The “Never Two in a Row” Rule

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

We’ve all been there – that uncomfortable place where the scale stops moving, or the strength gainz slow down.

Heck, I’ve even written a whole article about busting through a plateau.

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

It’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 I’m also proud of Past Me for putting this out in the world!

The “Never Two in a Row” Rule

The “Never 2 in a Row” Rule is simple:

  • Follow up any “unhealthy” meal with a healthy one.
  • If you miss a workout, do it THE NEXT DAY.

In other words, who cares if you “mess up” once? Just don’t “mess up” 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! That’s a pretty dang good percent.

It can also help us avoid an “all-or-nothing” mindset.

Now, I wanted to update my philosophy around plateaus and this rule, so let’s get weird.

A plateau doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

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

Here’s the thing: when the alternative is “moving in the wrong direction,” a plateau IS progress, especially if you’re used to losing weight and then backsliding.

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

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

If you’re not getting stronger in the gym, there’s still a benefit to keeping your muscles warmed-up with a basic workout, even if it’s not an improvement over the past workout.

When life is a dumpster fire, a “plateau” can be a HUGE win.

Next, let’s talk about “Never two in a row,” and how I would update my language these days.

Healthy vs Unhealthy

In my video above, I say, “follow up an unhealthy meal with a healthy one.”

15 years later, I don’t love using the word “healthy” vs. “unhealthy,” because it assigns some morality to the foods we eat.

(I realize most of us know roughly what we mean by healthy, so I don’t eliminate the word completely from my vocab!)

Instead, let’s talk about a reframing of “healthy vs unhealthy”:

Sometimes, we eat fast food because our kids want to eat it (or because we’re traveling and it’s the only option at the airport). We don’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. It’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 “calorie” is just a unit of measure, not an indication of its quality!

This is how a professor famously lost weight on the “Twinkie Diet,” specifically to show the math of weight loss does come down to calories:

On his “convenience store diet,” 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 Haub’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 5 Beliefs I’ve Changed My Mind On, I’ve cut way back on my fear mongering around certain foods – 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.

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

In our “Guide to healthy eating,” 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 “healthy” means to you, and what “unhealthy” means. You can also decide to switch your language to “higher calorie vs. lower calorie.”

And then apply the Never 2 in a Row Rule!

Missing a workout

Sometimes, we miss a workout.

This also doesn’t need to be a source of shame or guilt.

Nor does it mean “I suck and I’ll try again next year.”

It’s just a thing that happened.

Instead of saying “I didn’t have time to work out today,” which brings up feelings of guilt and shame and sadness….

Instead we can say, “Working out today was not a priority.” Strategic! Sure, we might need to do some compassionate inner work on why it wasn’t a priority, but sometimes it’s just because life was an absolute dumpster fire that day!

This past week, my workout schedule was thrown off, and I didn’t work out on my regular workout days.

It wasn’t because I didn’t have time to work out…but because working out wasn’t a priority for me…I 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 that’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 that’s satiating and nutritionally full.

All-or-nothing doesn’t work. And we don’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, don’t miss two in a row, and you’ll be surprised how much progress you can make!

Even if that progress is a plateau…it’s better than going in the wrong direction.



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