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The Holy Grail

(Focus: No quick fix, changes take time, manage your expectations)

Now if you know anything about me you’ll know I’m a huge fan of the Indiana Jones movies. In particular, my favorite is the third movie in the series: Indiana Jones and the Holy Grail. If you haven’t seen it, why-ever not. The movie focuses on Indy rampaging through Europe and the Middle East to prevent an offshoot of Nazi’s from acquiring the eponymous Holy Grail; a cup that grants the drinker eternal youth. At the end of the story Indy has a standoff with the leader of the Nazi group where he has to choose the right chalice. The Nazi chooses the most ornate cup in order to use it nefariously. Indy chooses a beat up, plain looking, wooden cup. You can guess who chooses wisely! 

Now you may be thinking why is this relevant, but as humans we are programmed to find the easiest, quickest and most glamorous route towards our goals. We often put a plan together and expect it to instantly work and then become disappointed when the results fail to materialize in a couple of days. We’ve all been there staring in the mirror looking for our abs saying “But I did a sit up on Tuesday!” Unfortunately, this is rarely going to be the case and there is going to be no quick fix to your goals. Whether we want to lose weight, become better at gymnastics or place higher in competition these changes take time and effort. Anyone telling you otherwise is probably lying to you or even worse to themselves. 

Let’s break it down; a common goal we see is to get leaner or have more visible muscle tone. To achieve this then you need to do two things: 1. Lower your body fat, and 2. Put on Muscle. Now these two focuses are rather diametrically opposed to each other. 

To reduce our body fat we need to be in a caloric deficit. This means that the body expends more energy than it consumes. You may have heard the common phrase “Calories in vs Calories Out”. To reduce our body fat we need our calories in (what we are eating) to be lower than our calories out (how much activity we are undertaking). To do this in a gradual, sustainable and healthy way we are only talking about a 100-200 calorie sway from normal. Given that 500g of fat constitutes around 3500 calories you can see how that would take around 3 or more weeks.   

However any trip to the doom scrolling god that is Instagram will have you believing that in only 30 days you can drop a whole dress size and the best way to do that is by drinking this “Miracle Shake” or eating only carrots or starving yourself on 1200 calories per day. And to be fair they will. However as with all good things to good to be true they inevitably are. Most of these fad diets and crash diets results in a yo-yo effect and as soon as you go back to eating normally the results soon disappear. The problem is we haven’t established sustainable habits that you can stick to for life and you’ve reduced your metabolism so low to prevent starvation that it no longer can properly process energy. 

Contrastingly, to put on muscle we need to be in a caloric surplus where the calories in are greater than our calories out. Likewise this takes time. If we take the average lifter going to the gym 3-4 times a week and eating a protein rich diet and challenged them to gain 500g of muscle it would take a beginner 1-2 months and an advanced lifter it could take 3-6 months or more. The problem with this is that while eating in a caloric surplus is effective at increasing muscle mass it will also cause us to gain fat mass too. Now you’re seeing the issue. And as usual there is always that temptation of a quick fix; steroids, an overload of exercise, surgery. But as with our fat loss example all of these have long lasting health implications. You’re messing with your hormones and body parts after all. 

Instead we can be more like Indy and take the less glamorous and well trodden route: having patience. Set your expectations to realistic and make a plan to achieve your goal. By understanding what you want to achieve, how to get there and how long it should really take we can then set milestones to keep us on track. Milestones can be anything from the weight we lifted on our deadlift at 4 weeks, 8 weeks and 12 weeks. This could instead be comparing progress photos or the numbers on the scale across a similar time period. When we work towards our goals it’s easy to be transfixed on the day to day numbers and become despondent if they dont change. However looking at our before and after across a set timeframe will give us better context to our results. 

We can work towards these milestones by creating sustainable habits that allow you to make small consistent adaptations. This could be making sure you eat 3 meals a day, making sure you eat protein with every meal, buying smaller plates, or come to Crossfit 3x week. All these things may seem small to start with but over weeks, months or years will result in a lifestyle you can keep for life. Once you’ve mastered one habit over a series of months, add on the next one and so on. Choose wisely, make a vow to stick to your habits and see them out rather than searching for some quick fix, pseudo science or mythical mug. You’ll be further on in one year than you could ever have imagined. 

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