Though the road to fitness is paved with good intentions, it is also littered with abandoned exercise gear, trashed resolutions, and -- most disturbingly -- the bodies of chubby, out-of-breath folks who fell off the weight-loss wagon before reaching their goals.
It's easy to understand why so few reach fitness nirvana: Food is seductive, and building muscle is harder than, say, eating a bag of potato chips in front of the tube.
The motivation you need to stick to any diet or exercise program over the long haul is tough to muster, and the slightest obstacle -- bad weather, a good movie, Cinnabons -- can send you hurtling off course. The bottom line is that, while you know a healthy lifestyle has its rewards, bad behavior simply takes a lot less effort.
But what if we were to outfox that bad behavior? What if we could take man's worst habits, leanings, and traits and turn the tables on them, transforming our greatest fitness obstacles into our biggest fitness motivators? It's a plan so diabolical -- it just might work. That was the impetus, anyway, that led us to think of the very worst aspects of human behavior -- the Seven Deadly Sins -- and to find creative ways to bitch-slap them. Our goal: to humiliate and emasculate these sins (leaving them about as threatening as the Seven Dwarves), then show you that, no matter the size of the roadblock, there's always a path around it.
So allow us, brothers, to lead you into temptation. What follows is a full-contact confrontation with the worst transgressions you can commit against your body. Luckily for you, we've stared them down, twisted them around, and turned them into some of the best ways for living a healthier, slimmer life. Can we get an Amen?!
Sin No. 1: Gluttony
Obstacle: You never met a calorie you didn't like
Motivation: Eating your way to six-pack abs
Grill some steak. Sounds decadent, but a slab of medium-rare beef isn't the indulgent, diet-busting food you might think. Besides all that Atkins-friendly protein, beef is also an excellent source of stearic acid, a type of metabolism-boosting fat that makes up nearly 32% of the saturated fat in your standard cut of red meat.
Reacquaint yourself with whole milk. Remember that creamy, rich nectar you drank when you were a kid? Not only does each sip give you a hefty dose of flab-fighting fatty acids (called CLAs), but new research from the University of Texas indicates that whole milk might be better at fighting fat than skim milk. Fat helps to slow digestion, which may allow more protein to be turned over to the body for muscle growth, says Kevin Tipton, Ph.D., the study's co-author.
Make the milk chocolate while you're at it. Most guys who fall off their exercise programs do so because they end up feeling tired all the time. But drinking chocolate milk may help fight that fatigue. Studies show that chocolate milk may be one of the best recovery drinks around, thanks to the combination of high-carbs and protein -- two nutrients in short supply after a hard bout of exercise. In trials at Indiana University, chocolate milk helped guys replenish energy reserves just as effectively as many popular sports drinks.
Pig out on fiber. Soluble fiber -- the stuff in beans, fruits, and grains -- bulks up in your stomach, helping to control your insatiable urge to eat. You can get soluble fiber in supplement form -- Glucomannan provides the biggest bang for the least bulk -- or try a handful of nuts with a glass of water, which works almost as well, says Jeff Volek, Ph.D., R.D., assistant professor of kinesiology at the University of Connecticut.
Sin No. 2: Envy
Obstacle: The other guy's body
Motivation: If he can do it, so can you
Check out the competition. Experts say not to worry about what anyone else at the gym is doing, but in reality, it's beneficial to get fired up while running beside that schmuck on the treadmill next to you. Don't let him outpace your lazy ass! Bump your speed up one notch higher. So what if you get tired a bit sooner? You're still challenging your muscles to the max and working outside your comfort zone -- which is the key to quick gains, whether you're looking to burn fat or build muscle.
Visualize the prize. Become what you envy. That's the way legendary lifter Lou Ferrigno got his start. His first bodybuilding hero? The same green-skinned monster that made him a household name. Lou recalls: "I loved the Hulk character ever since I was little, and I aspired to attain his proportions and strength. Years later, that image in my mind helped me get a screen test and the job in the very same day." Moral of the story: You have to see it to be it.
Sin No. 3: Sloth
Obstacle: The irresistible lure of the couch and remote
Motivation: Maximum downtime
Get it over with already. The harder you work out, the less time you have to devote to working out. The surgeon general recommends burning 150 calories a day to stay in good health. (More is better, of course, you slug.) But for those minimum 150 calories, all you need to do is either cycle four miles or jog 1 1/2 miles in 15 minutes or less. Whichever you choose, short bursts of exertion have major benefits. In addition to helping you stay thin, a study of 7,337 men published in the medical journal Circulation found that guys who describe their workout as at least "somewhat intense" are 31% less likely to develop problems like heart disease than guys who take it easier when they exercise.
Slurp away your fat. Are you too lazy to even chew the right foods? There are certain drinks that can run your metabolism efficiently on auto-pilot, regardless of what your body is doing. The best of the lot? Green tea. Each cup has high concentrations of a trio of metabolism-boosting compounds: ECGC, catechins, and caffeine, all of which help maximize fat burn.
Sin No. 4: Lust
Obstacle: You really want her. She kind of likes you.
Motivation: Resetting your mojo
Create a new personality. Log on to an online dating service and create a new, improved you. Not necessarily taller or younger, but thinner and more fit -- goals you can actually achieve. Then go about your lustful ways. Chat, flirt, role-play -- whatever floats your boat. But while you're charming those online hotties, you should also be hitting the gym as hard as possible. Eventually, you'll find someone you want to meet in person. And she's going to expect the "real" you to match the online "ideal" you've created. Think of it as taking action to get some action and you should have no problem getting to the gym.
Cheat (without going to Hell). Diets are like monogamous relationships: The longer they last, the harder it is to resist temptation. Still, if you've been faithful to your weight-loss program, an occasional detour off the diet high road won't kill you (unlike that murderous wench you're with). So go ahead and indulge your secret urges -- hot slice of pepperoni pizza, anyone? -- by repenting in the gym beforehand. Working out helps activate lipoprotein lipase and GLUT-4, two enzymes that mop up your insides and keep the damage from your dalliance to a minimum.
Sin No. 5: Greed
Obstacle: Lamborghini taste, Hyundai salary
Motivation: Bigger bucks
Work harder, get richer. So suggests a Ball State study of 366 entrepreneurs, which compared runners and weight-lifters to their more sedentary brethren. According to the study, men who exercised one to three days per week enjoyed greater productivity, success, and satisfaction in their work than guys who worked out less often.
Suit up. The same Ball State research found that runners generally have much greater success in business than either non-exercisers or weightlifters -- possibly because of the svelte way they fill their suits.
"I call it the Clark Kent effect," says Michael Goldsby, Ph.D., who led the study. "You can be Superman underneath your shirt, but if you've got a bulky frame, it may make you appear less fit than you truly are." One fix: Toss the off-the-rack jacket-and-pants combo and invest in what's called a made-to-measure suit instead. (Imagine a custom-made fit but with a much cheaper price tag. You can find made-to-measure suits in most major department stores.) The idea is to get a suit that fits you correctly around the shoulders without looking boxy or bulky (read "fat") in the middle.
Race for a good cause. No, not your beachside-condo fund. Charity competitions look good on an upwardly mobile résumémobile -- and leave you looking better, as well. Pick one race, triathlon, or other athletic event you want to participate in and then begin a training regimen to get ready for it. If the local 5K seems too pedestrian, pick an event you have to travel for, be it in the next state or halfway around the world. Why? If you have to buy airline tickets and book a hotel stay to compete in your event, you're making a financial commitment to your fitness -- and you'll be much more likely to stick with the program.
Sin No. 6: Vanity
Obstacle: Mirrors and machismo
Motivation: Looking sharp
Enter into competition. Put your pride on the line. Bet the guy in the cube next to you that you can lose 10 pounds more quickly than he can. Challenge your portly neighbor to a gym-off: First one to miss a day of lifting loses. Keep the stakes high and the payoff interesting -- a significant amount of money or something you can't stand losing. You'll be amazed how your motivation peaks!
Watch your back. And, while you're at it, your abs, glutes, thighs, and calves, too. Lots of guys whip through a few pullups and bench presses and call it a day, completely oblivious to the jelly roll hanging over the top of their shorts. Too much focus on your arms and chest -- a.k.a. your "vanity muscles" -- screams underdeveloped physique and hypertrophic ego. It's also unhealthy, warns MF fitness adviser Craig Ballantyne, C.S.C.S., especially for your shoulders. His suggestion for making your workout the most effective fat-burner possible? Perform supersets in noncompeting pairs, such as bench presses and squats, or shoulder presses and calf raises -- exercises that give those vain muscles time to recover while you complete the other half of the set.
Picture your past. Find a snapshot of yourself from when you were in the best shape of your life -- even if it was never that impressive. Make copies of the pic (as many as you can stand to see on a daily basis) and put them wherever you're most likely to cheat: on the front of the fridge, on your coffee table, at your desk at work, in your car. Wherever it is that temptation fails you and you need a reminder to stick to your goals.
Sin No. 7: Anger
Obstacle: Hell hath no fury like a fat guy scorned
Motivation: Getting thin, dammit!
Create your own personal nemesis. Superman has Lex Luthor. Hilary Duff has Lindsay Lohan. You have to fixate on Bob from accounting. Or Alfonso from down the block. Pick somebody -- anybody -- with a slightly better standard of living than what you've got. Better house. Better car. Better body. Then make it your mission to outdo them. (Without telling them, of course -- it'll be your little secret.) When you don't feel like going to the gym, remind yourself that Bob and Alfonso are going, and therefore are whipping your ass. Pissed off yet? Good! Use that anti-Bob sentiment to keep your motivation at its peak.
Channel your aggression. If you've got anger to spare, sign up for a class that promotes constructive violence -- boxing, martial arts, kickboxing. Anything that lets you punch a bag or break a board and vent some of that pent-up steam. Not the school type? Rage against the machines instead, with some supercharged intervals. Start with three 15-second sprints at 90% of all you've got, followed immediately by a two-minute jog. Shoot to double the number of sprints every few weeks while lengthening the duration of the sprint every session (your jogging pace should remain the same). All that effort is definitely worth it: High-intensity intervals torch up to nine times more flab than low-intensity endurance training.
Face facts. After your morning shower, stand for a minute or two in front of the mirror, completely naked. Time yourself. As those 120 seconds tick by, look at your body: The soft lumps where your biceps used to be. The ring of bologna stored around your waist. Those flabby, saggy man boobs. If your will to change is fading, we're betting this daily reminder will keep those embers hot.