The job of a fitness coach isn’t to provide every client with the same program.
Each person is different. They have a different lifestyle, a different set of goals, and a different mental framework that they view the world with.
Usually our 1:1 online clients prefer to lift weights and diet intelligently in order to create the proper caloric deficit for fat loss.
We don’t require “cardio” in anyone’s routine.
That isn’t because there is anything “wrong” with cardio. Cardiovascular work has loads of benefits for the human body. Improved heart function, increased recovery capacity, and a mild anxiety-reducing effect can be a potent friend in your life.
The reason we don’t require anyone to do cardio is simple. Cardio, as the sole means of creating a calorie deficit, is terribly inefficient.
Eating at maintenance, it will take anywhere from 5-8 hours of cardio work over the course of the week in order to create the 3,500 calorie deficit required to lose one pound of body fat.
Creating this same deficit through your diet takes no actual activity. It only takes some diligence and preparation in the kitchen.
For many, cardio is painful.
We think the fastest path to weight loss is to take up running. So we run. A lot.
Without carefully tracking our intake, we can easily “out eat our activity”. Humans are terrible calorie estimators, both in estimating the amount of calories we consume AND estimating the amount of calories we burn via activity.
It’s been studied and revealed that humans tend to underestimate our consumption by as much as 50%, and we tend to overestimate our burn by as much as 50% as well.
Although cardio work as a method for fat loss is inherently flawed, if a client comes to us with a passion for road work, there is no problem. We don’t require clients to “do nothing” on the days they aren’t lifting. Many enjoy the activity and the reflective quality that a nice run can provide.
Our online client Liddy took that to another level.
She was training for a marathon during our time together.
At first, we started her off on a macronutrient based diet, with a number of protein, carbohydrate, and fat grams to aim for each day.
But as the weeks went on and Liddy’s checkpoints came in, there just wasn’t as much movement on the scale – and the body measurements – as there should have been.
Liddy was a trooper, though. She played the long game. She has an infectious enthusiasm about her, and she was (and still is) a delight to work with.
The “Coach” inside of me was stumped and frustrated, however.
After searching through the backlogs of our discussions and emails, I noticed a bit of a trend. We ask our clients to tell us how many days they have gone over their calorie allotment in the last 14 days (the length of time between each checkpoint).
Liddy was struggling with something that is frighteningly common with macro counters.
When she would lose track of her numbers, or she would go slightly over, it would cause a bit of a tumble.
Macro counting is an attempt to make dieting flexible, but often it can make life more anxious and complicated.
This sort of an “all or nothing” mentality was sabotaging Liddy’s progress.
Liddy had a maintenance of around 1,900-2,000 calories. The plan we had her set up on should have provided her with about a pound per week of fat loss.
We decided to take a different approach, since the macro counting didn’t seem to be helping the situation.
We made a switch and came up with a 100% habit based plan. We still ate intelligently and had structure and parameters for our diet. We even allowed for a small treat each day, to make the “off plan” food part of the “plan”.
The results were flat-out incredible.
Liddy dropped 15 pounds and 6 inches off of her waist in one month – while training for a marathon – without counting calories at all!
Liddy was ecstatic. She couldn’t believe it as the pounds melted from her midsection.
After some reflection, she realized – and confirmed – what I had suspected all along.
Counting macronutrients had held her back.
The habit based plan lifted this idea of “failing” or “succeeding” on a day to day basis, and instead put firmly into place a doable system for creating a sustainable and enjoyable fat loss diet.
Liddy had a lot to say about her experience, and would like to share with you her realizations and discoveries during her process of dieting while training for a marathon.
The bold type is myself and the italics are Liddy’s answers.
Why did you decide to hire a coach for your fitness plans?
To put it rather bluntly, I finally got over myself. I’m smart, and am generally very good about setting goals and accomplishing them.
As the youngest kid in my family, I was constantly working hard to keep up with my brother and sister. I’m fiercely independent and tenacious (aka stubborn), and am known to stick with something until I understand it and learn it and conquer it.
I’m intrinsically motivated, and have a no pain no gain attitude about most things in life.
For myriad reasons, though, the thing I wanted most – to be confident and living in a healthy, fit body, eluded me for pretty much all of my adult life. And though I never stopped trying (or at least thinking I should be trying), my success was limited and intermittent.
And with each failure, my confidence dropped a bit more, my anger and frustration rose, and I’d look at all the other things I’ve managed to achieve and wonder why this one, BIG goal was so elusive.
I *finally* reached a point when I could actually admit to myself that I simply couldn’t do it on my own– – at least, not consistently enough for lasting results.
I also realized that enlisting professional help is an act of strength, not weakness.
Hiring a coach meant I’d have some built-in accountability, while also getting expert advice, and a more objective perspective than I could give myself.
How long have you been involved in long distance running?
I’ve had an off-and-on love affair with running since about 3rd grade, when I idolized my 3rd grade teacher.
Miss Herrick was a health and fitness role model in every way – she introduced her students to things like yogurt with granola, and carob. She also ran 7 miles daily, and that really stuck with my 8-year-old self.
In the following years, I ran as part of my sports participation in junior high and high school, and I did some running in college and afterward.
I kept coming back to running because of its versatility: it’s relatively inexpensive (but you can totally geek out and spend tons of $$ on gear if that’s your thing), can be done pretty much anytime and anywhere, solo or with as many people as you want, and you can have fun and make it as competitive or as non-competitive as you choose.
But I didn’t take long distance running “seriously” until Hope, a 2 year old I babysat, was diagnosed with cancer Thanksgiving 2011.
Her diagnosis prompted my maybe, someday, it’s on my bucket list kind of thing goal to complete a full marathon to morph into a more urgent, seize the day, I want to run and raise money for Hope kind of thing.
I promptly signed up for the 2012 MDI Marathon and began training.
Why do you think counting macronutrients and long distance running didn’t “match up” well for you?
I am very grateful for the months I spent counting macros and losing fat before switching to habits-based eating.
Counting macros helped me to learn a lot about portion sizes, and I became much more aware of my caloric intake than ever before.
But, in some ways, it became too much of an obsession – planning every meal down to the gram and then slipping into an all-or-nothing mentality when the numbers didn’t match up quite the way I liked.
I also would play with the numbers–to an extent that I was gradually spending them on more processed foods/treats instead of filling, nutritious whole foods.
It had taken me 3 marathons (in 3 separate years) to finally conclude that, sadly, I really can’t outrun my appetite.
And I knew I wanted 2016 to be very different.
Switching to habits-based eating while embarking on my 4th marathon training plan required a massive leap of faith on my part, I won’t deny it.
But in that leap, I mustered a willingness to finally, really, TRUST in myself and my coach, and to stay CURIOUS about what would happen, instead of being rebellious or fearful.
What was it about switching to a “habit based” diet plan made everything “click” for you?
The habits-based approach simplified things for me in a way that made my compliance easier.
I ditched the processed foods and settled into a regular routine of delicious but whole foods.
I ate more veggies than I had when counting macros, and I also still had “permission” in this approach to have a small treat each day, which staved off any feelings of deprivation or “it’s not fair” feelings for me.
Instead of obsessing about numbers and exact measurements for everything, I was able to focus my energy on other stuff.
What are your biggest takeaways from your experience?
If you can relax into a trusting and curious mindset, you’ll discover just how amazing you are, and just what your body can do – even on a caloric deficit.
I’d read all over the internet and in books and journals that it was nigh impossible and maybe even dangerous to try and lose weight while training for a marathon, at least after the first few weeks.
I’d also read/heard nearly everywhere that it was inadvisable to combine any sort of intense strength training with the running – that I’d be more at risk for developing injuries or be overtrained, etc.
I decided to trust and stay curious, and had an extraordinarily successful experience as a result.
I dropped fat, I gained speed, I recovered more quickly from my running and lifting workouts!
I had fewer aches and pains overall – my muscles were stronger, my post-exterior chain was better engaged, and my hip flexors weren’t tight anymore.
And I could practically set my watch by my digestive tract, if you catch my drift—which comes in handy when you’re planning to be out running for 3+hours on a Saturday morning. 😉
Leaner, stronger, faster became my personal mantra.
On Race Day, I shaved 30 minutes and 30 seconds off of my Personal Best from 2012 for the same marathon course.
Looking back, I now know that I could have run even faster. To be honest, I’d run the first half so much faster than expected that I was overly cautious on the second half, just to be sure I had a strong finish. That’s OK, there’s always next year.
What would you tell someone who said “cardio is an ineffective tool for weight loss?”
Ha! What WOULD I tell someone who said that?
I’d say, not in my case.
However, keep in mind that, for 16 weeks straight, I was basically increasing the time and the distance I was running each week.
I was doing HIIT as part of my training, and treated my shorter run days as rest days with regards to my nutrition plan.
I’m doubtful I’d get the same results if I hadn’t kept upping the game, so to speak.
In other words, I definitely don’t consider cardio as a miracle weight-loss activity. In fact, the first couple of weeks were especially hard as my body adjusted. (I gained 10 lbs. in my first week! As you can imagine, that felt quite discouraging.)
But after the initial shock my body went through, I think the cardio definitely helped me to shed some fat.
And, now that I’ve swapped the majority of that intense cardio for some intense strength training, my body is once again working to adjust.
I’m more likely to take the middle road, and say that cardio really assisted with my fat loss, but that the strength training is what helped to keep me injury-free and also made my fat loss look so good. (Muscles, Baby!)
A huge thank you goes out to Liddy who was open enough to tell her story to you.
Our group training experience is currently closed for enrollment, but you can get on the Waiting List here and we will notify you when we open up again.