Are you tired of constantly jumping from one extreme diet to another, only to find yourself back where you started? Do you feel overwhelmed by the conflicting information and unrealistic expectations set by the wellness industry?
If so, you’re not alone. In a world filled with flashy health influencers and sensationalized claims, it’s easy to get caught up in the cycle of short-term success and long-term failure. But what if there was a different approach?
In this episode, renowned personal trainer and author Adam Bornstein joins Ted Ryce to discuss his groundbreaking book, “You Can’t Screw This Up: Why Eating Takeout, Enjoying Dessert, and Taking the Stress Out of Dieting Leads to Weight Loss That Lasts.”
During this episode, you’ll learn how extreme diets lead to short-term success but long-term failure, why nutrition education alone falls short, and how to overcome the mental obstacles of diet plans. Adam exposes the tactics used in the wellness industry and advocates for support, positivity, and realistic paths to success.
He will also reveal his unique approach that helps his clients achieve sustainable results, allowing them to become healthier while still enjoying their lifestyles, will uncover the importance of social interactions for overall health. Listen now!
Adam Bornstein is a renowned personal trainer, coaching clients worldwide, known for his work with renowned figures such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tim Ferriss, and Eric Schmidt. He has formulated supplements for LeBron James, founded Ladder (acquired 2020), and has been a consultant for major brands like Equinox, Dollar Shave Club, and Microsoft. An award-winning editor, New York Times bestselling author, and recognized as one of the most influential people in health and fitness, Adam has left an indelible mark on the industry. Through his companies Pen Name, Born Fitness, and two12, he continues to empower businesses, simplify health messages, and mentor entrepreneurs.
Connect to Adam Bornstein
Facebook: Born Fitness
LinkedIn: Adam Bornstein
- How Adam met Arnold Schwarzenegger and started working with him
- How the conflicting health and nutrition information on social media can negatively impact people
- Identifying and addressing barriers that hinder the adoption and sustainability of healthy behaviors is crucial
- Why does the cycle of extreme diets lead to short-term success but long-term failure?
- The importance of addressing behavioral influences
- The most important key to promoting health and well-being
- Why is our brain attracted to the extreme approaches and how to change that
- What should be the primary focus of the wellness industry in order to promote positive outcomes?
- What is unique about Adam’s approach and why his clients get sustainable results
- How to become healthier while still enjoying your lifestyle
- The importance of social interactions for our overall health
- And much more…
Podcast Transcription: You Can’t Screw This Up: Why Eating Takeout, Enjoying Dessert, and Taking the Stress out of Dieting Leads to Weight Loss That Lasts with Adam Bornstein
Ted: Adam Bornstein, thanks so much for coming on the show today. Really excited to have you.
Adam: Yes, thank you for having me. I'm excited to talk.
Ted: Yeah, you recently had a new book out. It's called "You Can't Screw This Up: Why Eating Takeout, Enjoying Dessert, and Taking the Stress Out of Dieting Leads to Weight Loss That Lasts." And the forward is by Arnold Schwarzenegger. So before we jump in, you've got to tell the story. How did you get connected with Arnold? And what is that like hanging out with the Terminator? And how did you get him to write the forward to your book?
Adam: I'll start with what's it like. It's a little surreal. It's pretty awesome, and I'm very grateful for it. How I met him is not probably what you would expect. So I lived in Santa Monica for a while, and I would train in a gym called Iron. You know, I was the guy who pretty much kept to myself. As I prefer to, hat pulled down low, I would just train, and I love training.
I always have, so every now and then at gyms, people will come up and just ask me questions based on the programs I'm doing or what they see me doing. And there was one person in particular at the gym who would train at the same time as me and frequently had questions.
He was always respectful, you know, wasn't jumping in mid deadlift, but you know, would ask me questions, and I would always take the time to answer them. And we built up a friendship. It was a gym friendship, right? Where you would just chat, you would stand. He asked me a lot of questions.
At some point, he learned that I was in the fitness space, so he would come with a lot of questions and just clarity on things. And that was our relationship. Probably, you know, I couldn't put an exact time stamp on it, but at least six months, if not more, right? We were just gym buddies. He would ask me questions, I would give him the time of day, and that's it.
One day he asked to go to lunch, tells me to meet him in his office, and we'll go to a place nearby. So, I roll up and walk up to where this elevator is, and there's security there, and there's a mural of just like pictures of Arnold, but we're in Santa Monica, LA.
Nothing too crazy, but it definitely catches your eye. You get in the elevator, you go up to the third floor, the door opens, and you just see movie poster, movie poster, movie poster, and it's all Arnold.
And then you head to the right, and you go down the hall, and then there's this big door, and there's this seal for the governor of the state of California, and you're just like, where am I, and what am I about to walk into? And it turns out that my gym buddy, the guy who I was just helping out because if that was the right thing to do, be kind, was Arnold's chief of staff. And that's how I met Arnold. I met Arnold by being kind to his chief of staff. I ended up helping Arnold with a bunch of different projects over the years.
And we just struck up a friendship that way by, as he would say, being useful. I tried to be useful and helpful and assist with different projects, especially things where the different skills that I had would come into play, whether it's fitness and nutrition, general health, psychology, or writing itself, creating content. And I've been very, very fortunate over the years to just be able to work on a lot of projects with Arnold.
Arnold has brought me into a lot of tremendous opportunities. He put his faith in me to work with athletes and celebs and bring to life different brands. And now I get to write an email every day with him, trying to help make sense of the confusing world of nutrition and fitness.
We have Arnold's Pump Club, where we have the newsletter and the podcast, and asking him to do the forward was tough because I hate asking him for anything. But I knew that this book was most aligned with what he stands for, which is really just trying to change the environment that we've created in wellness, which is now really just immersed, soaked in fear, in negativity, in anxiety, in stress.
And you know, Arnold talks all the time that the environment that he was in when he got into lifting was one of positivity and community and support, and people didn't stress all these little things, right? All these little details that we now worry about wasn't a thing back then, and he thinks that's a lot of what the barrier is that gets in people's way.
So, when I knew what I was writing, when I knew what I wanted to put out, when I knew that I was creating a book that is very, very different from any diet book. This isn't a diet book, it's masquerading as one, but this is really a book about building healthier habits and understanding the way that the wellness industry breaks us and sets us up to fail. I knew that he would love it, and he did, and he was kind enough to really do me the honor of writing the foreword.
Ted: Incredible. And as we were talking earlier, I've trained my share of celebrities when I was in Miami Beach. But Arnold is the person who got me into lifting. Well, actually, my dad got me into lifting. But it was through Arnold's book that my dad bought. Interestingly enough, my dad, I think he bought it, and the book just kind of sat on the shelf for him, but I found it, and I started going through Arnold's. I read the entire thing, all the exercises and all the information he put.
I don't remember the name. It wasn't his encyclopedia. It was a smaller one, but it got me started. And as I also told you, I just watched his, I rewatched the two Conan movies. I mean, it's just such a, I still love them as much today as I did back when I first saw them.
And to bring it forward to this conversation about where we are now, I get a lot of pitches from people who have written books, and they go straight to the black box, right? The black hole for emails. But I reached out to you, I saw what you were doing. I saw that you included the Yerkes-Dodson law, which is the law about stress and the optimal amount of stress and how to find that. And I was like, this is someone who gets it. This is someone I need to get on the show.
So let's get into a conversation. You talked about the negativity. You talked about, you contrasted it to what Arnold shared about what his experience was back in the day. Talk a little bit about what you see going on and how that affects the people who are trying to make sense of it all with all these insane health influencers and fitness models on social media, all saying conflicting information. What do you, how do you see the situation right now?
Adam: Yeah, I hate saying it, but it's not good. And it doesn't mean that it's all bad, but it's not good, right? And I think what's happened is that wellness, at one point, was an industry where people make money, but it was about helping people become better.
And I worry that the wellness industry is too driven by industry because it's very easy in the wellness industry to prey on people's fears and insecurities and exacerbate them to a way where you give them things that work for a very short period of time, but there's an expiration date on those things.
And it's a very deceptive approach because it will work and then it will stop working, and then you will get frustrated, and then you feel you need to buy in deeper to these extremes that gave you very short-term results. And it's a big, big problem.
And it's one that's not easily solved because there is no magic bullet, there's no magic pill, and there's no one aspect that solves everything, right?
Our food environment isn't great. The way that we communicate with people isn't great. There are factors that we do not control, right? Like genetics and epigenetics that affect our overall health. But when I look at what is within our control, it is one of the primary messages that we are sharing with people to help them be healthier. And then how well are we doing at identifying the barriers that stand in people's way to adopt and sustain these behaviors?
Because about 10 years ago, it became very, very clear to me because I used to write a lot of books, and I haven't written one in nine years, that we have no shortage of diet and fitness and nutrition books. Some of them are good. Most of them are terrible.
But why is it in an age when we have so much information, when we have such great technology, when we have so much capability, and we can argue all day about how much money we spend on things, but there's no shortage of money spent on wellness, trust me, right?
We can allocate it maybe differently, but the wellness industry is a trillion-dollar industry. The government spends billions of dollars, but how much are we actually identifying what is preventing people? And part of what is preventing people is the recommendations that we make, which again, we are making a very, very one-sided bargain where we are trading short-term success for long-term failure. And when we get stuck in what I call the dieting circle of hell, which is essentially you start a diet, and then you have to do an extreme. You gotta give up something you love, or you gotta give up everything.
And then you see a little bit of results and you get really excited, and then you double down and go even harder, so you're grinding those gears even harder, and then you stop seeing success.
But you get desperate, so you double down even more. You cut out even more, you exercise even harder, and the success pretty much halts to a stop. You get burnt out, and at some point, you just say, "Fuck it." And then you go off the rails, you gain back the weight, or sometimes gain back even more.
You become more frustrated that you're worse off than you started.
So you stop doing all the things, you start even acting worse than you did before the behavior started because you're so broken mentally. And then you dig yourself a deep hole and you decide that the way to get out of that deep hole is to do another one of these super restrictive plans that then repeats the cycle, right? So we have these people just stuck where like we're dropping from one diet to another where they appear to be different diets because the plan is different.
But the mechanism, the method is the same of extreme restriction, cut out this one thing, push yourself to a point where you cannot sustain it, where you will break down, where you will get frustrated, and then people start to A, believe that they are failures, B, they believe their body is broken, and C, they start to believe that the only way they could ever be healthier is if they do this extreme thing because remember, they do see that short-term success where they cut out all the carbs, or they call out all the sugar, or they fast, like, you know, fasting is the miracle solution.
And they think that the only way is this complex way. And what I wanted to identify was like, "Hey, let's hold the breaks, let's zoom out here and look at things." And I don't think it's nutrition education that's the problem, right? People could be more educated. They might be able to tell the difference between a simple carb and a complex carb. But I don't think that's what makes people healthy.
Right, we have to look at the behavioral factors that influence people. And there were three kind of in general that it was like the complexity of these plans. It was the cost of these plans, and it was the inconvenience of these plans that fundamentally send these people into this dietary circle of hell. And the question becomes, how can we remove or alleviate these barriers and boundaries? How can we tell a different story, and how can we convince people that what it takes to be healthy, what it takes to feel your best, what it takes to eat well and exercise consistently is not done by following these programs that fundamentally make you believe that you have to sacrifice everything?
And that's not easy. It's not easy to explain, it's not easy to show people, it's not easy to make them believe. But if they can see it, what I found over the last 20 years is that it changes everything. It changes our mindset, it changes our body because I fundamentally believe, and I think the research is starting to back it more and more, that most diet plans break people mentally, and that is why they fall short of their goals physically. And if we can change that equation, we can change the results and help more people.
Ted: Yeah, with the restrictive diets, as I mentioned earlier, when I saw that graphic of the Yerkes Dodson law shared on Instagram, I was like, "Oh, this is a guy anyone who's talking about that is, I need to talk to and get on this show." All my clients know exactly what that graph is like.
Adam: And if people aren't aware of what that is, yeah, I was gonna say, people don't know, this is like a beautiful inverted U, right? And on the X-axis, you have the amount of stress or anxiety. On the Y-axis, you've got your level of performance, right?
How well you can do something. And what you see is at one end, when there's no anxiety, when there's no stress, when there's no challenge, performance doesn't rise, right? So that's no surprise, right? If you're not trying to make a change, you're not gonna change.
But the interesting part is at the other end of the spectrum where people have all this stress, all the anxiety, right? All these rules and restrictions. Performance also isn't maximized. And in some cases, it's just as bad as when you do nothing.
So, so much about helping people succeed, helping people perform, helping people create healthier habits isn't about taking them to this extreme level. It's about finding that sweet spot where they have enough of a challenge that they can become better, but not so much of a challenge that they don't have a chance to thrive.
Ted: And yeah, thanks for visually explaining that. Very important. And if you're listening, you should, well, you should get Adam's book because he's gonna make it relevant to what we're talking about here because otherwise you're just gonna look at it and it's gonna be very theoretical.
But you can Google it while you're waiting to receive Adam's book in the mail. And the thing is that it's just not that sexy. Well, I'll say it like this. Often when I get a client come to me and I'll say, "Okay, well, how many workouts, just as an example, how many workouts do you wanna do per week to get in shape?" Well, let's do six, I think. Six is great. And I'm like, "Okay."
All right, so you want to do six workouts. How long? Oh, let's do an hour. I mean, you know, I can do an hour six times a week. Okay, cool. So, how confident are you on a scale one to 10 that you're gonna be able to hit six one-hour workouts for the next six months? How confident are you? I'll say like a seven.
Okay, cool. So let's say 70% of the time you miss, 30% of the time that you miss your workout 70% of the time you hit them. How are you going to feel when you miss those 30%? Are you going to be like, "You know what, I missed 30% of my workouts this week, and next week I'm just going to crush it. I'm so motivated to crush it because of missing the workouts."
And inevitably the conversation becomes, "No, when I miss the workouts, I beat myself up. I feel really demotivated." And it's like, then why are you asking me to write a program for you that is going to make you fail?
And I do it in a fun way, right? But that's an aha moment. And so what can you tell us about why do you think people go to extremes, first of all? And why do you think it's such an unsexy idea of these small changes done consistently to build these habits, even though it leads to such sexy results in a few months' time?
Adam: Part of the reason is we're wired this way. I talk about it in the book in a reference research that shows that our brains light up and react to the novel and the complex. So as smart as we are, as great as our brains are, when we see something novel and complex, our brains light up and triggers the area that releases dopamine. Dopamine, you know, being that chemical that can drive our behavior, can drive motivation.
And it makes us think that this shit's going to work. And our brain does not react the same way to the simple, to the mundane, to the boring, or to the familiar. And the funny part, almost the ironic part of that is that, you know, true evidence-based is a combination. It's the intersection, right, of science, what we see in the literature, and experience, right? If you really want to be evidence-based, you can't just be all science, you can't just be all experience.
You want to find the intersection between the two, but the science that you want to lean on is the stuff that is reliable and valid. In science we don't say things with certainty, right? We say based on what we know right now, and we want to focus on things of what we are most certain of based on where there's the most reliability and validity. So that means the stuff that is most likely to work is the stuff that will be most familiar and most boring. So it's least likely to get our attention.
The boring stuff is the stuff that works, the boring stuff is the stuff we'll ignore, the complex, the rare, the novel, the hypothetically not even effective at all is much more likely for us to buy in. So I say that this is a rigged game. It really is. Because yes, we are the makers of our own way, we are responsible for all of our own decisions, right?
And when our entire environment is like bright shiny object of like, "Look at this crazy mechanism where if you just do this one thing, you're gonna become healthier." And you're like, "Nah, that can't be true." But man, does that sound good? We want to buy in because we care. We care about our health. Even people who are not healthy, I think one of the biggest misnomers is people who are not healthy or overweight or struggle to be fit.
Like, "Oh, that person doesn't care." No, they actually care a lot because they're looking for a way to change it, they just haven't found the right way. And because they're so vulnerable, because they're in a position where they care a lot and they don't look or feel or perform the way they want, they are more likely to buy into these things because they so badly want it to change.
Now, do these people need to realize there needs to be a different way? Yes! Do they need to realize that the road, the path takes longer than anyone was selling you, right?
People don't become unhealthy overnight. It's actually a very long, gradual process. We convince people that we can change it back overnight. It's very asymmetrical and it's not the way it works. But the funny thing is the average person will gain one to three pounds per year.
So, it's like a slow burn where people gain and get out of shape. It won't take the same amount of time to undo that, but it will take a lot of time. So, we buy in because our brains are wired this way. We buy in because that's all that we see. We buy in because we see all of this because the boring stuff doesn't rise to the tide.
Right, so the stuff that now gets more likes on social media or more shares, are the stuff that fundamentally will make you go, "Oh shit," and the more people like and share that stuff, the more you are to believe that, like, "Well, this can't be true, but look at all these likes and look at all these comments and look at everyone talking about it, maybe it is true."
And the more that we don't see the results that we want, the more it doesn't work, push us towards the boring stuff. It makes us more vulnerable and more susceptible to stuff because it leaves us worse and worse off.
Like, this is a broken feedback loop. It's a dangerous feedback loop where the stakes are really high. We are unhealthy, and a lot of it is just because of the environment and the ecosystem that is designed to help us, right? The wellness industry is supposed to protect us from this stuff and help us.
But the majority of the wellness industry is guiding us towards the things that are going to do more harm. How do we get out of that? It's not easy, but there's a way. There are plenty of good practitioners. There's plenty of good advice.
There are plenty of things that can lead people to healthier things. It's very easy to sound doom and gloom. There, I point out to tons of evidence, right? One of my favorite resources is saying a little, a little now, like the National Weight Control Registry. And it, what it is, is just keeps track of 10,000 people who have lost tons of weight and kept it off for years. Right? Everyone says like, "Oh, you lose all this weight, 95% of people gain it back."
That's not true. It's not. Now, a lot of people who go on restrictive diets do gain back the weight and then some. But the people who do these things that are much more sustainable, the boring things, right? When you look at the National Weight Control Registry and you see like, "Well, what are the common denominators in these 10,000 people?”
And you expect that you would see something crazy and it's not, it's like these people eat carbs. They eat breakfast every day. They do not restrict themselves, right? They still eat dessert. They limit ultra-processed foods but have some room for it. They tend to weigh themselves frequently to keep them on track.
It's nothing crazy and it doesn't mean that this is cause and effect, but it shows you that the habits of people who are able to change their lives for the better and change their lives for good are not based on this foundation of extremes and unsustainable behaviors. And the example I've given many times now is that I've learned many years from Alan Cosgrove, the great coach who said, you don't wanna shoot a cannon from a canoe, right?
Shoot a cannon from the canoe, you're gonna capsize. And I feel that the wellness industry is just a bunch of cannons and they send you out on a canoe because you do not have a stable foundation where you're given behaviors that maybe they might help some, but if you don't have good health habits in the first place, if you don't feel in control, if you don't like who you are, right? If you're picking these plans that you just can't wait till you get off, it's not going to work for you, right? Instead of even giving people cannons, that's like...
Let's either get them on stable ground or let's build them a battleship first. So that when you add some of these more complex behaviors, you can succeed. And that's the whole idea.
Wellness is mounted on this idea of showing you these flashy, complex things because we know we get their attention. And I'm not even saying some of them can't work. What I am saying is it's like, it's the wrong order of operations. If you look at the healthiest people, who maybe do some very complex or complicated behaviors, the reason why they're able to do those behaviors is because they've gradually progressed to them. You don't start math with algebra and calculus and geometry. Start with addition and subtraction, and health is the same way, but we don't want to give people addition and subtraction. We give them the calculus, and then we wonder why they get confused and they fail the test, right?
Of course, they're going to. They're not being given the best chance possible to succeed.
Ted: Yeah, and I would even argue on that some of the, some of it's not even algebra calculus. It's just two plus two equals 18. It's not even real.
Adam: There's a lot of bullshit. But I would say that some of the stuff, it's just like, oh, you're saying this isn't good. I'm like, no, I'm not saying it's bad. It's just not a foundational behavior. It's like a cherry on top that might be an additive thing, but it's not like how you're going to become healthier. And then there is the stuff that's just completely made up. And there is so much of it.
There is so much made-up stuff because, like crazier and crazier you spin it up, right? We live in a social media world, and I don't think it's all bad, but it does lend itself to crazy, sensationalized information.
And you know, a lot of people are always like, well then how do you wade through that? And I'm like, it's not easy, but a good basis is if someone's argument is rooted in fear, it usually means they're trying to sell you something because there are two primary emotions that drive behavior.
Fear and greed are two of the most powerful drivers, and it doesn't mean you can't use fear at all, but when people are only using fear to try and get you to navigate through behaviors, it tends to be a good sign that they're trying to put you in a vulnerable position to listen to them, as opposed to trying to help people, right?
The wellness industry should be about helping people. And it shouldn't be about driving fear; it should be about creating support and positivity and giving people a path where things become more doable because I don't think fear is a good position to operate from if you're trying to build good behaviors.
Ted: Yeah, I mean, it just goes back to the Yerkes-Dodson, right? It just increases stress, which has a whole, as you, another one of your graphics is the domino effect, right? If stress gets out of hand, it's just, it's going to lead to a number of different things, increasing cravings.
But I wanted to go back to something you said because you, you said it's a lot of the sensationalism and the extremism. And I think that's, you know, the majority of that's true. I've even run into, so recently, I'm more active on Twitter than Instagram, even though that's where we connected, Adam. But I wrote something looking into " seed oils " , right? Vegetable oils. And...
I thought it was a pretty well-balanced take on the subject. I even said, you know, the biggest reason as we've to go look at what's driving, just from a purely calorie standpoint, what's been driving, where the increase of calories have come from?
It's from grains and from added oils. So, being aware of the amount of added oils, regardless of even if it's olive oil, but being aware of added oils. That was really the point that I was trying to make, but the singling in on seed oils or vegetable oils in particular, you know, it's just not, you can eliminate all of them, but if you're eating ribeyes cooked in butter and doing that for every meal, or, you know, I saw a guy today, a carnivore guy today, the TikTok that was being passed around or retweeted on Twitter, the guy was eating a pound of ground beef with a stick of butter.
And it's like, even if you do that and stay away from seed oils, you're still a lot of those people they suffer. And this one guy who champions the seed oil fight just went to town on me. I had to block him.
I eventually found out that this guy is in divorce and he's had a severe, all this is public record. There are all these details about the divorce that were really terrible, like accusations of domestic abuse and other things. And just, I think there's a lot of really unhealthy, psychologically unhealthy people, probably in many different areas, different industries.
But in the fitness industry in particular, it's like you have to be extra careful with who you're listening to. And if they seem very extreme, regardless of whether they're selling something because I don't think this guy, it wasn't obvious what he was selling, although I'm sure somehow he's financially benefiting from it. But it's like there's this extremism. And again, I think it goes back to that stress.
There's a lot of people who are under a lot of stress to maybe even make it financially or compete in the world online to get your message out there. I think it's changing. I mean, you wrote a book that is, as you said, it's masquerading. It's a habit book, habit change book, behavior change book, masquerading as a diet book.
I'm out there. I'm hammering my message, which is the basics and about habit change as well and stress. But what part do you think, certainly people need to, I guess, be aware of people, but also you need to get your shiny object syndrome under control as well.
How do you coach people or how would you? How do you advise people in your book to stay focused on those boring things from the 10,000 weight loss, the 10,000, the registry that you mentioned? How do you help people stay focused when that desire for that hit of dopamine for something new is so strong?
Adam: Yeah, I think there are a couple of things there, right? So, some is like, I'm pretty agnostic when it comes to the diet stuff because I can acknowledge that many things that I don't even believe in work for other people. And I think the goal in wellness should be to help other people.
What I don't like is when other people are living their healthiest life or their best life, and there's unnecessary bickering and negativity that creates a slanted viewpoint because I think a lot of diets that are seemingly in opposition actually share a lot of commonalities. And what's so funny is that people end up fighting over, in many cases, insignificant details, right?
The goal should be is like, is someone being helped? And is the advice that you are giving them have the opportunity to help them while giving the greatest likelihood that it won't do harm? That to me is what's important because I can see people doing diets and if they're healthier and they're doing well and they're not doing harm to them who cares if my bias is towards something else? No.
So I worry about that negativity that you talk about because if we're all in an industry we're designed to help people, the goal should be to help people find what works for them and works for them sustainably. So with that in mind, how do you avoid that bright shiny object is that oftentimes people are reaching towards bright shiny objects that aren't bright shiny objects at all.
I don't know many people who can consider never touching sugar or dessert again a bright shiny object. I don't know many people who think like not eating, fasting all the time is a bright shiny object. It might work for them. They might find that it's a behavior that suits their lifestyle. But a lot of these things aren't actually bright shiny objects for them. So the way that I give them their dopamine bursts is I start with like, well, what are the things that you truly love?
Most diets start from a position of scarcity and restriction, right?
And that doesn't work for people because people crave what they can't have, right? And it's so bad that the more you restrict that stuff, the more people are going to desire that stuff. As opposed to if you give them some room to have it, just knowing they can have it, A, helps them be more sustainable. B, you might find that they don't even go to that well. They don't even have the dessert because they just wanted to know that it wasn't off-limits.
There's so much of the psychology of how the mind works that we don't put people in a position for them to succeed. But when I start people and I know that they're gonna look at things, it's like, well, what do you truly enjoy? What food do you truly enjoy? What activity do you enjoy? What might you find that is gluttonous or lazy that you really, really like? And let's not remove it. Let's keep it.
Right, so that when you get that dopamine, the thing is that you're on a healthy plan, but you actually have these things that you covet and you enjoy. And then let's build the healthy habits around that. And in general, I find that it's much more healthy because of the sustainability, because it allows people to, what I say, is expand their comfort zone.
So much of behavioral change isn't about completely abandoning comfort, which is what we think, right? Get out of your comfort zone, you have to abandon it all. But no, to the same point of like the stress or arousal performance curve that we talk about the Yerkes-Dodson, removing all comfort means that you're not gonna perform your best. So I give people some of those things that they enjoy, and then they get the dopamine surge, they get the bright shiny object by not having to remove what they are always told to, right?
It almost feels like you're cheating, it's a competitive advantage because some of the things that you find comfort in are still there while you are then building other habits, while you are given other tools so that you can kind of create a new environment, a new ecosystem, and you do that across the board, right?
A lot of people are told that they can never eat takeout. Part of my book is I show people how do you take out the 50 most visited restaurants in the US. Are people gonna go and eat there all the time? Do I tell them to eat there every single day? Of course not, but.
I don't want them to go there and if they need to, whether they're on a road trip or they're craving it or their kids want it, and suddenly feel that they have done something wrong and then catastrophize, right? The title of the book is a reference to two things, right? You can't screw this up as one, the fundamental principle of behavioral change is make it so easy it's hard to fail.
This flies in the face of what a lot of people think from goal setting, where they have to make these big ambitious goals. And I'm not saying don't have big ambitious goals. I'm saying focus on the process goals where each process itself is so easy that it's hard to fail so that each step you take, progressively harder goals start to feel easier, right? In the same way that when someone walks into a gym for the first time, you have them do bodyweight exercises. You don't put 300 pounds on a bar and have them do it because...
The bodyweight exercises are enough of a stimulus to be challenging. You don't need to crush people and break them in order for them to succeed. You need to build them up. I want to teach people how to build themselves up so that when they eventually get under the bar, when they eventually add weight, it doesn't feel as hard because they are in a good position to be able to handle it and not only handle it, but actually do it. So, I teach people how they can include dessert. I teach people how they can eat takeout. I teach people how they can consume some alcohol. I'm not saying that all of these are healthy behaviors. What I am saying is that you can't screw this up because if you do these things and you do it in an environment surrounded by other healthy behaviors, it's actually not a screw-up. It is part of a planned approach to succeeding. And at some point, you might find that those behaviors don't serve you anymore and you will drop them.
And if you don't, you'll be fine because what this is about is that most people are following plans that require you to do things that are misaligned with what you even want to achieve in the first place. People are out here, you know, following plans of professional bodybuilders. And that's not to say they don't work. We could argue that all day. It's just like, if you have no goal of going on stage, why are you following that plan? Why would you be doing that?
So, I just think we have to take a fundamental approach and show people that the perceived screw-ups that we then catastrophize and then do maladaptive behaviors to try and undo those things are all an illusion. And the real damage is not the action. It's not the dessert or the takeout. It's the punishment that we levy upon ourselves completely unnecessarily. The average person has dessert a couple of times a week, goes takeout a couple of times a week, and the very next day they just return to their normal behaviors.
The impact is negligible. It's a rounding error, and you're probably gonna be better off because mentally, you're satisfied. Physically, you're satisfied. You enjoyed that meal. You're not gonna crave it as much. You're better off. But now we teach people, "You must be punished. You must be shamed. You must feel bad. You are off the plan. You have to fast, you have to detox, work out twice as hard." And it's all a lie. It is all a lie, right? We are taught to perceive perfectly normal behaviors as screw-ups.
And no wonder why we end up with a bad relationship with food or exercise or thinking we can't be healthy. We're just being deceived, and that's what needs to stop. And if we could stop those reactions and nothing else changed, right? You're not perfect with your diet. So what? Right? You don't always hit your workouts. So what? You'll find the plan.
But if we could stop catastrophizing and then overreacting to perfectly normal behaviors, assuming that they don't happen every day, we will have a lot healthier and happier people.
Ted: Yeah. Well, while you're telling that story or sharing that approach, I was smiling because I was thinking about a client, Jeff, who, one of my best transformations. He learned the whole calorie thing. He was doing keto and CrossFit when he first started.
Then he bought into this idea of calories. You know, get your protein to a certain amount, but balance the calories, and then you get results. And he was at a point where he's like, "Man, you know, I would have split the dessert before with my wife, but now I'm just eating the dessert to myself. I'm like, you get one, and I'm just gonna eat one by myself."
But eventually, it was really strange, or not strange, but interesting. Eventually, he got to a point where he's like, "Yeah, I'm not doing that anymore." This is towards the end of the year that we worked together. He's like, "Yeah, I just stopped doing it."
I never told them to do it. I don't tell people what to do unless, well, I never tell people what to do. I show them what the best evidence is and then help them implement it within the context of their life. But he just gave it up.
And I think what you're saying is so important because there's another conversation that's not being had in the industry. It's about orthorexia, the unhealthy obsession with being healthy.
It's just an anxiety disorder, and what people view as being healthy is just a version of an anxiety disorder that you think is healthy, but those people are actually struggling with, well, who knows, you and I, I mean, I'm sure you have. I've been in the industry 24 years.
I have my share of my own issues struggling personally. When I was one of those more extreme people back in the early 2000s, but we, I'm sure you have your, know a ton of people in the industry who look like the pinnacle of health, but they're really struggling with a lot of things.
And I mean, I think about me, I was ripped when I was in my twenties, and I'm well, lean now, but I was ripped then, very extreme, but I was also in the club every weekend, getting drunk, taking ecstasy, had terrible relationships with women. My friends were, you know, toxic wouldn't be an incorrect word to use about the types of relationships I had with my friends.
And people don't know that I feel. What do you, can you, do you have something to say about that?
Adam: Yeah, I think that, you know, I reference this in the book, that every diet wants to claim that they're a lifestyle. Right, that's the buzzword. It's not a diet, it's a lifestyle. And to that, I always say, okay, but how often do these diets, do these plans ask what people want their life to look like?
And I think it's important to realize that healthy behaviors that are, there is a facade for an unhealthy life or an unhappy life, fundamentally isn't healthy at all. Right? If you sacrifice everything and you think you look good physically, but you feel like shit or you're miserable or you are a prisoner to your diet, how is that healthy? The idea of improving health is so that it improves your life and lifestyle and your quality of life and your social interactions.
I say that people always talk about the three big things in health is, it's your fitness, it's nutrition, it's sleep.
And I'm like, the social aspect is so important. The social connections with people, the ability to relate to people. And you can be like, oh, why do we celebrate over meals? Because that's a cultural thing that's happened since the beginning of time.
It's not the worst thing that we gather over food and we enjoy it together and we bond and we create experiences. And the story that I've had is that, yes, I've witnessed this a lot, but I was the fitness editor for Men's Health for many years and when I was in that position, I felt a lot of pressure to look a certain way.
A lot of people in there would meet me, like the first reaction would be like, I expect you to be more jacked and I expect you to be a lot taller, not that tall, guys. And I'm like, thanks, I guess.
And I was I thought I was in pretty damn good shape, but it was like, there was this unrealistic expectation, and what came with that was, right, but there was an expectation of myself
Ted: Why don't you look like Arnold back in Conan? You know.
Adam: that I even fell into it that like what I needed to do in order to be healthy was probably misaligned with what I needed to do, and I can see that now. I can see that now as a guy in my 40s who works at a fraction where I am, and I'm like, if not as good, maybe better than I was at 30, and I don't train with the same frequency or eat with the same consistency because I was doing more than was even necessary. It was wasted effort and wasted time.
But the aha moment for me really occurred before that. I was committed to training and eating well and working at Men's Health and not doing much else. And I was missing out on a lot of life, a lot of social events, time with friends, even dating.
And I remember going on a date with a girl and I was like, crazy about this girl's first date and I'm just like, I'm like, oh my goodness, like she's amazing. I'm just like, got like hearts in my eyes. I'm the heart emoji before the heart emoji existed, and it came time for dessert, and she wanted dessert, and it was truly that moment of like angel and devil but like the devil is the one being like, like don't eat the dessert, right? And I'm like, and the angel's like eat the dessert and like why is the devil the one saying I'm on a date, right?
And it was truly like this weird experience where I had kind of an odd about experience where I realized like how weird it was that like, here I am, this guy who's supposed to be so healthy and does all this stuff and I'm not even comfortable, you know, having a dessert on a date. And I had dessert and this girl ended up dating and ended up becoming my wife.
And I remember how much meeting her and interacting with her and dating her realized that my desire to be healthy really probably for a long time was getting in the way of me living my life. And there had to be a different way, there had to be a better way where you can still be healthy. You might have to make some sacrifices, but you don't have to make all these sacrifices.
And some of these things that we truly vilify and make bad and evil are not bad, especially if they're going to add to your life and they're not doing harm, right? Do good and do less harm. You have dessert every now and then, that's not harm. It's a choice; you don't have to. But like, I actually love dessert, I always have. But I restricted that part of me because I thought it was unhealthy, and I didn't realize how much it was restricting me.
So I think when we look at the bigger context of what health is, health should be an amplifier for improving your quality of life, your relationships, and making you feel like you are in control so that you can make the most and enjoy the most of your days. And if it's not that, it's definitely worth reassessing what you are doing, why you are doing it, and what you might want to do differently so that outcome can be your reality.
Ted: Yeah. I love how you're helping to redefine what health is because there is this focus on nutrition. And as you mentioned, I mean, I talk a lot about the bio-psycho-social approach or model of health on the show. And now we're starting to even get data showing whom you hang out, or strong social connections, that's going to play into longevity.
And it also brings up a conversation, plays it in everything, the quality of life that you have, right? Just taking the longevity out of the side. That's a great point, right? Just your pure enjoyment. Like, what are you even here for? What are you even alive for if you're not enjoying the experience? And it reminds me of a conversation. I didn't end up working with this individual. He was a referral from a client, but he said, well, we had great results doing the Whole30, me and my wife, but we had to stay home all the time and cook. I was like, Oh my God, right? That's not healthy.
Even if you're ripped and you can bench press three times your body weight or whatever the metric is. In your book, do you dive into some of the research on psychology, the psychological impact or the impact of psychology on our health? And also, as you mentioned, the social aspects and helping people to see it's the whole enchilada, if you will, it's not just the exercise you put in your mouth.
Adam: The front half of the book is mostly psychology. The back half is the practical, applicable tips and what you can do so you can take action. But it's an emerging area of research where people are finally starting to look at, like, well, how do people feel when they're on a diet, how much stress and anxiety they have?
And you see that the constructs of a diet create more maladaptive behaviors because of how we internalize that and then how it pushes us towards worse behaviors, right?
The more pressure the diet puts on you, the less certainty and control you feel you have, the harder it is for you to build better habits, right? Or the more shame and guilt you have, the more likely you are to crave, the more likely you are to binge, the more likely you are to repeat that cycle.
So, the more that we see that there's this important role of how you feel when you start a plan, not just can the plan work, because so many diets work, right?
There really is no argument over what diet is best. The diet that is best is the one that you can stick to, okay? I don't care what you're doing, right? I'll have my opinions on things, but the diet that is best is the one that you can stick to. And the one that you can stick to is a byproduct of many, many variables, but without a doubt, one of the biggest variables is how you feel on it. And without a doubt, when I talk about the thing that too many people gloss over, is even your own self-perception.
Because self-perception is going to influence behavior, not the other way around. And if you don't do a gut check of how you...
Ted: Let's talk a little bit. When you say self-perception, what do you mean specifically?
Adam: A perfect example is thinking that you're not a healthy person. So, there's this belief of cognitive dissonance, right? If your behavior is not aligned with your self-belief, the behavior will be more difficult to become a routine or become a habit. So, what happens when people think that they are not healthy? This can corrode or undercut the success of anything. James Clear talks about this in Atomic Habits, where a lot of people think that you are going to get motivated. You are then going to take action and that will change your self-perception, right?
You're gonna start a new plan. I'm so fired up; I'm gonna do this. I got that motivation. I finally go to the gym and start my diet, and now that I think I'm a healthier person.
But the reality is the opposite; it starts with self-perception. You have to work on who you think you are, regardless of the way that you look because the way that you look is going to fluctuate and be temporary. If the image in the mirror is what you think is going to make you happy, you've been very much deceived, right?
Happiness and self-belief come from a different place that is not the reflection you see in the mirror. So you need to start with the thoughts and behaviors that might undercut that so that you believe that even if you have not achieved your goal, it does not mean you are not or cannot be a healthy person. Right?
In the same way that on day one of a job, you don't know how to thrive and succeed in that job. You have to learn, but you don't sit there being like, "I can't do this." Maybe some people do, but most people think, "I just need time, I just need experience. I can do this. I will be great at this. I just need time to be able to succeed."
Our bodies are the same way. If you have ever purchased a diet book, if you've ever tried a workout program, if you even bought a supplement, hoping it was going to be a quick fix, you fundamentally care about being healthy, which means you as a person have to know that you care about being healthy, you are a healthy person, you just have not yet figured out what works for you.
Having that mindset, as opposed to thinking you are broken, you can't be fixed, you're terrible, you're fat, you're lazy, this negative self-narrative that creates a bad self-perception is very, very dangerous, and not enough people talk about it. If you can change your self-perception and take action, what happens is then you get motivated. The motivation is usually the last thing to come.
You have to start with your own mindset. You then have to act even when you don't feel like it. I talk about it in the book, that people think that healthy people wake up every day and they're just like, "I can't wait to go work out." And the reality is, more days than not, they don't feel that way. About 25% of the time, they really want to go work out. The difference is that they show up. And I say the goal of healthy people isn't to have 100% weeks, it's to have no 0% weeks.
So you don't have weeks where you just mail it in, where you know that sometimes you need to have more self-compassion, sometimes you need to pull back the reins, but it doesn't mean you stop all things that are good for you. You just do enough to help you get by.
And those things add up and make a big difference. So by starting with self-perception and following with action, you get more motivation, and that becomes a self-perpetuating positive feedback loop. We talked about the negative feedback loop that we have with the dieting circle of hell. This is a positive one. Keep on focusing on your self-perception, understand the journey and process. This is about building grit and resilience.
If you see every failure, this is I reference Angela Duckworth's work in the book, "Grit." If you see every failure as a learning lesson that will get you closer to where you want to be, so because you understand what does not work for you or why it didn't work, you can use that as leverage to strengthen your self-concept, to build better behaviors, and to get better outcomes as opposed to thinking that you're broken and terrible and like all this was terrible.
It wasn't a waste of time. Some of our best lessons is the things that don't work out for us, but we have to learn from them.
The lesson of going on an extreme diet isn't to go on another extreme. The lesson of buying supplements that didn't deliver isn't to buy more supplements, right? At some point, we have to realize the poison is in the pill and it's just time to take a different one because they're there. They're there to improve. We just have to change our perception and the process of how we go about doing it.
Ted: Yeah. Hence the title. "You Can't Screw This Up." Well, you could by quitting completely, but if you keep going, you can't screw it up. Adam, I remember a conversation with a client and he was an entrepreneur and he was doing some business coaching, and the business coach said something that I disagree with.
He basically said, "Oh, your actions are a direct reflection of your values," which I think in general that might be true. But for a lot of people, like what you just said, changing behavior is hard. So, you may have the value, like you said, where someone was trying and attempting to be healthy, but they get a message like that.
It's like, no, I'm not a healthy person. I don't give a shit about my health. Otherwise, why would I eat that dessert or why wouldn't I, um, you know, make it to the gym? And what I told him was it's like, I don't believe in that. I believe that it's hard to change behavior. You have a goal and you just haven't figured out how to make it happen, but you're, you signed up for coaching.
So, you obviously care, but it goes back to that shame, that conversation about self-perception, and you also talked about shame. Talk a little bit about that, and you mentioned something about how that's what leads to some of the quote-unquote bad behavior where you're indulging. Can you talk a little bit about the shame and why that's a bad approach or let's say ineffective approach for becoming healthier?
Adam: 'Cause it won't work. That's why, right? Like if the reason you are changing a behavior is shame and guilt, it's going to be short-term, right? That is not one of those stable foundations that we talk about, right? Behavior change is rooted in many different principles, but like the idea of this negative reinforcement is nowhere as good as positive reinforcement. The idea of a state versus trait, right? So the current state that you are in, who you are as individuals as opposed to a trait, right?
Like you feel bad about something that's going to fluctuate and like you trying to build positive behaviors on top of a negative emotion. Well, I'm not saying it can't happen in any circumstance. It's very unlikely, right? Like think about the most of the best things that people do. Their why, their inspiration, their meaning comes from someplace that is much more wholesome, much more positive.
And again, like shame and fear is not a compass, is not a direction, is not a tool. You can't leverage that in any way, shape, or form other than in a way that you will be turning inwardly and make yourself feel bad.
Making yourself feel bad rarely or not as often will allow you to develop behaviors that make you feel good or make you better. It might happen in the short term, it is unlikely to happen in the long term. So the goal actually isn't to build habits upon shame and guilt, it's to get rid of the shame and guilt in the first place. It's to understand that these feelings that we manufacture do more harm than good. As opposed to when something goes the way that you don't want, viewing it with self-compassion.
When something, not saying that I am a bad person or I am an unhealthy person, asking yourself, why did I get this outcome and how would I go about it a different way?
When things don't go the way you want, view this as a learning lesson and what can I take away from this as opposed to I am a failure, right? So much of our behaviors are about giving us the tools that allow us to persevere in difficult times. This is what all the research around grit and resilience and perseverance is built upon.
And that is what you want to be. You want to be a gritty and resilient person who doesn't expect perfection, who doesn't think you need to change right away, who will use your experiences to shape you. And it's something I talk about in the book is another framework is the idea of inversion. A way to speed this process up and lessen the number of roadblocks or stumbles you have is to set those goals that you have in the beginning and then skip to the end.
Usually when we set our goals, we talk about, "I wanna lose 20 pounds, I wanna go to the gym six days a week," whatever it might be. But instead of just saying this is going to happen, fast forward to the end and play out a scenario. Let's assume you didn't achieve the goal. Why? And this is inversion.
By starting at the end and reverse engineering, you can identify the roadblocks that maybe you know are there but you're not consciously thinking about because you are forecasting something positive, which is good, but you still need to consider the real situations and scenarios that are most likely to help you, most likely to make you stumble.
And this is something we all know. We all have some awareness of our weaknesses, and there's no problem, we all have weaknesses. The problem is not acknowledging them and not trying to do anything about them. So, I say start at the end where you didn't achieve the goal so you can identify where you are most likely to slip up.
And so that you can build an infrastructure that helps you either navigate around, over, or through so that when those moments happen, you are prepared for them. And so much of life is about preparation, right?
I even talk about when people lose weight, something that they're not prepared for is that hunger tends to go haywire because here's what happens when you lose weight, your hunger hormones do change, and your body is going to become hungrier. Leptin is going to decrease. This is the way the body works.
It's not gonna happen infinitely, metabolic adaptation is a thing, but it is going to happen. And if you can prepare people for that experience, if you can prepare people for how they navigate it, if you can tell them how to eat to help them feel more satisfied and know that this will shift and your body will regulate, people don't have to freak out, they don't have to feel uncomfortable, they don't have to feel like they're not on the right path.
And so much of life, it is either one of two things: A, teaching them how to be gritty or resilient when things don't go the way that they want or when they're in an unexpected scenario, and B, being able to forecast expected scenarios where things will be difficult so that they're easier to navigate when they inevitably come.
Ted: Well said, Adam. I mean, this is, I feel like we could easily go for another hour unpacking all this. But the answer is to do a deeper dive, get Adam's book. And you can find that on Amazon. The audiobook is also available, which I know I'm excited about because these days it's all audiobooks for me.
And the book, the title is "You Can't Screw This Up: Why Eating Takeout, Enjoying Dessert, and Taking the Stress Out of Dieting Leads to Weight Loss That Lasts."
A powerful message and it's a really exciting time. I mean, I know it's crazy, but I think it's an exciting time where someone like yourself is writing a book about this because if you can get a book published that is talking about these concepts and changing the narrative about what's happening, I see that as a huge sign of progress in terms of what's happening.
So, man, thank you so much for writing this book. Thanks for coming on the show today and it's been an absolute pleasure, Adam.
Adam: Thank you, Ted. I appreciate it. The hope is truly that, you know, the diet book field is filled with a lot of books that don't belong there. And these are more of the conversations we can have. And, you know, I have discussed this with a few people. This one wasn't easy to sell to a publisher, but this was the only book that I wanted to write because then it was the important one.
And the hope is that at some point it opens the door for others. At some point, the bestselling books will be the ones that help people fundamentally become better, not become worse.
And if this book can open the door for someone else or many other people, more than the copies I sell, that will be the best thing that I can possibly do. Because the more that these conversations, these topics infiltrate, the more that we can truly help people and that's all I really care about.
So, I appreciate you having me on. I appreciate you spreading the message and there is a better way. I think it's easy to get down and think like, this stuff is impossible. It's not, and it doesn't require the same sacrifice. It just actually requires you playing a different game than you've been told you have to play.
Ted: Well-stated. Adam, thanks so much for your wisdom, your knowledge, but most importantly, your time today. Really appreciate you.
Adam: Thanks, Ted.
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