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What Should You Do First to Get in Shape?

What should you do first to get in shape, woman looking into sun

There are countless options for getting started with diet and exercise.

Should you try calorie cycling, bodybuilding, intermittent fasting, or maybe train for a marathon?

I’ll give you a specific answer, but let me start by saying, “None of the above.”

The Overcomplexificating of Modern Healthitization

I don’t like to be negative and go off on rants, so please forgive this brief lapse of composure:

Diet and exercise should not be as freaking complicated as everyone makes it!


I feel better.

In all seriousness, it’s disheartening to see so many people start their journey with advanced fitness and nutrition strategies before mastering the basics.

If you don’t have a lifelong passion for diet and exercise, it’s a bad idea to start with something that takes significant involvement.

So in answer to the question of what to do first: start with the basics.

But what are they?

The Basics

When you filter out all the nonessential details, the basics of diet and exercise are simple.


  • Learn proper portions

  • Avoid processed food

Proper portions means knowing how much to eat every day, and at every meal.

It’s not an easy thing to master. The details vary from person to person, but it’s not as complicated as you think. It just takes time to get the hang of it.

Avoiding processed food shouldn’t feel like a strict command to follow any specific diet. It’s not “Paleo or die!” It’s a gentle recommendation to steer the bulk of your diet away from prepackaged foods.


  • Exercise at least 2x a week

  • Stay active outside the gym

I recommend centering your workouts around resistance training (I explain why here.) But the point is to spend at least a couple days every week making an intentional effort to challenge yourself physically.

Then stay active the rest of the week. Do something every day above and beyond your normal activities.

Sounds Good… Now What?

I have a couple specific suggestions to help you master the basics and, if done consistently, will have a massive impact on how you look and feel.


  • Replace half your carbs with veggies

  • Eat a palm of protein at each meal (2 for men)

Carbs aren’t evil, but most Americans eat way too much of them. By replacing half your normal carb intake with veggies, you’ll be cutting calories and getting tons of nutrients.

Then, since you’ll be hungry from the lost carbs, be sure to eat enough protein. Women get a palm sized portion at every meal (men get 2). Not only will this help fill you up, it’ll tone you up and aid fat loss.


  • Bodyweight exercises

  • 20 minutes a day

There’s a reason I separated these points.

I want you to start with bodyweight exercises because you don’t need a gym, and they can be scaled to anyone’s ability.

Then, do 20 minutes a day, but not necessarily all exercise. For example:

You can do just 5 minutes of bodyweight exercises, then find something else active to do for another 15 minutes.

Or do 20 minutes of bodyweight exercises a few times a week, and the other days are 20 minutes of just being active.

It doesn’t matter how you do it, just include both aspects one way or another.

(Our free workout program fits nicely with this plan. Download it here.)

One More Place To Start

If all else fails:

  • Start with your strengths.

Don’t make all these changes at once. Pick the one that will be easiest for you and go from there. (I offer more advice on this in my blog called “Diet vs. Exercise for Fat Loss & Where to Start.”)

If all the things I suggested seem too difficult, don’t do any of them.

We all have a tendency to focus on trying to fix the negative things about ourselves. Instead, look at what you already do well.

If you’re a decent cook, could you capitalize on that by planning your meals more? If you already go for a walk every day, could you make some of them a brisk walk?

Find your strengths and build on them.

Whatever you do, don’t take on something too advanced if you haven’t mastered the basics.

What will you do first?


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