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Fitness

How to Touch Your Toes (The 4 Best Stretches to Improve Flexibility)

This won't be painful, I promise!

It’s time to learn how to touch your toes!

What makes me so confident you’ll be able to reach your little piggy wiggies?

Because we teach even the most “inflexible” of folks how to touch their toes in our 1-on-1 Online Coaching Program, and we’ll share with you all our secrets below.

Here’s what we’ll cover in our guide, How to Touch Your Toes:

It’s time to become bendy like Gumby! 

Don't worry, we're just getting started with appearances from Gumby.

Let’s get started.

The Benefits of Being Able to Touch Your Toes

I told you Gumby would be back.

If you want to increase your flexibility, you’re gonna need to stretch.[1] It’s how you make your muscles elastic and strong.

Why bother though? What’s the big deal about being able to touch your toes?

Here are some of the benefits provided by stretching:

  • Increase range of motion. If you can move a joint through its full range of motion, you’re gonna have more freedom of movement. Confidently navigating the physical world is a sign of a healthy nerd, which is why flexibility shouldn’t be overlooked. One of the best ways to become more flexible is to stretch.[2] 
  • Improve posture. If you want to stop slouching so much, regularly stretching may help.[3] Stretching works to improve muscle imbalances, which in turn might help your posture.
  • Alleviate back pain. If you suffer from back pain, it might be worth starting a stretching routine .[4] The muscles in your back might be tight, restricting your range of motion, which causes pain. Stretching can help loosen up the area, plus strengthen the muscle. This might help prevent future injury. 

Stretching, and the flexibility that comes with it, should not be overlooked when building a workout routine

While there are many indicators of good flexibility, one of the most popular is undoubtedly being able to touch your toes.

Don't worry buddy, we'll teach you exactly how to reach your feet!

Afterall, it was so important the President had all American school children perform the “Sit and Reach” test to see if they could grab their feet.[5]

Touching your toes might have been a struggle for you then. It might still be a struggle for you now.

What’s going on?

Why Can’t I Touch My Toes?

Do otters have toes? Claws?

If you are unable to touch your toes, it’s most likely because of one of these four major reasons:

1) Shortened/tight posterior chain muscles. Although most people think not being able to touch our toes just means your hamstring muscles are inflexible, in reality our whole system (including the lower back) can play a huge role as well! As Mark Rippetoe explains in this video about the Romanian deadlift, what you may think is a lower back issue is also a hamstring issue (and vice versa):

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You see, the posterior chain is an interconnected series of muscles that includes our back muscles, erector spinae (muscles along our spine), lower back muscles, butts, and hamstrings:

As you can see, much of our body is dependent on the posterior chain muscles.

Weak mobility points in one place in the system can become debilitating (and often easy to spot) when we do compound movements like the deadlift.

If you’re somebody who sits at a desk all day and struggles to touch your toes, you probably aren’t strengthening or lengthening these muscles because the chair is doing all of the work for you.

2) You have relatively long legs compared to your torso and arms. People with long legs and short torsos will have a greater challenge than people who have short legs and long torsos and arms.

Yeah, having long legs might make reaching your toes more difficult.

But fear not, you too can level up and get those toes touched.

3) You have too much body fat. If you are overweight and happen to have a big stomach, it can certainly make touching one’s toes more challenging. Because you already know that diet is 90% of the battle when it comes to weight loss, focus on nutrition to begin losing weight (here are the 5 rules of weight loss to help you begin). This may be a factor in making it easier to touch your toes.

4) You’re not warmed up yet. If you JUST woke up or spent all day in a car, you’re familiar with the rigidity that makes you feel like a steel girder. Your muscles act like rubber bands; the more they are used, the more they are warmed-up, and the further they can stretch. This is why we encourage people to go through a mobility warm-up before exercise!

Arm circles like so are a great way to get your heart rate up before doing HIIT.

Let’s put a plan in place to finally touch our toes!

Determining Your Initial Flexibility (We All Start Somewhere)

While we are going to go over many stretches, feel free to make your own!

Before we can implement a strategy to develop more flexibility that allows you to touch your toes, we need to know your starting point.

As Peter Drucker said, “That which gets measured gets managed.” Or in this case, that which gets measured gets more flexible! 

The following comes from our free 5-Day Flexibility Series, which you can sign up for today!

THE “CAN YOU TOUCH YOUR TOES?” TEST

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  1. Stand straight with your legs about hip width apart. You want your legs to be straight, but don’t aggressively lock out your knees either (this feels like a “microbend” to a lot of people).
  2. Begin by bending and leaning forward towards the ground with your quads (front of your legs).
  3. Let your body rest naturally, as if you were a ragdoll. Keeping your hands relatively close together, straighten your fingers and begin to stretch down slowly to the ground.
  4. Do this 2-3 times to get warmed up. Try to keep your legs straight by flexing or activating your quads; keep your legs straight, without locking your knees.
  5. Other than the microbend, don’t bend your knees to help you get closer to the ground! I’m watching you. If you’re videotaping yourself on these to track your progress, note that depending on your body (and your hamstrings) your legs may not look 100% straight.

When you are ready, reach towards the ground and hold it for a few seconds. Measure the distance in one of the following ways:

  • If you aren’t touching the ground, have a friend measure the distance from your tip of your fingers to the ground. If you don’t have a friend with you, place your hands on your legs and note where the tips of your fingers end up.
  • If you can touch the ground, you’ll want to flatten your hands as much as possible, and record the distance from the top of your head to the ground. As you can stretch further, the top of your head will actually get closer and closer to the ground.
  • If this seems easy, try hugging your calves and pulling your head in towards your body.

Record your measurement in a document or on a piece of paper (if you’re part of the flexibility challenge, we have a document you can print out), and/or save the photo/video to show how far down you are reaching.

The 4 Best Stretches to Touch Your Toes (Improve Your flexibility)

Of course we were going to include this photo.

There are two key factors that will determine whether or not you are successful in gaining the ability to touch your toes as you practice over the next few weeks:

  1. Actively stretching your muscles JUST past the point of comfort. Like strength training by adding 1 rep or a few pounds to an exercise, we want to stretch just beyond the point where we stretched last time so our muscles have to elongate.
  2. Consistent practice and effort! You can’t improve your flexibility by stretching for 5 minutes once a month. You’d be better off stretching for 30 seconds spread out 10 times throughout the month.

That’s right. Studies confirmed that actively focusing on touching your toes for 30 seconds, 3 times per week was enough to lengthen hamstring muscles in 4 weeks. [6]

I‘m sure there’s an inappropriate joke to be made here about 30 seconds of effort, but I’m better than that (I think).

In less time than it takes to update your Facebook status, you could be touching your toes and make Gumby proud.

Is there anything Gumby can't do?

And I know you have time.

HOW TO TOUCH YOUR TOES (CONSISTENT FLEXIBILITY PRACTICE):

All I’m asking for is 2 minutes. 2 minutes! You can even spread these movements out throughout your day – I like to do them after I work out. After a long day at a desk, after driving, or upon waking up are all good times to work on flexibility!

Through each of the movements below, make sure you are breathing slowly and steadily.

You can follow along with all of the movements below that come from our really fun online course, Nerd Fitness Yoga. It’s essentially Yoga for people that don’t do yoga.

THE 4 BEST STRETCHES TO TOUCH YOUR TOES:

  1. Standing toe touch stretch – 30 seconds
  2. Cat/Camel – 30 seconds (switch positions every 5 seconds)
  3. Star stretch – 30 seconds (as many slow reps as you can)
  4. Moon the sky – 30 seconds (as many slow reps as you can)

1) Standing toe touch stretch: Flex/activate the front of your legs, keep them straight, and bend over at the waist juuuust past the point of discomfort; hold that position for 30 seconds. Repeat this process every other day and hold it for 30 seconds.

Don't push it, but let yourself ragdoll down.

2) We can loosen up a tight lower back by doing 30 seconds of moving back and forth every few seconds by doing a “cat” and then a “cow”:

These yoga poses are a great way to help exercise your back.

3) You can also do what we call a star stretch to help stretch those legs out! Stand with your legs spread wide, and arms extended (hence the term Star!), and then reach down with one hand to your opposite leg; hold for five seconds, back to start, and repeat with the other leg.

The Star Stretch is a great practice to touch your toes.

4) Here’s another favorite movement of mine that helps improve my flexibility and mobility: the “Moon the Sky” stretch!

This stretch is a great way to increase flexibility so you can touch your toes!

This is a great stretch to mix into your pre-workout warmup to get your legs, butt, and back prepared for work:

  • Squat down and put your hands under your feet
  • Slowly move your butt up with your hands remaining under your feet.
  • Raise your butt and try to straighten your legs
  • Go a TEENY bit higher each time until you can fully straighten your legs!

For any of the above moves, a good way to check your form would be to record a video of yourself and match it against the videos and gifs here. If they look close, you’re doing great!

If you want to have an expert review your stretches, our coaches can do just that in our snazzy app!

How to Become More Flexible (Next Steps)

This would be an advanced way to touch your toes.

It’s now time to train to touch your toes!

Test your toe-touching abilities before and after doing the 2-minutes of exercise above, and I bet you’ll notice a difference right away – just wait to see what you can accomplish in a few weeks!

The cool thing about flexibility is that any combination of the stretches above will help you improve your flexibility as long as you consistently work on it a tiny bit every day.

I do mobility work: 

  • When I wake up
  • After I work out
  • Throughout my day (when working at my desk)
  • At the end of my day for a minute or two before bed

All added up, it’s less than 5 minutes of time, but it’s enough to show me some results!

I feel like this is cheating.

If you follow our guide above, you’ll be well on your way to increasing your flexibility and touching your toesie wosies.

You just need to start!

Want some help getting going? A little extra push out the door? 

We built three perfect next steps for increasing your flexibility!

#1) Work with a professional Yoda! If you want confidence that you’re following a program that is tailor-made for your busy life, situation, and goals, check out our popular 1-on-1 Coaching Program.

Many of our clients have “increased flexibility” as one of their fitness goals, and they take comfort knowing a certified NF instructor is guiding them there. 

#2) Check out Nerd Fitness Yoga! A yoga program for people who don’t do yoga! Become more flexible in our series that will take you from complete noob to yogi master.

#3) Join our amazing free community, the Nerd Fitness Rebellion! Not only is it free to join, but we’ll provide you with loads of free goodies when you sign-up:

Get your Nerd Fitness Starter Kit

  • The 15 mistakes you don’t want to make.
  • Full guide to the most effective diet and why it works.
  • Complete and track your first workout today, no gym required.

That should just about do it for our guide on How to Touch Your Toes.

Now, your turn:

Can you touch your toes?

Does attempting to “sit and reach” bring back horrors from grade school?

Any other tips or tricks for mobility training?

Let us know in the comments!

-Steve

PS: Make sure you check out the rest of our Mobility Training series:

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GIF credit: banana, Danny Devito, gumby, patrick.

Photo credit: toe touch, posterior chain, roar, yoga sunset, the adventures of Gumby and R2D2, Storm troopers and Gumby

Categories
Fitness

Are Acai Bowls Healthy? (Discovering the Truth of Acai Berries)

Let's

It’s time to get the lowdown on acai bowls.

Are they healthy?

Should you be eating this “superfood” for weight loss?

Or do Americans eat acai with so much sugar that it overrides the benefits of this antioxidant-rich fruit…

We’ve had lots of questions about acai from our 1-on-1 coaching clients, so we decided to explore this “superfood” extensively and share our research below! 

Here’s what we’ll cover to answer the question, “Are acai bowls healthy?”

Let’s do this thang!

What is an Acai Berry?

http://www.nerdfitness.com/

The acai berry is a small purple fruit found on the acai palm.

They come from Brazil and other northern regions of South America.

  • 80% of the berry is actually the seed, which for the most part people don’t eat.
  • This leaves only about 20% for the flesh and skin of the berry, the stuff folks generally do eat.

People will often eat acai in a bowl that will look like this:

Yep, you can all sorts of fruit into acai, which we'll discuss in a moment.

Why should you care about acai?

Generally, the answer lies in the word “antioxidants”.

I know, “Why the hell do I care about antioxidants?”

Great question.

Antioxidants are substances that fight a process called oxidation.

When your body interacts with too much sunlight, toxins in smoke, air pollution, alcohol, and other challenges, it can create “free radicals,” AKA molecules with an unpaired electron.

When electrons lose their host, all sorts of health problems can start.

And these molecules? They are single and ready to mingle. So when they collide with an electron that’s already paired, they more or less steal it.

Rude.

This molecule then has to steal another electron, and the process continues. You can see how this could get out of hand. While some free radicals are normal, too many in our bodies can indeed lead to cancer.[1]

Note that “Free Radicals” are different from “the New Radicals,” a one-hit wonder:

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Which brings me back to antioxidants.

Depending on the particular molecule, antioxidants either provide the free radical with an extra electron, or break it down altogether.

The point: antioxidants neutralize free radicals, making them harmless.

That’s why antioxidants are important.

In our quest to get to the bottom of the hype on acai, antioxidants will prove critical. But I want to address an even more important point before we get there.

How Do You Pronounce “Acai”?

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We need to talk about how you actually pronounce “acai.” I’ve seen it make all sorts of people tongue tied.

And you want to sound important and all-knowing at your next cocktail party, right?

It’s “ah-sigh-ee.” Like this:

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Often times, when exotic fruit is brought to the West, it’s name is changed so it’s easier to pronounce.

Storytime: This happened with the fruit “kiwi,” actually called “Yang-tao” in China. But marketers banked on “kiwi” being easier to say than Yang-tao, pronounced “yahng tou” in English. So they named it after the famous kiwi bird from New Zealand.

Come on, how cute is this little kiwi.

And boom, that’s why you know kiwi fruit as “kiwis.”

Such a name swap didn’t happen with acai.

Acai has kept its original Brazilian name, which is why us English speakers trip up pronouncing it.[2]

Which is a logical segue to our next section.

Why Are Acai Bowls So Popular? (The History of Acai)

Where did acai like this come from? It's time to learn more!

The credit of the acai berry being popular outside of Brazil can be attributed to Ryan and Jeremy Black, two brothers from Southern California.

Together with their friend Ed Nichols they realized the acai berry could have a potential gigantic market in the West.

The Black brothers and Nichols came across acai on a trip to Brazil. The locals encouraged them to try it, proclaiming the health benefits of the berry: an energy boost, kickstarted immunity, and detoxification.

They got HOOKED on these things, and from then on, whenever Ryan, Jeremy, and Ed were in Brazil, they would search for an icy acai bowl.

On one such trip, the Black brothers and Nichols discussed how great it would be to enjoy acai back in the States.

Yeah, it really was smart to bring acai to America.

Strange fruit from Brazil with antioxidants?

Exotic, healthy, and easy to make grandiose claims about?

CHA-CHING!!!

And that’s why acai bowls can now be found in every city in America with a punny store name.

I love a good pun, but they don't even pronounce it right!

How Do You Make an Acai Bowl? What Are Some Typical Acai Bowl Recipes?

Generally, Acai Bowl's will be packed full of fruit.

In Brazil, the acai (in the form of frozen pulp) is generally served in a bowl with granola and bananas. Sometimes a fourth ingredient would be used, the Amazonian fruit guarana, which contains more caffeine than coffee.

Simple enough.

How about here in the States? That’s where acai bowls get cray.

Yes, in America, we do put a lot of stuff into our Acai Bowls.

You’ll for sure get acai berries, granola, and banana. And maybe guarana. But how about some of the following:

  • Agave
  • Apple Juice
  • Almond Milk
  • Almond Butter
  • Blueberries
  • Coconut
  • Honey
  • Mango Juice
  • Peanut Butter
  • Pomegranate
  • Soy Milk
  • Strawberries

Pick a handful of the above, mix them in a bowl, and BOOM! Acai bowl.

One thing most ingredients listed or referenced have in common, is they are carbohydrate and/or sugar heavy. Some, like agave and honey, are more or less just sugar.

Which brings me to an important and really fun point:

What Are the Benefits of Acai? (Fact vs. Hype)

There's a lot of hype around acai berries. It's time to speak some truth.

There are a lot of health claims associated with the acai berry. Some of which make my eyebrows raise. Others make me nod approvingly. And one or two that make my soul hurt. 

Which is why I’d like to introduce my new favorite Nerd Fitness game, “Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire”:

http://www.nerdfitness.com/

CLAIM #1: There are good antioxidants in acai berries.”

REALITY: True!

Acai berries are indeed high in antioxidants.[3] Which is great, for the reasons we talked about earlier. When people talk about the benefits of the acai berry, it more or less comes down to antioxidants.

I support this claim.

Now, I will mention just about any berry you pick (blackberry, blueberry, raspberry) is also a great source of antioxidants. But I won’t completely steal the acai berry’s thunder.

PANTS ON FIRE SCORE:

No pants on fire here.

CLAIM #2: “Acai berries are nutrient dense.”

REALITY: Also true!

Acai berries contain as much Vitamin C as blueberries. Plus acai is a great source of Vitamins A, B1, B2, B3 and E. They also contain plenty of minerals like calcium, magnesium, zinc, and copper.

Good stuff there. As a proponent of eating REAL foods that are nutrient-dense, I would throw acai into that category. An acai berry is REAL food.

PANTS ON FIRE SCORE:

No pants on fire here either.

CLAIM #3: “Acai berries aid digestion.”

REALITY: eh, sort of.

Fiber aids digestion. And acai skin and pulp contain fiber. So acai aids digestion?

Sure, that’s true. But it’s not the complete picture. All sorts of things contain fiber, like every other berry you’ve ever heard of. Plus, some food like carrots, are more fibrous than the acai berry.

There is no special acai ingredient to improve digestion.[4] If fiber is what you’re after, an acai berry isn’t a bad decision. But it’s not the single best option.

PANTS ON FIRE SCORE:

Your pants are kind of on fire.

CLAIM #4: “Acai has anti-aging powers.”

REALITY: Bollocks! Hogwash!

Antioxidants are a good thing, because keeping your cells healthy and clear of free radicals is important. But are your wrinkles going to smooth out with the help of a berry? Or really, anything shy of botox? Don’t buy into this.

Acai have no special anti-aging magic. If the claim is antioxidants reverse aging, sure, in that they keep cells healthy. But not in the “I’m going to reverse time” way.

PANTS ON FIRE SCORE:

Dude, your pants are on fire!!!

CLAIM #5: “Acai will improve libido.”

REALITY: Poppycock!

Will eating nutritiously lead to improved health? Which will improve how your body functions? Which could include libido? Sure.

Is there a berry out there that will make you awesome in the bedroom? No.[5]

PANTS ON FIRE SCORE:

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire!

CLAIM #6: “Acai berries help weight loss.”

REALITY: False.

“Acai is a nutrient-rich source of antioxidants, much like many other fruits, but there is nothing magical about the fruit to cause weight loss.” Thank you David Grotto, RD.[6]

Promises like better health, improved libido, and weight loss sell well. That’s why you’ll come across them. But as the saying goes, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Naturally, the idea that a berry will make you lose weight is silly. It depends on what else you are consuming, and in what quantities, in addition to the acai berry. I’m going to cover this more extensively below.

PANTS ON FIRE SCORE:

http://www.nerdfitness.com/


Are Acai Bowls Good for Weight Loss?

Not sure if this is taken near Brazil, but it is really pretty.

“Can I lose weight eating acai bowls?”

Maybe!

It truly depends on how you used to eat and what else you eat every day (we discuss this thoroughly in our guide The 5 Rules of Weight Loss).

To help paint this picture, let’s talk about carbohydrates and sugars found in an acai bowl.

Let’s start with the traditional acai bowl: acai puree, granola, and some banana. That will run about 355 calories, including 50 grams of carbohydrates, with 18 grams of those being sugar.

For comparison, the average bagel from a deli will have about 350 calories and 50 grams of carbs.

And that’s just a traditional bowl: what about the Americanized versions?

This Acai Bowl has TONS of stuff added into it, which will up the sugar and carb makeup.

Acai puree often has sugar added to it, since the acai berry itself isn’t too sweet. Plus, an acai place might also pour things like honey and agave into the bowl. And don’t forget fruit contains quite a bit of sugar.

When you add it all up, it becomes a lot.

Let’s analyze the 12 oz. Acai Berry Bowl from “Juice It Up”: acai puree, a strawberry juice blend, actual strawberries, blueberries, and guarana. This rakes up:

  • 340 calories
  • 66 grams of carbohydrates
  • 60 grams of sugar

If you called this meal a “carb bomb” or “sugar bomb,” I wouldn’t disagree with you. And none of this factors in additional toppings like coconut flakes or granola.

You can see how all of this adds up quickly. Acai bowls with over 90 grams of sugar are not unheard of.

This is how you make an acai bowl... kind of.

That’s why I cringe when I read the Huffington Post’s article that acai bowls are the world’s healthiest breakfast.[7] I have no problem if you eat an acai bowl for breakfast.

But don’t let the good attributes of a South American berry distract you. Carbs, calories, and sugar don’t count less just because there are antioxidants present.

Eating a pile of pureed carbs, topped with carbs, and sprinkled with carbs, might be only a slightly better decision than a bowl of Lucky Charms.

All of this to say: be smart and learn about what you’re eating! Know the caloric, carbohydrate and sugar makeup of the food you eat, even if it’s “super.”

We remind our coaching clients that green juices, smoothies, and acai bowls all might have lots of nutrients, but they all will likely contain tons of sugar and calories too. That’s why we help our clients factor in these foods into their weight loss plans.

Should I Eat Acai Bowls for Breakfast? (Protein in the AM)

Eggs would make a solid breakfast choice.

If you are going to eat breakfast, shift your focus from a pile of carbs to something loaded with protein and healthy fat. It’ll help fill you up in a more calorically-efficient manner, provide your muscles with rebuilding fuel, and not spike your insulin levels like sugar/carbs can do.[8]

Eggs are a breakfast staple that Team Nerd Fitness wholly endorses.

Hard to guess what's this egg is thinking about.

You can read our five favorite quick recipes here.

If you need some other examples for meal ideas, check out our post on 10 meals that can be made in 10 minutes.

But that’s only if you actually want to eat breakfast. You can also…

SKIP BREAKFAST. Some people forgo breakfast all together! Like me. It’s called intermittent fasting. It lets you make one less meal decision for the day, you’re less likely to overeat in a day, and it can help manage your insulin levels.

So start with protein in the morning. Or skip breakfast. But personally I wouldn’t start with a bucket of sugar in puree form if I was trying to lose weight.

Bummed out that your superfood breakfast isn’t that super? I hear ya. There’s nothing worse than TRYING to be healthy and discovering the food you thought was helping you lose weight is actually making things worse! Crap. Fun fact: I used to eat tons of granola bars and thought they were healthy (nope, carb and sugar bombs – might as well have been a Snickers!)

Our 1-on-1 Online Coaching Program seeks to make fitness, by telling you EXACTLY what to do. No guesswork on breakfast, no wandering around lost in the gym, just an exact blueprint to follow. Plus a coach to keep you accountable!

A Note on “Superfoods” (Next Steps for Healthy Eating)

If you ever read anything about a “superfood,” let this act as a public service announcement.

Be skeptical. Marketers love this term because it’s not defined, regulated, or provable. Meaning it can be used at whim to sell whatever to desperate folks trying to lose weight with zero repercussions

BOOOOO!

The acai is a well hyped piece of fruit thanks to a serious marketing engine and lots of money at stake.

Like most berries, it has good antioxidants and nutrients. Good stuff.

And If you like the taste and want to treat yo self? Occasionally, hell yeah.

yes, you do deserve a treat like an acai bowl here and there.

Should you eat one everyday for breakfast? Especially smothered in granola, drizzled with honey, and topped with more carbs/sugar?

There’s likely a better option if you’re not seeing success and losing weight.

What kind of option

We’ll, since you asked nicely, I’ve got a few in mind that I can share with you.

NEXT STEPS IF YOU WANT TO GO FARTHER! 

#1) Our 1-on-1 Online Coaching Program: a coaching program for busy people to help them make better food choices, stay accountable, and get healthier, permanently.

You can schedule a free call with our team so we can get to know you and see if our coaching program is right for you. Just click on the image below for more details:

Your NF Coach can help you lose weight and get healthy!

#2) The Nerd Fitness Academy – This self-paced online course has helped 50,000 people get results permanently. 

There’s a 10-level nutrition system, boss battles, 20 workouts, and the most supportive community in the galaxy!

#3) Join our free email list and community – I send out two fun emails a week – and I’ll send you our free 10-level Nutrition Guide along with a bunch of other free bonuses. Get them when you sign up in the box below:

Download our free weight loss guide

THE NERD FITNESS DIET: 10 Levels to Change Your Life

  • Follow our 10-level nutrition system at your own pace
  • What you need to know about weight loss and healthy eating
  • 3 Simple rules we follow every day to stay on target

Now, I want to hear from YOU:

Am I being too harsh on acai?

Or does this berry deserve to have some of its hype squashed.

Let me know in the comments.

Also, do you have any other “superfoods” you want us to take on in future “Liar, Liar Pants on Fire” posts?

-Steve, who is definitely NOT hiding from Brazilian acai marketing companies in my apartment closet, so don’t bother looking there.

PS: Curious where other fruit like bananas and oranges fall on the “healthy” spectrum? Then check out our guide, “Is Fruit Healthy?

GIF Source: Atom, Acai Bowl, Acai Bowl II, Acai Bowl III, Kiwi, Pants on Fire, Sugar, Yo Self, Eggs.

Photos Source:indian jones, acai berry, old man, acai bowl, acai bowl II, rockstar, jump, eggs, ninja

Categories
Fitness

Is Diet Soda Bad for You? (Should I Drink Diet Coke for Weight Loss?)

You asked for it: it's now time to learn all about diet soda.

There’s one question we get asked more than any other: “Is diet soda bad for me?

People want to know if Diet Coke will make them fat and make them sick, or if it’s all just a bunch of hoopla about nothing.  

We help our clients navigate challenges with soda and diet soda in our 1-on-1 Online Coaching Program, and we’re gonna tell you everything you need about diet soda below.

Here’s what we’ll cover to answer the question, “Is drinking diet soda healthy?”

Let’s get right to it!

Does Drinking Diet Soda Lead to Weight Gain?

How much of this Diet Coke, should you drink, if any?

Does drinking diet soda make you fat?

No, it does not.[1] 

It would be super evil if it did, what with the whole “diet” thing and all.

Diet sodas utilize “high-intensity sweeteners” which is a fancy term for very-low-calorie (or zero-calorie) sugar substitutes:

  • Acesulfame Potassium
  • Advantame
  • Aspartame
  • Monk Fruit Extract 
  • Neotame
  • Saccharin
  • Sucralose
  • Stevia 

The FDA has approved these eight high-intensity sweeteners for human consumption.[2] You’ll find them in all sorts of food products, not just diet drinks. 

Because high-intensity sweeteners are many times sweeter than table sugar, you can make a drink taste “sweet” without including any sugar at all. 

Most important, without the sugar, you’re skipping out on all the calories that come with it.

Weight loss depends on consuming fewer calories than you burn, so drinking Diet Coke compared to regular Coke can help tip the equation in favor of “weight loss.”

  • 12 oz Diet Coke total calorie count: 0
  • 12 oz Coca-Cola total calorie count: 150

If you’re trying to lose weight, but love fizzy carbonated and caffeinated beverages, the soda with fewer calories seems like a no-brainer.

Yeah, diet soda is the clear winner over regular soda if you're trying to lose weight.

“Steve, hold the phone here! Are you saying Diet Coke is okay to drink? I thought the sweeteners and chemicals in it were sketchy!?!”

The concern of drinking diet soda generally rests on three points:

  1. Drinking diet soda will make you crave real sugar.
  2. Your body processes high-intensity sweeteners just like actual sugar.
  3. Artificial sweeteners (like aspartame) can make you sick or cause cancer.

We’ll hit each of these points with its own section below.

Before we continue, I need to make a strong caveat: most studies on diet soda treat all high-intensity sweeteners as one.[3] This is concerning considering there are eight approved high-intensity sweeteners in use.

Does your body process all eight the same? 

I get it Barney, this diet soda stuff is a bit confusing.

Some early studies on various sweeteners do show our bodies process them differently.[4]

More studies are being done on individual high-intensity sweeteners as we speak, so expect new information on the subject to unfold.

For now…

Will Drinking Diet Soda Make Me Crave Actual Sugar?

Does diet soda make you crave actual sugar?

If you eat a bunch  of sugary and sweet food regularly, your body can start to crave more of it.[5]

In other words, consistently eating sugary foods in the afternoon can result in an urge for sweets after lunch. 

These cravings can make it difficult to turn down the bowl of M&M’s as you pass Debra’s desk (She even got the peanut kind!).

If you eat a lot of candy, you'll soon want to

The question becomes, do the high-intensity sweeteners found in diet soda make us crave sugary foods?

The research on this isn’t clear: 

  • Studies done on rats have shown a positive correlation between high-intensity sweeteners and sugar cravings.[6]
  • A 2019 meta-analysis found two studies where aspartame was added directly to the diets of humans. The result? Those who consumed the high-intensity sweeteners found their sugar craving to be LOWER.[7]

There might be something to the thought that drinking a Diet Coke can help satisfy the sugar craving.

As long as you remember: “correlation doesn’t prove causation!” 

Anecdotally, many of our coaching clients claim that grabbing a diet soda helps them from drinking the regular sugar-filled version. This can be really important, because “cravings” are one of the top issues facing most of our clients.

Which is why we work closely to identify possible food addictions in our 1-on-1 Online Coaching Program, so we can start to work through them together. Our strategy is to take it slow, to make small changes to alter these cravings. Over time, this is the best way to see real progress. 

If you’d like to learn how we can help battle sugar cravings, click below:

Does My Body Process Artificial Sweeteners Just like Sugar?

It's time to learn if our hormones treat high-intensity sweeteners like they would regular sugar.

Another concern of drinking diet soda rests on the idea that your body processes high-intensity sweeteners as it would normal sugar.

The argument states that these sweeteners are so sweet that they fool your body into thinking it’s consuming actual sugar. 

After drinking diet soda, your body responds as it would after consuming normal table sugar: by dumping out insulin. This slows down the fat-burning process.

That’s the gist of it, more or less.

Is it legit?

Do high-intensity sweeteners trick our body into releasing hormones (insulin)?

Again, the studies on this are mixed:

  • The high-intensity sweeteners sucralose and saccharin were both shown to provide a small insulin response in men.[8] 
  • Aspartame does not appear to elicit the same hormone response.[9] 

Verdict?

I'd say don't stress too much on the insulin response of diet drinks.

Is this a HUGE deal? Of all the things to worry about with regards to weight loss or getting healthy, this doesn’t hold the top spot on the list.

While hormones do play a role in weight loss, the main determining factor will always be an energy balance (calories in vs. calories out).

Since most diet sodas have next to zero calories, I’d say the insulin response of high-intensity sweeteners isn’t that important for your weight loss journey.

There are far better targets in the quest to eat healthy, like eating lots of vegetables and eating enough protein at every meal.

Can Drinking Diet Soda Cause Cancer? (Is Aspartame or Saccharin Dangerous?)

Are the ingredients in Diet Coke sketchy? Let's find out!

The other concern people have about diet soda is that it will cause cancer and kill them and everyone they know.

A little hyperbolic perhaps, but…

Should we be worried about the ingredients of diet soda causing us harm?

Some history is in order.

In the 70s a high-intensity sweetener (saccharin) was shown to give rats cancer.[10] People flipped out and actually banned saccharin in America, although it’s since been reintroduced.

Why? 

Because no cancer link has ever been shown for the human consumption of saccharin. And folks have looked.[11] A lot.[12] 

Not everything that is cancerous to rats is harmful to people, and vice versa. 

Plus, you would have to drink 800 cans of diet soda to get to the levels of saccharin given to the rats in the study.

Even an all-night binge of Call of Duty would only put a small fraction of a dent in that.

Diet Coke is a notorious aid in the late-night gaming world.

How about aspartame or any of these other high-intensity sweeteners…

Are they sketchy?

Earlier I stated the FDA, the United States’ regulation agency, approved eight high-intensity sweeteners.

They aren’t the only agency that has done so. Australia, the EU, Japan, and Canada have all reviewed and approved these sweeteners.[13] They did so after a thorough investigation. 

Despite looking for issues, regulating agencies have found no harm in high-intensity sweeteners.

So it’s safe to say that high-intensity sweeteners are okay to be used in a reasonable amount.

Which brings up the question…

How Many Diet Sodas Can I Have in a Day?

Can you drink an entire 2 liter in a day? More than one? Let's find out!

While the sweeteners in diet soda have been approved safe for human consumption, there is a limit to this approval.[14] But I won’t make you pore over charts and do the math…I’ll do that for you.

What’s the number of 12-ounce diet sodas deemed safe in a day?

18.

Which is A LOT of diet soda. 

However, it should be noted that diet soda is not the only place high-intensity sweeteners are found. 

Many other food products utilize these sweeteners to cut back on sugar and calories. So keep an eye on protein bars, yogurts, baked goods, etc, for hidden high-intensity sweeteners.

The other concern with drinking lots of diet soda would be the caffeine. Caffeine in moderate amounts is fine, but if you go overboard you could increase your anxiety and interfere with your sleep.[15] 

Yeah, maybe it was too much Diet Coke...

There’s about half the caffeine in Diet Coke versus a regular cup of coffee, which is still a decent amount. 

If you have trouble sleeping at night, consider how late in the day you’re having your last can of soda. Perhaps install a 2pm “caffeine cutoff” if you find yourself tossing and turning at night. 

Another problem with diet soda: most of them contain exactly zero nutrients. It’s water, some kind of sweetener (sugar or not), flavoring, coloring, and carbonation.

Drinks like coffee and tea actually have some antioxidants present, so you might be getting some benefits with these caffeinated drinks.[16] 

If you find yourself drinking lots of diet soda, consider mixing in some coffee or tea as a partial replacement. 

Sparkling water might help with the switch too, if you love those fizzy bubbles.

At this point, we should note that stopping diet soda consumption might be easier said than done.

Can You Be Addicted to Diet Soda?

Is Gollum addicted to Diet Coke AND the Ring?

Yeah, diet soda can indeed hijack your brain's reward system.

The Coca-Cola Company hires folks to find the perfect combination of:

  • Carbonation. The bubbles actually burn your tongue a little, which provides a pleasurable experience. Kind of like a good hot sauce. 
  • Sweeteners. Sure, it isn’t sugar, but your brain likes them just the same.
  • Caffeine. The jolt from caffeine will provide you a boost and raise your dopamine levels. The brain likes this.
  • Flavor. After drinking Diet Coke for some time, your brain will start to associate the flavors with the carbonation, sweeteners, and caffeine. Which will make you start craving the flavor of Diet Coke. Which is probably part of the reason people become brand loyal to particular diet beverages. 

How do you know if you have an addiction? If you find yourself approaching our 18 can a day safety limit, that’s definitely a sign. 

Another would be if you find diet soda interfering with your life (not sleeping after drinking Diet Coke all evening).

You don’t have to go cold turkey on this one: 

  • If you normally drink six cans of diet soda a day, try five.
  • After a month or so of this, try four.

This is the exact strategy we follow with our 1-on-1 Online Coaching clients, and it’s the most likely to succeed. 

Small changes over time are the ticket to permanent success.

Is Diet Coke Worse for You Than Regular Coke?

Are Diet Coke and normal Coke the same, health-wise?

Before you use this article as justification to start drinking a six-pack of Diet Coke a day, let’s talk about some other possible concerns.

We’ve talked about all the mechanisms in diet soda that can make it unhealthy (high-intensity sweeteners, caffeine, etc). My conclusion is that these factors are likely overblown.

However, we should acknowledge that drinking diet soda can often be linked to health issues:

  • Despite diet sodas containing low to zero calories, drinking them is correlated with obesity.[18] Is this just because people who are overweight are more likely to consume a “diet” drink? We don’t know.
  • Diet soda consumption has been associated with kidney disease.[19] Is this because of the high phosphorus content of diet soda, or because people who drink soda likely have a poorer diet than those who don’t? This has still yet to be answered.
  • Soda, even the diet version, isn’t great for your teeth.[20] Diet sodas are acidic, leading to the erosion of tooth enamel. Although to be fair, this study found the acids in orange juice more corrosive than Diet Coke.[21]

There’s an important point here: drinking regular soda is also linked to kidney disease, teeth erosion, and obesity. Even more so those last two points (because of all the sugar and calories).[22] 

So the concerns of drinking diet soda would also be found in drinking regular soda…even more so.

Drinking Diet Coke may be the lesser of two evils here. 

Is Drinking Diet Soda Bad for Weight Loss? (Next Steps)

At the end of the day, prioritize water over diet soda, but don't stress about the diet soda.

If you’re starting your weight loss journey and wondering where diet soda fits into the picture, I want you to know I’m proud of you.

You’re starting to ask questions and you’re looking for answers. This is a great first step.

If you’re trying to lose weight and currently drinking regular soda, the switch to diet would be a good move. 

You’re gonna consume less calories that way, critical for weight loss.

This is why one of our top recommendations to our coaching clients is to cut back on sugary drinks. 

However, if you currently drink diet soda and are trying to lose weight, there might be some better targets to shoot for:

These are far more important than an occasional Diet Coke here and there.

If you find yourself firing on all cylinders (you eat well, you strength train, you get lots of sleep), then maybe consider replacing diet soda with tea, coffee, or carbonated water. There’s enough unanswered questions on consuming diet soda to warrant the switch. 

The most important thing you can do now? Commit to a change:

  • One less regular soda a day
  • One less Diet Coke a day
  • A daily walk first thing in the morning

Pick something you can track. Something with a clear “yes or no” that you can reflect on at the end of the day.

This will help you start your weight loss journey.

It's now time to take some action on your weight loss journey. You got this!

Want some help getting going? A little nudge out the door?

Okay, but only because you’ve been nice this whole time:

#1) Our 1-on-1 Online Coaching Program: a coaching program for busy people to help them make better food choices, stay accountable, and get healthier, permanently.

You can schedule a free call with our team so we can get to know you and see if our coaching program is right for you. Just click on the image below for more details:

Your NF Coach can help you lose weight and get healthy!

#2) The Nerd Fitness Academy – This self-paced online course has helped 50,000 people get results permanently. 

There’s a 10-level nutrition system, boss battles, 20 workouts, and the most supportive community in the galaxy!

#3) Join The Rebellion! We have a free email newsletter that we send out twice per week, full of tips and tricks to help you get healthy, get strong, and have fun doing so. 

I’ll also send you tons of free guides that you can use to start leveling up your life too:

Download our free weight loss guide

THE NERD FITNESS DIET: 10 Levels to Change Your Life

  • Follow our 10-level nutrition system at your own pace
  • What you need to know about weight loss and healthy eating
  • 3 Simple rules we follow every day to stay on target

Alright, I think that just about does it for me.

Now, your turn!

What are your experiences with diet soda? 

Did you use them as a tool to help you lose weight? 

Or did you struggle with weight loss until finally dropping diet soda out of your daily consumption as well?

Share your story in the comments!

-Steve

PS –

Check out the rest of our sustainable weight loss content:

PSS: I want to give a hat-tip to Precision Nutrition, whose fascinating article served as the inspiration for this post. 

###

GIF Source: Barney, M&M’s, Video Games, Space Balls, Bill Murray, Jim Carrey, South Park Judge, Eric Cartman, Brain Repeating.

Photo source: Corrie Miracle: Diet Coke, Zeyus Media: Sugar Spoon, Stavos: ScientistEmmi: GollumSarah Korf: nutritional information, Ryan Hyde: Water, Mike Mozart: Diet Coke, Laura Lewis: mirror, Mike Mozart: Diet Coke

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Fitness

The Mediterranean Diet Beginner’s Guide (Can You Eat Pasta for Weight Loss?)

Can you eat shark on the Mediterranean Diet? Let's find out!

So it’s time to learn about the Miditerranean Diet?

Maybe you heard it’s one of the best diets for overall health?

Or perhaps you’ve decided it’s time to lose some weight and you’re searching for a sustainable diet?

No matter what your motive, you’ve arrived at the right place!

We analyze different diets as part of our 1-on-1 Online Coaching, and we are really flippin good at it!

Here’s what we’ll cover in our Beginner’s Guide to the Mediterranean Diet:

It’s a lot to cover, so let’s jump right in! 

Time to get to weird…

We'll include gifs of animals acting like people all day here at Nerd Fitness!

What is the Mediterranean Diet?

The Mediterranean sure is pretty. But is the diet legit?

The Mediterranean Diet is a way of life that involves eating real food: vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes (beans), some fish, and a whole lotta “healthy” fat. 

Plus a little red wine.

It gets its name from a few key countries on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, and studying the dietary patterns of the people who live long lives in that area.

When experts discuss the Mediterranean Diet, the words “heart-healthy” will almost certainly be attached. [1] It’s the reason the Mediterranean Diet shines like a crazy diamond, because who DOESN’T want a healthy heart?

So why does this diet make your heart healthy, and why do people tend to lose weight on it?

Simple: Every item listed above falls into the REAL food category. When I say real food, I mean stuff that came from the ground, grew on a tree, grazed on a field, flew through the air, or swam in the water.

These image shows some real food, critical if you're trying to lose body fat.

Here’s another way to put it: If your great grandma from the old country wouldn’t recognize it as food, it probably doesn’t fit into the Mediterranean Diet.

Sorry Pop-Tarts, Big Macs, and Coca-Cola.

Logically, the reason this diet gets good grades makes sense. Of COURSE a diet composed of REAL food like the Mediterranean Diet would have REAL health benefits.

And those benefits are awesome!

The diet has been linked to a plethora of benefits, including a reduced risk of heart attack,[2] and even the retention of cognitive abilities to help stave off dementia.[3]

At this point you might be wondering:

“Steve, I like the cut of your jib, and this diet sounds pretty good. So, just eat real food, got it. But what about all these benefits I hear about olive oil? And I thought pasta was unhealthy. That’s a crucial part of the Mediterranean Diet too, right? Tell me more.”

I got you, boo.

Where did the Mediterranean Diet Come From? (The Mediterranean Diet Pyramid) 

Turns out, the Mediterranean Diet was made by a scientist. Hopefully not this guy...

Believe it or not, this diet wasn’t created by a goat herder in the Greek countryside.

It was actually theorized by an American scientist back in the 50s, and started gaining popularity in the 90s.

Have you heard the name, Ancel Keys?

He’s a doctor from back in the day (think 1950s) often credited with popularizing the idea that saturated fat leads to deadly heart attacks, a la high cholesterol levels in the bloodstream. We went in-depth on this very controversial subject in “A Beginner’s Guide to Cholesterol,” so I won’t rehash it here.

The reason I bring Keys up is because he was one of the early founders of the Mediterranean Diet.

Keys formulated this diet after poring over data and research and identified that people in Greece and Italy statistically lived longer than other populations he studied. Farmers working until the age of 100 wasn’t uncommon on the Greek island of Crete.

So what was the big secret?

Are the people of Crete actual descendants of Atlantis with special DNA and olive oil running through their veins?

Do people in Atlantis follow the Mediterranean Diet? Hm...

Not really.

Keys noted these Mediterraneans had low saturated fat intake, getting fat instead from olives and fresh fish. He also noted low instances of heart disease, and thus declared something like, “low saturated fat consumption causes fewer instances of heart disease and leads to a longer life.”

Now, if you’re a nerd like me, you are hopefully aware that “correlation does not prove causation,” that even though two variables are correlated, it doesn’t mean that one causes the other.

But it was a great story, backed up by logically sounding data from an accomplished researcher, and the hypothesis became “fact.” Thus, the hypothesis of the “Mediterranean Diet equals long life” continued to gain steam, and Keys work went on to define a huge portion of America’s nutritional guidance over the past 60 years.

Fast forward to the 1990s, and the Mediterranean Diet story reached the mainstream media with the help of a group of researchers, who decided it was time to popularize and proselytize its benefits.

In a controversial and complicated part of the story that’s much lesser known, these researchers focused on Greece and Italy, ignoring data from any other Mediterranean population that didn’t fit their narrative.

Together, under Walter C. Willett from Harvard School of Public Health, they came up with the ‘Mediterranean Diet Pyramid.”

The Mediterranean Diet Pyramid kind of looks like the Food Pyramid, just with more wine!

©2009 Oldways Preservation and Exchange Trust

I know what you’re thinking. Yes, this DOES look just like the food pyramid you were taught in grade school! But with more real food. And wine. And dancing.

I told you Keys’s work was very influential in the guidelines we all grew up with! So that concludes today’s history portion of the article.

Back to getting weird:

This GIF speaks for itself.

What Do You Eat on the Mediterranean Diet? (Food List)

You can eat a lot worse than a Mediterranean salad!

As I already pointed out, the Mediterranean Diet focuses on REAL food that’s found in the Mediterranean (duh).

It’s one of the things I love about it!

Below are our recommended types of food, examples of each, and substitutes in case you don’t happen to live on Sicily or Santorini:

  • Vegetables. Common Mediterranean Diet staples are artichokes, arugula, Brussels sprouts, celery, and peas, but seriously any vegetable you enjoy is good enough! So go wild. Hate veggies? I got you.
  • Fruit. Figs, mandarins, tomatoes (yeah it’s a fruit), and pomegranate are common to the area, but fruit like apples and oranges works too. We’re fans of fruit, just don’t eat 5,000 calories of fruit and wonder why you’re not losing weight!
  • Whole Grains. Barley, buckwheat, oats, rice, and wheat, in the form of fresh made wheat pasta, whole wheat bread, and pitas. Whole grains are encouraged in just about every article on the Mediterranean Diet. When we say “whole” we mean minimally processed, and are consumed in significantly smaller portions than you’re probably used to.
  • Legumes. Think beans and lentils: a great sources of protein and fiber that also happen to be delicious. Hummus, a dish from the Mediterranean, is made out of chickpeas (a legume).
  • Dairy. Remember that pyramid from a moment ago? You’ll see that dairy is higher up, meaning to consume in smaller quantities. Why? because researchers were concerned about saturated fat. With the Mediterranean Diet, dairy tends to comes from cheese like brie, feta and parmesan, and Greek yogurt (though I assume there they just call it “yoghurt,”).
  • Fish. Fish are packed full of Omega-3 fatty acids (good!), which tends to be deficient in most American/Western diets and has been linked to health ailments.[4] Fish like cod are found in the Mediterranean, though you could go with options like tuna or salmon too.
  • Poultry. Factoid: Did you know there are roughly three chickens on Earth to every person? Roughly 20 billion fowl share the planet with us. I’ve been sitting on that statistic for a while and was antsy to share. Anyways! Go ahead and eat your preferred poultry, which could also include turkey and duck.
  • Healthy Oils. Olive oil. If there is one specific food linked to the Mediterranean Diet, it’s olive oil. Olive oil is touted for its monounsaturated fat, unlike the saturated fat of say butter. Personally, I think both are fine. But I encourage people to eat plenty of healthy fat, as demonstrated by our “Beginner’s Guide to the Keto Diet.” So go ahead and use olive oil.

How much of each category should you eat? That’s a good question, and depending on your quantity of each categories, you may or may not lose weight (I’ll cover all of this in a section below).

In addition to that, everybody does the Mediterranean Diet differently:

  • Some argue that dairy shouldn’t be in the Mediterranean Diet at all, because it contains saturated fat.
  • Others would say red meat should be listed above, because Mediterranean dishes often include lamb.
  • Depending on which country in the Mediterranean you pick, your “diet” will be very different.

You’re never going to get a straight answer on this, and that’s okay!

Robin has the right idea here, relax about what is and isn't okay on the Mediterranean Diet.

This diet is loosely based on a region, in a moment in time, as interpreted by researchers with an agenda.

The reason I’m telling you this: I don’t care where the diet came from, or the story told around it. The same is true for Paleo (I don’t care about cavepeople!) – we don’t care about the story; we only care if the story helps people make healthier food choices.

Don’t get bogged down in the details or the dogma or the history. Instead, look at the list of food above. Shift your eating and go for big wins, by eating protein and real food as listed above, and you’ll be much better off than you are currently.

Which brings me to my next point…

What Foods Are Not Allowed on the Mediterranean Diet?

Yes, there is some food you should avoid on the Mediterranean Diet, but you don't have to run...

Yup, there are definitely “you’re doing it wrong” foods when it comes to the Mediterranean Diet. If you’re gonna go Mediterranean, please cut wayyyy back on the following:

  • Added sugar. This. If all you did to improve your diet was cut out added sugar, you’d be well on your way to improved health. Ditch the candy, soda, and ice cream and you’ll make me very happy. I’m generally pretty happy, but this will really put things over the top.
  • Refined grain. Oh Mediterranean Diet, you do get me. The second thing I would tell people to do to improve their diet would be to cut out refined and processed grains. Your body’s blood sugar can react to it almost the same way it does to sugar.
  • Refined oils. Dump out all rapeseed oil, soybean oil and canola oil. When they’re heated, like they do when undergoing refinement, they create free radicals. Which aren’t as fun as they tend to sound, because of the whole “not good for your health” thing.[5] Science, you should really think of a less awesome name here.
  • Processed meat. High quality meat will have better nutrients and fatty acid profiles than its processed counterparts. So cut back on uber processed deli meats and hot dogs. As for bacon, that’s your judgment call, partner.

Now, the above shouldn’t be too much of a shocker. Are you starting to see why the Mediterranean Diet is popular and reputable? It keeps things simple!

Eat real food.

Avoid unhealthy food.

Use olive oil.

Of course, this is ALL easier said than done, and whether or not you’ll lose weight on the diet is juuuuust a bit more complex than the above.

Will I lose weight on the Mediterranean Diet?

Yes, the Mediterranean Diet MIGHT help you lose weight.

Short answer: It’s certainly possible.

Longer answer: If you currently eat a standard American diet full of processed food and sugar, the Mediterranean Diet will probably help you shed body fat if you can stick with it consistently and follow it intelligently.

I’ve talked about this extensively in our “Beginner’s Guide to Healthy Eating,” but the trick of any self respectable diet rests on eating REAL food and eliminating the bad food.

That’s it.

It’s why the Keto Diet and the Paleo Diet both work – for people that can stick it. The same goes for Intermittent Fasting.

These diets all focus on cutting out all the processed garbage, consuming real food, and keeping total calorie consumption under control. They just do it with different rules to follow.

The Mediterranean Diet is no different.

It focuses on real food that people in Mediterranean Europe have been eating for generations. Fresh vegetables, fruits, and fish are nothing new to the people of Greece! If you went back into the days of antiquity, after slaying a minotaur, you’d bask in a feast of fish, olives, and berries.

Of course, ALLLLL diets come with a big fat caveat: 

Knowing about the Mediterranean Diet and FOLLOWING the Mediterranean Diet are two different things.

Knowing you should eat fresh veggies, fruit, and fish is VERY different than actually sticking with it when life gets in the way, your kid gets sick, and you have to pick up a second job.

We all know we should eat better. But HOW to eat better, consistently, permanently: that’s where lasting weight loss and decades of healthy living happen.

This is the big reason why we put such an emphasis on nutritional planning for each person in our 1-on-1 coaching program: you have to make the diet work for YOUR specific life situation!

So, the reason the Mediterranean Diet works is the same reason other diets work: eating real food makes you more likely to consume fewer calories on a consistent basis, and you can’t defeat thermodynamics. Eating 5,000 calories of pasta and fish, though technically allowed on the Mediterranean Diet, will still result in weight gain.

So yes, if your current eating habits aren’t great, moving towards a Mediterranean Diet would be a solid move, especially if it helps you change your relationship with food and teaches you about portion sizes!

I’ll admit there’s controversy on how the Mediterranean Diet was formulated, but it ALSO encourages people to eat more real food, in smaller quantities, and has a good chance of weight loss if your changes are permanent.

Just remember: temporary changes create temporary results. If you follow a Mediterranean Diet to lose a few pounds and then go back to how you eat now, you’ll end up right back where you started!

We want small wins, permanent changes, and momentum!

Our entire coaching program is based on helping busy people make these small lifestyle changes. Nothing too scary, but impactful enough that their lives can be quite different in six months to a year.

Should I eat whole grains, dairy, and legumes on the Mediterranean Diet?

It's now time to start answering some questions on following the Mediterranean Diet.

Should you eat grains, pasta, rice, etc, as allowed on the Mediterranean Diet?

If you can keep your portions under control, sure.

This is 200 calories of pasta (thanks to WiseGeek):

You're right, this isn't that much pasta.

This is a serving of cheese (116 calories):

A serving of cheese is about the size of four dice

Yeah, that’s not much pasta and cheese…

As we cover in our Guide to Healthy Eating, carbs and fats (cheeses) are often calorically-dense, meaning you’ll have to be careful not to over consume if you’re managing a daily calorie goal.

Plus, some people have digestive issues with legumes, grains (gluten intolerance), or dairy (lactose intolerant), so just make sure you process them okay. This is why the paleo community shuns these foods, but that’s likely overblown (you can read about “paleo-ish” for more).

My recommendation: treat yourself like a scientist and treat this as an experiment:

  • If you are following a Mediterranean Diet and consuming dairy, grains, and legumes and you’re getting results and a clean bill of health from your doctor, GREAT! Keep doing what you’re doing.
  • If you are following a Mediterranean Diet with dairy, grains, and legumes and NOT losing weight, try minimizing your consumption of some/all of these things to see if that changes things.

I know how tough it can be to eat just HALF of something on your plate, or eat a smaller portion of a food you really enjoy, so I’m gonna share with you a diet that is picking up some steam, and might be a good experiment for you to consider.

Should I Consider a Low-Carb Mediterranean Diet?

Fish is encouraged on the Mediterranean Diet, but so is most bird...

What happens when you cut out the grains and dairy from a Mediterranean Diet?

You end up with a low-carb Mediterranean Diet.

This diet has actually been tested and named, in what is referred to as the Ketogenic Mediterranean Diet or Spanish Ketogenic Mediterranean Diet (SKMD).

The fat mostly comes from olive oil, there’s still red wine (I swear I’m getting to this), with plenty of green vegetables and salads for carbohydrates. Plus fish for protein.

Lot’s of fish.

This otter LOVES the Mediterranean Diet

In Spain, fish is a main component of diet, hence the Spanish in the SKMD.

And who would have thunk it, it works!

The SKMD has been shown to help improve fatty liver disease and metabolic syndrome.[6] Not to mention the SKMD is effective for weight loss and waist circumference shrinkage.[7]

I’ve already covered the ketogenic diet extensively, so I won’t get into it (seriously, go read that post – it also has cute animal gifs) here. If you are going to pick a modified version of the Mediterranean Diet, the SKMD would be the optimal choice in my opinion.

Overwhelmed with Mediterranean, saturated fats, keto, or SKMD?

I hear ya.

Navigating all of these diets can be really tough. And maybe you’ve even tried the Mediterranean Diet before and couldn’t get the results to stick. That’s because diets are challenging, and life gets in the way.

If this is you, and you don’t have time to figure out how to make food work for your busy lifestyle, Nerd Fitness has a pretty sweet 1-on-1 Coaching Program to create custom solutions for each client that fits their life!

You can schedule a free call with our team to learn more by clicking on the image below!

http://www.nerdfitness.com/

Easy Mediterranean Diet Recipes

Now it's time for recipes like this Mediterranean salad!

Need some help figuring out what all this will actually look like on a plate?

After all, just having a list of foods is like having the ingredients of a cake. It’s definitely not the same as having a cake.

Sorry for making you think about cake. I’ll go do 10 push-ups as punishment.

And I’m back.

Because I like you as a person, I did some research and found some super simple recipes for the “standard” Mediterranean Diet:

If you are an overachiever, here are some recipes for the Spanish Ketogenic Mediterranean Diet:

That should get you started.

If you have other favorite recipes or resources, leave a comment below so I can add them here to this list!

Why Is the Mediterranean Diet so Healthy? (Other Lifestyle Considerations)

Views like this sure can't hurt your health.

So far in this article, we’ve only focused on what to eat. Which is logical, because the Mediterranean Diet is first and foremost an eating regiment.

Whether you live in midwestern Ohio or Timbuktu, you can mimic the nutritional strategies of a centenarian Mediterranean thanks to global markets.

However, I’d be an idiot if I didn’t also mention all the other lifestyle benefits certain Mediterranean people have that ALSO factor into their longevity:

  1. Meal time as a social event. In a traditional Mediterranean household, friends and family come together over food as an experience. This allows conversation to integrate into the meal, which extends the amount of time spent consuming food. The faster you scarf down food, the more of an insulin response you’ll create, and the more likely you’ll be to overeat when more food is available.[8] It takes your body time to realize it’s full, which happens too late when you are scarfing down food mindlessly in front of a screen.
  2. Smaller servings. When comparing Western meals to those of Europe, one thing becomes plainly obvious in most situations: we tend to eat more food than our friends across the pond. Our plates are bigger and our servings are larger. And all other things being equal, the bigger the portion placed in front of you, the more you’ll probably eat.[9]. Want to eat less to help drop some body fat? Eat smaller servings by using smaller plates! You can trick your brain into eating less food. Here’s the study where they demonstrated just that.[10] Boom, science.
  3. Move naturally. Think of life in the Greek islands back in 1950s – how many of these people spent an hour in a car commuting to a desk job where they worked 60 hours a week? Probably not many! Instead, it was a LOT more walking and local living. You can replicate this by spending more time walking and less time sitting! Every step starts to add up to a lot of physical activity. Plus, wine can add to spontaneous dancing like Zorba the Greek (seriously, the next section is about wine, you’re almost there).
  4. Take a nap. It’s not uncommon for people in the Mediterranean to take a nap after lunch. This could help with their waistline. I know this is common knowledge, but getting plenty of sleep is important in your weight loss journey. Lack of shuteye has been shown to interfere with insulin responses after meals.[11] That’s right, you could be eating well, but still wreak havoc on your blood sugar by sleeping poorly.

Okay. You made it.

I’m proud of you.

You waited patiently, through this whole article and now we are at….

Can I drink wine and alcohol on the Mediterranean Diet?

Yes, you can have A LITTLE wine on the Mediterranean Diet.

Yes, you can enjoy a little wine on the Mediterranean Diet.

Hip hip hooray!

We'll just leave this gif as is.

But seriously, let’s chat about this because I too enjoy adult beverages.

Drinking wine is customary throughout the Mediterranean: it’s served during dinner, to be paired with food and to encourage good conversation. Is it the wine itself that leads to better health? Or does wine add to the experience of dinner, creating an event to be remembered?

(It’s totally the latter.)

Real talk on alcohol: so many people consume alcohol that any diet that says “you cannot drink any alcohol ever” is doomed and nobody would stick with it. So in this made-up diet that claims to mimic old ways of eating, it recommends consuming wine in moderation.

I see this in every diet:

  • Paleo dieters drink tequila.
  • Keto dieters drink whiskey.
  • And Mediterranean dieters drink red wine.

We’ve talked about alcohol extensively here at Nerd Fitness, and one of our preferred drink recommendations is red wine. As long as you are keeping your calorie consumption under control, occasionally enjoying adult beverages can be part of your strategy.

We cool? Cool.

Exercise and the Mediterranean Diet (Workout Recommendations)

Is this LEGO eating pasta to fuel his workouts?

There’s nothing complicated about training under the Mediterranean Diet.

It’s really going to come down to your goals. 

Depending on your goals, your “Mediterranean Diet” will vary:

  • If you’re trying to lose weight, you’ll need to watch your total calorie intake. This might be easier with the Mediterranean Diet Food List, as the focus on whole foods will generally be a diet higher in nutrients and lower in calories. 
  • If you’re trying to gain muscle, you’ll need to consume an adequate amount of protein. You’ll likely eat a lot of fish, chicken, and eggs.
  • If you’re going to start a running practice, you might need some extra carbs to burn off. You may find yourself eating some whole grain pasta here and there.

The definition of the Mediterranean Diet is so broad, that you’ll be able to tailor it to any workout goal you may have.

You’ll just need to be able to define your strategy (by picking your workout goals), so you can create a version of the Mediterranean Diet that fits you!

“Steve, what are some resources to help me start working out? Can you help me begin an exercise practice?”

You betcha!

Here are some resources to help you start training on a Mediterranean Diet:

The other thing to consider would be our 1-on-1 Online Coaching Program. A Nerd Fitness Coach can create a custom-made workout plan to fit your life and situation!

7 Common Questions on Starting the Mediterranean Diet

Goats are common throughout the Mediterranean, so let's talk about their milk!

1) “Steve, I had a grandfather who grew up on the Mediterranean and he ate differently than this. Henceforth, this diet is null and void. GOOD DAY, SIR.”

Okay that’s not really a question. And kind of rude. But I’ll address it. I want to stress again that the Mediterranean Diet may or may not be exactly what people in the Mediterranean back in the 1950s actually ate.

And I also want to stress again that it DOESN’T matter!

We only care about results, and that comes from permanent changes to somebody’s relationship and decision making with food.

So if the idea of “Eating like a Mediterranean person” makes sense to you, great!

And if your grandfather ate differently, great! Eat like him and let me know how it goes!

2) “Steve, Italy is on the Mediterranean. Pasta and pizza come from from Italy. So I can stuff my face with pasta and I’m gonna lose weight and be really good looking, right?”

You can eat a little pasta on the Mediterranean Diet, but use a plate, please.

Solid question. Sure. Consume whole-grain pasta while on the Mediterranean Diet, but do so in a MUCH smaller quantity than you’re used to consuming if you are trying to lose weight.

Pasta is generally a side dish in the Mediterranean. It won’t be served to you in a huge giant bowl like it is in the United States. If you do decide to eat things like pasta, do what they do in the Mediterranean, and use it to complement a dish, not BE the dish.

3) “What’s up with goat milk?”

Goats are badasses in the Mediterranean, with their ability to travel over rocky terrain. Sorry cows, step up your game.

Look at the skills of that goat!

This explains why goat dairy is quite common in the Mediterranean.

If you are deciding to consume dairy, a goat might be your new friend.[12] The milk generally contains more fat than from a cow, which fits into our SKMD strategy. Also less lactose, ie sugar. Structurally, some people have an easier time processing goat’s milk than traditional dairy.

Granted, some people find the flavor of goat’s milk off and don’t like it. But Steve can only solve so many problems. I try.

4) “Will olive oil make me live forever? The future is gonna be rad.”

Yes. It will also give you superpowers. Okay, not really. But extra virgin olive oil is great. It’s my go to for salads. Add in some vinegar and you’re crushing it in the “flavorful, healthy salad” department.

However, I don’t think it’s the secret ingredient of the Mediterranean Diet. Most praise of olive oil comes from the fact that in contains no saturated fat. Which is one of the main reasons the Mediterranean Diet became so popular. But it’s still very high in calories, so pouring tons of healthy olive oil on everything could be the reason why you’re not losing any weight!

I personally enjoy and use olive oil, grass fed butter, and/or coconut oil depending on the meal. So, if you love olive oil and put it on everything, great. Just know that it won’t do your laundry, wash your dishes, or tuck you in at night. Or make you live forever. It’s oil from olives.

5) “Steve, can I use canola oil instead of olive oil?”

Despite what other sites suggest with the Mediterranean Diet, I would advise minimizing canola oil consumption and seek out other solutions where possible. Canola oil is a vegetable oil mostly derived from rapeseed, it’s often heavily processed, and actually creates a small amount of trans fat.[13] Bad news bears. If you need a substitute for olive oil, go with avocado or coconut oil.

6) “Do I HAVE to eat seafood? I don’t enjoy the taste of fish, and I believe that “fish are friends, not food.”

I get it. Fish isn’t for everyone. I actually don’t like fish myself, despite growing up in a fishing town on Cape Cod.

I know, sacrilegious.

No, you do not need to eat fish to follow the Mediterranean Diet. The reason seafood is recommended on the Mediterranean Diet is because it’s generally low in saturated fat and plentiful in that region. But again, I’m not a big supporter of reducing saturated fat intake at all costs. So if consuming fish makes you gag, don’t torture yourself. Stick with chicken or turkey. Or…

7) “Should I really limit red meat on the Mediterranean Diet?”

I may be summoning the wrath of the Mediterranean gods with this one (forgive me Zeus), but limiting red meat may be a goal without merit. I know. I can see the clouds and lighting bolts forming now.

But as Rule #8 of the Rebellion states, question everything. Even “wisdom” from the old countries.

And that includes the conventional wisdom of limiting red meat. Yes, I remember that Harvard study that says red meat causes cancer, and I disagree with the fear-mongering that resulted. [14]

If you do decide to partake, go with good quality sources for your red meat (grass fed wherever possible).

Also, as we’ve mentioned earlier, diet differs quite a bit throughout the Mediterranean, and meat can actually be pretty prominent in the form of lamb, goat, and beef. Even pork. Again, the Mediterranean Diet as opposed to what people in the Mediterranean actually eat.

So be true to yourself and do what feels right for you.

My advice: everything in moderation. Including moderation.

However, I apologize in advance if you get struck by lighting after eating lamb chops.

Resources to help you start the Mediterranean Diet

This photo doesn't have anything to do with the Mediterranean Diet, but it's fun!

You’re convinced you want to start the Mediterranean Diet today – congratulations!

Need more help?

William Willett, who helped create the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid I showed above, has a book where he lays out all his thoughts on why the diet works. Check out Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy for his argument.

The organization Oldways is more or less responsible for the modern way we understand the Mediterranean Diet, and you’ll never run out of their recipes. I’m still not entirely convinced the organization doesn’t solely exist to sell more olive oil, but that could be paranoid Steve being paranoid. Let me adjust my tinfoil hat…

Also, I’d be remiss not to mention our own Nerd Fitness Academy. 6 months of at-home workout routines, a whole nutrition model, and a mindset model to help you make sense of everything. If you’ve never stepped foot in a kitchen outside of grabbing milk from the fridge to drink out of the jug, we’ll help!

And if you’re just looking for basic nutritional guidance, we have a free 10-level nutritional blueprint that you can download, print, stick on your fridge, and start leveling up right now.

You can get it when join our Rebellion mailing list below:

Download our free weight loss guide

THE NERD FITNESS DIET: 10 Levels to Change Your Life

  • Follow our 10-level nutrition system at your own pace
  • What you need to know about weight loss and healthy eating
  • 3 Simple rules we follow every day to stay on target

Next Steps on Beginning the Mediterranean Diet (Plus a Challenge)

Diet alone is a small part of the appeal of the Mediterranean.

Just in case you skipped to the end of this article, or you’re looking for a quick recap, I hear you.

Pros of the Mediterranean Diet.

  • A focus on REAL food. All of the recommended food choices of the Mediterranean Diet are minimally processed. This is most of the battle on the war on diet. If you minimized the processed food on your plate, you’d be doing most of the heavy lifting when it comes to healthy eating.
  • Plenty of veggies, fruit. Eating vegetables is the least controversial recommendation on diet that has ever existed. No one questions the advice. This is less true on fruit, but come on. If all the sugar in your diet came from fruit, you’d be in rockstar mode.
  • Lots of healthy fats. The Mediterranean Diet is not a low fat diet. This is great. You need fat in your diet. Olive oil and fish are a great way to get there.

Cons of the Mediterranean Diet:

  • Saturated fat may be limited unnecessarily. Without saturated fat, there’s really only a handful of sources left to get fat intake. Granted, as addressed a few sentences ago, fish and olive oil are solid choices. But still, meals will need to be quickly rotated without saturated fat as an option.
  • Grains, even whole, might not be the greatest idea for some. They are high in calories and can derail even the best laid plans, so only eat if it fits your goals and lifestyle. 
  • Dairy isn’t exactly a homerun if you over consume. Like I mentioned earlier, not everyone handles dairy well, it can contain plenty of lactose (sugar), and calories.
  • Doesn’t address portion size or calorie amounts. People can DEFINITELY gain weight on the Mediterranean Diet if they eat 5000 calories worth of pasta each day. You have to be smart about portion sizes and not just eat all day every day (which is true of every diet).
  • It doesn’t address overall lifestyle changes or human psychology. We all know we need to eat healthier – the problem is actually sticking with it! So having a list of food to eat is great. But learning how to make it fit into your lifestyle is even more important.

If you have been nodding your head at the Mediterranean Diet and are planning on going all in with it – you have my permission!

If you are already eating a keto or paleo-ish diet and were wondering if you should switch to this diet, I’d only suggest it if you were struggling with compliance, not losing weight, and not getting results.

YOUR MISSION THIS WEEK: cook a Mediterranean meal for a friend or loved one this week, and make the dinner an event!

Send them this article and explain that Steve gave you direct marching orders to make a meal for a friend or loved one. Together, you can complete this mission. You can even have a little wine if it suits you. And make a toast. OPA!

I suggest making the Avocado Hummus referenced earlier. It’s seriously just cutting up three ingredients, adding lemon juice and olive oil and mixing them in a bowl. Serve them with whole-grain pita chips or sliced veggies.

 Seriously, ANYONE can make this.

If all of this is overwhelming, or you need help on making better food choices, you are not alone!

Like I said earlier, we have a community of people who are busy and looking to live better, and a whole team dedicated to helping those people!

If you want help moving on from here, I have three options for next steps. Actions you can take today to jumpstart your fitness journey. I’ll share them with you, but only because you laughed at my cheesy minotaur joke earlier:

#1) Our 1-on-1 Online Coaching program: a coaching program for busy people to help them make better food choices, stay accountable, and get healthier, permanently.

You can schedule a free call with our team so we can get to know you and see if our coaching program is right for you. Just click on the image below for more details:

Nerd Fitness Coaching Banner

#2) The Nerd Fitness Academy – This self-paced online course has helped 50,000 people get results permanently. 

There’s a 10-level nutrition system, boss battles, 20 workouts, and the most supportive community in the galaxy!

#3) Join The Rebellion! We have a free email newsletter that we send out twice per week, full of tips and tricks to help you get healthy, get strong, and have fun doing so. 

I’ll also send you tons of free guides that you can use to start leveling up your life too:

Download our free weight loss guide

THE NERD FITNESS DIET: 10 Levels to Change Your Life

  • Follow our 10-level nutrition system at your own pace
  • What you need to know about weight loss and healthy eating
  • 3 Simple rules we follow every day to stay on target

Alright, enough babbling from me…

Let’s hear from you: After you’ve completed your mission, leave a comment below and I’ll buy you a plane ticket to Santorini. Okay not really. But I will give you a high five if we ever meet on a fishing boat off of Crete. Deal?!

If you started the habit of cooking for company, you’d make Steve a happy camper.

Let me know if you have any more questions, and I hope you can get started on your Mediterranean lifestyle today.

Now pass me the corkscrew!

-Steve

PS: I want to give a shoutout to Nina Teicholz and her book The Big Fat Surprise, whose chapter “Selling the Mediterranean Diet” served as a reference for this post.

GIF Source: Pasta dog, Goat, Atlantis, Pizza dog, Fresh Food, Morpheus, 80s dance, Always Sunny, Robin Hood, Otter

ALL Photos Source: Cheese, Morning run with the Fitbit, lego shark, Italian coast, lego scientist, mediterranean dishbear lego, time to lose weightArugula Salad with Chicken, lego newspaper, bird with fish, avocado pasta,  greece, red wine, green hoodie lego, goat, bank robbers, mediterranean coast

Categories
Fitness

What’s the Best Diet to Lose Weight? (Which Diet is Right for Me?)

Why the banana suit? Because it's awesome!

If you’re currently trying to lose weight, you might be asking yourself: “Which diet is right for me? What’s the best diet for weight loss?”

They’re great questions, both with many different variables to consider.

Today, we’ll unpack it all for you.

We focus on proper diet and nutrition extensively in our 1-on-1 Coaching Program, but we’re gonna tell you everything you need to know below too.

Here’s what we’ll discuss in answering “What’s the best diet to lose weight?”:

It’s a lot to cover, but DON’T PANIC

We’ll get through it together using science, stories from our very own community, and one too many pop-culture references:

Hang in there Spock, we're only going to get crazier with our nerd references today.

Let’s get started.

How to Eat For Healthy Weight Loss

We're about to tell you exactly how to eat to watch the scale drop.

Here’s exactly how to lose weight:

#1 – Eat fewer calories than you burn every day.

#2 – Want to also be healthy? Eat mostly real food.

Full stop.

Want to KEEP the weight off?

Add #3: Do those two things consistently for a decade.

This solution will get you like 90% of the way towards a killer physique and a consistently healthy checkup at the doctor.

Mix in the right training and you’ll be 99% of the way there.

The problem is that pesky things like “reality” and “genetics” and “human behavior” keep getting in the way.

It’s why everybody goes on diet after diet after diet, gaining and losing the same 10-50 lbs.

Most people can only stick with a diet for a few weeks before they’re so miserable that they can’t wait to go back to how they were eating before.

Yeah, it can be tough going from cookies to raw vegetables...

They count calories and allow themselves to eat “health food” like low-fat ice cream and low-fat chips and just two Oreos. These people are so nutritionally deficient—eating calorie-heavy, unfulfilling foods—that they struggle to stay under their allotment of calories for they day. D’oh.

To make matters worse, even if they’re counting calories, they’re probably misreporting their food and overeating without realizing it.[2]

This is why people get so dang frustrated when they go on a calorie-restricted diet, track their food, and still don’t lose weight. The only explanation must be that their bodies must have slow metabolisms.

Yes, some people can do well with calorie counting long term – and I do believe EVERYBODY should count calories for at least a week to educate themselves about the food they are eating – but I think it’s only part of a solution that has plenty of room for error.

Watch this quick video of a person who believes she has a slow metabolism[3].

It turns out the exact opposite is true. Crap.

http://www.nerdfitness.com/” data-lazy-type=”iframe” src=”data:image/gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAIAAAAAAAP///yH5BAEAAAAALAAAAAABAAEAAAIBRAA7″>

Despite everything stacked against us, Nerd Fitness is FULL of success stories of people who have lost 100s of pounds and kept the weight off. Here are a few dramatic ones (click on the images to read their full stories):

Our community has plenty of successful weight loss transformations.

Kenny's weight loss really is stunning.

What gives?

Nerd Fitness doesn’t just tell you what to eat. Any Google search can tell you that.

Though we help there too.

At Nerd Fitness, we’re helping you learn HOW to think about eating too.

And that’s the difference maker.

Which Diet Will Help Me Lose Weight? (Mental Models for the Win)

We are about to explore Yoda's advice

The Nerd Fitness community is full of ridiculously smart people. Smart people that have tried in vain to lose weight for years or decades.

It’s because we’re fighting a brutal, uphill battle.

For many of us, food is way more than just fuel:

  • It’s a coping mechanism.
  • It’s how our moms showed us love.
  • It’s what we turn to when we’re happy or sad.
  • It can provide us with a small bit of happiness during an otherwise boring day.

Add in the fact that unhealthy food has been designed in a laboratory to be so delicious that it must be consumed in mass quantities, and trying to eat “just a few” of something is nearly impossible.

I get it, these cookies were DESIGNED to be overeaten.

Next, add a dash of “I am obsessive and if I start to track calories I’m going to drive myself insane,” “even if I track my calories I’ll probably underreport how many calories I eat by at least 20%,” and “there is so much information that this all appears so overwhelming, so it’s a lost cause.”

This is why Mental Models are so useful (hat tip to my friend Shane over at Farnam Street Blog who taught me about Mental Models). I’m gonna borrow the concept here for nutrition.

Enter a MENTAL MODEL DIET:

  • Paleo Diet: If a caveman didn’t eat it, neither should you. “Okay, what would a caveman eat? Probably things that grow in the ground, so vegetables and fruit, and also animals. They wouldn’t eat candy or bread or pasta or drink soda.”
  • Keto Diet: Keep your carb intake under 5% (or more extreme, 10 grams, for example) of your total calories so your body has to burn fat for fuel instead of carbs and sugar. “Time to learn how many carbs are in everything I eat, and start tracking.”
  • Slow Carb Diet: Eat legumes, protein, veggies. “Time to learn how to make food that only fits the slow carb model. At least until cheat day!”
  • Intermittent Fasting: Only eat between 12pm and 8pm. Occasionally do 24 hour fasts. “Okay, so I’ll just skip breakfast. That’s one less meal I have to think about.”

In each of the above options, there are a few similarities that make them such trendy/popular diet choices. 

For the sake of simplicity, we’re going to hold off on digging into the health benefits that apply to a small percentage of the population on certain diets (Keto to treat epilepsy, Paleo/Keto for Hashimoto’s Disease, identifying a gluten intolerance, etc), we’re going to focus on the reasons MOST people pick these diets.

They’re simple to comprehend and will probably help you lose weight:

#1) They all will result in you eating fewer calories (usually).

If you follow the Paleo Diet, you are eliminating some of the most calorie dense, nutritionally deficient, unhealthy foods out there. No more soda, no candy, no bread, no pasta, no sugar, no dairy.

If you follow the Keto Diet, you must track your carb intake, which means you’re going to also learn how many calories are in everything else you eat. You’re also essentially eliminating an entire macronutrient from your diet that’s notorious for keeping people overweight.

If you follow the Slow Carb Diet, you learn about which foods you can eat and which foods you can’t eat: yes to beans, no to dairy and grains. Like Paleo or Keto, you’re eliminating massively unhealthy foods from your diet, which will most likely result in weight loss.

If you do Intermittent Fasting, you’re eliminating 1/3rd of your meals for the day! Let’s say you normally ate an 800 calorie breakfast, 800 calorie lunch, and 800 calorie dinner. If you SKIP breakfast, that means you could eat larger lunches and dinners (1000 calories each) and still end up eating 400 calories less per day on average. That’s enough for 3-4 pounds of weight loss per month!

#2) You can answer “YES” or “NO” to adherence.

Sure, it would be great if you could weigh every element of food that you eat, and track each meal in a spreadsheet and KNOW you’re tracking each calorie and macronutrient correctly.

And for some people looking to get to bodybuilder levels of bodyfat, this level of perfection is required.

However, for the rest of us, working regular jobs, with kids, and lives, this shit is wayyyyy too much.

Yeah, for most people, tracking ever single calorie you eat is WAY TOO MUCH.

So these mental models are so damn helpful because they can simplify the overly complicated and allow us to get out of our own heads.

These Mental Model Diets require compliance and consistency. In each instance, there’s a very specific answer you can say every day, and a question you can ask yourself with each meal.

As our favorite green Jedi Master once said, “Do or do not. There is no try.”:

  • Paleo Diet: “Would a caveman eat this?” Yes or no.
  • Keto Diet: “Am I in ketosis?” Yes or no. You can even pee on strips to see if you are in ketosis.
  • Slow Carb Diet: “Did I only eat slow carb foods today?” Yes or no.
  • Intermittent Fasting: “Did I skip breakfast today? Did I stop eating after my feeding window?” Yes or no.

In each of these examples above, it removes ALLLLLLLL of the fluff, simplifies the heck out of our complex physiology and a complex problem. And it allows us to stop fooling ourselves.

With the mental models above, we have rules and a framework within which we can operate. It starts with black and white YES or NO questions we can ask.

A simple blueprint of what to eat and not eat might help a lot with weight loss.

We know what (or when) we can and can’t eat.

It’s a lot easier to fool ourselves when we are sneaking bites of cookies, having an extra roll at dinner, drinking a larger soda during a long night at work, eating some of our kid’s Halloween candy, and overeating while absentmindedly watching television.

When the rules are black and white, yes or no, there’s no place to hide.

Which means we need to get our act together if we’re going to stick with something.

We start to understand the quality and quantity of things we are putting in our pie holes. We start to dig into our relationship with food.

And in MANY cases, we start to lose some weight (again, see #1 above); this starts to make us feel better about ourselves. And we chase that feeling.

We create a positive virtuous cycle where you lose weight, get complimented, wake up not feeling like crap, look forward to exercising, and over time we become permanently changed, healthier, happier people.

In a similar vein, The Whole 30 Diet works for many people (“I only eat Whole 30 foods for the next 30 days”), but it will not result in long term changes if somebody goes back to their original unhealthy diet after the 30 days are up.

Temporary changes = temporary results.

#3) They can be done incorrectly, are tough to stick with long term, and won’t work for everybody.

Depending on our genetics, upbringing, lifestyle choices, addiction to sugar, relationship with food, what foods satiate us, etc., some of these options might work better for us than others.

As mentioned above, if ANY of the above nutritional strategies are done temporarily, they will result in temporary changes. This is how the majority of people go through life: gaining and losing the same 15-30 (or 50, or 100) pounds as they go on a diet and off a diet.

It’s a rollercoaster.

And not the good kind of rollercoaster with flips and corkscrews and probably involving Batman. It’s more like one of those rickety old wooden coasters that ruins your back.

It doesn't look like Scooby and Shaggy like wooden rollercoasters either.

Those rollercoasters suck, and so does putting your body through crazy weight loss extremes, up down, yes no, yo-yo.

Although these Mental Model diets can help people lose weight, they are often done for short time periods to get quick results.

And that’s only if people can actually stick with them long enough to get results! 

Let me explain.

Why Can’t I Stick to a Diet?

When you realize this LEGO is holding two heads, it becomes kind of creepy...

There are two main reasons why these diets won’t work for you.

  1. Some of them are more strict, have more rules, and require you to be more militant in your approach.
  2. Even if you are strict in applying the rules, you can STILL do the diets incorrectly and gain weight because of this whole concept of thermodynamics.

Don’t get mad at me. Get mad at science.[4]

MOST PEOPLE GROW FRUSTRATED BY POPULAR DIETS BECAUSE:

#1) You Can Do These Mental Model Diets Incorrectly:

Paleo: I know people who “go paleo” but eat just as many calories as they did in the past: they are eating paleo cookies, buckets of dried fruit (soooo much sugar and carbs), sweet potatoes, and so on. This person will be frustrated when they don’t lose weight.

Keto: If you go Keto but eat 5,000 calories per day, you’re gonna put on weight. Do this while sitting on your ass not doing heavy strength training, and that weight will be all fat.

Intermittent Fasting: If you do intermittent fasting but eat 2,000 calorie lunches and dinners, you’re gonna put on weight. Hell, I put on probably 30 pounds while doing IF, which was my plan.

Slow Carb: If you go slow carb but eat 6,000 calories of beans and other slow-carb worthy foods, you’re gonna gain weight (and have extreme flatulence).

#2) Sticking with these Mental Model Diets for the long haul can be tough

The Paleo Diet and the Keto diet often come up dead last when it comes to a “List of Best Diets.”[5]

Now, the people writing those lists certainly have agendas, are trying to deal with the general population, adherence, a number of other factors, and more. In addition, there just haven’t been enough long term studies on some of these newer diet strategies.

Oh, and factor in anybody that wants to get page views by taking shots and tearing down whatever becomes popular. We’ll call this the “hipster phenomenon.” I look forward to the vitriolic backlash to Keto Diets over the next 3 years.

And you never know who to trust. Coca-Cola famously used to bribe scientists to conduct studies claiming sugar was healthy.

It's a shame even scientific studies can be bought.

So why the hate for diets that have changed millions of lives and will probably help you lose weight?

The reason these diets have poor compliance is because most people will abandon them within days/weeks after starting them:

If somebody is following Paleo or Keto, they’re gonna go through “carb flu” symptoms as their body has to learn to burn fat instead of carbs for fuel. Their body can revolt against this, making them miserable for days or weeks.

Many give up and go back to sweet, comforting carbs. I imagine this happens to a majority of people.

For others, they might make it past the physiological challenges but still give up on the date. They hate having to be the difficult one at barbecues, they hate weighing food or counting carbs, and find the diets too restrictive to fit into their lives.

Compliance and elimination of certain foods can be really challenging, especially for people with families, who travel for work, and aren’t in control of the lunch and dinner options.

In an EXTREME example of a Mental Model diet done for publicity, a professor went on the Twinkie Diet (he ONLY ate Twinkies) and lost 27 pounds.[6]

Disregarding the health implications of only eating Twinkies, I can’t imagine saying “this is a diet I can stick with for the next decade.”

#3) People think “All or Nothing” and quickly abandon the diet when compliance fails.

If you are somebody who is on a Keto Diet or Paleo, you have a very specific set of rules to follow. If you accidentally slip up:

  • Oh crap, that food had more carbs than I realized, I am now out of ketosis and my world has ended.
  • Oh crap, I didn’t realize this was dairy. I have now brought shame upon my paleo heritage and must atone for my sins.

Life happens. Shit happens. And with these diets, we dumb humans have this unique ability to take one tiny mistake and allow it to ruin the next decade:

“I ate a breakfast that wasn’t Paleo, today is ruined and so this month. I’ll try again next month (even though it’s only the 5th). Oh look, a pile of carbs! NOM NOM NOM.”

“I got knocked out of Ketosis, which makes me a loser that can’t stick with anything and I hate myself. What’s the point? Who cares that I was in ketosis and lost 30 pounds. I’ll try again later. Now back to my regularly scheduled program of carbs and carbs and carbs topped with carbs!”

No wonder 60 % of America is overweight! We’re surrounded by calorie-dense, nutritionally-deficient foods designed to make us overeat.

Maybe don't result to gunfire when picking your diet...

We’re also surrounded by diet plans and products that promise fast results with no effort. We sabotage ourselves by thinking “99% complaint” is a failure and thus it’s a quick slide back to “0% compliant.”

It’s for these reasons I LOVE the IDEA of the Mental Model Diets above, but know that they’re not for everybody. They’re actually not for most people.

I think they can be a valuable starting point to help somebody simplify their decision-making process and educate themselves about the food they’re eating.

These Mental Model Diets can help people identify certain nutritional deficiencies or imbalances somebody might have, or unknown allergies.

They can help people identify sugar addictions, gluten intolerances, emotional triggers for food, and other valuable information to uncover. And as previously mentioned, some of these diets even have serious health benefits for certain conditions (Keto has been used to treat epilepsy, for example).

But let’s stick with the general population and keep things simple.

For somebody that is very overweight, following one of the Mental Model Diets can be a huge boon and momentum builder. They can lose lots of weight early on, and build off this success to beget further success.

I also think long term compliance is really difficult for 95 % of the planet.

This is why the Paleo Diet isn’t for me. Nor is Keto. Or slow carb. And although I have been Intermittent Fasting for close to 5 years, I still don’t mind eating breakfast or brunch occasionally because it fits for me.

I want the solution that is pretty good. That gets me results. That fits into my reality.

This is the rough philosophy behind our 10-Level system which you can download as a free PDF when you sign up in the box below, which allows you to be damn good most of the time! Simple rules you can follow, and increase the challenge as you build momentum.

Download our free weight loss guide

THE NERD FITNESS DIET: 10 Levels to Change Your Life

  • Follow our 10-level nutrition system at your own pace
  • What you need to know about weight loss and healthy eating
  • 3 Simple rules we follow every day to stay on target


What Is the Most Effective Weight Loss Diet? (The 80% Solution)

I'd go ahead and call this soup part of a

You are a real person who lives in the real world and thus must deal with this thing called reality.

Sucks, I know.

We have to learn to make a Mental Model diet fit into our personal reality:

If you work in a candy store or a pastry shop, trying to go full Paleo 100% of the time is going to be impossible. You’re setting yourself up for failure, because you’re expecting your reality to be different than it is.

If you’re married to somebody who loves to cook Italian food, cutting out pasta is the first step towards divorce.

Some people take their pasta very seriously.

If you have kids, only keeping Keto foods will not win you any “Parent of the Year” awards. And you can kiss that “#1 Dad” mug goodbye.

If you can’t have “just one” of something, don’t fool yourself into trying to be disciplined enough to have “just one.” It’s actually why I pay extra money for small cartons of Goldfish Crackers and/or small cans of soda. It makes it easier for me to treat these things like…well, a treat and less like a staple of my diet.

You need to educate yourself about the food you eat. You need to identify the mental models that simplify your decision making process when it comes to food.

And you need to pick the level of adherence that aligns with your goals:

It’s why I wrote about how I’m “Paleo-ish” in the past. For some people, they start Paleo and settle into a “good enough” mentality that still has guardrails.

It’s why our “Beginner’s Guide to Healthy Eating” is one of our most popular articles.

It’s why over 50,000 people have joined our NF Academy with the 10-level diet stuff.

And it’s why our 1-on-1 coaching program doesn’t promote a “one diet fits all” solution. Our coaches have our hundreds of clients track how they’re eating now and then educate them to introduce new rules and challenges from month to month!

We don’t want you to follow a diet for the next 30 days. We want you to follow a nutritional strategy that you can stick with for the next DECADE.

Which means you need a solution that accomplishes three things:

  1. A strategy that you can follow consistently for 5 years.
  2. A strategy that you can track your compliance with.
  3. If done long enough, a strategy that will help you reach your goal weight/physique.

Following a “pizza, pasta, and soda” diet might be something you can stick with for 5 years, but it won’t make you reach your healthy weight.

If Keto will help you lose weight but you can’t stick with it for 5 years, then “strict keto forever” probably isn’t the best strategy for you.

This is why we want rules we can follow, that help us reach our goals, that we can live with permanently.

Think of these rules like bumper lanes in bowling.

You can’t throw it in the gutter (0% compliance), but you have enough guardrails that allow you to still knock over the pins (weight loss).

THAT is the sweet spot.

What’s a “Good Enough” Diet? (Steve’s 80% Solution)

I wonder what these two LEGOs eat? They probably surf off a lot of calories.

I’ve identified certain mental models and rules  that help me make sense of my day without being overly neurotic, still have fun with friends, and ALSO allow me to reach my strength training and physique goals.

Here’s my personal “80% of the time, it works every time” strategy:

#1) Skip breakfast. I don’t eat breakfast. My first feed happens after my 11am workout. Yup, sometimes I’ll eat brunch on a weekend or have a bagel/donut, but that’s rare. I love Intermittent Fasting, it works for me, and I’ll probably do this for the rest of my life.

#2) Eat real food most of the time. I know what real food is. I try to only eat real food. If you hate veggies (as I used to), here’s how I learned to love them. Yup, I still eat rice and potatoes.

#3) Know my calories. I skip breakfast, and I eat the same lunch every day, and I know the basic quantities and calories of foods I normally eat. This means I generally know how many calories I’m eating every day with minimal effort. This is done more strictly if I am targeting certain goals.

Alternatively, we can learn portion sizes like we cover in our “Healthy Eating” guide.

#4) No unnecessary liquid calories. I drink black coffee, unsweet black tea, or water. No soda. No juice (which is pretty much sugar water). I do put whole milk in my powerbomb smoothies, which I drink specifically to help me overeat on training days to build muscle. I still drink whiskey (neat) or good beer when the occasion calls for it!

#5) Never eat two unhealthy meals in a row. If I eat an unhealthy lunch (pizza and wings and beer), I either make my dinner healthy or skip dinner entirely. If I ate an unhealthy dinner, my lunch the next day is going to be healthy. I know myself, and when it comes to momentum killing, 1 bad meal is a speed bump, 2 is a brick wall.

Before I help you come up with your own rules, I want to address the elephant in the room.

Okay, now that I’ve addressed him, let’s talk about vegetarians and vegans!

Will Being a Vegetarian (Or Vegan) Help Me Lose Weight?

It's fine if you go Plant-Based, just be careful!

I actually considered including Vegetarian or Vegan mental models in the above sections, as I know we have plenty of plant-based folks in the Rebellion.

Here’s why I didn’t: neither option satisfies Rule #1 (“By following this strategy, you will most likely lose weight”). I’ll explain.

Yes, as a vegan or vegetarian, you can ask yourself: “Is this Vegan/Vegetarian? Yes or No” (Rule #2), which does make it a mental model in that respect.

However, in order for you to lose weight and be healthier on either mental model, you need to be very aware of the foods you’re eating and how many calories they have—which introduces more complexity.

Pizza, fettuccine alfredo, bowls of sugary cereal, grilled cheese sandwiches, and calorie-bomb burritos can be vegetarian.[7]

Donuts, pasta, and bread can be vegan.

Plant-based? Technically, yes. Healthy? Ehhhh.

Vegan does not equal healthy. You gotta do it right!

Just like you can do Paleo or Keto incorrectly, you absolutely can be an unhealthy vegetarian or an unhealthy vegan. The same is true of going gluten-free.

Long story short: if you are thinking of going vegetarian or vegan for whatever reason (nutritional, moral, religion, this new person you’re dating is vegetarian, etc.), go for it!

It might work for you! It might not.

It might help you lose weight! It might not.

It all depends on what foods you are eating in addition to being vegan or vegetarian.

So, if going plant-based ALSO helps you educate yourself on what you’re putting in your body, if it helps you make better food decisions, and changes your relationship with food for the long term, and gets you the health/physique results you’re after, great!

KEEP DOING IT!

Just don’t fool yourself into blindly believing what you’re doing is healthy just because you cut out meat without actually analyzing what you’re replacing it with.

If you are vegan or vegetarian and planned on emailing me angry words for not including them as healthy options above, thus concludes my cover-my-ass explanation. We’re cool, right?

Also, yes. I have read the China Study. [8]

Lastly, if you are contemplating moving to a vegan or vegetarian diet, make sure you check out our massive guide “How to Eat a Plant-Based Diet: A Scientific Look at Going Vegan Safely” for tips and tricks to make it work.

How to Pick the Diet That’s Right For You (next steps)

It's now time to create your own

Those are the rules I’ve picked above that fit MY reality. I adjust based on my progress from month-to-month, whether or not I’m making progress in the gym (and in the mirror!).

Here’s how you can determine the best diet for you: Throw the concept of the “perfect diet” out the window and staple this to your forehead: “The perfect diet is the diet I can actually stick with.”

Actually, don’t staple that to your forehead. It’ll be backwards when you look in the mirror and that will defeat the purpose.

Instead, do this – Be a badass scientist:

#1 – Do some research, juuuuust enough to get started[9], and pick the diet or the rules you want to start with. Pick the rules that you can live with. Then, start. Now.

You are not ready to create your own

Here are some sample yes/no rules to get you started outside of the mental model diets. Note the difference in challenge/healthiness – pick the ones at YOUR level:

  • I can’t drink more than 5 sodas per week (instead of my normal 10). It’s up to me when I drink them.
  • I don’t eat fast food Monday through Friday.
  • I eat a vegetable with every lunch and dinner.
  • Once per week I’ll do a 24-hour fast.
  • I don’t drink alcohol on Sunday afternoon through Friday afternoon. Other than that, all bets are off.

#2 – Track your adherence to the diet or rules. It can be very simple (“Yes I was compliant today”/“No I wasn’t”). A spreadsheet, a calendar where you write X’s on the days where you were compliant, an app, a friend you check in with, etc. Your rules can be “Only drink 5 sodas this week,” “eat two vegetables per day,” or “eat under X amount of carbs.” Pick rules that line up with your life.

#3 – Track your progress, assess your strategy. Compare photos, measurements, and/or lifts in the gym at the end of the month. Are you better off than you were 30 days ago? Do you feel like you can stick with the rules for another few months? Were you able to stick to the plan more than 80-90% of the time?

#4) Stay the course, or course-correct:

  • Compliant with your rules and you lost weight? Great! Do it again for another month.
  • Couldn’t stick with your rules? Great! Adjust your rules to be less rigid so you’re more likely to stick with them.
  • Stuck with your rules but didn’t lose any weight? Great! You identified that your rules weren’t aligned with your goals. Adjust them.

#5) Repeat! Forgive yourself if you don’t succeed (each month is a new experiment). Even “failure” gives you information on what diets DON’T work for your situation.

You will need to follow these 5 steps every month for the rest of your life, so better get used it.

That’s what we call “life.”

Because life IS change and chaos.

Yes, life WILL get crazy, but you might not necessarily be attacked by birds.

Success comes from learning to navigate through the muck!

Your body will change in the coming years, and so will your rules. You might get pregnant or go through menopause. You might get an injury or change jobs or discover a food allergy. You might have kids or move cross country or go on vacation.

Each month, do a quick evaluation of where you are. Decide if you need to stay the course or make adjustments.

Do this consistently, and you’ll eventually arrive at the perfect diet FOR YOU. You are a unique snowflake in an environment and situation that is unique to you.

So again, I do not follow a paleo lifestyle. I don’t even recommend Paleo as the option that’s best for everybody.

What I recommend is treating life like an experiment, and using the resources and community here at Nerd Fitness to identify the rules and strategy that works for YOUR reality.

The Mental Models of Paleo, Keto, Slow Carb, Intermittent Fasting, Vegan, Vegetarian, or other eating models may be able to help you get started, and MIGHT even get you results!

But it’s gotta fit your life and ultimately be sustainable to have any real chance at long-term success.

So I recommend that YOU take control over finding the perfect diet for YOU.

Pick a mental model and incorporate it into your life. Lean on your friends or this community for support. Learn from people who have succeeded in the way you want to succeed. Track your compliance and progress. AND KEEP EVOLVING.

This is why I started Nerd Fitness: to help people cut through the crap and start to make progress that can stick even as the rest of their life goes through change.

If you’re somebody who is super overwhelmed or has struggled with yo-yo dieting for years, you’re not alone! This stuff is tough, and finding a way to navigate a constantly changing, chaotic life while following brutally strict rules ain’t easy.

This is why we created three different paths forward. The next step so you determine the “right diet for me.”

Pick the option that best aligns with your goals:

#1) Our 1-on-1 Online Coaching program: a coaching program for busy people to help them make better food choices, stay accountable, and get healthier, permanently.

You can schedule a free call with our team so we can get to know you and see if our coaching program is right for you. Just click on the image below for more details:

Your NF Coach can help you lose weight and get healthy!

#2) The Nerd Fitness Academy – This self-paced online course has helped 50,000 people get results permanently. 

There’s a 10-level nutrition system, boss battles, 20 workouts, and the most supportive community in the galaxy!

#3) Join The Rebellion! We have a free email newsletter that we send out twice per week, full of tips and tricks to help you get healthy, get strong, and have fun doing so. 

I’ll also send you tons of free guides that you can use to start leveling up your life too:

Download our free weight loss guide

THE NERD FITNESS DIET: 10 Levels to Change Your Life

  • Follow our 10-level nutrition system at your own pace
  • What you need to know about weight loss and healthy eating
  • 3 Simple rules we follow every day to stay on target

NOW IT’S YOUR TURN!

I want to hear from you with regards to these Mental Models and how they fit into your life:

What are your questions that I didn’t address above? I’ll do my best to respond to all comments!

Which Mental Model Diet worked for you?

Which one didn’t?

Let me know in the comments below!

-Steve

PS:Make sure you check out the rest of our Sustainable Weight Loss Content:

  • The 5 Rules of Weight Loss
  • Why Can’t I Lose Weight?
  • How to Lose Weight and Build Muscle at the Same Time.
  • How to Start Eating Healthy (Without Giving up the Food You Love)

PPS: Please don’t do the Twinkie Diet.

###

Gif source: Spock, Cookie Monster, New Girl, Yes or No, Ready Cat, Stan Marsh, American Dad, Gollum, Daisy.

Photo source: clement127: Mr Banana, JonathanCohen: weightless, Reiterlied: The New Yoda, Rafael Peñaloza: Undecided, stavos: Fish soup, regolare: point brick, Jose Antonio Hidalgo Jimenez Killer Peppers….STAR WARS., clement127 In the lab

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Fitness

15 Hip Stretches Literally Every Body Will Benefit From

If you’ve got a pair of hips, there’s a really good chance they’ve felt “tight” once or twice (or uh, maybe even right this second). And you’re not alone: “I hear people complain about tightness in their hips during every single [personal training] session,” says Lauren Kanski, NASM-CPT, personal trainer and coach at Performix House in New York City. “Multiple times, every single day, it’s the most common area people ask for help on besides their lower back.”

The reason? We all tend to spend a majority of the day sitting down—in the car, at your desk, on the couch—and staying off your feet plays a major role in this type of tightness. That’s because that seated posture means your hips hold a flexed (or shortened) position all day, which can make moving afterward—even just standing up—feel tough. Stretching out your hip muscles, as well as moving regularly throughout the day, can help ease stiff hips and ward off pain and injury.

But even if you don’t feel tight, it’s important to tend to your hips, especially if you feel stressed. “We store a lot of stress and emotions in our hips,” Kanski explains. “We transfer energy between the upper part of the body and the lower part of the body to function and move, and the hips are the primary transfer point of that energy.” Sometimes, opening up the hips can even alleviate some overall tension and perk up your energy levels.

RELATED: This 6-Step Yoga Flow Will Open Up Your Tight Hips

To keep your hips healthy, show ‘em some TLC every day. Kanski suggests you stretch them out after you wake up in the morning, before your workouts, and before you head to bed. But even more important: stretching our hips out before and after a workout. Keep stretches active or dynamic when warming up before your workout—that means only holding for a few seconds and moving in and out of the pose. Go for passive or static stretches to cool down after a sweat, holding each position for about 30 seconds. The stretches below, shared with Health by Kanski, are a mixture of both—one through eight are dynamic stretches to keep things moving, while stretches nine through 15 are meant for when you finally slow things down. 

1. Adductor Rock Back

Start in a tall kneeling position on the floor. Extend one leg straight out to the side, keeping foot flat on the floor. Place both hands on the ground, about one to two feet in front of bent knee and rotate foot of extended leg so it faces inward. Keeping your spine long, push hips back toward heel. Then, return to starting position. Perform three sets of 10 rock backs on each side. Kneel on a pillow, folded blanket, or yoga mat if needed.

2. Quadruped Hip Half Circles

Start on hands and knees, shoulders over wrists and knees under hips. Extend right leg behind you. Create a counterclockwise circle with knee, bringing it to right arm. Try to keep hips level and knee bent 90 degrees. Complete the half-circle by extending right leg behind you again. Repeat for a total of three to five reps. Do three sets per side.

RELATED: What the Heck Are Hip Dips?

3. Spiderman Lunge

Start in a high-plank position with hands directly under shoulders. Bend right knee to step right foot forward, just outside right hand. Keep left leg extended and abs tight. Step right foot back to plank and pause. Repeat. Do three sets of five lunges per side.

4. Squat-to-Stand

Start standing with feet hip-width apart. Soften knees and bend forward at waist to reach hands to toes. Once hands reach toes, or as close as possible, bend knees to squat down. In your squat position, keep your elbows on the inside legs and use them to gently push knees apart. Lift chest, pause, then straighten legs and re-fold forward to return to starting position. Do three sets of five reps.

RELATED: How Low Should You Squat? And How to Improve It

5. Walking Lateral Lunges

Start standing with feet shoulder-width apart, arms at sides. Step right foot wider than hip width and bend right knee to sit hips down and back. Keep opposite leg straight with toes pointing forward. Press through the floor away with right foot to return to starting position, left foot meeting right. Do three sets of 10 lunges per leg.

6. High Knees

Start standing. Drive right knee up to hip-height and drive the opposite arm forward, elbow bent 90 degrees. Immediately place right foot back down and drive left knee up. Then step it down. Repeat. Stay light on your feet and continue alternating for 10 reps per side. Do three sets.

RELATED: 10-Minute Cardio Workout You Can Do at Home

7. Glute Bridge

Lie on your back with knees bent and feet on the floor, hip-width apart. Engage abs and push into the floor with heels to lift hips so knees, hips and shoulders align. Squeeze glutes to the top of the movement, then slowly lower hips back down to the floor. Do three sets of 10 reps.

8. Lateral Band Walk



Loop a small resistance band around legs slightly above ankles. Stand tall with feet about hip-width apart. Soften knees and take a small step to the side with one foot. Then, slowly follow with opposite foot so feet are hip-width apart again. Avoid leaning to the side as you step and prevent lead knee from collapsing inward; knee should stay over ankle the entire time. Do three sets of 10-15 steps per side.

RELATED: This Full-Body Resistance Band Workout Only Takes 15 Minutes

9. 90/90 Hip Stretch

Sit on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor in front of you. Place both hands behind you, shift knees to the right, and lay both shins on the floor, keeping knees bent 90 degrees. Right shin should be in front of body, and left shin to the left of body. Keep chest tall. Lean forward at waist to deepen the stretch. Hold here for 30 seconds before returning your knees to center and shifting them to the left, bringing both shins to the floor and keeping knees bent 90 degrees. Do three sets of 30-second holds per side.

10. Pigeon Pose

Start in a high plank position with your hands directly under your shoulders. Then, bring right knee forward toward right wrist. Lay shin flat on the floor, parallel to chest. Keep left leg extended. Hold for 30 seconds. Lean forward at the waist to deepen the stretch. Then switch sides. Do three sets of 30-second holds per side.  

RELATED: Best Yoga Poses for Your Trouble Spots

11. Child’s Pose

Start on hands and knees. Then, spread knees wide while allowing big toes to touch. Sit back into hips to rest butt on heels. Inhale and sit up straight to lengthen spine through the crown of your head. On an exhale, fold forward at the waist, allowing chest to rest between or on top of thighs, and bring forehead to the floor. Keep arms extended in front of you with palms on the floor. Keep butt touching heels. Hold here. Do three sets of 30-second holds.

12. Couch Stretch

Start in a half-kneeling position, right foot forward and knees bent 90 degrees. Place the top of left foot on a couch, chair, or bench behind you. Hands can go on hips or on front knee. With chest tall, gently press hips forward and hold for 30 seconds. Do three sets of 30-second holds per side. 

RELATED: 15 Stretches You Should Do Every Day

13. Frog Stretch

Start on hands and knees. Spread knees slightly wider than hip-width apart but keep feet in place and turn the toes outward. Then, come down onto forearms and keep spine straight as you try to “spread the floor” with knees and sit hips back toward heels. Hold here. Do three sets of 30-second holds.

14. Supine Figure-Four Stretch

Lie flat on back with legs extended. Extend arms out to the sides and flat on the floor. Bring right knee toward chest and grab with left hand. Gently pull knee across body, making sure right shoulder stays flat on the floor. Hold for 30 seconds. Do three sets of 30-second holds per side. Place a yoga block, pillow or folded blanket under bent knee for support, if needed.

15. Half-Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch

Start in a half-kneeling position, right foot forward and both knees bent 90 degrees. Place hands on front thigh for support. Tuck hips forward and pull belly button toward spine. Then, rock forward gently without un-tucking hip or rounding back. Hold for 30 seconds. Do three sets of 30-second holds per side.

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Fitness

Chrissy Teigen Just Wore the Cutest Alo Yoga Sports Bra—and You Can Get it on Amazon

Chrissy Teigen started taking yoga class this week—and she’s been letting social media know all about it. From a heartfelt tweet about her first yoga class to a quick Instagram story sharing a special birthday class with her mom, Pepper Thai, the super relatable celeb is making her new workout routine known.

Beyond a glimpse into Teigen’s current go-to workout, her social media posts also revealed one of her recent activewear picks: Alo Yoga’s Togetherness Bra (from $31; amazon.com or zappos.com).

RELATED: We Tried Chrissy Teigen’s Hack for Glowing Skin on 3 Different Skin Types—Here’s What Happened

A great choice for yoga or other low-intensity workouts, the lightly lined bra offers just the right amount of subtle support without uncomfortable compression. Tested in-house by Alo Yoga staff to ensure a perfect fit, it’s made with a four-way stretch fabric that moves with your body rather than restricting motions (another reason the bra is ideal for activities like yoga).

Beyond a high-tech design—including a moisture-wicking and anti-microbial fabric—it’s also unbelievably trendy. The strappy design has a sleek V-neck front and overlapping criss-cross straps in the back that not only set the bra apart from other styles in your wardrobe, but also allow for plenty of airflow.

RELATED: I Tried Chrissy Teigen’s Trick for Super Long Lashes—and It Really Work

To buy: Alo Yoga Togetherness Bra, from $31; amazon.com and zappos.com

While Teigen wore the black colorway in her Instagram stories, the bra also comes in two additional neutral color options on Zappos, including a light gray and soft mauve. Amazon has even more options, including an additional colorway and some sizes marked down to just $31.

While we’ll have to wait for the star to share the rest of her activewear picks to round out our yoga class look, thankfully, Teigen’s (clearly) a pro when it comes to spilling her favorites on social media.

Sign up for our Health Shopping newsletter to get your daily dose of retail therapy with great deals handpicked by our editors—straight to your inbox.

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Fitness

The 20-Minute HIIT Workout You Can Do Literally Anywhere

In a perfect world, we’d all have a good hour of free time every day, specifically for working out.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case—and some days, between making time for work, friends, and family, it’s hard enough to just find time to take a breath, let alone crush a workout. That is, until high-intensity interval training (HIIT) gained popularity. 

For the uninitiated, HIIT workouts are a quick, efficient way to sneak in exercise, but the benefits go way beyond simply fitting it into your schedule. “HIIT training can improve anaerobic capacity, cardiovascular health, and result in fat loss,” says Lacee Lazoff, NASM-certified personal trainer based in New York City and creator of Bells Up. “It’s effective when work’s performed in short intervals at maximum capacity, followed immediately by modesty intervals of very low capacity or rest.”

RELATED: 7 HIIT Mistakes You’re Probably Making

So what does an effective HIIT workout look like? Lazoff suggests that you follow a 30-second on, 90-second rest formula. During those 30 seconds on, you’re really working as hard as possible. “Think of it as a rate of perceived exertion of least a nine,” she adds. And because they take so little time, HIIT workouts are a super-effective addition to any training plan with time restrictions, says Lazoff. 

Once you’re ready to kick things up a notch (and I mean that literally), try this 20-minute HIIT workout, courtesy of Lazoff—just make sure you’ve queued up a killer playlist first; you’ll want those beats to keep you motivated, but you won’t have time to switch the track. 

The Workout

Do each move for 30 seconds, rest for 90 seconds before moving on to the next. Repeat the circuit once.

Mountain Climber

Start in a high plank position. Alternate running your knees into your chest as quickly as you can, keeping the hips lifted and feet flexed. Move as fast as possible. You should be out of breath by the end of the interval.

High Knees with Arms Overhead

Start in a standing position with feet hip-width distance apart, arms up overhead with hands facing in, with a slight bend in the elbows. Begin to run in place, bringing knees up your chest as high as possible while pumping your arms. Keep your chest lifted throughout movement and land on the ball of your foot. Repeat.

RELATED: The Best HIIT Workout—and Why It Burns So Many Calories

Jump Squat

Start standing with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart with toes turned out. Lower into a squat position (your butt should be below your knees). Jump up and land as softly as possible. Repeat.

Frogger

Start in a high plank position with your shoulders directly over your wrists. Engage your core and jump both feet up and outside your hands so that you’re in a squat position. Jump back into plank. Repeat.

RELATED: This 4-Move Battle Rope Workout is Perfect for Beginners

Skater

Stand on left leg with right leg behind you. Explosively hop to right leg, placing left foot behind it to soften landing. Alternate sides. Repeat.

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Fitness

5 Ways to Upgrade Basic Crunches

What’s so bad about basic crunches? “They don’t challenge your deep core muscles, which provide support for a body in motion,” explains celebrity trainer Kira Stokes, creator of The Stoked Method and Stoked Series classes. Here, five nontraditional moves from Stokes to build a better core.

c curve hold with pulses

C-Curve Hold With Pulses

This move works the entire rectus abdominis, giving you that six-pack you’re after.

How to do it: Sit with knees bent and feet flat on the floor; lower down to elbows (A). Tuck tailbone, pressing lower back firmly into the floor, and draw naval toward spine. Lift elbows, reaching hands forward; place them lightly on sides of thighs. (B). Pulse upper body up an inch and down an inch. Continue for 3 sets of 45-second intervals. To make it even harder, release your hands from your thighs while pulsing.

RELATED: Tighten Your Core in 21 Days With This Plank Challenge

plank knee tuck

Plank Knee Tuck

This hits the transverse abdominis, aka your body’s natural girdle, to nix slouching and stabilize the spine. Also tones the low abdomen (read: belly pouch).

How to do it: Start in plank position with toes pressing into gliders or a towel (A). Draw navel toward spine and engage glutes; tip hips up slightly higher than shoulder level. Exhale; slowly pull knees in until they are about 2 inches in front of hips (B). Inhale and reverse back to start. Do 3 sets of 45-second intervals.

standing oblique crunch

Standing Oblique Crunch

This move targets the obliques (the muscles that let you twist your torso), stretching and strengthening them to whittle your waistline into that coveted V shape.

How to do it: Stand with feet wider than hip-width apart; extend right leg out to the side. Tuck tailbone, engage glutes, and draw navel toward spine as you tilt to the left, right hand reaching overhead toward left shoulder (A). Exhale while crunching to the right, bringing right elbow and right knee together (B). Inhale; return to “A.” Do 3 sets of 45-second intervals per side.

RELATED: 20 Ways to Do a Plank

side lying swivel crunch

Side-Lying Swivel Crunch

This will get your whole core involved. The payoff: better balance, more graceful posture, and a lower risk of injury. It’s especially good for the obliques, which means a slimmer middle.

How to do it: Lie on left side with left forearm on the floor and hips and feet stacked. Extend right arm overhead, squeezing glutes and drawing navel toward spine. Contract abs and lift legs about 3 inches off the floor (A). Roll onto left glute and lift legs to about a 45-degree angle while bringing right hand to touch left shin (B). Return to “A.” Continue for 3 sets of 45- to 60-second intervals per side.

bird dog crunch

Bird Dog Crunch

This increases stability and strength in the abs and lower back. It may feel like more of a balance move, but each time you bring your elbow to your knee, you’re sculpting your core, too.

How to do it: Start on all fours with wrists under shoulders and knees under hips; gaze toward the floor to keep head and neck in a neutral position. Draw navel toward spine and, maintaining a flat back, extend right arm and left leg straight out (A). Bring right elbow to left knee (B); hold for 1 to 2 seconds, then return to “A.” Do 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps per side. To make it harder, in the extended position, pulse ar and leg (hello, glute challenge!) up twice.

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