Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Einstein was famous for plenty of incredible discoveries – but this quote could quite possibly the most impactful legacy he left behind.
It’s the exact blueprint for how we, as humans, need to live our lives in a way designed for growth and evolution. It’s even the key to diet, fitness and weight loss.
Every human change comes from an alteration in our environment. We don’t just wake up one day with a total mindset shift – something happened that causes us to act differently, think differently, or behave differently.
Change in our environment causes change within our mindset.
And if we want to see any kind of physical change for our bodies, we have to make an environmental change too. We call these environmental changes demands.
So every change comes from an alteration of your demands. But the problem is – we have to keep changing in order to continue to evolve.
First, let me a explain about the human body.
Our human physiology thrives on stability. And this dates all the way back to our hunter-gatherer or cavemen ancestors.
Food was scarce or unpredictable so the human body had to learn to use the little food it had in the most efficient way. The name of the game was conservation – even within our bodies.
Just like we turn off lights when we aren’t in the room – the human body turns off functions when they aren’t needed. And when those body systems aren’t being used, they don’t need calories or energy to run. And that means your expenditure and metabolism stay as low as possible.
In the human body, efficiency could be the same as saying ‘minimum amount.’
We used the minimum amount of calories needed to run our body and the leftover went into reserves for later. We only use the minimum amount of energy to track down the deer herd – any leftover was conserved for other things.
Whatever it was – our bodies worked to converse as much as we could, to have back up supply of resources if we needed it in times of starvation or crisis.
We were survivalists. And since the human genome hasn’t changed much in 40,000 years – biologically, we still are – even if we don’t need to be.
So our history is grounded in efficiency and minimal use. That means we love boring, stability and consistency. The body wants to know exactly what is happening each and every day so it can plan and ration out the exact minimal amount of resources it will have to dispense to keep us alive and functioning.
Now let’s think about diet:
If our ancestors had to go a few days without food, their bodies would start pulling their reserves from their fat stores.
But because we’re survivalists, our body recognizes this as a sign of danger. (Remember, losing your fat reserves back then was more aligned with starvation and death than health and fitness). So back then, our body would adjust and create an even more minimal ‘new normal.’ To conserve even harder because that meant we go last just a little bit longer with fewer resources.
That change was adapting to the environment and establishing a new efficiency.
When we restrict our food intake today with a trendy diet or plan – the same thing happens. We start losing our weight or fat reserves, our body recognizes this as danger, and rebalances to create a new normal to prevent any more damage from happening!
And this is exactly why we plateau.
We followed a diet or training program for too long. Our bodies saw that change was happening and start adjusting to prevent that change.
In other words, our physiological system is always trying to find “normal” so it can get efficient and burn less fuel. It still thinks we move a lot and food is scarce.
The more predictable our routines – the more efficient we get – the more stable we become. That means each day that you follow the same workout or same diet becomes less and less impactful on your end goals.
The weight and fat loss we once experienced fizzles out to a static hum. While we shake our fist and curse at the scale, our physiology is fist-pumping its ability to survive the storm you placed on it. For all it knows, it’s no longer dying.
If losing fat and losing weight are part of our health goal, we have to create the right kind of changes in our diet and exercise program that will keep us progress, not stable.
We have to shake up our homeostasis.
These changes in diet and fitness create a new stress that creates an inefficiency somewhere in the metabolic system. We’re demanding more from our body that it wants to give – we’re forcing the lights to stay on when the body wants to shut them off to conserve.
Now, even when we create these new demands, the physiological system immediately goes to work trying to establish normalcy. But while it works to adjust, we keep losing weight and fat.
A defeat for our survival-bent physiology, but a victory for our waistline.
That means every diet and fitness program – whether it’s interval training, endurance training, circuit training, ballet training, primitive eating, no fat, no carb, no gluten, or whatever – eventually stops working and you hit a plateau.
It sucks I know, but it’s a fact.
Now this is not to say our health will not benefit indefinitely from any sustained positive eating or exercise program. Our heart, lungs, brain, and just about everything else in our body benefits from any form of exercise and quality fuel no matter how well the metabolism adapts.
However, weight or fat loss is a fuel utilization issue and in order to use fuel at a different rate or amount, demands must periodically change.
So the next time you start to notice your progress leveling off, you only have to do one thing: change. Change something to shake up your homeostasis and jump start your metabolic demands again. Try one of these:
- Cut your rest time during your workouts – keep them as short as possible.
- Increase your rest time to allow for heavier lifts or higher heart rate intervals.
- Increasing the weight you lift across the board. Know your current numbers and have a goal for higher ones.
- Increase the number of repetitions you do per set to create more lean muscle.
- Decrease the number of repetitions and increase the weight you do per set to create greater strength.
- Increase your speed during cardiovascular intervals.
- Add a long/slow cardio day to your cardiovascular program.
- Try a new workout program that is completely different – swim, bike, left weights, etc.
- If you work out every day, cut your workout days to 5. Work out harder, rest better. (Remember that the ONLY purpose of training IS to recover!)
- Increase your protein intake.
- Decrease your carbohydrate intake.
- If you don’t eat carbohydrates, include quality carbohydrates before and after exercise, and before bed. “Cycle” your carbohydrate days from “low” to “moderate” and even a “high” (the result will surprise you!) match it with your training.
- If you eat low fat, get a couple of whole eggs, avocados, and nuts into your diet in place of bread, cereal, crackers, or other wheat snacks.
- Increase the number of times you eat. Go for 5 or more small meals.
- If you eat frequent small meals, try going 16 hours after dinner before you eat again. Give yourself an 8 hour “feeding window” after that. Only eat during those hours.
- Eat only unprocessed food.
- Drink more water – try a gallon per day.
- Include a 2 servings of vegetables with every meal.
- Weigh your food for 1 week. While I’m not a huge proponent of calorie counting, if you have no idea the energy content of the food you eat, it’s difficult to change your fuel utilization situation.
All of the above are examples of strategies that when used for a short time, will dramatically increase weight and fat loss. Basic tenants of each can be used in a more sustained program.
For the most dramatic results, try one of the strategies that is the most different than what you currently do!
Don’t allow your body to figure out what your doing. Create new demands that lead to new changes.
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