I remember when I thought I'd gotten as lean as I could possibly get. I'd lost a ton of lard since my fat boy days, but still wasn't under 10%. I had a two-pack, not a six-pack. Like a lot of people who are frustrated and looking for excuses, I thought, "Well, I must just have fat genes."

Finally, I realized that I wasn't doing everything I could do to hit single digit body fat... so I started doing those things. Or rather, I started not doing some things, like bingeing on pizza buffets every weekend to "um, ya know, replenish glycogen or somethin.'"

Funny how you can change your "genetics" when you drop the self-directed bullshit and really tighten up your diet, huh?

See, it turned out that while I'd done a lot to build muscle and lose fat, I still had gaps in my training, my nutrition, and even my mindset. By filling them, my progress began to move forward again.

Do you have gaps in your plan right now? Do you even have a plan? And most importantly...

Are You Growing or Regressing?

I believe that we're always in a state of flux. We don't reach stasis; we're ever-changing, either growing or regressing.

I believe this is true in every aspect of our lives, from our level of lean body mass to our level of personal development: happiness, income, social relationships, etc. If you're not moving forward, then you're moving backward.

And here's the kicker: If you're not actively working on forward progression, then you're in a state of regression. Self-improvement takes effort and focused intention. We don't accidentally become leaner, more muscular, more knowledgeable, or generally better.

So what does "actively working to progress" mean? It means taking daily actions that bring you a step closer to your ultimate goals. You aren't just going through the motions; you're doing something, every day, consistently. You're becoming better, a little bit at a time, exhibiting the Japanese concept of kaizen: constant and never-ending improvement.

Are you doing this? Would you like to do this, but you don't know where to start? Then read on.

28 Days, 14 Missions

I'm going to give you 14 little missions – one thing to accomplish every two days for the next month. Each of these actions or assignments will better you in some way, especially if your main goal is dropping body fat.

These missions may expose you to something new in the gym or help you to tighten and dial-in your diet. A few of these missions are psychological, designed to make you think or evaluate something. Some of these mini-missions may not apply to you. Maybe you've already accomplished them. No problem, just skip to the next one and checkout the bonus missions at the end of the article for more options.

The idea here is that in about 28 days you'll have learned something new or acquired a new skill that'll help you get a step closer to your ideal physique. Many of these things will become permanent, and they'll help you not only find those abs but keep them.

But to really get this accomplished, you need a deadline (see bonus mission #4), some positive pressure to keep you focused, hence the "one mission every 48 hours" plan. You have two days to perform each mission. Commit to the program and in about a month you'll be leaner, maybe even more muscular, and better psychologically equipped to continue your physique transformation.

Ready? Let's get started!

Mission #1: Rethink the Last Supper

Let's start with the last... the last meal of the day that is. This mission's focus is on your final feeding of the day. Your goal is fourfold:

1) This meal should be calorically small: no more than 300 or 400 calories.

2) It should be low-carb: under 15 grams of carbohydrates.

3) It should contain at least 40 grams of protein.

4) It should be eaten an hour or two before you go to bed.

People who put all four of these things together lose fat rapidly. That's because fat people eat their largest, highest carb meal right before bed, essentially storing it instead of burning it. If this is what fat people do, then you should do the opposite.

Binge eating, especially at night, is now considered to be the number one eating disorder in North America. While it may not be a "disorder" for you, if you're overly fat then late night overeating is probably part of the cause.

So for your first assignment, experiment with smaller, low-carb, high-protein meals at night, and don't eat them too close to bedtime. Try this for the next two days.

Mission #2: Count Your Fiber

For the next two days, you're going to eat normally, but count every gram of fiber you consume.

Most Americans get less than half of the recommended fiber intake, only consuming about 10% of the fiber their great grandparents did. It's suggested that we take in around 25 grams per day, but in today's processed, fast food environment, almost no one does, even people who are normally conscious of their health. For example, those who lower their carb intake sometimes inadvertently drop their fiber intake.

Most dieters forget about fiber and instead focus on overall calories and carbohydrates, but taking in an adequate amount of fiber can help the fat loss process. Along with the usual health benefits associated with it, fiber will also keep you feeling satiated (full) throughout the day.

Fiber is essentially nature's hunger pang killer. It'll also prevent large spikes in blood glucose and insulin, which can lead to fat gain, mood swings, and cravings.

So, find out how much you're getting for the next two days. Keep a fiber log. Read labels and watch serving sizes. If you're not getting at least 25 grams a day, fix it.

Mission #3: Take a Hike

Go to the gym. Get on the treadmill and crank up the incline. If your treadmill goes to 15, crank it to at least 10 or 12. The speed should be a walk, slightly faster than your normal gait. Normal is 3.5 MPH for most adult males. Shoot for 4 MPH and do not hang on to the rails like a fat housewife. That reduces the effectiveness of the workout... and makes you look like a dork.

Now, walk for 20 minutes.

You have just discovered one of the most effective forms of "cardio" in existence for bodybuilders. You'll be sucking air and sweating, while at the same time hitting your glutes, hamstrings, and calves with a new stimulus.

But don't expect any muscle loss or performance loss, because it's just a short walk and won't interfere with your recovery from weight training. In fact, timing an incline walk for the day after a hard posterior chain workout can even speed up the recovery process.

Mission #4: Read a Label, Dummy

Go to your fridge or pantry. Pick out a packaged food product that claims to have health benefits: organic, all natural, low fat, low carb, reduced calorie, whole grain, high protein, "100 calories," etc.

Now, read the label, including the ingredient list. Is it really healthy?

Low fat often means high sugar. You can tell by looking at where sugar is listed in the ingredient list. If it's listed first, second, or third, then there's a lot of it in there. Remember, whatever is listed first is the main ingredient; whatever is listed second is the second most prevalent ingredient, and so on.

What about low carb? Low carb often means high fat, and that could mean it's calorically dense: still very high in calories in spite of being lower in carbs or sugar-free.

Also, the word "organic" or "all-natural" on the label doesn't mean it's supportive of your fat loss plan. Yes, even if you got it from Trader Joe's or Whole Foods. Read the calories and serving sizes. "All natural" low-fat granola cereal can have more than double the calories and carbs of an equal amount of Frosted Flakes. (But don't eat that crap either.)

And just because pomegranate is good for you doesn't mean that a high-sugar drink with 2% pomegranate juice is good for you.

Read. Ingredient. Lists. Dummy.

Mission #5: Go Green

Go to the store. Buy a bag of flash frozen veggies (any kind) or a bag of spinach leaves. Eat the whole bag today over several meals. Do it again tomorrow. Already do that? Then try for two baggies.

Eating veggies, particularly green veggies, gets you full for practically no calories. Full people don't overeat other stuff. Body fat is lost. It's magical.

Mission #6: Move

Park far away from the store or office. Take the stairs. Walk the escalator. Don't roll your luggage. Choose manual doors instead of automatic doors. Get on top during sex, no matter how good the view is in "reverse cowgirl."

All of these thing increase your NEPA (Non-Exercise Physical Activity.) People with a high rate of NEPA usually aren't fat. So for these two days, seek to increase your NEPA. Look around and be aware of every opportunity to use your muscles more, to simply movemore. Make it a habit.

Mission #8: Toss the Scale

Scale weight isn't as important as body composition, but body fat percentage is tough to get tested accurately and consistently. Instead, reply on tape measurements. For this mission, get a fabric tape measure and measure these areas:

Around the largest part of your belly/love-handle area
Upper leg (thigh)
Lower leg (calf)
Chest (across nipple line)
Between belly button and nipple line (upper abs area)
Shoulders
Upper arm
Neck

Measure once per week if you're on a fat loss plan, paying close attention to the belly and love-handle area. The bigger this number is, the more likely you're cultivating a disease or condition that will eventually kill your sorry ass. Oh, and it makes you look pregnant. And chicks don't dig pregnant dudes.

Stop putting it off and take your measurements. Be accountable.

Mission #9: Eat and Start the Timer

Eating four to six smaller meals per day is better than two or three big ones. We know this, but it's sometimes tough to stop eating when you don't feel totally stuffed on these smaller meals. The reason? It takes 20 minutes for the body to kick on the hormonal "full signal."

So, after you eat that 300 calorie meal, set your Timex Ironman or a stopwatch to countdown 20 minutes. After the alarm goes off, evaluate your level of satiety. Chances are you'll be fairly satisfied and full. No, you won't be gorged, but remember, you'll be eating again in about three hours.

What we're doing here is training ourselves to outwit our body's slow satiety signal. This will teach us when we're really full, even if we don't feel that way yet.

Use the timer trick for every meal during this two-day period and you'll increase your level of "body awareness," a valuable tool that can lead to long-term physique improvement.

Mission #10: Say Cheese

Many people aren't motivated to lose fat until they see "the pic." The pic is that photo of you that makes you say, "Holy shit! How long have I been a fat guy and why didn't anyone tell me?!"

Brad's "before" pic. Okay, not really. But still.

If you haven't seen "the pic" yet, take one. In fact, your mission is to take three photos of yourself – one from the front, one from the side, and one from the back. No sucking in.

Chances are you'll be shocked... and more motivated than ever to make a change.

Mission #11: Browse the Grocery Store

Head to the market today but don't buy anything. Instead, spend one hour going down the aisles reading labels and finding new healthful foods. Most of the time we hit the food store in a rush and shop out of habit. We miss things that could help us reach single digit nirvana.

Some suggestions:

• Hit the meats. Ooh look, bison. Bet you didn't know they carried that. (Even Wal-Mart does these days.)

Sweet Italian turkey sausage? Bet you never noticed that before. And a whole chicken for under four bucks? Man, you paid four bucks for that last fancy coffee drink at Starbucks! Time to try that beer can chicken recipe.

• Take a look at the dairy. See if they carry Calorie Countdown milk.

• Now, the herb and spice section. Spend lots of time here. Smell things. Look for blends. Say howdy to Mrs. Dash. Eating for abs never has to be bland again.

• Explore the baking aisle. Really? The baking aisle? Yes. This is where they keep raw nuts of every kind and sugar substitutes like Splenda. And what's this? Milled flax seed for one-third the price as the same stuff in the supplement section? Cool.

• Now go to the cooking oils. Look at the high-end olive oils and handy cans of sprayable organic olive oil. Nice. And check out the tubs of coconut oil, the "good" saturated fat. It's worth looking into.

• Now the fruits and vegetables. Heft one of those new kinds of avocados, the ones that are five times larger than a regular avocado but have fewer calories. Sweet. Now go check out that big purple thing and figure out what it is. (Hint: It can replace noodles in lasagna.) Peruse the organic section and compare prices. And is that purple cauliflower?

• Now the breads. Hey, whole grain tortillas with only 4 grams of net carbs and a whopping 8 grams of fiber? That should help with Mission #2... and the other number two, too.

• Now the eggs. Look, cartons of pure egg whites! And omega-3 enriched whole eggs! Nice.

• Now the international foods section. Canned chipotle peppers? Spicy and hot, and very few calories. Imported hot mustard and Sambal Oelek chili paste with 0 calories? Those should liven up any boring chicken breast.

• Now go look at the fish. Find tuna, real yellowfin tuna, not that canned stuff made for cats you've been eating.

You get the idea. Scout out some new stuff. Go to the grocery store, take your time, and learn something.

Mission #12: Imbibe Less

For this mission you're going to ponder. Specifically, you're going to ponder your consumption of alcohol.

Do you have a beer once a week or so? A glass of wine with dinner a couple times a week? Probably nothing to worry about, though if your goal is fast fat loss, then these are best avoided for a while.

How often do you get drunk? Think about it. I watch people all the time who eat right and hit the gym often, then absolutely blow everything with booze.

And it's not just the useless calories; it's the interference with replenishing sleep cycles, the effects on hormone levels, the lipolysis interruption, and how alcohol negatively alters your eating and training patterns. (Are you really getting six meals a day and training with enthusiasm after a night of intoxication? Um, no.)

Remember, the root word of intoxication is toxic... poison. The feeling of being drunk is the side effect of being poisoned. Literally. Taken too far and the body attempts to expel the poison (you throw up). If that doesn't work, then there's always the option of medical stomach pumping... again, removing the toxic substance so you don't die.

Does this make booze sound like a supportive part of your week and your overall physique goals?

Think about it. And before you say that you're just fine with your drinking, lift up your shirt and look at your belly. Are you really?

Mission #13: Learn the Abs Rule

This mission involves a fast lesson in cheat meals.

Should you have that cheat day, that Chinese buffet, or that pie your granny made you 'cause you're so gosh darn special? Many times, people justify cheating like this:

• "I trained hard all week; I deserve a cheat meal."

• "Hey, I lost a pound last week; I can afford to have that pie!"

• "Cheat meals, um, restore my letpin or something, and get my metabolism going again, er, right?"

Cut the flimsy rationalizations. Instead, go by "The Abs Rule." Here it is:

The Abs Rule: Do you have a fully visible six pack? If the answer is yes then you may have a cheat meal once every few weeks. If the answer is no, then you can't.

This guy can have an occasional cheat meal if he wants.

This guy... not so much.

It's that easy to make the decision... if you can stop bullshitting yourself long enough to think clearly about what you're shoveling down your gullet.

Mission #14: Cook Something

Over the years I went from someone who ate only things out of a package to someone who prides himself on being a fine cook. Not coincidently, the better I learned to cook, the leaner I became and the easier I found it to stay that way.

Today I want you to start your own culinary transformation. Pick a recipe from one of the articles below and make it:

Lean and Mean Cookin'

When Gourmet Meets Nutrition

Recipe of the Week: The Paillard Method

Recipe of the Week: Half-Calorie Granola

If you choose to buy a book of "healthy" recipes, keep these thoughts in mind:



Still, if I had to choose, I'd choose a low-carb cookbook over a low-fat one. I like dietary fat (the right kind) and would much rather have some good fat than some "bread-y" carbs.

Your ultimate goal is to make one new, healthy meal per day. Start tonight.

Bonus Missions!

If one or two of the missions above doesn't apply to you, then here's a couple of extras to make sure you have a full month of self-improvement assignments:

Bonus Mission #1: Get Your Gallon

While much depends on activity level, your environment, and other factors, the most common advice you hear about fluid intake is to get at least a gallon of water per day. So, where do you stand? Are you getting less than a gallon? More?

Today, go to the store and buy a gallon of drinking water. Carry it around with you, use it to make your shakes and post-workout drinks, etc. The jug allows for easy visual analysis of your fluid intake. No guessing, no measuring: just get a gallon of water and see if you drink it all in one day.

Once you actually know where you're at, you can manipulate that up or down based on the latest fluid intake science.

And by the way, people spend a lot of money on things that are supposed to get rid of "toxins" in the body. Well, water is probably the best "product" on the market for that. Spending money on detoxification pills and elixirs when you're not even drinking enough water is just plain dumb.

Bonus Mission #2: Learn to "Spend" Calories

I've never once broken my macronutrients down into percentages (40/30/30 etc.). I just don't think in percentages. I bet most people don't.

Instead I think of calories and macronutrients in terms of money and budgeting. If you've always been confused by all the percentages, give my simple method a shot over the next two days.

Here's how it works: First, decide how much "money" you have. Let's say you're dieting hard and have decided that you have 1500 calories to "spend" on macronutrients (protein, fat, carbs). Well, you know you need at least a gram of protein per pound of body weight, so spend that first:

200g protein = 800 calories (1g protein = 4 cals)

Now let's say that you want to keep your carbs at 100g a day, a common dieting strategy:

100g carbs = 400 calories (1g carbs = 4 cals)

That's gives you 300 calories left to spend on healthy sources of dietary fat: Flameout, milled flax seed, olive oil, etc.

I like this more concrete method because it teaches you to make good food choices. For example, after you spend 50 grams of carbs on a post-workout drink, you'll only have 50 left. Are you going to blow them all on half a cup of "pretend health food" like some soy-laden cereal? Probably not, instead you'll discover that you can eat a whole lot of green vegetables and get really full for very little "money."

This strategy is self-teaching, self-correcting, and easy to wrap your head around. Try it.

Bonus Mission #3: Measure Something Besides Your Wang

I'm not a fan of portion control. I'd rather find ways of eating large amounts of food for fewer calories than eating smaller amounts of fattening foods. But, while a calorie isn't just a calorie, calories do count.

For this two-day mission, I want you to keep a calorie log. Just look at the serving sizes and actually measure them out or weigh them. (A food scale and/or a good measuring cup would be helpful here.) Some healthy foods are dense with calories; others are sparse. While you won't need to keep a food log every single day of your life, doing it for a short period of time will train you to monitor calories instinctively.

You may be pleasantly surprised by some of your findings. For example, you can have a mountain of steamed broccoli for just a handful of calories. But other food items may surprise you.

For example, I like to take mixed nuts (no peanuts) with me when I travel. I like them a little too much actually, and can easily go through a whole can of nuts on a long flight. One day I did the math. Turns out I was consuming 1700 calories on a single three hour flight! Oops. These days when I buy nuts I immediately measure them out into 200 calorie servings and bag them accordingly.

By counting calories and paying attention to serving sizes, you'll probably find out that you've been overdoing it on a few foods. Like me, you'll probably discover which healthful foods are truly "all you can eat" and which ones you have to be careful with.

Bonus Mission #4: Deadline Yourself

By some miracle of God or perhaps a tear in the fabric of time leading to a bizarro parallel universe, I've dated a few Figure competitors. (I know, I don't get it myself). And one thing that strikes me about them is how they alter their behaviors when it comes close to contest time.

You've never seen such dedication to diet and training. It's amazing how tight they control their nutrition, their recovery, their supplement usage, and their workouts. Why do they have so much discipline while the rest of the gym population is just blowing their diets and getting fatter and fatter?

Easy answer: They know they're going to be standing on stage wearing nothing but a sparkly, overpriced bikini.

If you knew you were going to be seen half-naked by hundreds of people while standing in a spotlight on a stage on a certain date, would you cheat on your diet? Skimp on your cardio? Half-ass your way through a workout?

I think not.

You don't have to be a competitive bodybuilder or Figure competitor to adopt this kind of discipline, but it does help to have a deadline of some type. Maybe it's a trip to the beach. Maybe you schedule a shirtless photo shoot and try to "peak" for it. Or maybe you just post your pic over in our photos section and announce that your "after" pic is coming in two months. That accountability will surely light a fire under your ass.

So, think about it, set a reachable, fairly short-term goal, and deadline yourself. Today.

Wrap-Up

Big goals are usually reached with small steps, but that doesn't mean it'll take a long time to reach those goals. The secret is to take many small steps. This month-long program above is just an example of how 14 small steps can add up to big changes in your physique.

Have other goals besides a washboard midsection? Then make your own program, spend about two days on each "mission," and watch your progress accelerate!