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How can I change my life in 3 months by eating healthy and exercising regularly?

This question originally appeared on Quora. Answer by Nick Wolny, Ironman.

Implement small changes consistently. Assume your results will increase with time, and expect a slow start. Give yourself space for mental dissonance the first few weeks while you implement this new habit. (I wrote an article on incremental increase to create habits that you can check out here: Forget 100%. Forget A+. Start with 1%.) Would you want to live in a high-rise that was built in three months? Take the time to lay down a killer foundation.

Nick Wolny
Nick Wolny's weight loss transformation led him to competing in an Iron Man. Photo courtesy of Nick Wolny

Here were some of my small changes that laid the groundwork for big results:

  • Cut from three sodas a day to two, then one, then zero. (This took me from 270 pounds to 240 over about four months. If I had done it cold turkey though, it would have been too much change all at once and probably not be sustainable.)
  • Up your evening sleep to 7.5 hours, then 8, then 8.5, and more if needed. Only up the number once a week. (This was the biggest game changer for me. It sounds so lame, I know - consistent sleep is numero uno though, because it lets the body know you're safe and rested. If you're fatigued your body will think it's in danger and hang on to every cell you have - and expend energy doing so. Kind of a vicious cycle.)
  • Food - Eggs are amazing if you're looking for a budget save. They're incredibly cheap. I've eaten the same breakfast every morning for five years: 6 whites and 2 yolks with some avocado and veggies, all scrambled together. You can find tons of stuff like this on the internet. I might also recommend Paleo-style diets to start because these teach your body to burn fat, and are a good start if you're not currently doing much cardio.
  • I used running for cardio because it was easy to measure - how many laps I did this week, how much to add in in the future, etc... whatever you decide to do, know the basics for scaling up so you don't run into injury. (For me, it was endurance running: I know not to add more than 10% volume from week to week, and if adding distance every week, I give myself a "deload week" every four weeks. This is a basic long-run recipe for marathons but I use it to guide my general running regimen.)

From what you shared, it sounds like implementing habits will generate the biggest change. You don't need L-Carnitine or fat burners or fasting or a big max back squat at this stage of the game - your biggest gains will come from creating a weekly routine that increases your knowledge and confidence, and sticking to it. Discipline doesn't come with strict rigid intentions - it comes from doing the work consistently, whether you feel like it or not. There will be days when you don't want to do__________. A LOT of them. Cultivate the discipline of executing your plan even when you don't feel like it.

Weekly routines - work knowledge acquisition into the picture. You could do something like this:

  • Sundays - Get groceries, cook your food for the week in bulk (saves so much money and time.)
  • Mondays - Workout, read up on chest/back exercises
  • Tuesdays - Cardio, read up on running
  • Wednesdays - Workout, read up on legs/arms/abs exercises
  • Thursdays - Cardio, read up on self-care/self-massage/myofascial release and stretching
  • Fridays - Research cheap recipes, read up on nutrition on the internet, plan out your next week
  • Saturdays - Go for a run or walk outside, drink some tea

The more information you consume, the more motivated you will become, and the bigger results you will get. It will be challenging at first, trust me, but each week gets easier with time. I ran an Ironman last year, and the work I did with building systems and habits that supported my health was what got me through the training and the race - which was years in the making. In that though, I got years of health. I wasn't focused on the goal alone for years, I was focused on loving the process and the game. Let's be healthy for life!

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