The โ€œNever Two in a Rowโ€ Rule | Nerd Fitness


I was talking with a friend recently who said he had hit a bit of a plateau.

Weโ€™ve all been there โ€“ that uncomfortable place where the scale stops moving, or the strength gainz slow down.

Heck, Iโ€™ve even written a whole article about โ€‹busting through a plateauโ€‹.

As Iโ€™ve been revisiting the last 15 years of Nerd Fitness, I stumbled across an absolute doozy of an old video of me.

Itโ€™s baby Steve, from 11 years ago, sitting on a poop-brown couch (Why did I think this was the right color couch to buy?), with helmet hair.

I laughed as I watched this video, but Iโ€™m also proud of Past Me for putting this out in the world!

The โ€œNever Two in a Rowโ€ Rule

The โ€œNever 2 in a Rowโ€ Rule is simple:

  • Follow up any โ€œunhealthyโ€ meal with a healthy one.
  • If you miss a workout, do it THE NEXT DAY.

In other words, who cares if you โ€œmess upโ€ once? Just donโ€™t โ€œmess upโ€ twice in a row. Because missing two in a row quickly becomes 3 or 5 or 10 or a lost year. But missing once? Fine! Just get right back on track.

Think of it this way: if you followed up every unhealthy meal with a healthy one, then at least 50% of your meals would be healthy! Thatโ€™s a pretty dang good percent.

It can also help us avoid an โ€œall-or-nothingโ€ mindset.

Now, I wanted to update my philosophy around plateaus and this rule, so letโ€™s get weird.

A plateau doesnโ€™t have to be a bad thing.

A plateau is often frustrating, because we humans love progress.

Hereโ€™s the thing: when the alternative is โ€œmoving in the wrong direction,โ€ a plateau IS progress, especially if youโ€™re used to losing weight and then backsliding.

If weโ€™re not losing weight, and weโ€™re not gaining weight, then weโ€™re eating roughly the same number of calories that our body burns daily. Thatโ€™s it. This is neither good nor bad, itโ€™s just math.

In other words, a plateau can be a really really good thing. It can mean youโ€™ve chosen to just tread water for a bit, or youโ€™re taking a strategic pause.

If youโ€™re not getting stronger in the gym, thereโ€™s still a benefit to keeping your muscles warmed-up with a basic workout, even if itโ€™s not an improvement over the past workout.

When life is a dumpster fire, a โ€œplateauโ€ can be a HUGE win.

Next, letโ€™s talk about โ€œNever two in a row,โ€ and how I would update my language these days.

Healthy vs Unhealthy

In my video above, I say, โ€œfollow up an unhealthy meal with a healthy one.โ€

15 years later, I donโ€™t love using the word โ€œhealthyโ€ vs. โ€œunhealthy,โ€ because it assigns some morality to the foods we eat.

(I realize most of us know roughly what we mean by healthy, so I donโ€™t eliminate the word completely from my vocab!)

Instead, letโ€™s talk about a reframing of โ€œhealthy vs unhealthyโ€:

Sometimes, we eat fast food because our kids want to eat it (or because weโ€™re traveling and itโ€™s the only option at the airport). We donโ€™t have to always optimize for weight loss or calories. Sometimes we optimize for convenience, or family, or sustenance.

This is neither morally good nor bad. Itโ€™s simply a meal we chose to eat.

If we have a goal that requires a calorie deficit, great! We can follow up a high-calorie meal with a lower-calorie meal. No morality or shame or judgment required. Just math and progress.

Because a โ€œcalorieโ€ is just a unit of measure, not an indication of its quality!

This is how a professor famously lost weight on โ€‹the โ€œTwinkie Diet,โ€โ€‹ specifically to show the math of weight loss does come down to calories:

On his โ€œconvenience store diet,โ€ he shed 27 pounds in two months.

For a class project, Haub limited himself to less than 1,800 calories a day. A man of Haubโ€™s pre-dieting size usually consumes about 2,600 calories daily. So he followed a basic principle of weight loss: He consumed significantly fewer calories than he burned.

His body mass index went from 28.8, considered overweight, to 24.9, which is normal.

Two-thirds of his total intake came from junk food. He also took a multivitamin pill and drank a protein shake daily. And he ate vegetables, typically a can of green beans or three to four celery stalks.

As I talked about in my โ€‹5 Beliefs Iโ€™ve Changed My Mind Onโ€‹, Iโ€™ve cut way back on my fear mongering around certain foods โ€“ we beat ourselves up enough, and our weight is unbelievably complicated and nuanced.

So where does that leave us?

We are adults and we can make our own choices. We can choose to follow up a high calorie meal with a more nutrient dense, low calorie meal. We can mix and match.

Itโ€™s NOT all or nothing, and itโ€™s not immoral to eat chips or ice cream. It is what it is!

In our โ€‹โ€œGuide to healthy eating,โ€โ€‹ we point out which foods are nutritionally-light and higher-calorie (processed foods, snack foods, candy, soda, etc.), and which foods are nutritionally-dense and lower-calorie (fruits and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains).

You can decide what โ€œhealthyโ€ means to you, and what โ€œunhealthyโ€ means. You can also decide to switch your language to โ€œhigher calorie vs. lower calorie.โ€

And then apply the Never 2 in a Row Rule!

Missing a workout

Sometimes, we miss a workout.

This also doesnโ€™t need to be a source of shame or guilt.

Nor does it mean โ€œI suck and Iโ€™ll try again next year.โ€

Itโ€™s just a thing that happened.

Instead of saying โ€œI didnโ€™t have time to work out today,โ€ which brings up feelings of guilt and shame and sadnessโ€ฆ.

Instead we can say, โ€œWorking out today was not a priority.โ€ Strategic! Sure, we might need to do some compassionate inner work on why it wasnโ€™t a priority, but sometimes itโ€™s just because life was an absolute dumpster fire that day!

This past week, my workout schedule was thrown off, and I didnโ€™t work out on my regular workout days.

It wasnโ€™t because I didnโ€™t have time to work outโ€ฆbut because working out wasnโ€™t a priority for meโ€ฆI had other things going on that were more important to me.

At the same time, I knew my mental health would benefit from me doing something, so I did my two half-assed workouts, went for a quick walk on the other days, and thatโ€™s it.

Never Two in a Row

To recap: If you miss a workout, who cares! Just do whatever you can to not miss two workouts in a row. This can help us from losing too much momentum.

If you eat a high-calorie meal, great! I hope it was delicious. Follow it up with a lower-calorie meal, hopefully one thatโ€™s satiating and nutritionally full.

All-or-nothing doesnโ€™t work. And we donโ€™t have to be perfect.

And if we overeat at one meal, adjust the next one.

If we miss a workout, get the next one.

Just, donโ€™t miss two in a row, and youโ€™ll be surprised how much progress you can make!

Even if that progress is a plateauโ€ฆitโ€™s better than going in the wrong direction.

-Steve



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