Nia Shanks: Beautiful Badass #SANE

Nia Shanks

Jonathan: Hey everyone, Jonathan Bailor here and I have got to tell you I am actually standing right now because I cannot sit down. We have a guest today who I seriously I am looking at her “about” page and it says the SANE and simple way to build a better body and for listeners of this podcast, you are just like “Jonathan, do you have a sister who is in this field that you are not telling us about?” and folks I feel like I kind of do because we have the amazing Nia Shanks with us today, the proprietor of and really just an individual who lives and demonstrates so much of the smarter science of health and wellness that we talk about here. Nia, welcome, welcome, welcome.

Nia: Thank you so much for having me, I am excited to be on here with you.

Jonathan: Nia, before we get into the fifteen tabs on my browser that I have opened right now, stuff that you talk about which I think is brilliant and I want to dig into for our listeners, can you tell us a little bit about your story?

Nia: What, basically how I became a trainer and all that fun stuff?

Jonathan: Exactly, you are in such an awesome place right now just in terms of where your mind is at, how did you get your mind there because that’s not typically where most people end up if we listen to the mainstream?

Nia: Well, it’s actually through a lot of trial and error and then a lot of personal experiences and then combined with just attracting clients that have that same mindset way back when I went through a period of just disordered eating where I was super stressed and trying to follow all these new diets and overcomplicating everything and just constantly thinking about what I should and shouldn’t do, what I should and shouldn’t eat and then following just long grueling exhausting workouts and just got to the point where I was so overwhelmed and so stressed out that all I wanted in all honesty which is to regain my sanity, I didn’t want to constantly obsess over food and working out. I didn’t want to revolve my life around going to the gym and strict eating guidelines, I just wanted to like I said regain my sanity and strip things down to the bare essentials and follow the simplest guidelines possible that would allow me to achieve my goals without unnecessary stress. That’s the basis behind the information I provide, it’s the basis for the guidelines that I provide my clients with our workouts and our nutrition and it really is just about keeping things as SANE and simple as possible because like you said this mentality in the fitness nutrition world is that you have to constantly deprive yourself, you have to be super set on your goals and you have to be willing to sacrifice anything to achieve then and it’s a total buzzkill because it really doesn’t have to be that way, you don’t have to deprive yourself and do these long grueling exhausting workouts to build a better body, it is really not that complicated and that’s the basis behind the information I provide and how I work with my clients, that was long but hopefully that answered your question.

Jonathan: Yes, it absolutely did Nia, and again we are so cut from the same cloth and I am curious to get your take on the following. The key thing you mentioned there was it doesn’t have to be complicated. It doesn’t have to be long and grueling and I think part of the challenge I am curious as to your take on this is let’s call it the traditional approach, the eat less, exercise more approach, it in quotations works and what I mean in quotations works is like we all know somebody who it has worked for and it “worked” for you but it compromised the rest of your life and my story is very similar. Back in my trainer days, I would spend about 20 hours a week portioning out my food and exercising if not everyday, multiple times a day and it “worked” I looked pretty good, but I felt terrible, I couldn’t go on vacation without being like, “Where’s the nearest gym?” and it just took over my whole life, but the challenge of course is that it kind of works, but it is unnecessary. There is such a simpler approach to it and it sounds like that’s been your experience.

Nia: Exactly, in my opinion if you are having to revolve your life around achieving those goals, then in my opinion it actually isn’t working because having a better body and building a better body, it needs to be a process and a lifestyle that enhances the rest of your life. If you are mentally worn out and exhausted and having to literally revolve your life around achieving those goals, well then it is really not working and I will tell my clients, “I don’t care, if your body looks great, if you are mentally miserable and if your mind isn’t in the right place, that doesn’t mean anything to me.” I want you to be able to enjoy the better body that you are building. I want it to be able to provide you that makes your life easier and allows you to do other things you want, like I said it should enhance your life, looking great if you are miserable all the time, it is not working in my opinion.

Jonathan: Absolutely, it’s ironic that we have to say this, but the things we do to further our health should actually make us healthier and happier, not more depressed and more neurotic which is sometimes exactly what the traditional approach causes us to do.

Nia: Agree.

Jonathan: It is also ironic that and it is a similar analogy when we talk about these pursuits in the physical or mental arena also reminds me of the stories we constantly hear about individuals who are so financially driven. They make all this money, but then they have no time to do anything with it or they are burnt out and they’re sick and they can’t enjoy it. So, it is like what is the point of achieving success financially or success physically or emotionally from a health perspective if it dominates our life such that we can’t do anything with it.

Nia: I like that, yeah, agree.

Jonathan: I love this Nia, I am on one of your pages on your website and you literally have the phrase which is basically the subtitle of my first book. The subtitle of my first book is Eat More and Exercise Less – Smarter and your subheader here is EAT MORE and EXERCISE LESS and you provide your eat more guidelines and your exercise less guidelines, let’s run through those.

Nia: Okay, for the eat more guidelines is that what you want to discuss?

Jonathan: Absolutely.

Nia: Okay, like we were saying you know a lot of people they are like follow the eat less, exercise more mentality, so for a lot of women that come to me that means they were eating just super low calories, 1200 a day or less and doing that for extended periods of time and as a result they have no energy, they are miserable, they are worn out and then they combine that with the exercise more mentality, they are doing the super long grueling exhausting workouts and they think that at the end of every workout they have to be tired and on the verge of vomiting and just that mentality, so yeah they are doing it, they are eating less and exercising a heck of lot more and then at first they may get some results, they’ll lose some fat, they’ll start looking better, but again it is coming at a price that they are miserable and worn out and for most people that’s a lifestyle that they just can’t maintain. So what happens, yes they will get results at first, but after a while it is going to catch up with them, they are going to be miserable, they are going to be exhausted, they are going to be flippin’ hungry for one and then more than likely what’s going to happen is they revert back to old habits because that’s a lifestyle that you just can’t maintain long-term and then they revert back to their old habits and then they try that again later, so it really is just a vicious cycle and so what I tell people is you actually need to exercise less, you don’t need to do these super long grueling workouts most days of the week, you just need to do the right exercises and for people that read my website, I am a big proponent of strength training for a lot of reasons for one with me and my clients it’s actually the best tool to help people build the body they want to help them lose fat to get that “toned appearance” and it actually doesn’t take as much time as most people think. Most of my clients only strength train three days a week, take about 30 to 40 minutes each session and by exercising less by strength training and doing the best exercises and then beyond that the focus is simply on improving their performance. All that means is let’s say somebody comes to me and we start strength training together and they start out doing, they will squat 65 pounds. That’s their beginning point. We make it a point to get them stronger over time, so last week they squatted 65 pounds for six reps, today I want them to squat that 65 pounds for seven or eight reps. It is this focus on doing a little better than you did last time and that’s the mentality that you maintain over the long haul and the awesome thing about this is not only does that focus on improving their performance help them to actually build the body they want, but more often than not, it is way more motivating because if you come to the gym, you are not worried about burning calories or working out for at least an hour, if your only focus is doing a little better than you did last time and improving your performance, well that’s actually a positive motivator and what happens especially with women when they give proper strength training when they try it for the first time, they truly dig into it. After a couple of weeks, most women are like, “Holy crap, I can’t believe I can squat this much or deadlift this much or I did my first set of perfect pushups.” They see what they are truly able to do physically and then they become hooked. So, that’s the beauty of it. Then they become hooked because they are focusing on something positive which is improving their performance, lo and behold, this is something they can do long-term because it is fun because they enjoy it because they look forward to it and it is easy to do because they only have to work out about three times a week, so it’s manageable, it’s something that can sustain long-term, they are actually exercising less than most people. Most of my clients and I know we are in the gym. We are in and out before most people finish and people look at us like we are crazy. Actually the other day I laughed, a guy called me a slacker because I got to the gym after he had already been there and I finished my workout before he was done. He was like, “Oh you are a slacker.” I am like, “Uh yeah.” It is a quality not quantity mindset, I did what I needed to do, I got the heck out of there and I am getting the results that I want, so that’s the exercise less mentality and then the eat more. If you are doing these workouts and if you are training hard and if you are improving your performance, you need to give your body fuel to go through all these activities and it starts in my opinion on a heavy emphasis on just eating real food first and foremost. Find ways to eat things that are as close to their natural state as possible. Make sure you make those meals in way that you enjoy them, you don’t need to eat just baked skinless chicken and broccoli. I don’t eat that. That’s not fun. It’s just finding ways to eat more real food, making those foods tasty to where you actually want to eat them and then beyond that I try to tell people eat when you are hungry. If you wake up, you are not hungry, you don’t have to eat anything. Eat when you are hungry, make sure you are eating until you are satisfied, don’t deprive yourself and then use that food and fuel to go and perform your workouts. Behind all this, you want a positive mindset, you don’t want to look at food like, “Oh, I can’t eat this” or “I should eat this because it is good for me.” Keep it simple, find the food that you love and eat them. That was a very long answer again.

Jonathan: I was frantically taking notes down because so many things you said resonated with me and were so profound. A couple of things, the thing you finished with here about not fearing the food. I think that ties into something you said about when we do proper strength training especially with females because that’s an area that is as males we are told from when we were little, strength train muscles is good, but females often hear the opposite message. So let’s definitely focus on that, but one thing you mentioned is the difference between how you feel after successfully strength training, in some ways that you feel good, you feel energized, you feel strong, contrast that with the two hour chronic StairMaster session where you just feel drained and deprived and weakened. It is almost like it is weakening you while strength training builds you up and makes you feel stronger and I think you get the one-two punch there because you have got the feeling stronger when you are doing the smarter form of strength training exercise and then you start to see food a little bit differently because you are out of this starvation deprivation mindset, right? Why were you on the stair stepper for two hours? Because you were trying to in some ways starve and deprive your body. That’s not empowering at all. In some ways, it is the opposite, it is a starvation model. So you do the same thing with food, but when you strength train, that’s about progress and development and becoming a strong beautiful woman or strong and powerful man and then when you go into the food arena, you just carry that over and you say eating more, but of the right kinds of food is what I need to do to fuel that empowered and strong machines, so you don’t fear food, you embrace it. How does that sound?

Nia: Exactly and what you hit the nail on the head there, it is a difference between a positive mindset and a positive focus against a negative mentality. Like you said it is about empowering yourself not only physically, but also mentally and that is flippin’ huge.

Jonathan: It is absolutely huge and the other thing I wanted to touch on that you mentioned is your story of how exercising in this intelligent way enables you to get in and out of the gym, you are actually going to be exercising a lot less than people who are commonly exercising and how you may be perceived as a slacker. The analogy I would like to use in that case is imagine you sat down for a challenging test in school and you were the first one done and you got an A. No one would think you are a slacker, in fact they would say wow that person is really, really smart because he could get an A and they got it done quickly. So, that’s great.

Nia: I like that, that’s awesome. I like that.

Jonathan: No one calls the class genius a slacker, they call him a genius and I call you a genius as well.

Nia: Thank you, I will take that compliment.

Jonathan: Nia, as we talk about this, the number one thing that I know might be in the back of peoples’ minds and you have got extensive documentation about this and you yourself are perfect example about this of how strength training for females, the only thing you should be worried about is how you are going to deal with all the self confidence it is going to give you, you shouldn’t be worried about it making you look like a man or it turning you into some big and bulky Hercules.

Nia: Yes, okay here is what I tell a lot of people that first a lot of women they are very skeptical about strength training because there is still this just horrific myth that women are going to get big and bulky from strength training and so here is a good way that I like to appease those fears and I just say “Okay, how do you want to look, what’s the body you want to build?” They would say, “I like how you look and I like how she looks and she doesn’t have a lot of body fat and she has some nice definition on her arms, and her legs, and she looks great, I want to look like that, but I don’t want to get big and bulky.” Then I say, “Okay, you like how I look, you like how she looks, you like how my clients look, here is what we did to get there, we strength trained.” You just said you like how we look, we are not big and bulky and we strength trained and that’s what I am trying to get you to do and I tell them success leaves clues. You like how these women look, you like how I look, well this is what we did to get there. A lot of times that kind of helps. They are like, “Okay, you do it and you all look great, so may be it wouldn’t make me big and bulky” and then beyond that it is really just trying to get them to have a little bit of faith in the process to just jump in because I tell them, “You are coming to me for a reason, you have tried everything else, everything else hasn’t produced the results that you wanted or they didn’t produce the results that you could sustain long term, what have you got to lose?” It is really just jumping in and trusting that process and more often than not like I said 9 out of 10 women that really trust the process and get into proper strength training, after a couple of weeks they just become hooked and then at that point I don’t need to convince them any more because they want to keep doing it on their own.

Jonathan: I love it. I love that example and I will just reiterate that of how do you want to look and the analogy I sometimes like to use is if you want to look like a marathon runner, which is often not the vision of health most people have in their minds, if you want to look like a bag of skin and bones, which again is not what most people want to look like, if you want to destroy everything on body except your bone structure then yes, eat as little as you possibly can and burn off as many calories as you possibly can, but if what you are after is to look healthy and robust and strong, doing things, performing exercises that strengthen you, eating foods that strengthen you and heal you, again it’s that focus on what can I do to be positive and to build myself up not in terms of becoming big and bulky, but in becoming strong and toned rather than what do I need to deprive myself of either be a caloric restriction fearing food or just trying to starve ourselves on the StairMaster.

Nia: Exactly and it is that positive versus negative mindset.

Jonathan: Another thing Nia that I love you have got on your website here and this is just I think we should all print this out and put it on our wall and that’s: “The weight on the barbell is important, not the weight on the scale” and tell me a little bit about this. Dig into this a little bit. I love this.

Nia: Okay, again so many women they think, “Oh you know I want to lose weight and I want to weigh what I weighed either in high school or college and once I hit that weight I am going to be so happy.” A lot of times there is kind of a couple of different ways you can look at this. One, you can strive to try to achieve that lower number and work yourself to complete exhaustion and that would be the only thing you focus on. Every morning you get up, you step on the scale and you hope to see that number go down. If the number doesn’t go down a lot of times women’s their entire day is just ruined, like, “Crap I failed, the weight didn’t go down on the scale, I failed.” All they do is they chase this lower number and that’s all they are focused on and they just want to hit that lower number. Often times, I will ask women like let me ask you this, let’s say if we focused on nothing but your workouts and what you can do and let’s say you don’t even step on the scale, the number you don’t think about anymore and let’s say after a couple of months of training hard, you actually love how your body looks, your clothes are fitting looser and you are starting to see the muscle definition you want and you actually like how you look now. Let’s say that you love how you look and we are like, “Hey let’s go hop on the scale and see.” You feel great, you are excited, you love how you look, you get on the scale, but you are 10 pounds over your ideal weight, is that going to affect you or are going to care that the scale does not reflect what you thought you would see. A couple of women are like, “Yeah I want to hit that ideal weight,” but a lot of women that are getting it they’re like, “Oh, now I guess it doesn’t mean anything if I love how I look, if I love how my clothes are fitting, if I am seeing muscle definition, if I have the results that I wanted all long, maybe the scale doesn’t really mean anything.” I am like, okay, now they are getting it. Instead of thinking about the scale and trying to hit a number that means absolutely nothing and isn’t a good indicator anyway of what’s really going on, switch your focus to what you can do in the gym like we said focusing on the weight on the barbell or dumbbell whatever you are using. You put your focus solely on what you can do; again it is that positive mindset. Go into the gym and focus on the weight in your hands and what you are able to do and doing a little better than last time and challenging yourself to get stronger and being able to do physical feats you can’t do now and let that be your focus and strive to do better constantly and when you do that, when you have that positive focus and you strive to add more weight to that barbell then excellent things are going to happen, you are going to build the body you want and it is what I call just a side effect from training to be awesome because you are getting stronger and you are doing better. So, when you look at things that way, the scale doesn’t mean a dang thing, you should focus your efforts on what you can do, pay attention to how you look and go after that look that you want and don’t even worry about the scale and I tell people, please, anybody who listens to this, if you have got a scale and if you step on it daily or once a week and if your mood for the entire day is affected by the number you see, do yourself a favor, pause this interview, go get up, take your scale, throw it in the dang trash, you don’t need it, it is not a true indicator of your success or maybe your perceived lack thereof success, so get rid of it once and for all, focus on something that’s much more positive, much more empowering, much more motivating, and I promise you will not regret it.

Jonathan: Amen, amen sister, amen, amen, I love it. I absolutely love it. It is so true, too, right and it really can become a challenge because there are things like literally if our goal was to make the scale happy, let’s just call a spade a spade here Nia. If our goal was to make the scale happy, what do we want to do, well let’s get as much water out of our body as we can because good Lord, we are carrying a lot of water around, so we need to dehydrate ourselves and all of this muscle tissue that’s heavy, it’s dense, so let’s burn that off too and yes, if we can burn off some fat that would be cool too, but if we could take a bunch of diuretics and starve ourselves so that we cannibalize as much tissue as we possibly can, we are going to make that scale super happy, but we are not going to feel good, we are not going to look good. In fact, often what we see is the very practices we would undertake to make the scale happy will be counterproductive in the long-term to make us happy.

Nia: Exactly.

Jonathan: If we want to make ourselves happy in the short-term or even in the long-term, the scale is just irrelevant like you said, if you could wave a magic wand and feel better about how you look, feel better in general and you weighed 10 pounds more, would you rather live in that world or would you rather live in a world where you are depressed, didn’t like how you look, were unhealthy and weighed 10 pounds less? The weight is irrelevant; it’s the things we think come along with the weight.

Nia: And just so people know, this is something I am speaking from personal experience, I have actually been there and done that. I got trapped in the mindset of trying to reach “an ideal weight” a long time ago and I was constantly trying to hit this for me at the time I wanted to weigh 115, I think because that’s what I weighed in high school and everyday I would get on the scale, I was like I just got to hit 115, I have just got to hit 115 and when I hit 115 everything will be okay and that was then and I finally stopped weighing on the scale and just focused like what I told everybody else, on my performance and building the body I wanted and I don’t know what I weigh now, I don’t weigh myself anymore, I am at least 10 to 15 pounds, some at least like 125 to 130 I don’t know because I really don’t give a crap anymore. I know that now that I have the body that I want, it does what I want it to, it looks the way I want to look, but it is over that past, that previous ideal number, which means absolutely nothing, so like I said, it is all from personal experience and like I said a lot of my clients go through the same thing, but the scale is a horrific indicator of the body that you have and your success and people really should just go toss it in the trash.

Jonathan: To me Nia and I don’t want to get too emotional here, but to me it really is one of the last remaining artifacts of a perception of people and especially women that is so inaccurate and so demeaning and that is when you think about what’s the scale after, the scale is after making you smaller and we don’t need anyone in this world, especially any of our strong females, to be smaller or to pursue being smaller or being secondary or again it is this model of deprivation or starvation or shrinking yourself, that’s not the goal. The goal like you said is to be a beautiful badass and like you said strong is the new skinny. So, the scale is again that last remnant. It is a tool to remind you that you need to shrink yourself and that you need to be smaller as an individual and I can’t think of anything more degrading than that.

Nia: I agree with you.

Jonathan: So, throw it out the window 100 percent. Nia, the one other thing I wanted to cover was often times I hear that this strength training approach and the approach we are talking about here of eating more and exercising less, but doing that smarter, how does that work as we mature? For example, a postmenopausal woman or an older man who may have rotator cuff issues and knee problems, how will they approach this smarter paradigm with their limitations brought upon by more experience on this earth?

Nia: A lot of times people as they get older they are going to experience different limitations or anybody. I mean I’ve had injuries that have set me back and what I tell people this is just what I like to call owning whatever you are at, whatever you are at right now with whatever injuries you have, whatever limitations you may think you have, you just need to accept it and own it. This is the situation you have and all you can control is what you do from here on out. So, for especially a lot of times with some of my older clientele or people who are injured which I injured myself long time ago from having an ego and doing something stupid. I was very limited in what I could do with my strength training and I could have easily gotten really upset about it and be like, “Oh I can’t do this anymore, I just give up.” Like I said own where you are at, accept it, and then go from there. A lot of times with older clientele or people that just want to prevent from being injured, we use safer tools to do that. So, for a lot of times that will mean using dumbbells instead of barbells simply because they are much more joint friendly on your shoulders and your elbows and we will do single leg work instead of exercises like squats and deadlifts, it is really just making do with what you can do and then that is all you focus on instead of thinking, “Oh, I can’t do this, I can’t do that.” Forget about that, that doesn’t matter, have the positive mindset, look at what you can do, focus on what you can do and get better at what you can do. That’s all that really matters. You can’t whine and cry because like I said what’s that going to accomplish. It is not going to accomplish anything, so force yourself to have a positive mindset and improve what you can improve and good things will happen.

Jonathan: I love it, I love it, it’s all about playing the hand you are dealt and you would be surprised often like if you focus on your specific circumstance and you really say like “what,” in a business world, right? If you are a small company, you might be like, “Oh, man, we don’t have all the capital to go and launch this giant marketing campaign,” but on the other hand, you are a small company so you can pivot on a dime and you can be agile and you can adjust to the market. Whereas if you are a giant company you have a lot of capital, but you can’t really move quickly because you are a giant company, like once you look and embrace at your circumstance, you might actually find that there are some advantages to it and that’s just focusing on playing the hand you are dealt, so I love that. Nia, if you could leave our listeners with, there are so many truth bombs on your website, it is just brilliant and again your website is and I would highly recommend that everyone checks it out. You have got just your subheader is “Lift like a Girl” which I love. You have got all this wonderful stuff. What are the top three things you would say that for an individual who has grown up in a culture which prizes depriving oneself and struggling and complexity, what are the top three things we can do to help free ourselves from that mindset?

Nia: Okay, first of all we will say that if people don’t know how to spell my name, they can also go to just that will get them to my website as well. I will try to keep it to just three things. One, it is all about having a positive mindset and set positive goals for yourself, like I said with your workouts, set some kind of positive goals and focus on achieving those. If you can’t do pushups right now, follow a smart program and work your way to being able to perform pushups and focus on those positive goals and then once you reach that goal, set another positive performance oriented goal and then set your training up that way, that’s so much better for building the body that you want. Beyond that, please for the love of everything holy and wonderful, don’t stress yourself out over the little things. We are in a culture where we just nitpick every tiny little thing and we obsess over all these small things like with nutrition. I have had people email me frantically, “Oh my gosh Nia, I read today that berries are super high in antioxidants, but I love apples, should I eat berries instead of apples because they have more antioxidants?” I am like “aaahh quit,” but it is true. I was guilty of this before, I am not making fun of anybody. I used to do this. I would stress over these tiny minute details that when you just stop you take a step back, you relax and take a deep breath and put things in perspective and ask yourself. Chose you battles, focus on the big things, focus on the bigger bang for your buck items with your nutrition with your working out. So, keep it to the basics, keep it to the essentials. So with strength training, go to the gym two to three days a week, use the best exercises, do a few sets, work hard, then get the heck out of there. With your nutrition, keep it simple. Eat real food first and foremost, find ways to make that food delicious, eat when you are hungry, don’t eat if you are not hungry. It really is a lot easier than people think and we are in just this culture and in this mindset where people automatically discredit something if it seems too simple because they are like, “Oh, it can’t work because it too simple.” No, it is really simple and you can achieve things, just keep it simple and please don’t obsess over these tiny things. Get your sanity back, take a step back and know everything is going to be okay. Is that two or three?

Jonathan: Just keep going, just keep going, just keep going, it is all good.

Nia: Like I said just have a positive mindset and I encourage people to give proper strength training and an honest shot. Like I said I really believe that you will be empowered not only physically, but mentally and once you can really grasp the importance and the effectiveness of having a positive mindset, everything else will just be effortless and you will get the results that you want and you wouldn’t have to search for the new diet or the new fat or anything like that because there is no magic bullet, there is no magic pill, and you don’t have to spend money on all these supplements or any of that crap. It really is simple just comes down to using the basic exercises, working hard and improving your performance and then eating real food and listening to your body and just give it a shot, you have nothing left to lose, all you can do is get results that you want, regain your sanity and actually enjoy the process.

Jonathan: While you are doing that, visit or because like I said I think in another life Nia and I were related in some way because this is so awesome and Nia is just right on the right path here and I love it. So Nia I appreciate all of the knowledge and insight and empowerment you shared with us today and I again would encourage everyone to please visit and remember this week and every week after that; eat more and exercise less, but do that smarter. Thanks so much.

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