By Yajen Tan
I tried to get toned during my freshmen year in college.
And guess what?
I failed miserably.
As an 18-year old, blessed with freedom in an ecosystem of poor decision-making, I found the perfect recipe for disaster. Without going too far down that rabbit hole, I just want to inform you that if you’re trying – there’s hope for you.
I started out with plenty of horrible habits way before my college years.
To list just a few of them…
- My love of potato chips. I would pair homework assignments with a large bag of chips, two to three times a week.
- I was addicted to soda. I made a habit of pairing my chili cheese dog with a double gulp, every day after school, for months on end.
- Fast food was my go to snack. Cheap and delicious (or so I thought at the time) was all it took to meet my requirements as a kid. Two chicken sandwiches and two cheeseburgers for four bucks? I’ll take it.
On top of all that, I grew up in a culture where I was always reminded to eat more, more, and – you guessed it – MORE.
But somehow I broke free of that rhythm.
Now I’m sitting here today, in the best shape of my life, teaching people how to do the same. I now feel energized, awake, and more driven than I ever have before I made my transformation.
The coolest part of staying toned is that it takes me almost no effort. In fact, it’s when I start trying harder that I begin to fall off the wagon.
What’s my secret?
Why I wanted to get toned
I always idolized the movie stars and models. It wasn’t the lifestyle or the fame that caught my eye, but the way that they were able to look toned, sleek, and amazing all year round.
So I set out to do the same.
I tried many tactics. I went down a bodybuilding path where I scarfed down protein shakes and creatine like I was on route to becoming the next Arnold Schwarzenegger.
It kind of worked. I did end up burning through 10 pounds of fat in just 4 weeks’ of time. Disclaimer, I also trained at an intensity that left me sore, from head to toe, 7 days a week. But I was happy with my result. Who wouldn’t be?
However, I found out that losing weight was not as sustainable as I had thought. It was tough to maintain such a high-intensity and high-frequency program for the simple desire of looking good. I was training 6-7 days a week, for up to 2 hour sessions.
This is where I realized that I didn’t really care that much about looking like Zac Efron and that I just wanted a healthy, functioning body. That realization helped me shift my focus towards another route.
I started making simple changes:
- Cutting out added sugars
- Adding more fiber into my diet
- Eating more assorted fruits and vegetables
- Focusing meals around leaner proteins
And guess what?
It totally worked. I actually lost way more weight than I had set out to lose. And yes, I was finally “toned”.
The truth behind what it means to “get toned”
“I just want to get a little more toned”. – said just about everyone who ever stepped foot in a gym.
Although there’s not an actual textbook definition of what it means to get toned, people always refer back to that term. What you’re really referring to, when you say “get toned”, is the reduction of body fat and development of lean muscle tissue. Here comes a little breakdown of body composition.
Your body has two main types of tissue that you’ll want to focus on: adipose (fat) tissue and muscle tissue.
Muscle tissue is what gives your body shape and definition. If you examine the bodies (my scientific way of saying “check them out”) of competition ready body builders, their body fat is incredibly low and you get the chance to really see every little muscle in high definition.
When we take a look at the bodies of models, who typically have more body fat than bodybuilders, we can see the difference. The increase fat volume creates additional rounding out above the muscle. This is typically closer to the look that people refer to when they want to get toned.
As body fat increases, the rounding effect continues to grow. That’s usually where body fat usually exceeds people’s desires.
In order to get toned, you’ll have to
- Increase muscle mass for definition and volume
- Reduce body fat for curves and surface area
Body image expectations vs. reality
We often get carried away by the beautiful figures of models and actors. What we don’t realize is what it takes to achieve and maintain those figures.
Zac Efron got into phenomenal shape for the Baywatch movie in just 3 months. According to his trainer, Patrick Murphy, Zac’s diet for the Baywatch movie looked something like this:
“At its core, this was a whole-food diet. Zac stayed away from all highly refined, processed foods. No flour products whatsoever. So he could have quinoa, but not quinoa crackers. He could have brown rice, but not brown-rice pasta. Same with fruit. He could have an apple, but not apple juice.”
With all that dieting, Zac was allowed a maximum of one high-carbohydrate cheat meal per week to maintain his metabolism. If that doesn’t sound tough enough,
“[Zac] went through a lot of two-a-days. I’d put him through a serious weight-training workout, then he’d do lifeguard training for two or three hours, or bike for about 30 miles.”
So if a ripped beach body is what you’re looking for guys, it’s about time to cut out that cream and sugar from your coffee, and trade in your day job for a gym membership.
After hearing about the amazing results that Patrick Murphy helped Zac achieve, Alexandria Daddario decided that she wanted in. But the results didn’t come easy.
Alexandra trained 4-5 times per week with “hour-long, high-intensity workouts using free weights, sliders, TRX straps, resistance bands, and BOSU balls“. She mentioned that “there were times she had to take a break because she was overwhelmed with nausea”.
Reminders like this can really help give us a little perspective, when it comes to setting realistic body goals for ourselves. I absolutely love to set big goals for myself and all my clients, but the ambition and drive must match that goal.
The secret to get toned and stay fit all year round
I’ve learned a lot in the ten years I’ve spent between pursuing my own fitness journey and coaching dozens of others.
I’ve realized that:
- Appearance-based motivation doesn’t last
- Habits and discipline beat motivation
- It’s really not that hard to stay in shape – if you take the right steps
The most surprising thing that I’ve learned is – it can be so easy to stay toned all year round. I really want to emphasize that.
It’s really just about adopting the habits and behaviors that will ensure that you don’t have to force yourself to resort to nasty supplements and harmful diet that don’t even work. Yes, that means you’re going to have to make better eating choice, and yes, that does mean you’ll have to exercise a bit.
But on the flip side, the benefits will literally change your life.
I’ve experienced so many positive benefits from taking care of my body, just a few being:
- Better focus and productivity throughout the day
- Abundant energy that I never knew existed
- A body that I’m proud of – both in performance and looks
- The blessing to eat pizza and sip on margaritas without a worry to my health
If you’re thinking about taking leap and starting to make better lifestyle decisions for your body and your health, don’t wait. I promise that you won’t regret it.
Appearance-based motivation doesn’t last
I’ve tried, and so have a few of my clients, multiple times to workout and diet for just appearance alone, and 9 times of out 10, the attempts either fail or fail to last for very long.
It’s tough to find the drive to continue when you don’t have a strong why. We all want to feel beautiful, but weight loss is not the right way to accomplish that.
A couple more impactful “whys” that I’ve heard are:
- I want to feel more focused and productive to succeed at my job
- I want to be an amazing example for my children to follow
- I want to reduce my odds of chronic diseases
If you’re trying to get in better shape this year, take a moment to first find out your why. Why are you trying to get toned and stay fit?
Are trying to lead a better example for your children? Are you trying to perform better in your career or business? Do you want to live a long and prosperous life that isn’t plagued by preventable diseases?
As soon as you find the true reason why you want to get in shape, you’ll have a much stronger drive to achieve your goal.
Habits and discipline beat motivation
“I don’t have the motivation…”
Truth is, I don’t either. Motivation is something that comes and goes. Instead of relying on motivation to keep you up and running, focus on developing the discipline you’ll need to maintain certain habits and behaviors that will propel you to your success.
Here are some of the habits and behaviors that I recommend if you’re just starting out.
4 ways to create a fitness-promoting environment
“You are the average of the five people who you spend the most time with” – Jim Rohn.
That also extends to the environments that you place yourself in. If your goal is to drink less alcohol, or cut out drinking completely, then spending weeknights at happy hour probably won’t support your goal. It’s tough enough to overthrow old habits, so why make it any harder for yourself?
Throw out the junk food to make healthier choices
Cheetos are delicious.
Sadly, delicious doesn’t quite make for a thinner waistline or tighter butt.
The first step to making healthier eating choices is to throw out all the junk. If you have sweets, chips, or beer laying around the house, then there’s really nothing stopping you from indulging when the cravings come knocking at the door.
After you toss the junk, try to load up your home with a couple healthier options like:
- Popcorn (seasoned without oil or butter)
- Hard-boiled egg
- Low-fat greek yogurt
- Veggies with hummus dip
I understand that fruits and nuts don’t sound as appetizing as as a bag of cheddar cheese ruffles or a couple chocolate chip cookies, but these option all pack a ton more nutrients than the usual junk foods that you find packaged on the grocery shelves. If you need any more reasons, remember that nutrients are more likely to fuel your body, rather than clog up your arteries!
Make the decision to snack healthier to make it easier for you to stay in shape all year round.
Cut out the sugar to tone up your waistline
This is one of the easiest changes that you can use to jump start results.
Sugar is something that has absolutely zero benefits for your body. Not only are added sugars void of any nutritional value, it can also create increased risk for disease through chronic low-grade inflammation.
Additionally, sugar has displayed addictive properties, when consumed in excess, and even produces symptoms of withdrawal, when people begin to cut it out of their diets. That means that cutting out sugar can be tough. But you probably know that already. When cutting out added sugars from your diet, it’s important to make sure that you have a strong plan set in place so that you can keep your body feel its’ best throughout the process.
If you’re ready to cut sugar out of your diet for good, check my free 10-Day Mind & Body Detox program. You’ll get the recipes, strategies, and guidance you need to feel amazing in only 10 days!
Plan events ahead to avoid self-sabotage
Friends and family can often become barriers when you’re trying to get in shape.
Many people started off their transformation journey, driven and ready to succeed, but as soon as your coworker asks you out for dinner, you’re stuck in a dilemma. Are you going to let your coworker down or break some boundaries?
Luckily, you can plan ahead to avoid situations like this.
Make sure you communicate clearly with your friends and family of the goal that you’re trying to achieve, and then plan out a couple of alternative options that you can suggest.
For example, compare
“I don’t want to eat steak and lobster, there’s too much fat.”
“Dianne, I probably forgot to mention this to you, but I’m trying to lose 35 pounds so that I don’t have to be afraid of what I hear at my next doctor’s visit. I hope you wouldn’t mind supporting me by eating something that my program allows.”
And if at that point they still don’t submit, you probably have to reconsider whether or not you should still associate with that person any more.
Here are a couple of options to replace calorie-laden date nights:
- Workout in the gym
- Walk or hike in the park (super relaxing and great for conversation)
- Meal prep together
- Watch a movie and bring your own snacks
The possibilities are really endless.
The coolest part about this is that you now have the opportunity to pursue your goal, and you might even find a partner who is interested in joining in!
Build pleasure into your routine
I love beer and pizza. Bet you didn’t expect to hear that.
I still get weird looks when I say that with my personal trainer shirt on.
If I asked you what foods could you not live without, you know exactly what would cross your mind.
This is why I always recommend people just shoot for maintaining proper diet and nutrition for at least 85% of the time. That means either having your meals planned and ready to go, or at the very least, guidelines that you’ll abide to no matter what happens.
That other 10-15% of the time, enjoy yourself. No matter what your goal with fitness or nutrition is, you and I both only have a finite amount of time left with our bodies. Don’t get so caught up in trying to get toned, or even ripped, that you start to cut out the things you love.
The key is moderation. You also don’t want to get so caught up in pleasure that you let your health and wellness slip away. Become aware of the foods that you truly enjoy, and make sure that you’re allowing yourself the opportunity to enjoy them.
When I want a beer, I’ll have a beer. If you know me well, sometimes I’ll even have a few.
But you’ll never ever see me walking around with a soda, because I understand that I don’t even like drinking soda enough (don’t get me started on root beer floats though…) to be putting that into my own body.
How I stay toned without giving up pizza and margaritas
“Slow is smooth and smooth is fast”
That slogan from the military has a lot of application in day to day success.
Whether you’re trying to make healthier eating choices, start exercising more regularly, or just losing that unwanted weight, you’ve got a goal. The biggest mistake people often make with a new goal is diving in at full speed.
Many of us have heard the term yo-yo dieting. It refers to the progress that most dieters experience. Fast results, followed by a relapse that throws people right back to where they started – if not further.
The reason why this happens is that people jump into these diets and make huge lifestyle changes that they aren’t able to maintain for very long. This ends up causing people to crash and burn.
If your goal is better physique, especially year round, start small. Make small, but consistent actions that will get you closer to your goal.
Most importantly, step back and figure out what are the habits and behaviors that a toned, fit person would need to function?
Luckily for you, most of the answers are included below.
Note that the following sections are just to give you an outline on how you can craft your own routine that will guarantee to keep you in tip-top-shape all year round.
When you’re ready to commit to make more out of your body and health, try to adopt a couple of these habits and play around to see what fits the best for you!
As we mentioned earlier, achieving a toned, tight look requires you to reduce your body fat and maintain lean muscle mass. Exercise is a perfect tool to help you you check both boxes.
But with all of the exercise possibilities that exist, which is the most suitable for you?
Although that question might take some trial and error from your part, I’ll do my best to breakdown a couple recommendations that I have.
These are a few of the ways that I would recommend for you to get your exercise in:
- Recreational sports
- Strength training
- Endurance-based cardio
This is one that I find particularly interesting.
There are many people I know that absolutely dread doing any sort of workout, but are more than happy to get active through a recreational sport of their preference.
The cool thing about sports is that it can create a sense of competition that you might not find in your own workouts. That competitiveness can really help you bump up the intensity and maximize the results that come out of each session.
After college, a friend of mine invited me to start playing badminton. Little had I known, that friend had put on a lot of unwanted weight during his time in school. Funny thing is, I never even noticed the difference after he lost it all, right in front of me.
As we got more interested in badminton, we made it a routine to get out on the courts for a few hours a day. Just two months later, my friend had dropped about all 50 pounds of body fat that he had accumulated over his college years.
Recreational sports can act as a very powerful motivator to get people started out with exercise. It’s a lot less intimidating to hop on a court with a few friends, who are also new to a sport, rather than jumping straight into a gym without knowing what you should be doing.
Build strength in the gym
You can call it a million things. Whether it’s strength training, weight lifting, or circuit training, the differences are really in the details.
But the point is, lifting heavy objects has more benefits than I can name.
Some of those benefits include:
- Increases metabolism
- Alleviates depression
- Slows down osteoporosis
- Improves balance/coordination
- Improves heart health
- Lowers risk of diabetes
- Improve brain function
- Increased lifespan
- Better sleep quality
A lot of these benefits work together to keep your body toned year-round. Plus, you get the side benefit of a longer, happier life.
The most important reason, why strength training is such a powerful tool, is that it muscle mass natural burns calories. That means that increasing muscle mass will also bring up the amount of calories you burn every day.
Run for your life
Running is a great form of cardio. It’s both effective and accessible to almost everyone!
While I don’t recommend basing the bulk of your workouts around jogs through the park, I do think that everyone should keep in mind of a few benefits of cardiovascular exercise:
- Increase endurance and stamina
- Improves immune system
- Strengthens heart function
- Maintain cholesterol levels
- Reduces stress levels
- Slow down aging
- Alleviate symptoms of depression
- Reduce likelihood of chronic conditions
- Increased life span
About 80% of weight loss is due to diet.
In fact, some people even experience dramatic weight improvements without having to add in any exercise into their routines. Not saying that exercise does not have its’ use, but by following the general energy expenditure formula,
Calories Consumed – Calories Burned = Total Energy ____
Without taking you too deep into math and science, this formula is a basic representation of your overall energy intake/output. Maintaining a positive energy intake would result in weight gain over time; therefore, a negative rate of energy intake would result in gradual weight loss.
So most people like to claim weight loss is easy by saying “ just eat less and move more”, which is a pretty accurate description of how weight loss works, but really doesn’t help solve any problems.
Things typically aren’t as simple when we step back into reality.
- Advertisements of poor food choices
- Dinner dates with our friends
- That conveniently parked taco truck
- The drinks menu calling out your name
Point is, nutrition is hard.
And because of that, I found out that the most effective way is not to try and force myself to stick to a healthy diet, but rather, integrate a system of healthy behaviors that keep me toned, without robbing me of my pizza and margaritas.
These behaviors include:
- Keep recipes simple
- Throw out all the junk food – all of it
- Follow your own basic eating guidelines
If I told you that I had the perfect answer to solve all your nutrition problems – I would be lying. The key to nutritional success requires you to layer a working system over your individual lifestyle. That’s a big reason why the typical cookie cutter diet plans never seem to get you the results that you want in the long run.
If you’re just getting started with making nutritional changes in your life, I would recommend that you start small and be consistent.
Fitness and nutrition are only temporary solutions if you can’t fit the two into your lifestyle. For myself, the goal is to keep my body healthy, perform at my physical and mental peak, and have room to enjoy the things I love.
If you’re curious what that looks like…
On the nutrition side, I have three meals planned out every day. Two are mandatory, which means I have the option of going out to dinner whenever I want to.
And that happens pretty often. I’ll go out for dinner 3-5 times a week, and I’ll always try to have pizza at least once a week – because I love pizza.
But when I go out and I’m not eating something that I absolutely love, I still require myself to follow certain guidelines. Limit your simple carbohydrate intake, load up on the veggies, and no high-calorie sauces.
Having those guidelines in place really gives me a lot of freedom to still go out and have fun – without ruining my body and my goals for the long run.
If you’ve struggled to integrate fitness and nutrition into your lifestyle, drop a comment below and tell me what you’re struggling with – I promise, it’s so much easier than you can imagine.