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It’s a tale almost everyone has had to deal with at some point, and usually multiple times. You try to lose weight, you have maybe one week of success but eventually you wind up sliding back into old habits and might even be heavier than when you first started. In fact, the statistics show that 95% of people who start a weight loss program wind up quitting or regaining any weight they lost within just 2 years. Then you beat yourself up, you listen to messaging telling you that you have no willpower, and you get frustrated. Well, it has nothing to do with willpower. There are hundreds of cyclists with the willpower to win the Tour de France every year, but there’s only one winner. When it comes to losing weight, or fat, there are 8 obstacles that stand in most people’s way. You need to know what they are and have a plan for dealing with them, or you run the risk of failing again and again. I call these the G.R.E.A.T.E.S.T. obstacles. G.R.E.A.T.E.S.T. stands for your goals, relationships, education, access, traditions, emotions, support, and time.

Goals-- Setting the right goal can be trickier than it seems at first glance. Setting an unrealistic goal, e.g., losing as much weight as possible in a short amount of time, usually leads to drastic, unsustainable actions, increased stress levels and a high likelihood that a person will give up on themselves, winding up worse than when they started. You may be familiar with the “SMART” method for goal-setting—being specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. When it comes to losing fat, it might seem SMART to set a goal of losing 10 pounds in a six-month timeframe.  It isn’t the worst goal, to be fair. The weakness of that goal is that it doesn’t differentiate between muscle and body fat. An individual could starve themselves and lose 5 pounds of fat and 5 pounds of muscle in a six-month period. Yes, they met their poundage goal for mass lost, but at a significant cost. We could tweak that goal by saying we want to lose 10 pounds of fat in a six-month timeframe. Knowing your starting body fat percentage and knowing what that percentage equates to with regards to your health might be an even better starting point for choosing a goal. For example, a 23-year-old woman goes to her doctor and learns that her body fat is 35%. This is in the “high” range for her sex and age (see chart below). A smart goal would be for her to get into the “normal” range in a reasonable amount of time, knowing that it is reasonable and healthy to lose 1 to 2 pounds of body fat each week.


If your doctor can’t measure your body fat, you could buy a bodyfat scale online or use a free online bodyfat calculator relying on your waist and neck measurements ( There is no perfect way to measure exactly what your body fat percentage is but knowing that number is far more useful than just knowing your weight.


Relationships—Our personal relationships with food and with the people around us can unknowingly impact our ability to reach our goals. Do you have a favorite comfort food that you add to your grocery list every week? Is it a whole food or is it processed in some way? Are you prone to unhealthy emotional eating, turning to your favorite snack when you are anxious, lonely, or tired? When someone says the word “diet” to you, do you immediately think “They better not make me give up my _______”? Know what your unhealthy food relationships and having a plan for overcoming certain urges before they happen. Sometimes it can be as rudimentary as not buying a certain snack ever again. More realistically, you could physically separate a normal portion of that snack (e.g., putting 2 Oreos in a baggie) for you to access when do have the urge, so you don’t overindulge. It’s not all about restriction—you should reach a point where you’re able to eat a reasonable amount of your favorite snacks and feel zero shame if you aren’t there already.   Do you make dinner for yourself and your partner and give yourselves equal-sized servings, even though you’re not the same sex or size? A healthy, 155-pound woman has different caloric needs than a healthy, 220-pound man. Their dinner portion sizes should reflect that. If you are the smaller party, look at how much food you’d like to serve your partner. Give yourself a portion of that. If you’re using the fist-size method of food portioning, visualize the size of your partner’s fists when you’re plating their food.


Education—This is a tough one. Eggs are bad; eggs are good! Dairy is bad; dairy is good! We have so much access to so much information, but we still deal with confusing or conflicting information from sources who might not have our best interests at heart. The studies that come out and dominate the news headlines for a few weeks, proclaiming that X is the best thing ever, are almost always paid for by people who are financially invested in those very industries, like beef, dairy, sugar, etc. When you rule out those “sources” of information, the last time many Americans received formal education about nutrition was sometime in middle school during health or biology class. Even most doctors don’t receive the level of formal academic education on nutrition that their patients might expect them to have. According to the U.S. Department of Health, more than 1 in 3 adults are overweight and more than 2 in 5 adults (42.4%) have obesity (including severe obesity). An individual who falls into these categories might visit their doctor and be told simply “exercise more and eat less.” Thanks! Working with a registered dietitian to learn how to meet your specific goals by creating meals that you actually want to eat can make an enormous difference and relieve you of a lot of the stress involved in meal planning. Many dietitians have written cookbooks and recipe books for every diet under the sun, whether you prefer Mediterranean, vegan, Indian, etc. Ultimately, the perfect diet is the one that you can do sustainably and consistently while meeting your nutritional needs. The fitness side of the house can be equally confusing. “The best exercise for weight loss is walking, -- oops, running, -- oops, high intensity intervals, -- oops, resistance training…”, the list goes on! Bottom line—like your nutrition, the best exercise regimen is that one that you can safely and consistently adhere to, while ensuring you incorporate cardiovascular training, resistance training, balance training and flexibility training on a regular basis. Finding a trainer and nutrition coach with a balanced approach to your health and wellness may be the best way to overcome the Education obstacle.


Access—This is another tough one. Most of us don’t really get to choose our environment, with regards to what kinds of supermarkets and restaurants are in our immediate area. Your coworkers want to go grab lunch together, and you’re beholden to picking from a bevy of fast-food options or one of the 2 comfort food restaurants within driving distance of the office. And, because we discussed education, you wind up at one of those comfort food restaurants and don’t really know how to choose something healthful. Of course, preparing your own nutritionally balanced meals at home and taking them to work is the least-expensive and most sustainable option, but it’s not always feasible. Knowing ahead of time which restaurants and eateries in your area have options that meet your needs, fit your tastes, and offer something for everyone can go a long way in overcoming the access obstacle. Sometimes, you’ll have access to a restaurant that has great food, but their portion sizes are absurd. This brings us to tradition…


Tradition—"Finish everything on your plate. Continue to serve your guests so that their plate is never empty. Eat two big slices of grandma’s favorite sweet potato pie on Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner. Show your gratitude to the cook by eating until you can hardly breathe. You must have at least one beer or cocktail when you go out with this friend group or on this date.” It goes without saying that some cultures have interesting traditions that revolve around food, and it makes sense. For thousands of years, food and mealtime have been the things that bring a community together, so it becomes a large part of what makes us who we are. The social pressure to adhere to those traditions can be overpowering, especially if you are the only person at that table who is on a path to healthy living and balance. Much in the same way that a woman who is pregnant-but-not-ready-to-divulge-yet must think about how she’ll refuse alcohol in a social setting, we all may have to think about how to mitigate the pressures of tradition. Maybe you take a look at that overloaded Thanksgiving plate that your aunt prepared for you and just eat fist-sized portions of each item. Maybe you prioritize the turkey and vegetables and say you’re far too stuffed for the candied yams as you slip off to go watch the football game. Just like we discussed in the relationship with foods, you want to be able to moderately eat all the different foods! This is not about food shaming. Grandma’s pie deserves to be eaten and happiness IS a food group, after all. Indulge in traditions as they make sense for you, not for anyone else’s expectations of you. Tradition can be a tricky one because you may feel like you’re managing the emotions of the people around you, since you know how they might react to your refusal to indulge in a particular food or drink.


Effort— This one might have a better name: misguided effort. It is another tough one because sometimes we don’t really have a choice regarding where we need to direct our efforts on a given day. You start out with responsibilities and commitments to your job, to your partner, to your children, to your community, to your extended family, and lastly, finally, MAYBE—to yourself. You have fat loss goals. Based on the indoctrination you got as a young person, as an adult, and in modern society, you feel like you have to squeeze in a workout. You only got 4 hours of sleep last night, you had a muffin and coffee for breakfast, nibbled on someone’s retirement cake at lunch, and you think you should squeeze in a workout somewhere between leaving work and starting your evening routine with the family. The effort to go exercise is misguided and could lead to you hurting yourself. Consistently getting inadequate sleep increases stress and raises cortisol levels, which leads your body to store abdominal fat. Exercising without sufficient rest or nourishment can lead to disrupted hormones and/or injury, which further prevents you from reaching your fitness and wellness goals. Some of us had parents who, in a moment of exasperation, told us, “Listen—if you don’t pay attention to any of the advice I ever give you, please at least pay attention to THIS!” In that same vein, if you plan to prioritize ANYTHING in your fitness journey, prioritize your nutrition and your sleep over your exercise. E.g., if you would miss out on an hour of sleep and the chance to do food prep for your day because the only chance for the gym is first thing in the morning, forego the gym. Get that additional sleep, make your food, and stay consistent. Especially for fat loss, you will still safely be able to achieve your goals. Shunning sleep and food in favor of the gym is counterproductive to your long-term goals. Remember this acronym: FREE. Food, rest, exercise, and effort. Stick to that order of operations and you will stay healthy for life. Reverse that order of operations and you will drive yourself into the ground.


Support—Embarking on a fat loss journey or a fitness journey by yourself is a daunting task. The numbers don’t look great: the research indicates that 95% of people who diet and lose weight, will gain all the weight back, and more, within a year after stopping the diet. There are a lot of reasons for those numbers, many of which we have addressed here. But having a support structure in place, even if it’s just one person, makes a massive difference in people’s ability to stick to a routine. It comes down to one word: accountability. Knowing that another human being is aware of your goals and will hold you accountable for staying on-target—that’s huge. There may even be days here and there where your only motivation is the fact that another human is holding you accountable, and that’s ok. Eventually, you will reach a point where your internal system of healthy accountability is more than enough to keep you on-target. That support system or person can be a trainer, a nutritionist, a bestie, a partner, or even an office coworker. Someone once told me that a great form of emotional intelligence is to not just offer someone blanket assistance, but to tell them specifically how you can help them out. “I know you’re going through a rough patch, let me know if there’s any way I can help. Just to let you know, I’m great at making X, Y and Z, I could set up the floral arrangements for X, and my Friday nights are free if you need last-minute childcare.” Along those same lines, we can prepare our support staff for how specifically they can support us. “Hey, when my mom or dad starts pressuring me to eat the potato salad at our family gathering, please stick up for me so it’s not me versus 5 people by myself. Call me out (politely) when you see me grazing on snacks instead of preparing an actual meal for myself.”


Time—This one is self-explanatory, and it overlaps a bit with the effort. Are you able to put your time into the right efforts? Have you thought about the time commitment that’s associated with meeting your goals? The ideal training split for most people with fat loss or physique-building goals is to spend 3 to 4 days per week doing resistance training and 2 to 3 days per week doing some form of cardiovascular training, with at least one day of rest. There are plenty of splits where the training is consolidated into fewer days, and people still reach their goals, though it typically requires longer training periods and/or greater intensity on those training days. After prioritizing your nutrition (food preparation) and getting adequate rest (between 7 – 9 hours for most of us), do you then have enough time to incorporate your training sessions for a given week? Try planning out your training and nutrition plan on a weekly basis as opposed to trying to figure it out day-by-day. This allows you to see the projected effectiveness of your plan ahead of time, and it allows you create a mitigation strategy for those days that you already know will be jam-packed with other commitments. Maybe you set it up so your rest day from training is actually on Wednesdays, because that’s the day where you have so much going on in your life that it’s not feasible to head to the gym or go for your run. 

Have a plan for what you'll do the next time you encounter these obstacles. It is not a matter of IF, but WHEN! Contact us at to get started today with a personal trainer or individualized workout plan that fits YOUR needs.

Sometimes, the best things in life really are free.

When it comes to weight loss (fat loss) and having solid plan for success, one of the most important things that you can do is prioritize your efforts. Many of us were taught that if you gain weight, it's because you don't exercise enough. As a result, people tend to put too much emphasis on exercising, at the expense of other factors that are even more important to their journey to getting into shape. With that in mind, the best way to remember how to prioritize your efforts is to remember the word "free".

Free, in this case, is your mnemonic for the words food, rest, exercise, and effort. Think of it this way: if you are stressed and have a jam-packed day with responsibilities, obligations, work, and very little time to prioritize yourself but still want to stay on track with your goals, you would be best served to put what little time you do have into making sure your food or nutritional intake is as good as it can possibly be. You can still lose bodyfat if you eat adequate macronutrients and ensure that you are in a slight caloric deficit, meaning you are consuming less energy than you are expending. If you have a little more time, focus on making sure you get adequate amounts of restful sleep. Making sure your body's myriad systems have the opportunity to rest and reset themselves will keep you on your path. Sleep is also critically important for your mental health and cognitive function. The third-most important step for achieving your fat loss and fitness goals is exercise! Yes, you read that correctly. For example, with a fat loss goal requiring some form of caloric deficit, it is far simpler for you to avoid ingesting an additional 350 calories (avoiding a typical candy bar) than it is for you to burn an additional 350 calories (walking for 1.5 hours). The last element to prioritize is your effort. Once you've made adequate time to exercise, do your best to make it count. Stay focused on your goal, whether that goal is the lose belly fat or to build the glutes or arms you've always wanted.

Now, let's reverse the order of these priorities. Effort, exercise, rest and food. Many people have done it-- most of us are guilty of it at some point, partly because of what the fitness community told us in generations past. However, putting high effort exercise ahead of proper rest and nutrition undermines the effectiveness of the workout at best, and usually leads to exhaustion, overexertion and acute injuries at worst. You do not want your airline pilot flying you from Los Angeles to New York City without a full night of rest and a nutritious meal before taking off!

On any given day, when you feel like you "have" to exercise, remember to ask yourself: "Am I adequately nourished for this workout? Did I get enough rest last night?" If the answer to either of those questions is "no", do yourself a favor and prioritize both of those elements immediately. Skip the workout! You will thank yourself in the long run.

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