5 Ways to Lean Out That Have Nothing to Do with Food

I strongly dislike the term “losing* weight.” “Losing weight” can mean anything: clothes? bones? brain matter?? When people say they want to “lose weight” what they typically mean is that they want to lose fat, or what many refer to as “leaning out.”

[*As much as I dislike the term “losing weight,” “loosing weight” is even worse.]

Most professionals would agree that your body composition is largely due to your diet. Those percentages can range anywhere from 80-95%, but what about the other 5-20% of your life? There are other factors we need to think about if we are looking to lean out.

Your diet can be full of leafy green vegetables, grass-fed protein, and good fats, but if you’re sleeping 4 hours a night, you’re probably still not in great shape. Sleep is your body’s chance to reset. Lack of sleep means that appetite hormones such as leptin and ghrelin are thrown off, your stress hormone cortisol is sky-high, and your brain won’t make great decisions during the day, especially when it comes to food. For people working the night shift, it’s even worse news. Even if you’re getting 8+ hours of sleep during the day, your circadian rhythm is thrown off and you experience similar effects of only getting a few hours sleep. In an ideal world, you’re getting 8+ uninterrupted hours of sleep in a cool, dark room at night.

Whatever that means for you, relax and have fun. Spend time with friends, go for a walk with your family, listen to your favorite music, get a massage, etc. The goal here is to lower stress. Lowering stress lowers cortisol and lowering chronic cortisol is a good thing. Cortisol is not inherently a bad thing – it’s part of the fight-or-flight response to danger. But if we are consistently stressed out, this hormone will tend to store fat along the midsection and mess with other non-essential functions including our memory and immune system.

One of the best ways to lean out is to strength train and build muscle. The goal here is not to burn calories WHILE exercising (a common misconception), but to build an engine that will burn fat throughout the day. Muscle is very expensive tissue – it takes a lot of calories to maintain muscle compared to fat, so let’s take advantage of this fact. This goes for men and women alike – put those 5 lb. dumbbells down and pick up a barbell. Compound movements such as the back squat, deadlift, and push press are all great muscle builders. Women: that “toning” that you want? This is the best way to get it. Bulking up like a professional body builder won’t happen the way you think it might. As an initial goal, men should be able to squat 1.5x bodyweight and women should be able to squat 1x bodyweight.

Sprinting can be in the traditional sense of running, but it can also be any acute, high-intensity exercise. The benefits are almost too many to list: fat loss, better insulin sensitivity, increased growth hormone to build muscle, better circulation and heart health, etc. Sprinting is efficient, easy to do (no equipment needed!) and has a myriad of benefits that I’ve already listed and that you can Google. Only once or twice a week is needed – that’s how potent these things are. Do a hill sprint every 2 minutes for 14 minutes and you’ll know what I mean.

Vitamin D is actually not even a vitamin, it’s a hormone and it’s essential. It’s incredibly good at countering stress (cortisol), increasing bone density, increasing testosterone, boosting the immune system, and reducing inflammation – all things related to leaning out. The best way to get vitamin D is directly from the sun. It only takes 15 minutes to get the best exposure from the sun, but in winter months or cloudy days, you may want to grab some Vitamin D3 from a store. You should do some research on how much to take – I find that most brands will recommend far less than is actually optimal. You might find recommended doses of 400 IU on the bottle, but I’ve read about people taking upwards of 20-40,000 IU. Personally if it’s winter or dark out, I’ll take 8-12,000 IU and don’t experience any negative side effects. Depending on your skin tone and other factors, your mileage may vary, so do your own research.

What you put through your pie hole absolutely matters when it comes to health and body composition. But there are a few other factors to keep in mind that aren’t related to food. Getting quality sleep, reducing your stress, strength training, sprinting, and getting adequate Vitamin D are all going to help you lean out. Instead of trying to do all things at once, pick one that you think is achievable and set a goal of being consistent with that for two weeks. If you can do that, add another element and continue in this fashion until you hit all five.

Lastly, don’t let the pursuit of perfection get in the way of good. Yes, in a perfect world you’re getting 9 hours of sleep in a cool dark room. If you are improving from 4 hours to 7 hours interrupted by a crying baby, is that failure? No way! (Am I speaking from personal experience? Maybe) We’re all on a journey and will have different priorities at different times in our lives. Do what’s best for you right now and don’t worry about everyone else. Do you.


Coach P’s Nutrition Tip #3 – Clean Out Your Kitchen

Our box, CrossFit Thermal, is doing a month-long nutrition challenge from July 7-August 7. Members are choosing various levels of engagement, ranging from strict Zone to strict Paleo, to “no grains, no extra sugar.” I will be posting a short nutrition tip to help people stay on point and make clean nutrition a life-long habit instead of just a short term “diet.”

Nutrition Tip #3: Clean Out Your Kitchen

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One of the most simple, yet hardest things to do is clean our your kitchen/fridge/pantry, etc. of grains, sugars, bad oils, and other temptations. You may be thinking “what if we have guests?” or “I’m saving this for my cheat meal” or “what will the kids eat?” Well, just like many things, when things are out of sight, they’re more likely to be out of mind, too. We’re less likely to eat potato chips if we don’t have them sitting on a shelf waiting to be eaten. If you are afraid you’re wasting money, just get over it, or donate it at the very least. The benefit of getting these things out of the house far outweighs the few dollars’ worth of Twizzlers. As for the kids, why would you feed them things that you are avoiding for health reasons?? As many wiser bloggers have said before me (i.e. Robb Wolf) kids might put up a fight about eating real food at first, but if that’s their only option, they’ll eat when they’re hungry. This is a time to play parent, not candy man.

Read this throwback post: Kitchen Detox to find out what you should get rid of and then go donate or throw your food away!

Blue Light and f.lux

Hurricane Sandy brought a lot of destruction to the east coast and although I wasn’t personally affected much, I know thousands were, especially when it came to losing power. If you did, or you’ve lost power in the past, did you notice how your lifestyle changed? No longer were you watching television, in front of your computer, or iPad (at least after they ran out of battery). Instead, thousands of families were forced to find other activities to do. Reading by lantern or candlelight, playing cards, or, ..::gasp::.. talking to each other!

Something else you may have noticed is what time you went to bed. Without power, you probably became acutely aware of the fact that it got dark outside and that you became sleepy. This is not an unnatural thing. While hiking/camping, I notice that by the time we have camp setup and the sun is going down, I’m already sleepy. Sure this can have something to do with being tired from hiking, but you can probably guess that the body adjusts to daylight and sunset naturally. This is what you experience when you lose power. It’s amazing how sleepy you get around 7, 8pm when normally you wouldn’t go to bed until 10, 11, or even midnight.

The big reason, as you may have guessed, is that unnatural light messes with the body. Our circadian rhythm gets thrown off and we stay up longer than we should. This can result in fatigue, restlessness while sleeping, and yes, body fat retention. Why? Because essentially we are stressing our bodies past our normal waking hours. Light from televisions, computers, and lamps all contribute to this, particularly this thing called blue light.

Blue light from the sun is a good thing. It regulates melatonin, the stuff that makes you sleepy. During the day, melatonin is suppressed because of this blue light, but once the sun goes down, melatonin should ramp up to make us sleepy. The problem is that blue light from electronics tricks our bodies into thinking it’s still daylight, thereby stressing our bodies. 

I know what you’re thinking. There literally aren’t enough hours in the day to go to sleep when the sun goes down, especially this time of year (at least in the northeast US) when the sun sets around 6pm. I definitely understand that, which is why I’m recommending to use F.lux.

F.lux is a free program you can download to your computer which changes the light emitted from your screen to match the time of day. So during the day it is at full brightness, but at night it creates a warm and dimmer screen for you. I’ve been using it for a few years now and it’s dramatic how different it looks at night. Instead of harsh light from my laptop, it is now a soft yellowish light so I can get work done, but mitigates the blue light effects. 

As of today, the program IS available to iphones/iPads, but ONLY if they are jailbroken. If you don’t know what that means, then you probably can’t get it. (I would think it would be easy to make an Android app…hoping) I have absolutely no affiliation with F.lux, but it’s just a product that I like using since it’s adjusts the brightness and temperature of the screen automatically. Ideally we are going to sleep when the sun goes down, but for that, you might need to talk to my boss so I can work half days.