The ‘Big Rocks’ of Getting in Shape


Getting in shape can be a big task.

I’ve done it myself (several times now) and have helped many a stranger turned great friend also get a handle on this whole getting healthy deal. There’s a lot of moving parts and components to consider. To do it well, and to achieve sustainable and maintainable results, is to realize and understand that it requires a multi faceted, nuanced approach. And everyone’s individual approach to greatness or just a little bit better is going to look a little(or very) different.

First and foremost, its important to understand that its more than just diet and exercise. Yes, these two things matter – but they only cover two variables. Other lifestyle factors really need to be taken into consideration in order for the whole diet and exercise thing to even work.

Recently, in a talk I gave to the training members of Boston North Fitness, I went over some of the essentials.  The talk was titled ‘The Big Rocks of Nutrition’ and in it I described the factors that I believe are the most important to consider when it comes to changing body composition and to leading a healthier, sustainable lifestyles.

What does BIG ROCKS mean?

This is a term that is commonly thrown around as a way of talking about bang for your buck essentials – paying attention to the big picture things in your diet or general lifestyle that will make a big difference over sweating the small stuff. If you don’t have the BIG ROCKS down, the little stuff doesn’t matter because they won’t add up.


You’re useless without it. Simply put, your body needs that time while asleep to recover from whatever hell you put it through the day before(whether that being physical or mental stress). The implications of not having this basic factor down are huge and problematic.

Why does sleep matter? 

  • Regular sleep cycles are crucial to tissue repair, recovery and balancing hormones.
  • Recovery and repair is where we get stronger.
  • Too much stress as a result of poor recovery habits can lead to heightened levels of cortisol, which is linked to retention of fat around our organs(the dangerous kind)
  • Not enough sleep, poor recovery and heightened stress have an impact on hormones like grehlin and leptin – the hormones that signal and regulate hunger. This, plus the fact that lack of sleep leads to more brain fog and poorer decision making means a higher likelihood of over eating and or picking up bad, unhealthy, compensatory habits.

What can you do? Look at your turn down routine. Start to get into bed earlier. Turn off electronics an hour before bed time, and resist the urge to fall asleep to the tune of the TV. Make sure you are not drinking caffeinated beverages too late in the day. Alcoholic beverages will make you sleepy, but will not lead to an overall better nights sleep(you will likely wake up, dehydrated, once your blood sugar crashes).

Take out the distractions that are holding you back. If you are finding that you are spending an extra hour each night playing candy crush on your phone as you lay in bed waiting to fall asleep, you may have discovered your problem.  And if you can’t fall asleep because you are having some kind of a health issue, or because of hormonal changes during menopause  – don’t ignore it. Be proactive, talk to your doctor, find some solutions! This stuff is important.

Preparedness, Ritual & Routine

So if you slept well the night before, good chance you’re going to have a better shot of being proactive in your daily life, instead of being reactive. Part of your turn down routine may be to set out your clothes for your workout in the morning. Maybe you had enough energy this afternoon to do some food prep so you have your breakfasts and lunches all squared away days in advance.

Your ritual or routine is how you ensure that you consistently hit your BIG ROCKS of nutrition and lifestyle change.

What are some ritual & routine actions taken that ensure that we’re able to accomplish all the good habits?

  • having the right foods at the ready with a routine food shopping schedule
  • a weekly, biweekly, or daily meal or ingredient preparation routine
  • meal timing – do you eat consistent meals at consistent times? What prevents you from doing that? Is there a way that you can change your schedule to allow for more routine or consistency?
  • morning routine? Night time routine? Do you have a  similar formula that you follow that allows you to feel successful, put together, and not rushed?
  • going to bed at the same time each night and waking up at the same time each morning
  • consistent workouts at regularly scheduled times if and where possible

Managing Stress

Ritual and routine goes hand in hand with managing stress. When there is a semblance of a plan in place, things are more likely to happen.  When things happen, and we meet a set of expectations of how we’d like our life and day to go, we tend to be less stressed and we experience more positive outcomes.

Why does this matter? Sleep, recovery and stress management all greatly impact how successful our fitness endeavors are at making us stronger and leaner. You also just straight up feel better, and are probably a more enjoyable person to be around. Everyone wins.

What are some stress management rituals that you can put in place?  Again, ritual, routine and a certain amount of daily predictability can be truly beneficial. Exercise, whether intense or just a simple walk around the block is known to be a great stress reliever. Spending time in nature, with animals and children and loved ones, doing things that you enjoy(even if only for short periods of time) and hobbies are all known stress relievers.

Bottom line – carving out a little bit of time for yourself to do something that you enjoy, that makes you happy typically does the trick. If you feel like you don’t have the time to do that, closely examine your rituals and routines to see if you can find and make that time for yourself.


Duh! Nutrition is huge. I was very close to putting it at the top of this list, but then realized that all of the other things before it need to be fine tuned in order for any kind of consistency or focus to happen with your nutrition.

Consistency is key. Its the most important thing. For one, its the only way to know if your nutrition plan is working. For whatever it is that you are hoping it is going to accomplish – be that fat loss, lean muscle gain, improved energy – whether you are trying an elimination diet, etc.

What are the BIG ROCKS of nutrition?

  • The right stuff, the right amounts – are your meals balanced?
  • 1 to 2 palms protein, 1 to 2 cupped handfuls of carbs, 1 to 2 thumbs of fat, 1 to 2 fists of veggies at every meal 3 to 4 times a day depending on goals.  (1 of everything for most women, 2 of everything for most men)
  • Minimally processed, whole foods at every meal
    • Perimeter shopping at the supermarket
    • Foods that are perishable, that will go bad quickly
    • Minimal ingredients lists, the less the better
    • Minimal added sugar and sodium content

How you eat matters 

  • eat slowly it takes your brain 20 minutes to catch up with whether or not you are full. Chew slowly, chew more, put down fork between bites, eat without distraction,  drink water in between bites, enjoy your food.
  • eat off of smaller dishes, be aware of your portions.
  • stop at 80% full, be mindful of when, where and why you eat beyond the point fullness. What are the contributing factors? (stress, distractions, where you are eating, who you are with, what and how you ate prior to that meal, etc.
  • Pay attention –  what works for some likely won’t work for all, and what works for you may work for no one else at all!
  • Journal your food – keep track of what you are doing, what’s working and note what is not. You don’t have to do it for ever and always, but even just a short amount of time with this kind of feedback can be beneficial.
  • Focus on big picture, don’t get lost in the small details.

Exercise & Movement 

Funny how this one ends up at the bottom? Well see, they all aid and promote adherence to one another. Each of these categories kind of blends into the other and it all becomes a bit of a chicken or the egg thing. Exercise on a regular basis will help you sleep at night. Being well rested will make it easier to prepare and organize your life and day. Exercise can help with stress management.  Being less stressed means you’ll hopefully eat better – more for nourishment than for fun or relief.  Eating to compliment your workouts will make your workouts feel easier and your goals more attainable – helping you to stay on track and to stick with your ritual.

Movement is important – not just purposeful exercise like the kind we do in the gym, but how many steps you take per day, relaxing and stress relieving type movement like walks outside, general activity throughout the day.


To wrap it all up – remember that when you are feeling motivated to make changes in your life, your first most crucial step is to take a moment to engage in a little self reflection. Take a look at how or whether your daily life is set up for rituals and routines to ensure that you can make these kinds of changes to your lifestyle in a meaningful and sustainable way. Start with a few small, realistic habits to give yourself the time and space to make these things happen.

And don’t forget – you got this! Being proactive is always the best course of action and leads to a snowball of energizing and positive lifestyle changes.  Get after it my friends!


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