Nerd Fitness » Blog Level up your life, every single day. Thu, 16 Apr 2015 15:54:18 +0000 en-US hourly 1 How Maya the Aspiring Aerialist Lost 70+ Pounds! Thu, 16 Apr 2015 14:45:01 +0000 I want you to meet Maya, known as StarsApart on the NF Boards, a proud member of the Rebellion and one heck of a success story.

Like many folks, Maya was fairly fit her teens and early twenties, but when she entered grad school, that all fell apart. She graduated completely out of shape, and the weight piled up: 30 lbs, 40, 50, and beyond.

Maya got stuck in a cycle, and for years let a poor diet add pounds to her waistline. She was in a place in her life where she wasn’t happy with herself or her situation and had spent a year doing hours upon hours of cardio only to see no results.

Finally, after a contest at work (and becoming a Rebel armed with the right tools) got her kick-started, Maya began to turn things around.

Just over a year later, she’s accomplished a TON. In her own words, here’s what Maya has done:

  • I lost 70+ pounds.
  • I went from a size 14 in dresses/pants to a size 2.
  • I cut almost all processed foods out of my diet and began home-cooking everything.
  • I threw away my fear and tried parkour.
  • I balanced Crow pose. For a record of 20 seconds so far. With a freaking boot on my leg.
  • I can now deadlift 170 lbs. That’s more than I weigh.
  • I rehabbed a broken bone to almost perfect health (still a work in progress, but I’m at the tail end).
  • I tried aerial and discovered I love acrobatics.
  • I can climb a rope (or silks) up to a 25 ft ceiling. I could never climb anything before in my life.
  • I ran a 5k. Only a month after my foot came out of its brace.
  • I can go snowshoeing up a mountain in the snow for 2.5 hours without losing my cool – or my breath.
  • I have abs. They still shock me when I look at myself in the mirror. Actually, I’m just shocked by the person I see in the mirror.

Today she’s 70 lbs lighter, and a whole new person. Let’s take a look at how she did it.

Maya’s Story


Steve: Hey Maya! Or Should I call you StarsApart? Can you tell the Community who are you, and what you do?

I’m Maya, and I do so many things that I hardly know where to begin! My alter-ego is a marketing analyst who spends her days dissecting data, but by night I turn into a professional singer, or an amateur aerialist, or sometimes just a tea-obsessed gamer, dreamer, and cat mom. I wear a lot of hats, and honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m always off chasing something shiny.

Steve: I know what that’s li…OOOH a butterfly! Anyways, let’s go back in time: What was the old you like?

It’s a pretty sad picture: wake up exhausted, having stayed up far too late the night prior. Consume several cups of black tea with an embarrassing amount of sugar, pull myself together, and make my sleepy way to work.

Take a mid-afternoon detour to the cafeteria for cookies…. because cookies seem like the best temporary medicine for emotional troubles. Sometimes hit the at-work gym for some cardio, sometimes not. Go out to dinner several times a week because cooking is just such a hassle.

Go to rehearsal, come home, and zone out in front of my PS3 until it’s suddenly 3am. Rinse, repeat.

Steve: I know there are a lot of Rebels who can relate to that lifestyle, myself included. So what flipped the switch? Was there a specific moment when you decided to make a change? 

At the start of 2014, I was at my lowest emotional point in years. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say I felt completely hopeless and helpless for a variety of reasons: my self-esteem was at an all-time low, and just going through the motions seemed exhausting. Fast forward to April 1, 2014 – there was a challenge going around my company which required 5 days of workouts a week for 2 months. There was a $20 buy-in and the winner would collect the pot.



At that time, I was already visiting the gym a few times a week, but with utterly NO success because I had not yet realized that I couldn’t out-Zumba my cookie habit. I have pretty extreme willpower when I choose to apply it, so I don’t renege on commitments.

I thought: maybe I can’t control much in my life right now, but at least I can win that money (spoiler: I did). We were asked to track our workouts in MyFitnessPal, so I made an account and figured, why not try tracking my food intake, too?

On my 30th birthday in May, which I had approached with dread, I woke up and thought, “why am I torturing myself? Why do I have to be unhappy all the time? Why do I care what everyone thinks of me?” The first positive thoughts I’d had in months, and I clung to them. I rocked a job interview (which would lead to a new position shortly after!) and started living. I kept calorie counting and exercising even though I believed that I wouldn’t lose any weight. I made myself not care – at least I was taking care of myself…and the weight started to come off.

I discovered Nerd Fitness in July and finally found an online community where I fit in – the final missing piece.  Then, in early August, the stumble that inadvertently changed everything: I broke my ankle.

So I started lifting, because what else could I do in a boot? And that’s how I discovered strength training.

Steve: I love that attitude! “I can’t fix everything, but at least I have control over my body, so let’s start there.” What’s a typical day like now?



I’m still not an early bird, but I wake up fairly refreshed because I make it a point to get 8 hours of sleep a night.

My tea is as likely to be green or white as black, and there’s no sugar in it anymore. My breakfast and lunch are already packed and ready to go. In fact, chances are I’ve planned the whole day’s meals in advance.

Instead of taking a lunch break, I head down to the at-work gym for lifting or a group class, depending on the day. The cafeteria ladies don’t know my name anymore, nor do the restaurant servers at my old favorite haunts.

After work, it’s rehearsal or aerial, followed by ravenous devouring of a protein-rich dinner and an early-ish bedtime. Though I’ll still vegetate with a game or a book some days, if I have time!

Steve: Sounds like the leveled-up Maya to me. Freaking awesome. You mentioned it earlier, but tell us a bit more about your exercise strategy? 

I started out trying to cardio my way to fitness, and boy oh boy, that didn’t work. These days, most of my workouts have a strength component, though I try to cycle through muscle groups to give my body enough recovery time.

I build my weekly exercise schedule around the idea of 2 days at the aerial gym (soon to be 3!), 2 days of barbell lifts, and at least 1 day of yoga. I still enjoy the occasional Zumba class, but I’m more likely to take one on an active rest day…. or on an aerial day as a bit of extra activity.



Steve: I’m not gonna lie, I love that you love barbell strength training. So, we know that diet is a much bigger component than we often give it credit for. What has been your diet game plan?

I jokingly call my way of eating “paleo plus,” although I guess I fall more in the “If it fits your macros” camp if you want to be technical. I eat mostly whole foods with an emphasis on meats and veggies, with moderate amounts of legumes, fruit, and dairy.

I have no adverse reaction to lactose, and I always neglected calcium in the past. A recent broken bone really drove home to me the fact that I ought to be more careful about that – besides, as someone who once lived in France, I cannot envision a life without good cheese! I also eat grains a few times a month, particularly on heavy workout days.

In any case, I have few hard and fast rules other than a complete, 100% avoidance of HFCS, but functionally this means that I don’t eat almost anything processed.

I also count every bite (or sip) that goes in my mouth and stick to my calorie limits. I’m a data geek anyway, so I’ve taken to calorie counting with relative ease. I like the feeling of balancing my macros – for me, it’s kind of like putting a puzzle together. Besides, it’s amazing how much stronger I feel when I get it right!



Steve: Being strong rules! Looking back, what was the toughest change for you to make?

Giving up (most) sweets. I have such a sweet tooth! In the past, I could easily mow through a package of cookies in one sitting. Just thinking about that now makes me a little queasy……

I ratcheted the sweets down over the course of a few months, and I still allow myself small servings of dessert occasionally, provided I can still balance my macros. That way I don’t feel too deprived, which makes my system sustainable for me.

Steve: As a data nerd, how did you track your progress? 

I didn’t start out taking photos, or measurements, or even weighing myself. When I first began to change, it was with the self-defeating thought in mind that I could not actually make a difference. Remember, I just wanted to win that pot of money… and prove a point to myself.

Then I visited the doctor a couple months later and realized I had lost some weight and I was shocked – and hungry for more results. I now take progress photos at the beginning and end of every Nerd Fitness challenge cycle.

I also weigh in and do measurements weekly.



Steve: What would you say was the most important change you made?

Lifting, absolutely. It’s embarrassing how terrified I used to be of free weights, but in August of last year, just as I was starting to really see results from my diet changes and increased activity levels, I broke my ankle.

I refused to quit working out, but almost everything I had done up to that point was off the table. I finally swallowed my fear and engaged a trainer for a few weeks to provide me with a lifting regimen that I could follow while I was limping around in a boot.

By the time the boot came off, my weight loss had taken off, my arms and back were looking significantly more toned, and I was completely sold on free weights!

As soon as the doctor cleared me, I moved on from my cobbled-together dumbbell program to Stronglifts 5×5. I can’t say enough positive things about lifting – I love love love feeling strong and capable!

Besides, when I finally followed a longtime dream of trying aerial acrobatics, the base of strength I’d built allowed me to progress much more quickly to more advanced skills and combinations.



Steve: You mean you used free weights and didn’t bulk up? Who knew! What did your support system look like?

I started with nobody. Then, slowly, I got my spouse on board.

A friend introduced me to Nerd Fitness around the same time and I’ve met so many wonderful and inspiring people via the forums!

The message boards really are my home away from home. If not for the forums, I probably wouldn’t have been brave enough to try things like parkour or aerial silks.

Now I’m always up for a new adventure, and I can usually find someone on the forums to offer advice and geek out with me about my progress. What a wonderful community!!!

Steve: We’re proud to have you in the community. Seriously. Thanks for being you, and being here :) So, had you tried and failed to get healthy before in the past? What made this time different?

I’ve definitely failed before. After a few months of cardio (and unknowingly eating back everything I’d burned) I’d get frustrated and quit. This time was different because I finally figured out the root of the problem, and the universe tossed me an opportunity disguised as a setback when I broke a bone. A combination of sensible eating and strength training brought results – and once I saw results, I refused to quit!



Steve: What would you tell somebody in your situation right now to help them? Somebody who’s tried and failed but ready to try again?

Don’t be afraid to try new things. Find a way to have fun with it. But most importantly, show up. Show up every day. You’re going to have bad days and sad days and painful days, but tenacity will get you everywhere. I promise. Just keep showing up and trust the process, and someday, you will look down and realize you’ve climbed higher than you ever believed possible.

Steve: You’ve already accomplished so much! What’s the next challenge for you? 

I’m adding aerial hoop to my repertoire of skills! I’ve had a bit of introduction to the apparatus, but focused mostly on silks until now. And speaking of the silks, I’m starting to choreograph simple sequences for myself now.

I’m not aiming for Cirque du Soleil or anything, but I’d like to perform someday. There are plenty of local opportunities for aerialists – all I need to do is keep working on my skills until I’m up to par!



Steve: LOVE IT! What a unique activity and I love your attitude towards it. So, your physical appearance has changed. What else has changed about you?

My attitude is completely different. Most of the difficulties in my life weren’t a direct result of my fitness, but my fitness journey has taught me that I have more control over my life than I ever thought possible.That was the first building block to putting myself back together.

I’m much more positive now, and much more likely to take an optimistic outlook on things. I still struggle sometimes with my inner demons – who doesn’t? – but I’m better equipped to fight them now.

They’re never going to win, because I’m stronger than they are.

Steve: That last line is absolutely incredible. Thank you for sharing that…ugh look what you made me do. Okay, anyways! On to the nerdy stuff: Jason Bourne or James Bond?

James Bond. He’s a classy guy.



Steve: Favorite video game of all time?

Dragon Age: Origins wins by a narrow margin, with honorable mentions going to almost every game in the Final Fantasy franchise.

Steve: Do you have any nerdy passions or pursuits?

Although I’ve pared it down considerably, I still have a pretty massive collection of anime and manga. I read a ton of fantasy and occasionally write some of my own, though my most recent noveling project, Against All Odds, is about space pirates. Go figure? Also, true nerd cred: I stood in line for midnight releases of every Harry Potter book or movie. There may have been costumes involved.

Steve: You’re full of amazing nerdiness and now you’re strong as hell too. What else should we know?


I’m a trained opera singer, though these days I sing only part time in a professional classical chorus. Life took me another route and I no longer regret it, but if you ever want to geek out for hours about Mozart or Puccini, please contact me. Seriously. I need more music nerds in my life.

Steve: Thank you thank you thank you for sharing your story. Seriously. And thanks for making me cry a bit…not even kidding.

Why Maya Was Successful


After several failed attempts, Maya finally found a recipe to get healthy. What was the key to her success?

  • She realized she couldn’t outrun her diet: Maya didn’t realize it until after the fact, but she was sabotaging her work in the gym with her choices in the kitchen. This is why hours upon hours of cardio never resulted in progress! It’s no surprise that this is Rule #4 of the Rebellion! In our humble view, exercise is actually the LEAST important part of the equation. If you put your focus on eating right, you’re already 80-90% there.
  • Maya focused on eating less AND eating real food: Not only did Maya focus on eating less and tracked her macronutrients, but she also focused on eating real foods – whole foods. It’s easy to overeat when you’re eating foods filled with sugar, or munching on foods out of boxes and bags all day. While many people can successfully lose weight through only a focus on eating whole foods or tracking their intake, Maya did both. She loved data, and turned the process into something she could truly nerd out about. Win.
  • Maya took baby steps: If we took Maya from a year ago and had her immediately start training 5 days a week in the gym with a drastically different nutrition plan, she might have run away screaming. Instead, she started with counting calories, and then mixed in some new classes and built up confidence. And then she made small adjustments to her diet, and hired a trainer to learn barbell strength training. And then she tried aerial and fell in love with that, giving her a purpose for her training!
  • Maya knew where she was headed: Once she proved to herself that she could do this, Maya was extremely diligent in tracking her workouts, and tracked every calorie consumed too. She eventually started tracking her progress in almost every way possible: photos every challenge (as you can see from the photos throughout the post), measurements, and weight. If she was headed in the wrong direction, she would have known quickly. Tracking her progress allowed her to put her faith in the process, and just show up day after day.
  • Maya found something she enjoyed – After realizing that hours of cardio didnt work for her, she tried something different. She started strength training, and training at an aerial gym. Before long she was diving into barbell training, and today she is looking forward to mastering advanced aerial moves. If you’ve failed to get healthy before and had a miserable time, it’s probably no wonder things didn’t work out.  Finding something you enjoy is an essential part of this process. Find something you can nerd out about – something you look forward to!

Questions for Maya?


We don’t believe in true before and afters. Maya has dedicated herself to this quest for life. She a moves forward to slay her next dragon: aerial training!

Maya broke through where many have failed, and I hope her story inspires you to keep trying. But that’s why we’re a community; we’re here to figure out what works and what doesn’t – and then share those lessons with one another. When Maya dove into the six-week challenges, she had a community behind her to support her, answer her questions, and keep her moving forward.

To recap Maya’s journey and success:

  • She counted calories and learned how crucial nutrition is in the health equation.
  • She slowly shifted her diet toward real food and cut back on sweets.
  • She discovered a supportive community that encouraged her to push herself and take challenges (Nerd Fitness!).
  • She discovered barbell strength training, and fell in love with it!
  • She found an activity she loves and that encourages her to get even stronger and more fit (aerial silks and sing).

So stop by the comments, leave some kind words, and ask questions! Are you struggling with something that Maya has overcome?


PS: It’s no secret we LOVE strength training around here, and hope you do too. If you’re new to strength training, check out our free Strength Training 101 series!


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What Can You Actually Get Done in Six Weeks? (A New Six-Week Challenge Starts!) Mon, 13 Apr 2015 19:36:46 +0000 “30 Days to a Better Body!”

“I just did a 21-day Detox.”

“___ will get you shredded in 90 days!”

There’s a lot of information and misinformation out there about what you can get done when it comes to transforming your body, and how long that transformation should take. We’ve already covered “How fast can I get the body I want?” in an article, along with “How fast can I build muscle?” – but today we’re going to talk about what you can expect to get done in 6 weeks:

  • Can you work on something every day for six weeks and build a habit?
  • How much weight can you drop?
  • Can you make any lasting changes?
  • What’s possible?

Why six weeks? Because today on our Nerd Fitness message boards, we’re launching the next Six-Week Challenge!

We’d love for you to join us, set some kickass goals, and make great progress.

What can you do in 6 weeks?

Calendar where will you be

It’s weird – we often overestimate what we can do in a day, and underestimate what we can get done in a year.

We think in the short term, and so we scramble to where we need to go as quickly as possible (get in shape for a wedding, drop weight for a vacation a month from now). Then we go back to “normal” life afterwards. Back to all our old habits.

Next time, this process repeats itself. The scramble, the return to our old habits.

In my own journey, I realized I had been treading water and making minimal to no progress for years! It took a rededication to fitness, a focus on antifragility, and putting fitness first for me to finally break out of that rut. Although I now think in terms of years for where my personal fitness is heading, I break everything down into 6 week chunks.

So what’s the point of a six-week challenge then? It’s not to lose as much weight as possible as quickly as possible. Instead, the point of a six-week challenge is to focus on creating quality habits and accomplishing small goals. When you can do this consistently and sustainably in those six weeks, you build up something really freaking powerful within you:


Like stringing together a combo in Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat, when you can start to string successful, SUSTAINABLE weeks together to complete a six-week challenge, you build momentum. When you string together multiple six-week challenges, you complete ultra-combos and your life shifts from “building new habits” to “this is my new normal.”

It’s kind of like Walking to Mordor. Sure, Frodo knew Mt. Doom was hundreds and hundreds of miles away, but it wasn’t hundreds of miles of nothing. There were specific milestones and markers along the way to tell him he was walking in the right direction. First, from the Shire to Rivendell, and then to the Mines, and then Lothlorien, and so on and so forth.

When you put your faith in the process and do this consistently, you fundamentally change your life. Not just for short periods of time, but permanently.

So yes, you can lose weight in six weeks, but it might not be as much if you took six week to starve yourself and work out at a ridiculous pace. That’s okay! That’s expected!

Yes, you can build muscle and strength, but perhaps not as quickly as if you worked out seven days a week and pumped yourself full of supplements. That’s okay! That’s not what we’re going for.

We’re not interested in “get fit quick”, we’re interested in “get healthy permanently.”

And that’s how you’re going to build your challenge. That’s how you’re going to get the results that have eluded you all of these years. And that’s how you’re going to level up your life.

What our rebels have accomplished in six weeks

NF Dallas Meetup

So, what can you REALISTICALLY get done in six weeks?

We reached out to the Rebellion community and asked for the accomplishments some of our Rebels made during the last six-week challenge. Few of them revolve around how much weight was lost, but rather the mental hurdles overcome or the new habits built, or fears conquered. Win.

Click on each for the full report :)

BlackTezca ate vegetables with every meal, six days a week. Focused on building arm and core strength with her workouts, and paid down the debt completely on one of her credit cards!

QuothTheDragon put a strong focus on taking care of herself, and learned a lot about her physiology and how ADHD affects her daily life. Level up :)

Milo learned barbell strength training, read a fitness-focused book, and maintained a caloric deficit. As a side effect of the training and eating healthy, he lost 12 pounds!

Catspaw realized it was time to: “Just relax and trust the process, kids.” Love that attitude :)

ShadowLion learned about mental victories! Back and Knee rehab! “Small sustainable victories in the face of a lot of change.”

DrFeelGood achieved a 13-pound weight loss, complete with data trend analysis and forecasting. This is Nerd Fitness after all!

Rowan Caldecott focused on momentum building, learned about what her body tells her, and stuck with flexibility and mindfulness practice. Booyah!

If you read through any of the challenges above, you’ll notice a WIDE variety of quests, missions, goals, and targets. However, each of them have one thing in common: they are building momentum! Each six-week challenge is an opportunity to build on the previous challenge – instead of running out of gas at the end of the six weeks, we want to pick goals that build up our top speed and allow us to make progress towards our main goal.

This is like finishing a race in a sprint with a smile on your face instead of crawling across the finish line :) 

How to Participate

Challenge yourself

If you’re brand new to the Nerd Fitness message boards, we’d love to have you on there!

Here’s how you can join the Six-Week Challenge (starts Monday April 13th, but even if you read this late, join us all week and catch up!).

The FULL instructions are here, but I’ll give you the abridged version too:

1) Pick your goals. First start by determining your main quest – where do you want to be by the end of the year? This can be general and non specific. Do you want to get stronger? Faster? Lose 30lbs?

Now, take that quest and pick three specific goals (diet and fitness related) that will help you get there, and think about what you are going to do to complete those goals over the next 6 weeks. These goals should be SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely).

Note the realistic and timely aspects – these should be small goals that can be completed in 6 weeks. You do not want to pick goals that require you to completely flip-turn upside down. You want them to be hard enough that you need to focus on them, but they should fit into your life so you can make habits and changes that stick.

We would rather you consistently walk for 10 minutes every day than for you to have an “extreme challenge” and lose 30 lbs, while waiting every second for the challenge to be over so you can go back to your old lifestyle.

Here are some helpful references:

2) Pick a life side quest (optional). The optional side quest is not related to diet and fitness, but would help you level up your life. Examples would be to create and follow a budget, to keep your house clean, or to read one book every week for the duration of the challenge.

3) Pick a guild based on your main quest. Your guild will be your “team” to help hold you accountable! You can switch guilds every challenge if you want – so this is not a permanent decision!

  • If you are a first time challenger, are new to Nerd Fitness and the challenges, are new to fitness and your goals, or don’t want to specialize, you are a Recruit.
  • If you are doing your first challenge and want to be grouped with other first time challengers, post your thread in the Recruit subforum.

For everyone else – click here for more information on the guilds.

4) Post your thread in either the recruit section or in your guildInclude a little bit about yourself, what your goals are, and how you are going to accomplish them. Some people do a full background, some don’t. How much information you choose to put in here is up to you!

5) Update as little or as much as you would like throughout the challenge. Some people find it helpful to update every day, some people find it better to update every week.

If you’re curious, here’s my six-week challenge and what I’ll be working on! Feel free to follow along as I try to build some new habits I’ve long struggled with and cross a big “I’m terrified” challenge off my Epic Quest.


PS: It looks like we now have over 12,000 members in the Nerd Fitness Academy! This is our premium course we’re really proud of, and I’d be honored if you checked it out. If you’re brand new to health and fitness, consider this the closest thing we can get to holding your hand through the first year of your journey :)


photo source: ElDave: Wrestler Lego, wenzday01: calendar

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Struggling to Reach a Goal? Turn it into a Boss Battle. Mon, 06 Apr 2015 15:00:21 +0000 When was the last time you had a real boss battle in your life?

If you’ve played board or video games, it might seem obvious that competition and “survival of the nerdiest” can help us hone our skills:

  • Playing Call of Duty or League of Legends with an elite squad and watching your kill/death ratio climb.
  • Playing Mario Kart against friends and enjoying the rollercoaster of emotions that comes from climbing from last to first just before crossing the finish line.
  • Leveling up high enough in World of Warcraft to get to take on dragons and guild raids.
  • Playing chess online to see if we can rank up in our skills.
  • Playing Magic the Gathering, CarcassonneSettlers of Catan, or Cones of Dunshire with friends or in actual competition.

So, the idea of a boss battle might be something you are familiar, but as nerds, it tends to be with a controller or board game.

If you want to stay on target, and level up your life (and make some friends in the process), taking these boss battles into the physical realm creates the kind of positive stress that can lead to growth in our body and mind.

Boss battles (and the treasure that comes with victory) can help you level up your life.

Why Should We create boss battles?


When we set ourselves up with a real life Boss Battle, it makes the day-to-day exercise we perform that much more meaningful. 

Whatever it is, a great boss battle has three specific things:

  • It’s challenging. It’s something that will make you push and reach and sacrifice and work hard to actually complete. Nobody likes a boss battle you can defeat without breaking a mental sweat. The satisfaction from defeating a boss that took all of your energy and brought you to your final heart container is thrilling.
  • It has a specific date and time or place. Regardless of the challenge, the boss battle is going to happen in a certain place at a certain time. When you put all three pieces of the Triforce in the right place, Gannon will show up. When you enter this room, the door will lock behind you and you need to defeat a particular boss. You know it’s coming, so you better be prepared for it.
  • There’s a treasure associated with it. Yeah, boss battles are fun, but they also serve a purpose. When you defeat a boss, you earn something rewarding: the key to the next dungeon, a new item, a better sword, stronger armor, and more.

Now, you may be thinking: “But Steve, why should I care about having real life boss battles?” Boss battles can help keep us on track with our goals, ensure we’re moving forward, and set us up for success:

  • Boss Battles give us a unifying goal to work to build our workouts and nutrition around. “Ugh, another workout” becomes “I am gaining strength points to level up my avatar until my powerlifting boss battle.” Like the game Journey, you can always see the top of the mountain in the distance, guiding you towards the goal like the North Star guided sailors. Every workout, every meal, every decision is done in the name of leveling yourself up to be as prepared as possible for the boss battle.
  • Boss battles give us instant accountability. We can lie to ourselves all we want, and we can listen to our friends tell us “come on, you look fine, skip this workout.” We can skip the end of our workouts and make up excuses to ourselves justifying poor eating. But when you sign up in advance for a boss battle, the accountability of “I have to do this, whether I’m ready or not” can be the reason that gets you off the couch.
  • There’s a reward! Completing the boss battle is an opportunity to give yourself positive rewards to keep you on track (aka treasure): a new pair of running shoes for a marathon completed, a one-month training mentorship with a great teacher if you actually test for your next belt, new lifting shoes if you hit your 6 month goal, etc.
  • It’s a good kind of stress. Whether it’s the morning jitters before a race, or that moment before you step on the stage to complete your complex training routine for judges, those extra beats per minute in your heart are telling you you’re doing something important that you care about. This is called eustress, and it’s good for us :)
  • Because of the added stress and anticipation, you learn what you’re truly capable of. You’ll always push yourself harder in a boss battle. You’ll run faster, lift more, and perform at higher levels because of the atmosphere and situation.

So what does a “real life boss battle” look like? It could be a formal competitive atmosphere, like a 5k, an IRONMAN competition, or completing your first power-lifting competition. It might be also be a major milestone, like testing for your blue belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Heck, it might even be a decision to summon 20-seconds of courage and go out to finally play that first ultimate frisbee game with new friends. Or maybe you set a goal to nail a 225 deadlift or 8 minute mile by May 31, and that’s your boss battle.

Are you in? Great. Let’s create some bosses.

How do i build a boss battle?

Bronwyn Deadlift

Okay, ready to compete in your very own boss battle? Grab your Master Sword, put on your green tunic, and use the Master Key to go fight Gomha. Kidding. It’s a little bit different than that, but the sentiment is the same. What’s important is that is has the three parts of a boss battle:

  • A specific date and time for completion – “yes I succeeded” or “no I didn’t.”
  • Some level of accountability (public competition, friends, etc.)
  • There’s a reward associated with it!

Ultimately, it comes down to you having a big goal to complete or milestone to cross on a specific date and a reward associated with it. I’m a big fan of public accountability and pre-paying for an event so you’re “pot committed.”

Let’s start building your boss battle! 

  • Identify the discipline you want to learn, the milestone you want to reach, or the type of tournament you plan on competing in.
  • Get pot committed as quickly as possible. Build up your 20 seconds of courage and sign up before you can start thinking too much about it and back out.  Mail your check and figure out the rest later! The competition/event/whatever is infinitely more real when you have financial skin in the game. Is your Boss Battle free? Then find another way to get committed: tell friends, have others help keep you accountable, etc.
  • Identify your reward for completing the boss battle. As Legend of Zelda taught us, reward yourself with things that reward you back. A new pair of shoes, a shirt you’ve always wanted in a smaller size (or a larger size), a month pass to a rock climbing gym, a new video game, whatever works for you!
  • Reverse engineer your training plan. If your boss battle is 10 weeks from now, then you can determine how often you need to train and what level you need to be after 2 weeks, 5 weeks, 8 weeks, etc. If you are going to deadlift 405 at the next Powerlifting meet, you can figure out what sort of strength increases you should be making weekly in order to bring it to life.
  • Get started. If possible, start yesterday. As that’s not an option, today will have to do.

Once you have built your boss battle, suddenly every decision you make each day carries just a bit more importance. With a boss battle looming, is skipping your workout today a smart decision? Sure, if you eat two entire pizzas nobody will be the wiser…when the battle comes your armor might not fit and you’ll get squashed by Bowser!

We never leave our post in the Rebellion :)

Public boss battles


While boss battles don’t have to be public and competitive, there is a huge benefit in making your boss battle something that can be experienced with others.

Remember: It doesn’t matter if you take first place or compete perfectly. After all, when you finish a boss you don’t expect to come out with 100% life. All that matters is you killed the bad guy.

Public competition can work in your favor – helping you to stay accountable and to put your best foot forward when the time comes to slay the dragon. The types of competition listed below are the good kind – the kind in which you might be competing against others…but really your boss battle is like the Water level in Level of Zelda Ocarina of Time: you are battling yourselfIf you’re interested in public boss battles, look below: 

Powerlifting competitions: we have a ton of NF rebels who compete regularly in powerlifting competitions. Our very own Brownyn, mother of two who lost a ton of weight while gaining strength, now competes in powerlifting competitions.We even have quarterly virtual powerlifting competitions on our Message Boards if you don’t live near a place that you can compete. Search here for lifting competitions in your area.

Running races: 5ks, 10ks, half marathons, sprint triathlons, etc. Sure you’re competing against the racers around you, but you’re actually competing against your previous best time for that distance! Never run one before? Your boss battle can simply be completing the race. Races can be a serious part of your journey to a healthy life! It worked for Robin!

Adventure races: Spartan Races, Obstacle Courses, Tough Mudders, Glo Runs, Warrior Dashes, …it’s the type of race I can get behind. Scared to try? Level up and turn your boss battle into a group raid! Gather a team of friends, put on matching themed costumes, and run together.

Martial Arts: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a favorite of Baker, the Gamification Juggernaut on Team NF. There’s a belt ranking system, regularly scheduled tournaments and good natured competitions. Plus, it’s one hell of a workout. Karate, Tai Kwon Do, Muay Thai, Capoeira – there are so many different martial arts style to choose from, and many boss battle opportunities within each!

Boxing: Just because you don’t plan on making it to the level of Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao doesn’t mean you can’t box for fun! We have a success story from Dave who now competes as an amateur boxer!

Crossfit competitions: If you love to lift and miss collegiate athletics or simply want a supportive community, Crossfit is a great place to look. Heck, they’re even televising the CrossfFit games on ESPN these days. (Our thoughts on Crossfit are explained thoroughly here.)

Other competitions: Ballroom Dancing, Swing Dancing, etc!

WHAT’s Your boss battle and treasure?


You know the drill at this point. I want to hear from you – what’s a Boss Battle you can add into your life to keep you focused and targeted? And what’s the treasure earned upon delivering that satisfying fatal blow?

Share it in the comments below. Feel free to add an epic name to your boss battle, and dress up the treasure, and give it some character. I mean, come on, this is Nerd Fitness! Also, feel free to share your favorite game boss battle of all time!

“As a scout, I will battle my fellow competitors for the sacred running of the Spartans. Upon completion of this test that will challenge me mentally, physically, and emotionally, I shall finally earn the Boss Battle’s treasure: the winged Sandals of Mercury (new Nike running shoes).”

Bonus points for being creative.



PS: This boss battle/treasure stuff works outside of fitness too! I’m currently using it to level up on my Troubador quests in my Epic Quest :)

photo source: Steven Mosel: Bowser, Zelda Wiki: Ganon

]]> 34
How to Spice Up Any Meal. Literally. Tue, 31 Mar 2015 14:30:36 +0000 This is a post from NF Rebel Chef Noel.

Remember those diagrams of the tongue that you learned about in school? They told you the tongue tasted different flavors depending on the section. The back tastes bitter, the front tastes sweet, and the sides taste salty and sour.

1. Bitter 2. Sour 3. Salt 4. Sweet

Most of us now know this is wrong. Your whole tongue tastes all flavors, and it’s not just your tongue! The roof of our mouth and your nose help out too! In fact, there are more than just the four flavors we learned about in school.

There is another lie that has been circulating the fitness world for years. It’s a lie that says healthy food is boring and bland. It drives me crazy. And in this nerd’s opinion, it’s one of the most damaging lies told about getting healthy.

We know diet is 80% of the battle when it comes to achieving our health and fitness goals. And when we tell ourselves eating healthy food is boring, flavorless, and downright gross, we put ourselves on the fast track to failure! Just like exercise can and should be fun, cooking meat and veggies should be delicious.

Just like the squat and deadlift adhere to the 80-20 rule, today we’re going over some basic skills that will allow you to see maximal benefit for minimal effort.

How? Simple flavors. Think of these like the compound movements of cooking.

Here are 6 fool proof spice combinations to help you level up your cooking skills, explore the world with your tongue, and (hopefully) get you out of your food rut!

The Core Six


Tons of rebels looking to level up their cooking have asked about re-creating their favorite dishes from around the world. I’ve got good news for you! It’s not as difficult as most people think.

Regional dishes taste the way they do because they are made from the spices and ingredients local to that community. Your ancestors didn’t need Super Processed Stir Fry Sauce™ to make dinner. They used whole foods to create delicious dishes, and we’re going to do the same. 

Here are 6 simplified spice combinations that you can use to take your healthy meals from bland to bold. Each is measured for a pound of food:


  • Mexican: 1 Tbsp (15ml) Chili powder, juice of 1 Lime
  • Greek: 1 Tbsp (15ml) Oregano, 2 tbsp (30ml) Olive Oil, 2 tbsp (30ml) Lemon juice
  • Italian: ½ Tbsp (7ml) Oregano, 3 cloves (½ tsp/2.5ml powdered) Garlic, ½ tbsp (7ml) Basil, 1 can diced Tomatoes
  • Indian: ½ Tsp (2.5ml) Cumin, 1 tbsp (15ml) Curry, ½ tsp (2.5ml) Coriander
  • Chinese/Japanese (this makes a marinade or stir fry sauce): ¼ tsp (1ml) Ginger, ¼ cup (59ml)Tamari (coconut aminos or soy sauce), 2 Tbsp (30ml)Rice Vinegar, 3 cloves (½ tsp/2.5ml powdered) Garlic, dash red pepper flake, 1 tbsp (15ml) Sugar (honey)

 Bonus flavors! 

  • Thai (this makes a marinade or stir fry sauce): 1/2 cup (118ml) Coconut milk, 1/4 cup (59ml) Tamari (coconut aminos), 2 tbsp (30ml) Fish Sauce, 1 Tbsp (15ml) Green or red curry paste, handful fresh chopped Cilantro

For the complete set, add these to your shopping list(herbs and spices are dried): 

  • 2 limes
  • 2 lemons
  • Can or jar of diced tomatoes
  • Coconut aminos or soy sauce
  • Rice vinegar or apple cider vinegar
  • Chili Powder
  • Oregano
  • Basil
  • Parsley
  • Red Pepper Flake
  • Garlic Powder (or fresh bulb of garlic, your choice)
  • Curry powder
  • Cumin
  • Coriander
  • Ginger powder

If you go to the store and buy these 15 items, you’ll be set to make a wide variety of dishes from all over the world. These spice combinations can be used for chicken, fish, eggs, beef, or pork; roasted, sauteed, steamed, or microwaved veggies; stir fries, and more!

For a very minimal monetary investment and one trip to the grocery store, you can have a different dish from around the world every day of the week!

Spices in action!

Okay, you’ve got your spices. Now how do you put them to work? Glad you asked!

We’re going to take one of your favorite recipes and put your new spices to the test! Grab one of our many recipes and take one of the above spice combos and put them together.

My suggestion is that you omit the suggested spices from the original recipe posts and replace them with the ingredient measurements above. Remember, the above suggestions are by the pound, so if you’re using two pounds of chicken or veggies, double the spices!

Here are just a few examples of how you can these spices for almost any dish:

  • Roasted veggies – Anyone up for some Mexican chili lime or Indian curry spiced veggies?
  • Chicken Stir Fry – Try the Asian spices out to level up this classic!
  • Shepherd’s Pie - Indian curry shepherd’s pie sounds like an unexpected and delightful combination.
  • 7 Ingredient Fish and Veggies – Eliminate the spices from the original recipe and try an Asian twist!
  • Lettuce Wrapped Burgers – Make some Italian spiced burgers, and top with fresh mozzarella, tomato, and fresh basil!
  • Scrambled Eggs and Veggies – Try a different spice combo on plain old scrambled eggs each morning this week to see how the flavors differ!
  • Easiest Chicken Ever – Toss the chicken in some Greek spices, lemon, and olive oil instead of the spices prescribed in the original recipe.

After a while, you’ll learn which spices you like in a dish and which ones you can live without. Maybe you like cinnamon in your curry or maybe you can’t stand the taste of ginger. That’s totally cool! Your food is YOURS!

Soon you’ll be able to spice your dishes without having to measure them every time. Be sure to use your nose and mouth to smell and taste what you’re making as you go! (Unless it’s raw meat. Never taste raw meat.)

Tips to master the core spices: 


So you’re heading to the store, or you already have your spices. Awesome! Here are some tips to make shopping and cooking a little bit easier.

1. Does buying individual spices and mixing them sound intimidating? The spice companies make this easy for us. Check out the spice aisle in your grocery store. Lots of companies make pre-mixed spices for regional dishes:

  • Italian Seasoning
  • Greek Seasoning
  • Herbs de Provence
  • Taco/Fajita seasoning
  • Curry powder
  • Chinese 5-spice powder

To experiment with these, buy a couple and try a new one every time you cook something. Put it on something basic like eggs or baked chicken so you can begin to taste the difference between spices from different areas of the world.

2. Salt and pepper don’t do the same job. Salt makes your food taste MORE like what it is. It enhances the flavors of the food that are already there. If you over-season with salt, of course it will make your food taste salty, but that’s not salt’s function in the culinary world.

If you’re feeling adventurous and have a little extra cash, buy some fancy looking sea salt. There’s Hawaiian pink sea salt, fleur de sel, coarse sea salt, fine sea salt. There’s even weird stuff like truffle salt, grey sea salt, and black pyramid salt!

The best advice for pepper is to buy whole peppercorns and a pepper grinder. They even sell disposable ones with peppercorns already in them at the grocery store. You don’t have to get fancy. This is what I have. Fresh ground pepper makes all the difference in the world. If you like pepper on your food, this is the way to go!

Sometimes the most simple combination of coarse sea salt and coarsely cracked black pepper is all I use to season a steak, and it’s freaking delicious. Never discount simplicity.

3. Buy a pre-stocked spice rack. I might get some flack for this tip from seasoned (pun intended!) cooks. But when you’re first starting out, instead of buying all your spices individually, sometimes it’s nice just to have it all done for you. Spice racks are relatively cheap, they give you a lot of spices and herbs that you may not have thought about picking up at the store, but you’ll be glad you have it when a recipe calls for paprika and voila! You already have it!

Admittedly, spices and herbs that come in a pre-stocked spice rack from a department store may be older and therefore less flavorful, but it’s better than having no spices at all!

4. Get acquainted with acid. By acid, I mean vinegars and citrus juices. You’ll be amazed at how much adding a little bit of vinegar to a plate of sauteed veggies or your paleo spaghetti sauce makes it pop.

Acids brighten the flavors in your food and help minimize some of the bitter flavors in certain foods (like dark leafy green veggies). An acid can also help you bring down the heat if you added too much red pepper flake to a dish.

5. Fry the spices first. This is called “blooming” your spices. When your oil is heated in your pan, add your spices to the oil first and mix them around for 3-5 seconds, then add your veggies or meat or whatever you’re cooking in that oil. This is a quick and easy way to deepen and intensify the flavor of your spices.

Spice it Up


We’ve all heard people say eating healthy food is boring and bland. If you ask me, the people who are telling you this are doing it wrong.

When we force ourselves to eat the same foods over and over (like plain baked chicken and steamed veggies with minimal seasoning), it can deplete our willpower bar if we crave more flavors and variety.

Companies design Frankenfoods to make us crave the sugars and chemicals they’ve created, so they can profit off of us indefinitely. How can we fight against that? By mastering the art of using spices and sauces!

Healthy eating doesn’t have to be boring. Armed with these basic concepts and combinations you can defeat cravings and actually enjoy and look forward to your healthy meals!

So, what flavors are we missing?

Are there any other spices in your cabinet that you have NO IDEA what to do with? Let us know in the comments! Maybe we can help!


PS: We’ve recently added more recipes and meal plans (including vegetarian) to the Nerd Fitness Academy! If you haven’t joined us yet, come on and check it out – we got over 11,000 members so far in there that would love to join!  


Spices: Gavin BellWikipedia: Tongue Map, Boring: Strevo, Pirates: Pascal, Bored Spaghetti: Steven Feather, Spice Jars: enigmachck1

]]> 59
How to Cut and Roast Vegetables Thu, 19 Mar 2015 14:39:42 +0000 This is an article from NF Rebel Chef Noel.

Last month we covered a recipe that was a bit more advanced for our rebels that love a challenge. This month, we’re getting back to basics and doing something super, duper easy.

My favorite way to eat vegetables is to roast them. The reason I love it is because they get somewhat sweet and crunchy, you can prepare a bunch of them at once. Oh, and did I mention its super easy? Pretty much all you have to do is cut them, toss them in olive oil and spices of your choice, throw them in the oven, and wait.

Now, I said we’re getting back to basics here, so for those who are experienced cooks, this might be more information than you need. If that’s the case, close your computer and bang out some push ups! If you’re new to cooking, then we’re glad to have you.

We’re going to be taking this back to pre-level one. Level 0.5.

Let’s get started!

Roasted Veggies: Ingredients and Equipment


Basic Roasted Vegetables
Total Time: 45 – 50 min
Serves: 2-4

The great thing about roasted veggies is that you can use whatever veggies you prefer. Here’s what I used:

2 Bell peppers

1 Head cauliflower

1 Red onion

4 Button mushrooms

2 Tbsp olive oil

1/4 tsp salt

Pepper to taste

Equipment needed:

  • Aluminum Foil (optional) – For lining your baking sheets. This makes cleanup easy peasy.
  • 1-2 Baking Sheets – Flat baking sheets (like the ones you make cookies on) are best. You can use a cake pan, casserole or baking dish with higher sides, but it’ll trap more moisture and make your veggies mushier rather than crisp and roast-y.
  • Knife
  • Cutting board
  • 1 Tbsp (15ml) measuring spoon
  • Large Bowl
  • Spoon or spatula for mixing


1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F (204 C). Since this is cooking level 0.5, let’s talk about what this means for a second. Preheating means setting your oven to a certain temperature and letting it heat up while you’re getting your ingredients ready.

We may not have readily available hover boards or food hydrators just yet, but we are living in the future. As long as there is nothing spilled in the oven and you don’t leave anything inside it when you turn it on, your oven is safe to preheat ahead of time. It will regulate itself by turning the heating coils or burners inside on and off as needed to maintain the correct temperature.

2. Wash your veggies. Just rinse them with cold water to remove any dirt. Also remove any stickers they might have on them at this time.

3. Cut your veggies. The best advice I can give you is to cut all your veggies to about the same size. This way, they cook at the same rate.


Start by cutting the top off of the pepper. This allows you to grab the innards and seeds before slicing it further.

After you have cleaned it out, place the cut part down on the cutting board and slice the pepper in half.

From here, you’ll have two relatively flat pepper halves to cut into bite sized chunks.


Toss your cut peppers into your mixing bowl.


For roasting, we want relatively larger chunks of onion. If we dice the onion like we did for paleo spaghetti, the pieces of onion will be too small and they’ll burn before the larger pieces of vegetables are cooked. This is no bueno.

So, start by cutting the top and bottom off of the onion. This will make it easy to peel later on.

Then cut the onion in half so that you have a flat surface to work with.


Cut it in half again to quarter it.


Now we can take the peel off easily.


While you’re at it, go ahead and separate the layers of onion and toss them into your mixing bowl too.



Most cauliflower comes with the leaves and part of the stem still attached. Go ahead and remove that. Just pull it off with your hands.


Once you’ve cleared most of it, take a knife and cut off the rest of the stem.


Now you have a thing that looks like a white brain. Sweet. Cut that sucker in half so that you have a flat surface to work with.


Now cut it in half again to quarter it like we did with the onion.


Next, we’ll cut some of the middle stem out of the inside of the cauliflower. Place the knife near the stems of the florets, angle the knife away from you, and cut the middle piece out. You can cut this into a couple small pieces and roast it too if you like.


Now use your hands to tear apart the large chunk of cauliflower into smaller florets.



When roasting, I like to cut these into quarters. Bigger chunks are less likely to burn. Simply cut them in half.


Then cut the halves in half. Remember to place the flat, cut side down on the cutting board when cutting your veggies. This will keep them stable and make it less likely for the knife to slip and cut you.


4. Put all your veggies in a bowl
and drizzle 2 tbsp olive oil over them.


Use a spoon or spatula to mix.

5. Line your baking sheets with aluminum foil. You don’t have to do this, but dishes are a big obstacle to cooking for a lot of people (including myself). Covering your baking sheet with foil makes the clean up so much easier (just toss the aluminum foil once you’re done!)


6. Dump them out onto a baking sheet or two. For this many veggies, I used two baking sheets. Spread the veggies out on the baking sheets so they’re not piled on top of each other and so most of them are not touching. If they are piled on top of one another, they will steam rather than roast.


7. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and any other preferred spices. Just salt, pepper, and olive oil is simple and delicious.


8. Place them in the oven for 30-45 minutes. Check every 15 minutes and stir them up with your spatula so that they get roasted on all sides. This is what they should look like when they’re done. A little crisp and toasty (and brown) on the edges, and they’ve shrunk from releasing water.


Pull them out and pack them up for later in the fridge or serve immediately. You can use roasted veggies as a side or even serve them cold, tossed in with salad to make the flavors a little more interesting.


There you have it: your basic veggie roasting lesson! Roasting vegetables has been a go-to method of cooking for me since I first started cooking for myself, it’s my absolute favorite way to cook and eat plants.

When we’re dedicated to making positive food choices, we can get into a routine of eating the same things for every meal. Steamed spinach, microwaved broccoli, raw carrots… As much as we don’t like to admit it, all that stuff can get boring after a while, and being bored can deplete our willpower bar. Trying a new method of cooking can help! And I promise, if you’ve never roasted vegetables before, if you do it right, you won’t regret it.

Bonus Veggie FAQ round!

Here are some questions and answers you might have about this method of cooking veggies. Don’t worry! I had a lot of questions like these when I first started cooking too. Through some experimentation and a lot of cooking fails, I’ve managed come up with some answers for you. Let’s hope this helps. And if I didn’t cover your question here, feel free to ask it in the comments!

Can you use frozen veggies?

YES! Some folks prefer buying frozen veggies. In many cases, they are cheaper and keep for longer amounts of time. That’s totally cool. Defrost them under some water,  pat them dry with a paper towel, and follow steps 4-8!

I don’t like [insert veggie here]. What else can I use? 

You can roast almost any vegetable. The only ones I would suggest staying away from are the leafy greens. Those are best steamed, sautéed, or mixed into soups! Here’s a list of some of the veggies that lend themselves well to roasting:

  • Brussels sprouts
  • Squash (acorn, butternut, etc.)
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Carrots
  • Parsnips
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Turnips
  • Beets
  • Mushrooms (button, portobello, crimini)
  • Roma tomatoes
  • Potatoes
  • Bell peppers
  • Onions
  • Asparagus
  • Fennel
  • Zucchini
  • Eggplant

Basic roasted veggies are boring. How do I make it more interesting?

I’m glad you asked. Here are some suggestions:

  • Change up the fat. Olive oil is a basic fat that most people have lying around the house, which is why I always suggest it. You can also use ghee, rendered bacon fat, coconut oil, lard, butter, or duck fat if you can get your hands on it (I hear it does magical things for roasted veggies).
  • Use different spices. Check out the spice aisle at your local grocery store. Most places have pre-mixed spices (Italian seasoning, Greek seasoning, Herbs de Provence, etc.). Even Old Bay, taco or fajita seasoning or a chicken or beef spice rub would work. Grab something that sounds tasty to you. Like always, check the labels to be sure there’s nothing weird like MSG or gluten in your seasonings.
  • Toss in an acid after its done cooking. Red wine, balsamic, or sherry vinegar are good choices. Don’t underestimate the power of plain ol’ lemon or lime juice either!

My veggies turned out mushy and gross! What did I do wrong?

I’ve mentioned the two most common veggie roasting mistakes already in this article, but let’s go over them again in case you missed them.

1) You put too many veggies on the tray at once. If they’re overlapping and piled on top of each other, they’re gonna get soggy. Veggies release a lot of moisture when they’re cooking and if they’re piled on top of each other, they’ll steam instead of roasting and end up mushy.

2) You used a tray with high sides. Instead of a cake pan, try a cookie sheet. It’ll trap less moisture.

So, what other questions or troubles do you have when it comes to roasting veggies?

What are some of your favorite roasted veggie combos?

Are there any other or basic cooking skills would you like to see?

Let’s hear it in the comments!



]]> 70
Meditation: Building the Superpower You Didn’t Even Know You Had Mon, 16 Mar 2015 14:40:24 +0000 This article is from NF Team Member Taylor

There you are, settled into your life, in the deserts of Tatooine.

You’ve gone about your life just like everyone else – school, a job, and the regular habits and cycles that come along with it. But what you don’t know is that there’s something missing in life, that’s actually inside of you – something waiting to be awakened.

And then one day everything changes – you purchase a few droids with a secret message, the Empire destroys your home – and before you know it, you accept your destiny and begin to train. Your powers develop, and soon you become a freakin Jedi.

This was Luke Skywalker – just a regular joe Luke, with something powerful inside him waiting to be discovered and cultivated.

Now, what if I told you that in a very real way, we’re all like Luke – we all have something inside us that goes unnoticed and thus uncultivated – day after day.

I’m not talking about Superman strength or Spiderman genetics. Though that would be amazing. Like the superpowers in Chronicle, this ability starts off almost nonexistent, and can be grown like a video game character.

“This is my theory though, is that it’s like a muscle. That’s why I think we’re getting stronger, you know? Cause we’re working ‘it’ out.”

And it doesn’t take a disaster to strike for you to be set on your path. So few people cultivate it, let alone masters it. How do we build this superpower?


The Problem


Think of this superpower like the power of X-men’s Mystique, but for your mind. Instead of the ability to alter your appearance to meet the challenges of any given situation, meditation allows you to alter your mind to conquer the day.

When we are on our commute and someone is a jerk, we get angry. We don’t seem to have a choice in the matter – we just GET ANGRY. When a friend says something stupid, or something wonderfully intelligent, we react. There is no deliberation, no Council of Elrond to decide how you should feel and respond.

That’s just how our brains work. Daniel Kahneman, in the famed Thinking Fast and Slow, proposed we think about thinking in two ways.

  1. System 1: Fast Thinking – automatic, frequent, emotional, subconscious.
  2. System 2: Slow thinking – deliberative, effortful, infrequent, logical, conscious.

System 1 is responsible for most of what you do every day. This fast thinking does so much on your behalf, that you may not even realize it. In fact, system 2 doesn’t kick in until you are tasked with something like solving a riddle, filling out a tax form, or walking at a pace that is unnaturally fast.

Another social psychologist, Jonathan Haidt, describes these systems with a different metaphor: a rider on an elephant, in The Happiness Hypothesis. As he explains, he selected this metaphor to demonstrate the power of the elephant (fast thinking), and the powerlessness of the rider (slow thinking). While the rider might feel in control, at the top of the elephant with reigns in hand, it is truly the elephant that is running things:

The rider’s inability to control the elephant by force explains many puzzles about our mental life, particularly why we have such trouble with weakness of will.

Meditation: The Science


Meditation is simply the practice of learning how to pay attention. It’s not something magic. It’s not a cult or a religion. Meditation is just a mental exercise to strengthen your mind.  Learn from Ron Swanson – meditation can and should be done by everyone. What do CEOs, Jerry Seinfeld, Bill Gates, Oprah, and even Wolverine himself all have in common? They meditate!

Meditation is supported by a huge body of scientific research, and has been shown to help manage symptoms and reduce risks for almost every bad thing out there, including:

It’s not a panacea, but hits the bad stuff pretty darn far and wide. Dan Harris summarizes just some of these benefits.

At the end of the day, our goal here is to give you the tools to live healthy and happy life. And it turns out, at any given time almost half of us are lost in thought unrelated to what’s in front of us. And when we are mentally wandering, we are significantly less happy.

As Matthieu Ricard explains in his TED Talk – when neuroscientists looked at his brain while meditating, he scored “off the scale” in activity in the brain related to happiness, compassion, and altruism. And isn’t happiness what we’re all chasing?

How to Meditate

Ready to give this a go? Okay great! Head on down to your nearest Monks-are-us, grab a few robes, and then head over to the barbershop for a quick head shaving. Kidding! There’s not a single thing you need to have to start other than your brain. If you’re reading this right now, chances are good you still have it.

To start, pick a time in your day you can regularly designate as time to meditate. It should be a time you can find a quiet place, without distraction or interruption.

As a beginner, you don’t need to meditate for long. Just five minutes a day is a great place to start. Too much? Try TWO minutes. The important part is the building of the daily habit. Before we begin, I wanted to give a shoutout to both and Headspace. These websites and their apps can help guide you through meditation as a beginner, and come recommended from some Nerd Fitness Team Members.

The meditation practice I’m going to describe for you below is a basic mindfulness practice. There are many different styles of meditation, but every style of meditation is about cultivating attention and awareness. Be sure to set a timer before you begin.

  1. Find a place to sit that allows your back to be in an upright position. You don’t need to sit cross legged, but you can if you wish. A chair or sitting against a wall also works well. Feel free to use a cushion under your bottom to help your posture and make yourself more comfortable. The goal is a posture that helps you stay alert, but is still comfortable. You can meditate with your eyes open or closed.
  2. As you begin, take several deep, slow breaths to gather concentration. Inhale deeply, filling your lungs to the brim. Then slowly exhale. Follow your breath carefully with your attention through this process.
  3. After a few breaths, or when you feel your concentration has settled, begin to breathe naturally.  Keep your attention on the breath at a specific point, most commonly with the rising and falling of the chest, at your nostrils, or at your abdomen. Follow your breath from the moment it begins to the moment it ends. Use your breath as an anchor; notice any sensations in your body, but always return to the breath.
  4. When you get lost in thought, simply return your attention back to the breath. Bringing your attention back to the breath is a central part of the process –  think about it like performing a repetition.  Each time you do this you are rewiring your brain – no different from doing a repetition in strength training. So, don’t feel guilty or beat yourself up. Just return to the breath!

This is where we recommend most beginners start – think about this no differently than starting with just the bar before adding weight, when learning to squat. Feel free to jump into a guided meditation to guide you through this step, here.

However, if you’ve been meditating for a few weeks and have built up some concentration, move on to step 5:

5. True meditation is neither holding focus on the breath, nor avoiding thought. Rather, meditation is about noticing what you notice; if you notice a thought arising in the moment, simply notice it, and let it pass. If you feel the the pressure of the seat on your back, let your attention focus on this pressure. If you hear the sound of the wind outside, let your attention and focus settle on the sound. The important part is to stay mindful throughout these actions. Notice what you notice, rather than forcing your attention back to the breath or losing yourself in thought.

Again, use your breath as an anchor – something to be returned to after you notice various sensations or thoughts. Because holding your attention on a variety of phenomena can be difficult, some people find the practice of noting to be helpful.  This guided meditation guides you through both breathing and sounds, while this meditation guides you through thoughts as well.

Beginners often find it difficult to stay aware when thoughts arise, and find themselves noticing they have been thinking only after being lost in thoughts for several minutes. If you find yourself unable to observe thoughts without getting lost in them, spend more time simply keeping your concentration on the breath itself as described in steps 1-4.

Again, if the above sounds intimidating, start with a guided meditation. Guided meditation are great to incorporate into anyone’s meditation practice, and certainly when the mind is especially restless.

The Superpower of Control


The superpower meditation builds is the ability to be at the character selection screen, for any given situation, at any given time.

You see, because of how our brains work, it can be hard to exert a level of control in our lives – from our response to a social interaction, to changing fundamental aspects of our life. 

When something happens, we just react. That’s system 1. There’s no conscious deliberative process when a cute girl/guy walks up to you, or some car cuts you off in traffic. It’s no surprise that we often feel frustrated with our reactions after-the-fact.

Imagine the ability to replay the events, and always act with a calm and collected demeanor, delivering the best response you have to offer. That’s what meditation can help do for you.

I’m not talking managing an emotion, or suppressing a thought. This is not “serenity now, insanity later.” This isn’t about dealing with things AFTER you get angry or sad, but the power to actually change both how you feel and how you respond.

That is true power.

Neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor uses anger as an example: physiological response from anger can only last 90 seconds. Yet, as humans, we can stay angry seemingly FOREVER. Why? We are doing it to ourselves, by rethinking the thought and redoing the physiological response over and over. If you’ve ever gotten angry and let it fester, feeling more and more angry after, you know what she’s talking about. As she explains, we all have a superpower within us, but most of us surrender it.

Or as she puts us, we surrender our neurocircuitry:

“We are neurocircuitry. Your neurocircuitry is YOUR neurocircuitry, and you do not have the ability to stimulate and trigger my neurocircuitry without my permission. You cannot make me angry, unless I stick my trigger out there for you to pounce on and stimulate my neurocircuitry. If I give you the power to stimulate my neurocircuitry, then I have given you my power. And I give you my power, then I become vulnerable to you…”

This isn’t just helpful for our daily interactions, but for big life changes too – like cleaning up your diet or finally building that habit of exercise.

Through meditation, you can learn to focus your attention where you choose. As you begin the practice, you will start to notice your thoughts and feelings more consciously, and let go of the ones that aren’t useful to you. You will start to reforge the character of your choosing.

Meditation as a Practice


Now that you know how to meditate, you need to understand one final thing.

The kids in Chronicle had it right: you have to train this power like a muscle. Even if you have a good day or a good week in the gym, you need to be at it for months and months, and then STAY at it, to live with the benefits for a lifetime.

You are training your body to change. No different from squatting incrementally more weight, you are training your brain to get stronger. Just like squatting, you won’t see profound benefits after a single session. Instead, you will level up after weeks and months of consistency.

Just like squatting regularly builds muscle, meditation literally builds gray matter in your brain. Soon enough, that “automatic mode” or elephant we talked about enough will begin to change too (literally rewiring your brain). Just like groceries will slowly begin to feel lighter, so to will you gradually notice the benefits of meditation.

So before you dive in, you need to be in for the long haul.  Just like rule 2.

It might feel intimidating now to think about, but just like with diet and exercise, once the habit is established, you won’t even notice. Once you become someone who goes to the gym regularly, that’s just who you are now. Once you become someone who meditates for five minutes a day, that’s just what you do.

Be happy, be mindful


We all know the story of Luke Skywalker, not because he had this power within him and chose to walk away from it, but because he seized the opportunity to understand the Force. Don’t be the Jedi who is walking away from your potential.

As a kid, I always thought that comic books had it backwards – the superpower found the superhero (I’m looking at you Spiderman), rather than the other way around. What if we all had the potential to develop our power, and only the true superheroes do? Now that would be awesome.

That’s what meditation allows us to do.

Not only does meditation boost your health in a range of tangible ways, but more importantly, it helps us to enjoy the here and now. You might call this loving the game, or enjoying the process.

Today we’re issuing a meditation challenge: Commit to meditating every day, for two weeks straight (using an app, website, or guided meditation if you wish). It can just be for five minutes. Or two minutes. The important part is establishing the new habit.

What questions do you have about meditation? What are your experiences? Struggles? Victory?



photo source: Stew Dean: Armillery Sphere

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Are Your Beliefs Sabotaging You? Thu, 12 Mar 2015 14:14:42 +0000 “It’s fine, but I could just never look like that.”

“I could never deadlift 400 pounds.”

“I just suck at singing/learning languages/math.”

Today I’m gonna talk to you about prophecies. No, not the cool ancient kind that foretold of some epic badass saving the day. Though I do love those prophecies. But rather, the ones that can either set us up to level up our lives, or doom us to a life of “that’s just how I am.”

Oftentimes, it’s ourselves who choose to sabotage our mind and goals.

Other times, we let other people set our expectations for ourselves. 

We all have these things about ourselves that we think “that’s just how I am.” We tell ourselves it’s been that way since we were kids, or there was a moment when our confidence was shattered, our path was altered, and suddenly these things we think about ourselves become true.

Today you learn why these prophecies are redonkulous. 

self-fulfilling prophecies


Maybe we got cut from a team as a little kid and thus determined “I’m not good at sports.” Or we tried a musical instrument and were told to practice outside because we weren’t very good.

For whatever reason, we often encounter seemingly insignificant moments that drastically alter our mindset for decades. Here’s what happens:

  1. We hear we’re bad at something, or have a bad experience with something.
  2. We avoid trying again, because we are shying away from the potential for more pain of that experience.
  3. If we do try again, we try half-assed, so we can point to that and say, “See? It didn’t work.”
  4. We never get better at said activity, because we never practice it.
  5. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In the book The Talent Code, author Daniel Coyle argues talent isn’t born, it’s grown. But why do we often see specific people who seem to have more talent or get further and do better? Aren’t great athletes just destined for greatness and it’s obvious who has talent and skill and who doesn’t?

Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers, would tell us a resounding: No! In one example, Gladwell found that most professional Canadian hockey players are born in the first few months of the year. Why is this important? Are these months producing scientifically engineered better players? Nope.

Because these kids are a few months older than their peers, they tend to mature slightly faster, MAYBE giving them a slight edge in hockey skill or size as kids. So, these players tend to get selected for special teams early on as a kid, and thus they practice more. Over time, a gap is created, a self-fulfilling prophecy comes true. They practice more, and the gap widens further.

For these hockey players, their self-fulfilling prophecy is that they’re better at hockey, and thus they go on to become better at hockey.

How about this!? In 1964, a Harvard Professor named Robert Rosenthal ran a study where he told grade school teachers he had a special test that could predict which kids were about to experience a dramatic growth in their IQ. After the kids took the test, he chose several children from each class totally at random and told their teachers the test predicted those kids were on the verge of an intellectual “bloom.” What happened?

If teachers expected greater gains in IQ, the kids gained more IQ. Rosenthal found that the teachers gave the students who were expected to succeed more patient instruction and more positive feedback. And in turn, the self-fulfilling prophecy came true!

What does this mean for you?

Prove it wrong One time.


I’m going to tell you the story of a man named Danny O’Shea.

Spending his entire life in the shadow of his older brother Kevin, Danny became the football coach of a ragtag bunch of kids who had no clue how to play. Unsurprisingly, his older brother also coached a group of kids, except they were well-trained athletes.

When Kevin’s team had to play Danny’s team, Kevin motivated his team by telling them about the one time he beat his old brother in a bike race down Cherry Hill. That one single instance in which the outcome was different was enough to motivate these young lads to think, “hey, all it takes is one time,” and it lead them to an improbable victory.

This is the story of “Little Giants,” a movie that I remember fondly and refuse to go back and watch again in case it’s terrible.

But man, what a speech Rick Moranis gave:

It’s one thing to say “I am a confident person,” but if you don’t do anything about it…you’ll stay the same ole wallflower.

It’s one thing to write “I’m going to be rich and famous” on your dream board (or whatever the self-help gurus call those things), but without action and the willingness to die on the treadmill, you’ll never get there.

If you decide to break the self-limiting belief of “I’m just a fat person,” absolutely nothing will get done if you simply repeat this mantra while sitting on your couch eating cookies.

Identifying the new self-fulfilling belief is step one.

Frodo had a self-limiting belief that he could never get to Mordor… and then, step after step, day after day, he proved himself wrong… and freaking WALKED to Mordor. Become Frodo, and keep an eye out for EVERY tiny victory along your journey, no matter how hard you have to scrape, fight, and claw for it. Consistently remind yourself of those victories, and keep them at the front of your mind, to create a self-fulfilling prophecy that YOU decide on..

All of this to say that you actually can change your fate. It will require hard work, consistent persistence, determination, and the ability to be comfortable with feeling uncomfortable, for that’s where growth happens. 

change and grow

self limiting beliefs

People can change, and do change. Nerd Fitness exists today because of that fact.

From Joe to Anthony to Saint to Bronwyn to Anne…I’ve seen thousands of people change as a result of this community. I’ve seen people transform physically, mentally, emotionally, and professionally.

Hell, Staci was overweight and smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, and now she’s a full-time member of Team Nerd Fitness, and can deadlift 400 pounds. Who she is now is nothing like who she used to be. But everything started with a single victory that allowed her to prove to herself that she WAS the superhero underneath.

My friend Benny Lewis “couldn’t learn languages” until he stopped accepting it as an excuse. What did he do instead? He turned this prophecy on its head, and gave himself permission to suck early on. With each small win, it gave himself more confidence to try more often to learn and to speak, which made him better at learning, which made him better at languages. Now, Benny is “the guy” who speaks 10 languages fluently and helps other people learn to do the same.

In each of these stories above, they all had ideas about who they were, what they sucked at, and what they could never do. With enough small wins, they were able to change their prophecy – a step towards the “I’m actually pretty damn good at …”

My self-limiting beliefs and how I crushed them.

Never Deadlift 400

I remember reading that comment above on a YouTube video of mine and thinking “shit, he’s right…I’ll never get that strong. I just don’t have the genetics for it.” That’s right, the guy who teaches you how to bust through plateaus and not listen to haters actually started listening to internet trolls!!

“I’ll never get really strong” was my self-limiting belief for years. I love strength training, but I never thought I’d get actually strong. Sure, maybe “strong for a skinny guy” – but really strong? And then, day after day, week after week, month after month, I proved myself horribly wrong.

Over the years I’ve managed to turn the prophecy on its head, but as I realized in the below text exchange with my friend Anthony Mychal (who’s been coaching me remotely), I still have some prophecies to change!

Steve Anthony ConversationI had my mind focused on one day deadlifting 405 lbs since starting my training, feeling like it was light years away. I’m getting strong as hell, and week after week my self-limiting belief was getting REAGAN SMASHED. Now when Anthony says “you’re gonna pull 500 pounds,” it completely shifts my belief to what I’m capable of.

One time.

Rope course

Depending on what people around you expected of you as a child, or what you have expected of yourself all your life, you have been subtly guided to who “you” are.

That’s why today I want to hear about ONE self-limiting belief you have. It can be fitness related, it can be about some part of your life you hope to change, whatever. What’s one thing you’ve essentially decided is a fact about your place on this planet?

And then I want you to share with me ONE time, one moment, in which the opposite of that ‘fact’ is true for you. I don’t care how small of a victory it was, or even if it was a partial victory. What’s one moment you can look back on and say, “Hey, that was totally unlike ‘me’ – but I did it!”?

  • Lost weight and kept it off
  • Was the life of the party
  • Sang a note on key
  • Learned a new skill that didn’t suck
  • Approached a guy/girl, and didn’t fall on your face
  • Went on vacation and did NOT get derailed on your fitness journey

Once you identify the cracks in the wall of this belief, you can start attacking it. Small victories, more confidence, momentum, bigger victories, even more confidence, and so on.

Leave a comment with one belief you’re breaking, and one small victory in the past you can point to. We’ll give away a free NF shirt to a random person that leaves a comment, because I want you taking action!


PS: Along with “I’m never going to be really strong,” I’m also currently battling this one: “I’m just a terrible singer.” I’ve been working hard on a plan to break this particular belief and also complete something that scares the crap out of me. The benefit of living in Music City! Epic Quest update coming soon :)


photo source: Kenneth DM: Scrolls

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Why Exercise is the Least Important Part of the Equation (And a Camp Nerd Fitness Update!) Mon, 09 Mar 2015 14:11:20 +0000
“But Steve, I don’t like to exercise.”

I sat down with a friend recently who had decided he wanted to lose weight, but struggled with getting started. He explained why: the idea of exercise was absolutely miserable to him – he had visions of running on a treadmill for hours, or going into a sweaty gym and feeling incredibly uncomfortable around people who were already in shape.

I looked at him and smiled and said, “Okay, then don’t exercise. Let’s deal with that a few months from now.” He replied with a face that looked something like this, and asked how I could possibly not recommend he start exercising if he wanted to lose weight.

My reply was simple: “I’m not interested in getting you to lose the most weight as quickly as possible. I’m interested in helping you get healthier, permanently.”

If you’re someone who has decided you want to make a change in your life and that you need to lose weight, I’m here to tell you why exercise should NOT be the first change you make.

Least Effort, most Results


The 80-20 rule, also known as the Pareto Principle, states that for a lot of things, just 20% of the changes are responsible for 80% of the results.

Well, it turns out losing weight is a lot like the Pareto Principle. When we try to lose weight we try to change everything at once. We buy tons of gizmos and gadgets, we start exercising 7 times a week, vow to sleep more, start taking supplements, and stick to that juice-only diet we saw on TV.

It’s no coincidence one of the Rules of the Rebellion is this: you can’t outrun your fork.

This is why losing weight is like the Pareto Principle: If you want to lose weight, the food you eat will be responsible for 80-90% of your success or failure.

Let that sink in for a second.

Not only are you wasting time by putting your focus on all the other stuff, but no matter how much you exercise, you cannot out-train a bad diet. In fact, exercising is a tiny fraction of how our body’s burn calories in comparison to just existing. If you are a 35-year-old man who weighs 250 pounds at 6 feet tall, you burn roughly 2300 a day simply by existing. That’s right: sitting on a couch, working at your desk, eating, sleeping, etc., will burn 2300 calories thanks to all of the processes your body goes through on a daily basis.

If you run/walk a mile, you burn approximately 100 additional calories. So, run 5 miles a day, burn an extra 500 calories. But grab a 20 oz. Gatorade and a low-fat “healthy” snack afterward, and you’ve just undone your work and more. What I’m saying is trying to out-train a bad diet can feel like a losing battle (because it is!).

If you want to lose weight, consuming fewer calories is a great place to start. The best way to do that is by consuming good, healthy, whole foods. I’m talking about minimally processed, nutritionally dense foods to help you stay energized and satiated throughout the day.

Exercise is an Additive Change

lego exercise

Tim Ferriss, one of my yodas,  recently made a great point on his podcast: “Exercise is an additive habit, whereas diet changes are substitutive.”

What does that mean? Well, if you want to start exercising, then you probably think you have to do the following:

  • Spend money to sign up for a gym.
  • Remember to pack a gym bag.
  • Change clothes from regular clothes to gym clothes.
  • Get off the couch and go exercise instead of watching more Netflix.
  • Spend time exercising instead of doing other things.

All of these changes are new habits that need to be added to an already hectic life. If you have a spouse, kids, job, friends, etc., finding time for yet another commitment is not only daunting, but seemingly impossible. It’s why everybody gives up on their New Year’s resolution of “exercise more” after a few weeks. Because we are trying to ADD a new habit, we are depleting our willpower every day and trying to do way too much too soon and thus we give up when things go wrong.

Instead, adjusting a diet is a substitutive habit change: we HAVE to eat anyways! We already do it every day. 

We are not adding anything particularly new to our daily routine, we’re merely substituting what we’re eating or how much of it we’re eating. This is why it seems much easier to reduce the number of sodas from 5 to 4 a day than to start cooking home-cooked meals each night. Or why it might be easier to swap out french fries for a healthier side, compared to convincing yourself to get out of bed at 6 AM to go running.

So, what does this mean for you? Well, we need to make a series of small substitutions to gradually return to a proper baseline for what “normal” is. That means:

  • Properly sized portions.
  • More vegetables
  • Less processed foods
  • Minimal calories consumed from sodas/fruit juices/etc.

If we can start to slowly make changes in that direction, we can start to make progress and see small, consistent results.

But I can’t possibly give up…


When people say they are going on a diet, they give up certain foods for a period of time until they reach a certain weight, and then they go back to eating those things (and most likely put the weight back on).

We are not going on a diet. Ever. What we are doing is making fundamental, permanent changes to how we fuel our body.

I hear you already: “But Steve, I could never possibly give up [delicious but unhealthy food]!” You don’t have to! What I am saying is that we simply need to adjust the average number of healthy decisions you make when it comes to eating food each week.

My friend, Leo Notenboom, recently dropped a boatload of weight by upping his average number of healthy decisions weekly. He never eliminated anything he truly wanted to eat – he simply made sure it was balanced out by a much healthier decision before or after.

So try this instead: Don’t cut anything out. Either make a commitment to make a certain number of daily healthy decisions, and up that number each week. Or identify the crappy stuff in your diet, and instead of cutting it out, just cut it down.

You can still make a drastically unhealthy decision like eating an entire pizza and a case of beer on a weekend watching football, but in order for your “average” number of healthy choices each week to be better than before, that needs to be counteracted with a weeks’ worth of really great choices.

Again, we are not chasing fast weight loss. We are chasing PERMANENT weight loss and PERMANENTLY improved health.

diet first, then exercise


If you are 10 or 100 pounds overweight, the first place you need to look is with your diet.

Make small changes, increase your average number of healthy decisions each week, decrease the amount of crap you eat, and start to show yourself progress. Once your changes become the new normal, it’s time to shift the milestone marker again. Consistently adjust your reach to be outside of the current comfort zone – that’s where growth happens, and that’s how you become a superhero without any boss fights.

Slow. Consistent. Progress.

If you are going to get started with exercise, it needs to be as small of a hurdle to get started as possible, and then you need to complete that task as consistently as possible.

Are you starting to see a pattern here?

Consistent persistence.

If you hate exercise, but you need to lose weight…put that aside. Get started today by making one healthier decision with your nutrition choices, and try to do the same thing tomorrow.

After a few weeks, adjust!

If you know somebody who HATES exercise, how would you get through to them to improve their health without being miserable?


PS – Our final spots for Camp Nerd Fitness 2015 are now available!  We’ve already sold over 230 of our 300 spots, and they’re filling up fast, so grab one if you’re interested in joining us this fall! It’s gonna be epic


photo source: Nick Nguyen: food, Martina TR: vegetables, poolie: soda, Nick Royer: Pushup, Chris: Workout

]]> 64
Is Diet Coke Bad For You? What About Artificial Sweeteners? Wed, 04 Mar 2015 17:08:08 +0000 There’s one question we get asked probably more than any other:

“Is Diet Coke bad for you?”

The second most popular question: “What actually happened at the end of ‘Interstellar’??” has yet to be answered.

Back to Diet Coke. I get why this has caused so much confusion and debate. We all know sugar is worse for us than Darth Vader, so Diet Coke, with NO sugar, has to be better for us. However, we’ve also been told Diet Coke is packed full of chemicals like aspartame that do all sorts of awful stuff…which would then make Diet Coke worse for us than Jar Jar Binks, right?

What’s the truth? Does the lack of calories in Diet Coke help us? Do the chemicals and other additives make it a horrible beverage choice? I’ll tell you soon, after a word from our sponsors.

Just kidding, we don’t have any sponsors. Although I wrote about this subject six years ago, it’s time to revisit the topic: Is Diet Coke bad for us?

The answer is…maybe.

Diet Coke doesn’t make you fat…

Coke case

Diet Coke does not make you fat…directly.

As pointed out in this exhaustively extensive article from my friends over at, Diet Coke and other zero-calorie beverages do not inherently cause weight gain:

“There are no studies that indicate any long-term health risks from drinking diet soda. Diet soda (defined as calorie-free carbonated beverages sweetened with aspartame, sucralose, acesulfame-potassium, or other non-caloric or minimally caloric sweeteners) is not harmful to health, well-being, or body composition.” 

We’ve already covered in a previous article “Is a calorie a calorie” that consuming fewer calories is the first step in a process to losing weight. Consuming a Diet Coke compared to drinking a regular Coke means you are consuming significantly fewer calories per day. If you consume multiple Cokes per day, switching to Diet Coke could result in thousands of calories less consumed each week.

There’s been quite a big discussion out there about the effect of artificial sweeteners on how our bodies react, specifically with insulin resistance and things of that nature. However, this study suggests that artificial sweeteners don’t play a significant role in the secretion of insulin, compared to the consumption of regular sugar.

So what gives!? What’s with all of those studies and things we’ve heard about where people who GAIN weight while consuming diet soda? Although Diet Coke isn’t directly responsible for weight gain, it’s no innocent bystander either!

…But it’s No Saint either.

coke mirror

Diet Coke and diet sodas are kind of like the getaway driver in a bank robbery. Sure, they didn’t technically rob the bank, but they are guilty by association.

The reason we’ve heard diet soda can cause weight gain can be explained with this study:

“Although overweight and obese adults who drink diet soda eat a comparable amount of total calories as heavier adults who drink sugary beverages, they consume significantly more calories from solid food at both meals and snacks,” lead study author Sara Bleich said in a press release. “Diet soda is not making people fat,” Dr. Chris Ochner, who researches obesity prevention and treatment, said to CBS News. “Eating too many calories is making too many people fat.”

Diet soda might not CAUSE weight gain, but it is correlated with being overweight and unhealthy – people who consume diet soda often assume they are making healthier choices about their beverage (which they are), but as a result are consuming MORE food calories than they expected.

This is why you often see three Big Macs and a large fry accompanied by a large diet coke. Or why people get upset when they gain weight on a gluten-free diet, even though their diet is composed of gluten-free cookies, cake, muffins, pancakes, and pasta. These folks are missing the point!

Although we know correlation does not prove causation, it appears diet soda is causing OTHER issues beyond simply increasing our waistlines. Specifically, it can cause us to underestimate how much food we are eating, or lull us into a false sense of healthy security when it comes to consumption. And from a behavioral and habits perspective, it keeps us needing something “sweet” in our lives.

There’s other thing I’d like to mention about diet sodas, as this is something that has become SO mainstream it’s almost taken as a fact….

what about aspartame?

coke back

If I told you “aspartame causes headaches and cancer,” you’ll likely respond in one of two ways:

  • What’s aspartame?
  • Of course it does.

If you don’t know what aspartame is, it’s an ingredient in Diet Coke that replaces sugar – it’s 200 times sweeter than sucrose so only a small amount of it is used. However, it’s been widely regarded by the public that aspartame is a cancer-causing agent and should be avoided at all costs.

What’s the truth here?

It turns out, aspartame’s association with cancer is much cloudier than you’ve heard.

For starters, there may be some truth to the rumor that aspartame can cause headaches for some people, though not nearly enough studies have been completed to prove this definitively and a placebo effect might be in place due to aspartame already being seen as the villain.

As far as aspartame causing cancer, this has also never been definitively proven.

Back in 1996, a study suggested there might be a link between the increased chance of developing a brain tumor and the consumption of aspartame, but this was proven false.

Also, a study in 2005 saw an increased risk of cancer development in rats who were fed aspartame. However, the results were inconsistent, and these rats were fed an equivalent of hundreds of cans of diet soda per day.

Finally, “NCI examined human data from the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study of over half a million retirees. Increasing consumption of aspartame-containing beverages was not associated with the development of lymphoma, leukemia, or brain cancer.”

Note: this is not an endorsement of aspartame, but simply an attempt to shed some light on a controversial subject. If you are concerned about aspartame consumption, avoid it.

We’re confident that aspartame becomes a non-issue anyway. Why?

what does Nerd fitness say?


Our advice can be simple and straightforward: Don’t drink soda! It’s terrible for you. Sugary beverages (soda, fruit juices, etc.) can lead to weight gain, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and a host of other issues. If you drink soda now, try drinking less. A twelve pack of Mountain Dew every day is NOT a good habit for you. But you don’t need to change overnight. Try 11 tomorrow.

However, as we know drinking a lot of alcohol isn’t good for you either, be smart about how much and what you drink to make sure you don’t derail your healthy lifestyle. If you are jonesing for a soda, choosing a diet soda over a regular soda is a good start. Life is short, and if a single Diet Coke is going to make your day a bit happier and stave off a worse decision, go for it.

However, we don’t recommend you just replace soda with diet soda, and not change anything else (and expect to see drastic changes).

I want you to think about WHY you are consuming so much soda, be it regular or diet:

If you are consuming soda for the caffeine content, switching to diet soda is a tool to get started. Read up on our thoughts on caffeine here, but you’d be much better off with black coffee and green tea.

If you are consuming soda because you’re addicted to sugar, then we have a much bigger habit problem to deal with….but it can be dealt with.

We’re interested in permanent, antifragile solutions, and Diet Coke is a temporary hack to a much deeper-rooted problem: your source code when it comes to sugar or caffeine addiction. By fixing your code at the source, you can start to wean yourself off of sugary beverages and artificial temporary solutions.

Long story short: we want to create long-term healthy systems that have us eating healthy foods and avoiding liquid calories. This is about building good strong habits, and keeping ourselves making healthy happy eating choices.

Although swapping out soda for diet soda is a solid step in the right direction, the true solution is retraining and rewiring our body so we don’t need to chase that sugar fix; we can slay our addiction to sugar entirely.

tl;dr – Soda is legitimately terrible for you. Sugar is Darth Vader. Diet soda can be a stepping stone between sugar addiction, the need for sugary beverages, and FREEEEEDOM.

What are your experiences with diet soda? Did you use them as a tool to help you lose weight? Or did you struggle with weight loss until finally dropping diet soda out of your daily consumption as well?

Leave it in the comments!



photo pin: Sarah Korf: nutritional information, Ryan Hyde: Water, Mike Mozart: Diet Coke, Laura Lewis: mirror, Mike Mozart: Diet Coke

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How to Make Curry Stuffed Sweet Potatoes Thu, 26 Feb 2015 15:59:54 +0000 This is a guest post from NF Rebel Chef Noel.

How many times have you stood in the kitchen in front of a pile of ingredients and thought: “I have no idea what I’m doing”?

Believe it or not, I feel this way a lot. (Don’t tell Steve!) About 90% of the time, I eat the same meals over and over again: cans of tuna with smashed avocado, scrambled eggs and bacon, baked chicken breasts and broccoli, lettuce wrapped burgers and baked sweet potatoes, etc..

Unless I’m whipping up a new recipe for The Rebellion, I rarely try anything new. When I’m tired, cranky, and hungry, I don’t want to have to think too hard about where my next meal is coming from.

Sound familiar?

We’ve had a few requests from you awesome Rebels asking about adding Asian-inspired cuisine to your cooking repertoire. I have a feeling that a lot of us nerds are into Asian food — I know I am. But we don’t get to eat it often because it’s packed with sugary sauces, processed thickeners, and in general, stuff we know works against us in our quest to get strong and stay healthy.

So today, we’re going to try some Indian flavors.

Francisco M Taj Mahal

Indian food fascinates and intimidates me. Garam Masala? Curry? What are these spices and where do they come from? This is something I was never introduced to growing up.

For me, this recipe was 100% new. Something I never even thought about cooking before. If I can do it, you can do it. Trust me.

In fact, it’s a lot like Steve’s Chicken Stir Fry recipe – a level 1 recipe.

Curry sounds like something fancy, exotic, and intimidating to make in your own home. But honestly, the only thing that may appear to pose a challenge is gathering the spices. They’re things that might sound a little weird, but I’ve been to a couple of different grocery stores, and to my surprise, they were readily available. If you can’t find one or two of them, that’s totally fine. Just replace it with a little extra curry powder!

A quick note to all you Indian food connoisseurs out there…because I have never cooked or eaten much curry in my life, there are likely a few top secret spices and tricks that I’m missing out on to make the Best Curry Ever. If you aren’t an Indian-food n00b like me, please feel free to share your tips/tricks/super secrets in the comments!

Ingredients and Equipment

Cook Time: 30 min
Prep Time: 10 min
Serves: 4


2 chicken breasts (about 1lb or .45kg) – Boneless and skinless is good! We’ll be cutting these into 1″ cubes.

4 large sweet potatoes

1 yellow onion

2 cloves garlic, minced – These are the little guys inside the big bulb (or 1/2 tsp [2.5ml] pre minced garlic).

2 tbsp (30ml) olive oil – We’ll use 1 tbsp to stir fry the chicken and the other 1 tbsp to stir fry the veggies and spices.

1 tbsp (15ml) curry powder – Find this in the spice aisle. Pro tip: Spices are often organized alphabetically.

1 tsp (5ml) coriander – Also find it in the spice aisle.

1/2 tsp (2.5ml) cumin – Again, spice aisle.

1/2 tsp (2.5ml) cinnamon – You guessed it… spice aisle!

1/8 tsp (.61ml) red chili flakes – You are becoming well acquainted with the spice aisle, aren’t you?

1 can (14.5ml) tomatoes – Look for a BPA-free can or a box!

1/3 cup (79ml) coconut milk – I use the kind in the can. You can usually find this in the ethnic or Asian foods aisle.

1/8 tsp (.61ml) salt


Frying Pan

Spatula or Spoon – for stirring while cooking


Cutting Board - plastic is best for chicken, but any kind will do. Also, make sure to sanitize your cutting board and knife well after cutting raw chicken on it!

Bowls – for measuring your ingredients

Measuring cups

Measuring spoons


1. First we’re going to cook the sweet potato. The fastest way and easiest way to do this is to cook it in the microwave. Poke it with a knife or fork several times (careful not to poke your hand), place it in the microwave, and if you’re lucky, your microwave will have a button that says “potato”. Push that one and hit “start.” If not, cook the potato for 5-8 minutes.


When the potato is done, it’ll be super hot, so you can leave it in the microwave for now. Okay, now let’s get down to the real cookin’!

2. Prep all your ingredients! A lot of people who are new to cooking are not great at multitasking in the kitchen. This is okay! The more you cook, the better you’ll get at it! If we prep our ingredients before we turn any heat on, we’ll have everything ready so that there’s less of a chance of burning your food, ruining your meal, and giving up cooking for all of eternity. So, consider steps 3-5 prep steps.

3. Cut your chicken into 1 in to cubes. Your chicken should look about like this when it’s done:


4. Dice your onion. (Refer to paleo shepherd’s pie for a refresher on how to dice an onion).


5. Measure out the rest of your ingredients. That means spices, garlic, and coconut milk. Open your can of tomatoes. If you’re using carrots and cauliflower, cut these up as well. Also, measure out your peas.


6. Now it’s time to turn on the heat! Pre heat your frying pan for about 5 minutes.

7. Pour 1 tbsp (15ml) olive oil in your pan and let it heat up. This takes about 10 seconds.


8. Dump all your chicken in the pan (if your pan is small, you may want to do this in a couple batches).


Stir fry the chicken until it is cooked through. This will take about 15-20 minutes. The outside of the chicken will look toasted brown and you wont see any more pink in the meat. “Stir fry” just means cook on high heat in oil, stirring frequently.


9. When the chicken is browned, remove it from heat and set aside.


10. Place your pan back on the heat and pour your second Tbsp of oil in it. Tilt the pan to coat. (It’s okay if you don’t clean the pan before you do this).


11. Add your onions and stir. If you’re using more veggies, now would be a good time to add them.


Let them cook 3-5 minutes until translucent. They also might look a bit yellow because they’re picking up all the leftover chickeny flavors. This is totally fine and definitely delicious.

12. Now, add the garlic, tomatoes, spices, and coconut milk. Stir well.


13. Return the chicken to the pan, mix it in and let simmer for 10-15 minutes, until the chicken is warmed through. Add about 1/4 cup (59ml) water to the pan and stir if the the liquid is evaporating quickly. (You probably won’t have to add water if you put a lid on the pan while it’s simmering.)


14. Remember that sweet potato from earlier? It should be cool enough to touch now. (If it’s too cold, warm it up for 30 seconds – 1 minute more.) Take it out of the microwave and cut it down the middle.

15. Spoon some of the chicken curry into the middle of the sweet potato and serve!


And that’s it! Looking to change it up a little? Try one of these variations!

  • Want more veggies? I suggest 4 carrots, 1/2 a head of cauliflower, finely chopped, and 1 cup (236ml) of peas. Broccoli or eggplant would probably also be great.
  • Crave more spice? Add some more red pepper flake, a dash of cayenne pepper, or 1/2 of a jalapeno pepper, minced!
  • Want even more flavor? Use fresh ginger, grated (I use a cheese grater. Be careful with your fingers! You can also mince the ginger with your knife if you don’t have a grater.
  • Don’t feel like pouring it in a sweet potato? You can whip up some cauliflower rice. Or for less hassle, just roast or steam your cauliflower, and serve the curry along side that.
  • Make it vegetarian! Replace the chicken with a can of chickpeas – drain and rinse them first. Toss them in at the re-warming stage of this recipe.

Adventure for your taste buds!

JD Hancock

To be honest, I was pretty stressed about this recipe because I had never made anything like it before, but I’m super happy that you guys requested that we try something new together!

You reminded me that cooking new things is awesome! As Steve tells us, sometimes we need to do stuff that scares us!

Doing something new in the kitchen can certainly fit that bill.

Here are some tips to help you get over that fear:

  • Find some recipe websites or a good cook book that you trust. (I like Nom Nom Paleo and Civilized Caveman Cooking!) If you know their recipes are high quality, there’s a good chance your dishes will come out tasty every time!
  • Pay attention to what you’re doing. Give your meals 100% of your attention (or as much as you can).
  • Read the recipe at least once completely before you even touch the ingredients. This prevents you from accidentally skipping steps or doing things in the wrong order. Know what to be ready for!
  • Have a back up plan. The other day I totally messed up a super simple chicken and veggie stir fry. (Even experienced cooks have trouble!) Luckily, I had a back up plan so I wasn’t stranded without food. Even if it’s something simple, make sure you always have a back up when you’re trying something new so you aren’t frustrated, stressed, and starving if something doesn’t go perfectly.

What do you do to get over your fears in the kitchen?

What is one of the things you’re most proud of having accomplished when it comes to cooking? 



PS: We’ve been adding these recipes and a few dozen more to our Nerd Fitness Academy, which has recipes, meal plans, workout plans, and the ability to complete quests and missions and level up as you get healthier. Check it out!

Photos: Taj Mahal: Francisco Martins, Adventure TimeJD Hancock

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