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Using The COVID-19 Restrictions to Overcome Fat Loss Plateau [A Client Case Study]

Using The COVID-19 Restrictions to Overcome Fat Loss Plateau [A Client Case Study]

Photo by Linus Nylund on Unsplash

This is about how my client Niss was able to turn the negative COVID restrictions into a learning opportunity and break through her weight loss plateau. And as the weight came down, so did her back pain.

When the shroud of COVID restrictions came down in the late March, they bulldozed Niss’ training routine overnight. Her goals to build strength for running, keep back pain at bay, and drop 10kg got an unwelcome flavor of difficulty. 

Pour in a cup of working from home, a pinch of moving to online training and a few spoonfuls of social distancing. She had all the ingredients for an adventurous few months ahead of her navigating fitness goals in the times of social distancing.

Mo’ sitting mo’ back pain

Pre-COVID, I referred Niss to an osteopath for an assessment and further guidance on how to best manage and reduce her back pain. The three of us worked together and had success in improving her back. 

But this was Pre-COVID. Working from home now meant marathon sits at the computer. Something that most backs, painful or not, are not too fond of.

A few weeks into the restrictions, Niss’ pain started to creep in and increase in intensity. She was forced to pull back with training. Instead, she set a schedule to go for a walk every single morning. 

In the times of challenge you do what you can to keep moving in the direction of your goals.

Mo’ awareness mo’ fat loss

Slow is the name of the game for sustainable weight loss, and Niss made good initial progress. But in the month leading up to the restrictions, her weight wasn’t coming down with consistency we’d both hoped to see. Regardless of all the changes she implemented with eating, and all the hard work she put in the gym, her weight loss plateaued.

On a typical weekend in her pre-COVID life (remember that?) she would have a one long, drawn out lunch or dinner with friends. Then, in March, all the hardcore introverts in Australia rejoiced as their day dreams became a reality. 

Being social was banned by the forces that be. With the restaurants, pubs, cafes, even friends’ front doors slammed and masked shut, Niss’ social meals came to a halt. 

But there was a silver lining. 

This created some room to build awareness about her social eating habits. 

And it helped Niss to find the culprit for her weight loss plateau. She was already cooking most of her own meals. Now she replaced the social gatherings with more of the same. It became easier to keep a track of what and how much she was eating. And the digital needle on the scale started to move down again.

This has made her back feel better too.

With the combination of increased walking, weight coming off, a more ergonomic work space and return to training in the park, her back improved. We got creative with the few pieces of equipment she had (and was willing to haul to her local park) and created a plan for her.

Niss’ weight is down 2.5kg since the start of COVID restrictions.

Yes, the weekly meals with friends will probably come back post-COVID

As they should! Progress is not about forcing an eternal ban of eating out. That’s not where it’s at. Most of us don’t want to march through life eating and behaving like a robot that runs on steamed broccoli. 

Regardless, I am 100% that the awareness and results that Niss has gained from these forced changes will positively carry over into her post-COVID life. 

She was able to make a good out of a negative by using a forced socialess time to increase her awareness on what was holding back her results. She took something that was out of her control and molded it to her benefit. 

And it will help her immensely in the future in maintaining her goal weight.

It’s not sexy, but little changes compound over time

Walk daily. Cook most of your meals at home. Pay close attention to your eating habits when out and about. And if you’re a high roller who hates cooking with the intensity of hundred high-wired lawnmowers, hire someone to do the cooking for you.

Stick with those habits 90% of the time, add in some strength training two to three times a week and that might just cover most of your fat loss needs.

Definitely not the sexiest fat loss advice out there. In fact it’s probably as exciting as watching two turtles compete in a marathon. In the dark.

Small changes require dedication and a certain level of hard headedness as the change won’t happen overnight, or in a month. But just like compounding investing, it’ll add up in the long run. You’re more likely to keep all that you reap.

And since you’ll end up carrying less weight, the back and joints will feel better too.

“Always Do This. Never Do That.”

“Always Do This. Never Do That.”

“Why let one bad apple spoil the whole damn bunch?”
Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

The internet has made all of us experts on everything. Be it coronavirus, gluten (“bread makers are puppets of the big pharma!”) or the geopolitical situation of the South China Sea.

I know how how to manage my own money. I’ve even read a book or two on personal finance. I know how to spell Warren Buffett. But that doesn’t make me a financial adviser.

Just because we have the access to information layered with our own personal experiences doesn’t make us experts.

I recently read through a long and frustrating thread in a Facebook group for hikers. Someone was asking for advice on what to do with relentless back pain that’s stopping him from hiking.

The typical answers recommended yoga for flexibility or adding specific exercises to improve core strength. There were also a few that recommended getting a massage and at least one who was adamant about not seeing a chiropractor. As in, you might as well drink cyanide. Apparently his back had been forever messed up by a chiro in the past.

These are well meaning people trying to help a fellow hiker. I get it. But reading these black and white replies is a warning exercise for anyone to not rely on advice from people who lack the expertise to give it.

Whenever the answer to something complicated like back pain is an absolute “do this, not that”, without any context whatsoever, it’s clear that the answer is based on purely personal experience.

Something worked, or didn’t work for the advice giver, or someone they know. It reminds me of how Peter Griffin was against getting a second hand car because his friend once bought one and, “Bam! 10 years later, herpes.”

Yes, some chiropractors might make your back (and wallet) worse

There are chiropractors who will sell you into seeing them twice a week for months because your “spine needs adjusting”. Whatever that means. But this doesn’t validate a blanket statement that all the chiropractors will ruin your back.

This goes for any other profession.* There are bad trainers, doctors, physiotherapists, osteopaths, dietitians, car mechanics, lawyers, fridge repairers… you name it.

Yet, just because we bite into a one bad apple doesn’t mean that the whole bunch is rotten. We just happened to choose a bad apple.

And yes, yoga might work.

But it might also make it worse. For someone whose back pain is caused by hypermobility through the trunk and hips yoga might not be the best solution.

This doesn’t mean that all the variations of yoga are bad. But certain types of yoga might not be the right for them, at this moment.

It’s tempting to believe in a straightforward solution.

We’re drawn to find simple answers. It’s comforting. Be it right or not. And we’re drawn to give simple answers because, whether we do it consciously or not, it makes us feel like we know what we’re talking about.

But the real world is more complicated. Especially with back pain where the real answer is often “well, it depends…”

Ironically, the (internet) answer to this man’s back pain problem was black on white

Towards the end of the threat, as I was just about to give up hope on humanity’s common sense and smash a hammer through my laptop screen before booking a ticket to Tibet to become a monk, there was a sign of hope. A signal leading to a relieving sigh. Words of wisdom from someone who was willing to admit they didn’t know.

“You should probably go get a professional opinion.”

Now, if we could only delete all the other well-meaning, but misleading comments.

*We make an exemption for homeopathy here. This profession has no science backing them up. Zero validity. Save your money. Buy ice cream instead. It’ll probably make you feel better.

Although, ice cream might not be good for some…

Maybe The Flexibility Exercises Are Not Working Because…Stress

Maybe The Flexibility Exercises Are Not Working Because…Stress

“I know the pieces fit ’cause I watched them fall away.”
Photo by Hans-Peter Gauster on Unsplash

Ever feel like no matter how much flexibility or mobility work you do you’re just not getting any “looser”. The tension and pain in the body restricts you from doing certain things. Like, when walking around town you feel like a cowboy who just shat their pants and now tries to act cool like it didn’t happen. Well, it did happen. And it doesn’t look cool.

Maybe it’s not the flexibility exercises that are wrong, or that you’re not doing them enough. If you’ve done your best to eliminate the activities that make you tight (hello sitting hunched over a laptop) it’s worth observing your mind.

Hello mind. Remember me?

Enter stress. Not only can poorly managed psychological stress keep your muscles stiff, but it can also trigger and increase pain. As this study states about low back pain, “Having either stress or depression was also significantly associated with greater risk of flare-ups.”

When working with clients I see this highlighted most often in people dealing with the long-term annoyance of low back pain, frozen shoulder or neck pain. It’s not uncommon for them to have a flare up whenever they’re going through a stressful period in their life.

And regardless of what we do sometimes there is only little improvement with pain and tension until the stress subsides.

If you’re dealing with persistent pain get diagnosed by an allied health professional first.

That’s your physio, chiro or osteo. I hate to be all doom and gloom, but you want to make sure the pain isn’t there because of something more sinister.

Besides, once cleared and diagnosed you’ve removed the added stress of worrying about the unknown.

Combine stress management with your training plan

Different tools for different minds. There is no a universal solution for each person. But here are few that I’ve found people having the most success with when managing stress.

  • Prioritise sleep. I know I said there are no universal solutions. But poor sleep is a major piece in why people feel like rusty cowboys. Which makes sleep a universal solution.
  • Daily meditation or mindful breathing. Could be one minute, could be ten. Here’s my favourite no-nonsense meditation app.
  • Daily walks outside. If possible, somewhere away from traffic, concrete and excessive noise. So ideally avoid walking on a busy road that circles a highrise housing a kindergarten. Even short walks make a difference.
  • Laugh often. A short daily clip from Ricky Gervais should be prescribed as medicine.

Yes, working on flexibility is important

And we should keep at it. But sometimes we need to look beyond of what’s going on with our bodies. If we’re doing mobility exercises over and over again without seeing any change it’s worth checking what’s going in that mind of ours.

How to Fix Back Pain

How to Fix Back Pain

Chains. Heavy. Also, this could be an entrance to Batman’s wine cellar. Keeping that sneaky Robin from drinking all the Merlot.

I am no stranger to back pain. There are more than few clients I see that have either had or a still dealing with the bane of back pain. And I’ve had my fair share of back issues in the past.

There is just something wrong about the evolution of the human animal. Wait, maybe it’s that the human animal hasn’t kept up with the fast-paced evolution of the world around it. The world raced from active manual labor (not that heavy manual labour was making great backs either) to days of prolonged sitting.

Alas, instead of cursing the world for what it has become and done to our lumbar spine and transverse processes, let’s instead see what you can do to feel better.

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