A few weeks ago I found myself doing a much needed clean-out of my closet. Naturally, I came across pieces that I hadn’t worn in a very long time, which usually means that it’s time to throw them in the donation pile. But instead I found myself holding onto them, debating what I should do.
In that moment I realized something particularly profound. That giving away these clothes meant letting go of something that I no longer am, skinny.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not delusional. I am well aware that I am what society would consider “thin”. This is my natural build and one that I suspect some people torture themselves to have. The skinny that I am referring to is the frail, rail-like skinny that I used to be. The bone-popping, thigh-gap skinny that I wore proudly. The skinny that was hungry and overworked.
A long time ago I heard my idol Oprah Winfrey say something that ended up sticking with me for years. It was something along the lines of “never buy bigger jeans, keep working to fit into your old ones”. While I respect Oprah in many domains, weight-loss and body image isn’t one of them. If I knew then what I know now, I never would have listened. But of course hindsight is 20/20.
Nevertheless, I listened and I did everything in my power to fit into those jeans. In the process I discovered the secret to skinny. Spoiler alert: it’s not worth it.
This secret would end up taking over my life for more years than I wish to tell. Being skinny was my first priority. I masked my attempts in the face of “health” but inside I knew what I was doing. And here’s exactly what I did:
I ate a lot of salads.
I worked out every single day. On most days it was a mix of cardio and weights and on “rest days” I walked/ran on a steep incline on the treadmill.
Diet coke was my best friend.
Calories were meant to be counted.
If I was drinking, I either ate less or worked out more and these “drinks” usually consisted of shots…lots of shots.
I looked at my body in the mirror, a lot.
Binge days would happen that usually started with a hangover, followed by a jumbo-sized bag of PB m&ms with a side order of guilt.
And here’s how I felt:
Exhausted. My body was literally crying out for rest. By-products of this negligence still remain to this day i.e. chronic leg and back pain.
Hungry. Food was on my mind all.the.time
Guilty. I actually felt ashamed if I skipped a workout or binged.
Frustrated. I felt like no matter what I did I could never look how I wanted to look.
I had discovered the secret to skinny, but I lost all the joy in my life.
My habits today are far removed from that girl who ran endless miles and ate rabbit food for sustenance. They changed because I wanted them to. Because once I figured out the secret to skinny, I realized it wasn’t worth it. I valued living my life over planning it.
How I came to these conclusions is a post for another day and quite honestly is still an ongoing process. For the most part I now eat when and what I want and move my body when and how it wants to but not surprisingly some of my clothes no longer fit. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a moment where I thought of dear old Oprah’s saying and considered doing what I had to to get back in those jeans.
I knew I had what it took to look skinny in my skinny jeans. I’d done it once, I could do it again. But while I definitely looked skinny, it was the furthest thing from how I felt.
I may have paused for a second to think about my decision but ultimately I knew those clothes belonged in the donation pile. I wasn’t turning back. Instead, I made the choice to accept myself, exactly as I am. Someone who is smart, driven, successful and beautiful. Someone who loves to walk and hike and fuel my body with veggies and wine. Sometimes more wine than veggies, and sometimes those veggies are french fries. Most of the time they’re not.
Giving away those clothes was the final straw in letting go of all of the negative habits that had previously taken over my life. It meant choosing to live each day as my happiest self instead of my skinniest self. Discovering that these two concepts are not intertwined is the greatest gift I ever could have received.
I now know the secret to happy and trust me folks, it looks nothing like skinny.
No questions, just your thoughts.
What could S2B and PN Coaching possibly have in common?
At a recent workshop in Toronto, I had the chance to chat with some guys enrolled in the Scrawny to Brawny coaching program. We talked about their struggles to get big—the opposite problem that people in the PN Coaching program have.
But then I realized we all had a lot in common.
- After all, PN Coaching clients are trying to get smaller and leaner. They have to learn to eat less.
- Scrawny to Brawnies are trying to get bigger and heavier. They have to learn to eat more.
- Both groups have to learn new eating patterns that go against their “normal” inclinations and habits.
At first, I pooh-poohed the idea that it would be hard to eat more. I mean, c’mon. Even as a small woman, with sufficient enthusiasm and enough nut butter and beef brisket, I could easily pack in the allotted caloric requirements for Scrawnies.
But the more I chatted with the guys, the more I learned that these folks found it genuinely hard to eat to excess… and the more I realized that their “natural” leanness had as much to do with their outlook and behaviors as it did with their physiological makeup.
I got to thinking that many of their experiences and insights would be useful to clients looking to lose fat and weight. So, I hit up a bunch of other “naturally skinny” dudes for input. Lots of guys responded to my questions, and I got some great advice.
[For a quick summary of this advice, click here. Or read on for more…]
Summary and Recommendations
So, does this mean that naturally skinny people are lurking in supermarket aisles, judging our carts, and wondering if we’re crazy? No, of course not. Nor does it mean that being a naturally skinny person automatically makes you healthier.
It simply means that their experiences and perspectives suggest that much of over-eating behavior is learned—it’s built from childhood experiences, our outlook and worldview, social messages, and familiar habits.
How can you learn to think and act like a naturally skinny person in order to reap the benefits for fat loss? Here are some tips.
Final thoughts, from one naturally skinny person:
I think one thing I would like people to know is that just because I am skinny doesn’t mean I am healthy.Prior to S2B, I was not healthy. I try to promote an open dialogue about health and nutrition between people, but sometimes people seem nervous or afraid to mention they are trying to improve their health.I think in many cases people who are very thin and those who are over-fat both need to be healthier, but the goals are slightly different. My friend who is trying to lose weight and I (trying to gain weight) frequently talk about our goals and “meeting each other in the middle”.Even though we have different goals we can motivate each other to be healthier, happier people.
Next week, we have a surprise for the Scrawnies: The PN Coaching clients weigh in with some tips for getting huge.
Why You Can’t Lose Fat
You underestimate How Much You Eat
If you can’t lose fat, it’s because you’re eating too much.
You probably think yo don’t eat a lot. But you are. Otherwise you wouldn’t be struggling to lose fat.
Maybe you “eat healthy”. But that doesn’t matter either. If your “healthy diet” doesn’t create a caloric deficit, you will not lose fat.
The truth is that most people are terrible at estimating how many calories they eat a day.
They dramatically underestimate how much they really eat.
Here’s proof: track how many calories you eat per day for a week using an app like Myfitnesspal.
A lot of people end up shocked to discover that some of their favorite foods that they think were “healthy” contain tons of calories.
Those excess calories are what are keeping you fat.
You Overestimate How Much You Burn
Cardio is a waste of time for most people.
An hour on the treadmill usually burns about 500 calories.
That’s the equivalent of one big mac (without the fries and coke) or one “Frappuccino” at Starbucks (without the cake or muffin).
So you can easily undo that hour of cardio by just eating one high calorie meal or drink.
And yet many guys think they can eat whatever they want because they do an hour of cardio each day.
Cardio is only going to burn a lot of calories if you can spend several hours in the gym each day.
If you can train like an athlete, then you can eat whatever you want without getting fat.
But I don’t think you have the time to train that much.
You’re therefore going to have to watch what you eat.
Otherwise you won’t lose fat.
You’re Not Eating Enough Calories
If eating 500kcal per day less makes you lose 1lb of fat per week… then eating 1000kcal/day less must be even better, right?
The more fat you lose, the more you need to further reduce your daily caloric intake to continue to lose fat.
If you reduce your calories by 1000kcal/day from week one, what are you going to do when you’re no more losing fat on that?
Besides nobody can stick to low calorie, 1200kcal/day diets long-term.
No matter how much willpower you have, eventually you’ll get hungry and binge.
That’s how tons of people end up gaining all the weight they lost back (plus more).
More isn’t better when it comes to losing fat.
You Waste Your Time Eating Healthy
Now I eat healthy, and recommend you eat healthy too.
But eating healthy doesn’t guarantee you’ll lose fat.
In fact, there’s John Cisna who lost 37lb while eating McDonald’s three times a week for 90 days.
There’s also Mark Haub, professor of nutrition in Kansas. He lost 27lb in 10 weeks eating mostly twinkles (even his bad cholesterol and triglycerides dropped).
Just to be clear here – I’M NOT SAYING YOU SHOULD EAT MCDONALD’S AND TWINKLES ALL DAY LONG.
That would be stupid.
My point is: it’s not how “healthy” the food is, it’s how many calories there’s inside.
Because many “healthy foods” are in fact high calories.
- Smoothies and fruit juices are healthy because they have a lot of vitamins. But they’re also concentrated sugars. Minute maid Apple Juice has just as much sugars as Coca-cola.
- Salad is healthy, and a low calorie food. But restaurants often add high calorie dressing, croutons, guacamole, etc .McDonald’s salads often have more calories than a big mac.
- Dried fruits and nuts are healthy. But they’re calorie dense. 20 dried prunes has about 500calories – the same amount of calories as one big mac again.
- Organic food may be healthy. But an “organic donut” is still a donut. It doesn’t matter if the sugar and fat is from an organic source. It’s high calorie
Eating healthy is good. I do it, and recommend it.
But to lose fat, eating healthy isn’t enough.
Eat Less Calories Than You Burn to Lose Fat
It’s that simple.
If you’re not losing fat, you’re not eating less calories than your body burns.
It doesn’t matter if you eat healthy, that won’t make you lose weight unless you;re total caloric intake is lower than what you burn.
Maybe you are eating less than last month. But if your calorie intake is still higher than what you burn, you still won’t lose fat.
You have to create a caloric deficit, and you do that by eating less calories than your body burns.
Start Tracking Your Calorie Intake
You need to become aware of how many calories are in the most common foods you eat.
There are foods you eat, that are maybe healthy, or that you think are not so bad, but that in are high in calories.
Think of the Pareto rule
- 80% of your results come from 20% of what you do
- Most people eat the same foods 80% of the time
Therefore, there are foods you tend to eat a lot, but that are probably damaging your fat loss.
But you don’t know about it.
So start tracking everything you eat for one month using an app like myfitnesspal.
This will be annoying, it will be a lot of work. But you can’t fix a problem if you don’t understand the cause first.
This exercise will quickly make you stop eating some high calorie foods you didn’t know you were eating.
Estimate How Many Calories You Burn
Calculate your basal metabolic rate (BMR) first. This is how many calories you would burn if you do nothing but rest in your bed for 24 hours (for muscle recovery, digestion, breathing, etc). This calculation depends on your gender, age, weight, and height.
Then multiple your BMR by your physical activity levels (PAL). This adds calories burned through daily activities. Most people have office jobs and walk less than 5000 steps a day. That gives a “sedentary’ multiplier of only 1.2.
Note that lifting weights doesn’t burn much calories. The sets only last a few seconds, and you spent most of your workout resting between sets. So lifting weights 3x/week does not make you any less sedentary. Walking +5k steps a day does.
Multiple your BMR x PAL to get your TDEE – your total daily energy expenditure. This the amount of calories you need to maintain your weight for your current age, body weight, and physical activity levels.
There are all kind of calculators you can find online to estimate your caloric intake. But usually the formula can be simplified for guys to your body -weight in lb x 10-12. Meaning a 90kg/200lb man usually needs about 2200kcal/day to maintain his body weight.
Create a Caloric Deficit to Lose Fat
To lose fat you decrease calories by about 500kcal/day to create a weekly deficit of 3500kcal (which equals about 1lb/0.5kg of fat per week).
Note that all this calorie calculation is just an estimation. It’s not going to be accurate. Because the original formula’s were developed using averages. Some people have higher metabolism than others. And it’s hard to know what your true activity level is.
So get a rough idea of how many calories you need to maintain your body-weight. Reduce about 500kcal/day from that. Then check how your body responds once you start. If you lose more than 1lb per week, you might be reducing calories too much. If you’re not losing 1lb/fat, you might be eating too much.
No online calorie calculator is 100% accurate. Many will give you too little or too many calories to eat, and confuse you. Only use calorie calculators to get an estimate. Adjust as you go.
One of the best ways you can get skinny legs without building muscle is by doing cardio.
However, not all cardio sessions will give you skinny legs, some will add on muscle. So, it pays to know which cardio you should be doing to get the best results.
Let’s look into cardio, and how it can help you get skinny legs:
How Long To Exercise ?
The duration of cardio is an important factor when building skinny legs. Take a sprinter for example, they run hard, with the most resistance at the highest level possible, and their legs are big and muscular.
On the other side, a long distance runner will have skinny, and toned legs, as they run with less resistance for longer periods.
So, if you want skinny legs, make the duration of your workouts slightly longer at a low intensity.
Light Cardio For Skinny Legs
Cycling is a great option to get skinny legs, as you can adjust the resistance on the bike, which means, you’ll be able to burn those legs and tone up your entire lower body.
Swimming is another great cardio exercise that will make you lose weight all over you body, including your legs.
The kicking motion in the water is light, with limited resistance, which means your legs will become toned, instead of bulky.
On the other hand, running, or cardio machines such as the stair master are great for overall health, and improving your fitness leves.
IMPORTANT NOTE: The exercises that creates the most resistance will build more muscle. The exercises that are light, and easy, will build skinny legs.
Running hard, or the stair master also promotes new muscle growth, as the resistance is high – therefore, you’ll want to limit these, but not avoid them altogether.
Best cardio exercises for skinny legs:
- Stair master
Exercising with higher reps, just like cardio sessions such as cycling and swimming as we’ve already discussed, will help you to get skinny legs.
By using resistance machines like the leg extension, leg press, or body weight squats for a higher number of repetitions, will help you to create that toned look, and skinny legs.
This works in exactly the same way as long distance cardio. The higher number of repetitions you do for a longer period of time, will allow you to feel the burn in your muscles and tone your legs.
Think of a boxer, they are lean, toned, and muscular. Why’s this? because they do a high number of repetitions in their workouts, sometimes hundreds of reps using lighter weights.
So don’t fear the weights ladies, they can be a great tool to keep you in shape.
Resistance tips to make skinny legs:
- High reps
- Choose lighter weights
- Use resistance machines that are easy to adjust the weight
Best resistance exercises for skinny legs:
- Leg extension
- Leg Press
- Lying Leg Curl
- Lying Hamstring Curl
- Body weight Squats
You can’t get skinny legs if you don’t have the right diet in place. Eating the right foods depending on your exercise plan, and daily activities is ‘key‘ when creating skinny legs.
If you want to lose weight, or just tone up, it pays to eat whole foods, and avoid processed foods as much as possible.
By eating whole foods such as sweet potato, brown rice, green vegetables, and lean meats, you’ll start to see results in no time.
Why is this? because your body will find it much easier to digest to these foods, than processed foods, which contain numerous ingredients that are hard for the body to process.
Best foods for skinny legs:
- Sweet potato
- Brown rice
- All vegetables
- Fruits in moderation
- Lean meats
- Nuts and seeds in moderation
Eating clean food is not the only way you can tone up your legs. You can also use supplements, such as multivitamins, to make sure you’re getting everything your body needs.
If you want to kick it up a notch, you can also use fat burners, and pre-workouts which are great for toning the body, and giving you a clean burst of energy for your workouts.