Michael Phelps. The epitome of focus, determination, obsession, tunnel vision and ultimate success. Definitely has had his fun, but when he needs it, I have never seen an athlete with such drive and tunnel vision as him.

Ryan Lochte. More a symbol of balance. Extremely hard work, no doubt, but also mixed with fun, partying and other interests in life besides swimming.

**Let’s not think about Phelps being a genetic freak and just focus on their approaches to success. 

Both of these swimmers have been two of the most elite and decorated swimmers in history. They have different personalities and thus different approaches their success. This is important because there is not one single way to reach your goal weight or reach your “ideal body” or achieve any goal you want to achieve with your health.

For the most part, there are two ways to approach weight loss or your lifestyle change and see success.

There is that word “balance.” A word I say a lot with clients. Everyone needs balance in life, right? Family, work, exercise, party balance. Sounds great and works great for many people.

Then there is the idea that you need tunnel vision or complete obsession with your goals and health. Things like weighing and measuring all your food. Hitting the gym instead of happy hour week after week. Saying “no” to things like cup cakes at your niece’s birthday party. This also works great for some and can be a death sentence for some people’s journeys, if taken too far.

healthy balanced approach might look like this:

  • You have some health and fitness goals. Maybe specific and maybe not. But, you don’t absolutely need to accomplish your goals to be happy and healthy.
  • You probably don’t have a strict timeline for your accomplishing your goals. When it happens it happens.
  • You get to the gym 3 times this week, 5 times the next, then miss the gym for 3 weeks.  But, when you are there you really bust it.
  • You probably don’t track your calories or macros on a regular basis. You intuitively eat. This is totally OK!
  • You generally eat healthy, “clean” foods like fruits and veggies and lean proteins. You don’t eat much fast food.
  • You don’t binge eat very often. When you do, you get back on track the next day.
  • Overall, you are happy with your results and body even though you sometimes want a bit more.

healthy tunnel vision approach might look like this:

  • This is best in the short term. I don’t recommend this for the long run, because it can very easily turn unhealthy.
  • You track your macros and calories every day (no matter the day) because it keeps you accountable and on track. You aren’t controlled by those ‘evil’ macros, you simply use them as a very useful tool.
  • You weigh and measure food on most occasions. Not being obsessed in an unhealthy manner though. Again, using the scale as a tool.
  • You are probably hungry when on a diet or cutting calories. It is something you have learned to deal with.
  • You say “no” to some social situations. Not all social situations. You enjoy life no doubt, but not enough that it hurts your chances of attaining your health goals. 
  • You go out of your way to meal prep and stay on track 6-7 days per week. Your goal (s) is always in the forefront of your mind.
  • Workouts aren’t missed. It just can’t happen. You keep momentum rolling at all costs.
  • Your health goals or weight loss goal takes priority in the majority of situations. This is just how it is.
  • You must make more sacrifices. This is just how it is.
  • You genuinely enjoy the process of getting healthier. You enjoy your workouts, your food, the sacrifices you make and you are happy.

So what is best?

Here is my opinion…and I have changed this a bit in the past year or so.

I used to always preach balance for all clients. There was nothing wrong with this, except for the fact that some people need be obsessed over a goal or the goal won’t be achieved. When you give 50% effort, you get 50% of the results. And there are some people who I think need to be more obsessed because the quality of their life is on the line. This could be with obesity, diabetes, severe joint arthritis etc.

Balance is good the majority of the time. But, how did Phelps become the best swimmer of all time…he was obsessed with being the best swimmer of all time. Lochte on the other hand didn’t have the same desire to be the best of all time (maybe he knew couldn’t be), but was still extremely successful in his own right.

When is it time to be Michael Phelps you ask?

  • When you have to lose 100lbs to live another 10 years. You must be obsessed with your health and nutrition.
  • When you had a recent heart attack due to poor health and nutrition. This should be obvious, right??
  • When you can’t walk up the stairs anymore.
  • When you want a 6 pack. Yes, this takes extreme dedication and obsession for most guys or girls.
  • When you are petite girl who wants to put on muscle. This is takes consistent obsession with the weight room over time.
  • When you are spinning your wheels in the mud not seeing any progress. Buckle down and get obsessed with a goal or even better get obsessed with your lifestyle change habits. Because you will achieve what you want to achieve and the confidence you gain could very well propel you to achieving even more goals.

But, obsession in the long run can also burn you out and cause a rebound affect where you actually become less healthy. I mean look at Phelps after the 2012 Olympics. He didn’t find his balance after his tunnel vision training period.

This is when finding a balance between your social life and your health is a must.

Me for example. I have found I do best when I get obsessed over the process of achieving a goal for a short period of time, say 3-12 months. I can make social sacrifices pretty well when my mindset is that of obsession over my goal and habits. But, I have also been able to find good life balance for periods of time where I can decompress, but not lose gains. Remember, my post on maintenance periods last week?

I am constantly switching back and forth between obsessive periods where my nutrition and workouts are 99% spot on and periods where I give myself a break and not feel guilty. Notice, I said not feel guilty. 

This teeter totter approach to your health and especially to your nutrition is what I recommend all the time. No one ever achieved anything great (or lost 50lbs) for that matter without being obsessed over their food intake for some period of time.

How did you get that big promotion at work? You worked your ass off and were probably obsessed  for some period of time. It is the same thing with weight loss and lifestyle change. Many people just don’t understand that unfortunately.

So, for those of you who say “I will never weigh or measure my food because it is obsessive”….you are leaving progress on the table. That is just how it is and if you are OK with that, then no worries.

Obsession in the short term is completely healthy and will most likely give you the best results. How you recover from those periods to develop balance determines the sustainability of your progress. 

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