A few weeks ago, something dawned on me while my girlfriend and I were strolling through our neighborhood in the Sunset. We passed by our favorite local ice cream joint (which is located directly across the street from our gym by some twist of cosmic irony) and were overcome by temptation for the second day in a row. Normally we exercise more restraint, but alas, the ice cream won that day. Jokingly I said, “Well, as long as we workout more times in a week than we eat ice cream, we'll be okay.” I then realized that for most folks, they eat out far more often than they exercise. From that, an idea was born.
Here in San Francisco - where we take our food very seriously - the old adage of ‘move more and eat less’ isn't shown enough love. A lot of people engage in some amount of regular exercise, but the amount of it relative to the volume of food consumed isn't in the best proportion. I realized that most clients I have worked with go out to eat quite a bit more than they engage in vigorous exercise. As such, this version of the ‘move more and eat less’ challenge was born: on a weekly basis, try to get in the gym and perform vigorous exercise more times than you go out to eat.
Every challenge needs some guidelines to be effective. Although I don't want to make a rule set that's overly-specific or restrictive, some structure is needed to adhere to the spirit of the challenge. I'll make some suggestions below to help guide this process.
- The exercise session needs to be a minimum of 45 minutes in length, and it needs to be hard. Something like walking through the city doesn't count. Honestly, many forms of yoga or pilates wouldn't really qualify either. I'm not saying they have no value, but the level of energy expenditure is simply not high enough for our purposes. The exercise should increase your heart rate significantly and make you sweat (and not just because it's outside in the heat or in a hot room). If you can't engage in vigorous exercise for some reason, exercising to the level of a brisk walk for 90 minutes would also suffice.
- As far as whether or not a meal is considered “eating out” is a bit more subjective. However, a good rule of thumb is if you're selecting your meal based purely on taste, then it should probably count as eating out. If the meal is selected in an attempt to make it balanced and nutritious (and reasonably portioned), then it doesn't add to that count. So, if you cook a giant bowl of fettuccine alfredo at home, that's still “eating out.” Conversely, if you get a grilled chicken breast salad at the lunch spot near work, that's not “eating out.” I think you get the idea; it's about the spirit of how the meal is composed, not the technicality of who prepared it or where it was consumed. Additionally, every 3 drinks (1 beer, 1 glass of wine, or one shot of liquor) you consume in a week is considered eating out. So, if you drink a beer or glass of wine every night with dinner, that's 7 drinks or 2 extra counts of eating out for the week. If you go out to eat and drink a few drinks, then you just ate out twice. I know this is a bit of a stretch, but I consider it so impactful that I felt it was worth using our imaginations a bit.
- Tally up both of these things, and try to make sure the number of exercise sessions is greater than the number of times you eat out in a week - it's really that simple. Start by trying to do this for a month, but you can aim to make it more of a long-term lifestyle choice as well.
The beauty of this challenge is that it helps you understand just how much exercise is required to counteract poor nutrition habits. For most people, the sensible choice is to change both habits a bit: exercise a few more times per week, and eat out a few less times per week. However, if eating with tons of freedom is important to you, then you do have the option of trying to balance that out with a massive volume of exercise. As well, if you really don't want to exercise much (I recommend against this option the most) or have health issues that prohibit this, then you can be very strict with your eating habits. Try it out and see how it goes!
Hopefully this arms everyone with yet another tool in the battle to enjoy the finer things in life while staying healthy. If nothing else, it will provide you some perspective on your lifestyle. That's all for today… Cheers!