Will Smith is inspiring many to finally tackle those lingering quarantine pounds.
The actor’s six-part YouTube series, “Best Shape of My Life,” which debuted in early November, documents his goal to lose 20 pounds in 20 weeks. (At the time, Smith was also completing his memoir, Will, which is now a New York Times bestseller.)
Smith’s clean diet and rigorous exercise challenges seen on the show — including climbing 2,909 stairs of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world — prompted many viewers to take on their own health and fitness challenges.
But for some, the journey began in May 2021, when Smith took to Instagram to share his quarantine weight gain and his plans to cut extra pounds. In the post, he used the hashtag #bigwilliechallenge, which quickly went viral.
Sashea Lawson, a fitness blogger and mother of two young girls, has lost more than 35 pounds since taking on the #bigwilliechallenge, by cutting back on chocolate and easing her way back into consistent exercise.
She also revitalized her deep passion for running.
“I was able to do a triathlon, which was my first in 7 or 8 years, and then I ran the New York City Marathon in November,” Lawson says. “That was my first marathon since 2017.”
But Smith’s series also shows that optimal health takes a lot more than painstaking exercise and excellent discipline in food choices.
“Physical actions are very simple,” Aaron Ferguson, Smith’s personal trainer, tells WebMD. “It’s not easy, but it’s simple.”
Rather, says Ferguson, “it’s more the mental and emotional stuff that we have tied up around it.”
Dig Deeper Than Ever
A “Best Shape of My Life” journey is more than a mindset, Ferguson says.
“You really have to explore your relationship with food, your relationship with exercise, and your relationship with your physical body,” he says.
“You have to dedicate the time and the energy to ask yourself questions and see what the blocks are that have existed previously, so you can really start to transcend who you have been previously.”
Taking a closer look at emotions attached to certain behaviors — like picking up a box of doughnuts when you’re sad or the pleasure derived from mindless eating on the couch — can be uncomfortable.
“Most people aren’t prepared to go there,” Ferguson says.
“The ones that are prepared to go there aren’t then prepared to have a look at, ‘What has made me feel emotional in that moment, that I want to shift my energy by eating food?'” he says.
These are called different levels of consciousness, Ferguson says.
“Unless we start to understand ourselves to a greater degree and really allow ourselves to go to those deeper vulnerable spaces, that’s when we can create a shift.”
This “higher level of consciousness” is how many people maintain fit physiques for years, even decades, without yo-yo dieting, he says.
“[If] you understand your relationship with food, then you don’t tend to use it in a way that’s not beneficial for your health,” Ferguson says. “It’s the same with exercise.”
Practicing moderation, while staying consistent, is also prioritized.
“Even time off, maintenance, that’s really important, too,” Ferguson says.
Know Your Limits
While Smith may have taken on two huge challenges — that is, writing a memoir and shedding pounds in a fairly short period of time — that doesn’t mean we should all do something similar.
“Somebody like Will — who’s been so successful in what he’s done — he’s a beast, he can take on these things of massive magnitudes,” Ferguson says.
“For some people, a workout program can be enough,” he says.
“You try to maintain it 100% every day, it can be challenging, especially if you have a full-time job, if you’ve got kids, whatever your life circumstances are.”
The main thing is to not go past your edge, and that edge will depend on the person.
“I’m always encouraging of people going 10% past where they’re at, but there are a lot of times when I’ve gone more than 10%, and I’ve suffered the consequences of that, too,” Ferguson says.
Anyone who has ever taken on a fitness routine knows the occasional cheat day is tempting.
“It’s a tricky situation because there’s cheat days and then there’s people’s interpretation of a cheat day,” says Ferguson. “If you can give [people] freedom within a confined area, it sort of keeps them accountable for a longer period of time. But if they go ballistic, they can undo all the work of a whole week, then it defeats the purpose.”
“Here’s one thing I would say: it’s never a cheat day, it’s only ever a cheat meal,” he says. “Cheat meals should be sufficient, and I’m all for that; but again, it has to be within moderation.”
When it comes to diets, Ferguson says he doesn’t recommend a particular one.
“I think it’s up to the individual and what they choose, because you want them to be compliant. The greater they stick to it, the greater the result that they’re going to get,” he explains, noting that for himself, he prefers a “balanced amount of macronutrients: carbs (40% to 50%), proteins (30%), and fats (20% to 30%).”
That said, “if you’re looking for body manipulation, it’s more about energy management, so that means consuming energy, expending energy.”
“If we’re looking at optimum performance, then it’s going to be a little tougher to go out of macronutrient balance, there are certain diets that I wouldn’t recommend in that situation,” he says.
New Year’s Weight Loss Resolutions
Did you make a resolution to lose weight in the new year? Ferguson thinks everyone should have this resolution:
“It’s super important to make sure your health is top of mind starting any new year. We should all be looking at ways we can improve on the base we’ve built,” he says. “So, the questions that become important are: What is that next level? What am I currently happy with? Where are the areas I’d like to improve? What is the first step that I can take today?”
But the biggest question of all, according to Ferguson, is to ask yourself: What’s gotten in the way of previous weight loss and health journeys?
“And following on from that: Am I in a position that the same things won’t come up? Do I have a strategy for when challenges do occur? What is my plan for getting back on track if things do go off? Am I committed to following through for an extended period of time?”
As for practical ways to stick to your weight loss resolutions, Ferguson says it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach.
“While I’d love to have a definitive answer for people in terms of what they should do, the reality is it will be different for everyone,” he says. “I guess the biggest thing that everyone could do is incorporate a weekly review of how things are going: What worked? What needs improving? What actions can I implement now that will make an impact?”
Ferguson recommends anyone starting a weight loss journey to “have a plan,” suggesting it’s best to write it down. “Implement that plan, review that plan at the end of the week,” and, if necessary, “revise that plan,” he says.
“Those 5 minutes will be the biggest thing you can do for your health and weight loss journey moving forward,” he says.
Health and Fitness “Hacks”?
“I don’t know if it’s a hack, but there’s a couple of things that are really simple,” Ferguson says. “Firstly, I would never look at a scale weight independent from the body fat caliper.”
“It’s important because the data that you collect doesn’t allow you to be manipulated, both by other people and by yourself, in terms of weight loss and fluid loss and all the different things that can occur in your system,” he says.
For instance, “a good solid amount of water, a minimum of 2.5 liters — and that’s from all sources — will satiate [people] in a way that they probably didn’t realize. A lot of the times, [people] are gravitating towards food is because their body is needing fluid.”
Sleep is incredibly important, too, says Ferguson.
“I think sleep has got to be your ultimate hack. In this day and age, we all tend to have that ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead’ attitude.”
But, reminds Ferguson, “you get your greatest adaptations when you’re asleep. If you’re stopping that system, you’re going to put yourself behind your 8 ball.”
Aaron Ferguson, personal trainer, Will Smith.
Sashea Lawson, fitness blogger.
YouTube: “Best Shape of My Life,” Will Smith.
Instagram: @willsmith, May 4, 2021.
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