Does that pretty much sum up what you want to get from your health and fitness?
As much as we’d like to think we’re above it, we all want to look good naked. It improves our prospects, relationships, and sex lives. It improves the way others see us and treat us.
It limits the time we spend sick or injured, keeping us on our feet doing the things that are important. It helps us spend more days on this planet doing them.
It helps us to wake up in the morning feeling good. It helps us go through the day without feeling like crap. It helps us feel excited about life and enthusiastic about our part in it. It helps us sleep soundly at night.
Sounds great! But how do we get there?
The world’s full of ultra-specific diets and exercise programs, all claiming to be the “magic bullet” that will get you into the greatest shape of your life.
Most of them will fail in the long term, owing to their ultra-strict rules and inability to work in our modern world of harmful temptations.
Athletes, models, and actors aside, physical health should be a means to an end in your life, not an end itself. And as such, you should approach it with a sense of balance, and with open-ended principles rather than hard and fast rules.
After more than ten years of interest and experience in this whole health and fitness world, I think I’ve found the “treasure map” that can get you there as well.
And today, I’m here to share it.
Eat Better, Move Smarter, Live the Good Life
These are the three “pillars” upon which the LMVM philosophy of health and fitness is built, each of which are composed of three “principles,” as follows:
- Eat Real Food
- Balance Feasting and Fasting
- Cheat Occasionally
- Move Your Body
- Don’t Overdo It
- Make It Fun
Live the Good Life
- Sleep More
- Be Social
- Follow Your Bliss
Think of this as “eat less and exercise more” for the twenty-first century. We’ve evolved beyond the paradigm that had us starving ourselves, eating gross food, obsessing over shady supplements, and spending too much time at the gym doing exercises that did us little good.
Here is the nine-step guide to looking better, feeling better, and living better.
1. Eat Real Food
Low-fat. Low-carb. Low-calorie.
It’s easy to get paralyzed by all the conflicting dietary information out there.
Most diets will give you results in the short term, if for no other reason than they force you to restrict your consumption of certain types of food that you are used to.
But to be successful in the long term, you need to focus on what has worked for others in the long run.
In the past hundred or so years, the human diet has undergone drastic changes. Where we once relied heavily on animal fats and plant starches for our calories, we have increasingly become dependent on things such as sugar, flour, and vegetable oil.
Instead of our food coming from farms and fields, it now comes from factories and laboratories.
The lowest common denominator between successful long term diets is that they limit “new school” foods and promote the consumption of “old school” foods.
If you are looking to lose fat and build muscle, there is no more fundamental change you can make than eating a diet of Real Food: minimally-processed meat, vegetables, fruit, eggs, nuts, and seeds.
If you know what you are doing, dairy, grains, and legumes can fit here as well.
But if your great-grandparents didn’t eat something when they were your age, then that’s a good sign that you probably shouldn’t either.
2. Balance Feasting and Fasting
“In order to lose weight, you need to consume fewer calories than you burn off.”
-Every Weight Loss Article You’ve Ever Read
Mostly right. But the law of conservation of energy has been misunderstood by everyone from scientists to diet gurus to Average Joes across the world.
While a caloric surplus leads to excess calories stored as fat (or muscle) and vice versa, it doesn’t necessarily mean that calorie-counting is necessary.
In fact, the large amount of calories that humans consume and burn off, the relatively tiny amount of which is necessary to cause drastic weight changes, and the high degree of error with which we can measure calories all mean that it is impossible to count calories as precisely as needed to effectively be a realistic tool for weight loss (or gain).
Instead of being as simple as the deposits and withdrawals you make with your checking account, it is remarkably difficult to quantify the energy that is truly going in and out of our bodies.
Rather, energy balance is primarily regulated by the body, with genes and hormones calling the shots.
Instead of stressing yourself out (and burning your limited willpower) trying to count the grains of sand in the Sahara, it is much more efficient to give your body the fuel it needs to run efficiently without putting it into “famine mode” or gorging on foods that are too good to ever stop eating.
If you are eating Real Food, your focus should instead be on balancing feasting and fasting. You should feel hungry as often as you feel stuffed.
If you only eat one meal a day, you can safely gorge yourself every time, but if you do three meals plus two snacks, you’ll have to be more careful about how much you eat (though you won’t have to feel hungry too often).
By not trying to starve yourself or consume as much as possible, you reduce the stresses on your body that would otherwise get it to lose muscle and gain fat.
3. Cheat Occasionally
The perfect is the enemy of the good.
Unless you live in a metabolic ward in a laboratory, you will be tempted by an endless onslaught of unhealthy yet delicious food.
Pizza, burgers, fries, nachos, mac and cheese, soda, burritos…
The temptation to “cheat” is never-ending. And you should occasionally give in.
Strict diets that give you no leeway are destined to fail for most people in the long run. It just requires too much willpower and requires too much sacrifice. Especially when there is no need to be perfect.
’Round here we have a saying: 90% is perfect, 75% is good enough.
If you follow a super-strict diet, you will see no difference than if you fell off the wagon for 10% of your meals.
This little hack will allow you enjoy all the benefits of eating a diet of Real Food, while still giving you enough space to indulge and go out with friends and family without being a total pain in the ass.
4. Move Your Body
Like dieting, many people will get paralyzed by information before they even lace up their sneakers.
Don’t do this!
It’s more important to get moving in the first place than to try to find the “perfect” training program (if that even exists).
Stick to the basics you already probably know. Start going for walks. Do simple bodyweight exercises such as squats, push ups, and pull ups in your home. Go for a weekly run.
Once you get more advanced, join a gym and start doing deadlifts, cleans, and presses. (They aren’t as intimidating as you might think.) Do a few minutes of sprints each week.
If you want any guidance on finding the Perfect Fitness Program it’s this: move your body the way it was meant to move.
Compound movements (like those mentioned above) are in, as well as full-body workouts. “Chest day” and “arm day” are out.
By doing these “big movements,” you are saving time by working multiple muscle groups. You can exhaust yourself and give your central nervous system more of a stimulus to burn fat and build muscle.
You are using your body the way it was designed to be used, and therefore your body will look the way it was designed to look: lean and mean.
5. Don’t Overdo It
Conventional wisdom has it that you need to make great sacrifices if you want to get into shape, and spending hours upon hours each week working out is the first casualty.
Conventional wisdom is wrong here.
If you are doing the “big nine” exercises, you don’t need to live at the gym. You are giving your body the acute stresses it needs to get stronger without doing a bajillion bicep curls, crunches, or chest presses.
Another big win here is that you avoid the risks associated with overtraining. If you are an athlete, it might pay to push yourself to the limit, but if you’re a regular guy with a day job, it just doesn’t make any sense to risk injuring yourself.
Forget “training to muscle failure,” especially if you are doing big lifts like cleans and deadlifts. It’s unnecessary.
What you should instead be focused on is pushing yourself as hard as possible, until your form starts to go bad, and then stopping.
And instead of heading to the gym every day, you should learn how to take it easy. Three hours is the absolute maximum you should spend working out each week. Two is reasonable for most people. And the rock stars out there could probably do it in one.
But don’t skip happy hour with friends because you need to go to the gym. It’ll still be there tomorrow.
6. Make It Fun
What exercise is more important than walking, jogging, sprinting, squats, push ups, pull ups, deadlifts, cleans, and presses combined?
Doing something physical that you really enjoy.
I’ll admit, there’s a certain amount of fun that can be found in working out, but most of us, if we’re being honest, will admit that it’s not the most enjoyable thing to do.
I don’t care if you never set foot in a gym, as long as you find some fun and physical activity to do regularly.
Skiing, hiking, surfing, biking, and rock climbing are some great examples. Getting together with friends to play football, soccer, basketball, or ultimate is awesome as well.
One of the greatest benefits of being in shape is that it makes physical activities more enjoyable, and one of the best ways to enjoy physical activities more is by getting into shape.
It’s circular, but it’s so true.
Think of “gym time” as the concentrated part of your week where you push yourself to the limit in a systematic way designed to optimize your strength and fitness. Think of “fun time” as the part where you enjoy being fit to the fullest.
7. Sleep More
The biggest stressor that most people experience (and can simply change) on a day-to-day basis is sleep deprivation.
Until the invention of the light bulb, people got somewhere between eight and ten hours of sleep every night. These days, we get around seven.
Making room to “give up” a couple of hours each and every day may sound like a fairy tale to you, but it’s easier than you might think if you set things up correctly.
Worried that you won’t be able to get everything done? You will be more productive during your waking hours, able to more than make up for the time you’ll otherwise be sleeping.
One of the biggest “a-has” I had during my year without an alarm clock was how driven I was in the mornings. Where previously I dragged myself into work, propped myself up in a chair, and half-assed my way through things waiting for lunch to roll around, I now hit the ground running as soon as I wake up.
Sleeping more will increase your energy levels and focus, allowing you to make more with the fewer waking hours you have in a day.
You may need to learn some basic time management, but getting more sleep will bring stress levels down (keeping you leaner), make you more attractive, and help you to simply enjoy life a little more.
8. Be Social
Humans are a social species.
When compared to the rest of the animal kingdom, we characteristically always live in societies with others.
From the tribes of around 150 that characterized our pre-agricultural roots to the massive and densely-packed modern cities that most of us now live in, we never seem to be far from our fellow humans.
Unfortunately, we’re now able to live lives that are pretty isolated, living by ourselves and getting all our social activity from whatever interactions we have at work, then going home to spend long hours in front of television and computer screens.
But being social has documented strengths at improving health, particularly longevity.
No matter what, you should make it a priority to have a solid social network in your life (even if you are an introvert like me). Even better is to find active people to help “make it fun” as I wrote about above.
The good news here is that you now have permission to skip the occasional workout (or at least move it back a day) in order to hang out with friends. Better yet, you can make this a part of your “occasionally cheat” strategy as well and go out for drinks and dinner with them!
9. Follow Your Bliss
“I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.”
Few people have had a more profound impact on how I approach my life than the late mythologist Joseph Campbell.
One of his most enduring philosophies is that everyone should follow their bliss–or constantly work on doing the things they love to do in life.
All too often we become broken down by the time we reach our mid-twenties. We think that all our glory days are behind us and that we are now powerless to get what we really want. Instead, we become passive, start doing what is “expected” of us by society, and resign ourselves to a life a mediocrity.
Well, fuck that!
Like most people, I’ve seen some dark days in my life, but nothing has ever made me feel better than making it a priority to actively pursue my passions each and every day.
I starting writing LMVM two years ago, not with the goal of getting people to become amateur bodybuilders (the tacit goal of 99% of fitness sites out there), but after realizing that being healthy and fit makes pursuing your dream easier and more enjoyable.
Yes, this stuff will help make you look good naked (hey, I’m all about that too!) but I’m more interested in helping the guys who are doing big things with their lives achieve their goals more easily.
I have no studies to reference here, just anecdotal evidence, but I can still say with confidence that going after what you want in life–as long as you balance it with the other eight principles here–will lower the chronic anxiety that leads so many people to take on unhealthy habits in the first place.
Eat Better. Move Smarter. Live the Good Life. These are the three pillars of the code we choose to live by. To live a self-actualized life and optimize ourselves physically without becoming a social outcast or becoming a victim of “shiny object syndrome”.
Throw out the old rules. These are the new ones.