strength matters

"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 meg@ironandspice.com 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
SMILE.
Count your breaths
Heat

On the flip side, sometimes you need to get a little fired up:
Planks
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. 
 

"Honor the Long Game." #OneThing About Longevity in Fitness

Recently, I was privileged to be able to attend the Strength Matters Summit in San Diego thanks in part to my wonderful friend, mentor, and partner in crime, Molly Kieland of FUELhouse. After three days of listening to some brilliant speakers and meeting amazing people, I left with a full heart, a melting brain, and tons of information to use not only with clients, but in my own practices as well.

Throughout the weekend, we were encouraged to take a moment after each presentation to reflect on "one thing" that resonated in our minds. If you know me, you know I struggle with information overload. I love learning, I love talking about the things I've learned, and oftentimes I get so caught up in the acquisition that I forget about the actual PRACTICE. Oooops. So, instead of taking two years to write a super detailed outline of the whole weekend, (because honestly, everyone should go to the next Summit. Just do it. Really), here are the things that spoke to me the most throughout each day. 

"OH HAI OPT."

"OH HAI OPT."

The whole weekend I marveled, for lack of a better word, at the intimacy of the whole summit. I've been to conferences with hundreds of attendees, multiple learning tracks, and while I took home a ton of information, there's something pretty cool about chilling on the floor 20 feet in front of someone you've admired in the industry for years and basically getting to have a four hour chat with cool, strong friends about how to make your people into better humans. 

OPT's first talk was a four hour behemoth on effective metabolic conditioning. I've always respected his message of finding the appropriate intensity over, essentially, beating people into the ground with 45 minute metcons every day. I know good CrossFit. I come from a great CrossFit facility that's doing it right, and I'm not quiet about that (and OPT's work is a big part of why my CrossFit home was a good one) . He went in to a ton of detail on the physiology and logistics of this and we had the opportunity to test our own capacities (Yep, there were airdynes. Come to a Strength Matters Summit, they said. It'll be fun, they said. Right.) 

I  managed to hold a pace on the airdyne that was 65% of my peak work output for a solid two minutes before "feeling the burn" which was actually a pleasant surprise given that I've been training for strongman for the last couple of months, and I'd gotten about 7 seconds of sleep the night before. 

So, I have this data. I have fancy charts for how to time intervals and pacing and rest. I have ways to test stuff now. But what was my One Thing? 

Honor the long game.
— OPT

It may be surprising to people who aren't deeply involved in the world of good CrossFit to hear someone like OPT talking so passionately about longevity. Not just with elite athletes, but with "normals." 

Data is cool. Numbers are awesome. Intensity has a purpose. But if you haven't helped to mold a client into a person that loves fitness for the sake of FOREVER fitness, you haven't done your job. If you don't balance your high intensity intervals/heavy strength stuff with low intensity aerobic work, you're creating clients that depend on adrenaline and cortisol to function. And eventually, that'll come back to bite them - whether they consider themselves to be competitive in a sport or are simply training to feel good and maintain a healthy body composition.

So, what does it mean? It doesn't mean intensity is bad, or that pursuing elite levels of fitness is stupid and worthless. It means that we have to correct the extreme approach and find that less-sexy middle ground (sound familiar? It'll be a repeated theme over the next few posts.) Even elite athletes need to work at lower intensities within their training week - "flirting with the edge" of their maximum capacity rather than hammering their bodies into the ground day after day.

And humans absolutely cannot speed up the process at which our bodies are designed (evolutionarily) to respond to stimuli. Any movement is better than NO movement, but there are no shortcuts to fitness. Honor the long game. Embrace movements that you'll be doing past the age of 90. This means: think beyond your next strongman competition, Meghan. Do some damn 20 minute true aerobic intervals sometimes. And instead of rolling my eyes or complaining that it's boring, learn to love it for the value it brings me.

My homework today is to go for a walk. Unplugged, unloaded, connected to the ground. 

Us: But, OPT, how many minutes of walking per week should we aim for? 

OPT: How long? As long as you can. 
 

There are no shortcuts. Walking is as important to health and longevity as lifting heavy weights. Improvement comes at the edge of your comfort zone, but don't neglect the middle in favor of the extremes.  #OneThing