I Got Real, and Then I Lost 10 Pounds in 7 Days

As a personal trainer with over 20 years of experience, I’m so happy to see the enthusiasm in today’s culture for fitness, health and wellness. However, the industry has seemed to take on a tone of, “if you’re doing something, you’re doing great!”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for amplifying the positive but let’s not forget to be real, to be honest. About 53 million Americans take part in some sort of organized fitness regimen. Over  80% of this population either works out on their own, with a friend or in group situations, essentially making individuals accountable only to themselves. Like a vast majority of the population I answer to myself when it comes to fitness and recently, I had to get real with me.

I’m getting married this summer so I wanted to step up my already intense regimen in preparation for it. I upped the intensity and frequency of my workouts. I adjusted my meal plan to account for the increased activity by fueling my body before and after each workout, while making sure I was always home to have a nice, healthy dinner with my fiance. On top of all of this, I was continuing to run my company in a very hands-on way. Imagine my surprise when I noticed I was not only gaining body fat, but also feeling considerably irritable and constantly exhausted. Wait...what? I had to take a moment to think about why I was experiencing these adverse effects from such positive actions.

I went through a checklist in my head.  I knew I was doing full-body, technically precise movements during my workouts. I knew I was eating healthy foods and intaking the proper amount of energy. I knew I was getting about six to seven hours of sleep a night. After some time and research I realized the one measurement I wasn’t paying attention to was how my body was using all this increased energy.

Tracking my food intake, I realized I was eating for a duration of 16-18 hours a day. The only time I wasn’t eating was when I was sleeping. I was eating first thing in the morning, snacks, before and after workouts, lunch, more snacks, and finally dinner. The first moment I had to be honest with myself was acknowledging that I was gaining weight due to overconsumption.

According to research by Dr. Satchin Panda, Professor at the Regulatory Biology Laboratory at the Salk Institute, the optimal duration of eating or “feeding,” as he refers to it,  should be between eight and 12 hours a day. This feeding time should also correspond to our natural circadian rhythm. This method of optimal eating is called Time-restricted Feeding.

Put simply, our bodies can only perform one energy function at a time. We’re either putting in energy (feeding), burning energy (digesting), or recovering (resting). Here’s the second moment I had to be honest with myself. I was seriously overworking my body. I was constantly feeding it, which means that before I had time to fully digest what I had put in, I was already refueling. In addition to this, I was performing extremely vigorous full-body workouts. Finally, as I mentioned before, the only time I wasn’t eating was when I was sleeping, which means my body was trying to rest, recover and digest in a very small amount of time. Do you see the problem here?

This was the third moment of self-honesty. My mood was directly reflective of the constant state of stress, or work that my body was under. With running my company, recent travel, planning a wedding and perfect honeymoon, and making time for increased workouts, so many rose-colored glasses could have been worn in this situation. I could have said, “oh, everyone’s irritable in the time leading up their wedding,” or “I must be putting on an incredible amount of muscle with the amped up workouts.”

Now that I had been fully honest with myself, I could make a plan and take measurable action. When we’re honest and real about our challenges, we can enact a plan to directly address them rather than glossing over them or making excuses. Often times when we do this, we add to the cycle of stress. We do a little more physical activity which makes us a little more tired so we add a little more food and a little more caffeine. We create an unsustainable cycle based on good intentions.

Now it was time to create a plan based on research and honesty. I decided to start with the most easily measureable challenge, overconsumption. I downloaded the Zero app to track my feeding and fasting. What I liked about the Zero app was the simplicity of it. Intermittent Fasting isn’t a fad diet, it’s a holistic behavioral pattern and this app is reflective of that. Zero simply tracks the duration of your feeding and fasting, and notes if you feed outside of the circadian rhythm.

Dr. Panda cites 12-16 hours of fasting as optimal, the goal on the Zero app is 13 hours. I knew going from eight to 10 hours of fasting to 12 or 16 would be difficult, so the 13 hour goal was a realistic start. Creating any habit is always challenging. However, the results were so swift that, even with my jam-packed, stressful schedule, it was easy to maintain momentum.

Within seven days I had lost 10 pounds of body fat and had a marked increase in energy. These results certainly aligned with the research. However, I noted additional benefits. My concentration, attention to detail and focus were all heightened. For the first time in a long time, I felt mentally sharp and energized. I realized that your brain, like any other organ, is impacted by how we treat our body. Since I had been practicing habits that allowed my body to function optimally, my brain quickly followed and, naturally,  so did my mood.

Much in the way that quality movement will beget quality results, optimal health habits will beget optimal health benefits. When we retrain ourselves to move and function in a way we were designed to, we can do more, we can do better.