Mike: Hello, friend. I am Mike Matthews. This is Muscle for Life. Thank you for joining me today for a new episode. Uh, an interview with a fitness expert, a New York Times bestselling author, a nutrition advisor for LeBron James and Arnold Schwarzenegger, Adam Bornstein about diet, psychology and sustainable weight loss, which means losing weight in a sustainable.
Manner and keeping it off for the long term, which is the real goal of course. And the reason Adam is coming on my show to talk about these things is he has a new book called You Can’t Screw This Up, which is all about the psychology of diet, the psychology of food, the psychology of eating, how to use these things to diet, to eat sustainably.
And achieve your fitness goals and your health goals. So if you want to learn some practical and evidence-based strategies for overcoming some of the bigger and thornier psychological barriers that prevent people from developing healthy and effective relationship with food. Then I think you’re gonna like this episode because Adam is going to give you those practical strategies.
He’s going to talk about meal planning. His take is a bit different than many people in the evidence-based fitness space. He talks about the concept of minimum effective dose in training and why more training is not always better. He also is going to share some practical strategies for creating meal boundaries.
He calls it and incorporating. Take out food and other delicious things in your diet and more. Hello,
Adam: Adam. Good afternoon. Hey, Mike. How you doing today?
Mike: I’m all right. I’m all right. Uh, as I said offline, I think I’m getting a little bit sick, but I feel good enough to do this. So here I am and maybe I’ll get lucky and I’m, I’m in that, in that limbo, like I’m in purgatory, you know, where.
Am I gonna wake up tomorrow feeling good or bad? But here I
Adam: am. You never know. You’re in that, that stage where you’re like, you know, I could beat this thing, or it’s going to beat me. It’s a, it’s a toss up right now. So hopefully when you wake up tomorrow, you’re on the right side of things. Exactly,
You know, it occurred to me that it’s, uh, it’s funny that for as long as. I’ve been in the fitness racket. We haven’t crossed paths because you’ve done a a lot in the way of writing books and writing for magazines, and you have a project going with Arnold right now, right? A podcast project. So you’ve been doing a lot of things in the space for a long time and it’s probably.
I’m guessing both of us, we kind of just like live like hermits when our cave doing our things, and at least that’s how I live.
Adam: Yeah, no, I’m always surprised when I don’t cross paths with certain people who have just been around and doing things for a while. So it’s funny and it’s awesome when I do get to meet people who you just have a mutual respect for and it’s like, you know what, somehow, some way we haven’t met, and yet here we are now.
So, uh, I’m, I’m glad we get a chance to sit down and chat about things, but I don’t know how we haven’t met yet. That is, uh, it’s one of those things that maybe it is that hermit life. Honestly,
Mike: probably my fault. I, I’m just not a good quote unquote networker because I’m always just kind of working on the next thing, and it’s probably not a, probably a mistake in some ways.
Adam: I think it’s more of a, I expect by happen chance, but yes, I, I think people are like, well, what are your days like? And I’m like, well, it’s a lot of, it’s like sitting here at my desk. And, uh, being with my kids and then sitting here at my desk and being with my kids and just repeat. Yep.
Mike: Yep. I, I get that question sometimes too, where for some reason some people think that I must live some kind of glamorous life and it’s not a bad life, but it doesn’t quite qualify.
Uh, if we’re looking at the dictionary definition of glamorous, it’s not that glamorous. It’s a lot of what you just said. A lot of it’s enjoyable, but I wouldn’t have a very interesting vlog. It would be like, One or two episodes that you just repeat over and over and that’s about it.
Adam: Right. And this is my life.
Mike: Yeah, exactly. Um, but anyway, we are here to talk about your new book. You can’t Screw this up, which I like the title. Actually, I wrote a little. Some time ago it started as like a little essay and then I kind of repurposed it into, I think on the podcast and on social media with this theme of, you can’t screw this up.
And so when I saw it and I was like, oh, that’s clever. I like that. And um, you mentioned that this was a very personal book. My notes are right, that you said this is the most personal thing that you’ve written. Why is that?
Adam: There are many reasons. I think the biggest one is that I’ve, as you mentioned, been doing this for a while, right?
20 plus years now in the industry, and at some point you start looking at the end result for many people, right? Like, did they figure this out? Do they take control of their health and. Most people don’t completely feel in control, even the ones that are doing the things on a day-to-day basis, and it’s not for a lack of effort, right?
They’ve tried diets, they try exercise, they try different plans, and while we could argue all day, whether. Money and resources are spent on the right things, trying to make people healthier. And I would argue they’re, they’re not, I don’t think there’s a debate whether money and resources are put towards making people healthier.
Some people, you know, think that, oh, we’re not making efforts to make people healthier. No, it’s wellness is a trillion dollar industry. There’s no lack of money at this. And yet why are so many people. Not healthy. And at some point, like when you do this for so long and you don’t necessarily look at the people you work with directly, but you look at the greater population, you see stats, like 75% of people in the United States alone are overweight or obese.
You can’t help but sit there and be like, if something isn’t working for three quarters of the people, Something is seriously wrong and you know, it’s like the, the Michael Jordan meme, right? Like, and, and I took that personally, right? Like I had to go on this exploration of why is it when people have access to so much information, why is it when there’s so much technology and things that seemingly should make this easier?
So many people, Not just struggle with their health, but struggle to really achieve the goals that they want. Even if they’re on the, you know, on the right path, they still have trouble getting there. And it wasn’t an easy question to answer and it kind of took a lot of personal exploration as well. It took a lot of personal struggle.
I found myself at one point struggling with my own health because of how much travel I was doing, and I seemingly should be armed with enough information to know how to make this work for me. And then I started making. Mistakes that I should have seen. And I think my own personal struggle, plus the desire to figure out this for people, made this just like the book was a nine year journey.
I’d love to be like, I whipped this up. Like I originally had this idea nine years ago, and it took me forever to write it, to figure it out and to do it in a way that I truly felt it could help people. So it was definitely a passion project and, and one that I’m, I’m proud of because I think the things that you put the most time and effort into are the ones that inevitably feel personal because of the personal investment itself.
Mike: And you’re talking about a multifaceted problem that is at kind of an intersection of various psychological, physiological, emotional, socioeconomic factors on and on. And you know, this is, uh, I share the. Underlying mission with you to try to do something about it, at least pick some elements that I can understand and, and help people with.
And in this book, what are those facets that you decided to focus on? Because as much as we, we would love to write the one book that rules them all, it’s such a complex problem. At least this has been something that I, I wouldn’t say that I’ve struggled with. I’ve just had to accept and do my best to, to do.
What I can in the areas that I’m most qualified in and that I most, uh, resonate with personally and that my work most resonates with others in. And so in this book, like for example, you talk about a lot about diet and looking at dieting in a new way. And I’m just curious, is that the facet that you think is part of that 20% that can give 80% or, uh, why did you choose that?
Adam: Yeah, I think what I really focus on the most is how, on the mental side of things, I believe that the psychological barriers are much bigger than the physiological barriers, and a lot of times the reason we don’t see the success that we want is because we actually play this game that we’re not designed to win because we’re taught to identify failure inaccurate.
In other words, we start plans and we are led to believe that when we cannot do certain behaviors, we’ve made a mistake and we need to adjust for that, but that’s not reality. Our body is much more resilient than so many plans make it seem. So we give ourselves this small margin of error and we give ourselves these huge terms and consequences if we fall into that small margin of error and it becomes this perpetuating cycle.
So, you know, in the book, I, I do identify that, you know, like you said, it’s multifaceted and some of those facets can’t even control. Some are genetic and epigenetic. Right. Some are environmental and we don’t all necessarily control like where we grew up or the impact we had. And I think the two things that people can do more than anything, in addition to the diet and exercise is one, looking at the situation differently, looking at the structures of diets and health plans differently, where we are taught to catastrophize behaviors that then lead us down this dark path as opposed to taught to be more resilient, taught to have more grit and then.
Learn to coexist with the environment, right? Our food environment is, in general, not designed to make us the healthiest people in the world, but most books and plans insist on fighting against this food environment or waiting till it changes. And like there are tens of billions, arguably hundreds of billions of dollars put into that food environment.
And like that’s going to be a slow change if it happens ever at all. And that’s not being pessimistic, that’s being realistic. So you can fight against that or you can learn to coexist with it. And I see very few people. Teaching how to coexist with an environment where there’s ultra processed foods, where there’s takeout, where there’s dessert on demand.
Mike: I mean, you just grab your phone and you don’t even have to get off the couch.
Adam: And I, and I don’t think we have to be at odds with them. And the research shows that you don’t have to be at odds. The research actually suggests that people that who take the less restrictive plans and have what they call the planned hedonic deviations, aka the cheap meals, the people who are able to enjoy takeout, remove the psychological burden, remove the anxiety and stress.
Less likely to make mistakes more often and more likely to stick to a plan because they do not overreact when they make a mistake that they understand is perfectly normal, right? Instead of punishing yourself when you have takeout, if you know just how often you can have that or you know what you can eat there without it being a problem, it shifts the paradigm where you’re not constantly like you’re stressed and you’re tired and you know that cooking meals is great, but.
Tonight’s just not a night. It shouldn’t result in the fact that if you order takeout or you decide, decide to have a dessert, that you think that you fundamentally screwed up, and then because you think you screwed up, that you fundamentally must compensate for something. And the real screw up is like that lesson, that approach of constantly thinking that every action needs an equal and opposite reaction, which isn’t true.
Right. If someone only worked out once every two weeks, right, they would not be healthy. They would not see their results. And yet when people like eat a certain way one or two or three times per week, I’m not talking about every single meal. We overemphasize the damage that it does. So I think teaching people to.
Understand about the psychological load that most of these diets put on you is really important because our performance, our ability to follow something is led by the psychology, not by the physiology. Right? And this is, I explained in the book this idea of the Ys Dodson Curve. Ys Dodson Curve, this beautiful inverted U curve around the X access is the amount of anxiety or stress that you’re in.
And the Y-axis is your performance. And on one end you see that performance is very, very low and there’s no stress and there’s no anxiety. Some of that you mean like no one’s challenging you. No one’s asking you to become better, right? Just is what it is. Like you’re on the couch and no one’s saying like, you gotta rise up and do something for yourself.
On the other end, though, performance is just as low. When you’re in these situations where there’s super high stress, there’s lots of rules, there’s lots of parameters, there’s no leeway, there’s no freedom, and every single decision. Is over-emphasized in a way that like if you feel you can’t do it, that you’ve blown the whole thing.
Right? And this is the people who like will go on a diet and the moment they like can’t follow it to a tea, they kind of feel like they screwed up. And they’re like, they quit. Right? They quit completely. So the goal isn’t necessarily to. Do nothing and not challenge yourself. But equally, the goal is not to be in such a stressful and an anxious situation where you can’t achieve that peak performance.
So knowing that from mental side, knowing that you can coexist with the food environment and don’t have to constantly be in odds with it, I think are just competitive advantages. If you’re willing to accept that those realities can be yours, right, that the path to health doesn’t have to be paved in extremes.
Mike: I feel like this makes me think of the title. You can’t screw this up, right? And now I’m guessing that the follow up to that is, well, you can screw it up if you just quit altogether. And if you allow yourself to catastrophize and maybe approach your fitness in a way that would be appropriate if you were an I F B B.
Bodybuilder about to step on stage. You’re one week out from Olympia, you’re in the running for the top three, and okay, if you go and binge for a couple of days straight, maybe you should be a little bit upset because you worked so hard. But chances are most people listening are not in any situation like that.
So does it really matter if, as you said, You eat, uh, a bit too much. You eat off plan, which I want to, I want to talk about meal plans in a minute, but, or if you eat a little bit too much takeout, that is, is not quote unquote screwing it up, if I’m hearing you right.
Adam: It is. Yeah. I mean, the screw up is the compensation because when we compensate right, we put more tension, we add more stress, we more add more anxiety.
If you eat takeout, if you eat dessert and you just return regress to the mean, go back to normal healthy behaviors, your body’s gonna be fine. What happens is we, when we. Teeter between one extreme to another, we’re eventually going to break either mentally or physically, right? If we’re constantly like doing one extreme, like not eating well, and then trying to compensate by like burning ourselves to the ground, the the fast and three a day exercise and everything, you burn out and you crash.
So like one of two things happen when people think they screw up. The first is they think they made a mistake and then they’re like, I blew it all. I’m gonna take the rest of the week off and that one week becomes a month or two months or the rest of the year, right? The other is I need to compensate, I need to punish myself.
And they learn this very maladaptive behavior, right? I, all I care about is helping people build habits and routines cuz that’s what’s sustainable. So then they. Think that like every single thing that they do needs to be punished, right? Because they, they screwed up and they burn themselves out to the ground, or they end up creating a plan that has nothing but the plan look like, right?
It becomes unsustainable because every little inaction has this like massive reaction. So you can’t screw this up is based on two principles. One, you want to actually make plans simple in the beginning so that you can have a level of mastery and you know when people are learning. It’s important to not start at the end.
And I think we get these goals of what we want to achieve and we see the people that we want to emulate and be like, and we try to start where they are. And I say that’s the equivalent of, you know, never doing math and then starting with calculus or geometry before you’ve done addition or subtraction, or when you’re trying to learn a sport or you’re trying to learn to swim.
No one throws you in the deep end before you’ve put a toe in the shallow end and learn how to tread water. But a lot of diet plans and fitness plans because they know where they want to take you. Forget about where you need to begin. I know if I were to ask you, I know if anyone asked me the plans that I started with, that gave me a chance to be healthier.
Look nothing like the plans I do today. And yet we are oftentimes giving people these overly complicated, overly complex where they don’t have the ability to be so successful that the more challenging ones become. Easier. It’s a principle I discussed in the book of, you know, we have to leave our comfort zone, but we don’t need to abandon it, right?
We need to expand it. And expanding your comfort zone means having one foot in things that you know and understand. Because from a stable base, from a stable foundation, you can more effectively learn new behaviors while adding new behaviors. Don’t throw everything you do out the window and think that suddenly overnight you’re gonna be able to take on 10 new behaviors that you’ve never even tried before.
When you are able to bit by bit master. Certain healthy habits, the ones that seem more complicated, become easier. The example I give in the book is if someone walks into the gym the first time, you have really two options, right? You can have ’em do a bunch of body weight exercises, you can assess them, and from that alone, they’re gonna be pretty smoked, right?
If you take someone who’s completely untrained and they do enough volume of body weight, they’re gonna be sore for several days. So you can do that, and that is enough of. A challenge. That’s it. And that is enough of a challenge. But because, because relative to where they are, that is really, really hard.
Now, if you took that same person and you loaded 300 pounds on a bar and asked in a barbell squat, that’s gonna crush them. But the difference between the body weight and the barbell squat is the person who, the barbell squat is never coming back. It leaves damage, right? It’s like, You end, it’s aversive conditioning.
You start to program like, I can’t do this. I can’t succeed. And so many diet plans and so many fitness plans actually program people to fail in the long term by crushing them so hard initially, they can’t succeed. So to your point, I say the goal isn’t having a hundred percent weeks. We glorify this idea of perfection, where we clean eat, and everything is just like locked and loaded, imperfect.
The goal is no 0% weeks. The goal is none of these weeks where like where you have a bad day, that you don’t turn that into a bad week, right? It’s kinda like a pitcher’s mentality where like if you gave up a home run man, like don’t let the last batter screw up the next batter, right? You gotta forget it.
Short memory. If you had a bad meal, if you had a bad day, like if this is sports and you’re weak, four quarters, right? One meal is just like a period of a quarter, right? Imagine if every team that was down at halftime just threw in the towel and never played the second half. So many of us do this, but they’re diet or fitness, like we don’t have a good first half of the week, and we’re just like, nah, screw it.
No, get back on win the rest of the week, and that’s still a win because. I could ask you, like if you, every single day, probably even, it’s great right now because you’re, you’re sick if you feel like you can just conquer the day. And the reality is no. Most people who are super fit, the only difference, they don’t wake up feeling more motivated than you.
They don’t wake up always feeling they can crush. They wake up knowing that they gotta show up and do something. And when they have their off days, they just gotta get back on track because that happens someday. If you wake up tomorrow, you’re not feeling well. You can’t. Go to the gym. You can’t train.
It’s not, oh, no, I’m unhealthy. It’s all right. Let’s get better and then just get back on track and you don’t need to make up. For the time lost. You just need to get back to being consistent and you can’t screw up is all about this, right? It’s getting out of that mindset. It’s changing the approach and building a progression, so that makes it easier for people to succeed so they can continually take on harder challenges that because they have become stronger, will become easier, right?
The person who goes from the body weight squats, so like the goblet squat to the barbell squat, suddenly. Everything becomes easier because you just took a logical progression that gave you a better chance of success rather than like throwing someone, you know, to these hungry sharks on day one, where the likelihood of success was so low.
Mike: And for people listening who obviously the 300 pound squat is exaggerated for effect, but if you go on Instagram and you go or on TikTok or whatever and, and you go and look at some of the workouts that some of these super fit. People share, especially super fit and probably on an extra dose of the, the hashtag dedication.
Their workouts are the equivalent of the 300 pound squat for the day. One guy, if somebody is new. To all of this, and maybe that workout does not include 300 pound squats, but you know what it does include, oh, it includes 30 sets for one or two major, major muscle groups and, and hundreds and hundreds of reps and all of those sets taken close to failure.
That that is just as ridiculous as like asking a new person to train. Like that would be just as ridiculous as asking a new person to go squat three 15 for their first set of squats ever. Yet, unfortunately, many people who are relatively new to this are doing stuff like that because those types of workouts often are what get attention on social media.
That’s what people want to see. And the messaging is often it’s crafted more for marketing than it is for anything else. And here’s my proprietary method. And so just wanted to spotlight that point for people listening cuz I will sometimes get asked for really, actually it’s been from the beginning. My training personally has always seemed a bit minimalist to people who are used to seeing some of these other workouts where, for me, a, a high volume workout is probably 15 to 16 hard sets for the entire workout.
And that that wouldn’t be for one muscle group. That’d also probably be a two or three muscle group workout. Um, a high volume week for me would be 15 to 20 hard sets for an individual muscle group. And so what does that look like? Well, my workouts are three or four exercises, three or four sets per exercise, 60 minutes or so.
And if I get talking to people, maybe it’s my, maybe it turns into 90, but it didn’t have to be 90. And so I still get people who, they’re just surprised. They’re relatively new and I’m asking them to do even a bit less than that. I don’t think it’s even necessary for somebody new to do 15 to 16 hard sets per workout.
And so people will reach out to me and, and they’re, they’re skeptical that it’s gonna work. Like, really, I can do three or four max five workouts per week, and I can, I can do 10 hard sets, 12 hard sets in the whole workout. And that’s it. Like that’s actually gonna work. Yes. Yes. It’s going to work. And doubling it is actually not going to be more effective.
It’s gonna make it probably less effective because to your point, chances are it’s just gonna be too much. Compliance is going to suffer, and you’re probably not gonna be able to stick to the plan.
Adam: And it’s probably gonna be junk reps too, right? I have the very same thing where the minimum effective dose is actually much lower.
I think the, the big theme of this book is the journey to really good health, or being in really good shape, or eating really nutritious foods is not what people are told. It’s not because like right, it is sensationalized for effect because that’s what gets likes. That’s what gets attention. I call it out in the book that as far as complicated and sophisticated as our brains are, they have some very, very fundamental faults, and one of the biggest one is that our brains react.
To novel or new information as if it is more effective. So the area of our brain that then releases dopamine, that then drives our behavior, will react to something that is just like, oh my goodness, I can’t believe they’re doing a hundred sets with more certainty that that will be effective than the person who’s like, yeah, I’m doing 10 sets of like three exercises and, and that’s it.
And you’ve heard of all these exercises too. They’re not like Rube Goldberg contraptions of.
And, and this goes the same to a diet, right? These like the diets that are gonna just focus on eating one food or remove one food, like, oh, that has to be it. Our brains make us think that those are more likely to be effective.
But the funny thing about science is science is dependent on validity and reliability. And that means things that are repeatedly tested over and over to give you a more likely outcome to the point that it’s almost like boring or simplified. So the things that are most likely to be effective are the things that we are most likely to.
Ignore. And the things that are less likely to be effective or not be effective at all are the things that we are more likely to pay attention to. And this doesn’t just apply to the beginner, this applies to the person who has been training for a while and trying to get to the next level of their fitness.
Build a little more muscle, lose another five or 10 pounds of fat. Nothing dramatic, right? It’s like you said, it’s not I F B B stage, where when you get to those highest levels, right, the sacrifice becomes much more significant because what you are trying to achieve, it’s such rarefied air. But for the person who wants to be lean or healthy or fit or muscular or strong, the minimum effective dose is so much less.
And that we’re oftentimes applying plans for a goal that we don’t even want to achieve. And by doing that, we tell ourselves we can’t be healthy because we think that’s the only. Way. Right. And it becomes this self-fulfilling prophecy where you become empathetic because you remember the times that you failed, or you remember the time that you went on the extreme 39 day detox and you lost all this weight, and then you go off it and start eating food like a normal human, and then you gain all the weight back and instead of being, wow, I gained a lot of weight in that period after the detox, more than I would’ve normally gained at any time you think.
Oh, the detox worked. Look how much weight I lost. Right? It’s a very manipulative situation where we look at the success and don’t realize that right was the bright, shiny object, but it was deception. It’s sucking us in cuz it gives you just enough success to believe it works as opposed to realize like that was the problem because the aftermath, the rebound was so much more extreme, so much more worse than you ever would’ve been.
Like. There’s research that I’d show in the book that people who will go on these extreme diets over the course of a year or the course two years end up gaining more weight than people who don’t. Diet at all. And the reason it’s simple, when they go on the plan, they lose more weight, but when they go off the plan, they gain more weight so that the net amount of weight gain is more significant than the net amount of weight gain is someone who does nothing.
The average person only gains one to three pounds per year. It’s rarely more than that. The problem is that happens yearly from the time you’re about 20 to 40. So you wake up at one weight in 20 and you wake up at 40 and you might be 20 to 60 pounds heavier, and you’re like, what the hell? And then you wanna lose it in four weeks and you do something extreme and then you end up gaining back more weight and you just think your metabolism is broken or that you’re too old or you can’t do it.
And that’s the vicious cycle. I call it like the dieting cycle of hell, where we put people in this spin cycle and from one diet to the next. You think that the diet is different, but it’s actually the same exact manipulation. You blame one thing, you follow an extreme. That extreme isn’t sustainable. You break down, you get off of it.
You gain back more weight than you would’ve. You then feel bad because you gained that weight back and you eat even. Worse. Get yourself in a bigger hole, feel more desperate. Decide to try a new diet and repeat the same thing again. And this is the repetitive cycle that I wanna stop more than anything.
It’s not about telling you there’s a specific way to eat. I have the ways that I like to eat, but I’m pretty diet agnostic because the research is pretty certain that a lot of different diets work, right? I don’t care if you’re vegan or you’re carnivore or whatever type of dietary tribe. You apply to. I like looking at what these different methods of eating have in common because what we know is the people who can follow the diets for the longest period of time, regardless of diet, see the most success.
Right, and they tested it. There was like the diet Super Bowl. They looked at zone versus low fat versus low carb, right? There’s five different diets, and all of them had the exact same result, just dependent on how long someone’s able to stay on a diet. So how do you give people the tools to pick the right diet for them?
Stick to that plan, not catastrophize, and not fall into that dieting circle of hell. We’re constantly doing plans that leave them worse off than they would’ve been if they never would’ve followed it in the first place.
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Maybe you could say it’s like, like at that tier where you’re being very specific about the things that you’re eating. And you’ve probably spent a period of time weighing and measuring those things. You understand what portions look like, blah, blah, blah, which I, I fully endorse for certain, under certain circumstances.
It certainly can work, but I like that you are sharing maybe what I would call an undercut to that level of rigor or involvement at least. Cuz it, it takes, it takes a fair amount of work to make that work.
Adam: Yeah, I think so. There, there are a couple things here, right? And I’m all about like, what is sustainable and what is doable.
And some people will thrive in those environments where they weigh and measure. And I do think just like you, for some people who feel like they have no control whatsoever, it can be helpful just for a couple days, like two to three.
Mike: Yep. I’ve said that many times. Just do it for a period, because I’m sure you’ve heard from these people, I, I hear from, uh, for years and years, I, people, well, they, they’re actually a little bit surprised.
It, it does help them kind of recalibrate their, even their idea of what. A proper portion of food is, they just had no idea. Like, what, what does a, a portion of, what does 100 calories of peanut butter actually look like? Like, oh
Adam: shit. And they’re not alone. Uh, like literally the, the opening line of the book is like, you are not alone.
Because I think we don’t have these conversations. Cause a lot of us just end up feeling bad. Right? We’ve all had the friend who did like the exact same diet or work hard as us and they got better results and we’re like, Oh, what is wrong with me? Right? And I think like having these conversations are so important.
Research has shown that the average person underestimates how much they eat by 60%, and they overestimate how many calories they burn during an exercise by 40%. That is a terrible combination, right? You’re not doing it on purpose. You just don’t know. So for some people, they need to do that. And I give kind of rules of thumb without needing a scale to be able to better recognize portions of food.
Because it’s hard. Like no one, no one’s taught this, right? You shouldn’t be ashamed of like not knowing how much a portion of food is because. When does anyone learn this? My issue with meal plans is that it leads to the screw up mindset, right? So if like you end up getting in a routine and building a meal plan, that’s not the problem.
My problem is the dependency that I typically see where someone is given a meal plan and this is it. This is the end all, be all. And if I stray from this, it’s suddenly like, Oh, oh no, a, I failed. Right? So it gets into that catastrophizing, or B, the moment they’re at a restaurant, the moment they’re on vacation, the moment they have to do something where like they ran out of food they didn’t expect to have, and it’s like, oh no, if this isn’t on my meal plan, we panic.
Right, or we think that we can’t do it. And I think the most important thing any of us can do is empower people to be more in control so that in any environment they feel that they can thrive. They shouldn’t feel that they’re dependent on such a, a strictly regimented plan that there is no leeway. I would much rather teach me people to understand how to look at foods, and I give a meal plan in the book, and I admit, I tell people I hate meal plans because I don’t like the dependency, but I know that people like examples.
So I say, do not use this as a template. Use this as an example and let, let me show you how you could sub out almost infinite foods, because the key thing here is to pick the foods that you enjoy and plug them in here because a big part of effectively eating is satisfaction. People need to learn to eat in a way where they’re satisfied and satisfaction takes on two forms.
Satisfaction is a, the enjoyable part of picking foods that you love, some that are healthy and some that might not be healthy, right? Dessert or takeout. And satisfaction is also, again, a psychological aspect because hunger. Is more psychological than physiological. We have a satiety center in our stomach that when we eat, we’ll send a signal up to our brain to tell us that we are full.
Now a funny thing happens when we lose weight, right? The hormones change in our body in a way that like actually is. Make us hungrier because we want to return to the weight that we were previously at. So a big part of creating sustainable weight loss is learning how to eat in a way that your brain gets satisfied, giving you the foods that are more likely to make you feel full.
So that is your body recalibrates, cuz it will, it’s called metabolic adaptation. Your body will eventually recalibrate so you’re not hungry all the time, but at first when you lose weight and if you lose a lot of weight, your body. Makes you more hungry. So you need to learn to eat in a way where you feel more satisfied so your brain isn’t working against your body because your body wants to adjust.
It just takes some time. So by not being dependent on meal plans and having more agency and having more freedom, I found that people are less likely to go off the rails, freak out, think they screw up because they know that this one plan isn’t the end all be all. So I’m all four people creating meal plans as part of the routine.
I’m against them having that. Dependency because I think that’s where so much of, you know, the spiraling can occur. That happens to us, right? Like when we are in absence of the thing that we think is our roadmap, but the roadmap is actually like within us all, it’s, it’s a different shift in terms of knowing that like you can control what you eat and you don’t just have to eat a certain way, or you don’t just have to eat exactly what Mike eats or what Adam eats, because that’s a misnomer.
We eat the things that we eat because they work for us. And if either of us had to follow the plan of someone else, It probably wouldn’t work. You know, Arnold Schwarzenegger wrote the ForWord in my book, and I think the favorite part of the foreword is towards the end where he says, you know, I wanted to be the world’s greatest bodybuilder and still eat cherry pie.
And Kaiser Shn, which is his favorite, you know, Austrian dessert that his mom would make. And a lot of people find that like counterintuitive, but like, Arnold loved food and still does. And you know, there was then compensation that he had to make in terms of how he trained and the other things that he would eat.
But he’s like, we all strive in some way, shape or form for a healthy balance. And balance for him was cherry pie and Kaiser shrimp. Balance for me might be like eating something else. Balance for you might be that, but the idea that we have to follow a plan for T that doesn’t allow for some of that.
Personalization is where we go wrong. Cuz I think the future of everything in health is learning not only how to do what is good for your body, but how to do what’s good for your body and then personalize it so you can do it in a way where you do not want to quit. And that is the goal for everyone.
It’s not being perfect, it’s getting that way where you know, the small iterations, the small variations that make that work for you. And that’s enough. And to that end, you
Mike: share in the book several tools for dieting. Like I have a list here. So one is creating meal boundaries. Another one is Prioritizing Protein and fiber, adding a plus one.
You don’t have to go through all of them, but there are, are there a few of these tools that you want to share with people listening? Maybe the a few that you think. Might be very useful. I put this into, into use right away and it can make a big
Adam: difference. Yeah. The easiest one that’s the hardest for people to do is the one that would is gonna follow, I think it’s two number four, which is take 20 minutes.
And I mentioned this because we just talked about how hunger is a connection between your stomach and your brain, and it’s not. A speed highway, right? Like the average person takes eight minutes to eat a meal, and then what happens is they’re still hungry and they eat more, and then like an hour later they’re like, oh, I override, I’m so full.
And a lot of this is you don’t give your body enough time to send that signal to your brain saying, I’m full. I ran a test group of 500 people when I wrote this book to put them through the program. It’s one of the things you learn from writing books, like you better have people test this stuff to make sure they can do it, and you get their feedback and then it makes sense.
The hardest thing for people to do is to take 20 minutes, and it’s not just taking the 20 minutes, it’s slowing down and paying attention because most of us don’t pay attention when we eat. We’re working on our computer, we’re scrolling on our phones. And this plays a role as well. There’s been studies that looked at what happens when people pay attention to the food on their plate as opposed to it being blinded where they just can’t see what they’re eating and the people who can’t see what they’re eating, even though the same, the food was the same on both plates, end up eating more than the people who are paying attention.
Cuz your eyes are also helping your brain figure out this is enough food. So by slowing down your meal, by paying more attention to what you’re eating, You end up eating significantly less. I love the, you know, the type of behavioral changes that are like so small and not so hard, but they kind of have like an exponential improvement.
Cuz the other thing that happens when we’re not being mindful of what we’re eating ends up increasing cravings because we actually don’t enjoy the food. We talk about the aspect of like, satisfaction. So like slowing down is so simple and it sounds ridiculous, but it is incredibly effective and it’s also really, really difficult.
For most people to do because it’s so different than how many people eat. And then the meal boundary one I think is interesting for people because I think it gets conflated or confused with intermittent fasting. I’m not against intermittent fasting. I used to do it for many, many years. I think many of the benefits are overstated.
But my favorite thing about it is a great tool to create parameters on what I would call open kitchen, closed kitchen. So the boundaries are less about how much time you have to feast or fast. I actually, I think that’s overstated. The boundaries are more that a lot of us do mindlessly eat because we have so much food abundance, and it doesn’t matter if it’s like six o’clock in the morning or 11 o’clock at night.
If the food is there, we’re probably going to eat it because a lot of times we eat out of. Boredom or out of habit. And I referenced one study where it’s it. It’s one of those studies that you have to look at like twice because it didn’t make any sense. But what they did was they didn’t give people any dietary guidelines and they had them go ahead and move their breakfast up an hour and a half and move their dinner up an hour and a half.
There was no fasting program or anything. Just created a start time of eating in an end time. And the people not only lost significant amount of weight, they kept it off because that became the open kitchen, closed kitchen. And I tell people do the same type of thing. You can choose where the boundaries are.
I suggest moving, you know, your first meal up two to three hours if possible, and move the last meal two to three hours before you go to bed. Because eating too close to bed can disrupt sleep. Disruptive sleep then can make you eat more. And it becomes the domino effect of, oh man, like you didn’t realize it.
But having that meal actually had a, an impact on what you’re gonna eat the day after, the day after, the day after. So by just creating these boundaries, you know, if it’s after that time and every once in a while you eat it, don’t worry about you didn’t screw it up. Right. That’s, that’s the whole idea.
Like the aberration, the things that happen infrequently. We don’t need to act like they’re happening all the time. We don’t need to make a big deal out of it. But by creating these boundaries, It naturally pushes us towards better behaviors, naturally will improve sleep time. Wake time naturally will help us eat less because we just know that like, oh, this isn’t the time that I eat.
Just as they’ve seen in in research that when people create a start time and a stop time to their workday, their happiness and their stress and their burnout goes down and the job didn’t change. The people they work with didn’t change. All that changed was they actually put a boundary and like, I’m not answering email at 10 30 at night because then I’m on.
All the time, and if we think we’re on all the time with our eating, it’s, you know, it becomes problematic and it becomes too easy to overeat when. There’s no need to eat. I’ve seen people get
Mike: overly, uh, overstressed without meal boundaries, even when they’re trying to be meticulous with planning or tracking their calories because of this point, especially if they’re trying to track on the go, because now they’re, they’re constantly looking at, okay, how many calories do they have left?
And they’re trying to think, what are they gonna want to eat when, but what if, what if at 10 30 they actually want to have that snack? So maybe they shouldn’t eat that now, or they do eat it now. And then it comes, and then they only have 50 calories left, but 50 calories isn’t really enough for any. So I, I think it’s, that is a great tip for people, whether they are brand new and just focusing on really what, what we’re talking about is developing a, a healthy relationship with food or if they’re more experienced and or.
Wanting to accomplish something that does require, let’s say, a more rigorous approach to eating. And I think you would agree that if a guy or a gal wants to go from lean to very lean and they want to stay there for whatever reason, I think most of those people would probably be happier if they just had a bit more body fat.
But if they, if they want to do it, maybe it’s for a photo shoot or whatever, then you can get there with just a rules-based approach. But there is a point. Where you probably are gonna have to at least do some audits of what you’re eating and making sure that your calories haven’t accidentally increased by a hundred to 200 calories per day.
And, uh, anyway, so for those people as well, I think that that is a, a, a great tip because if you don’t have the open kitchen, closed kitchen approach, it can get, it can, it can get a bit. Stressful trying to juggle your calories and macros every day over the course of many, many hours that change every day, right?
Adam: And that stress adds up to become problematic, right? Like the more people are stressing about this, the more this is going to affect all of their behaviors. And it’s easy to think that these are just tips and habits and tricks for. Beginners, but I think that these tools are actually the ones that give you the most leverage when you try to achieve the highest level of fitness.
You know, I’ve had the privilege of working with. Big name actors and athletes and celebs, people who many considered some of the fittest people in the world. And what I found is that the foundation of their plans are these tools and they know how to manipulate them and adjust them in a way so they can continue making pro progress.
Because the most effective tools are the ones that have multiple uses. No matter what the goal is, and I think like the idea of eating well or exercising more often is these are habits that require mastery. And mastery is about like building these tools that you could sharpen when you do anything whatsoever.
And I think people misunderstand oftentimes the goal of, you know, will give fat loss as an example, the goal of fat loss is to be at a place where you can eat as much as possible. And still lose weight. And then when things stall out, make slight adjustments to keep going down. Most people artificially start at a place where they wanna lose so fast that once the weight loss stalls, they don’t have any room to make any adjustments, right?
Because they’ve already cut everything out as opposed to taking. The opposite approach, like how do I learn to eat in a way where I’m still feeling pretty satisfied and I’m achieving my goals? And then when it finally stalls out, I have plenty of room to continue to make adjustments. And that’s a great place to be because most people, again, under or I think they underestimate what it is that they need to do in order to start seeing changes.
And you wanna have plenty gas and the tank, plenty of leeway to keep on making tweaks, people making adjustments so you can keep on seeing results.
Mike: Great point. And one more question I have for you and then, uh, I wanna be mindful of your time. It’ll be coming up on an hour, but you’ve mentioned making takeout work, making highly processed food work.
We do live in this food environment that contains a lot of these foods. For some people, simply not eating them is an option. Fine. If someone listening, if, if you’re one of those people, I mean, I’m one of those people, I don’t really care to. Eat those types of foods. Maybe a little bit here and there, but I’m not most people and I recognize that that’s not an option for most people.
And you do give some great advice in the book on how do you make these foods work? How do you go out and eat in restaurants that you like to eat in? That doesn’t mean you like to go eat a Caesar salad with a low fat Caesar dressing and grilled chicken breasts. Like you, you want to eat food that you like.
It needs to be part of a sustainable lifestyle.
Adam: Yeah, I think, I think, you know, some of the favorite parts people have of the book are where I teach people to eat, take out at the 50 popular restaurants and things like that. I do call out that I don’t believe in remove any individual food because I know that life happens.
When you tell people that even if we know we shouldn’t catastrophize, we do, the goal is to cook more. The goal is to eat more food. You know, foods that are more nutritious. And the goal is to know that if you, when you eat those foods that aren’t, it’s okay as long as it’s not very often. But I point out that the food that you probably want to be most wary of are the ultra processed foods.
And it’s important to know the difference between the ultras processed and any other processing. Right? Many very healthy foods are processed. Beans are processed, olive oil is processed, so all processed foods get lumped together.
Mike: Like if a food has been chopped up, that’s, that’s actually processing, like by definition,
Like there are so many foods that are processed or canned and, and it, it is very, very dangerous and very misleading for us to vilify all of those foods. What we need to be aware of are these foods that have unnatural amounts of salt, sugar, and fat added to them. When. They don’t need them whatsoever because what we find is that these foods kind of rewire our brain to make us insatiable.
The type of foods that should fill us up. Don’t, and I, I think it’s less problematic the ones that you would normally expect. Ultra processed foods can be things like baked goods, right, like cookies and brownies and cakes. Most people know that’s not good for you if you have that once or twice a week.
It’s okay. It’s not a problem. The more dangerous things are when you have breads or pasta sauces that you know have 10, 20 grams of sugar and you’ve got the extra salt. And like what this does is when you add it to pasta, which could be a normal meal, it can make you insatiable. We found that when people are eating these ultra processed foods compared to less processed foods, they just eat more.
And it’s crazy when, when they people, there was this one amazing study by Kevin Hall. N a h researcher takes two groups of people. The macros are equal. On these things, but one are gonna be less processed foods and one’s gonna be ultra processed. They’re eating like Chef Boy Rd. Again, macros are equal and all they say is just like eat till you’re full.
So technically, if you’re eating the same macros, right, protein, carbs, fats, you would imagine they’re gonna eat the same amount. But the people in the ultra processed food ate on average 500 calories more and gained about a pound more per week. And then the crazy part is cuz you had two different groups when they switched positions.
When the people eating the ultra process went to the less process, when the people eating, the less process went to the ultra process. Now those people who are eating less processed food, lost weight and started eating less, and the people who switched to the ultra process started eating more just like the prior group.
And you see, while they haven’t figured it all, something is going on here that’s making you eat more. So if the majority of your diet ends up being these ultra processed foods, and you’re wondering, why am I always so hungry? Why am I struggling? It’s probably the ultra processed food, and it doesn’t mean you can’t eat these foods.
It means swapping them out for bitter alternatives. I’m not gonna rail against bread, just like don’t have a bread that’s loaded with salt, sugar, and fat, because that’s not what should be. In bread, right? Same thing with a, with a pasta sauce. If you’re going out to eat at a restaurant, be mindful of things where they’re probably adding extra oil, extra sugar, extra salt, and you can make adjustments.
My favorite adjustment at takeout is just telling them, and you’re so specific, cuz you can do it on the apps now, just tell them, I want a quarter of the oil. A quarter. So I did this as an experiment. It was a fun thing, and the, the dishes will show up. They won’t even look the same, right? Because so many of these dishes are just like caked in so much oil, and the oil isn’t necessarily the problem.
The problem is that oil is so calorically dense that you are taking in so many more calories that are necessary and it doesn’t even make the dishes. Tastes better. So are they actually gonna only use one quarter of the oil? Probably not. But they’re gonna, one quarter is so specific that you use significantly less.
The dish looks different. The dish tastes better if you’re asking me and it, it’s not going to necessarily like throw your diet for a loop unnecessarily. And there are a lot of these like small adjustments where takeout is now designed in a way that makes it super easy for you to just request whatever you want with no guilt.
Or shame or whatever it is. And like you said, I’m not telling everyone to eat salads with low fat dressing. No. Because then you’re still gonna crave these foods. The whole idea of allowing yourself to eat these as part of the plan is that the research shows when you don’t completely restrict the things that you desire, you end up craving it.
Less. And the opposite then is true. My, there’s a study that referenced in, uh, in the book for the journal obesity, where they told people for one day and one day only, don’t eat these foods. And what happens naturally that people ate 133% more calories, all they had to do was just one day you had one job and you, you couldn’t do it.
That’s just how we’re wired. So if we plan in some room for this, it doesn’t even mean you need to eat those foods. It just means that when you do, if you have the quota, you know that it’s not a big deal. You know, the rest of your meals should be okay, and it is a practical and sustainable way that when life happens, you’re stressed, you’re busy, or like you just wanna go out with friends.
There’s no reason to think that that can’t coexist within a very, very healthy lifestyle. Being super fit and achieving your goals and what people tend to find over time too. When you create this leeway, a lot of times you realize that the things that you thought once served you no longer do. There was a time when I used to eat dessert more often and I allowed myself to eat dessert and now I crave it less.
There was a time where I needed to eat, take up more often cause I was traveling so much and I came back and it became a habit. And then once I got back on track with things, not from this extreme behavior, but with one that had flexibility, I felt like, oh, I don’t feel as good. I don’t desire this, I don’t want it.
So it’s funny what happens when you give yourself room and freedom to do things. It’s very easy for you to assess. What makes you feel best as opposed to when you’re told you can’t do things and then it pushes you to something that fundamentally might not be great for you because your brain is just being told like, I want what I can’t have.
Don’t create that construct where your brain works against you. Create a construct where your brain will work with you. That’s when you wanna screw up. Great message.
Mike: And something else that works well for me, and I know it’s worked well for others, is when deciding. So you’re gonna eat takeout, you’re gonna go to a restaurant, eat whatever you want to eat, make sure that you can eat enough of it to be satisfied.
And I. In my experience, it’s been a person, just a, an individual thing, like take ice cream, just something that maybe everybody can relate to. Yeah, ice cream’s delicious, but for me, eating a hundred calories, 200 calories of ice cream is not satisfying at all. I need to eat at least half of the pint, if not the whole pint, to really feel satisfied.
Whereas if I eat. 200 calories of dark chocolate. That’s very satisfying to me. And the same thing would apply to non-art foods as well, that you can. Uh, I wanted to ask you about the pizza rule and what that is. Cuz for me, for example, pizza. Yeah, I like pizza, but I have to. B, let’s just say in the mood to eat at least a thousand, a thousand calories of pizza.
Or I’m just not gonna be satisfied. I’d rather just eat something else.
Adam: Yeah. Pizza is one of those ultra processed foods is to live it in a delicious, I’m Chicago and I love pizza, but then, you know, to me the pizza rule is if you’re gonna have it, it’s usually like a one time a week thing. And if you do it, You just gotta limit the number of slices to like two or three.
Mike: And that’s why I don’t often eat pizza. Cause I’m like, you know, two slices of pizza. I’m just not very, I’m not getting the, the psychological satisfaction. I’d rather take the 500 and 600 calories and put it into something else that’s more satisfying.
Adam: Yeah. And the, I think the overall point that I make for people is find the foods that you enjoy most and make sure those are a part of the plan.
Everything else that you find enjoyable. But you know, it’s not like you crave it or you love it. It’s just something that you typically eat. Those are the things that you’re going to sacrifice because then you are not like operating from a position of scarcity. Most plans tell you, here’s all the things that you love.
Remove it. No, I say take an assessment. Yeah. I, I talk about in the idea of inversion. Inversion means like starting at the end and asking yourself, we’re six months from now and you have failed at your goal. Why? And a lot of times you’re gonna be like, well, yeah, I love eating chocolate. And I thought I could have no chocolate, so I just ended up eating chocolate every single night, right?
So I’m like, okay, let’s not remove chocolate, but like, and what’s one other food that you love? Let’s not remove that. And then everything else we’re gonna try and. Limit or not eat very often because while you are, find them enjoyable because they’re enjoyable foods, they’re not something that like you feel is needed in the diet.
So by giving people some of the things that they enjoy most and then removing the other, that is the idea of expanding the comfort zone, right? There’s some of the familiar, so it’s not like everything is off. Limits and there’s some restrictions so that you’re not just like eating with no boundaries whatsoever.
And this combination tends to be very, very effective. And it also makes you more aware of the things you truly enjoy eating, so you can like build a plan around those rather than feeling forced in, into certain foods that you know you would never follow or enjoy in the first place.
Mike: Totally agree and lots of great information for people listening.
Uh, if you liked this discussion, uh, I think you’re gonna like the book, so you should definitely pick up a copy. You can’t screw this up. Thank you again, Adam, for taking the time, and why don’t we wrap up with where people can find you, find your work, if there’s anything else that you want them to know about, like the, the podcast project you’re working on or anything else.
Adam: Yeah, so you can invite me on social media at Born Fitness, the book, you can get it any, you know, anywhere they’re selling books or you can just go to, can’t screw this up.com. It’s a funny URL because you can’t screw this up. And, uh, yeah, I also, you know, uh, every day I put out an email and newsletter with Arnold Schwarzenegger was part of Arnold’s Pump Club.
So it’s just our way to help people be a little bit. Uh, healthier and happier. It’s all free and it’s just the daily email is a couple, three, four blurbs about what’s going on in the world of health and how to make sense of it all. So if you don’t wanna buy a book or spend the $20, which I think 20 years of knowledge packed in for $20 is a pretty good value, you can always just get information for free.
That Arnold’s Pump Club at the podcaster from me on social.
Mike: Just to comment quickly on that point on, on books, one of the, the great things about many books, especially books that are born of many years of in the Trenches experience that. Or written by true subject matter experts is the only, as a rule, the only reason, like the reason you wrote this book is not to make money.
You’re probably gonna make some money. But if you figure the amount of work that goes into creating a good book, it, the economics don’t quite make sense. People like us write, write books because we want to help that. That’s actually why we’re doing it. And that’s, at least I, that’s why I still even write books, do I quote unquote need to.
Keep writing books. No, I like to do it as an activity and I like to, to help others and it’s, I like the medium and that’s why I continue to do it. So, you know, whereas if I were selling a thousand dollars diet course, maybe there’d be some. Economic motives that are more prominent. But in the case of books, it just occurs to me, you know, as I, I like to read and I read, uh, widely that it’s amazing the the amount that you can learn from people who otherwise you might never be able to, you could never even get 10 minutes of their time yet you could just spend $20 and just get a download of the last 20 years of their life and they’re sharing everything that they can to try to help you succeed.
I, I just, I love that.
Adam: Yeah, definitely a, a passion, progress, passion project and a legacy piece because yeah, you put it out there so that it lasts and it helps people. Yep.
Mike: Well, um, anyways, thanks again for taking the time to do this. Uh, it was a great discussion.
Adam: Thanks so much, Mike. I appreciate it.
Mike: Well, I hope you liked this episode.
I hope you found it helpful, and if you did subscribe to the show because it makes sure that you don’t miss new episodes. And it also helps me because it increases the rankings of the show a little bit, which of course then makes it a little bit more easily found by other people who may like it just as much as you.
And if you didn’t like something about this episode or about the show in general, or if you have. Ideas or suggestions or just feedback to share. Shoot me an email, mike muscle for life.com, muscle f o r life.com and let me know what I could do better or just, uh, what your thoughts are about maybe what you’d like to see me do in the future.
I read everything. My, myself, I’m always looking for new ideas and constructive feedback. So thanks again for listening to this episode, and I hope to hear from you soon.