Lifestyle Nutrition Training

Don’t Lose Sleep Over it: Work, Life, Fitness

don't lose sleep over work, life and fitness

I've said that sometimes you have to go off the deep end when forming new habits.

And it's absolutely true. As long as the extreme behavior is improving your life.

But there's a fine line between trying to optimize results and obsessing over minor details.

Too often, guys are tossing and turning at night about the unimportant and failing to accomplish the things that really count.

This constant stress about the minute details – of your work, your lifestyle, your fitness regimen – if left uncontrolled, will cause you to lose sight of the big picture.

So while major lifestyle changes often require drastic behavioral shifts, it's important to not let them steal your sanity in the process.

If you find that you're sweating the small stuff in any of the areas below, consider my suggestions for altering your thought process and refocusing on the things that matter.

Finding the perfect macro breakdown

flexible dieting macros

I originally lost weight on a textbook diet (aka, FDA approved).

That meant low fat dairy, minimal cholesterol, whole grains, fresh veggies, and moderate protein.

But as I'm never content with “good enough,” I set out to find the holy grail of eating plans.

Over the years, I've tried everything from low carb to Paleo to vegan and, most consistently, classic bodybuilding diets.

The results?

I found that if overall calories remained constant, my body responded nearly equally to all of them (as far as gaining/losing weight).

I could bulk on any diet plan and I could lose weight equally on each.

I've seen guys obsess over consuming less than 30 grams of carbs per day to ensure they stay in ketosis, but still fail to lose weight!

Why?

Because they're eating bacon, nuts, and loads of butter at every meal.

The carb content of a diet is a finer detail, the overall calorie count is the big picture.

The Big Picture:  In the end, it all comes down to managing quantity. The real value in different macro distribution is finding a program that helps you actually meet those goals.

So pick whichever diet supports your goals and eating habits.

If you want to gain weight, choose a low fat/high carb plan to stimulate food cravings.

If you need to lose some serious weight, take a low carb/high fat approach to control your appetite.

Organic vs. regular food

skinny fat groceries

No, it's not organic, but I don't think this stuff'll kill you.

I hear the same thing all the time, usually from some half in shape blowhard who's been lifting for all of a year or two.

This guy likes to scoff when he finds out that I don't always eat organic.

During his mandatory lecture, I can't help but think, “I've been eating mostly whole foods for nearly 10 years! I assure you that's much better health wise than eating organic for a few months.”

Sure, organic food is better for you and I do eat it when it's practical.

But it isn't worth getting bent out of shape when it isn't available or is unreasonably expensive.

For example, I typically eat a 5 lb package of chicken per week. And at $2 per pound for the regular stuff, it's a steal.

But if I went organic, I'd be looking at about $5 per pound. That's a difference of $15 per week.

Or $60 per month just to upgrade my chicken alone! No thanks.

The Big Picture: People have been getting in great shape long before the recent push for organic food. Actually eating a whole foods diet rich in vegetables, fruit, and fresh meat is far more important than making sure every morsel is organic.

But there are still a lot of products for which the organic option is comparably priced to the traditionally grown/raised option (so when organic, grass-fed beef is only $1 more per pound, stock up).

And if you're really keen to limit your exposure to pesticides, do some research on the foods you eat most often and how they rank as far as their level of pesticide contamination. If the results concern you, reach for the organic option.

Finding the perfect workout

If there was a single, almighty workout routine in existence, I would've found it by now.

There are, of course, some terrible workout plans and also some very good ones.

But the majority are right in the middle, meaning they'll be plenty effective as long as you give it your all and stick with it long enough.

But I see the same thing happening all the time.

Guys pick a workout routine, lift enthusiastically for a week or two, then lose interest and slack off.

When they start to see diminishing returns, they wonder what else is out there.

But before throwing in the towel and becoming a program hopper, ask yourself a few questions.

“Did I follow the plan exactly, everyday? Seriously, not miss a single missed workout?”

“Did I take each set as far as I could or did I simply go through the motions?”

“Was my diet in line with my lifting goals or was I just eating whatever?”

Until you can answer those questions confidently, there's no need to keep searching.

The Big Picture: There isn't so much the exact program that produces results, but the effort given. Pick a program, give it your all, and stay consistent. Don't be afraid to commit because you think there might be something better.

Many guys have made tremendous progress on powerlifting programs, bodybuilding routines, and olympic lifting plans alike.

The real results aren't going to come from a magical program, but from the one you bust your ass on.

You're much better off sticking with what you have and dedicating yourself fully to the process.

Working 'round the clock

don't lose sleep over it relax

Sometimes you just gotta kick up your feet and relax.

When you're passionate about your work, it becomes all consuming.

And sometimes, the longer and harder you work on something, the less you get in return.

I'm especially guilty of this one.

If I'm not actively doing something to further develop Iron & Tweed during every waking moment, I tend to beat myself up over it.

As a result, my thoughts are literally never more than 10 or 15 minutes away from work.

But I've found that I actually accomplish more over the week or month when I schedule a little down time.

The routine I've found that works best for me is to work from about 9 am until 5 pm during the week, with evening work being optional depending on deadlines I set for myself and how well the creative juices are flowing.

I usually do the fun stuff, like photo shoots, researching new topics, or building my wardrobe, during “down time” because it's still productive but doesn't require the same kind of focused creative energy that I need during most of my work day.

I often use Saturday to run errands, enjoy family time, take care of the mundane tasks, and lounge on the couch.

Then, after that single day of recharge, I'm ready to hit it hard again.

This means I typically start my week on Sunday. But that's okay, because I love what I do!

I would absolutely work around the clock if it actually meant I accomplished more in the long run, but for me, that usually isn't the case.

The Big Picture:  If you need to mentally check out an hour or two before bed, enjoy a low-key Sunday morning, or schedule a relaxing midday coffee break, so be it.

Most importantly, focus on what you're producing, not how many hours you're working.

Create a work/life schedule that allows you to consistently produce your best work.

Xenoestrogen exposure

Microwaving your food in plastic is bad, commercial grooming products are bad, pesticides are bad, and handling receipts is bad.

Some chemicals found in these synthetic materials, known as xenoestrogens, can mimic estrogen in your body, decreasing testosterone in the process.

But guess what?

I like to eat on the go, smell fresh and clean, eat reasonably priced food, and have documentation for business expenses.

So, like with most things, I take an 80/20 approach.

Most of the time, I microwave my food in glass, use unscented and natural-ish grooming products, and avoid receipts.

And I eat organic when it's reasonable, accessible, and affordable.

But there's a fine line between having a healthy awareness of the things around you and being a plain ol' dork about it.

When a cashier attempts to hand me a receipt, I don't jump back like the damn thing is covered in smallpox.

I simply smile and say “no thanks.”

But in the event that I absentmindedly grab the receipt or actually need it for business purposes, I don't sweat it.

The Big Picture:  Make a reasonable attempt to avoid environmental chemicals whenever practical, but don't choose dehydration over drinking from a plastic bottle.

Drinking alcohol

don't lose sleep over it drinking alcohol

Alcohol is known to lower testosterone, increase estrogen, and disrupt fat metabolism.

Since we're trying to raise testosterone levels, control estrogen, and torch body fat, we should completely avoid it, right?

Sure, but there's one problem.

I like to drink!

I'm not dependent on it, I don't drink and drive, I don't spend rent money at the bar, and I don't get drunk and fight with my wife.

But I do enjoy the social bonding experience, the taste, and the skill involved in producing classic cocktails.

The Big Picture: Relaxing and bonding with your fellow man can have more powerful health benefits than completely avoiding alcohol.

Don't go out and develop a habit. This isn't a free pass to binge drink.

But stressing over complete avoidance isn't healthy either.

If do you enjoy the occasional cocktail, it's just fine as long as you can practice restraint and don't let it interfere with other aspects of your life.

Being perfect while traveling

Unless you're constantly traveling, interrupting your sleeping, eating, and lifting habits for a couple days isn't that big of a deal.

Whenever I travel for less than a week, I never workout during the trip.

But I do plan ahead and use those 2 to 5 days as an intentional recovery period.

If I'm going away for a long weekend, I'll lift like a maniac from Monday to Thursday, then take Friday through Sunday off.

No big deal.

And I approach dieting in much the same way.

Just a couple weeks ago, I was in Atlanta for three days attending StyleCon and I knew that I wasn't going to be able to nail my macros every single day.

But I didn't want to completely abandon my healthy eating habits, so I packed some whey to supplement what little protein I was able to get through “normal people” food.

Other than that, I aimed to keep fat as low as possible, and to come in under my total calories to make up for the skewed ratios.

I didn't pay attention to carbs at all because it's impossible to go over my normal 450 grams per day without also going over my fat limit. So the control was built in.

That's it!

No worrying. No anxiety. Just adaptation.

The Big Picture: Whenever I feel myself getting a little too controlling, I've always asked myself one question that has helped me keep things in balance:

“What's the point of creating an awesome physique and being in great health if I have to live like I'm in a laboratory all the time?”

To me, building my body and being scared to have a few beers at the beach is like building a hotrod and being afraid to step on the gas once in a while.

Take your finely tuned machine out there and have some fun!

Take away

The moral of this story is to do the things that are best for you most of the time.

You can drive yourself crazy trying to create the perfect living environment, but we aren't rats, we aren't robots, and we aren't monks.

Constant worrying, doubting yourself non-stop, and chronically elevated stress hormones is likely worse for you than failing to live an “optimal” lifestyle.

Don't attempt to live such an austere life that you forget to have fun or become a total downer to those around you.

In the end, it's the habits that are sustainable that lead to lasting results.

All the best,

Nate

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22 Comments

  • Reply
    gary Goins
    March 25, 2016 at 1:43 pm

    I like this article. I’m 72 and in reasonable shape with plans to train for some long bike rides and long hikes. I find that the 80/20 approach is very productive. It allows one to accomplish the things you desire and have a life with friends and creative as well as physical accomplishments. Keep up the good work. Oh yes I like web site very much.

    • Reply
      Nate
      March 25, 2016 at 2:17 pm

      Gary, that’s awesome that you’re able to accomplish these things at 72! I know plenty of guys in their 50s who can’t even walk a quarter mile. Thanks for reading!

  • Reply
    Russ Widhalm
    March 25, 2016 at 4:11 pm

    Great article, Nate. Sorry I missed you in Atlanta.

  • Reply
    Hoyos
    March 25, 2016 at 5:44 pm

    Good stuff, FYI alcohol has been unfairly demonized kind of the same way as intermittent fasting. Like intermittent fasting small amounts are correlated with many positive effects but large amounts are highly destructive. There are actually guidelines published by USG, but they’re not widely circulated for fear of encouraging alcoholism.

    OT, I really like the site and I’ve been trying to dress better; would you consider an article for looking sharp in the summer? And I mean humid, Deep South, doesn’t-get cool-in-the-evenings summer?

    • Reply
      Nate
      March 25, 2016 at 8:03 pm

      Yeah, drinking alcohol can be a slippery slope but has a lot of positive aspects as long as you control it. I’m going to be doing quite a bit on summer clothing fairly soon.

  • Reply
    Eric
    March 26, 2016 at 7:43 am

    Life is best lived with a little common sense and moderation. Nice work with this one Nate.

  • Reply
    Damian Pros
    March 26, 2016 at 9:16 am

    Hey Nate,

    I have something to add on the “organic” nutrition part, that I consider important. Maybe you could add it somewhere in the article.

    Here it goes (take chicken for example):

    1. Organic just means the animals are raised without injections, hormones, antibiotics etc. It doesn’t necessarily mean the food is better…

    If it’s “organic”, but the chickens are NOT pasture raised – the stuff you eat likely comes from what I call “chicken-factories” where you have 5000 chickens inside a cage with no area to move around like they would do naturally.

    That’s unhealthy, even if it’s organic.

    2. Look for pasture raised chickens/eggs. When it comes to other kinds of meat, the healthiest one is grass-finished. Not even-grass fed.

    Grass-fed means the animal was raised eating grass, but you don’t know if this continued to happen for its entire life.

    Grass-finished means eating grass from the moment it was born to the moment it died.

    3. That’s the most simplified explanation. Joel Salatin’s book “Folks This Ain’t Normal” is a good read on the subject.

    Key takeaways: Pasture-raised, grass finished.

    Cheers!

  • Reply
    Dennis Kiser
    March 26, 2016 at 10:38 pm

    I gotta say Nate. Your articles are influential and informative. From learning about the old fashioned cocktail to earning the right to calling yourself a bodybuilder you never fail to inspire my friend. Keep up the good fight and carry on!

  • Reply
    TJ
    March 28, 2016 at 10:35 am

    Nate,

    I enjoyed the article very much. I think the overall message is very important. Great work! Professional/scientific me feels the need to raise issue with the part about organics, however. At worst I’m making a pointless internet comment. At best, I can help you and your readers save some money.

    There are many reasons that you may want to buy organic food. Preserving biodiversity, concerns of animal welfare,or skepticism of biotechnology may be a few examples. However, it is a very common myth, and one the organic industry shamelessly supports, that organic food is “better” for you. The reality is that organic food is not any safer or more nutritious than conventional food. The USDA is very careful with its organic certification and labeling programs to make sure that no company can use “organic” to suggest that their food is safer or more nutritious.

    Another common myth is that organic produce uses fewer chemicals (i.e. pesticides) than conventional agriculture. Organic producers still use chemicals – it’s just that many of their chemicals are non-synthetic. Organic producers are still allowed to use many toxic and potentially lethal chemical compounds such as hydrogen peroxide, copper carbonate, sodium hypochlorite, and tetracycline just to name a few. Furthermore, because organic chemicals are not as effective as the synthetic ones used in conventional agriculture, organic producers may have to use a significantly larger amount of chemicals to achieve the same results.

    At the end of the day, it is the dose that makes the poison. Virtually any chemical compound can kill you. People have died of water poisoning. If you trust our national food safety system then you don’t need to worry about whether organic or conventional produce is best because the residual chemicals in both types of food are inspected to ensure safe and harmless levels. So if it’s chemicals or nutrition you are worried about, save yourself some money and just buy regular food.

    Anyway, a long digression for a single point in your otherwise fantastic article. Thanks again and keep up the good work!

    • Reply
      Nate
      March 28, 2016 at 11:54 am

      Thanks for the contribution, TJ! I know there’s always more going on behind closed doors and this illustrates things perfectly. In your opinion, how does local farmer’s market food stack up? The guys near me show up at their stand with photo albums of their chickens and elk playing on the farm.

      • Reply
        TJ
        March 28, 2016 at 12:40 pm

        First, apologies for the initial wall of text. Apparently one needs two lines for a proper paragraph break.

        As to your question – I think farmers’ markets are a great idea. For too long people have been separated from those who produce their food and I think this surge of interest in where our food comes from is just fantastic. I just believe that people should be able to make their choices based on transparent information and sound science, not marketing gimmicks that promote junk science. If people are going to pay a premium for a label they should know what that label really means.

        You may want to buy your meat from your local butcher because you are making an ethical choice about animal welfare – that those chickens and elk are much happier frolicking in the pasture rather than literally being cooped up. And that’s completely fine! But that has nothing to do with being “organic” and everything to do with production choices. I often buy cage-free eggs. Not because I think cage-free eggs are safer or more nutritious but because I think it’s more humane. But they aren’t organic. You can get grass-fed meat that isn’t organic just as you can get organic meat that isn’t grass-fed. The term “organic” has a very specific meaning but the industry constantly tries to portray it as “better at everything.” That’s just not the case.

        I also like to buy my produce at my local farmers’ market. Not because I think it’s safer or more nutritions but because I think the produce tastes better. The fruit and veggies we have in U.S. supermarkets are usually bred for size, or shelf-life, or eye appeal. Basically everything other than taste. The stuff I get locally has so much more flavor it’s not even a competition. I don’t care if it’s organic or not – as long as the producers are following the rules I know I’m safe.

        I also like the idea of getting to know the people who make the food I eat. That’s a pretty intimate connection, if you think about it. And yet most of what goes in our mouths and nourishes us is produced by people completely anonymous to us. Being able to look that farmer in the eye means something to me. Plus, wandering around the market is just plain fun. I like food: I like cooking food and I like eating food so going to markets is a fun morning out for me. But, again, that has nothing to do with being organic.

        So, yeah, I think farmers’ markets provide a valuable service and I personally like to shop at them. I also like to shop at my local Safeway because I don’t want to pay $15 for a pound of chicken, no matter how happily that chicken frolicked in the sunshine. There is room in this world for both kinds of markets and I think people should do what they think is best for themselves and their families. But those decisions should be made in full knowledge of what they are actually paying for.

        • Reply
          Nate
          March 29, 2016 at 4:17 pm

          Excellent information and advice, TJ. If you know what you’re getting (and you have a reason for buying what you buy), go for it. I think this even further supports the idea of not working yourself into a lather over eating all organic. I’m still eager for my local outdoor farmer’s market to open up again though!

      • Reply
        Silas Birch
        July 16, 2016 at 11:22 pm

        Don’t be afraid to ask very pointed questions.
        How are the animals raised?
        Do they only sell what they grow?
        What are they fed? Do they go outside etc..
        If possible even visit some of the farms. Although living in an urban area – that might not be possible.
        If the farmer can’t/won’t answer the questions or acts evasive- then they’re probably not selling what is being advertised.
        This is an issue , near and dear to my heart. Through doggedness, and building connections throughout the area in which we live, my wife and manage to buy most of our meat ( pork, chicken and beef ) within 50 miles of our home and by transparent visits to the farms and becoming friends with the farmers- we know what they are selling is legit.
        It definitely takes a lot of work though. You almost need to be obsessively passionate about it.

        • Reply
          Nate
          July 18, 2016 at 8:43 am

          Excellent advise, Silas. I like how you mentioned that you have to be obsessively passionate to truly know what you’re purchasing. I fully encourage guys to become obsessive about the things that matter most. But for everything else, you have to follow the 80/20 rule as we simply don’t have the time to get into that kind of detail about every aspect of life. Sometimes good enough has to be good enough. Thanks again!

  • Reply
    Topaz
    July 5, 2016 at 9:31 am

    Wow, it’s like you read my thoughts! My thinking process is exactly how you described. I found this article very helpful. Thank you!

  • Reply
    Jon
    July 6, 2016 at 12:02 am

    “When you’re passionate about your work, it becomes all consuming.”

    This is what I struggle with the most. I view literally every single hour as a possible chance to grow my business. I have no clue how I will ever get to a “balance.”

    What are your thoughts on establishing this balance?

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