𝕋𝕙𝕖 𝕊𝕖𝕔𝕣𝕖𝕥𝕤 𝕠𝕗 𝔻𝕚𝕖𝕥 𝕒𝕟𝕕 𝔼𝕩𝕖𝕣𝕔𝕚𝕤𝕖
“Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits.” –Mark Twain
What I am about to offer up to you is going to blow your mind. So much so that you will never be able to approach your health and fitness the same way again.
The year was 2007 and I had put on 40 pounds in 3 days. Yes, that is possible.
I was an inch away from going to the hospital so they could help me figure out what the heck was going on. I didn’t go.
I didn’t go because I remembered something one of my mentors had told me about the human body: it responds the opposite way of what you would think it would respond. At that point, he was only a mentor, not yet my Coach. If he had been my Coach at that point, I wouldn’t have found myself in the mess that I was in. I promptly hired him soon thereafter.
The weight eventually came off, or at least some of it did, over the next month or so. So, the obvious question is how did I allow that to happen to myself, a fitness expert?
Well, I was still competing in bodybuilding shows at the time. In fact, I had taken a few years’ off and was fully recharged and refreshed to head into another competition season.
I took things to the extreme as I tend to do; I dieted my butt off for 4 months, subsiding on 1600 calories day after day. I worked out for 3 hours per day: 45 minutes of ‘cardio’ in the morning before teaching all day, 90 minutes of weight training and bodybuilding in the early evening and finally another 45 minutes of cardio before going to bed and repeating the whole ordeal the next morning at 4:30 A.M.
Extreme discipline and will power were my way of operating in the world. I did get in phenomenal shape and even won one of the bodybuilding shows, but I had set myself up for a massive ‘shift’.
Allow me to explain.
Our bodies, your body, are like a pendulum. The more the pendulum swings one way, the more definite it is that it will swing back in the opposite direction, just as fast and just as furious in relation to the position you placed it in in the first place.
The body will nearly always respond and adapt nearly the opposite of what you have been led to believe. Don’t you worry, I have quite a few examples here to prove my point to you.
Metabolism, a bastardized word if there were ever one. Throw out all this junk about speeding up your metabolism by eating more frequently and doing hours upon hours of cardio. Your metabolism is what it is to a large degree and you can either make it more efficient or less-efficient. Yes, it will change slightly as you gain muscle, but not nearly as much as you have been told.
I am sure that you or someone you know has tried eating 6 small meals and doing 30 minutes of cardio per day, no matter what in an effort to speed up the metabolism so the said person could drop some fat. Normally, the eating of smaller meals throughout the day is really an attempt to eat fewer calories. Combine that with an abuse of slow, long distance, traditional cardio and you have created the perfect fat storing machine!
This is exactly what happened to me back in 2007.
Wait a minute, that doesn’t make sense, does it?
Certainly it does when you know how the human body works. First, if you eat less than your body needs on a daily basis, your metabolism will respond by becoming more efficient with the sparse calories that you are putting in. This means that it will begin to get more out of less energy (calories) by bringing certain bodily functions to a crawl such as your immune and reproductive systems. It also means that your body will become better at storing any spare calories in the form of body fat just in case this period of ‘starvation’ continues and it needs to draw upon those stored energy forms (body fat).
Combine that with chronic cardio; you know the kind, the one in which people go to the gym to turn into human hamsters, doing something that they despise and that they could very well do outside in the fresh air of nature. All because some trainer told them that there was this magical fat burning zone that they could reach by doing some slow, long distance cardio.
Your body responds by becoming more efficient at using those body fat stores. I know this sounds great on the surface but it’s not. If your car were more efficient at using gas, it would use less of it, not more of it. When it comes to body fat, you want less efficiency.
What you have just set up in the above scenario is the perfect fat storing machine. Combine that with a finite amount of will power and as soon as you go back to eating a ‘normal amount’ of food and stop with the silly cardio, you blow up like a swollen tick, much like I did back in ’07.
You thought that by doing ‘that’ (don’t worry, you are not alone), you would lose fat and keep it off and you would have the metabolism of a stud. But nope, your body responded the opposite of what you thought.
Still not convinced that the body adapts by doing the opposite?
How about this then; what have you been told about water retention? I am willing to say that you’ve been told to reduce water retention you must cut water intake and cut sodium. Sound right?
Before I go on, I can say that without a doubt, my experiences of competing in bodybuilding taught me more about the human body than any master’s class I ever took because that was real world experience and everything was highly measured; a true case study if there ever were one.
Sodium and water.
Water and sodium.
Water follows sodium in the body. Every single cell in the body has a sodium-potassium pump that tries like hell to maintain a certain ratio of sodium inside and outside of the cell. Let us break this down into two steps.
If you aren’t drinking enough or if you have a vacation let’s say and you decide that you want to drop some ‘water weight’ and you cut your water intake, you will retain more water. Hydration levels are critical for survival. As soon as the body recognizes that water levels are dropping below a certain point, it reduces a hormone (aldosterone) which will cause you to retain the water you are taking in just in case this ‘drought’ continues.
It was actually hilarious to watch the other bodybuilders buy into the dogma of cutting water for a week before the contest. Their energy would be terrible, their muscles would look flat and they weren’t able to get the ‘pump’ that was so crucial to presenting the body on stage that they had worked so hard to achieve, all because they had some coach that didn’t know how the human body really worked.
You see, our muscles are ~80% water. If you take the water away from them, they will flatten out like pancakes and for your experience, this means that the performance of your muscles will be terrible.
You understand that if we cut water, the body retains more water.
To make matters worse, most people are also told to cut sodium. Before moving on, you should be using a colored sea salt, not the regular iodized table salt that so many people think is ‘real salt’.
As soon as your brain registers that sodium levels are dipping, it sends the signal to retain what it has which means you will pee less of it out. Going back to what I stated a few paragraphs back, water follows sodium. You cut your sodium in the hopes of losing some water weight, your body retained more sodium and therefore held more water and you actually gained water weight.
Not exactly what you were hoping for. Yes, there is a lag time, some of the times (if that makes sense) but I have never seen it last more than two days and I have only seen the lag time with sodium and water when someone is trying to get their water retention under control the right way. They increase water and sodium and their body temporarily balloons up; this is because the body is restocking these vital nutrients and the water follows sodium. Once normalized, your urine and sweat production will go up and you will get to where you should be.
Again, the body does the opposite of what you were intending to do.
Yes, I know, you still have a hard time believing what I am telling you. How about a really simple example then?
You hit the weights to grow stronger and bigger muscles. However, do you know what actually happens when you train with weights? Do your muscles grow during the workout? No, they don’t. You actually break them down. Your muscles grow during the recovery period in the hours and days following the workout so they can respond to the stress appropriately the next time you impose that demand on the body.
All of these things come down to the nervous system and our stress response. The stress response follows 3 phases: alarm, resistance and exhaustion. In the case of weight training, you ‘alarm’ the muscular system and it responds by ‘resisting’ or growing bigger and stronger.
Finally, one more, and this may be the biggest one of all because if you begin to understand the human brain, you will be a master of your habits.
Everyone that I’ve come across in my years as a Coach wants to use the approach of intensity when it comes to making a bodily transformation: ‘6-weeks to lean’, ’30-day diet’, ’21-day fat loss program’ and the like. Yes, these are often good jumping off points for someone looking to make a change, but they are not sustainable.
When I put on seminars, I often ask the crowd 2 things when it comes to diet, ‘Who has dieted before?’ and all the hands go up. And the second thing, ‘Has it worked’, to which some hands go up.
At which point I bring up the obvious that it did not work if the fat/weight didn’t stay off. A change is temporary and a transformation is permanent, a HUGE difference when it comes to the brain.
In the graph that I’ve drawn for you above, you will see the word intensity written up the left side and time written underneath. This is known as a time-intensity curve. The approach that you have undoubtedly taken in the past is one in which you have gone very intense for a short period of time and then reverted back the norm or even become worse off. The brain cannot form habit that fast.
The correct approach is the more gradual one that makes one change at a time and continues to do so over a long period of time. Every single client that we’ve had that has made dramatic improvements to their body composition (>80-pound weight loss) has used the gradual approach.
It is human nature to want to make changes quickly. What you are doing when you do that is your setting yourself up for failure and programming the physical body to respond in the same extreme just on the other side (very fast fat loss will result in very fast fat gain on the flip side).
Information is rarely ever the problem when it comes to making a physical transformation and if it is a qualified Coach or quick Google search would provide the path. The problem usually is habits, either good or bad and how to form them. The brain literally cannot form habit around will power based approaches. Will power is ‘anti-habit’.
The brain can only form habit around things that it finds pleasurable to do.
I can go on forever with this stuff. If, however, you grasp the concept of how the body reacts like a pendulum, you will be able to take a smarter approach. We want to work with the body to respond (the animal brain reacts) and coax it along our path to transformation.