Recommended: Click to hear audio version of blog
Written by: Al Smith, Jr. The Fitness Specialist
Read by: Amazon Andrew
- Why You Need a Long Term Fitness Strategy
- My Fitness Transformation Journeys
⇐ Return to: Embrace the YoYo Part 1 of 3
Continue to: Embrace the YoYo Part 3 of 3⇒
Things You Should Know Before Starting Your Next Weight Loss and Fitness Transformation
What I’ve Learned from 30 Years of Training and 6 Fitness Transformations
The video at the top of the web page was shot in 2004 when I was 30. The BEFORE and AFTER picture was taken October 12, 2019 at the age of 45, during my 6th fitness transformation.
This is my Fitness Journey Journal.
WHY YOU NEED A LONG -TERM
Right off the top the biggest training obstacle novices encounter is not having a long-term, strategic approach to their nutrition planning and exercise routines, and as a result (most importantly) they don’t have a repeatable strategy to build upon when they’re going to need to undergo additional fitness transformations. That’s right, if you aren’t a genetically lean person I guarantee you’ll regain weight for one reason or another. Here comes the chorus of, “But Al…I’ve lost [INSERT WEIGHT] and have kept it off for [INSERT TIME less than < 10 years] so (sniffle, sniffle)…what you’re saying can’t be true. (sniffle, sniffle…snort)” Look, to get in front of this right now you should also know that for every rule, there is an exception to the rule. I know several exceptions to the stated weight loss–regain rule, and their results are amazing. But, statistically, being able to keep all of the weight off for more than 5 years (let alone just take it off) is like hitting the weight loss lottery. This is one of those first red flag warnings that can’t be stressed enough, and where many people fail.
It’s common for a person to start a new fitness program and immediately see results. One reason is because if the person hasn’t engaged in a diet or exercise program in a while, the body is incredibly responsive to the new level of activity, or stimulus, regardless as to whether or not the activity that caused the results, was 1) safe or 2) scalable. With safe meaning things how low were their calories cut or what type of macro depletion diet was use to obtain those results. By scalable, which we’ll be referring to quite a few times during this post, meaning that, could whatever activity you did to obtain the current results, be performed again and still get the same level of results, SAFELY.
For example, during your weight loss journey you are going to hit a plateau, or stall out. Meaning that your body is going to stop responding; essentially adapting to any activity you do, in order to keep from losing any more weight (fat to be precise) in an effort to protect itself. Take for instance if you were following a strict diet of only eating 1500 calories a day, your body would respond for a while and lose weight, but then it would stop. The natural thing people then do is reduce their calories further,say down to 1000 calories a day. Again, your body will respond initially, but it will stop again. So in this case the solution to keep cutting calories is not scalable because the further you cut the more unsafe, and unhealthy, your initial solution has become. Thus, when you start a solution or strategy, you must make sure that it works as well today as it will 5 years from now. In other words, you don’t want to start off using an irrational nutritional plan or unsustainable exercise routine if it cannot scale for future use. The reason this is critical to understand upfront is because quite often when individuals start off their journey they are willing to try anything to see quick results in order to watch the numbers on their scale go down. Regardless of how dangerous or non-scalable the approach they’re using might be. When this is brought to their attention, specifically, that the majority of people that lose weight regain it after 5 years, falls onto deaf ears because they don’t want, or refuse to think about their weight, that far in advance. Preferring to just focus on the NOW. Well, unfortunately, that is a large contributor to the long-term weight loss problem because the damage that’s being done now doesn’t rear its ugly head until years later, and by then damage is even more difficult to recover from, in addition to the fact that you have to “clean up” and repair the years of damage. Friends, again, I can’t stress the importance of this red flag enough. As you’re about to learn, each time you engage in a poorly executed fitness program, you are tearing down your body and making any future repairs that much more complicated. Each time you try a more aggressive fitness program, the problem only gets exacerbated. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this happen to people where I warn them in the beginning, they don’t listen, then 3-5 years later…there they are, exactly where the statistic I warned them about said they’d be. And if you don’t know by now that is the proverbial yo-yo weight loss and weight gain cycle.
All that said I too go through yo-yo dieting cycles. The difference, however, is that when the weight is taken off strategically–without damaging your body in the process–you’ll not only be able to take it off again, but you’ll be able to take it off faster (or at least at your own pace). Moreover, during the time of using are refining your strategy, you also get better at it while at the same time learning more about how your UNIQUE body works. In the end, as you do encounter stalls, life hiccups or put the weight back on, you’ve actually become SMARTER about how to take the weight off, meaning that you can take it off faster. Don’t sleep on that priceless information nugget. Listen to what you’ve essentially accomplished by using this type of strategy: You have built the long-term solution into the short-term solution! and are continuously improving it so that when you hit an obstacle you can pass right through it.
The continuum of continuous improvement just mentioned, whereby the solution…or strategy…you’re going to use to lose the weight in let’s just say 3 years from now, should be the same, or very similar to the one you’re planning to use today! By re-framing your mind (and journey within that context) it creates a foundation, and level 10 personal commitment along with a road map continually making forward progress. It replaces the traditional haphazard approach of chasing every new shiny thing fitness fad and diet, resulting only in being flung around like a broken yo-yo. Or worse yet, falling prey to the defeated, victimized excuse of, “Well…as you get older, getting in shape gets harder…so why even bother.” Well, not if you PLAN for getting older! And start TODAY by making a strategy to get BETTER INSTEAD!
But, you…are…now…accountable, for you! How will you execute?
MY FITNESS TRANSFORMATION JOURNEYS
Having been involved in exercise and fitness in one form or another for over three decades, I’ve seen and learned a lot. The journey started when I was 12 because I am not a genetically lean person, in fact, I was the fat kid. An endomorph, mixed with some mesomorph qualities, easily identified by having broad shoulders, and a propensity of carrying fat in my mid-section, butt and thighs. Agreeing that the idea of starting a transformation at the age of 12 seems strange, the decision to deal with the weight problem started early in life for self-esteem reasons (i.e. being made fun of, couldn’t get a girlfriend, etc.), and it was actually in those first six years where the basics of exercise were mastered. If you’ve ever seen some of the crazy things beginners do in the gym today, you understand why 6 years of simply learning the basics, and proper exercise form was so important. It’s such a great thing that there were no videophones around to capture those days.
Over the span of 33 years my fitness transformations looked like.
Age 12 – 19: First Transformation
(Lost the fat and leaned out)
Regained the weight
Age 20 – 24: Second Transformation
Weight stabilized around 220 lbs.
Age 25 – 37: Third Transformation into competitive bodybuilding
(Baseline weight 197-220 lbs.)
Regained the weight
(Hit 250 lbs. for the first time)
Age 38 – 41: Fourth Transformation
(Dropped to 230 lbs.)
Regained the weight/hospitalized and diagnosed with hyperthyroidism which required the first personal revamping of the original strategy.
(Hit 260 lbs. for the first time)
Age 42 – 44: Fifth Transformation
(Dropped to 240 lbs.)
Regained weight due to injuries and hernia surgery
(Hit 271 lbs. again)
Age 45: Sixth Transformation in progress
(Hit 275 lbs. for the first time)
October 21, 2019: 12 weeks of moderate training this is me at a fluctuating weight of 250-260 lbs. (Technically its was 13 weeks because I take planned one week rest after the 8th week, which entails no exercise or dieting)
So this wasn’t achieved using a “hardcore” training program in that I only worked out for 30-45 minutes a day, 6 days a week and strategically dieted 4-5 days a week. The intent wasn’t to rush off the weight but rather to STOP, STABILIZE and SUSTAIN. Using this approach resulted in losing approximately 1.75 – 2 lbs. per week with little no muscle loss. Because it’s a sustainable nutrition plan and exercise routine, I’ll be able to simply keep cruising off the weight using this strategy…without the deprivation or mental anguish of normally associated with following a weight loss program.
Yeap, 6 transformations under the belt (pun intended) over 33 years averaging to about one transformation every 5.5 years. At first look, some will say I wasn’t “that” fat our out of shape–which, is relative. But more to the point of this blog is that at any given time it can go either way…being fit or fat. When people see me during my fit phase they assume it’s easy or that I have good genetics. On the contrary, as shown my entire life has been about going through the ups and downs with yo-yo weight loss and weight gain, and the challenge, the depressing challenge, is that once the fat phase is entered, we can EASILY stay there and continue to gain if the brakes aren’t put on at some point, choosing to continually repeat, “Well, I’m not that fat”. That’s a constant fork in the road that, if you aren’t a genetically lean person, you have to consistently maintain your journey on a path of continuous self-improvement, verses just creating excuses for where you currently are on your journey, continue rationalizing the red flag filled path. And as someone that has to do it constantly, it’s definitely easier said than done. Right now, as of September 6, 2019 the brake is currently being pulled. And, as planned…it’s working.
It’s unlikely that there are even documented research studies about weight transformations that span that long, or frequently. What they do have, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), is 2 out of 3 people that lose weight on diets regain about 75% of the weight within 3 years, and almost all of it (plus more) within 5 years. (Hooray, I didn’t’ win the weight loss lotto but I was well on my way to being a CDC statistic!) More critically, when weight is lost doing impulsive crash dieting, it only damages your body and will make subsequent weight loss attempts even harder. If not for developing a fitness strategy early on that allowed for the flipping of a switch to taking the weight off when needed, not only would I be feeling like a personal failure at this point, but as a fitness professional society would only see it as failure as well.
I’m going to digress here for a second to quickly touch upon hyperthyroidism because when I was diagnosed there wasn’t much information available within the context of athletes and working out. And it was pretty lonely.
In short, close to 5 years ago I was rushed by ambulance to the hospital because my blood pressure had sky rocketed to 170 over something (I can’t recall the bottom number). Keep in mind normal blood pressure should be around 120 over 80. They said if not for having been in good shape to begin with, there was a high likelihood I could’ve died. The doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong but what they did see was that I had heart atrial fibrillation, or irregular heartbeat. They eventually traced it back to a hyperactive thyroid, also known as Graves’ Disease. At that time my thyroid was so enlarged they wanted to remove it surgically but I was still too physically unstable, and they couldn’t use iodine because they were concerned it explode before getting better. The only option was to put me on heart and thyroid medications. After stabilizing I was released from the hospital but my blood pressure was still so high anytime I’d try to work out, I’d get nose bleeds and have shortness of breath; immediately re-triggering the fear of being thrown into the back of an ambulance. So I stopped working out for about 4 months. On top of that, while having a really fast metabolism may sound great, it actually makes your body go catabolic, constantly burning off muscle. The only way to prevent that is by taking medication that SLOW DOWNS your metabolism. Great. Which means for about 3-4 years the endocrinologist and I had to play guess what’s the right dosage to not make your metabolism too slow (fat) or to fast (skinny). Which meant, there was no stabilization available during that time to use the original fat loss strategy to create nutrition plans and exercise routines from. Requiring a new re-write of the strategy. It wasn’t easy or fun by any means because having gone from being in total control (or thinking I was in control) of ones body and being able to take the weight off on demand to, having to go to the lab every 3 months to check thyroid levels, constantly readjusting diet, activity and medicine was mentally tough. But all I can say is that the years of experience of training allowed me to pull through and find a viable solution and develop a modified strategy. Granted, the solution didn’t allow for getting down to my normal lean weight, but it did prevent the loss of total control and going in the complete opposite direction. Eventually weaning myself off the medication. Today (September 6, 2019), the labs came back and the doctor said everything is perfectly normal and I don’t have to return for another year. While I won’t get too excited yet because it has fluctuated in the past, and flared up, this has been the longest I’ve been stabilized. The doctors and I are leaning to the cause of it being a hereditary condition, but in the back of my mind I also know that many bodybuilders and figure fitness competitors frequently end up with metabolic conditions because of the constant dieting and drugs that are used to lean out (for the record I’m lifelong natural so there was no drugs involved). Regardless of what caused it, I’m just glad I didn’t go with the immediate option–removing my thyroid–it would’ve meant being on medications and a potential hormone roller coaster for life. And while I won’t say that the fitness strategy used cured my hyperthyroidism, it allowed for a means to find stabilization during those frightening, and uncertain years. So if you or someone you know develops hyperthyroidism, just know that it doesn’t have to be the end of your fitness world.
Okay, back to our regularly scheduled programming now.
When I’m neither sick, injured, or overly stressed, I train and eat better than the majority of the population. Because when life is moving along perfectly, exercising 5-7 days a week and being mindful about diet is my normal lifestyle. In fact the struggle is to not become obsessively compulsive about dieting and exercising (a quiet, and yet common, unspoken struggle among competitive athletes, elaborated on in more detail later).
That said, many people tend to use the exception cases about long-term weight loss as their standard, instead of the reality. But think about it like this, how practical would it be to dedicate all your time and life to winning the lottery, because you saw someone else win? That’s why weight loss advertisers are required to say, RESULTS NOT TYPICAL. And yet, even with that cautionary warning, we’ve still been conditioned to believe that once you reach your weight loss transformation goal you’ll keep it off. More than likely you won’t. And from a biological stand point it’s not a bad thing; it’s all part of life, and how the human body is designed to work.
In finally stepping back and looking at all of this in totality, I realized that something isn’t adding up about what I, and many other people have been taught about fitness and what long-term weight loss success is supposed to look like. After hitting 40 being injured, sick, on medications or overly stressed damn near 95% of the time in one form or another is a new reality to deal with! There is never a PERFECT TIME to get in shape. In short, the probability of hitting the long-term weight loss lottery is not meshing with the realities of life. So now that I’m in the final stages of my current transformation I’m finally examining, WHY, NOT? The idea for this blog is a result of what has been learned thus far and how that information can be used to help deal with the reality of managing ones weight, both mentally and physically–for myself, and hopefully for others.
Now about that most recent 275 pound weight gain. In full disclosure, those GAINZ were semi-intentional. Semi- because it was not something that was planned but decided to use as a final transformation challenge, or personal strategy test. See, after having the hernia surgery the doctor said I wouldn’t be able to lift anything heavy, or do intense cardio for 2-3 weeks. Well, this doctor didn’t know my definition of training hard because when I attempted to go back to lifting and cardio, the pain from the surgery was still there. Upon mentioning to the doctor, she informed me to be cautious about re-injuring the area because there was now an increased likely hood that I could get a hernia, inside of the old hernia. Greeeeat. That would suck. Worse yet, it would increase the amount of downtime. Resulting in two choices. Option A, go back to training as usual, with a slightly, modified routine and risk re-injury. Or Option B, try something new, like take time off from training, and even hardcore dieting (which could’ve been used to offset the lack of training) and just recover? Because, if my fitness strategy actually worked, then even though this would be my 6th transformation, I should be able to take the weight off again. So in the name of research, and like most crazy inventor scientist, I decided to run the experiment on myself first, again. But this time I was more than 20 years older, dealing with hyperthyroidism and associated medications, and at the same time dealing with the stress work, and of launching a new business. Even with all of those new variables it felt like something that had to be done, something I had to know for myself. Could I break the statistic and take the weight off again. More importantly though, it was an opportunity (albeit a forced one ) to actually see if I was in as much mental control of my body as I’ve advocated. That being, when it comes to fitness, always remember: CONTROL YOUR TRAINING, DON’T LET YOUR TRAINING CONTROL YOU. The readers of this that are hardcore fitness enthusiast know exactly what that means. There comes a point during the journey where following an exercise routine just becomes a habit, a ritual what have you. For better or worse. Obviously, we know what the better part is when it comes to the benefits of dieting and exercise. The worse, that no on likes to talk about is that we also reach a point when we can’t stop training. We’ve been in autopilot for so long, we use exercise to deal with so many broken pieces of our life and daily anxiety. We, Just Do It! Usually, doing it a little too much, and we have a hard time stopping. When we stop, the fear and anxiety of going backwards in our physical progress, and life in general, have an opportunity to mentally take root and kick in. Along with, old friend depression. That sucks. But by choosing to not deal with this inner darkness, means that the training is controlling you. Then the vulnerability of realizing that at anytime, your capacity to train could be taken away from you, and in that case, if forced to stop training, would you really have the strength to continue? So prior to this last transformation the longest hiatus from the dieting and exercise was taken…6 months. Six months may not seem like a long time to some, but rest assure, for those that can count the number of un-scheduled training sessions we’ve ever missed on our fingers and toes, 6 months is an ETERNITY.
Once the hiatus was in full gear, the weight gain didn’t start immediately, but when it did…boy did it start. Luckily, as it was happening, it became less of a fear about gaining the weight, and questioning if it could be taken back off. But rather, would I even want to go through the hassle again, or have the time in my schedule, to really focus on taking it off, again?
The answer ended up being a resounding YES! Not purely out of the sake for vanity (or for the fact that I could no longer purchase pants off the shelf at normal stores anymore), but it was in having the confidence in knowing that if at any point I wanted to take it off, it could be (or at least should be able to), and having that simple bit of confidence is where the motivation came from to CONTINUE up the mountain. Except this time, the weight isn’t being taken off out of fear. This time I’m cruising it off and actually enjoying the journey. Or, stopping, to smell the roses I should say. Okay stopping to smell the roses is actually code for allowing myself to cheat and eat carbs, indulge on the occasional candy bar; along with alcoholic beverages, street tacos and other fast food, what have you. All the while still making progress at the same time. (And hey don’t judge my cheat choices, you can eat what you want while on your own path! I LIKE TACOS!)
Instead of fearing and fighting the process of losing and gaining weight I decided to EMBRACE THE YO-YO!
Embracing the yo-yo is a philosophy where you acknowledge that regardless of how much training and dieting you put in, there will very likely be a bounce back. Either a result of simple changes in your life circumstances, health, physical ability or just the basic biology of the body (which in all honesty, doctors and scientists know very little about with 100% certainty). Nonetheless, I’ll help clients leverage the pieces of the puzzle that we do understand and leverage them to maximum benefit, with a goal of producing the greatest results.
Some may think this is a pessimistic approach toward weight loss, only focusing on the negative and failure. It’s actually meant to be empowering by giving you knowledge and skills to plan for your weight-loss bounce-back in advance. Also known as planning for Failure. This isn’t a new ground breaking philosophy I invented, it’s just a re-framing of several successful abstract strategies and philosophies, then implementing them with a new set of specific tools for a different purpose.
While some may disagree about deciding to stop fighting the weight loss and regain cycle, as they are entitled to, all I can say is that after having undergone 6 transformations, as a professional fitness consultant, I’ve decided to break that cycle by understanding it, then leveraging that knowledge to help others take control of their own weight loss/weight gain cycle. Not just for the feeling of physical reward and health benefits it will bring, but so you can stop feeling guilty for regaining the weight! Instead of feeling defeated and quitting, the goal is to help people achieve long-term fitness success by embracing their own yo-yo cycle!
The decision to Embrace the Yo-Yo is not about giving up on your health and simply allowing your body to take you wherever it wants. It’s quite the opposite. Those that read my originally book TrainChange Fat Loss know that the overall philosophy that’s always been advocated over the years is the importance of learning to work with your body instead of against it. Done!
Return to: Embrace the YoYo Part 1 of 3
Continue to: Embrace the YoYo Part 3 of 3
TrainChange: A Unique, Step-by-Step Analytical Approach to Fat Loss
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