Avoid the “Diet Mentality” and Lose Weight Now!

By: Craig Valency, CSCS

The weekend is upon you and temptation is all around. Parties, barbecues, restaurants, wine and beer are all calling your name. With Thanksgiving and Christmas around the corner you brace for the carb onslaught. This is when you are really tested; you have to balance your reluctance to undo all the hard work you did throughout the week with the realization that weekends and holidays are different for a reason. This is a time to decompress, reconnect with loved ones, or go out on the town; it only makes sense that you would eat differently on weekends and special days. Trying to eat the same way that you do the rest of the week is simply not realistic, nor should it be! Does that mean you should have four slices of pizza, a pitcher of beer and a hot fudge sundae every weekend? No! Nonetheless, you should not beat yourself up over a glass of wine or a slice of apple pie once in a while.

Lifestyle change rather, than a short-term diet, is the key. Naturally, everyone needs to restrict somewhat in order to get their weight under control.  However, these changes should be sustainable. Eat less sugar, more protein, and more fruits and veggies. Your grandparents were right all along! The key is in the compromise. Rather than downing half a bottle of red wine and five slices of sourdough bread with butter, opt for a single glass and one delicious slice of bread (dipped in olive oil of course!). There is no need to throw in the towel just because you ate a little treat, but just don’t order every treat on the menu! The key is balance. Change from a negative “diet mentality” to a positive “healthy lifestyle mentality”. Keep in mind that if you make exceptions and over indulge every weekend, holiday, office birthday, midnight snack and family get together, the exceptions start to become the rule!

One of my most successful weight loss clients, Susan, did not make a change in her lifestyle for the first year we trained together. She was resistant to giving up things that were ingrained in her lifestyle. She loved her Dr. Pepper, ice cream, and beer on the weekends. And there was no way she was going to do any extracurricular cardio! When it came time to renew her training sessions with me I, asked her to think about why she was going to spend more money and not make a change. Susan finally had the epiphany. She made trade-offs without going into an extreme diet. She gave up the diet Dr. Pepper and kept on eating the ice cream, but not as frequently. She still drank some beer, but did an hour interval walk-run by the beach after work. She lost 30 pounds. Four years later, she has not gained back a pound.

Should you find yourself really cheating, resist the urge to have an “all-or-nothing” mindset. All hope is not lost. Remember that the minute you begin eating right again, you are back on track. If you happen to overeat a little do some extra cardio to ease your guilty conscience, and burn a few more calories. Avoid the diet mentality. Do not obsess over restricting yourself; think of adding good things rather than just removing bad things. It is also imperative that if you do cheat, you do it with gusto! Enjoy your sneaky little secret. Don’t hide it. Do not feel guilty and do not avoid the frosting (it’s the best part)! I know this sounds counter-intuitive, but this is the only way to avoid that vicious and restrictive dieting cycle. (Besides, after cutting out much of the sugar from your food, you will feel so much better that you won’t even want to eat a lot of the bad stuff—and you won’t feel good when you do) Remember that if you feel too restricted, you will always be susceptible to the “rebound effect” with the ultimate consequence—a lifetime of yo-yo dieting.

Unfortunately, most people do need to alter their eating habits to obtain optimal health. If you really miss something, think about how you can re-create it with similar, healthier alternatives. If you love to eat a chocolate dessert after dinner you don’t have to go for a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey. You can opt for the ricotta dessert recipes made popular by the South Beach Diet. (Mocha Ricotta Crème: 1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese, 1/2 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder, 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1 packet sugar substitute {Stevia}, Dash espresso powder and 5 mini chocolate chips. Just mix it, serve it & eat it!)

This will satisfy your cravings and you’ll end up feeling less bloated and guilty. If you love mashed potatoes, try steaming cauliflower and mashing or blending it with a little butter, sour cream, and garlic. You get the same mouth feel and flavors without all those carbs and calories. If you love rice reach for the basmati brown rice, quinoa, or pearl barley—all of which have a lower glycemic load than their white cousin. Another, more novel idea, is to have your salad at the end of your meal. It’s not a dessert, but it can be just as refreshing.

To be in a position to win, you need to have a game plan. Healthy eating is no exception. A useful analogy to illustrate this point is how I learned to win more consistently at tennis. Only when I learned how to develop a game plan in each tennis match did I begin to really win matches more frequently. I picked out my opponents 3-4 weaknesses and made that my plan. For your eating plan, an example would be: eat lean protein, avoid potatoes and bread, eat more veggies with every meal, and add fish oil daily. When I hit a shot into the net or long over the baseline, (having too much wine or a piece of chocolate cake) I did not stress. I knew that I had a game plan and that as long as I went consistently for those shots, I would win. I knew I would miss many shots throughout the match, which is only natural. but in the long run, I was clear about my mission and I was able to finally relax and not worry about losing individual points. I had a smile on my face for the whole match. In your fight for health, your opponents do not stand a chance. You will make more shots than you will miss, and in the end you will prevail.

Lifestyle changes are the key to lasting and satisfying success. The weekend is a time to relax, so don’t stress out over eating a few treats when you’re out to dinner with your friends. Make a healthy lifestyle the goal and you will make better decisions more times than not. Embrace new, healthier foods and activities. Once in a while you can reward yourself with some of your old favorites. If you “cheat,” it is important to avoid the “all-or-nothing” principle. Just enjoy it and go right back to your healthier ways of eating. To minimize cheating, make sure you eat healthy foods that satisfy your craving. Eating chocolate is as much about the creamy texture as the taste, so substitute a food with a similar feel and you will be satisfied. The most important thing is to be clear on how to eat a healthy diet this is your “game plan,” and if you stick to your game plan you can lose a few points along the way and still win the game. So just relax and realize that if you don’t overly obsess over hitting your target, you will likely hit that target more often and with greater ease.

Craig Valency is a Certified Personal Trainer and is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the National Strength & Conditioning Association (CSCS). He works at Fitness Quest 10, where he specializes in developing holistic training programs that promote lifestyle changes for permanent results in weight loss, athletic performance, & whole body functional strength & fitness. He earned a bachelors degree from UCLA, and has completed coursework in Kinesiology & Exercise Physiology at UC San Diego & Miramar College. He is currently pursuing his Masters Degree in Kinesiology at San Diego State University.


How To Handle Stress

STRESS – just seeing the word in print can raise your blood pressure!  Unfortunately, it is a fact of life for most of us.  Our culture is fast paced and competitive.  To survive and thrive, especially in an economic downturn, we have to wade through a steady stream of ubiquitous stressors.  So why is it that some people handle stress so well and are a “sea of calm” in a raging storm, but others manifest it in their bodies and create a personal environment for physical pain and disease?

Stressors are all around us but it is how we analyze and react to them that will determine if stress will lead to worse problems.  In his excellent book Full Catastrophe Living, Jon Kabat-Zin writes that “Stress-hardy individuals have greater coping resources than other people under similar circumstances because they view life as a challenge and assume an active role in attempting to exert meaningful control.”  Additionally, he talks about how the feeling of helplessness is a trademark of those that don’t handle stress well.  This “learned helplessness” can be unlearned.  The way to build up your internal armor against stress is to put together resources that will kick in when stress hits.

These resources are physical and emotional, or put another way, external and internal.  Emotional resources are built up through supportive relationships which include a solid network of friends and family, as well as participating in clubs and organizations that reflect your values.  You then build your physical resources through eating right and exercising.  Stress manifests itself in your body and anything you do to build up your body’s defense will help keep you in check when stressors arise.  Internally, how you view yourself and your attitude toward change will play an important role as well.

Regularly practicing meditation is another way to fortify your soul for times when you are under stress.  I practiced basic sitting meditation as a way to deal with stress.  I learned how to clear my mind, focus on being present in the moment, and to follow my breath, focusing on each inhale and exhale.  The key is to put all these resources into play early before you are under maximal stress.  Once you build this reservoir of coping tools, your skills will be tuned up and ready for action when needed.  When I had to have major dental work, for example, I was able to call up this skill and relax enough to get through the procedure without having a nervous breakdown!

There are many internal tools you can cultivate to help you better tolerate stress.  Meditation is one way but think about your life and how much of your waking day is spent running around doing things.  Do you ever just sit for a few moments without thinking about what you have to do next or what happened yesterday?  You are actually missing your life when you never live in the moment.  When you live in your head, everything is magnified, whether it is good or bad.  Spending ten minutes a day of sitting and meditating will make a huge difference in your ability to be present and relaxed in the moment!  According to Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk, if you practice this form of mediation every day for three weeks of doing this it will become a habit.  He suggests sitting quietly for ten minutes with good, tall posture.  Follow your breath and pay attention to each inhale as your belly expands and each exhale as the belly flattens.  When your mind wanders, gently “tug” it back to your breath and continue on without judgment.

Other tools that are useful for stress relief are:

  • Yoga, which is an Indian form of moving meditation that will strengthen and lengthen your body and center your mind.
  • Qi Gong, which is a more gentle form of moving meditation from China, that helps move your energy and life force known as “Qi” in slow, circular movement patterns.
  • Tai Chi, a martial art from China, which is done slowly and will improve balance and keep your mind focused on the task of coordinating flowing movements into a long, continuous form.

Finally, remember that in your quest to reduce stress you CANNOT worry if you miss your daily meditation or yoga class!  This would defeat the purpose.  I often see people who are so health conscious that they are in a state of heightened stress by trying to eat perfectly and exercising compulsively.  You need to step back and see the big picture.  Stress always trumps a “healthy lifestyle.”  Create balance in your life.  Fortify yourself with the tools to handle stress.  Change from a helpless mindset to one of empowerment where life is a challenge that you accept and roll with.  See things in a new light by looking for the opportunity hidden in every crisis.  Respond to stress, never react to it.  Exert control with the tools at your disposal such as meditation, yoga, and awareness breaks throughout your day.

I want to leave you with an ancient Sufi poem that I think summarizes the way to effortlessly and optimistically flow with life’s twists and turns:

This being human is a guest

house. Every morning

a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and attend them all!

Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,

who violently sweep your house

empty of its furniture, still,

treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out

for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,

meet them at the door laughing,

and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond.

Craig Valency is a Certified Personal Trainer at Fitness Quest 10 (San Diego, CA).  Craig is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the National Strength & Conditioning Association (CSCS) and earned a bachelors degree from UCLA.  He has completed coursework in Kinesiology & Exercise Physiology at UCLA, UCSD & Miramar College for prerequisite work towards a Doctorate in Physical Therapy.

He specializes in developing holistic training programs promoting lifestyle change for permanent results in weight loss, toning, strengthening, dynamic flexibility, balance, athletic performance & whole body functional strength & power.  He can be reached at cvalency22@hotmail.com.

Working Out Can be Hazardous to your Health! – Part I

Working Out Can be Hazardous to your Health!

Part I – Posture First

By Craig Valency, CSCS

Going to the gym and working out is supposed to be good for you, right? Well not always – what you don’t know could hurt you! In this article I will describe how your posture is compromised while you are at work. You will see how going to the gym and working out with “desk” posture can actually lead to injury or at least reinforce bad posture. You will learn the 3 steps necessary to make a permanent change in posture along with some exercises you can do at the office to help maintain your posture and relieve stress.

If you’re like most people you spend a good part of your day sitting at a desk hunched over a computer. Constantly being in this position may result in problems with your posture that can worsen over time if you work out improperly. Because we are seated for so many hours of the day our hip flexor muscles become chronically shortened. Therefore, the opposite muscle (buttocks) must therefore be chronically lengthened or weak. That’s one reason why sitting all day contributes to a flabby butt! Unfortunately, tight hip flexors are not your only problem with a sedentary job; your upper body suffers as well! Sitting at a desk day after day with your hands on the keyboard, your back rounded, and chin forward gazing at the screen, will cause your chest muscles to shorten, adapt and mold to this posture. At the same time you will also develop lengthened muscles between the shoulder blades and the deep neck muscles that pull your head back. This posture can eventually lead to tension type headaches, shoulder pain, and breathing problems!

After eight hours at the office, you go to the gym to release the stress that has accumulated over a long day of work. After warming up hunched over a stationary bike for about 10 minutes, you do lat pull downs behind your head, then some sets of chest press, and the usual heaping dose of sit ups or crunches. You now just reinforced the forward head posture, the rounded shoulders and flexed, rounded spine you’ve been molding so efficiently at work. The only difference is that you added weight to strengthen your already imbalanced posture! Besides reinforcing bad posture, you may be doing major damage to your rotator cuff. When you do any upper body exercises with rounded shoulders you create an impingement every time you extend your arm. The sub-acromial space, the area that your rotator cuff tendon passes through, narrows as you extend your arms when you have rounded shoulders and you are, in essence, slowly sawing into your tendon, and one day . . . rip!

The key to solving these problems is to get a postural assessment. Once you know what is out of balance it is imperative to address all imbalances first. The conventional wisdom still being espoused today (and by me a couple of years ago) says that the solution to posture problems is twofold: first stretch the shortened and tight muscles and then strengthen the lengthened, weak and flabby muscles. In theory this sounds great but the problem is that muscles normally contract and relax in sequence. But now the rounded back muscles, for instance, are under continuous strain just from holding the head in that forward position so they don’t ever relax. In the body’s infinite wisdom it sends out some help in the form of collagen that gets secreted in and around the muscle. These fibers align along the lines of tension and essentially act as a strap to help the muscle hold that posture. So in a sense the body is being solidified like stone into the dominant posture you hold all day.

If you are discouraged, don’t worry, there is a solution to this problem! The collagen fibers can be reabsorbed and the body can be fully restored to function; but simply stretching the muscles won’t do. Even though the muscles in your rounded back are longer than normal and the front muscles of your chest and abdomen are shorter, they both are essentially locked in place, so simple stretches aren’t enough, and pulling your shoulders back won’t stick. How many times have we been told to sit up straight and stop slumping? It lasts about 30 seconds and you can’t hold it anymore– those “straps” are in place conspiring against you!

There are three main requirements necessary to make a permanent change:

  • First you must “prime” the muscle to get the fluids flowing again, and break up scar tissue, through deep body work such as massage, Rolfing, foam rolling and massage sticks.
  • Second, the neurons that innervate the muscles must start firing again through proper exercise. This program of corrective exercise should precede a traditional weight-training program, or you could do more damage by reinforcing poor posture.
  • Third, you’ve got to ease the forces that have been exerting a pull on those muscles that caused the problem in the first place.
    • This can be accomplished through subtle ergonomic changes in seat height or sitting on a ball instead of a chair, or keyboard placement for example.
    • You can also set an hourly alarm on your computer or watch, and do 10-15 repetitions of 4-5 basic postural exercises at work..
    • After 8 hours of work you will have done 20 to 30 sets and over 300 repetitions. After one week that is 1500 repetitions of “anti-gravity” postural exercises, and that doesn’t count the powerful effect of doing proper, targeted exercises in the gym 2-3 days a week!

Here are some simple exercises you could do at work every hour or two to help promote good posture. Do all of these in the standing position (choose at least 4-5 exercises per day. Total time for the 11 exercises is 7 minutes.)

Watch a demonstration of all the exercises here:


  • Deep breathing: inhale through the nose with arm lift in front of body & exhale through the mouth with arms descending on side of body (10 reps)
  • Neck stretches: side to side; (hold 15 sec)
  • Toe touch to overhead reverse reach (10 reps)
  • Side bends with overhead side reach (10 reps each side)
  • Torso rotations with arm reach at shoulder height (10 reps to each side)
  • Lunge stretch for hip flexors
    • Straight up reach (5 reps)
    • Side bend with reach (5 reps)
    • Rotation with reach (5 reps)
  • Sword draw one arm (10 reps each arm)
  • Chain breakers (15 reps)
  • Scapular retractions (10 reps; hold each for 2-3 seconds)
  • Neck/chin tucks (10 reps; hold each for 2-3 seconds)
  • Deep Breathing: knees slightly bent, bend over 45 degrees with straight back, arms in front of you. Inhale as you stand back up straight and pull elbows back (10 reps)

I hope you can see that just going to the gym alone is not a good thing if you are not doing the right thing! First fix what is out of balance then build on that solid foundation. To correct years of postural imbalance, get an assessment then get some body work to “unlock” the muscles. Then do the right kind of exercise to strengthen and stretch the muscles correctly. And finally make sure you are maintaining your new look with postural resets periodically through-out the day at work. In the beginning you may have to do them every hour at work but in time you can cut it down as you start to adopt better posture more naturally.

In part 2 you will learn the basic exercises to do at the gym to set the stage for effective strength training.

Craig Valency is a Certified Personal Trainer and is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the National Strength & Conditioning Association (CSCS). He earned a bachelors degree from UCLA. He has completed coursework in Kinesiology & Exercise Physiology at UCLA, UCSD & Miramar College for prerequisite work towards a Doctorate in Physical Therapy.

Craig is currently working at Fitness Quest 10, an elite personal training and athletic conditioning facility. He specializes in developing holistic training programs promoting lifestyle change for permanent results in weight loss, toning, strengthening, dynamic flexibility, balance, athletic performance & whole body functional strength & power. He can be reached at cvalency22@hotmail.com.