Chapter 12: The Virtuous Cycle, Level 3

Chapter 12.

The Virtuous Cycle, Level 3


When you stop doing things for fun you might as well be dead.

—Ernest Hemingway


This evolution can take a decade.

If this thought scares you, tell me what other all-important plans you have for the next 10 years.

It’s progression versus stagnation, or even regression. Say you’re 40. Ten years from now you could be much fitter, carrying around a lot less fat and much more muscle, be running marathons or climbing mountains, hoisting kettlebells or kayaking oceans, cycling the countryside or swimming the sea, looking and feeling great, excited about the next 50 years of your life and unable to imagine the person you used to be.

Or you could just be 10 years closer to death.

There is nothing wrong with the micro-pace; your body and mind need time to adjust. If you’ve been overweight, inactive and eating junk for a long time, you’ll experience a psychological and physiological rebellion at changing all that. Just know that time is on your side. Jack LaLanne always said it was never too late to start, and he was right.

            Level 3 isn’t for everyone, but you can give it a shot. How do you know if you’re ready to go for it? Well, if living at Level 2 has become comfortable, this is a good indication. If you feel you’re ready for a new challenge, if vanity is calling to you even more and you want to be a little slimmer or a little more muscular. If you want to run a longer race, faster. If you want to be even stronger, kick even more ass …

If you read this section and say, “Yeah, I want that,” you’re ready for Level 3.


Level 3, Exercise: Workout Warrior

A Workout Warrior, in my book, is someone who goes hard a good six hours a week or more. This is where ambitious fitness, health and weight loss goals are achieved. This is where you start to get amazing visual outcomes and major improvements in physical performance. It’s not mandatory that you become a full-blown Workout Warrior, but this is where life starts to get rock star, so don’t rule it out as a possibility.

I am a Workout Warrior and my body is a great place to live. Oh, and you know how I’ve harped on about caloric burn not being that significant a contributor to weight loss. That’s not always true for Workout Warriors. We can burn a lot of calories each week; it adds up.

“I’ve been consciously physically active for 20 years, but more so in the last 10 because I eat like a horse and I don’t want to weigh 300 pounds,” singer Sarah McLachlan told me. She explained her diet to me and she’s exaggerating about the horse part, but Sarah does enjoy her French fries. She also has an intense fitness regimen, which, while not a license to run amok dietarily, does provide caloric leeway. But of course her motivations go far beyond being able to eat more.

“I also really like the way I feel when I exercise,” she said. “It energizes me and is a great stress reliever.”

For me, a slow week is six hours of exercise. Six hard hours. Not only have I made my body used to this, but I’ve also taught it to crave such intense efforts. Sometimes I average closer to eight or even 10 hours, especially in the summer when my bike and I are good friends.

I have a wife, kids and a lot of demands on my time, but fitness is my number-one hobby. This is my playtime. I don’t watch double-header football games or putter around in the garage or play World of Warcraft or watch too much TV. It’s okay to like these things, but exercise needs to be high on your priority list.

Margaret is also a busy person. And she runs like the wind. A lot.

I’ve learned to love exercise so much that if I won the lottery and didn’t have to work, I’d spend even more time working out. When you achieve Workout Warrior status, you start trying to jig your schedule to find more time to exercise. You seem to be on a continual mission to increase your FILD.

We Workout Warriors are a little crazy that way. You can be that way too. You’d be welcome in our asylum. It’s fun here.

“Gym was what I thought about all day,” Kyle Shewfelt, an Olympic gymnast who took gold in Athens 2004, told me. “It was just so much fun being upside down and figuring out what crazy things my body could do.”

“My passion for the sport and people who enjoy propelling themselves through a winter landscape along with me is something I tap into even in my racing,” Olympic cross-country skier Chandra Crawford told me. “On the sunny day in Italy when I woke up to my chance to race the world’s best, what did I focus on? To live the day with full undiluted passion for the sport. It worked!”

It sure did. Crawford won gold in Torino 2006.

This mentality takes a long time to develop. Virtuous Cycle scheduling aside, you may need to spend years in the Fitness Focused level to achieve it. Be patient and persevere. If you want it to, it will come.

What will come? Well, as with Level 2, there will be a focus on added frequency of exercise, increased intensity, lengthier training sessions and further experimentation into other types of activity that are more difficult (remember, it’s all about getting FILD). But the difference this time is that you’ll be looking for these things because you want them, you crave them, not because we’re telling you this is what you need to do.

Believe it or not, this level is less about pushing your body than it is about pushing your brain. Train your mind to crave it, and the body just gets pushed. Not only that, but this improved mental toughness further improves your ability to make better food choices. Don’t forget that part.


Positive Self-Talk

It’s not just general attitudes that matter but also situational ones that take place from moment to moment during exercise.

Remember the story of The Little Engine That Could? He/she/it was going up that hill and saying, “I think I can, I think I can” over and over. This is positive self-talk. It’s about using a bit of self-hypnosis to hype yourself up and focus on the task at hand. Professional athletes use it all the time.

Imagine this scenario: you are an offensive lineman in the NFL and some 300-pound monstrosity across from you wants to mow you down so he can rip your quarterback’s spleen out. Knowing your quarterback can’t throw touchdowns without his spleen, you want to do a good job and prevent this defender getting past. You can’t be thinking, This guy is going to kill me. Instead, you have to believe this: I’m going to mess him up. I’m going to hit him so hard that his grandchildren will be born dizzy.

Now that’s a winning attitude.

I know you don’t play in the NFL, and you probably don’t get into too many situations where people’s spleens are at stake, but there is merit in having a “No prisoners!” approach to exercise. Here are some examples that might be more applicable to your life:

Lifting weights:

  • Bad: I feel weak. My lifting is going to be awful today. I don’t even know why I bothered going to the gym.
  • Good: I feel as if I’ve got a mini Schwarzenegger in each butt cheek. I’m going to do some serious squats today!


Planning a run after work:

  • Bad: This day was a major drag. It could teach things that suck how to suck. I don’t want to run today. I want ice cream washed down with gin and tonic.
  • Good: I can’t wait to get out of this office and go for a run outside. It’s going to be awesome!


Coming up to a hill on your bicycle:

  • Bad: I hate this hill. I’m going to walk my bike up it.
  • Good: I’m going to make this hill beg for mercy.


Adopting a new fitness program:

  • Bad: Another year, another broken New Year’s resolution.
  • Good: I’m excited about learning this new exercise. It’s going to be fun.


I’m more in favor of motivating people with scientific facts rather than inspirational quotations, but there is one that comes to mind that seems appropriate. It was said by Henry Ford: “If you think you can do a thing, or think you can’t do a thing, you are right.”


Final Thoughts on Exercise

I know we’ve rammed a lot of science down your throat in this book, but to wrap up my final thoughts on exercise I’m going to channel Oprah just a little. Are you ready for the group hug?

I want you to think about what it means for you to be a Workout Warrior. What is it like for you to push yourself to the wall?

Now imagine that you’ve been exercising for a while, and you’re Fitness Focused. You’ve been training pretty hard, making physical improvements, and now it’s time to take it to the next, butt-kicking level.

But perhaps you’re a little afraid—you maybe got that way when I started throwing around those “six-plus hours a week” numbers—because this is where things get real. This is where you find out what you’re made of. Just FYI, finding out what you’re made of is painful.

And awesome. Don’t forget awesome.

Now let’s do one of those visualization exercises. I want you to think about the next time you’re exercising. It could be running, cycling, weightlifting, in a boot camp, in a pool or even in your extreme yoga class. Think about what it would be like to push it as hard as you can and keep it there. Think about the pain, then think about embracing it. Imagine your lungs rasping and your legs burning and your sweat pouring. Imagine that it’s a while until it’s over and you still push until the end.

Now imagine how it feels when it stops.

Well, you usually think, Thank God that’s over for a while, but imagine what it’s like after you no longer feel as if you might blow your groceries and pray for death or pass out (note: hyperbole). I mean, think hard about it. Consider what it feels like inside your mind to find out how far and how hard you can physically push yourself. Wonder what it’s like to revel in the fact that, today, I went as hard as I could.

Do you think it’s going to feel good? Well, you’d be wrong. It feels much better than good.

Do you want that feeling? Are you ready for that feeling? If yes, you’re ready to become a Workout Warrior, so go out there and push it to the wall.

And then push through.


[A-head]Level 3, Eating: Eating for Excellence

Are we there yet?

Yes, we’re there. Well, except for the troubleshooting chapter and the conclusion. That stuff is important too. Make sure you read it.

But first, let’s finish this.


CUT Fast Food and REPLACE with Home-Cooked Meals

[main tect]I’m not saying you have to cut all fast food, but you’re at a point now that it can become a lot more rare. You’ve worked with your schedule. You’re figuring things out. You’ve got the slow cooker and the Glass Lock container thing happening to make sure you’ve always got healthy meals to choose in case of emergency, meals that can go from freezer to nuker and be ready in minutes.

You’re better at planning for thawing things out, making food on the fly with fresh ingredients, or just settling for grilled cheese sandwiches and a bowl of grapes or some sliced-up oranges. Dinner at home doesn’t always have to be some big time-sucking event. Fast food is for emergencies, for those situations when you have no choice because time ran away from you. It happens to everyone, but work on making it happen less often.


[B-head] CUT Eating Until Full and REPLACE with Eating Until Satisfied

In chapter 6 I mentioned an old Chinese adage, “Eat until you are eight-tenths full.” You don’t have to clean your plate. You don’t have to be stuffed. You can experiment and learn how much food you need to make it to your next meal without being ravenous. The trick is to be fueled. Never starving, never stuffed. And only a little hungry before bed.

For the emotional eaters—those eating for psychological rather than physiological reasons—exercise should by now have made a serious dent in this problem, as explained in chapter 4. So use the new willpower to your advantage. And in the spur of the moment, if you feel a desire to binge, consider a brief exercise binge instead until the feeling passes.


CUT Frozen/Boxed Dinners and REPLACE with Fresh Ingredients

Eating at home isn’t such a great thing if what you’re eating is chickens strips, fish sticks and salt-laden dinners out of a box. That stuff is garbage. You need to cut that out and get a bit of your chef on. As I said, it doesn’t always have to be fancy. Know that you’ll learn how to be efficient and throw something together last minute that’s fresh, lower in calories and healthy. You’ll learn how to shop in a way that ensures you always have these ingredients on hand. It takes some time to develop this kind of skill power. Keep working on it, and remember the free recipes on my site.


CUT Back Fatty Meats and REPLACE with Leaner Choices

In chapters 2 and 5 we talked about the dangers of fat. If you need a refresher, suffice it to say that fatty foods have a high caloric density and are extra yummy, a fact that promotes overconsumption. By cutting back on fatty meats, you can lower both calories and reward value, the latter of which further serves to lower caloric intake because you eat less.

Most red meat is higher in fat, though cuts like flank and top sirloin steak, as well as extra-lean ground beef, are better choices. Poultry without the skin is lean, but if the skin is on it’s a fatty choice. Bacon is fatty too, which is why it tastes so awesome. Some fish is fatty, like salmon, but these are mostly healthy fats, so they’re okay.

So choose the leaner cuts of meat and remove the skin from chicken.


CUT Back on Red Meat and REPLACE with Poultry and Fish

This is an additional way to reduce calories, because chicken and fish can be more satiating for a lower number of calories, as long as it’s not battered and/or deep-fried. Part of the reason is that many people perceive red meat to have a higher reward value. They like it more, so it’s easier to eat more.

Another reason for making this switch is to improve health.

See, red meat, especially the smoked/packaged varieties like bacon, sausage, baloney and ham can be seriously unhealthy. A number of studies show that they cause a profound increase both in cardiovascular disease and cancer.1 Another interesting study, which appeared in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 2010, looked at 12,555 deaths over a 26-year period. It showed that people who ate plant-based low-carbohydrate diets were fine, but “a low-carbohydrate diet based on animal sources was associated with higher all-cause mortality in both men and women.”2

Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and tuna is great for you, and easy to prepare. My grocery store often has salmon on for cheap because the next day is the best-before date, and I have an excellent money-saving strategy. I buy a bunch and freeze some, plus cook some that night. Salmon that’s getting close to its best-before can taste a little fishier, but a few drops here and there of lemon juice prior to cooking make that disappear. It tastes fresh. My family can never tell the difference.


CUT Back on Meat for Dinner and REPLACE with Vegetarian Dinner

Try it now and then. Start with once a week. Get the family involved. It won’t kill you.


CUT Eating before Bed and REPLACE with … Nothing

Well, not nothing. Remember the strategies we gave you in chapter 6 for going to bed a little hungry? Try those instead of eating.

Going to bed a little hungry is one of the most effective weight loss strategies that I know. You focus on staying fueled throughout the day. Eat breakfast, eat lunch, have a small second lunch or a light snack, eat dinner and then stop!

It’s a tough one to do at first, but try. You don’t have to do it every night, but if you’re determined, this is one you can get good at and it becomes sustainable.

Crash diets aren’t sustainable because the intense hunger causes pain, and in this land of plenty you can only put up with such suffering for so long before you lose your mind and inhale half the menu at the Cheesecake Factory. The beauty of going to bed hungry is that the pain is much less and the time period is short, because appetite largely resets overnight.

You will be hungry when you wake up, making you want to eat breakfast, and that’s a good thing.

Just remember not to go to bed so hungry that you get up and eat in the middle of the night.


Final Tip—the Booze

If you can cut a bit more alcohol too, do that. Or not. Your call.



Okay, grasshopper, we’ve come a long way. It’s time to wrap this book up. Next is a troubleshooting chapter about dealing with illness and injury, and then we’re on to my final words on how you can keep this amazing new body of yours.

Turn the page …




  1. An Pan et al., “Red Meat Consumption and Mortality: Results from 2 Prospective Cohort Studies,” Archives of Internal Medicine 172, no. 7 (2012): 555–63; World Cancer Research Fund / American Institute for Cancer Research, “Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective,” Washington, DC: AICR, 2007.
  2. Teresa Fung et al., “Low-Carbohydrate Diets and All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality: Two Cohort Studies,” Annals of Internal Medicine 153, no. 5 (September 2010): 289–98.