By Kathy Smith
I want to share with you my fitness secrets to get you in the best shape of your life, my Laws to Living Lean.
They can help prevent the days that threaten to derail our efforts and smooth over the times when life gets overly busy.
My laws will give you important tools for problem solving.
With practice these strategies will become a skill set that will help you make good, healthy decisions day in and day out.
You can use these laws for the rest of your life.
Law No. 1: Think Progress, Not Perfection
Anything worth accomplishing takes time, patience, and incremental effort, especially when the goal is a profound one.
The thought of losing weight can be overwhelming. You are not sure how long the process will take, and you worry that you will not succeed.
This is when it is important to think progress, not perfection. Always remember that all the little shifts you make will add up to large changes overall.
This process does not happen overnight. Your success will be cumulative. A few years ago I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro.
The thought of reaching the top was both incredibly motivating and a bit daunting. But no one climbs a mountain in one giant leap.
I kept my focus on putting one foot in front of the other. All those little steps add up! As long as you move forward—even by a few inches—you will get where you are going eventually.
- Think inside out: And don't forget that as you make slight shifts in your life, a tremendous amount of invisible activity goes on inside your body. Even though you may not see results as quickly as you want on the outside of your body, you are retraining your body's metabolic pathways to more efficiently metabolize food and burn fat. You are changing your body on both a cellular and a hormonal level. Don't beat yourself up if you can't follow the program exactly on a busy day.
Focus on the positive: You are exercising most days of the week now and you are eating in a way that is good for your body. One day won't set you back in the grand scheme of things. Remind yourself that you are still moving forward.
- Be honest about your efforts: If you do not see the results you want, make a bigger commitment to yourself. Take it seriously and believe in yourself. You will see a difference. Don't use "it is not working" as yet another excuse to avoid the journey.
Law No. 2: View Exercise as Nonnegotiable
We don't think about whether we will eat, drink, and sleep. WE do those things quite robotically because they keep us alive. We can all agree that regular exercise benefits our health and keeps us alive. Yet many of us don't do any exercise. I believe the body emits signals when it is not getting enough exercise, but some of us choose to ignore those signals.
When you get into the routine of exercising frequently, you will start to tune in to your body's signals when it is time to get moving and break a sweat. You can get to a place where you are so in sync with your body that those exercise signals become impossible to ignore. They can be very big motivators.
Don't give in to excuses. To keep up regular daily exercise, be prepared to battle common lifestyle issues. These are some of the excuses I hear most often and ways to move past them:
- "I have no time to exercise." Well, who does? Until you make exercise a priority, you won't be able to find time. Considers this: if the president of the United States and executives of top companies can fit in exercise, so can you. (The reason they do is because the investment of time exercising yields benefits at work.
They come to the job with more energy and are capable of accomplishing more.) This excuse is particularly hard to use because my workout program can be done in just 10 minutes. I don't know anyone who can't find at least 10 extra minutes a day, if not several pockets of 10 minutes scattered throughout the day.
With my Matrix system of moves, you will get a total body workout – working all your muscles in a short period of time. And with the progression of movements through various intensities, you will be amazed at what you can accomplish in just 10 minutes. However, until you understand the value that exercise can bring to your life, you will not carve out time for it.
- "I only have a few minutes here and there." Don't fall into the trap of thinking that your workout program has to be completed every day in one continuous segment. All the research indicates that you get the same health benefits by doing three 10-minute bouts of exercise as you would from doing a single 30-minute workout. If you are short on time, go ahead and break up your routine in manageable, bite-size pieces.
You can even multi-task, watching the morning news as you complete a set of full-body moves that will rev you up for the day. Think of other ways to sneak in more activity during the day and combine socializing and/or work with exercise. For example, break away from your office routine and go with coworkers for a brisk walk.
- "I'm too tired to exercise." Try moving your workouts to the morning, when the day's events haven't kicked in to either disrupt you or wear you down. Make sure you are getting enough sleep too. Sometimes to get motivated I will make myself a vitamin C drink, and then lie on the floor to do inversions where I get my hips above my shoulders so the blood flows to my head. Everyone may need something different to get over that initial hump. But for most everyone the first five minutes are the hardest. Once you get the circulation going and the heart beating faster, the body takes over.
It is like the law of inertia: a body in motion tends to stay in motion. Take some deep breaths and think about how wonderful you will feel after working out.
- "Exercise is boring." This exercise is difficult to understand because there are so many ways to mix up exercises with my Matrix system. Stop thinking of exercise as drudgery and view it as time for yourself. We all lead stressful, busy lives. Having more time for you should be a blessing.
- "I didn't get the results I wanted so I gave up." When people say this I question how committed they were to a program and giving their body time to respond. From the moment you start changing how you eat and exercise, your body undergoes a multitude of invisible changes, all of which build a strong foundation for dramatic future results.
Remember, we are not aiming just for weight loss. We seek much more: robust hearts and immune systems, more lean muscle, a strong skeletal system to support other systems and organs, a lower risk for age-related diseases and a slowdown in the degenerative process that affects everything.
Law No. 3: Shop Smart at the Grocery Store
Most local markets today have a wonderful selection of fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy dairy products, lean meats and proteins, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Once you start my meal plan and introduce your body to delicious, wholesome foods, it will be easier to hit those checkout lines without picking up impulse items that are full of excess fat, sugar, and salt. Just follow these tips for navigating the store:
- Stick to the perimeter: Most markets have a similar layout. Meats, produce, and dairy are found around the perimeter, with processed foods (the most concentrated area of junk "goodies" and convenience foods full of unnecessary fats, sugars, carbs, and salt) in the center. When you stay on the perimeter, you stick "close to the earth," buying foods closest to their natural state. You will, however, have to hunt down the grains aisle, which is probably somewhere in the middle.
- Shop at the same store: Once you are accustomed to the store layout at one location, you can shop more efficiently. Avoid the aisles with temptations and save time.
- Bring a list: Avoid buying items not on your list. Don't buy the foods that tempt you to overeat or they will be lurking around at home when your next late-night craving strikes. If you have to buy treats for others in your family, store them deep in the pantry where they are out of sight.
- Don't shop when you are hungry: Do your best to go to the grocery store on a full stomach. You know what happens when you shop hungry. Everything looks good, and you arrive home with bags of extra food, much of it falling in the sugary/salty/fatty category.
- Read labels: It is no surprise that one way to support healthy weight loss is to be conscious about what we buy in the grocery store by reading labels. This is true even for "healthy" products that are labeled "fat-free," "lite," and "low-fat." You may be surprised to see that they include unhealthy ingredients that can sabotage even the most conscientious eater. Ingredients are listed on labels in order from highest content to lowest. If, for example, sugar is the first ingredient listed, that product contains high amounts of sugar as compared with other ingredients.
If taking the time to read labels during a busy shopping trip seems like too much of a hassle, plan to visit the store just to read labels. Think of it as a timesaving exploration that will set you up for success on future shopping trips. Jot down a list of the brands and items you find that are both healthy and delicious. Add those items to your shopping list each week and you will be able to grab them and keep the cart rolling. Or practice label reading with items you already have at home. It won't take long before you read labels out of habit.
- Embrace fresh and frozen veggies: I encourage you to select fresh produce when it is in season. Nothing beats the crunch of a fresh red bell pepper or the sweetness of fresh blueberries. However, certain fresh vegetables can be hard to find depending on the season, and some fresh vegetables are expensive. If you opt for frozen varieties, be assured that because they are frozen immediately after harvest, the nutritional values are about the same as fresh produce.
- Talk to the butcher: Ask the butcher which meats and fish are the best that day and choose fresh, fresh, fresh. If you find a beautiful cut of steak, you won't have to fuss much with seasoning. A shake of salt, pepper, and maybe some garlic powder and you are minutes away from dinner. The same goes for fish. If the market just received trout fillets, brush them with some olive oil, lay them on a grill pan, add sliced veggies, and you can have dinner in no time.
Law No. 4: Make Your Home a Healthy Environment
Your environment should support your healthy lifestyle. Create positive energy in your kitchen with how you stock and organize it, just as you create a certain energy in your home with your choice and placement of furniture. Do an inventory of your kitchen, then do the following:
- Discard anything that contains trans fats, hydrogenated fats, high-fructose corn syrup, or added sugars.
- Replace high-fructose corn syrup-base condiments, spreads, and salad dressings with natural, organic alternatives.
- Discard items with artificial sweeteners.
- Place any family treats, such as cookies and after-school snacks, far from view. Don't have a cookie jar out on the counter unless you fill it with something like whole fruit or whole grain pasta.
- Replace sugary beverages (including fruit juices and sodas) with still or sparkling water. Have them visible and available when you open the refrigerator. Drink up all day long!
- Dump chips, crackers, cookies, ice cream, candy, and packaged sweets. Avoid having crunchy, salty chips/crackers, trail mix, pretzels, kettle corn, chocolate, and packaged snacks around to tempt you.
Law No. 5: Consider Your Past Habits
You are sitting on the couch with your kids watching television when a bag of salted chips comes your way. You ask yourself, should I have one? You know that each chip is only about 10 calories, and that isn't much. This is when you need to recall previous times you were in the same situation. Did you eat just one? If you didn't—and you ate half a bag, which is 600 calories—then the best decision today is to pass the bag to someone else.
I advise anyone who is trying to lose weight (and keep it off) to identify his or her own eating patterns. Tune in to the foods and eating situations that often trigger overeating or binges. Everyone is different when it comes to trigger foods. I used to have a problem with chocolate. If it was in my kitchen it didn't last long. One bite led to two, then three and four. At one point I banished it from my house because there was no chance I could eat it in moderation.
I have learned that it is usually easier to simply say "no" to even one chip or candy. It is much harder to stop a binge when it is in progress.
Your body and your fitness level are created by old habits and old patterns. That is why keeping a journal is so helpful. It is just as important to write about your feelings as it is to record what you eat and which exercises you do.
Keeping notes helps you become more aware of your habits and patterns, and with that awareness you can learn how to shift them in a healthier direction. It is like missing the forest for the tress: In the hum of daily life, we're often unaware of how our behavior falls into patterns and how we repeat the same mistakes until we see it recorded on paper.
In reviewing my own journal, for instance, I discovered that I have a habit of eating trail mix right from the bag. That can lead me to eat multiple servings. I didn't realize until I did the math how many calories I was mindlessly consuming. Now I remind myself to measure out one portion so I don't overeat. Watch your journal to see which habits you need to break.
Law No. 6: Seek Substitutions for What You Crave
It is unrealistic to think you won't be tempted to overindulge in your favorite sugary, salty or fatty snack foods. But you can be prepared by having healthy substitutions available. Replace addictive foods with other options. Sometimes it is simply a certain texture that we seek. If you love crunchy chips with ranch dressing, try crunchy celery or sweet peppers with hummus or an all-natural, low-fat dressing. If you are in the mood for candy, try fruit with a little protein and healthy fat for satiety. A berry-based smoothie with a drop of flaxseed oil may do the trick.
Follow the 10 percent rule.
Once you reach your goal weight, don't completely deprive yourself. If you can find healthier substitutes for your cravings 90 percent of the time, feel free to indulge in your favorite foods the other 10 percent of the time. The truth is that no food is totally bad. It is all in how much you eat. I eat chocolate occasionally, but I prefer to have it when I'm away from home. I don't keep it in my kitchen because that is too much temptation.
When you reach your ideal weight, part of maintaining your new body will entail knowing when to allow yourself a small portion of a favorite food and when you should seek a substitution instead.
Law No. 7: Detach Mood from Food
Sometimes when you have had a really bad/stressful/exhausting/boring day, you arrive home and all you want to eat is a pint of ice cream and a bag of barbecue potato chips. Sound familiar? Sometimes eating is not about hunger. Mood eating is one of the most overwhelming issues for any weight-conscious person.
We often turn to comfort foods for reasons other than fuel, and distinguishing the physical need for the emotional need—especially in the heat of the moment—can be one of the hardest things to do. Boredom, loneliness, anger, sadness, anxiety, frustration, and fatigue are all controlling emotions. They key is to strike a balance between knowing what you eat and understanding how you feel.
This is when keeping a journal becomes critical. I have led many groups through weight loss programs, and I account much of their success to their dedication in keeping food-mood entries. Everyone recorded how they felt before and after they ate. Take time to write what you feel the moment you sense that you want to head to the kitchen for some out-of-control eating.
Are you tired, lonely, bored, or upset? Which emotion is taking over? Does this emotion connect with a particular food or need for a particular taste sensation? Are you truly hungry or just looking for a way to deal with the emotion?
Especially if you are an emotional eater, write about how life is affecting your eating habits and include notes on the days you veer off track and respond to being angry, lonely, bored, or tired with food.
This will help you come to a better understanding of your personal connection between mood and food. As you continue to fill your journal, you will gain self-awareness to help you make better decisions when the same mood pattern repeats. The goal is to reach a point where you no longer eat in response to negative feelings. If you find, for example, that you become cranky around 4:30 every afternoon and you munch on something that you later regret, you may want to plan a 20-minute walk at that time and have a light snack ready when you return.
Law No. 8: Think Quality of Calories, Not Number
Let's face it, counting calories or grams of this and that is impractical. It is not very useful when trying to lose weight because not all calories are created equal. A 300-calorie candy bar is not equivalent to a 300-calorie turkey wrap. Your body responds differently to these foods. The sugary candy bar is likely to feed your fat cells, whereas the high-protein wrap will feed muscle, fostering a chain of events that result in a higher metabolism, preserved lean muscle mass, and blood sugar balance.
Law No. 9: Remember the Power of Sleep
Most of us know that constant stress is not good for our health. Neither is sleep deprivation, which is linked to everything from an increased risk of hypertension, diabetes, and obesity to an elevated risk for depression, heart attack, and stroke.
Make sleep a priority. A good night's sleep now appears to be every bit as important to good health and long life as a nutritious diet and regular exercise. In 2004 researchers showed a strong connection between sleep and the ability to lose weight.
The more you sleep the better your body can regulate the hormones that control hunger and appetite. Two digestive hormones—ghrelin and leptin—work together to control your feelings of hunger. Your stomach secretes ghrelin when it is empty, telling your brain that you are hungry and increasing your appetite. When you are full, leptin sends your brain the opposite message so you quit eating.
Inadequate sleep creates an imbalance of both ghrelin and leptin, thus impeding your brain's ability to get the message that you are full. So you keep eating and eating. One study at the University of Chicago showed that when people were allowed just four hours of sleep a night for two nights, they suffered a 20 percent drop in leptin and an increase in ghrelin.
They also had a 24 percent increase in hunger and a 23 percent increase in appetite. Their appetite for calorie-dense, high-carbohydrate foods like sweets, salty snacks, and starchy foods increased from 33 to 45 percent.
The lesson: Don't underestimate the power of sleep. Sleep has other benefits as well, such as supporting a healthy immune system, keeping you energetic, and helping your memory stay sharp.
Growth hormone is largely secreted during the night in deep sleep. In addition to helping cells repair and renew themselves, growth hormone helps control the body's ratio of fat to muscle. Sleep also plays a major role in how well we age and how healthy we "look" (think about skin repair and rejuvenation). The ever-beating heart needs sleep too. During the night the heart gets a break.
We all have a bad night's sleep from time to time. When you do, take extra care of yourself the next day. Instead of reaching for sugary or fatty snacks, focus on lean proteins like fish, turkey, or eggs that will keep you satisfied until your next meal. Then take some time that evening to slow down and relax to ensure a better night's sleep.
Law No. 10: Start Every Day with Breakfast
When you eat is as important as what you eat. This is a point I stress repeatedly, and it starts with breakfast. You should eat breakfast within one hour of rising. It can work wonders on your body's metabolism and overall ability to lose weight and keep it off.
Although you probably have heard this advice before, you may not know why it is such a great idea.
After seven to eight hours of sleep, eating breakfast is like flipping a magical switch that turns on your metabolism and sets the stage for your blood sugar, energy level, and even your mood for that day. Skipping breakfast is proven to make weight control more difficult. People who skip a morning meal eat more food at the next meal, eat high-calorie snacks to curb hunger, struggle to fight off low energy and sleepiness in the late afternoon, and have a hard time fitting important nutrients into their diet.
Here's something else to keep in mind: Your brain runs on glucose—the fuel you need to think, walk, talk, and carry on virtually all activities.
If you skip breakfast, it becomes much harder to accomplish things, including exercise. When you go a long time without fuel, your body responds naturally by entering a "safe mode" and slowing down its metabolism. When you do eventually eat, chances are you are going to overeat. The human body accumulates more fat when you eat fewer, larger meals, so you are better off eating breakfast even if you don't feel hungry.
The lesson: commit to eating a wholesome breakfast. Eating breakfast has been proved (many times) to not only stimulate metabolism and help with weight and cholesterol control, but also to improve concentration, problem-solving ability, mental performance, memory, and mood. By eating breakfast you set yourself up for maintain healthy eating habits throughout the day.
Law No. 11: Eat Every Three to Four Hours
You should eat every three to four hours. Eating smaller meals during the day with snacks will keep you satisfied, increase your metabolic rate, preserve lean muscle mass, and keep your moods consistent. If you go too long without eating, you can actually cause your body to hold on to fat (to protect itself) and consume muscle. This then translates to burning fewer calories and feeling low on energy.
The proof is in the research. Scandinavian scientists recently tested two diets with a group of athletes who were trying to lose weight. Although all of them lose the same amount of weight, those who ate more frequent meals lost almost all fat tissue. At Nagoya University in Japan, athletes who ate six meals a day preserved their muscle tissue as they lost weight, whereas the ones who at the same number of calories in just two daily meals lost muscle tissue.
Law No. 12: Think Big
We are all sidetracked once in a while. That is OK. We become frustrated by the little stuff—like five extra pounds or a pair of pants that don't fit—and forget to consider the larger picture. Stay focused and remember the vision you have for yourself. When we move from having a constant microscope on ourselves to appreciating a more macrocosmic perspective, we can usher in a passionate attitude that has the effect of weakening the fixation on food.
In the last several years I have started to take what I call gratitude walks. I step outside my home and go on a mindful walk, taking in the details of my surroundings: the curvature of the tress, the individual petals of blooming flowers, the color of the sky and the shapes of the clouds.
These are details we rarely appreciate in daily living. The walks make me aware and vigilant, and I become exceptionally thankful for my life and the world in which I live.
When you are present in the moment like this, you start to think in a whole new light and connect in ways you never imagined. You also become inspired, thinking more broadly rather than focusing on your own inner world and trivial frustrations.
Suddenly you are motivated to take on something bigger than yourself—like a charity walk or 10k. You find that participating in life fills you to the point where food truly becomes something that nourishes and sustains you. It doesn't have to be an obsession all the time.
You don't have to give up your job, join the Peace Corps, or go to any great lengths to "think big." Just take note of what goes on in your own community to be involved. I bet you will be surprised by how it can change you.
Law No. 13: You Can Tame Your Sugar Habit
Almost all of us love something sweet, whether it is a piece of chocolate or a slice of fruit pie. You don't have to nix sugar entirely, but I do recommend that you severely restrict it for a few days or, if you can, a week at the start of a lifestyle change. This will help you release your craving and recalibrate your blood sugar.
It is all about understanding how different foods affect your body so you can make informed choices about how and when to eat sweets.
Sweets don't have to be taboo if you learn to manage them so that the occasional indulgence doesn't get in the way of fitness goals. Sugar is unique in that it can fuel cravings and throw a blood sugar level so out of whack that it becomes nearly impossible to control your portions. The key is to know which foods and sugar-laden products you can handle and which ones you should eliminate from your kitchen entirely.
Start by noticing how sugar affects you. Identify which foods you absolutely cannot control. We all know people who can eat a few M&M's and walk away, while other people end up eating the whole bag. Sugar affects these people in very different ways.
If you have something sweet, do you instantly crave more? Do you feel lethargic or tired? Do you feel mentally foggy or unwell in general? If so, you probably don't process sugar very well. You need to respect your body's reaction to sugar and find a new way of enjoying sweets without making yourself sick. Reducing your sugar habit probably won't eliminate its effect on you when you have it, but it will make it easier to say "no thanks" more often.
To maintain you sugar sanity, try these tricks:
- Don't eat sugar when you are hungry. A sugary snack on an empty stomach is more likely to trigger a craving, causing you to eat far more of the sweet treat than you would if you were full.
- Eat a sweet after a meal. You are less likely to eat a lot of a sweet after a balanced meal. Make sure you have had a good source of protein in your meal (such as grilled salmon or halibut, lean beef, chicken, or turkey). The protein diminishes the impact of the sugar on your system.
- Prep for dessert. If you sit down to a meal and you know that you will want dessert, make sure to eliminate starchy carbohydrates from that meal, including bread, pasta, and grains. Your dessert will count as a starch.
- Eat sweets very slowly. Savor the taste and texture. Set down your fork or spoon between bites. When you really enjoy what you eat, you won't need a huge amount to satisfy your craving.
- Be discriminating. Once you start savoring your sweets, you will notice the quality of what you are eating. Put down the inferior chocolate and tell yourself it is just not good enough for your taste buds. You don't want to waste calories on anything inferior.
- Let go of the guilt. Guilt is not a good weight loss motivator—it can actually make you eat more, not less. When you think of sweets as a no-no, you feel you have to sneak them. Sneaking often leads to gobbling and making poor choices about what to have. Change your relationship to sweets so that you control them instead of letting them control you.
- Be prepared. Handle your cravings by anticipating them. If you know that you react to sugar by craving more (and more), have a plan ready to help your body metabolize the sugar. Effective tools include doing something else that feels good to take your mind off the urge, such as taking a relaxing bath.
Law No. 14: You Can Eat at Restaurants
It is true that many restaurants serve portions that are enough for a small family. The same amount of pasta served to a 120-pound woman also is served to a 250-pound man. What is more, restaurant potions typically include only small amounts of protein and limited produce while the refined or starchy carbohydrates are off the charts. Follow these tips:
- Watch protein portions: One serving size of protein is about the size of your palm. If the amount of protein in your entrée is too small, boost it by ordering an appetizer that has a good source of protein or by requesting extra meat, chicken, or tofu on your salad or sandwich. If there is too much protein, ask to take half your meal home. Doggie bag, please!
- Think vegetables first: Request more steamed vegetables, grilled asparagus, or a side salad. If you have a meal that includes a starch, such as bread, rice, or pasta, think about what you really want and watch serving sizes. If you decide on grilled fish and steamed veggies, and you know the bread is fabulous, eat it! But if you decide on a baked potato or rice, you already have your starch and should do without the bread this time.
- Be prepared: You have to become mentally prepared for eating out whether it is at a restaurant or at your best friend's house. Eat a mini meal before you head out the door. Be sure to include a good source of lean protein and some fibrous vegetables. Try two hard-cooked eggs with a side of steamed spinach. It will fill your stomach, keep your blood sugar level happy for a while, and stave off hunger and cravings.
- Don't be afraid of buffets: Just because it is a buffet doesn't mean you have to go through 10 plates. Stick to serving yourself one plate in line. If you want to enjoy numerous trips to the tables like everyone else, start with a plate of lean protein (sliced turkey, red meat, or fish), the return for a new plate heavy on fresh steamed vegetables. Leave the starchier carbohydrates, fruits, and sweets for last.
About the Author:
Kathy has stood at the forefront of the fitness and health industries for more than thirty years with a collection of books, videos, audios and DVD's on walking, cardiovascular health, nutrition, strength training, yoga, Pilates, menopause, dance, and all-things-exercise.
As President of Kathy Smith Lifestyles, she has sold over $500 million in lifestyle products and fitness equipment. In addition to her DVD library, Kathy is an accomplished author, with bestselling titles including Feed Muscle Shrink Fat Diet and Moving Through Menopause. She has also contributed her expertise on health and wellness to countless media outlets, including the LA Times, USA Today, The Today Show, Oprah, The View, Larry King Live, and many more. Smith recently launched Ageless with Kathy Smith, a new age-fighting DVD workout line with award-winning producer Acacia. The first workout, Staying Strong, was released in May 2011, with Total Body Turnaround coming out nationwide in November 2011.
Kathy has teamed up with Pivotal 5, the industry trendsetter in hand held fitness, to successfully launch two lines of products. In 2009, Kathy Smith partnered with Rejuvenation Prevention + Rehabilitation™ to create a line of seven products targeting the "Actively Ageless". These products pioneered the category of fitness over forty targeting key areas of interest including toning and firming to balance and mobility. Each item comes complete with DVD featuring Kathy Smith's uniquely designed workouts targeting total body fitness and overall wellness.
In 2010, Smith helped develop the Kathy Smith Healthy Living brand exclusively for Ross Dress for Less® stores. This exclusive brand promotes the active living across all fitness levels with the Healthy Living System to guide customers to the correct equipment based on their fitness goals.