Post upon post and article upon article has been written about the best exercise and the best diet to get whatever body shape you imagine you will be happy with. People defend their view of the optimal strategy with religious fervour and spend a great deal of time trying to convert others to their righteous path.
In all honesty, anything works. Especially if you have a decent amount of fat to lose. You can drink your shakes, eat unprocessed organic food or live off Lean Cuisine. You can take long walks first thing in the morning, you can lift light/medium/heavy weights in your lunch break or you can do stair sprints before/after or during dinner. Whatever you decide to do will give you a positive result. You'll get fitter, stronger and the scales will drop.
Relatively, that is the easy part. The hard part is in your head and it something that is given little attention by comparison. There are few optimal strategies preached by experts when it comes to getting your mind right. And without this third leg of the tripod, the whole structure will collapse.
So I present my thoughts on thoughts. I have related these to entering a figure competition because it is the fat loss process amplified. Hopefully, non-competitors trying to get lean will find food for thought (pun intended) here as well.
1. Why am I competing?
(a) Figure Competitions are a sporting event. I have been fit and athletic all my life and I have natural ability (good genetics) that gives me a good chance of placing. I have an off season where I build muscle and a competition season where I reduce my body fat to extreme levels in order to be competitive in this arena. I equally accept both the lean and the heavy versions of myself as part of the cycle of training and competing. I never really see myself as fat/thin, just bulking or cutting.
(b) Figure Competitions are an incentive to finally see how lean I can get. With a public commitment to competing with a fixed deadline, I am motivated to be consistent with my nutrition and training. Exhaustion, hunger and pain are endured because the reward of standing on stage in the best condition of my life will be worth it. Once I've lost all that weight, I am keeping it off for good. There is no way I'm undoing all my hard work.
(c) Figure Competitions are enormous fun. I am inspired to be the best I can be with all my physical limitations (age, stretch marks, and loose skin). For one special day I get to be a princess with a handmade costume, pretty jewelry, a gorgeous tan, sexy high heels, perfectly manicured hands, and professionally done hair and makeup. I know I can't stay competition lean all the time, but I want to stay pretty close to it. If dancers and Pauline can stay in shape all year round then I'm going to give it my best shot.
How am I going to do it?
(a) I have a Coach who guides me through my training and nutrition process. I put my trust fully in his/her program and follow it rigorously. I expect to have good days and bad days, but this is the sport of have chosen and I will put in the hard yards no matter what. If I have to do cardio twice a day and eat nothing but lean chicken and green veggies for a number of weeks then that's OK because I know this only happens while I am cutting. I get to eat more than enough in the off-season.
(b) I have a Coach who is another avenue of accountability. If I do exactly what my Coach says, I am guaranteed to get to the goal of being as lean as I can possibly be. Sometimes I get so hungry and tired that I cheat a bit, but I always make sure I do extra cardio or cut my calories the next day to compensate. I have to get to my goal no matter what happens. I have already planned my competition day food and my post comp meal and I can't wait for that day to come. I will stop eating bad food the very next day and go back to my diet. I know my Coach wants me to slowly put the weight back on, but I'm not going to do it. I'm planning on keeping the body I've earned through blood, sweat and tears.
(c) I am doing this by myself. I need to figure out what works for my lifestyle, my tastes and my enjoyment. I understand that I need to put in hard work to lose weight, but I will devise my own strategy based on what is sustainable for the long term. I will eat the way I intend to eat forever, but just a little less. I will train the way I intend to train forever, but I will train a little harder. If I get too miserable, sick and tired I will make corrections to my plan. I will make it to the stage in the best shape I can be while making sure everything else in my life doesn't suffer as a consequence. If life gets in the way or things don't go to plan, I can always do another competition or be the leanest back stage slapper you've ever seen! I know that having to prep for a few more weeks than expected is perfectly achievable because I am doing it the 'easy' way.
What happens afterwards?
(a) Post comp meal and a week off then straight back into heavy training once the season is over [I'll probably do a few shows back to back especially if I qualify for bigger shows]. My Coach will let me know the areas I need to work on and I will spend my time devoted to improvement. I will blow out a bit with my eating, but this is normal and factored into my plan. Coach knows me well enough to get me back on the straight and narrow.
(b) I just can't stop eating. All the things I have missed for months taste so good and make me feel so good I can't resist any more. I always plan to get back to my diet tomorrow, but the thought of going through all that agony all over again makes me want to cry. But I have to do something - I've blown up like a balloon. It will take me weeks to get rid of all this weight I've stacked on in such a short time. Maybe I'm just destined to be fat. I can't let anyone see me like this because I look terrible. I am such a failure.
(c) I have increased my calories and cut back a bit on my training and the weight is creeping back on slowly. I am continuing to weigh myself daily, log my food and track my calorie burn so I have feedback on what is working and what is not. I haven't needed to eat all the things I've been missing because I have been eating chocolate and ice cream all the way along. I know I won't be perfect but I have a new goal I have committed to that helps me stay on track. I am making stabilising at my ideal weight my next challenge. And so far, I am doing rather well. Every day I discover something new about this new phase of my life.
Obviously I was a (b) and I am aiming to be a (c) this time round. The external circumstances haven't changed just the way I think about it and my subsequent behaviours. As my good friend Fern said this morning ... it's all about our minds.