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
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.
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!
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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,