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We’re like trees

We’re like trees

I’ve been listening to this book about trees. Yep. Wait! Hear me out, it’s super interesting. Trees are incredibly complex. And the author did solid work dumming down the topic. So that I too can understand it. And feel kind of entertained listening to it.

Throughout the book, I kept seeing these similarities between us and the trees. The modern forest management has a bunch of unhealthy parallels to how we manage our own individual health and fitness.

In both cases, we’ve said farewell to patience in favour of quick results. And it’s not working.

Even in (relatively) well-managed forests, the goal is to grow trees fast. The quicker the growth cycle, the better the profit. If you can get a tree to a chop-chop-length in 100 years vs 200, the better it is for the wallet. Right? No surprises there.

The thing is, a tree would prefer to grow slow for a reason. 

When they grow slowly, they become denser and thicker, instead of just prioritising height. Which then helps them grow old and be more resilient to storms and all kinds of tree loving bugs.

When we force trees to grow fast, the trunks are slimmer and filled with air bubbles. They’re weaker than their slow growing tree buddies. Which I guess is fine if you and all your mates are going to get chopped down anyway at the 100 year mark.

But it’s not just the tree itself that suffers because of the fast growth. If a tree is suppose to live up to 300, even 500 years, it’s no wonder the entire ecosystem of the forest goes through a spinner when the tree gets cut down at a youthful age of a 100.

Every being from scrub, to fungi, to bugs, to birds, to big mammals. They all suffer because of the trees fast growth and early demise.

[They suffer in ways that is way too complicated for me to explain. So you just have to take my word for it.]

And since everything’s connected, all this negatively affects the wellbeing of our planet as a whole.

Now, you can probably draw the comparisons between tree growth and how our society seeks quick fixes and fast results in fitness. 

Aggressive fat loss plans, diets, shakes, supplements and all the rest. Unsustainable approaches, only to leave us full of proverbial air bubbles. We’re less resilient when the storms of life happen.

An ongoing cycle that not only makes the person in the middle of it all unhappy. It also affects those around them. And eventually puts an extra pressure on our medical system with chronic diseases and whatnot.

As for unsustainable training approaches, look no further than my first ten years of training. Too much, too often, too aggressive. The result? Air bubbles. Constantly injured and sick.

That’s a long-winded rant about how slow is the way. Slow’s how we get results that enrich our lives. Slow is how we become resilient.

And the sooner we accept it, the quicker we can start seeing and enjoying our results.

-J

 

Simplifying fat loss

Simplifying fat loss

Why is fat loss so complicated? How can we simplify it for those who struggle with it?

I’ve been thinking this a lot.  

What if we’d strict away all the excess and only focus on what really moves the needle and the digits on the scale. While still making it achievable for almost everyone.

Now, I assume that you’re already physically active at least three or four days a week. This doesn’t all have to be strength training. But can (and probably should) include walking, gardening, recreational sport (if you’re into that). Anything that gets the heart rate up and turns you into a moderately sweaty mess.

Those four days of movement are not there to burn calories. Yes, it happens. But the reason for movement is to help you regulate hunger. And to maintain muscle mass while the fat is dropping.

That out of the way, here’s what I’d focus on when it comes diet.

Eat around 80 to 120 grams of protein a day

That’s around five to eight heaped cupped handfuls of beans, legumes, soft tofu and the like. Hard tofu tends to be higher in protein so adjust accordingly. Pays to read the label.

Don’t worry about spacing the protein out evenly throughout the day. Yes, it helps. But let’s try to not add any layers of complexity to this.

Do whatever works with your eating schedule. Although you might struggle getting it all in if only eating two meals a day.

If you can get all that protein in without adding protein powder, the better. But supplementing with a scoop of protein powder can sometimes help if you’re pinched for time. Especially if you can make it into a combo with the number 2 on this list.

Eat at least 6 serves of non-starchy vegetables and 2 serves of fruit a day

Fist size makes for a serve. 

On days when you’re super active, you could pump the fruit to 3, even 4 serves. Fresh or frozen. Whatever works for you. I’d keep dried fruit to minimum because it’s easy to overeat.

As for non-starchy vegetables, you really can’t have too much. Well, at least once you learn to appreciate your newly found bowel movements.  

Fresh, frozen, tin, smoked, skewered, stir fried… They’re all good. Do whatever works with the meals you already eat.

The more colours you can include each day the better.

Drink only water, tea or coffee 

A simple way to reduce calories. Nothing more to it, really. That, and coffee is the drink of gods.

Get at least 7 hours of good quality sleep each night

Ok, not a diet habit. But it’s here for a reason.

Proper rest helps you manage stress, recovery and therefore, hormones.

Fat loss is hard as it is. You don’t need to throw another obstacle on your way by skimping on sleep.

Bonus! We also tend to make better eating decision when well rested.

Wait. Has Joonas become a keto zealot? A low-carb dogmatist? Is he now an anti-vaxxer? IS HE DRINKING DECAF?!

Nope. Never. I will die on that coffee soaked carbohydrate hill.

I didn’t say “do only these four things”. Rather, make those four points your main focus. 

Marvellous things happen when you eat 80-120g of protein a day with at least 6 serves of non-starchy vegetables, and 2-4 serves of fruit. 

You’re feeling fuller. You’re likely to snack less as your cravings go down. Whatever hunger you have left can be filled with carbs, fats, an occasional Oreo, a glass of pinot… 

Focus on those big rocks and fill the gaps with the rest. And since you’re mostly sticking with water, tea and coffee, there’s even more room for whatever else you might desire.

As for sleep, 7+ hours makes anyone a nicer person. The body is more likely to partner up with you on this fat loss dance. Both physically and mentally.

Set some parameters to keep you on track. Then do whatever works for you within those parameters.

Don’t eat according to what others think

Don’t eat according to what others think

Don’t eat based on what you’ve been told in the past, if it no longer works for you. And especially if it’s never worked for you. Don’t eat based on what’s trendy. Trends come and go. And they’re mostly based on what gets clicks.

Don’t believe anyone who says their way is the only way to eat. Especially if it goes against everything with a scientific backing. And double especially if the person tooting their diet solution doesn’t have the credentials to stand and yell on. Regardless of how convincing they might sound. And even if they have a long list of testimonials.

Instead, eat based on what works for you. You don’t have to justify it to anyone.

This is all common sense. But we rarely base our eating habits on rational thinking. We’re influenced by the culture we live in. The people we hang out with. The things we see on the tv and on the billboards around the internet. Well-intended, or not.

It’s good to keep reminding ourselves about the forces that move us. So we’ll have the awareness to deal with them.

It feels comfortable for a reason

It feels comfortable for a reason

Most of the things that are comfortable are usually not that good for our health and longevity.

Swamping on the couch watching tv. Eating soft food that requires little chewing. Never feeling hot or cold. Never exerting ourselves. Never walking bare foot on annoying surfaces. Distracting our thoughts by using our phones. Playing Mario Kart at midnight.

This doesn’t mean that life needs to be a constant struggle. But if you go days without doing something that physically and mentally challenges you… It might be a sign to change a thing or two.

Yet, our experiences are not universal. What might be physically comfortable for you might be excruciatingly uncomfortable for someone else. We’ll all do better by letting ourselves be the judge, or rather, pay attention to our own experience. Instead of getting carried away by what others might think.

And while at it, we should grant others the same privilege.

Start from zero and simplify

Start from zero and simplify

Higher! Faster! More cowbell! We often think that more is better. That the more habits we can cram in, the more likely it is that we’ll reach our goal. This, of course, isn’t how it works.

We know that our success rate is good when adding just a one habit change. But the odds of sticking with the changes drop dramatically if we’re making two changes at the same time.

And going for three or more changes at once? We might as well wait until one morning we’ll see an image of Elvis Presley appear on our toast, then open a can of beans, arrange them on the floor, close our eyes, and whisper quietly for our all dreams to come true.

Most of us are terrible at multitasking. It dilutes our efforts. Sure, we end up doing a lot of things. But none of them well enough to actually get anywhere. There’s a saying in Finnish that roughly translates to “trying to climb a tree with ass first.” That seems accurate here.

Instead, start from zero. Where are you now?

Decide where you want to go. What is your goal?

Then, simplify. What are the least amount of steps you can take to get to your goal?

This forces you to eliminate all the unnecessary paraphernalia. The actions and habits that might sound nice. But don’t bring any meaningful value to the change you’re trying to make.

Then commit to only taking one step at a time.

It’s going to be hard. Because hard steps are the only ones left once you strip away the excess.

Double down on it

Double down on it

Fat loss doesn’t always have to be this epic battle. We often start fat loss by focusing on what we’re doing “wrong”. Which leads us to ruthlessly cutting out food items.

There’s something about the human psyche that yarns for a painful challenge. We think that to get anything even remotely rewarding in life requires us to choose the steepest, iciest side of the mountain. If there’s fire and eagles and angry mountains goats, even better.

Sure, cutting down on Oreos has its place. Reducing sweets and grease (but definitely not Grease!) is a non-negotiable when trying to lose fat. But cutting down on sweets and grease on its own is rarely a sustainable change.

There’s a reason we crave for Oreos. All 85+ flavours of Orios. (Yep, just looked it up. And I’d like to point out that some of the flavour choices are questionable. Hot Chicken Wings Oreos anyone?). Most of the time, the reason for our cravings is the lack of proper food. You know, things like fibrous vegetables, filling carbs and protein. And stuff.

It’s a combination of not getting enough nutrients and calories that lights up the neon sign above the Oreo section. Cutting out Oreos won’t reduce our craving. It’ll make our cravings worse. Because you know what’s the one thing that we want the most in this world? The Oreo we can’t have. Especially when we’re hungry as it is.

By all means, cut down on sweets and grease. But double down on what you’re already doing well. If you’re already eating a portion of vegetables with each meal, have two. Or three for those who struggle with maths. If you’re physically active, maybe you need to eat more carbs. You might need it. It’ll help you stay fuller for longer.

Dim that Oreo neon sign by eating more food. And when you do occasionally have a cookie, you can be confident that in the long-term it won’t make a damn difference to your fat loss efforts. Just don’t make it that Hot Chicken Wing version. Because that shit just can’t be good for anyone.

It starts with you

It starts with you

Groceries, emails, phone calls, lawn moving… When your to-do list is greater than the opening paragraph of A Confederacy Of Dunces, it might feel like doing a workout is not the best use of your time. Except for the impact on your mood, the positive physical effects of exercise are far from being immediately tangible.

Which means that it’s easy to justify skipping a workout in favor of ticking off a task.

Years ago, I had a conversation with a friend about how I wish I could make a bigger impact with my work. I was mulling over how I could only really impact one person at a time. Regardless of how busy I would be, my impact would be capped by the amount of clients I could see.

My friend, being his annoyingly uplifting self, made a not-so-annoying uplifting point about how I was potentially having an indirect positive impact on hundreds, if not thousands, of people. And just between you and me, he might have even mentioned the word “million”. Crazy, right?

Because even though I was only helping a one person at a time, that person might impact thousands (or millions!) of people in their life and work.

There’s a chance that without our work together, my clients wouldn’t have the energy, the strength, the health or the fitness to make the impact in their own life. Even if my role is just to act as an accountability partner for my clients to show up.

But, I am not sharing this (just) to pump my own tyres.

Being fit and healthy will have a positive effect on every other aspect of your life. Your work, your family, the relationships you have, the causes you support, your sex life… Everything.

I am probably preaching to the choir here, but here it goes. When you don’t feel like doing a workout, think about the people who rely on you to be at your best. It starts with you looking after your own wellbeing.

Even when that oppressive to-do list is towering over you.

It’s in our nature to be lazy

It’s in our nature to be lazy

Remember when we all used to live in caves and hunt our meat and gather plant roots for dinner? Yeah, me neither. So let’s take a real quick history trip to the Paleolithic era. (Don’t worry, this is a not a pro-paleo diet / an anti-carb write up.)

Let’s teleport ourselves to the day when our fellow homo sapiens had just discovered stones. And let’s make it a Tuesday. Because it’ll make sense for the purpose of the point I am trying to carve this week.

Ok, so here we are in the heart of the Paleolithic era. And everyone is eating coconut oil. Not. Welcome. I know, the jetlag is the worst. Lay off the wine next time you’re teleporting in time.

As you might have noticed, we are sitting on the ground. Feasting on this charred animal and these delicious roots. Here’s a secret. Eat as much as you can. Because there might be a long stretch between this and the next meal.

Ah, you’re finished with your meal? Great. See that dark corner there in the cave? Yep, the one with hay and mammoth skins on the ground. Go lie down there and be as lazy as you homosapiensly can. Like I said, it might be awhile before the next meal. Try to conserve as much energy as you can.

And don’t bother getting up for the hunt. It’s not like you and I would know what to do anyways.

BAM! Welcome back to 2021. Wild ride, huh?

As you just earlier witnessed in the Paleolithic era, it made sense for us to be as lazy as a human can be. We have evolved to conserve energy. Here’s the bad news though. Paleolithic era is just two and a quarter blinks of a mammoth’s eye in evolutionary terms. Our biology hasn’t even started to catch up with our modern lifestyle.

It’s annoyingly obvious that our evolutionary laziness works against us now. Most of us (at least in the west) are lucky enough to have an abundance of food readily available. No hunting, gathering, or even cooking needed to access it. And if we’re feeling super lazy, it’s entirely possible to outsource our chewing to a blender. All we really need is the will to swallow.

Anyhoo, we have to acknowledge and accept that laziness is part of our biology. We can’t help it. But we can’t use it as an excuse. We can’t become victims of our laziness.

If we want to live a vigorous life and age gracefully, we have to fight our inbuilt laziness with all we have. It’s not always fun. It takes effort. But our biology is unlikely to catch up during our lifetime.

So we might as well get on with it.

The punishment culture

The punishment culture

So much intensity and teeth grinding in the beginning. Nope, I am not talking about the first scene of Fight Club. But the reason why most people struggle to make strength training a lifelong habit.

We’d do much better by shifting the overall training culture away from the “no pain, no gain” nonsense. Away from the punishment culture.

Except for the chosen few, the punishment culture strategy doesn’t work in the long-term.

It doesn’t work for the 40-year-old mother of two who has done no strength training in 15 years. Or the 50-year-old man who’s 20 kilograms overweight and feels insecure about his body. And it sure as shit doesn’t work for the 60-year-old who’s struggled with back pain for the last 20 years.

What happens when these three people walk into a gym or to an outdoor bootcamp session dominated by the punishment culture? I tell you what happens. It’s likely that all three walk away feeling like they just shared a hug with an earthmoving truck. But they keep showing up because “no pain, no gain”. Right?

They keep showing up until one day soon, they don’t. They’ll wake up one day (they all share the same bed), and the thought of another punishing workout is too much to bare. The relentlessness tiredness buries the euphoric feeling that every trainee chases. And they quit.

How did we get here?

The problem has (at least) three sides. There is a certain stereotypical way non-fitness people look at strength training. Most people who join a gym or an outdoor bootcamp have stereotypical expectations of what strength training is all about and what it involves.

Arnold Schwarzenegger popularised bodybuilding in the 70s. There’s no denying that a lot of good things came out of it. He got non-fitness people interested in strength training. But unfortunately that 70s “no pain, no gain” mindset still dominates non-fitness people’s idea of training.

Crossfit, P90X and other hardcore training styles have kept this punishment culture alive. They’re marketable. Even if the most marketable training styles are not the most sustainable option for most people.

Then there’s the stain of the Biggest Loser.

Comparing that tv show to a real-life sustainable lifestyle change is about as accurate as showing someone Rambo III and drawing comparisons to what it was like to go buy milk from the grocery store before online shopping.

Which brings us to the side number two. Trainers often feel pressure to cater to these expectations. At least young, new trainers do. I know I did when I first started.

But the biggest issue is the fitness industry’s lack of empathy for people who are not that into fitness and strength training. We think that you enjoy training as much as we do. Sure, you might fall in love with strength training, eventually. Or at least to not feel the same way about training as you might about colonoscopy.

All of that takes time. If we crush you to the ground from the get go, you never stand a chance to enjoy the training. That’s the third side, for those counting at home.

All of this is to say that the punishment culture is a self-reinforcing cycle. Until we decide to break it. It’s not as marketable. But it’s definitely more sustainable for most people.

Better than a cocktail of caffeine, discipline and willpower

Better than a cocktail of caffeine, discipline and willpower

“Oh, The View is on again!” An accurate comment from a client’s witty husband. After 18 months of Zoom, he’s well aware of what our early morning small group sessions involve.

The most important thing about your progress isn’t the training program. Unless you have super specific sport or adventure goal, it doesn’t matter that much what you do in your strength workouts. As long as it’s balanced, suitable for your body, progressive, and challenging. At least most of the time.

The most important thing isn’t your willpower either. Willpower comes and goes. Most of us eventually run out of it. And use it as a lame excuse.

It’s not even the discipline to show up. I know, I know. Asking people to “just show up” is sort my thing. But having the discipline to show up isn’t the most important thing.

The piece with the most positive impact on your progress is finding people, or a person who’s company you enjoy. It can be a friend. Or a group of people whose vibe seems like they’re probably not dickheads. It could even be, gasp, a trainer. Holla at me!

Either way, enrol with someone who doesn’t make you want to order your flat white with a side of mercury. Training with someone you connect with is better than a cocktail of willpower, discipline, and the perfect training program.

In our morning sessions, everyone gets in a workout. But the commentary is 10% training and 90% movies, tv shows, music, food, and yes, politics. Ok, it’s more like 5% and 95%.

It just so happens that everyone gets along. Plus, my strict “no dickheads” – policy means that I only work with extremely pleasant people. Like I said, holla at me.

Yes, if your goal is to make strength training a twice a week habit, you need the discipline to show up. But showing up is a lot easier when you can look forward to delightful conversations. Ideally about topics that you enjoy.

Training hard doesn’t mean that you can’t spend 95% (Ok, 96%) of that session talking about something else than the actual training.