Why You Should Just Say “No” to Meal Plans

“The first wealth is health.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Why You Should Just Say No to Meal Plans

As a Certified Sleep Science & Nutrition Coach, one of the first questions I’m asked by potential clients and strangers is “can I get a meal plan?”

My answer: “No, I don’t write meal plans anymore.”

Years ago, I would write each person a meal plan with the specific amounts of what was expected to be eaten. After all, it was a staple in the fitness industry. With that said, I realized there was one gigantic problem with handing meal plans over and expecting them to solve everything.

This only served as a prescription to the issue. Basically a Band-Aid to a deep flesh wound. Eat this item, at this exact time, and in this exact amount. It was very robotic.

This robotic approach works for a little bit for the average person and can be useful to the person looking for a rapid transformation with the perfect settings (think movie star preparing for a role).

I even had a meal plan at first when I started my fitness journey.

But, I ran into problems that many people will run into and that is you just won’t stick to the plan. Compliance is low and it’s not our fault the majority of times.

We’re humans, not robots after all. Life gets busy. The regimented meal plan gets thrown out the door when:

  • your kids get sick
  • you get sick
  • you have a hot date
  • your bosses expect (and sometimes demand) you to work late
  • work drained your motivation to do anything
  • it’s someone’s birthday (or a special holiday or event)
  • you have to travel for work or even leisure
  • you just don’t feel like drinking your 9am protein shake

Last time I checked, life exists beyond a 12-week body transformation.

Lastly, you have the meal plan, but it’s complete rubbish. Willpower will only last so long before you’re sick of the process and potentially shout to the masses that healthy eating is bland and takes away all your favorite foods (this is a true story, a client long ago said this to me).

Unless you’re a professional athlete or getting ready for a physique competition, you don’t need to turn into a nutritional surgeon. Being precise and meticulous over every little grain is unnecessary.

Here’s how to easily get started in the right direction while maintaining your sanity

Think about where you currently stand in regards to your healthy habits. In this situation, think about what you’re already eating. Then think about how you could improve by just a tiny fraction right now.

Nothing drastic or going cold turkey over.

Only aiming for a small change and improvement in what you’re already eating and enjoying. One baby step at a time.

Think about the quality of your food as opposed to labeling something as “good” or “bad”. Food doesn’t need to be morphed into the same parallel as the battle between the Jedi & Sith.

meal plans

Your mission for today should you choose to accept: How can you make your meals just a little better today and beyond?

Here’s a past example of someone I consulted with:

It’s lunchtime and they’re busy, so sitting down and eating slow sounds as likely to happen as me walking on water will happen. Therefore, they grab a cheap juicy burger and fries that is greasy and convenient (and quick) along with a big cup of soda. And we’re not exactly sure if the meat is even real meat—not good for the hormones.

They want to improve this situation but completely overhauling the situation isn’t likely to stick.

Instead, they can simply improve this scenario by

  • going to a higher-end burger place where the meat is at least real meat
  • get a salad with the burger instead of fries
  • choose diet soda or water instead

Next stage of the game

  • Meal prep some burgers at home
  • prep your desired side dishes

This is a rapid improvement because you’re bringing quality homemade food into lunch along with knowing exactly what is in your food which increases the food quality.

Things will change dramatically over time if you continually aim for small improvements. Aim for singles instead of always swinging for the home run.

If this kind of style resonates with you or is something that will be of use to you, then you’ll love my online nutrition coaching system that is headed to the world soon. It’s small daily habits to keep you improving 1% each day along with me communicating with you frequently.

The Life-Changing Magic of Meditation: 6 Reasons Why You Should Start Today

“Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better, it’s about befriending who we are.” — Pema Chödrön

The Life-Changing Magic of Meditation: 6 Reasons Why You Should Start Today

Diets of the week, micro-managing calories, obsession with the most optimal workouts, and other minutiae garners the majority of the attention in the health and wellness world. However, it’s stress that is often times the culprit for people’s health issues.

The thing that makes stress so difficult is that it manifests through multiple identities such as relationships, diet, exercise, emotional, mental, and financial among many others.

Stress in the right amounts is beneficial, but when there’s too much of it, recovery lowers due to the autonomic system being off-balanced.

In fact, in a Yale study in 2012, researchers found that psychological stress was associated with poor muscle recovery. And in another separate study, researchers found that excessive stress disrupts the architecture of the developing brain.

Why is this important?

Because the future of our society and world depends on the ability to create a conducive environment for people to thrive. If we (this present generation) are highly stressed and fail to control stress, this will spill over into the next generation. If we’re stressed, then our children have a higher likelihood as well because of the prolonged activation of the stress response systems in the body and the brain from cortisol.

Ok, the brief philosophical rant is over.

With all of this said, unmanaged stress and overwhelm combined with unhealthy thought patterns lead to a near-impossible chance of succeeding with your fitness goals.

But, combatting this can be executed through a simple meditation practice.

This doesn’t mean the fancy type where you have to sit in silence for a long time or chant mantras. This simply means scheduling designated times during the day to find silence and take a breather from the hectic world.

If you’re struggling with your fitness, perhaps it’s not the workout or the nutritional regimen that needs addressing. Perhaps it’s the stress management that needs addressing.

Here’s is how meditation helps your fitness and life.

1. Increases your focus and productivity

Cal Newport, author of ‘Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World’ describes deep work as “the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It’s a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time.”

With that said, meditation helps you fall into deep work quicker due to meditation increasing your ability to focus and maintain attention for longer durations.

Meditation also leads to improved cognitive functioning through traits such as creativity and increased problem-solving skills.

As you meditate over time, you’ll become less prone to distracting thoughts and environments while simultaneously increasing your input.

2. Reduces your stress and anxiety

Stress is the giant elephant in the room that isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Often overlooked in the stress department is its impact on your emotional and mental health. When those two worlds aren’t operating at their peak, you’re going to be less likely to make rationale food decisions.

Uncontrolled levels of stress and anxiety leave you prone to illnesses while slowing down your rate of weight loss along with recovery due to increased cortisol levels.

But the key to dealing with stress isn’t attempting to erase it completely, that’s a fairy tale. The key instead is to learn how to dance with it gracefully. And a great way to learn how to dance with stress starts with developing a practice of mindfulness.

Mindfulness helps with stress because it plays a positive role in your overall recovery which can be analyzed through your heart-rate variability (HRV).

Think of your heart beating and the delays in between those beats are your HRV and this exposes how your nervous system is firing. If you’re favoring toward a sympathetic system default, then your heart rate is speeding up. If it’s parasympathetic, then it’s going to be slower.

HRV –meditation

Each has their positives, but for daily living, being in a parasympathetic state is a little better since it’ll reflect the ability to better able handle stress.

Meditation helps with boosting parasympathetic activity (thus increasing HRV) and decreasing cardiovascular disease risk.

In as little as five weeks of daily practice, meditation helps with anxiety, depression, and stress. Brief mindfulness meditation is also beneficial when it comes to lowering blood pressure.

3. Helps with the quality of your sleep

How many times have you laid down and can’t sleep because you’re having racing thoughts?

This describes a large population of people who haven’t found a way to control their internal world.

But through developing a meditation practice, you’ll improve your sleep quality due to slowing your thoughts which leads to fewer feelings of overwhelm.

As described in a study that appeared in the JAMA Internal Medicine, meditation helps with managing daily levels of stress along with improving sleep through helping you focus on the “moment-by-moment experiences, thoughts, and emotions.”

And in another study published in the Journal of Behavior Research and Therapy, visualizing your ideal environment and life was proven to be a beneficial aid in improving your sleep. This is something that has tremendously helped me. In fact, I read over my one-year vision nightly along with traits about the person I want to be, the people who are in my life, where I’m living, and how I’m contributing to the world.

Visualizing your ideal environment and life is a great mind-body technique because it helps connect your conscious and unconscious minds, which leads to more desirable scenarios while decreasing stressful thoughts.

4. Helps with weight loss

Often times, when we think of weight loss, we’re quick to direct our attention to the workouts and diets. Yet, many people will have their macros and workout dialed in but the weight still isn’t falling off.

Despite the work that you’re seemingly putting forth toward losing weight, not managing your environmental and relational stressors can undo your efforts.

By meditating, you actively address your stress levels and most importantly, strengthen up your mental fitness. When you display strong levels of mental fitness, you’re going to be in a better state to make daily decisions.

5. Increases gratitude

Through meditating, you’re lowering your blood pressure along with your overall levels of calmness. And as a by-product of this, you’re increasing your levels of gratitude because you’re able to focus and appreciate what you have in the present moment.

grateful — meditation

A study conducted by UCLA & the University of Miami found that when people who wrote down what they were grateful for on a weekly basis ended up being more optimistic and cheerful about the upcoming week than those who didn’t.

In addition to that, gratitude has been associated to improve longevity due to more optimism, ability to handle setbacks, sleep, empathy, and decision making.

6. Improves your emotional intelligence & changes your brain

In this particular study, after eight weeks of meditation, participants ended up with denser brain tissue in areas connected to emotional regulation, memory, and learning which suggests that mindfulness training alters intrinsic functional connectivity in our brain. This leads to better focus along with higher reflective awarenesses of experiences.

Another factor among this is the decreased grey matter in parts of the amygdala, which is part of the brain that is connected to stress and fear (think fight or flight response).

While under stress, our amygdala is taking charge, leading us to make rash decisions based on emotions. But through meditation, your amygdala relaxes and activity in your prefrontal cortex increases which is much slower to respond to situations. Therefore, you have to stop and think about a situation leading to more rational decisions.

If you would like to try starting a meditation practice and would like some guidance, my friends over at Simple Habit have graciously sent me a code for 20 free days of premium guided meditations. Simple Habit is like the Spotify of meditation since there are different times and topics of all sorts to meditate on. I’ve been using a handful of these for the past few months. Click here for your free 20 days.

The Health And Fitness Audit: 15 Questions You Must Know in Order to Succeed in Fitness

“The future belongs to those who prepare for it today.” — Malcolm X

The Health And Fitness Audit: 15 Questions You Must Know in Order to Succeed in Fitness

When you think of the word audit, you’re probably directing your attention to the world of accounting and finance. However, audits exist outside of accounting and finance.

Audits exist in sports and politics to name a few among many.

Sports teams routinely assess the state of their organization and individual players by analyzing various key metrics. They investigate these metrics and based on the numbers, they make adjustments to give themselves a better chance of winning.

In politics (a sometimes interesting but unfortunate subject that divides people), auditing is used on the campaign trail among many other areas to effectively improve the specific parties mission.

It’s safe to say that auditing is a powerful force that deserves a spot at each of our tables. When it comes to fitness, auditing is critical since it’ll provide more clarity and awareness to your current endeavors.

Here’s an example of some fitness auditing: we all have 168 hours in a week. At the extreme end, work and the commute are costing you 14 hours a day Monday-Friday. There’s weekly sleep which costs you 56 hours (8 hours a night).

From these two things, you’re paying 126 hours. Plenty of time for family, exercise, errands, and other extracurricular activities. By auditing your time, you’ll discover that you have 42 hours to play with. With this approach, squeezing in three to four hours at the gym doesn’t seem impossible now.

This is just one example of auditing. There’s a deeper level you can go with your auditing that will help you develop clarity about your true commitment to health and fitness. Below is a health and fitness audit, consisting of 15 questions that you must know in order to succeed long term.

Take some time to answer the questions and below the questions are a print off with the 15 questions as well.

1. Do you know why you want to change?

You must know yourself and how you personally operate. What makes you tick? What truly motivates you to want to change your health and fitness?

What are the benefits to swinging the health paradigm in your life?

I want to lose weight isn’t good enough. Why do you want to lose this weight?

Discovering your “why” is your most powerful weapon to staying the course with your commitment to fitness. Be specific and have zero judgment for whatever your answer is.

2. Do you know exactly what you need to be, and do, in order to achieve your desired fitness goal?

What type of traits and identity must you adapt to achieve the fitness goal that you want? For me, I had to become the person who didn’t feel guilty for saying “no” to friends and family when offered food that didn’t fit with my goals.

I had to become the guy who took action (small steps often times) despite how I felt in that current moment or when the inner chatter of self-doubt made an appearance.

Look at your habits and think what kind of person and actions are needed to reach that goal that you want?

What will you give up, everything has a cost attached to it. To really create my desired body, I prioritized sleep over partying and aiming for perfect attendance at every social extravaganza.

Know your costs and be okay with it and you won’t have any unforeseen friction down the line.

3. Do you have a health and fitness mission statement?

For me, I have the mission of the AFL, which is to help busy individuals and companies maximize their performance and impact in this world through simple changes in their health routines.

Working out and feeding my body quality nutrients isn’t just about me and my outside appearance. It’s now a deeper purpose, which is to help me stay cognitively sharp and to help bring out the best in my capabilities so I can serve others to the best of my abilities.

What about you? Write your health and fitness mission statement out on a card and keep it with you at all times. When indulgences arrive, it’s a simple perspective of assessing whether this action expands or constricts your mission.

4. Do you have a crystal clear one-year goal that you can clearly explain?

Let’s take a brief trip down “woo woo land” for a minute. You can’t expect the universe to open doors and create opportunities for you if don’t even know what you want.

When you aren’t specific with your goals, you leave room for uncertainty and for other miscellaneous “things” to occupy space in your vision. Don’t fall into the trap of achieving and doing only to find yourself down a road you don’t even want to be on.

biking down the road—health and fitness audit
Make sure you’re riding down a path that you want to be on.

5. Have you broken that one-year goal into quarterly goals?

One year is a long time for now. It’s better and more soothing to your mental state to break that macro goal down into micro goals so you can build up momentum. If your goal is to lose 20 pounds over the next year, then setting goals in 5-pound increments is a great approach.

6. Have you broken your goals into small and manageable daily actions that lead to your end-goal?

Setting goals can bring a rush of blood to your head that leaves you feeling great, but taking action is the only way to make those goals a reality. I recommend aiming to complete a few critical tasks each day that places you closer to your one-year goal as well as moving you to complete your quarterly goal.

For example, you want to lose 20 pounds in a year. Five pounds is the quarterly goal. Your daily goals could be some form of exercising for 45-60 minutes daily, in bed before 11 pm, eating four complete meals each day, and add something socially to balance you out.

7. Do you have a morning routine suited specifically to your needs?

How you start the day plays a pivotal role in dictating the flow of your day from both an energy and performance standpoint.

8. Do you have a weekly plan for how you’re going to eat that fits with work?

Many of us are “time-crunched” during the week due to work demands and other various responsibilities. With that said, it’s highly important that you have a game plan for your nutrition during the week because when you’re caught off-guard,  impulsive decisions follow along with other areas of compliance dropping.

The weekends are a little easier for nutrition. Therefore, on each Sunday, plan for the work week. Where will you eat your meals? Are you meal prepping, using a meal delivery service, or developing a uniform style of eating throughout the week where you relatively eat the same thing each day.

9. Do you know your workout days and what you’re doing each session?

It’s important to treat and schedule your workouts just as you would a doctors appointment and important business meetings. This is psychologically signaling that this event is the highest of priority along with decreasing the chances of you making excuses for why you can’t work out due to time among many other excuses.

Schedule your workout days at the beginning of the week and also know what you’re going to do each session to maximize time and effectiveness.

10. What are you doing to ensure you get optimal sleep nightly?

Sleep is the most important element to maximizing your performance and impact in the world along with transforming your body.

The majority of people know that sleep is important, but through overwhelm, lack of time management and distractions, people fall short with consistent high-quality sleep.

Your goal is to develop a routine 60 minutes out from bed to help signal to your brain that it’s time to sleep. Some of the essential habits include placing a curfew on electronics.

11. Whats your biggest obstacle to succeeding?

Knowing your chock holds is critical because it lets you plan for them in advance.

In recent years, my biggest chock hold was properly allowing space for rest and recovery. I didn’t set boundaries and would let others slide into my recharging time.

What about you?

Identify two–three obstacles that could stop you from succeeding?

12. Once you know your obstacles, what’s your plan to attack and defeat those obstacles?

Knowing is one thing, but actively taking action is another thing. Clearly, define a few measures that you’re going to use to defeat and prevent those obstacles and chock holds from sabotaging your goals.

strategy — health and fitness audit
All victories start with a plan.

13. What are you doing to mentally & emotionally prepare to change?

We all most likely want to change and improve certain areas of our life. But, are you really committed to undergoing change? And, do you understand the price and pain required to change?

Changing and transforming starts with leveling up your mental and emotional fitness. Neglecting to only change the external world without the internal is setting yourself up for self-sabotaging at some point down the road.

Take some time to think and realize what you will need to change in your core existing identity to become the type of person who achieves the goals that you’re striving for.

Are you okay with the necessary sacrifices and are you willing to do it?

14. Do you have some form of accountability and support?

No one succeeds in this world on their own. I have to remind myself of this at times because I still have difficulty in adhering to this principle.

It’s tough to ask for help and support, but we all need it. Assess your circle and community, do you have a few people you can rely on for help toward those new goals of yours?

15. If yes to number 14, then who is it and how are they helping?

Be specific with how you want them to help contribute to your mission. Will you have workout partners, accountability partners to check in with you weekly, or someone to routinely provide the necessary tough love to keep you going?

If you rather have a print off of the questions to answer on your own time or refer back to, download this free infographic below.

The Health & Fitness Audit