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Here is an interview with Nashville personal trainer Dan DeFigio on Southwestern Investment’s Interview With An Expert podcast:

Tommy:         I’m excited today because I have a great guest on here, Mr. Dan DeFigio with Basics and Beyond fitness & nutrition. Mr. Dan here is in the personal training and nutrition world. For everybody watching this, who might think, “Okay, Tommy, what do this have to do with financial planning?” Well, not a whole lot, but the habits are very similar.

Personal Training and Financial Planning

Dan and I had a great conversation in Nashville a little while back, and we were talking about his book which we’ll talk to you about here in just a minute. We were talking about certain habits and what you have to do to keep healthy. I think at that point, Dan, I made an analogy. I said, “You know, it’s kind of like in our business as well.” And you’d said, “Hey, that was a great point. Great analogy.” I think that’s what kind of sparked this whole interview and I said, “Hey, come on. I love to have you on here and talk about what you do.” Because I think there is a lot of similarities in the habits and how you work with people and how our team works with people as well.

Dan and myself we’ve known each other for about, I think we said between 8-10 years now. We met in a networking group there so very fortunate, Dan to have you on here and have known you as long as I have. Just overall, great guy, really cares about people. But why don’t you give a little background about you.

Dan:                I’m Dan Defigio. I’m one of those weirdo wellness guys who tries to get people to exercise, and eat right, and treat their bodies well. I have been in the fitness and nutrition field since 1993. Basics and Beyond Fitness & Nutrition has been around for a really long time. Apparently, we’re doing something right because we are in what year? 27 now I guess. 27 years. It’s going well. I’m proud to be the owner and director of basically Nashville’s flagship personal training and nutrition company. We’ve changed thousands of lives over the years and we continue to do so. It’s really gratifying work. I love it. As my own practice evolves just like you’ve probably found your practice evolves. You know, our priorities change a little bit and I start to recognize how helping people and changing lives is so much more than just the vehicles that we use to do it. I happen to use exercise and nutrition as my primary tool but there is a lot more involved with this kind of stuff than just what kind of workout you do and how you feed yourself. We start getting into how people think about their lives, and their bodies, and their decision making.

You had talked about the dummies book that I wrote. I wrote Beating Sugar Addiction for Dummies. That came about from when I first started working with folks it became clear very early that sugar addiction and stress eating were big problems for a lot of people.

Tommy:          Really.

Dan:                I guess I had assumed when I first started that like just teaching people like okay here is what you eat and this is what you should do. That would be the hard part but it’s really not. This is an issue, the reactive eating, and the mindless eating, and the sort of addiction to carbs and sugar, and the stress eating reactions that people have. It’s a big deal and it applies to a lot in life not just food. The reactivity. You and I were having a conversation earlier about some of the crossovers between how people treat their bodies and how people treat their bank accounts. There is a lot of similarities there. I guess we could talk about that later on.

But I digressed. You had asked about how I got started in this field. I really enjoy being able to teach people and lead people and coach them through what I call becoming their best self. You see so much in infomercials and social media and advertisements about like “Fat burning furnace, and abs of steel, and bands of glory…”, and whatever. That’s really not how we go about stuff. We realized that the average person is not going to be a supermodel. They are not going to be a high end athlete. I realized after all these years that exercise and nutrition is not really that big of a piece of people’s lives most of the time. It’s an afterthought. I don’t expect people to want to work out 5 days a week or to eat perfectly every day. We don’t do any kind of programs that require that sort of concept. We realized that long term, whatever you do most of the time that’s what you’re going to get results wise. It’s the same with investing, right? Whatever you do most of the time you are going to get the results of that. We take the long view on people’s lives and we really try to help them figure out like given their live, given their schedule, their job, their kids, their orthopedic and medical considerations. All that kind of stuff that could seem complicated. We just try to help people figure out, “Alright, what can we do to make this as good as we can make it?” Given the time that you may have. If we can get one or two 30-minute times for exercise a week. Teach how to do a little shopping and meal preps so we can improve your nutrition 20% instead of trying to do some 100% all or nothing goofy diet for 6 weeks. That’s kind of the approach that we take with folks and it seems to have worked pretty well for 27 years. I’m doing something right.

Tommy:          Yeah. No, that’s great. I love what you said because the fact that you said, “Hey, we understand that the average person is not going to be the supermodel, super athlete.” I love that because it’s being practical and realistic. When you said, “Hey, we take the long approach.” I mean, that’s exactly the same mentality you have with your money. We know that if we want to desire to get to a retirement place or want to have a certain financial goal that you can’t just get paid and then have took all your money and the things count every single time and then not have time to go out and do things, enjoy life a little bit. There’s so many similarities there because I used to in meetings I would always use the analogy of, hey, it can’t be eating rice cakes every day for your meal, right? Or you’re just like starving yourself on real normal stuff. It’s like well there is a balance to this. And that’s why I heard you say more than anything is, “Hey, let’s work with what you have. Let’s work with what is realistic and then focus on the long term.” Man, that is exactly just like this financial plans. It’s exact same thing. That’s why I love hearing your approach to things because it doesn’t matter if it is money, if it’s your health, or your wealth, it is the same approach to that.

Talk to me a little bit about managing expectations that people have when they come see one of your trainers? Is that difficult? Tell me about that.

Dan:                Well, the only thing that seems to be a consistent landmine with people is that they end up feeling like to have this all or nothing mentality. They’ll do nothing to take care of themselves. Sometimes for years and years, right? Zero exercise, terrible reactive nutrition, no attention to any of that kind of stuff. They don’t do anything for years and then when they finally decide, “Man, I got to do something different.” Then they tend to swing that pendulum too far to the other direction and like decide, “Okay. Well, I’m going to work out every day and I’m going to go jogging. I’m going to eat nothing but green salad and salmon for the rest of my life. I’m never ever ever going to have dessert and I’m giving up wine. I’m going to get 8 hours of sleep and I’m going to do… and I’m going to do all these kind of stuff.” And nobody can make all those kind of changes for more than a week all at once. That’s the big joke about everybody’s New Year’s resolutions. By the end of January, you are right back to where you started. Because the big landmine that people tend to get is they do nothing and then they try to do everything.

What we try to do as coaches is say that is not the approach for any long term change or long term improvement. You got to be able to come up with one or two improvements and then sit with those for a bit until it kind of becomes normal and it doesn’t feel like it requires a lot of effort or attention. And then you can make another improvement or two. You just keep stacking those. It is just like when you do your workouts in the gym. I know you are a great example of guys who do their weight training all the time. Because I’ve seen you in action man you are a monster. I love it. But you don’t go from zero exercise to try and set a one big record all at one day, right? It’s like here is what you can do and then maybe you do a little bit more until that becomes normal a little bit more. This concept in exercise is called progressive overload but it applies to making any kind of improvements in life. It applies to finance too. You don’t try to save zero dollars until you are 55 years old and you say, “Oh man, I got to do something about retirement and then sell your house and throw all that money into the stock market all in one day.” You just don’t do that.

Tommy:          That’s right.

Dan:                It’s got to be an ongoing process. That’s the big watch out. If anybody is listening to this that resonates with. I want to really encourage you to try to stay away from the all or nothing thinking because that will just lead you to yo-yo diets, and banging your head against the wall frustration wise over and over.

Tommy:          Yeah. What role do you see with that? Let’s say you see, you take on a client and you start to see or hear then wanting to do that, right. What is your role with them? Is it to be a coach along the way? Is it to make sure their mindset is right?

Dan:                Yeah. I mean, that absolutely. Having helped literally thousands of people with this. You start to recognize some patterns over the years. So when I start to see that kind of mentality it’s pretty easy early on and again to try to reign in this okay let’s not try to bite off too much at once, and you explain why because nobody can manage this kind of stuff. We find one or two things that, A, they can do consistently well, and B, things that are really important to them whether that is getting more energy, whether that is losing inches, whether it is getting stronger and more physically capable. We sort of pick one or two things around those really important big picture goals for folks to start working on. Because there are probably 50, 60 different things that you could talk to somebody about as far as what might help them and be good for them. But as we just said, you can’t do 50 or 60 things all at once, so pick one, pick two. You do the same thing. I’ve actually people come to you and say, “I got this giant list of stocks and investment that I look up on the internet and there is 300 of them. What do you think of these?”

Tommy:          Yeah, that is exactly right.

Dan:                Yeah.

Tommy:          No, I love it. Well, tell me how because big part of this is I’ve seen and experienced some people that are really, really good on the working-out side. They just really, really love to work out. I’ve seen another group of people that are really, really good at the nutrition side. But it’s really hard to kind of have both of those. I think there is a lot of misinformation about that because I think the people that work out a lot of times sometimes they don’t pay particular attention or they have a tendency not to worry too much about the health side or at least in their mind they don’t. But I love the fact that you said, “Hey, it is a fitness and nutrition because both of those have to fit into your wellbeing.”

Dan:                Exactly. They are both important. We don’t have to be; you were using the term ‘be great at stuff’. You don’t have to be great at anything unless you want to be. We try to shoot for like the 80% rule. If you are pretty good 80% of the time you are going to be fine. You are not going to have any problems. If you want to get a little more serious than that then great, but you don’t have to. What we are really looking for is trying to improve what is normal for somebody. So if their lifestyle from health standpoint or from a stress standpoint is kind of a train wreck. We start working on a couple of things that we can do to improve that so it is a few steps to move the train wreck. Therefore, a little bit and then we add a couple of more things. Little by little. It really depends on what is sort of the one or two glaring problems that folks may have. If their eating is decent or all over the place, or their exercise is zero or they have no experience with it. We just sort of decide what makes the most sense to start with. You probably do the same thing when you sit down with a new client you sort to get an overview of, “Alright, where are we right now?” You don’t hand somebody a plan and say here is the ultimate investment plan before you even find anything out about what they are doing. You got to find out where they are right now, what’s been happening in the past, where they want to go in the future, and then you come up with a system that makes sense. And that’s exactly how we go about it too.

Tommy:          Yeah. I love what you said, “Hey, you don’t have to be great at anything.” I mean that is so freeing I think. Just for me listening to you talk about that because I think you’re right. I’ve even found myself doing this a lot of times. You are kind of feel guilty because you haven’t done anything and then you go from that to going in 150% and then you are like, “Okay, that is not the answer either.” The stacking that you are talking about I think it is exactly what we do in our business too. Some people come to us and they said, “Hey, we’re probably not where we should be but we are ready to get going and whatever you need us to do.” It’s kind of like, okay, let’s slow down here a little bit. Let us just take one step at a time. Let’s take a small step and just see kind of progress forward but we don’t have to take a giant leap. We can start with a couple of small steps here to really build those habits.

In my world, it is the habits that contribute to the long term plan. I know it is kind of what like you said it is not a fad, it is not a stock pick that’s going to get them there, it is not a piece of equipment. It is going to be what you do over the long term.

Dan:                Yeah. As you were talking about people’s financial plans a big parallel just popped in my head. Don’t wait. People with the all or nothing concept that we were just talking about. Trying to do nothing and then jump to doing everything. I think what happens with folks at least definitely in the fitness and nutrition field when talking about lifestyle people kind of have it in their head like, “Well, I can’t do all these stuff so I won’t do anything.” Nobody can do everything but you can do something. It is our job as the coach to help figure out what are the one or two somethings that you actually can do. If you do nothing for 20 years and then all of a sudden you are 50 years old like I am, and you’re like, “Oh man, I got to do something about this.” It is a big project to try to turn around 30 years of unhealthy lifestyle so don’t wait.

It is the same thing in finance, right? You’ve run the numbers and when I ran the numbers myself about the difference between starting to save for retirement when you’re 20 and waiting until you’re 40. I mean, the numbers are just jaw dropping. Anybody who is listening to this don’t wait. If you are 20 years old and you don’t have a lot of money don’t think just because you can’t save $1,000 a month you can’t do anything. This is exactly the same thing I’m talking about with exercise and nutrition. Don’t wait. Do whatever you can do. But don’t wait because it adds up so fast.

Tommy:          That’s right. Well, I know that and speaking of parallels, and this is I love to hear your take on this. But a lot of times what we find in our business is that money can be very emotional. And when you start working with people you start uncovering the emotions behind some of the good or maybe not so good decisions they have made up to this point, right. I’m just wondering from your standpoint, do you see the health and fitness the same way? I mean, you talk about stress eating. That’s a real thing. I’d love to hear what do you see as far as the emotions with what you do?

Dan:                Yeah. I mean, you nailed it right there. Generally, we as humans are reactive creatures until we teach ourselves to do something different. With the stress eating… Okay, I’ll dive into a couple of bit takeaways here. If you are taking notes write these down. There’s two important things. People do reactive stress eating for one of two reasons technically. Number one is that they are using food as a substitute for something else that they really want. You see that with substance of all types. Not just food. You see with alcohol, and drugs, gambling, and whatever your fix is. People very often are seeking something from an emotional standpoint and they turn to a substance to try to fill that hole. It just so happens that I work with people who use food – sugar, stress eating. That kind of stuff. But the same principles apply to any substance.

Let’s say you are super stressed out at work. Your boss is breathing down your neck, you’ve got deadlines, you are under-appreciated, you are afraid you are going to get fired, or whatever you are really going underwater, so you reach for the cookies and cupcakes and whatever. That’s an unconscious habit. And the reason that we do that is because we are pretending that those cookies can give us what we want. If you are feeling stressed out and underwater at work, what you probably want is some sort of a sense of peacefulness, or being in control, or maybe feeling valued. Oreos will not give you that. I’ve tried. Believe me, they don’t.

Tommy:          I’m going to say I’ve tried a couple of times too.

Dan:                Yeah, yeah. And then the other thing, number two that people use food and other substances for is as a distraction.

Tommy:          Oh, okay.

Dan:                If you are feeling stressed out, or overwhelmed, or lonely, or angry, or whatever these uncomfortable emotions are. If you use a substance or do something else, you give your brain two minutes to think about something else. Right? If I’m sitting here at home after a hard day feeling terrible that giant bowl of pasta will give my brain something else to be happy about for 2 or 3 minutes. The distraction concept is huge. People use food, people use alcohol, they use sex, they use gambling. Whatever your thing is it is the same concept. Something to check out from the uncomfortable emotions.

Those are the two big reasons that people turn to food. Food is easy because it is everywhere, right? It is a little harder to get heroine than it is to get cookies. Food can be especially difficult for folks because, A, it is everywhere, B it is socially acceptable. There is no stigma to having really a food problem. If you are a sugar addict, “Oh, I just got a sweet tooth. I’m a chocoholic.” Right? But if you’re a drunk or if you’re a drug addict there is sort of a stigma attached to that. Thirdly, with food you got to eat. You can quit alcohol. You don’t need that to live. You don’t need narcotics to live. You don’t have to gamble to live. But you got to eat. So food is actually difficult for folks because you can’t call turkey food.

Tommy:          Well, you know, it is funny because we talked about… I wrote that down, food is a substitute and then two, it’s a distraction. I think money can kind of provide a little of that same high. People are looking for it as either distraction or a substitute. Especially you are talking about all the I look on every corner there is a McDonald’s, a fast-food place. You’re right. It is so accessible. I find it hard to believe that you could starve in this side. I know you can but I’m just saying I think overall speaking it is hard to do that. Now, it’s even when consumption, even in the money world I mean you have Amazon as one click buy here. You know what I mean? That they just it up to make it so easy. I think what I’ve seen in my experience is people are doing the same thing. They use money as substitute or distraction to really say, “Well, you know what my boss is breathing down my neck…”, or whatever it may be, “You know what, I just need to go buy this pair of shoes, or this clothing, or this car.” And we start to see those habits right now. We really have to dive deep here because there is something else going on that’s causing you to not think about this kind of rationally. That’s why the emotions can get the best of us. We’ve all been there. I mean, even I’ve been there. You know what I mean, they are saying there are times where, “Yeah, I probably should have bought that” or may said, “Yeah, I didn’t probably need that” whatever it may be. But I think we are all human at the end of the day and we are not immune to it even in no matter what we do. You know what I mean? So I love hearing that from you. It is kind of saying that there are sometimes that we look at food and money and consumption in general as a way to substitute something or missing, or distract us from something. I love that because I wrote both of those things down.

Dan:                Well, just like you said, it works in finance because anytime we are talking about behavior whether it is how you eat or how you spend your money. It tells us something about what is going in our subconscious. I bet you see a lot of the same impulsiveness and reactivity with spending as I see with eating. It really is the same thing. People want to feel good. And ice scream makes you feel good for a minute or two. Alcohol makes you feel good for an hour or two. Buying something it’s a gift to yourself. I want to do something nice for myself. I deserve this. Yes, you do deserve all the great things in life but you have to set yourself up well to do it. We all deserve ice cream and we all deserve new cars. We just have to do what we need to do in order to create a situation where we can do that well and safely.

Tommy:          That’s right. Exactly. Tell us about then your bool in the sugar addiction a little bit. Tell me how you got into that and I love to hear more about that.

Dan:                Sure. Well, I started the nutrition coaching and the exercise coaching early on in the 1990s as I have mentioned before. It became clear to me right away that stress eating, and carb addiction, sugar addiction, that kind of stuff was really something a lot of people were struggling with. So I started to put together some programs around that and I started to do a lot of writing articles and blog posts. I was an early adopter in the internet. I started gettingfit.com in I think 1997 back when it was you know, “Oh, you have a website. You know that’s fancy.” And so a lot of my material about stress eating and sugar addiction had been written was flowing around on the internet. And the company that publishes the dummies book, Wiley, they just called me up one day. One of the what they call acquisitions editors. She said, “We love your stuff and we want you to do a book for us.” So we batted around a couple of different ideas and Beating Sugar Addiction for Dummies was born. From there I launched the beatingsugaraddiction.com website which is sort of the home base for all the stress eating and sugar addiction work that I do. It has just become a thing after that.

Tommy:          So the book, where people could buy it? How can they get action to it? Well, you go ahead first and I kind of follow up with something afterwards.

Dan:                All of my books are posted at beatingsugaraddiction.com.

Tommy:          And for anybody watching this, just know too that if you want free copy all my contact information will be on here. Please let me know and I’ll send you a free copy just or more than a few books here. In fact, I’ve got a notification saying they arrived at my house today. So for anybody that knows me personally, and Dan, this is me being vulnerable I was blessed and cursed because sweet tooth for my mom. She always had a sweet tooth and that was hard for me and so I’m eager to read this book because the staff and everybody around me knows that when it comes to dessert I’m usually the first one there. It’s something good but again I appreciate you being on here. I appreciate you doing this. It was pretty fast and know that it stemmed from our conversation where I think the lightbulb went off of both of us and said, you know what, even though we work in different industries and businesses there is a lot of parallels here.

Dan:                Yeah, people’s behavior is a parallel for sure.

Tommy:          Yeah, exactly. Again, Dan, thank you so much for being here, owner and director of Basics and Beyond Fitness and Nutrition. Yeah, if you want to give your phone number, website. I mean, please. Now is the time to do it for any audience that are listening to this.

Dan:                If you are in Nashville and you would like to talk about fitness and or nutrition, you can go to gettingfit.com. That is headquarters for Basics and Beyond fitness & nutrition. We are a local personal training service company in Nashville. We operate in lots of different locations. If you want to talk about nutrition coaching and could use a little more information about getting help with said stress eating and sugar addiction, choc-o-holic-ism, you can go to beatingsugaraddiction.com. You will also get me there.

Tommy:          Awesome. Well, Dan, thank you so much for being on here. As always, I appreciate you. I appreciate your friendship, man, and this is awesome. Thanks everyone. I appreciate it. Hope you’ve enjoyed it and we’ll see you next time.