Being lean shouldn’t be an end to itself. Instead, it should be a “side effect” of a lean lifestyle. While this surprises a lot of people, here’s a fundamental truth. How we live may be even more important than what we eat.
When we live a certain way, we look a certain way.
The opposite is true too: When we look a certain way, it means we live a certain way.
Being lean is a side effect of a lean lifestyle. Our output reflects our input, and our input doesn’t just include what we eat. It includes how we live. In fact, how we live may be even more important than what we eat.
Waking up each day hoping to be lean doesn’t translate into being lean. It’s kind of like hoping to be rich and famous. Being lean (consistently for life, not just after a 3 month diet), like being rich and famous, isn’t something we can impose.
Rather, leanness emerges as a “side effect” of our lifestyle, mindset, and who we are.
Focus on the journey, not the outcome
I remember a client who followed 25 diets over the course of five years. He started each diet wanting to get lean. All 25 diets were unsuccessful.
What’s going on here? This client was 100% focused on a lean body.
But might this be the problem? Sometimes the more we aim at something and make it the only target, the more we might miss it.
How can this be, you say? Shouldn’t we be laser-focused on our goals?
The problem here is over-emphasizing the outcome, rather than the quality of the process, and the behaviors and meaningful actions that get us there.
In fact, making “get a lean body” our only focus may lead us to do downright unhealthy things.
When we make “a lean body” the only destination that matters, we ignore the process. We might be tempted to take shortcuts (e.g., drugs, surgeries, starvation diets). If we’re just outcome-focused, we don’t care if we harm ourselves getting there.
And if we don’t get to our “lean body” goal in the way we expect, or if we don’t get there “fast enough” (whatever that means), we might criticize ourselves, feel like a failure, and/or give up.
But when we make the journey itself the reward — for instance, if we enjoy learning more about resistance training, going deeper on our squats, de-seeding a pomegranate, roasting beets, feeling good after eating nutritious foods, and living the lean lifestyle — then there are no shortcuts. And we feel good about every single step on that road.
“But Ryan, you’re wrong, I’m lean and it’s my only focus!”
Fine. A 12 week diet/workout blitz will help you lose fat. But if the sole reason someone eats nutritious foods and exercises is to lose fat, what happens when there is no more fat to lose?
We often expect fat loss to be good enough to justify the eating changes and exercise that made it possible. But this isn’t always the case.
Once we have a lean body, then what? What else brings us joy and value?
Once we’re familiar with leanness, we might dishonor it more. How many people do you know who let their eating habits slip after getting to their goal weight? It’s like brushing your teeth once, then never doing it again.
But here’s good news. We don’t have to worry about losing our lean body if a lean body is merely a “side effect” of who we are.
Make leanness a “side effect”, not the main event
Forget about making “a lean body” your main goal. Instead, learn to “live lean”.
“A lean body” isn’t enough incentive for sustained behavior changes.
What if as a society we embraced larger, more meaningful incentives? Wouldn’t a lean body occur as the unintended “side effect” of our dedication to a cause greater than ourselves?
Make a lean body a “side effect” of your life in three ways:
- Understand who you are and what is truly, deeply important to you.
- Honour your body with meaningful choices.
- Focus on the quality of the journey.
Break it down
Here are three areas to think about.
Why do you want a lean body? OK, why do you really want a lean body? Ignore the first two answers. Now tell the truth. Why do you REALLY want a lean body? Use the third answer.
What is truly important to you? Are you living these core values? If not, why not?
Do you have the skills and knowledge you need to be lean? For instance, do you know how to squat correctly, how to roast vegetables, and/or how to make a sleep ritual? If not, how can you learn?
Who do you spend time with, healthy people or unhealthy people? This isn’t about “good” versus “bad” people. Rather, the people we’re around simply encourage us, knowingly or unknowingly, to live a certain way of life. For example, I regularly attend theatre productions because my sister and brother-in-law own a theatre company. If I didn’t spend time with them, theatre wouldn’t even be on my radar.
What do your social activities consist of? Do you do leanness-supporting things for fun? For instance, do you enjoy cooking, go hiking or running with your dog, or take tango lessons?
Do you have a mentor and/or coach who supports a lean lifestyle? If not, how can you find one?
How do you structure your home and work environment? Does this environment support leanness or fatness? For instance, are healthy foods easy to get and prepare? Conversely, are junk foods far away and hard to get?
Do you make the healthy-lean option the easiest option? If not, how could you make it easier, more convenient, and more pleasant?
Do you make the unhealthy option the hardest option? If not, how could you make it tougher, more inconvenient, and more painful?
Putting it into practice
Here are some examples to give you an idea what I’m talking about (but remember, these are specific to me):
I am motivated to have a lean body so I feel good, have confidence, don’t cost my health insurance company a lot of money, will be around for my family/friends, can function well in my job/volunteer commitments, sleep well, and so I don’t drain the planet of resources.
I read lots to learn more about exercise techniques, preparing nutritious foods, and the best way to improve behaviors.
I am always trying new experiments to see how I adjust. Latest experiment: cutting down on food packaging and plastic (a side effect of this is that I’m eating more nutritious whole foods).
My closest friends and family all value a healthy lifestyle.
I distance myself from those who don’t support my healthy lifestyle. (This doesn’t mean I reject unhealthy people… just don’t ask me to go pub crawling with you until 4 am.)
Activities in my social circle include eating at healthy restaurants, healthy potluck meals, farmers markets, volunteering at farms, yoga classes, walking/hiking/biking/swimming.
I read articles and listen to people who inspire me.
I only keep foods in my house that make me feel good after eating. Foods that make me feel sick, bloated, or ashamed of myself don’t appear in my cupboards.
I don’t have cable TV. This frees up money for nutritious foods, gym memberships, and yoga classes. I want fewer processed foods (because I don’t see commercials) and I go to bed on time (instead of staying up to watch “my stories”).
I don’t have a car. This allows me to spend more time walking, biking, in the sun, and interacting with folks in the neighborhood.
Value the doing
A lean body occurs as a result of changing our attitude and the way we do things. The truest indication that we’re living a lean life comes in how we spend our days.
When we focus on how we are living, feeling, and thinking each day, and on the quality of each choice we make, the body will simply be restored to lean proportions (all the while you might have forgotten about getting lean – it just happens).
Yes, it takes time. Some of those choices may be challenging. But if you “live lean”, “being lean” will happen.
Consider the following.
- What are the “side effects” of your current lifestyle?
- What if instead of pursuing a lean body, you merely let it ensue?
- What if a lean body simply became a “side effect” of your dedication to a new way of living?
Exciting to think about… isn’t it?
Eat, move, and live… better.
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