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Aim for Consistency and NOT Perfection with Your Health & Fitness Goals

Written by: Nick Jack
Category: 2014
on 21 January 2021
Hits: 1331

People assume that because I live and breathe health and fitness I never make a mistake, or I never feel the urge to eat a hamburger with fries eat a piece of cheesecake and a have few glasses of red wine with friends or my family. And if someone happens to see me out at a function doing exactly this they will tend to give me a funny look as if to say you cannot eat that. The following question will usually be something like - "that's okay because you will probably go for a 15km run after this to burn off all the calories." While it is true I do not regularly eat junk food or over-eat sugary desserts, I do not avoid them altogether. And I definitely do not use exercise as a form of punishment to burn off the calories. The secret to staying in great shape and still being able to enjoy the finer things in life is CONSISTENCY! This means you must be consistent with your exercise, consistent with your nutrition, consistent with your sleep, and all the various other lifestyle factors that contribute to good health. The people who achieve great health and fitness results are not perfect all of the time and they do not try to be. They accept mistakes are a part of life and understand the secret to success is to aim for consistency.

An All or Nothing Approach Is NOT the Answer

We all want to be better in one way or another when it comes to getting in shape. For some it is their nutrition habits letting them down, for others it may be a lack of workouts and exercise intensity. While we strive to be the best we can be it is not wise to aim for perfection, and it is okay to make mistakes. This is what makes us human and also makes us enjoyable to be around. The person who takes their health and fitness too seriously takes all the fun out of life and really looks at eating healthy and exercising like a job that has to be done, instead of something to enjoy. The secret to getting results is not about being perfect 100% of the time, it is all about staying consistent.

The info-graphic shown below is a great way to sum up the common mistakes we regularly see with people who take the “all-or-nothing” approach to health and fitness.

For starters it is not sustainable or realistic to have any type of exercise and nutrition plan that does not allow for any slip-ups. There will always be occasions where you may not be able to stick religiously to your plan and that is fine. As long as you get back on track the next day and try to remain consistent most of the time you will not suffer any serious setbacks. This is where something like the 80/20 rule is a smarter way to approach your goals.

Use the 80/20 Rule to Stay On Track

The 80/20 rule is a great way to guide you on your quest to achieve great health and fitness results. With regards to your food this means that you aim to eat nutritious foods 80 percent of the time and allow for some mistakes with the other 20 percent. Of course you would try to eat as best as you can, as often as you can, but not aiming for perfection will allow you to live life more freely and without anxiety and stress. This means you will avoid the trap of falling into a roller coaster of emotions that come with eating a treat and developing unhealthy relationships with food and exercise.

This is often how unhealthy bingeing and diseases like bulimia nervosa begin. It is also when people experience food cravings for certain foods as they do their best to restrict themselves. Once again this can do tremendous damage to a person's mental approach to living a healthy lifestyle over the long term.

Below is an example of what the 80/20 rule might look like with nutrition.

You must understand that willpower will never win the war against food cravings for the problem is on biochemical level and not in your head. But most often food cravings, and particularly sweet cravings, are the result of a complex hormonal reaction, one that is often triggered by the very same foods you crave.

Here's how this works:

The hormone leptin has been shown to target taste receptors on your tongue, thereby increasing or reducing cravings for sweet foods. It is believed that leptin is a sweet-sensing modulator (suppressor), and therefore a contributor to the process that regulates food intake. It is likely that either a lack of leptin, or your body's failure to respond to the hormone due to defects in your leptin receptors, contributes to the so-called 'sweet tooth' or sweet cravings that affect so many people. If you eat a diet that is high in sugar and grains, the sugar gets metabolized to fat (and is stored as fat in your fat cells), which in turn releases surges in leptin.

Over time, if your body is exposed to too much leptin, it will become resistant to it (just as your body can become resistant to insulin). And when you become leptin-resistant, your body can no longer "hear" the messages telling it to stop eating, burn fat, so you remain hungry, you crave sweets, and your body stores more fat. Leptin-resistance also causes an increase in belly fat, sending you on a vicious cycle of hunger, fat storage and an increased risk of heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes.

For more detail on this make sure you read this article - How to beat food cravings and speed up your metabolism.

Do Not Use Exercise As Punishment

When someone eats the wrongs foods they instantly feel crap for doing so and now turn to exercise as a form of punishment and try to “burn off” the calories they just ate. Once again this is a very unhealthy relationship to have with nutrition and exercise. All this will do is create body shaming and eventually illness or disease as your body is constantly being placed under attack with stress.

This is also when you see the person who is constantly killing their body with cardio, but they never seem to change in appearance no matter how much they do.

See the article 3 reasons why people do not lose belly fat even when they exercise

Excessive and obsessive exercise habits aren’t healthy in any way. They can close us off from the world outside the gym, keeping us from meaningful life experiences. When people become fixated on exercise, they regularly skip social events in order to get in their workouts, worry on holidays about the exercise they’re missing, or drop once-fulfilling hobbies to devote every non-working moment to their fitness pursuits.

They may exercise every day or almost every day, ignoring the body’s physiological need for recovery, and increasing their risk of stress fractures and overuse injuries. At minimum, they continually get less and less from their workouts as their bodies fail to recover.

Always remember that in order for the body to adapt to your training demands, it must have a period of repair. If you cannot adapt to and cope with the physical and mental demands of training, you will quickly become exhausted. 

Training is designed progressively to overload body systems and fuel stores:

  • If the training stress is insufficient to overload the body's capabilities, NO adaptations will occur!
  • If the workload is too great (progressed too quickly, performed too often without adequate rest), then fatigue follows and subsequent performance will be reduced. Again NO adaptations will occur!
  • Work alone is not enough to produce the best results; you need time to adapt to training stress
  • To encourage adaptation to training, it is important to plan recovery activities that reduce residual fatigue. See article - Best Foods & Methods To Promote Faster Recovery
  • The sooner you recover from fatigue, and the fresher you are when you undertake a training session, the better the chance of improving and having positive adaptations.

Let's take a close look at how to work out exactly how much is enough.

A number of factors impact optimal training frequency, how hard to train and how long to train. These include the equipment and coaching available, individual rates of recovery after hard weight training, and the individual’s ability to sustain intense exercise.

If you want to see more information about how often to train for strength, endurance, or even rehabilitation make sure you read the article - How to avoid over-training and maximize your workouts.

Stop Counting Calories

I have never been a fan of calorie counting as a strategy for achieving great health. For starters this is all based upon the assumption that if you lose weight you are automatically healthy which is not true at all.

Our society’s obsession with counting calories is ruining our health and a big part of this problem is the fitness industry itself that prioritizes reduction in size over actual health, strength, or function. How many fitness studios market themselves based on the number of calories they torch in an hour; watches and smartphones with apps beep at us if we haven’t hit our calorie-burn goal for the day, and in most fitness publications, “fitness” often just means “exercise for weight loss.”

When it comes to food it is even worse and once again I never endorse a strategy of counting calories and this is why.

For example, my dad recently has lost over 30kg due to cancer treatment where he has been unable to eat any solid food for months, and the radiation treatment he is receiving daily has made him so sick he struggles to eat any food at all. He is now at a healthy weight range according to a BMI chart, but he is far from healthy. While this is an extreme example this is how a person can lose weight from extreme methods but it comes at a huge price.

By restricting calories you can definitely lose weight, but your body will most likely be starving of nutrients and minerals it needs to sustain optimal health. This is not healthy and it is not sustainable over a long period as once again it requires complete strict eating that does not allow any mistakes.

Eat foods according to their nutritional value and you will make a big difference to your health.

Counting calories is also fundamentally flawed. There is no way you can really trust that the calorie (and macronutrient) numbers you see on food packages are accurate. The way they’re calculated, if they’re calculated at all is far from perfect. And, even if food package numbers were precise, once the food is cooked, or chopped, or blended, the amount of energy available for digestion and absorption changes.

And if you think your latest Apple watch is helping you think again. More and more people are using fitness devices to track their activity levels. While these things can be useful tools, but they can also cause problems and backfire.

A 2016 study looked at the energy expenditure on several Fitbit Products and the Jawbone UP24 and found the devices overestimated energy expenditure by 16-40% during activities like walking, jogging, and climbing stairs. And a 2017 study investigated the accuracy of seven commercially available wrist-worn devices, including the Fitbit Surge and Apple watch.

While the devices were pretty accurate for heart rate, they were all off for energy expenditure by 27.4% to 93%. If your activity tracker is reporting you burned 600 calories... At a 30% error rate, this number could be overestimated by ~ 180 calories; and at 40%, this could be a ~ 240 calorie over estimation.

Then there’s what happens once that food enters your body…

In the end, even something that seems as simple as knowing how many calories you’re taking in (and absorbing) can be influenced by dozens of unexpected factors that can dramatically change the result of what happens.

The infographic below is one of Precision Nutrition's takes on this.

If you are worried about eating too much and feel portion control is a problem, one of the best ways to get on top of this is to train yourself to eat slowly. One of the most important benefits of eating slowly is that it gives your body time to recognise that you’re full. It takes about twenty minutes from the start of a meal for the brain to send out signals of satiety. And it is fair to say that most people’s meals don’t even last that long!

University of Rhode Island researchers examined how eating speed affected the early stages of digestive processing by observing 60 young adults eat a meal.

  • Slow eaters consumed 2 ounces of food per minute.
  • Medium-speed eaters consumed 2.5 ounces of food per minute.
  • Fast eaters consumed 3.1 ounces per minute. They also took larger bites and chewed less before swallowing.

This means that not only are fast eaters putting more food down in a given amount of time, that food isn’t as well-processed. If your meal makes you burp a lot or leaves you feeling bloated and sluggish, take a good look at how quickly you are eating.

Read the article - Are you eating too fast for more information on this.

Okay we have seen what I don't like to do, so let's look at how I try to teach healthy relationships with eating and exercise by focusing on the process!

Focus on the Person You Want to Become

As I have just explained I have never paid much attention to regularly weighing people on the scales or doing skin fold measurements like so many other trainers and dieticians. The reason for this is that I find people become obsessed with what the scales would say and use extreme measures to make the number lower, even if it was at the at the expense of their health.

Instead of focusing on what the scales say or what your skin-fold measurements are, I prefer to measure my client’s progress by how well they execute the PROCESS to lose get fit and healthy. What exactly do I mean by the process?

This is where I will look at things like their exercise log, how much sleep they get each night, the quality of food they eat, or how often they eat. All of these things are processes required to obtain health, and consequently lose weight and improve fitness. If each one of these improves to a level better than it was before then they will achieve their ultimate goal.

A powerful quote to keep in the back of your head is shown below.

"Instead of focusing on the outcome of what you want to achieve, focus on the person you want to become" - James Clear

It does not matter if I have a cheat day here or there as long as the process is constantly heading in the right direction. If something comes up in my life and I fall off track I just adjust where I am at until things settle down and then get back on track.

The past 2-3 months has been really difficult for me in terms of exercising like I normally would as I have had to spend so much time driving my dad to hospital for treatments. At the same time trying to restart my business after Covid lock-downs it is fair to say I have not much left emotionally or physically to do what I used to.

While I may not be able to exercise like I used to, I make an extra effort to eat better than ever and also get good quality sleep and rest to allow for the change to my current lifestyle. The key lesson here is that, like it or not, the game of life always changes and it always keeps going. There is no timeout and things never stay easy for long.

You can’t escape work, personal, and family demands.

We all know we’re not always going to be at our absolute best. For a while everything is running fine but most of the time we have to constantly adapt to the things that come up in life. And they way to do this is instead of stopping I simply "adjust the dial".

Here is how it works.

When I am feeling great and I have plenty of time to train I will dial my workout volume and intensity up to a level of 6 or 7 on the chart below. However, if I am injured, stressed or time poor I will dial my workouts down to the level that is appropriate for me at the time.

I never stop, I just adjust.

I will do the same thing with my nutrition and lifestyle habits to ensure my body is able to cope with the demands of life and avoid putting my own health at risk. Often when the exercise goes down in volume and intensity my nutrition will dial up to counter this.

You can see a detailed explanation of all of these examples in the article - How to stay on track when life throws you a curveball.

The Only Time Perfection May Be Necessary

Now the only time I encourage people to be very strict with what they do with the nutrition and exercise habits is when they are in very poor health. For example a person with Cancer, Heart Disease, or Type 2 Diabetes cannot afford to make too many mistakes as they are simply running out of time.

For example, my dad who has cancer really cannot afford to get lazy with his nutrition, give up on his exercise or sneak in a few cigarettes with some beers at the end of the day. He needs to be very close to perfect with all the health principles to give his body every chance of beating the disease. He used all his chances up years ago and now is paying a price for it.

Even a person with back pain needs to develop very strict routines in the beginning if they want to beat their problem for good.

While you may not be aiming for 100% perfection I would be aiming for much more than 80%. I like to think of this like you have used up most of your chances already and now you need to spend time building up some reserve to be able to make a few mistakes and get away with it. For many people this is very difficult as many of the poor lifestyle choices they had used for many years were the reason they developed these terrible diseases in the first place.

Do You Need Help Putting A Plan Together?

To help you put together everything we have discussed in this article I have created a detailed PDF report that provides with everything you need to know about exercise and nutrition to get your health back. This is one of the most comprehensive reports I have put together and due to the health problems we have witnessed in 2020 this is undoubtedly a must read for anyone who feels vulnerable with their health right now. Click the image below to get your copy.

Make sure you check out all the FREE REPORTS and our index page of over 300 articles for more information on almost every topic.


We know in life that things never go perfectly to plan all the time. It would be nice if it did, but it is unrealistic to think like that, so we have to accept that mistakes are inevitable and a part of the journey of staying in great shape. The 80/20 rule is a great way to stay on track most of the time and not get hung up on the mistakes when they happen.

The only time you do need to become stricter with your exercise and nutrition habits is when you suffer a severe illness, disease, or injury that will take some consistent health efforts to get you back to full capacity. Once you are where you need to be you can afford to make some mistakes again but you must build some reserves within the body so it can handle the demands of life.

If you live in Melbourne and would like to know more about our personal training or core strength programs click the image below to request a free consultation and I will get back to you within 24 hours to schedule time.

About The Author

Nick Jack is owner of No Regrets Personal Training and has over 15 years’ experience as a qualified Personal Trainer, Level 2 Rehabilitation trainer, CHEK practitioner, and Level 2 Sports conditioning Coach. Based in Melbourne Australia he specializes in providing solutions to injury and health problems for people of all ages using the latest methods of assessing movement and corrective exercise.


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