Jack McNamara: “Start with the end in mind”

Start with the end in mind — Quite often, people have a general goal of weight loss but don’t think through what they’ll do once they reach it. The goal isn’t to lose weight; it’s to be a healthy body weight. So many of us have tried dieting. All too often though, many of us lose 10–20 […]

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Start with the end in mind — Quite often, people have a general goal of weight loss but don’t think through what they’ll do once they reach it. The goal isn’t to lose weight; it’s to be a healthy body weight.

So many of us have tried dieting. All too often though, many of us lose 10–20 pounds, but we end up gaining it back. Not only is yo-yo dieting unhealthy, it is also demoralizing and makes us feel like giving up. What exactly do we have to do to achieve a healthy body weight and to stick with it forever?

In this interview series called “5 Things You Need To Do To Achieve A Healthy Body Weight And Keep It Permanently” we are interviewing health and wellness professionals who can share lessons from their research and experience about how to do this.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jack McNamara.

Described as one of the UK’s most senior practitioners by the sector’s professional body, Jack is a highly experienced Strength Coach and Clinical Exercise Physiologist. Since starting his career in 2005, he has delivered more than 20,000 hours of face-to-face coaching, worked at London’s most exclusive fitness facilities, and taught Exercise Science courses to future leaders in strength coaching.

Specializing in providing sustainable wellness plans to his clients, Jack helps people to build lifestyles that break the cycle of yo-yo dieting once and for all — above all else, he emphasizes that the best theoretical diet and workout plan in the world mean absolutely nothing if they are not realistic and sustainable for the person trying it.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

Unlike many people in the fitness world, I was never really into team sports or exercise when I was a child. I was far more interested in solving math puzzles or understanding how things work than I was throwing a ball around. I guess you could say I was a bit of a late bloomer!

I think natural curiosity has served me well throughout my career in health and fitness, though. I always prioritize the why before addressing the where, when, and how.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

When I graduated high school, I continued to university to study Physics. It was only as an undergraduate student when I truly got into sport and fitness, and that’s when I first discovered the myriad of benefits that regular exercise could deliver. Not only was I getting fitter and stronger, but I was less stressed, slept better, and just felt healthier going about my day-to-day life.

When I needed a job to help with my tuition fees, I applied for a job at the University Fitness Centre, and I guess from there, the rest is history.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

This is an easy one — my Dad. Although he’s never been much of a gym-goer since leaving the Army, my father has always been incredibly active, even now in retirement, proving that you can take responsibility for your health no matter what your circumstances.

More importantly, his career as a mental health professional instilled in me the importance of treating every person as an individual with a unique set of skills, challenges, barriers, and motivations. It drew me to specializing in clinical exercise and rejecting a one-size-fits-all approach.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

There have been plenty of mistakes, but luckily they brought plenty of growth and development too. Early in my career, I worked for a gym chain and turned up to teach what I thought would be a circuit class. When I got there, I find out it was Legs, Bum, and Tums! I spent the next 45 minutes attempting to improvise some Jane Fonda-Esque aerobics routine…

I realized years later that I should have been honest with the people in that class, offered them expert coaching in something I was more familiar with, and provided the opportunity to introduce them to different ways to achieve their desired results. At the very least, it would have saved us all from attempting to grapevine!

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

“If I let go of who I am, I become who I might be” — Lao Tzu.

While it is not always easy to embrace change, it is truly necessary. This quote is all about taking risks and giving ourselves the room we need to grow. If we keep doing what we have always done and never push ourselves to be something more, we’ll never give ourselves the chance to reach our full potential.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

You could say I’m following in my father’s footsteps, as I’m currently working on several projects to help fitness professionals better support people struggling with their mental health.

As a Lecturer for TRAINFITNESS, I am currently developing a specialist course to help fitness professionals utilize their existing skills and expertise to improve their client’s mental wellbeing through physical activity and exercise.

For the benefit of our readers, can you briefly let us know why you are an authority in the fitness and wellness field?

Since 2005 I have had the privilege of helping thousands of people in the health and fitness world. I have worked in strength and conditioning facilities with professional athletes, world-renowned specialist Cancer and Cardiac rehabilitation clinics on London’s Harley Street, and taught exercise physiology courses to master’s degree students at university.

These days, I split my time between mentoring aspiring Personal Trainers for one of the UK’s leading training providers and offering one-to-one virtual coaching for busy professionals worldwide.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about achieving a healthy body weight. Let’s begin with a basic definition of terms so that all of us are on the same page. How do you define a “Healthy Body Weight”?

A healthy weight is one that can be comfortably maintained with “normal” healthy eating, regular physical activity, and without medical problems.

Normal healthy eating means not having to constantly calorie count or being on a permanent diet. Regular physical activity means not being sedentary but also not treating exercise as a way to balance the scales. Exercise should celebrate what our bodies can do, not a punishment for the things we eat.

How can an individual learn what is a healthy body weight for them? How can we discern what is “too overweight” or what is “too underweight”?

Medically speaking, there are some clear indicators of what increases our risk of falling into ill health. Measurements like the Body Mass Index, waist to hip ratio, and body composition tests can provide a quick indication. Still, these types of measures should never be taken alone in a vacuum.

If there has been a period before in your life when you felt healthy, happy, and enjoyed movement, that may well have been the healthiest weight for you. If not, learning healthy habits and finding sustainable physical activities that you enjoy is a great way to move towards the healthiest weight for you.

This might be intuitive to you, but it will be instructive to expressly articulate this. Can you please share a few reasons why being over your healthy body weight, or under your healthy body weight, can be harmful to your health?

Your jeans being a little tighter than they used to be is not any cause for alarm, but being an unhealthy body weight — be that overweight or underweight — can have serious consequences.

Being overweight can lead to severe conditions such as diabetes, coronary heart disease, arthritis, sleep apnea, certain types of cancer, and an increased risk of stroke. It can also affect your quality of life and lead to psychological problems such as depression or low self-esteem.

Being underweight is not good for you either. If you are underweight, you’ll likely lack the nutrients that your body needs to function correctly. A lack of calcium, for example, could increase your risk of osteoporosis, while a lack of iron could lead to anemia, leaving you feeling drained. Being underweight can also weaken your immune system and even cause fertility problems.

In contrast, can you help articulate a few examples of how a person who achieves and maintains a healthy body weight will feel better and perform better in many areas of life?

A healthy body weight means less stress on our joints, deeper sleep, more energy throughout the day, and an ability to enjoy moving and keeping active. If you maintain your weight by including regular exercise, you’ll also notice improved mood, less anxiety, and increased confidence in your own skin.

Ok, fantastic. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you please share your “5 Things You Need To Do To Achieve a Healthy Body Weight And Keep It Permanently?”. If you can, please share a story or an example for each.

Start with the end in mind — Quite often, people have a general goal of weight loss but don’t think through what they’ll do once they reach it. The goal isn’t to lose weight; it’s to be a healthy body weight.

Think about what your routine, diet, and exercise will look like once you achieve your healthy weight. Is that ‘new normal’ realistic and sustainable for you? If you’re not clear on what life will look like once you’re at your healthy body weight, the goal you’re trying to achieve is too hazy. Think about developing consistent behaviors that will help you maintain good health rather than severe restrictions or changes that will be unsustainable in the long run.

If, When, Then — When we start, all of us assume that we will be flawless with our diets and never miss a workout. But that’s just not how life works. There will be birthdays, holidays, sick days, celebrations, commiserations, or days when the cake your colleague brings into work is just too irresistible.

Rather than trying to pretend that we have the willpower to persevere no matter what life throws our way, you can plan what you’re going to do. For example, “If (or when) someone brings cake to the office to celebrate their birthday, I will have a slice, then I will change my evening dessert to berries and yogurt instead of 2 scoops of ice cream.”

Maintaining a healthy weight isn’t about deprivation or constant sacrifice; it’s about balance (or learning how to have your cake and eat it too).

Use your environment — We know that specific scenarios or triggers can cause us to return to our bad habits. That breakfast muffin you get every day with your morning isn’t a conscious choice anymore; it’s a subconscious habit. As soon as you approach the office, your brain takes you to the coffee shop counter and places your order for ‘the usual.’ The walk past the coffee shop becomes a powerful mental cue, which triggers the ingrained habit of walking in and ordering a latte and a muffin.

To break bad habits, we can try to disrupt our environment in some way. This could be by taking a different route to work, going into another coffee shop earlier in your commute, or even eating the muffin with your non-dominant hand just to disrupt the learned sequence and force your conscious mind to reassert itself.

Once you’ve disrupted your bad habits, you can create some healthy ones. For example, by packing your gym kit the night before and having your trainers ready next to the bed before going to sleep every night, you can remove some of the friction associated with getting up before work for a morning workout.

Do not let perfect be the enemy of good enough — Some of us are perpetual optimizers who live lives where perfection is the only acceptable option. Although it’s often good to aim high, aiming for perfection can often prevent us from even getting started.

If we set ourselves an end goal that is particularly rigorous and challenging, the idea of getting started becomes an increasingly daunting task. Instead of trying our best, we don’t try at all for fear of not reaching what may seem like an unattainable standard. This often means we never really set a firm goal — we can tell ourselves we’re keeping our options open and searching for the ‘perfect diet or ‘perfect’ workout plan. Deep down, though, it’s simple self-protection — we’re trying to avoid having to deal with the prospect of failure.

To achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, we need to say goodbye to our inner perfectionists. We can spend our whole lives looking for the best diet and exercise plan, but unless we get started and engage in a little bit of trial and error, nothing is ever going to change.

Consistency over severity — A former colleague of mine used to preach this simple little mantra day in, day out, and I couldn’t agree with it more. Time and time again, coaches see an influx of people joining the gym. They’re committed to transforming their health and getting to their goal weight once and for all. All too often, all too many of these people end up going all-in. They cut out all the indulgent foods they enjoy, give up alcohol, go to high-intensity classes, and work out six days a week. First, they see rapid results, making them feel sure they’re doing the right thing and prompting them to double down on their efforts.

It usually lasts somewhere between 4–12 weeks.

This severe type of “all or nothing” approach is nearly always going to end badly. Granted, through sheer willpower, some people brute force their way through with this approach AND manage to sustain it once they’ve reached their goal. But for most people, this just simply isn’t sustainable. They fall back into old routines, return to what they used to eat and drink, and the weekly gym visits dwindle to three, then one, then none.

Instead of attempting to accomplish everything quickly, we should be patient and aim for consistency instead — small behaviors, which turn into quick wins, all stack up. We can build towards a sustainable healthy lifestyle by taking smaller, consistent steps.

To paraphrase the famous quote by Aristotle: “We are what we repeatedly do. Good health, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

The emphasis of this series is how to maintain an ideal weight for the long term, and how to avoid yo-yo dieting. Specifically, how does a person who loses weight maintain that permanently and sustainably?

There are several things that people who lose weight and sustain it have in common.

They do not adopt a feast or famine view towards diet and exercise. Rather than embarking on restrictive diets or extreme transformation workouts, they make small changes, imbed those changes, then take their next step. They also do not allow themselves to “fall off the horse” — one missed workout or a second slice of chocolate cake does not mean throwing the towel in defaulting back to unhealthy habits. They understand that life has its ups and downs and learn to roll with the punches.

What are a few of the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they try to lose weight? What errors cause people to just snap back to their old unhealthy selves? What can they do to avoid those mistakes?

Dieting. Or, more specifically, adopting a diet mentality. When most people go on a diet, you could characterize it as an unsustainable period of abnormal eating focused solely on achieving a target weight. The problem with this approach is that when we reach our target weight, we stop dieting and go back to eating all the foods (or quantities) we have been depriving ourselves of the entire time. Most of the time, it was this type of eating that got them to the point they wanted to make a change in the first place!

To avoid making this mistake, try focusing on the process goals rather than outcome goals. Making it a goal to eat a certain number of vegetables each day is a way to try and imbed healthy habits that become second nature. This goal does not have an endpoint, so you do not have to worry about what happens once you have achieved it. By aiming for this goal, you will be eating healthier, feeling fuller, and may end up reaching your target weight as a result.

Contrast this with the specific outcome goal of reaching a certain weight. Once the number on the scale reaches the target, the goal is complete, and there is no exit plan or strategy to sustain it.

How do we take all this information and integrate it into our actual lives? The truth is that we all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?

I think the entrepreneur and author Derek Sivers said it best, “If information were all we needed, we’d all be billionaires with six-pack abs.”

I think many of us fail to implement what we already know because we are always on the lookout for that next piece of crucial information. We let our search for the perfect diet or perfect workout plan get in the way of just getting started. We are also quite impatient. As soon as we no longer see results or hit adversity, we are quick to say that the diet or workout plan does not work. Stay patient, persistent, and adaptable.

What has worked for someone else may not work for you, so it’s essential to be open to a bit of trial and error — but remember, success leaves clues!

On the flip side, how can we prevent these ideas from just being trapped in a rarified, theoretical ideal that never gets put into practice? What specific habits can we develop to take these intellectual ideas and integrate them into our normal routine?

Think of a small, achievable goal. Now think of a smaller, more achievable one. Too often, we set ourselves goals that, while possible, prove a little bit daunting or require a little too much from us, especially when our motivation is at a lull.

By starting with tiny habits (mine at some point was doing a single press up next to my bed in the morning), we can begin building a sustainable routine that creates a sense of accomplishment and self-efficacy. My single press-up turned into ten, then twenty, then a small bodyweight circuit every morning. If I had set myself that goal on day one, though, there would have been plenty of mornings when it seemed too daunting, and I would have ended up hitting the snooze button on my alarm instead.

Sustainable results start with tiny habits.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Consistency over severity.

Too much of the fitness industry focuses on pushing yourself as hard as you can. The “go hard or go home” mentality alienates many people and makes the prospect of setting foot inside a gym scary and intimidating. Rather than worrying about how much exercise or physical activity is optimal, the most important thing is to start. After that, some activity is good; more is better.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

I’m a big fan of James Clear’s ability to communicate the scientific literature on habits and personal development in such a friendly and accessible way. Given his background as an athlete and a keen interest in fitness, I’m sure we’d also have plenty to talk about!

How can our readers further follow your work online?

For Fitness Professionals looking to further their careers, you can join me on one of our courses at https://train.fitness

To keep up to date with my Personal Coaching and blog, you can find me at https://jackmac.fit

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.

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