beer city like Seattle, or work in an office that celebrates birthdays seemingly weekly. It's true that, in some cases, we might be better off abstaining from certain foods entirely, but I think a much more reasonable approach is to learn that the food is just food. It can be enjoyed, without having emotional power over us. And the practice of leaving one bite behind is a really good place to start. 
  3. It's applicable under any circumstances, anywhere, no matter what you're eating/drinking. You can leave a few bites on the plate whether you're at home or at a restaurant. You can leave bites of chicken and broccoli, McDonald's french fries, movie popcorn, pizza, nut butter, or hummus and, unless you're really vocal about it, no one will even notice that you're doing it. Which means you don't have to feel alienated at the table. You don't have to turn down dinner with friends or social events. You don't have to turn down Grandma's pumpkin pie or the Christmas cookies you get once a year. You just have to eat with intention.
  4. It forces you to think beyond "perfection" and, in turn, helps to break the cycle of "on the wagon, off the wagon" dieting. You're not failing, because no matter how far from your plan you deviate, you're still coming right back to the practice of leaving something behind. If you've struggled with going "off plan" from a highly restrictive diet in the past and had that moment where you've said "fuck it, I may as well polish off the pizza/cookies/nut butter/chips and restart on Monday"? This stops the cycle in its tracks.
  5. You can keep scaling it at your own pace until you find the "sweet spot." Consistently leaving one bite at each meal and still not seeing progress? Cool. Can you leave two bites? How about three? Which brings me to my next point....
  6. ***It forces you to slow down and pay attention, both in the moment and during the rest of the day. Yep, you don't have to restrict the types of foods/food groups you eat HOWEVER, what you'll probably notice as you start noticing this is that it becomes harder or easier depending on how your meals are constructed. If you're eating nothing but a bagel for a snack, leaving a bite behind will probably leave you a bit...unsatisfied (if not immediately, definitely a few hours later). If you eat a breakfast that combines a good source of dense protein, healthy carbs, and greens or fruit for volume, you may notice that your hunger between meals becomes much less of an emergency and much more manageable. If you find that you're starving within an hour after walking away from the table, you might need to up your protein or fat by just a little bit. You might notice that a morning workout means it's a lot harder to walk away from your lunch without gobbling up every bite. You might notice that certain foods are a LOT harder to walk away from than others (hint: they're probably manufactured like that on purpose). While you're feeling this out, a food journal can be helpful in connecting input to output, but as you become more attuned to your hunger signals from day to day, there's no need to keep meticulous track unless you feel like you've plateaued. 

CHALLENGE: Over the next couple of days, explore this for yourself. Don't even worry so much about actually leaving the bite behind, just pay attention/jot down how you feel about it. Does it make you feel stressed? Defensive? Do you roll your eyes because it feels stupid and pointless? Cool. Because I felt all of those feelings, too. Or maybe you've done this your whole life and it comes naturally to you. That's cool too! If you try it for yourself, what do you notice about the results? I'd love to hear your insights. Shoot me an email at or comment below with what you learned.


"Can You Go?" #OneThing About Keeping Your Cool

I don't need to tell you guys how much of a privilege it was to hear renowned Coach Dan John speak at the Strength Matters summit. I even got to actually hang out with the man (like, have a drink, shoot the shit, laugh at Eddie Izzard - he's my people).  I don't know that I'll ever have it in me to earn a DJBB (Dan John Black Belt), but I certainly took away a ton when it came to the practice of assessing and training athletes not only for competition, but for life. 

Dan covered a LOT in his talks and dispersed the kind of wisdom you can only get from someone that's been in the game for a hell of a long time. 

My own upcoming competition (California's Strongest Woman) was on my mind throughout the weekend. I'm pretty open about the fact that I'm less than physically prepared for this one. I feel pretty confident about my ability to put up at score in most of the events, and a few are a complete wildcard. What can I say? For a beer city, it's really hard to find a keg to throw overhead in Seattle.  Honestly, I signed up on a passionate whim and just kind of rolled with it when it came to training. I've had lots on my plate over the past couple of months, coupled with being coach-less and team-less for the first time in my training life. Lesson learned - wandering-nomad style training doesn't suit me, I need a training partner, and I REALLY need to outsource my own programming to someone else. That said, I'm still planning to go in hard, leave it all on the platform, and have a freaking kick-ass time. 

So, how does Dan John's talk relate to my competition? On a practical note, he spoke a lot about maintaining your mental relaxation when you're on the contest floor by controlling your emotional arousal while you're in training. His words: "I always smile when I throw the discus."

My usual M.O of heading into contests for the enjoyment of them means that I'm RARELY in my own head. Sure, I've failed a snatch behind me at a meet because I didn't know where to look, lights in my face and lots of humans staring at me. But I rarely get "too" hyped. In fact, I could argue that I'm a little TOO calm - that I need to learn to dig deep and find that passion inside me that drives me to perform best as well as find that desire to want to do better than the competitor next to me. 

Quiet the mind, sling the stone.

Quiet the mind, sling the stone.

He offered some practical ways to control your tension and relaxation levels both on the practice platform and on the field of play. 

How to Relax? 
Shake it out
Wiggle the jaw
Count your breaths

On the flip side, sometimes you need to get a little fired up:
Isometric holds
Cold water
Have your friend/coach give you some friendly face/butt slaps (not weird)

And I know that this phrase has so many layers of meaning that he wrote a whole book about it, but when I'm sitting in the parking lot at Santa Cruz Strength and my head is spinning with all the ways I could possibly fail my next event, I'll hear Dan's voice in my head asking: 

Can you go?
Save the Xena Warrior Princess aggression for when it counts. 

Save the Xena Warrior Princess aggression for when it counts. 

Psssst. There are more than 65 women competing at California's Strongest Woman this weekend! Each of them embody strength, power and passion for the sport and prove that strongman is indeed for EVERYONE, regardless of size or shape. I'm so proud to be competing next to them. 

Want to watch? The live stream is here.
Want to know exactly what's going on? The rules and events are all detailed here.