How Self-Awareness Can Help You Attain the Body You Desire.
Having self-awareness is about introspection. It’s about stopping to observe your habits, processes, actions, recognizing your patterns, strengths and weaknesses. Self-awareness is especially important when we are in the midst of a journey to improve our health and our bodies.
We all have internal narratives of why we can’t get the body we want. We tell ourselves we are doing everything possible to look better. It is sometimes difficult to be objective about our efforts and to admit our drawbacks, weaknesses and failures.
Practicing self-awareness is also about being honest with yourself. And I get it, self-awareness can be scary. It can be scary because it forces us to evaluate. And when we evaluate we might discover that something needs to change. We humans sometimes try to avoid change. But change, is sometimes exactly what we need in order to seek the results we are after.
Exercising self-awareness can enable us to learn from our mistakes and to make wiser decisions. But being self-aware is not enough, we must act upon our insights.
To get the most of this article you’re going to need a pen and paper to write down certain questions.
We will dive into these questions soon but first I want to tell you about a client I use to have. Let’s call him Aaron.
Like most of my clients, Aaron wanted to have a trimmer midsection. Aaron was at the time in his late 30s. He was pretty thin with some muscle definition, but he also had a little belly. I trained him at the gym about three times a week. He did not train himself the other days of the week. Some weeks he only made it to the gym twice.
Aaron one day approached me and said that while he enjoyed the training sessions and the new muscle definition, he still wasn’t getting any closer to getting the abs he wanted. I listened carefully to his concerns, I then sat down with him to ask him a few questions. The conversation pretty much went like this:
Me: Aaron, I’m glad you are happy with the training sessions and with some of the results. Let’s dive into some details and see if we can pinpoint some areas of your lifestyle and training that may need some adjustments.
Aaron: Ok, sounds like a plan.
Me: Are you training on your own the other days we don’t see each other?
Aaron: Not really.
Me: Besides being active in our training sessions, are you being active outside of the gym? Are you doing any cardiovascular training to assist your caloric expenditure throughout the week?
Aaron: No I am not.
Me: How often do you eat out?
Aaron: Almost every day.
Me: Do you ever cook for yourself?
Aaron: Not really no.
Me: Do you skip breakfast more than once a week?
Aaron: I don’t really have breakfast at home. I usually stop by Starbucks on the way to work and grab a Grande Caffè Mocha with a croissant.
I think you are getting the picture.
Aaron’s “breakfast” from Starbucks consists of mainly sugar, fat and carbs. These two items combined have a total amount of 640 calories, 74 grams of (fast acting) carbs, 30 grams of fat and 38 grams of sugar. Removing or reducing this morning habit can greatly impact his results.
There are other things that Aaron can do to help himself get his abs. He can increase the frequency of his training AND he can eat more at home rather than at restaurants. Most people will look at this and say, “Why doesn’t he just train more?” Well he can of course. But adding more is not always better. Sometimes we need to remove, not add, in order to see different results.
A Quick Glance on Excessive Carbohydrates and Fat Loss
When you consume carbohydrates it enters your bloodstream in the form of glucose. Depending on the type, it may raise your blood sugar levels rather quickly. When glucose is present in the bloodstream, the pancreas regulates our blood sugar levels by secreting insulin.
When we consume foods rich in carbohydrates , like Aaron’s breakfast, it floods our bloodstream with sugar, forcing our body to distribute insulin.
In his book, “Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It“, author Gary Taubes mentions the following:
The longer, more regularly and intensely we generate high levels of insulin from carbohydrate-rich foods in our bloodstream, the more resistant our musculature becomes towards insulin, which inhibits our bodies from burning energy. In turn, the body reacts to this resistance by raising the insulin dosage necessary to lower our blood sugar. This strengthens the resistance and advances the growth of fat cells.
To help me illustrate this caloric intake, look at image below:
In one week, Aaron is having 3,200 worthless calories. This is not including the weekends. And by the end of the month this amounts sums up to around 12,800 calories.
Surely this type of morning habit alone can cause significant setback for anyone that wants to reveal their abdominal muscles.
But why didn’t Aaron ever stop to notice if this process was hindering his results?
Perhaps Aaron didn’t know or care to know the nutrition facts of his usual breakfast.
Did his body know the difference between a breakfast that is low in protein and high in simple carbs and sugar, from one that is high in protein, low to moderate complex carbs, fiber and healthy fats?
If he would’ve practiced the latter option he would’ve probably noticed less bloat around the stomach. His energy wouldn’t have crashed later in the day as he would by consuming simple carbs and sugar in the morning.
Was he aware of how simple carbs can directly affect his waistline? Did he even want to confront this possibility?
I didn’t simply suggest for Aaron to skip breakfast to remove 600 calories from his day. I suggested he should replace those calories with calories from nutrient dense foods.
I mentioned If he were to pick just one thing to focus on, one thing to improve the outcome of his efforts, he should consider reducing or removing his breakfast combo of choice. Is his breakfast choice the only culprit for his lack of results? Of course not, but it’s something that surely needed to be addressed. It was a good starting point. I also suggested to cook at home instead of eating out so much but this was more difficult for him to do.
Here’s something most people don’t want to hear:
You can’t have a great looking midsection while dining at your favorite restaurants frequently. It’s just not going to happen.
Here’s something else to take in:
Adding MORE resistance training ON TOP of a bad diet isn’t the answer for anyone.
This is even more important to realize as we get older. As we age, insulin resistance increases and this is why older people are more prone to being overweight.
Let us say that you are someone that trains five times a week. And you go out to restaurants 2-3 times a week, will you still get some benefit from training?
Of course you will!!
BUT, in terms of body composition, you may see very little change. In order to see real change, eating well is just as important as strength training, and in some cases it’s more important.
In the end, Aaron adopted a healthier breakfast option and he made an effort to leave the restaurant outings for the weekends. He also tried to be more aware of his actions by including a writing exercise at the end of each week. I will describe this process momentarily.
Becoming An Observer
Self-awareness is about stopping to observe. We want to get in the habit of interrupting ourselves from time to time to ensure that we are on the right track towards our goal. Sometimes all we need is a little planing on a piece of paper.
Here are some questions you should answer.
- What are you doing that is working?
- What excuses do you keep telling yourself?
- What short cuts are you currently taking?
- What do you keep doing that yields little to no results?
- Do you notice certain gaps in your diet or training where you can improve?
What are you doing that is working?
Is there something you do that seems to be working for you? Maybe a specific habit or a certain type of resistance training? Maybe you prepare your meals for the week on Sunday nights and this gives you some structure. You know that without it you might make poor eating decisions. Perhaps you take a specific group fitness class that motivates you and challenges you. You know that if you train on your own you might not know what to do, and you don’t get the same level of satisfaction. This works for you but for whatever reason you stopped doing it.
What excuses do you keep telling yourself?
We all make excuses. Saying, “I simply don’t have enough time in the day” is a common one. But do you REALLY have no time? Or can you cancel some social events through out the week? Do you really have to catch up on your favorite shows every night?
If someone has three hours a day to watch Netflix, they also have 30 minutes to work out.
If you can’t make it to the gym one day maybe you can workout at home. Fortunately, we live in an era where we can access information easily and quickly. You can try something like Les Mills on Demand or Peloton Cycle.
Identify your excuses and see if you can find ways around them.
What short cuts are you taking?
Are you possibly relying too much on a pill? On a supplement? On a procedure? On a temporary diet? Are you doing a “cleanse”? Only to go back to the same way you were eating the previous week?
Do you want permanent fat loss or do you want a quick fix? Do you want to lose weight or do you want to lose fat? Doing the right thing requires a bit of planning and patience.
What do you keep doing that yields little to no results?
We are creatures of habit. We sometimes do the same things over and over again, and we expect different results. One example that comes to mind is when people do a lot of crunches or sit ups, thinking that this is the best way to reduce the size of their midsection.
This has a lot to do with a very common misconception regarding spot reduction. Spot reduction is a delusion that fat loss can occur around a specific area if it is targeted with specific exercises.
The following sentence will probably be the most important for some of you; you can not pick a specific area on your body and solely lose fat in that area.
This is important for you to be aware of because it will save you time, money and effort. Have you ever seen a advertisement with the headline, “Best exercises for belly fat?” or have you ever typed, “How to lose fat around my arms?” into Google?
Do you notice certain gaps in your diet or training where you can improve ?
The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.
So what is standing in the way? You know being more organized about the way you fuel yourself is important, however you’ve never really taken the time to get organized. The way to a better body for you in this case would be a sound diet.
You train yourself like a gladiator. You eat like an actor getting ready for a lead role. Yet you sleep poorly, five hours every night. You don’t get adequate rest. The way to see improvement is to get more sleep. It seems simple enough, but that’s it. We sometimes want to hear something else. An answer to justify our reasoning and our excuses.
If you are going to bed late every night ask yourself why? Were you on the iPad right before bed? Did you watch an intense show on TV ?
Get Out of Your Own Way
Put a plan together and write it down. But more importantly, write down what you will expect if you follow the plan you are laying out for yourself. At the end of each week (or you can even try bi-weekly) revisit your journal, and write down what set backs you have faced and write down where you succeeded.