Discover 4 Ways You Can Easily Improve Your Health With These Proven StepsOct 14, 2023
Why is it that some women look and feel great all the time - seemingly effortlessly - without over obsessing about workouts or over restricting their food?
Do you know someone like this? Do you want to be someone like this? In this episode, you’ll learn 4 easy ways to become someone like this - if you’re not already.
In this episode you’ll learn:
when to eat so as to avoid getting too hungry (and therefore devouring the whole box of crackers)
the most common mistakes I see women making with their workouts
the easiest diet approach that relieves your brain from worrying about how many carbs you get to eat, or how much protein you need
how improving your body composition is the biggest bang for your buck
Regardless of your age, you can create the body you need to keep up with the life you love.
I believe every woman is capable of becoming stronger, leaner, having more energy, and living out the rest of your life without a chronic disease. It’s just a matter of the right strategy, paired with consistency, paired with some patience.
I’ve been in business for a long time. I started my professional career as a dance aerobics instructor at Penn State while I was studying Exercise Physiology and Nutrition. I learned from the best about strength training, cardiovascular health and conditioning, and ton about nutrition. And even with that incredible education - which was essential - I’ve learned so much more since being in the field, applying various techniques to my clients, and witnessing what works best. I’m proud of my education, I didn’t get good until I had worked with women, in person, for at least 15 years. My now 30 years of experience has illuminated some revolutionary things that I know will help you…if you apply them. The 4 things you’re going to learn in a minute are powerful. If you’ll act on these, give it some time and stay consistent, you’ll feel better now, and be healthier tomorrow.
1. Eat before you're hungry...but no sooner than 2 hours after a meal.
One of the first things I clear up with my clients is when they are eating. Now, you might have been led to believe that you should eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full. While I kind of agree that you should stop when you’re full, I totally disagree that you should wait until you’re hungry to eat. If you struggle with hunger or cravings derailing your intentions, or feel like your energy swings up and down during the day, this one is extra important for you.
Hunger is a sign that your blood sugar is getting too low. Now, some people call this hypoglycemia, and colloquially it has come to mean that your blood glucose, i.e. blood sugar, is bottoming out. Irrespective of the medical definition, hunger IS a sign that your blood glucose is too low. This is your body’s way of saying, “hey, our vital organs are not getting what we need to fully function!” In particular, your brain - the master organ - must have its juice at all times in order to keep up with all of the tasks needed to keep you alert, alive, and functioning fully. In the notes below, I’ve added a link to an article from the Endocrine Society so you can educate yourself, and see that this is just medical fact. Click here to check out the article.
Keeping your blood glucose levels as stable as possible is a powerful key to your optimal health. It’s also key for having good energy all day long, and burning more fat, even while you sleep. Because of this, I teach my clients to eat according to the clock - not their hunger or appetite. You want to eat before you get hungry! This reduces the chance that you’ll eat more than you need, and it keeps your blood glucose, blood sugar levels more stable. More on this during a later episode, because what you eat matters too. The best way to eat so that your blood sugar level stays relatively level is to pair protein with carbs at each eating.
If you wait until you’re hungry to eat, your blood sugar levels have already dropped enough to signal you that your body needs fuel - namely carbs. And if you wait too long to eat and if you eat until you’re full, you will have eaten more calories or volume than you actually need. The only way around this is if your meals are perfectly balanced and feature lean protein and tons of vegetables. If that’s you, you can almost eat as much as you want. It’s important to eat a balanced meal that has sufficient calories for your goals, and then wait at least 2 hours before your next meal or snack. During the 2 hours after a meal, your body is digesting and learning to regulate blood sugar after the meal, and you want your body to go through that process first, before eating again. I’m not a proponent of the “graze all day” approach, but I get the best results in my clients when you eat a well-constructed meal, with balanced macronutrients, every 3 to 4 hours - going 4 ½ hours at the most. Try it out! Note the time of your next meal, and then see how you feel 5 hours later. I’ll bet my 30 year career on the fact that you’re ravenous at that 5 hour mark. If you want to stay consistent with your diet, and avoid having to rely on willpower, eat before you’re actually hungry!
2. Follow a strength training plan, and stick with it consistently for 12-16 weeks.
You may have heard the term “muscle confusion”. And without getting into that too much, it simply means that in order to keep your body improving, you have to keep it guessing what’s coming next. The idea is that you mix up your workouts each week and do different things or kinds of workouts. I find that life throws enough curve balls at your workout plan that you don’t need to intentionally mix things up all the time. Also, the idea of “intuitive workouts” applies here too - where you base today’s workout on what you feel like. If you’ve been using either of these approaches, I’ll bet you don’t look or feel as fit as you’d like. That’s because your body needs enough consistency to adapt.
I want to get a bit more specific in case you’re new around here. The term “workout” can mean many things depending on your perspective and preferences. While I use the term “workout” to mean any kind of physical activity - anything from a bootcamp or spin class, to yoga, to running, or lifting weights - I’m usually heading in the direction of talking about strength training workouts. This is because I believe - and teach - that no other “workout” is as important as strength training. If you want the most bang for your workout buck, prioritize your strength workouts as they will change your body the most.
Consistent strength training hold the most power to improve your body, not only because it builds muscle, but because strength training provides so many other benefits like improved insulin sensitivity (meaning you’ll manage the carbs you eat better), improved bone density, joint protection and prevention of injuries, strength training improves your mood and energy, and reduces your risk of numerous chronic diseases. I’ve included a link to one of my favorite articles by one of the most respected experts in my field, Dr Wayne Westcott. He has no idea, but we’re besties - I agree with literally everything he says, we are SO on the same page. Everything he publishes is gold. You can click that link here.
In order for strength training to be so powerful, it’s important to allow for true progressive overload. This means that you’ve got to ensure that you’re challenging your body each week beyond its current ability. The only way to spark improvements in your strength, muscle mass, or even fitness level in general, is by strategically pushing your edge so that your body is forced to adapt. I find it easiest to use an example: Let’s say you strength train 3 times each week and one of your exercises is the Leg Press (it’s one of my favs, so let’s use it). And let’s say that you complete 3 sets of 10 reps at 100 pounds once each week. The only way you’ll get stronger is if you force yourself to use incrementally harder work loads over time. This could mean that you use 110 pounds next week, or do 12 reps, or do more sets, etc. The idea here is that you have to do next week. The only way to truly know if you’re pushing yourself into new territory is by following a strength plan, consistently, and following it, week after week for 12-16 weeks or so. Conversely, if you’re always doing different workouts each and don’t have a reference point for moves or exercises, you’ll never know if you’re actually challenging yourself enough. Sure, you could show up for workouts and just “push yourself” hard each week, but that’s a sloppy science because the quality of your workout is affected by so many things like energy, mood, fuel, recovery, sleep, hormones, etc. It’s not effective to just wing it when you’re a woman. You’ve got to have a plan, follow it, stick with it, and stay consistent. It might feel boring, or redundant sometimes, but the only way to know you’re actually challenging yourself is by staying conscious of the week to week incremental measurements of progress, rather than bouncing around to different workouts or classes when you feel like it.
3. Choose the foods you eat so as to balance your macronutrients each day.
These days you hear “eat more protein” or “healthy fats are a miracle food” and might be inclined to eat according to an idea that some foods are “good” and some foods are “bad”. Maybe you think whole grain steel cut oats are fabulous because of the slow complex carbs that are high in fiber, so you add the superfood wild blueberries to it for breakfast, and think you’ve won. Making your food choices based on “this is good” is a bit shortsighted. On October 2 I did an episode on the 5 Protein Mistakes You Might Be Making and offered you calculations for protein intake so that you get the right amount each day. I wanted to show you how to use the numbers to get super specific if you’re in a phase of building muscle or like being super detail oriented. But there’s actually an easier way to get your protein right - and get your carbs and fat in alignment too. Rather than making your food choices based on an idea of good and bad, you’ll feel better, and get better results if you focus on getting a strategic amount of protein, fat, and carbs each day.
All three macronutrients (carbs, protein, and fat) are equally important. Protein is not better, and carbs are not worse. You need all three for the “minimum effective dose” of each macronutrient. You need protein for structure repair, you need carbs for energy, brain power, and performance, and you need fats for hormone production and for the absorption of certain vitamins. Eating a strategic combination of each ensures you cover your bases, and it helps for keeping blood sugar stable. Why eat more fat than you need? Why eat fewer carbs than what your body needs? Doesn’t it make sense to enjoy all the foods, in combination, so that you get the best of each? If you listened to the episode on protein mistakes, you might be inclined to sit down and calculate how much protein you need. And you can certainly do that! But, you’ll achieve roughly the same amount by following my approach to macros and aim for a 50/25/25 breakdown. They work out to be about the same, unless you’re eating a ton of calories each day. Keep in mind, if you’re struggling with consistent energy during the day, I’ve found that it’s because of 1 or 2 reasons (diet-wise, that is - there are a million reasons for fatigue): Those two reasons are: 1) you’re macros are out of balance and you’re carbs are out of bounds and 2) you’re not eating enough. Now, if your goal right now is to achieve a lower number on the scale, calories do matter. There are some expert voices out there these days who espouse the idea that “calories in and calories out” doesn’t work if you’re a woman in midlife, and while the quality and kind of your calories is influential, a calorie deficit is always required for your body to release extra body fat. Calories in and calories out does work but you also have to look at what form those calories are taking. And, if you balance your macronutrients each day you’ll reduce the uncomfortable symptoms that come with weight loss.
4. Focus on improving your body composition by increasing lean muscle mass.
As I said before, I focus on strength training as the cornerstone to your fitness, and your overall health. It’s by far the most important activity you can do each week and should be prioritized over everything. When women come to me for coaching, most often they are either not strength training enough, doing it correctly, or they’re doing it but are subconsciously holding back because they don’t want to bulk up, or build more muscle than they want. Some women just don’t know how to do it properly so they create a smaller, tighter, or leaner body. If you feel like strength training isn’t doing much for you, I promise you’re not doing it correctly - or rather, you’re not doing it my way. If you’re top goal is to lose weight, you might be doing things each week that hinder your ability to build muscle like too much cardio, skipping food around workouts, cutting back on carbs. Even if your goal is to become smaller, building lean muscle mass is going to make the process easier, but also give you a much better outcome. I’m going to talk about a hot topic right now: have you been noticing the quality of weight loss that comes with the off label use of weight loss drugs? If you pay attention, or have a friend who lost weight quickly with weight loss drugs you’ll notice they look gaunt and deflated, maybe even saggy or unhealthy. They may have lost weight, but they don’t seem better. They just seem…smaller.
If you focus on improving your body composition, the outcome is higher quality in terms of appearance, health, and athleticism. Improved body composition should be the standard measure for health instead of BMI, which is useless. In the simplest terms, your body composition refers to how much of your current body weight is represented by muscle, fat, and bone. For ease of conversation, we just focus on your percentage of muscle vs your percentage of fat. Strength training - as compared to straight forward weight loss - helps increase your lean muscle mass, which then reduces your body fat if you do it right. You might even be the same weight, but if more of you is muscle and less of you is fat, you’ll be healthier. Full stop. It is a key indicator of your risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses. Even if you want to lose weight, focus on improving your lean muscle mass and body composition. You’ll look, feel, and be healthier than if you just lose weight, regardless of how much weight you need to lose.
I know that changing your body or health can feel daunting, and in some ways it is. But don’t let that stop you. Take it from me, life is much harder when you’re dealing with a physical illness or disease - and life is already hard enough. I’m committed to bringing you science backed ways to improve your health, I get that you might feel overwhelmed sometimes, and aren’t sure where to begin. Just take one thing from today’s episode and apply it to your life. Once that one thing becomes a habit, add another thing in. You don’t have to do it all today. Your progress will be a series of baby steps anyway.
What’s one thing you can improve today?
I hope you enjoyed this episode. I don’t want to leave you hanging...so if you want some guidance for effective strength training so you can feel good and age better...
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