Experts, Calories, and Metabolism

I would like to preface everything below by stating that it is my personal style to point out when there is a problem with something. I have been this way my entire life, perhaps to a fault. Some see it as being negative or condescending. Some people think I am the most arrogant prick in the Western Hemisphere. Others love me for it. I see it as observation. When we know there is a problem, we could be very well served to call it out and then seek more effective and efficient ways of solving said problem. The problem must first be acknowledged. With that said…

How exactly does one become anointed as an “expert?”

I ask this because I have seen more so-called “experts” saying some of the dumbest shit I have ever heard and people actually believe the nonsense that comes out of their mouth.

Where nutrition is concerned, filed in the ‘dumbest shit ever folder’ is the “expert” advice that says losing weight is as simple as “calories in versus calories out.”

Let me be extremely clear here…any expert that spouts off this kind of ridiculousness is no expert at all. I stand by that no matter what “expert” is in question.

If you can spare a moment, I would like to share a story with you…

During my 16 years of helping people overcome virtually every health challenge you can image, I have had a ton of people seek my help for “weight loss.” One of the very first things that I do with most of my clients is to ask for a 3-5 day food and exercise log. What I have observed amongst the individuals that are seeking “weight loss” is that they are typically eating somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,000 to 1,400 calories on an average day. Most of said individuals have been eating that way for a very long time…sometimes a decade or more (true story – and I immediately got hungry after typing that). Along with their low calorie intake comes numerous hours at the gym doing some form of what can easily be classified as physical abuse.  So…we have a large population of people that are barely eating enough food to survive while at the same time beating the living crap out of themselves in the gym (as much as 10 hours a week in my experience), and they are getting bigger while they do it.

The thing that people need to understand that many of the “experts” dispensing advice are not telling them is that the human body is not stupid. In fact, for my money, it’s the smartest thing that exists (right up there with Mother Nature herself). If you go on a diet that involves radical caloric restriction – yes, the ever-popular 1,200 calories a day classifies as caloric restriction – the body will respond to that stressor appropriately.  True, you may lose some weight; hell, you may even lose a lot of weight initially, but eventually the metabolic damage you create will catch up with you. If you are in a hypocaloric state (not eating enough calories) for an extended period of time, you do not have a snowball’s chance in hell of having optimal thyroid function. Why that’s important is because it is the thyroid that governs pretty much your entire metabolism. In fact, it does not even take much longer than one damn day for the negative effects of not eating enough real food to begin to manifest. Consider this – within 24 hours, yes just 24 measly hours, of going on a low calorie diet, which is defined as eating less than 1800-2000 calories per day (according to the World Health Organization), you immediately begin to disrupt your brain chemistry. You also are likely to increase fat storing (lipogenic) enzymes in the body.  This is particularly important for females who already have three times the amount of fat storing (lipogenic) enzymes as fat burning (lipolytic) ones.  This does not even take into account what happens to the thymus gland and your immune system (hint – the thymus begins to shrink and immunity starts a downward spiral into the toilet). Any changes in brain chemistry (neurotransmitter balance, etc.) will lead to cravings; another reason people who are on such “diets” tend to binge eat.  Low calorie dieting is especially damaging for anyone with a history of depression, anxiety, eating disorders, or alcoholism.  Remember, all of this occurs after a SINGLE DAY.  Why set yourself up for failure by eating this way?  Anyone with a history of chronic low-calorie dieting is most certainly going to have severe issues with their physiology, including but not limited to, altered energy production, hormonal imbalances, nutritional deficiencies, and so on.

When I see someone essentially eating the nutritional equivalent of a cardboard box on a daily basis, the very first priority is to have that individual SLOWLY increase their caloric intake until they are eating like an actual human being. Once we have an acceptable amount of food and calories actually being brought on board, we can then begin the process of fine-tuning meal frequency, macronutrient ratios, and discussing effective weight loss and body composition strategies.  Quick side story…I recall one of my clients in Canada who was in her late 30’s and could not drop an ounce of weight no matter how little she ate or how much she exercised. Turns out she was eating about 900-1,100 calories a day (some days struggled to get that much in) and had been doing so for over 4 years!  Roughly eight months later, she had doubled her caloric intake, decreased the amount of time she was exercising, and lost 13 pounds from where she started (initially gained 12 so actually lost 25 total). On top of that, she had a regular cycle for the first time since she was 16, was sleeping better, and her skin cleared up. That’s not a long period of time to accomplish something she was trying to achieve for over 6 years time. She is certainly not the only story of her kind.

A lot of people do not enjoy this process.  Admittedly, the above client did not enjoy it either.  Why?  Because it often leads to weight gain initially. Most see this as a bad thing, but the truth is that this is the healthiest way to repair the metabolic damage created from months or years of abuse. Sadly, I have had more than a few clients work with other professionals that unfortunately further decrease their caloric intake in an effort to shed the weight. How someone can make such a recommendation is honestly beyond my comprehension.

In the end, I have seen people gain weight eating as little as 800 calories a day while exercising themselves to death – very little calories in and an assload (that’s a technical term) of calories out. I have also seen people get leaner and lose weight eating 3,000 calories per day exercising less than they ever have previously – more calories in and less calories out. The calories in versus calories out game for weight loss and improved body composition is completely full of shit. People or “experts” promoting that as any kind of a solution to anything need a hard lesson in physiology and metabolic efficiency because they clearly know very little about either.


Anatomy of a Goal

There are basically two types of people in this crazy world: proactive people and reactive people. Believe it or not, that’s it. Everyone you know will fall into one of those two simple categories. While a dissertation with a ridiculous word count could be written to compare and contrast the two, from my perspective, the basic difference is that proactive people co-create the Life they want while reactive people sit around and hope things will happen.

My intent for this article is to share an “on-the-surface” outline of how I feel proactive people are able to co-create exactly what they want. [Please note that what follows is my take on an article written over 12 years ago by Coach Charles Staley entitled Goal Orientation]. With the dawn of yet another New Year comes the nauseating (at least for me) New Year’s Resolutions and attempted goal setting. Here is how you can actually achieve what you are looking to achieve in 2016!

When looking at setting and achieving goals, the questions that must be answered are:
1. What exactly do you want? Stated differently, what is your goal?
2. How badly do you really want it?
3. How serious are you? No…really, how serious?
4. Have you considered what you will have to give up to get it?

Let’s explore each of these questions individually:

What Do You Want / What is your goal?
For the purpose of this post, I will use Charles Staley’s definition of a goal (as a side note Charles is one of the best Physical Preparation Specialists and strength coaches in the world and has been for a very long time).

A goal is: a written expression of desire to accomplish a specific, personally meaningful objective within a specific, predetermined time-frame. It might interest you to know that there is good research that shows that fewer than 2% of all people have even a single written goal at any time.

A couple of points to make with reference to the definition above.

A goal must be stated in writing: If it is not written, it is not a goal. Writing something down is the very first step in manifesting a goal as a physical reality. The ancestor to every action is a thought. Write those thoughts (goals) down. It may be a wish, or a weak desire, maybe even a fantasy, but it is not a goal if you do not write the damn thing down. Period. This is where you reach for pencil and paper…

A goal must be specific and measurable: Emphasis here is the word specific. Your desires to “be a better business owner” or “look a little better in a bikini” are not goals. They are merely statements that are entirely too vague. We need to specify which parts you want to look better and in what way, or in what areas you plan to improve your entrepreneurial skills. For the latter goal, we need to discuss body composition and what kind of objective we have here. In order to be specific, your goal must be measurable in some way. In this bikini case, specific body fat percentage and circumference measurements are warranted.

Why Do You Want It?
Few people investigate this aspect of goal setting. This is a disservice to the process of goal attainment because as Simon Sinek (author of Start with Why and Leaders Eat Last) says, “It all starts with Why!”

A goal must be personally meaningful and be worthy of your unconditional love and resolve. The most important word in that previous sentence is “personally.” If the desire to achieve your goal is being driven by anything outside of yourself – trust me, you have set yourself up for failure right from the start. Your ‘why’ must have real value to YOU. The desire to lose a few inches off of your waistline because your wife says you are looking a little soggy around the midsection is not the best energy to place behind your goal of achieving a better looking body. Next, consider if this goal is really worth the considerable time and effort that it will take to manifest. If not, redefine your goal or go back to the drawing board and create an entirely new one altogether.

What will you have to give up in order to achieve your goal? This is an important question to consider. In order to achieve your goal, you will have to dedicate substantial energy and resources to the cause. There may be “things” that do not serve to move you towards your goal at the appropriate speed that may need to be given up. As a rather crude example, if you desire to improve body composition, you may have to give up eating a nightly bowl of ice cream. You may also have to give up partying until 2 a.m. in the morning in favor of restorative sleep. Time glued to the television may be better served dedicated to food preparation and gym time.
Given that the following is true:

More of the Same + More of the Same = More of the Same…

You know that in order to achieve something other than what you currently have, changes will have to be made and “things” that do not serve you in becoming the greatest version of your Self are best if given up and discarded.

A goal must be challenging, but definitely not impossible: If your goal is not challenging, you are not likely to set in motion the energy it will require to attain it.

How Long Will it Take?

Most of the “experts” will tell you that a goal must have a specific date of completion because time-frames and dead lines are what create pressure to get the job done. I disagree. How long will it take? Who cares? For me, it’s about falling in the love with the process of achieving the goal – the process of becoming the greatest version of your Self.

Anyone who is truly great at their craft – be they an elite athlete, coach, therapist, entrepreneur, musician, singer, author, etc. has been in love with the process of becoming great (no I am not saying that it is always sunshine and rainbows). Greatness may or may not have been the goal the entire time, but the love of the process was a pre-requisite to their greatness. If you do choose to place a deadline for your goal, the time frame for your goal(s) must be aggressive, but also realistic as well as flexible. Your time-frame can be modified on the fly in the event that you experience set backs or advances during your journey. A sound strategy that I have observed in proactive people is that they are always prepared for a “setback” and respond readily and positively to them. Above all, enjoying the journey to obtaining the goal is a critical aspect of the proactive individual.

To Share or Not to Share?
Let’s face it – a LOT of people just plain ol’ suck; and really do not want you to succeed – if that offends you, too bad.  In fact, deep down, many of them are routing for you to fail. These people take many forms and are quite often some of the people that you are closest to (spouse, parent, child, sibling, and co-workers, all the way down to the nonsensical, random acquaintances that you may experience).

Depending on your personal psychology, you may not want to automatically express your goal to everyone you know. Considering the various levels of consciousness around you, you are likely to receive a wide array of responses when you share your goals with others. For example, if you thrive on proving people wrong (picture me raising my hand with a really excited look on my face here), then it may serve you to express your goals to those who are most likely to doubt your abilities. By the same token, if you have thin skin and prefer only positive feedback, avoiding such people like the plague in favor of those who will be nurturing and supportive of what you are trying to accomplish is probably a better battlefield strategy.

It has been my experience for the past 16 years that if you are pursuing challenging goals, especially those that involve taking your health, body/fitness, and vitality to the next level, “herd mentality” will view you as a freak, an outsider, a weirdo, an outcast, or perhaps an idiot. It is also my opinion that these people are simply pissed that you are doing what they themselves want to do, but do not do for various reasons. If this drives you, use the negativity of others as fuel and enjoy the journey of completing what others say cannot be done.

Fear of Failure
F.E.A.R. stands for False Evidence Appearing Real. Do not let fear stand in the way of you achieving a meaningful goal in your life. As Caroline Myss, PhD has stated, “Take the riskiest path you can find.” There is much more to say here but I will leave it at that for now.

Are You Moving towards the Goal at the Appropriate Speed?
Once you have created your achievement plan and have put your nose to the dirt, you need to have a reliable way of assessing whether or not your plan is working. You must test quantifiable outcomes on predetermined dates, and then implement changes if these tests do not reveal the kind of progress you seek (being prepared for setbacks). When implementing change, it is critical to change one variable at a time, while holding all other variables constant. This will allow you to fine-tune your approach to achieving your goals most efficiently and effectively. Remember, even if things do not go according to plan, one with a plan will usually outperform one with no plan.

And there you have it – The Anatomy of a Goal. Take these things into account and enjoy being proactive. Having said all of that, and I realize that was a lot of stuff, I would like to leave you with a quote to meditate on which basically makes most of what is written above completely irrelevant – how great is that:

I am personally a pretty big fan of Taoism.
“‘Tao’ means the way — they don’t talk about the goal. The goal will take care of itself; you need not worry about the goal. If you know the way, you know the goal, because the goal is not at the very end of the way, the goal is all over the way — each moment and each step it is there. To be on the way is to be in the goal.”