Sunday, January 4, 2009

How people fail their New Year's resolutions

According to this article, getting fit and leaner ranks 2nd and 3rd on a list of the most popular new year's resolutions people make.

So, as January comes around, the cardio machines, swiss balls and dumbbells gets the most attention they've had in a long time. It doesn't last of course, since people are lousy at maintaining new habits if they don't have strong incentives for it. Being healthy and fit is, sadly, not a strong enough incentive for people when they have to weigh it against the 'sacrifices' they have to make (such as spending an extra hour in the gym three times a week and *gasp* maybe even cut down on fast food a bit).

I've found that the average joe, meaning the ones that makes resolutions and fail to live up to them (and they are many), usually gives up on diet and training for two reasons.

One is motivation. People simply decide that they "don't have time", which in reality means that they rather prioritize other, easy, leisurely things instead of breaking a sweat.

"one should not increase, beyond what is necessary, the number of entities required to explain anything"

Occam's razor. Training requires some effort and time investment and people shy away from it. It's not even a matter of knowing how to eat and train properly. By February or March, only a few % of the 'resolutionists' will still remain in the gym.

On the other hand of the spectrum are the people that go at it with guns a blazin' on Jan 1st, doing two hours of cardio a day along with weight training and a sub-1000 kcal diet to boot. They wan't results FAST and expect to go from slightly overweight to ripped in 4 weeks. They usually last 2 weeks, before they get burnt out and throw their resolutions out of the window. Unrealistic goal setting plays in here as well.

The experienced trainee fails in other ways

The reasons why experienced trainees fail to reach their strength and fitness goals are slightly different from the average joe.

Here's a few common mistakes in random order that I often see experienced trainees making.

1. Fearing change

Einstein defined insanity as doing the same things all over again and expecting a different result. A lot of the people I deal with have spun their wheels for years.

Experienced trainees tend to be resistant to change and afraid of trying new things.
Part of this is not rarely due to housing irrational beliefs, such as the high volume training junkie fearing his muscles will fall off if he reduces his training volume; a sound change if he has stalled with his default approach, yet he resists it due to an unsound belief system.

Another example being the carbophobic/chronic low carb dieter that sees his fat loss stall or strength plummet; introducing carb refeeds would be a good idea at this point, but he's afraid the carbs will do him more harm than good.

And so it goes.

Man is a creature of habit and many people short-change themselves due to their inherent belief systems, created by years of ingrained behaviors. Behaviors which may have helped them inititally, but now poses an obstacle for progress beyond that point.

So, ask yourself, are you repeating yesteryear's behaviors while expecting a different result?

2. Being impatient/doing stupid shit

This falls under why people screw up their diet and training in general. Even experienced trainees overestimate their capabilities and are simply too eager to get results, fast, once they get the itch for something. They overdiet and overtrain, even though they should know better.

There is often a disconnect about what you know about diet and training in theory, and how well you apply it on yourself in practise.

Hell, even I did some stuff last year that I wouldn't recommend any of my clients doing, such as training at a very high intensities during weeks I would have benefitted from backing off a bit. Part of me thought I was exempt from normal rules, but lo and behold I overtrained and even regressed in the very lift I sought out to improve on.

I am in no way unique in this regard.

A friend of mine, which is an excellent coach and competes himself, usually has someone else handling his pre-competition diet for him since he knows he'll overdiet and overtrain if he attempts it himself.

Another aquaintance of mine is a top CrossFit coach, yet has some of worst carbophobia I've encountered and often trains to a point where she burns out and gets sick.

Another one coaches figure athletes, and does so well, yet is extremely neurotic and insecure about her own diet.

I got lots of similar examples, but the key point here is that people tend to be more ruled by emotion rather than objective thinking when it comes to their own diet and training, regardless of actual experience level, and regardless of what they would advise others.

Being aware of this at an early stage could possibly help you to stay away from doing stupid shit. If you're planning a diet or training routine which you wouldn't have recommended to someone else, it's usually a damn bad idea in the first place.

3. Lack of knowledge...about the right things

This is among the most common mistakes made by people in general, in the beginner stage, but often well past that. It boils down to a lack of focus and perspective, as the trainee is putting a great amount of attention to minutae, while missing the big picture.

If you want a big bench press, it makes little sense to worry about the fructose content of your favourite cereal brand. Rather, you find a bench specialisation program and put your effort into understanding and applying it properly.

If you want to get lean, it makes little sense in dwelling about what heart rate you should do your cardio at. Rather, you go and find out what your daily energy expenditure is, and put your efforts into understanding how to track calorie intake.

If you want to gain muscle mass, it makes little sense in asking around whether oatmeal is superior to potatoes as a carb source. Rather, you make sure you are progressively lifting heavier weights in the gym, while eating enough to support muscle growth.

To summarize, don't short-change your progress in 2009 by clinging to old beliefs and old habits if they aren't getting you anywhere, don't do stupid stuff due to impatience, and make sure you master, and put focus on, the right things.


Anonymous said...

Great article! Thanks

Chris said...

Great article Martin - as ever

Anonymous said...

nice post...i can relate to no 2 on that list...always diet too hard and end up sick...seems i never learn!:p ha ha.


Anonymous said...

Lots of insight here. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Any date on your books publishing? Two more weeks?

Unknown said...

Thanks for the comments, guys.

Hoping for a late March/April release.

Anonymous said...

Do some of your clients experience hunger early on in the fast that eventually goes away? I am hungry from about the 9-12 hour mark (not always bad)but was wondering if you had a fix for that.

Unknown said...

It is not unheard of to experience a brief hunger pang early on in the fast, but it always goes away in a matter of minutes - at least according to my experience and from what I've heard from clients.

If you're saying that you're hungry for three hours straight, I'd say that's a bit unusual - I suspect that you may be dieting and running a quite severe calorie deficit on the day prior you get the hunger?

It is hard to pinpoint what the problem might be, but I would recommend getting plenty of fiber, some fat and a lot of protein in your last meal of the day - that is how I normally set up an IF meal plan.

Caffeine can also help with hunger during the fast.

But again, according to my own experience, what you ate as your last meal, and your overall calorie intake the day prior, do play quite a big role in this.

Anonymous said...

Martin's suggestions and experience with hunger pangs are the same as my own.

I'd just like to add another trick that might help, aside from getting enough protein (esp. casein) in the final meal before the fast.

Drink water. When you feel that pang of physical hunger, I do two things in order:

1. Burp. (For some reason, the hunger pang seems to make this possible).

2. Drink a tall glass of water. As soon as the water's in my belly, the hunger is appeased.

Victor Jonsson said...

Great post Martin.

Anonymous said...

Great article Martin!

Keep it up!

// Seth Ronland

Anonymous said...

echoing everyone else: great article.
number 2 pretty much described me to a tee, I realised after reading this that i havn't stuck to the same training routine for more than 2weeks before trying to 'improve' it.

Unknown said...


I can relate, based on my earlier experiences in the gym. As one poster on a message board once very eloquently put it:

"The belief is that, while what is current is sufficient, what is future is a gamble for something superior. Then the sufficient is forgotten in the scramble to recover from the failure of delivery from the gamble."

george harris said...

The last sentence really sums it up for me; "To summarize, don't short-change your progress by clinging to old beliefs and old habits if they aren't getting you anywhere, don't do stupid stuff due to impatience, and make sure you master, and put focus on, the right things"

This is a nice brief summary of the best of the personal change/empowerment field and a basic tenet of NLP. Behavioural flexibility baby, it's the dogs!

I wrote some words about being more flexible here (not specifically about IF, but very relevant about the diet game)
Happy IF'ing

Darshinator82 said...

Words of wisdom. Thanks Martin. Can't wait for the book.

Anonymous said...

you put 2009 at the end of the article in the last sentence... a little copy and paste eh?

Lars said...

Good post - only one thing. You tell people not to short change themselves in...tada...2009 ;)

Anonymous said...

This WAS written in 2009, you arseholes ;)

Claes said...

The problem is that most people dont now how little things can give them results to, like train 1-2 times a week for an hour and cut 500calories isnt much sacrifice and isnt that hard.

Anonymous said...

written in 2009 but it doesn't matter, it's still actual

Unknown said...

Nice Article! Thanks for sharing with us.
Glucose Machines

My name is Martin Berkhan and I work as a nutritional consultant, magazine writer and personal trainer.

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