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The other day I went to lunch with a few of my local colleagues… plus a few of the personal trainers from our local gym (yes, the same gym where a trainer mocked me in front of his client… more to come on that later). As I sat down next to one of the trainers, he quickly asked me the one question that I refuse to answer:

You’re a nutritionist, right? What should I eat?

Um, dude. I don’t know you. Nor do I have an easy answer for you. That’s like walking up to a career counselor you’ve never met and asking what career you should pursue. Or walking up to a marriage counselor and asking her who you should marry. Hint: she has NO IDEA… she doesn’t know you. Meet her in her office, let her get some background, then the two of you might get somewhere with that conversation. 

But I will admit, there is one question that I hate even more than the question of “what should I eat”… and here it is: 

What should I stop eating? It’s sugar huh? Or carbs? 

This question: Drives. Me. Crazy. Because in reality, there’s no one food that will make or break your success in fitness and nutrition. There’s nothing you need to cut out entirely to get healthy and fit, and to be honest, most people have more consistent, sustainable results without cutting anything out entirely… 

I do have an exception to this: there is one thing I think you should cut out of your diet, your exercise, and your mindset entirely if you want to get in the best shape of your life. 

Cut this out to get fit and lean: 

If you want to get fit, lean, healthy in a way that is sustainable, and leads to lasting results, then decide right now to cut extremism out of your diet and exercise habits entirely

Extremism is your worst enemy when it comes to sustainable success. 

Extremism tells you that you’re either “on” a diet or “off” a diet. 

Extremism tells you that 20 minutes of exercise isn’t enough, so you might as well skip any exercise.

Extremism tells you that all chocolate is always off limits, and if you eat one piece, you might as well eat the whole box. 

Extremism tells you that you have to lose 10 pounds a month or you aren’t successful. 

Extremism is everywhere 

Extreme weight loss, extreme diet restriction, extreme workouts… the problem is that these extremes are incredibly appealing when we’re feeling super motivated… but then as the time goes on, we become less excited about eating another extremely carefully portioned chicken breast, so we go back to the other extreme. 

These extremes are all over the market not because they are more effective than less extreme approaches, but because they sell like hotcakes. And I understand that appeal. We see a 30 day “before” and “after” shot with extreme changes and think we want that too… yet we never stop and consider what happens on day 31. Because day 31 is when the binges start. Day 31 is when the weight starts coming back on again. 

We need fewer before and after shots and more before & after-the-after shots 

Extreme success isn’t sustainable success, and you deserve results that last.

What’s the alternative to extremism? 

You’re here because you want to get lean, fit, and healthy for life, not just for the next 30 days, or 21 days, or however many days the next best program is (no kidding there’s a 3 day diet now!). So it’s time to find some alternatives to extremism. Here are three that I propose to you. 

1. Balance 

Balance is the new moderation. No, really. I used to use the word “moderation” to discuss what I meant by balance, yet I’ve found that moderation was not as good of a descriptor as I had hoped. Balance is better.

Because balance is actually the key to moderation. One of my mentors, Dan John tells a funny story of a kid that once came into his gym, saying that he can’t do squats. “Squatting hurts my knees” he said. Dan watched him squat then responded with: “Squatting doesn’t hurt your knees, the way you squat hurts your knees.” The kid improved his form, and his squats were no longer a problem. 

Similarly, when it comes to food and nutrition, everyone is screaming about how __________ makes you fat. 

Carbs make you fat

Alcohol makes you fat

Eating at night makes you fat

Dessert makes you fat. 

My response: none of those things make you fat, it’s the way you are eating those things that is making you fat… meaning the overall pattern of consumption.

Balance is finding a way to enjoy the foods you love without feeling the need to cut out anything entirely. Balance is getting adequate protein, enough highly satisfying foods, and the nutrients your body needs while still enjoying your favorite treats, dinner out, or a slice or two of pizza from time to time. 

Balance is exercising and moving your body in a way that helps you feel more energized and more likely to eat well…. not movement that leaves you sitting around on the couch all day because you’re exhausted, or inhaling an entire Costco sized bag of almonds because you’re starving.  

Side note: if you’re struggling to find a balance that works for you, let’s explore this together and come up with some solutions for you! 

2. Progress – 

Extremism teaches us that we’d better be perfect on the first try: Get the workout guide, and do the whole dang thing: can’t jump rope because of an injury? Fight through the pain or you’ve failed. Print the meal plan and shopping list and follow it to a “T.” Don’t have dijon mustard? Don’t use yellow mustard instead, you might as well quit.

It may sound silly when I say it that way, but really there’s a level of perfectionism that is inferred by much of the fitness and nutrition industry: if you can’t do it right, you may as well not do it at all. Right? 

Wrong! Oh so wrong! 

Because the truth is, no one “gets it” all on the first try. Even if you think you’ve found the “perfect” way of eating for you, or the “perfect” workout plan (in quotes, because I’m certain no such thing exists)… life comes up, things get in the way, and there’s a learning curve to everything

Let’s talk about learning curves for a minute: the first time I heard the word “learning curve” applied to myself was when I was applying for a campus security dispatcher job in college. My soon to be supervisor told me that there was a huge learning curve to the job (there was) and that I would constantly need to improve my skills. This didn’t make sense to me. I thought if I learned everything, I’d be at the top of the learning curve, and have everything figured out. 

But the truth is we have to constantly keep learning and developing new skills, and they don’t come over night. And because of this reality we have to have a different way of gauging success than “did it right” or “did it wrong….” and that’s where progress becomes the most important thing ever.

When you’re feeling like you’re not doing everything right, focus instead on how you are making progress… because in truth, progress is all that matters (because perfect is an illusion) 

3. Consistency – 

Once you understand balance and progress, consistency can be easy. Without the other two, consistency is impossible. Because we’re not talking about consistently doing things perfectly… we’re talking about consistently doing better. If you’ve had a rough week, don’t skip the gym, go and do something light instead. 

If you aren’t craving a salad, don’t give up and get a triple cheeseburger: go find a delicious soup or fresh protein and veggie wrap, or even a small hamburger and a salad. 

Do something every day that brings you closer to your goals, without expecting perfection, or going to extremes and you’ll see much more progress and much better results than if you tried to do it all, but did it inconsistently. 


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Ashley Palmer
Ashley is a Registered Nurse with a Master’s Degree in Human Nutrition. Ashley loves her son, her husband, and lifting heavy things then putting them back down repeatedly. She is a nutrition, fitness and weight loss coach and blogs at www.youtrition.net.


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