Ever since embarking on my new profession in fitness (and even before that) I would often get questions from friends, family, and colleagues about how I took hold of my health - and more specifically in my case, how I ended up losing a lot of weight and gaining strength, particularly while working in roles at Amazon. Given its the new year and many are choosing to embark on their own health journeys, I thought it would be helpful to share a few tips and insights taken from my own framework in the hopes it provides others with food for thought as you think through your own paths.
Let me preface this with a couple thoughts:
There is no “one right way” to do things - as I embarked on my own journey, I took inspiration and feedback from many minds and organizations in order to develop the framework that ultimately worked best for me. My hope is sharing my own thinking can you help do the same.
Goals come in all shapes and sizes - in fitness, I work with all types - people who want to lose 10 pounds, people who want to lose 100, people who have never trained and want to gain mass, people who just want to get healthier and have no idea where to start, and ex-college athletes who are looking to get back into it. In some way shape or form, the framework for achieving your goals comes down to the same principles; the actual practice and activities will differ depending on your specific targets.
With that said, here are three tips I’ll share as you start to evaluate your new health habits in 2020:
#1 Choose Your Path and BE CONSISTENT.
Far and away, this is the most important advice I can give to anyone. I’ve encountered many people who neglect to prioritize the daily activities that help them make progress towards their goals. With exercise, I always tell my clients it’s important to identify a schedule that will work for you. Then, prioritize it. PROTECT it. This is hard, yes, but 100% necessary. Here’s the deal - as I was going through my own transformation, I still had to travel around the world. I still had senior leadership docs to write. I still had early morning and evening meetings to attend. But I also picked my times to go the gym 3-4x per week and ruthlessly prioritized it. Here’s a few common blockers I hear:
“I have late evening calls or early morning meetings”- if it’s one or the other, i.e. early morning meetings, see if you can leave earlier to fit in a workout. If you have both, try lunchtime. Whatever it is, find what works and stick to it. I guarantee taking 30-60 mins during your day will not cripple your career. In fact, I would argue prioritizing it is vital to increasing the energy to put into your career and ensuring your own longevity.
“I had a really bad day” or “I’m really stressed” - I get it. We all have them. Maybe you don’t have the energy to give 100% to your workout, but how about you move your body for 20 mins instead- maybe go for a light run or do a quick bodyweight circuit. I think you’ll feel better after and you’re still prioritizing your self-care.
“I’m going to happy hour” - There’s always a trade-off. It's tough to say no to fun. If it’s too hard to say no, make sure you can fit a workout in the next day in your schedule. Otherwise, saying no to one workout is often a domino effect to multiple workouts, and before you know it, a week or more has gone by and it feels like a restart when you get going again.
This dovetails into #2.
#2 Pick Sustainable Habits.
This is absolutely critical. Here’s a couple examples of misjudgments I see people make which I provide coaching on frequently:
John Doe comes to the gym motivated as ever and says “I’m going to come every day at 6am.” Let’s be clear, I LOVE seeing people motivated, but I also want to make sure they keep that motivation for months and years and not just a few weeks. A couple questions I would ask here: 1) are you a morning person? As in, do you wake up early every day, do you like the morning, do you feel good in the morning? If the answer is no, pick a different time. I am not saying someone CAN’T turn into a morning person if they really try, but more times than not, I see that person stay motivated for a couple weeks and then lose it because they get tired; their bodies just aren’t used to waking up early plus the added stress you’re putting on it through exercise. 2) how often are you exercising now? If the answer is very little, I recommend experimenting first and testing your body’s response. Oftentimes, training 5 days a week for someone who is deconditioned and/or new to exercise leads to overtraining - you’ll be tired, grumpy, and your body won’t feel good. It’s important you allow for an acclimatization period where you can start small (maybe 2-3x per week), allowing adequate recovery for your body between sessions and building from there. This doesn’t mean be inactive on your days “off” - by all means, please walk or do a low impact workout or just stretch and self-myofascial release (foam rolling) to provide some active recovery. Just don’t push yourself too hard too quickly.
Jane Doe really wants to lose 30 pounds and says "I'm completely changing my diet" (maybe it’s Keto, maybe it’s intermittent fasting). If weight loss is your goal, nutrition is king. You cannot out-exercise a poor diet. This makes it critically important you pick habits you will be able to maintain over a long period of time. Nine times out of 10, completely overhauling your diet may work short term, but you will fall back into old habits - and this makes sense, it’s hard to stick with a completely new diet on top of the stress of work, home, and everything else. When I coach nutrition, I always start small - #1. Track your food. It’s important to understand what you are putting in your body. Losing weight is all about creating a caloric deficit. The science is easy to understand. The practice of creating and keeping a caloric deficit is hard work. #2. Evaluate your intake and find small changes that are easy to make. Here’s an example: when I started tracking my food, I quickly found something I could do - I realized I drank a latte every morning as my coffee drink of choice (~150 calories). So, I subbed my latte for either drip coffee, an americano, or cold brew (all of which are <20 calories). Small changes add up to be significant; don’t underestimate them.
#3 Prioritize SLEEP.
Consistency and sustainable habits are hard, but getting adequate sleep every night I found was REALLY HARD. Here’s the deal- your body needs adequate time to recover, especially as you introduce stress it’s not used to (e.g. exercise.) The science is clear on this topic - without adequate sleep (7-8 hours a night), the habits you instill to lose weight will not be as effective. I read a lot on this topic as I was going through my own journey and I had to experiment with different things. Many experts discuss putting down your phone or laptop by 8pm and not looking at it until the morning. The reality was while working at Amazon this was not always possible - you often have to stay “plugged in.” So, with that said, here some things I tried which helped me:
Stop watching TV, Netflix, Prime Video, etc. right before sleep. I found watching something right before sleeping negatively affected my quality of sleep. Instead, I picked up a book - my recommendation is to pick a book that’s not super stimulating (just interesting enough) so that after 10-15 mins reading, your body will naturally start to get tired and drift off.
Organize your next day in advance - I blocked off 30 minutes before I left the office each day to plan and organize my next day - what are the big ticket items I need to get done, what does my schedule look like and do I have enough time to power through the things I need. Mentally organize and get ready - know what time you need to come in the next day and have your top items ready to work on so you can hit the ground running when you get in. This helps take some mental load/strain/anxiety off you when you get home because you feel ready for tomorrow.
Try to pick a time each night where you do a final check of your email and “sign off” - this isn’t going to be perfect every night, sometimes you have a fire drill or are expecting an urgent mail from someone. It is what it is, but do your best. Personally, I would aim to do this at 9:30 every night - I would check my phone one last time, flag any mails, reply to any urgent ones, and then set it down before I read my book and went to sleep.
In summary, I hope you find a few nuggets in here that are helpful to you. I wish everyone who is working to improve their health in 2020 the absolute best. Know that I understand the experience and the trade-offs, but I guarantee if you stay consistent, you will achieve what you are setting out to.
Last thing- I always recommend people find some support- look for like-minded friends or colleagues who will help keep you on track, be open with your family about your goals so they can be your cheerleader, find a coach- maybe a nutrition expert, health coach, or personal trainer who can help you, a strong local gym community, or even try an online service like Noom. Everyone is different but find what’s going to work for you. Know that significant health change is only made over a long period of time. Set yourself up well to make progress every day. Good luck!