Diet: Practice – Success & Failure (The End)

Want to know how to succeed at weight-loss?  Want to know how to make the pounds shed away without ever coming back?  How to conquer that evil, delicious looking cookie?  Want to know how to never fail at losing weight?  Well . . .

It’s Inevitable.

Sorry, but it is.  Someday, the cookie will win, and you’ll find yourself breaking your diet and overeating.  If you’re trying to lose the weight without the assistance of a personal trainer, odds are you are going to a) lose motivation; b) lose the energy; c) get fed up with the restricted diet; or d) all of the above, plus a pie and a few hours of crying into it.

Incidentally, you can make pie with tears already baked inside.

I don’t want to discourage you, but it’s important that you get used to the idea that you’re going to fail a hell of a lot more than you succeed.  To say something like, “Failure is not an option,” or, “I can’t fail,” is unrealistic because it’s not just about weight, it’s about how your mind and body work, two things that are not easy to alter.  Saying those things doesn’t set you up to lose (because, again, it’s going to happen anyway), but it does make losing detrimental and puts a lot of pressure on you.  If you hinge your entire success and emotional stability on a single meal, you are asking to be toyed with.

ADVICE – PLAN A DAY OFF.  Give yourself a day, an entire day, where you don’t follow the diet.  I’m not talking about short-changing yourself (“I can eat one small slice of low-calorie, carb-free, cheesless pizza”) nor eating as much junk food as you can (“I’ll have fourteen pizzas, cheesy sticks, buffalo wings and 2 liters of Dr. Pepper”).  I’m talking about planning a day where you don’t have to plan every single thing you eat.  Healthy, unhealthy, give yourself the option of both.  Will this set you back a little?  Yes, but we’re in this for the long haul anyway, and while one day of bad eating can ruin a week’s worth of eating right, no damage is irreversible.

It’s Inevitable That You Will Break Your Plan.

You know why?  Because this isn’t some magical fairytale island where the monkey butlers serve low-fat banana daiquiris that get you really fucked up but you’re always good to drive, which doesn’t matter because the island has no roads, just a pristine river that runs through the entire island that no one ever pees in, and it ends in a waterslide where baby hippos and really cute puppies dance and serve you lasagna, and everything is perfect everywhere all the time.  This is life, and it’ll happen to you no matter what you got going on.

There is going to be a birthday party at your work where they serve cake, or your friends are suddenly going to some concert you’re invited to and hit up a few bars after, or some of your family is in town and you want to show them a good time; there are many things that can happen to you in the course of the day that can screw up your diet and you can’t always plan for them.

ADVICE – SUPPORTIVE FRIENDS.  This is where asking for a little help can be good.  Having the support of the people around you can make those hard times of temptation a tiny bit easier.  I’m not saying they have to be hard on you or act like a coach . . . and in fact, kick them in the nuts if they do.  It’s your job to be hard on yourself, not theirs.  Most of their support should come in the form of simple encouragement (e.g. – You can do it!  Don’t give up now!) Or better yet silence.  When saying, “I’m on a diet,” some of my friends will reply with unending scorn, ridicule, and claims that I must have lost my balls somewhere because I’m clearly a woman.

Which is hard to refute sometimes.

A friend noticing that all you’re getting is a small salad and a club soda and says nothing is sometimes the greatest gift of all.  For the others, learn to go deaf and let the jeers roll away.  Or start planning to slash their tires.  Whatever works for you.  Just don’t be one of those people who says, “OH, I’M ON A DIET,” every time you sit down to a meal with others.  This is just a gigantic plead for attention, and tantamount to that guy at house parties who brings a guitar in the hopes someone will ask about it and give him a chance to play a shitty Bush cover.  Only say that you’re on a diet when asked, and sometimes not even then.

They will not help you get laid, or help you lose weight.

It’s Inevitable That You Will Break Your Plan and Give Into Temptation.

At some point, you’ll probably give into temptation.  The cookie will look too good, or the jeering of your friends will win out, or the smell of bacon wafting through the air will be so delicious that you’ll break into your neighbor’s kitchen by jumping through the window just to get some.

“Hey Bob, is that bacon you’re having for breakfast?”

Frankly, I think this is a good thing.  Despite all that I have said on the issue, I don’t want you to stop living and having fun.  I don’t want your life to be about plain and boring food.  Food is about nourishment, but it’s also about life and love and pleasure, and sometimes it’s better for you to just let go and see where the wind takes you.  If we learned anything from The Shining, all work and no play makes Jack go and ruin another’s creative work while simultaneously creating a cornerstone of American cinema.

I got a bunch of hits on one post because I featured a picture of Jack Nicholson.

ADVICE – Compensate BY Working Out.  I know I spent a lot of time going on and on about how you should be exercising more for your heart and organs than your waist (you totally should), but all I’m thinking about when I work out is what I ate the day before.  I imagine that the food I ate is a giant ice cube, and every step I take, every drop I sweat, every pant I heave is just a fire melting away at all the crap I shoved into my mouth.  If I ate well and healthy the day before, then I’m even more enthusiastic because instead of working away the ice cube of yester-food, I’m melting away the ice cube of my fat content.

See above.

However, don’t eat more than you should because you tell yourself you’re going to work out harder tomorrow.  We’re trying to break bad habits here, not reinforce them.  Use this method with “Repairing the Damage” in mind instead of “I’ll Figure It Out Tomorrow.”  And don’t compensate for what you eat today by not eating anything tomorrow.  Starvation is an epidemic, not a weight-loss plan.

It’s Inevitable That You Will Break Your Plan, Give Into Temptation, and Not Compensate For It.

You may have an injury, be really hung over, or run out of time.  Sometimes you just don’t put on those sneakers.  We will always need to eat, but we don’t always need to work out, and sometimes getting off the couch is just too damn hard.

“You rack disciprine!”

ADVICE – EVERY DAY IS A NEW DAY.  Think of every day as the first day of your diet.  When you completely screw the pooch (eat a lot and don’t exercise it off), you haven’t completely failed – you just get to start again tomorrow because that’s what you were going to do anyway.  Don’t let your entire weight-loss plan go to shit just because you spent a day to a week not doing what you were supposed to.  If you see success as going through the entire span of the plan without any hiccups and errors, you’re crazy.  Instead, let your plan reset every single time.  It will take all the pressure off of having to constantly do everything right which can make your overall outlook more positive, and that will make staying on your plan much, much easier.

It’s Inevitable That You Will Break Your Plan, Give Into Temptation, Not Compensate For It, and Continue To Do So . . . and It’s OKAY.

So you have stopped eating right and working out all together.  But you know what?  That’s all right.  Seriously, I mean it.  Fear of failing is one of the Fat-Voice’s biggest weapons.  It can make you give up after only one attempt at losing weight and dash your self-confidence to dust.  Even worse, it can make you never even try.  But think of this?  Do people learn to play the guitar in a single try?  How about how to ride a bike?  Or how to do their taxes?  Weight-loss is exactly the same as these.

People think that losing weight is simply about following the formula and voila!  But it’s not; not for you and not for me.  For us, it’s about learning, and one learns by doing something, failing, and then doing it again.  I have been fighting my weight for the past ten years (and continue to do so) and most of that time was getting over my fear of failing and learning I’m going to fail a whole bunch of times before I get it right.  That I have to fail so I know what is right.  When I finally got that, that failure is not an option but a requirement, is when I gave myself a break and started losing weight.

Failing is not the end of the world and it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep trying.  Take a look at your meal plan and find what was working against you.  Take a look at your schedule and see if exercising at a different time would be better.  Switch things up.  Think of it all as a puzzle, with every part of the plan as a piece, and that failing just means that one piece is misplaced.  My advice is to give yourself a break and keep going.  The Fat-Voice is something that isn’t beaten once – you have to beat it over and over and over again.  And each of those times, you’re not failing, you are in the process of succeeding.

And thus we come to the end.  We’ve shared a few laughs, cried a few tears, slapped each other around a few times, and had to strangle that bear so we could use its fur for warmth that one time when we got lost on that mountain for 27 days while hiking (note – some of that may not have happened).  While this is not everything I know about nutrition, exercise and weight-loss, it should be enough to help you start on your own journey.  And this entire time I have been talking about weight-loss is time that I haven’t spent doing it, and I’d like to take another go at a new plan to see what else I can learn.

If you have any questions, objections, or want to share your own story, please leave a comment.  Hearing what other people have learned is very encouraging to all parties, I think, and I want to help in every way I can.  But most importantly, remember that if you are struggling with your weight, or are going to struggle, you’re not alone.  Even if you do it all by yourself, there is a league of former fat people behind you, me included, cheering you on.  We want to you to be healthy and happy.  You are never alone.

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Diet: Practice – Evolution

Look at this plateau.  LOOK AT IT!  Pretty, isn’t it?  What with the light of the setting sun, the color of the red rocks, and the view going as far as the eye can see.  So serene, so inspiring . . . okay, so it’s technically a mesa.  Or perhaps a butte, I forget which.

Heh heh . . . BUTTe.

In any case, you better get used to that view, because at some point you’re going to reach one of these and have no idea where to go afterwards.  If I may beat a metaphor to a horrid death for a moment – Trying to lose weight is like climbing a mountain covered in thick fog.  You can’t see the top and after a while you can’t see where you started, and if it wasn’t for gravity you’d lose your sense of direction all together.  But after awhile you get into the swing of things, and you find yourself climbing faster and taking fewer breaks.  “All right,” you say to yourself, “I’m doing pretty good at this.”  And you sort of lose track of time after the first couple of weeks, and then you reach a point; a nice flat area.

I’m getting to the point. Just hold your horses.

And you’re happy because you don’t have to climb anymore.  So you start walking, thinking that the rest of the way up should be easy.  But after awhile, you start to realize that you’re walking on level ground and not making any progress.  Soon, you start to see your own foot prints and realize that you’ve been walking in circles.  WELCOME!  You’ve just hit your first weight-loss plateau, and I declare this metaphor thoroughly murdered.

“Oh metaphor, you served us well.”

Everyone on a weight-loss plan who aims to lose fifty pounds or more is inevitably going to hit one of these spots.  You’ll start to find that, although you’re doing the same exact things that helped you lose the first chunk of weight, you stop losing any more weight. But this is a good thing.  Getting to this point means you are actually losing weight, gaining stamina and building muscle, and you should be proud.  Most people don’t even make it this far.  But it can also be very frustrating, especially if you want to lose more.

The human body is a resilient and highly adaptable thing.  If put in a constant state of stress, the human body will change, grow and compensate in other areas to be able to handle the strain that is being thrust upon it.  This is what we’re aiming for; to not just change how your body looks, but to change how it reacts to the world.    But as your body adapts, and you find yourself not being so hungry all the time, or find that your can run five miles before getting tired, you will stop losing weight because your body has adapted to suit your new lifestyle.  It no longer feels the strain of your efforts, and no strain, no weight loss.  So what’s the answer?  Well, we’re just going to have to bump it up a notch.

BAM!

To keep shedding pounds off of your adapting body, you will need to change your meal plan and exercise regime to ensure that you always have to work hard.  This is where all that ‘Setting Goals’ hullabaloo comes into play: You must always be striving for goals that are just out of your reach.  By retooling your diet and exercise regime to be a little more extreme, you can once again start losing weight.

DIET

There’s some good news and some bad news with changing your diet to overcome a plateau.  The good news is that it’s not all about eating less food.  I know that to make it this far, you feel like all you’ve been doing is drinking some water and licking some fruit every now and then, so the prospect of having to eat less can be daunting to say the least.

“I’ll kill you! You ate my peanut I’LL KILL YOU!”

But it’s not all about eating less, it is also about reexamining your meal plan and finding the foods that are working against you.  When I first got serious about losing weight, my meals consisted of rice, chicken and vegetables, which is a perfectly healthy diet.  But once I reached my first plateau, I realized that the carbs from the rice were causing me to keep on some weight, so out they went.  Then I switched to a diet made almost entirely out of protein and I was able to lose some more weight.  Now my diet is mainly comprised of fruit, salad and vegetable soup and I’m getting past my current dry spell. It’s why keeping a food journal can be so crucial to weight-loss.  If you hit a plateau, you can go back over the last six weeks or so and start looking at exactly what you are eating that could be tossed aside.  Do you really need to be eating five whole chickens a day?  I think not!  Do you really need to drink an entire bottle of tequila before you go to bed?  I do, but you may not have to, so get rid of it!

The bad news is, while it’s not all about eating less, it’s mostlyabout eating less.  I have found that over the years, my portion sizes have gotten smaller and smaller.  You have to be very careful to keep a balance between portion sizes and calorie content (e.g. – Eating a small amount of a high fat food, like peanut butter or . . . I don’t know . . . bacon) so you’re never undereating.  This is where counting calories can help as the numbers don’t lie.  But you will have to put yourself in a pretty monkish type of head space because every time you alter your diet to compensate for your new body chemistry, the stronger your cravings for ridiculous amounts of unhealthy foods will become.

“Well, this is what I’m having. What are the rest of you going to order?”

EXERCISE

Pumping up your work outs may seem easy (run a bit more, lift some heavier weights) but when it comes to getting over the weight-loss hump, it won’t be enough.  It’s not just about jogging a few extra miles or staying on the exercise cycle a bit longer because it’s not just about how much you exercise, but how intense your exercise is.  BACK TO THE HEART RATE CHART!!!

I love, love, love this chart.

Working out for longer is one way to overcome the hump, but to make it really effective you will have to work out for twice as long to burn that much more calories.  On the other hand, you could work out for the same amount of time but burn twice as much by raising your heartrate into the next exercise zone.  If you’re working at 60%/Weight Control Zone, start working to get into the Aerobic Zone.  If you find yourself in the Anaerobic Zone more, go balls to the wall and get into the VO2 Max zone (although if you can last a half hour in the Anaerobic Zone, you’re in terrific shape).  By getting into a higher exercise zone you can burn twice as many calories in half the time it would take you to at in a lower zone.

Did it just get redundant in here?

If you run, run faster, or advance from running/walking to sprinting/running.  If you climb stairs, start skipping every other step (or every two steps, if you can do it safely).  If you swim, don’t take a breather until after ten laps, instead of five.  If you lift weights, try to do more reps with heavier weights with fewer breaks.  Another option is to start wearing weighted clothing or filling backpacks with weights.  Adding back on the weight you lost and then some will instantly make your work outs more intense.

Which isn’t to say you shouldn’t be working out more.  At my most insane, I was working out twice a day, five times a week, and for an hour one day on the weekend. Some of them were very intense, while some of them were simple and easy and just enough to get my heart pumping a little faster than normal.

And always, always, always push to surpass how far you got the day before.  But don’t hurt yourself either.  The point is to set your goal just out of reach, not 18,000 miles away.

But would you like some advice? TOO BAD, YOU’RE GETTING SOME ANYWAY!  When you hit a plateau, take some time to rest.  I’d tell you not to let your rest time last more than two weeks, but frankly each of my plateaus has lasted at least six months.  I have found that I simply can’t keep a weight-loss plan going for more than three months.  After that, I get the itching feeling that I am missing out on life while I’m in my room doing push ups.   Dedicating a season to losing weight and sticking to it is a big accomplishment, and hitting a plateau is your body’s way of saying, “Good job there, buddy!  Now take some time for yourself because I’m going on vacation.”

Which conjures up this image in my mind, for some reason.

But it’s more than that; it’s also about learning to reintegrate with the rest of society.  After a month or two of doing nothing but working out and eating right, a person can tend to become a hermit.  Taking a break will get you back out on the town, giving you a great chance to show off your progress (and trust me, even if you don’t see it, there’s been progress).  This will also give you a chance to work on your will power.  It’s easy to eat right when you have everything prepared beforehand, but it’s not just about your body.  Becoming and being fat (as hard as it may be to admit) is a lifestyle and has a lot to do with how you interact with the rest of the world.  Yes, putting yourself into an environment where you can slip back into your old ways of eating everything you can get your hands on is dangerous, but so is putting on a weighted backpack and sprinting up a flight of stairs, and you were getting ready to do that not but three minutes ago.  There is danger everywhere, and you’ll never be truly free unless you meet it head on.

As you get closer to your goals, the more your body will adapt and evolve.  To actually obtain your goals, you’re going to have to evolve everything else about you:  Your methods; your mindset; your aspirations.

Diet: Practice – Time Management

I fear that I’m beginning to sound like a business consultant; The plan is to have a plan; Setting honest goals will lead to honest results; Manage your time so that your time does not manage you. The only difference is that the subject is your body and not a business.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with the profession, but I feel like an asshole when I make a joke now.

“We must start thinking outside the box . . . the mallomars box, that is! Hahaha, NOW GIVE ME $900!”

But even though they be grossly general truisms, they still are true (in a kind of gross and general way).  Because we are working on creating habits, a feat sometimes akin to crossing the Gobi with only a bag of whistles and a single, dirty tube sock, we have to break down our weight-loss plan to the nth degree as we can’t trust ourselves to remember to do it.  So open up your copy of Microsoft Excel because its time to make SCHEDULES!  . . .  Okay, you can close Excel; we’re not actually making schedules, but you are going to have to start planning your entire day around your workout/diet if you are serious about losing weight.

I know that doesn’t sound like much fun, and it isn’t, but you have to consider how much free time you actually have in the day.  On average, I am awake for about 17 hours.  With work, transit, shower, and cooking/eating, I am left with about five hours of free time to work with, which is more than enough time to fit in a workout.  But this is only the bare bones of my day and doesn’t take into account that life doesn’t give a shit about your schedule.  What if there’s traffic?  What if you are supposed to go to a movie with friends?  What if you get entrapped by the soulless, gaping abyss that is the internet? Any of these things can and will happen at some point, and they all eat away at your remaining time.  And even if you are left with an hour or so for freedom, there is no guarantee that you’ll get that time in one solid chunk.  There’s a term for people who try to change their lives by flying from the seat of their pants: Bullshitters.  You have to have a plan if you are to ensure that you will get the workout done and follow your meal plan.  So STAND AND DELIVER!

A cookie to everyone who gets this reference.

FOOD TIME

Did I say cookie?  I meant celery stick.  Planning your meals isn’t complicated.  If you have a hard time remembering to eat, I don’t imagine you would have a weight problem (unless you’re on the ‘Too Skinny’ side of the scale, in which case go back and eat that cookie). Eat five to six meals spaced two to three hours apart, with portions that can fit inside the palms of your hands.  Simple?  Yes.  Easy?  Not always, and so you must plan your meals to make sure you don’t eat an unscheduled meal or make your portions too big.

To lose the most weight, you have to look ahead and foresee yourself straying from the diet, and plan accordingly.  I don’t want to say that you can’t trust yourself, but the temptation to eat is everywhere.  Every time a coworker of mine brings in a slice of pizza for lunch, I want to run to the street to the grocery store to get eight frozen pizzas that I will eat straight from the box right there in the store.  And don’t shake your head at me!  You will feel the same way when you start your diet.  But you can take away as many of the opportunities to slip up as you can by following a few of guidelines:

  • Set That Alarm – By setting an alarm to go off every two or three hours, you take away some of the responsibility of keeping track of the time, as well as some of the power to eat before you’re supposed to.  If the alarm hasn’t gone off, you’re not allowed to eat.  It can also help garner support from those around you, as people will catch on you’re on a diet when you make a mad dash for the refrigerator every time your cell phone goes off.
  • Bag That Shit Up – Preparing all the food you eat in the day before hand will keep you from rationalizing a poor lunch decision (e.g. – This lasagna has broccoli and tomatoes in it.  I’M PRACTICALLY EATING A GARDEN!), and limit your options. It will also save you a load of money, which you will be able to roll in whenever you are feeling hungry.  You’ll still feel hungry, but it’s fun to do.

“Having all of this money just makes me want MORE pie.”

  • Don’t Shop Hungry – “Oh my GAWD!  New chicken and beef taquitos!  And what is this?  Chips that taste like a BLT?!  Let’s give that a shot!  A years worth of Mac n’ Cheese?  WHAT A DEAL!”  Sound familiar?  Going to the grocery store on a full stomach will keep those impulse buys, not to mention the buyer’s remorse and all the calories that come with it, at bay.
  • No Need, No Buy – My fridge has been practically empty for years now.  I buy the food items that are in my meal plan, and not much else.  This keeps me from splurging in the middle of the night on whatever is in my fridge because, one, I know that if I pig out on what I have, I’ll only be taking away food for my meal tomorrow; and two, who wants to eat a fucking salad at 3 am?!

Another good idea is to keep a food journal.

Stop sticking that baby in my face.  Keeping track of every single thing you eat and drink during the day is not so much a planning endeavor as it is a method of changing your outlook.  By seeing the reality of what you have consumed over the day, you will begin to realize just how much food you have actually eaten. If you create a good meal plan, your body will have everything it needs to survive, and you can start to focus on why it is you really feel so hungry.  Keeping a food log can also help you pinpoint foods that may not be working.  You can download a Food Log Template here, and read about some healthy low-cal snacks to battle hunger pangs here.

EXERCISE TIME

Who are we kidding?  This whole post is mostly about trying to fit in time to exercise.  When you get down to it, there are really only four choices of when to work out, and I’ve done them all, so I’ll give you the ups and downs of each.

  1. Morning.  Get your work out done right when you wake up.  PROS –You don’t have to worry about fitting it in because you’ll get it done before anything else.  Also, nothing wakes you up like sweat.  CONS – Waking up an hour early just to exercise can seriously throw your game out of whack, and you will be tired for the entire day for the first month or so.  You also run the risk of hitting that SNOOZE button, and sleeping right on through.
  2. Mid-Day.  Instead of going somewhere to eat your lunch and read the paper, take a jog or climb some stairs (if you work in a high rise) on your lunch hour.  PROS – You’ll find you have much more energy in the middle of the day, which means you can exercise harder.  You can also get outside and breathe in some fresh air if you are forced to sit in front of a computer all day, and win the admiration of your coworkers.  CONS– You have to go back to work after, which means you also have to schedule in ample cool down time so you’re not sweating at your desk.  This also means bringing a change of clothes and maybe taking a “French Shower” in the bathroom.

    Trust me, you’re not as cute when you do it.

  3. After Work.  Hop straight from the office to the gym.  PROS – You can travel on the momentum from the ride home to go straight into the work out.  It can help you unwind, and also lift up your energy for evening activities.  CONS – This is also the time that almost everyone else goes to the gym, and you may find you don’t have the energy to exercise after a long day.
  4. Evening.  Get your blood pumping before jumping into bed.  PROS – You have enough time to rest a little and gear up for the activity.  You also get a chance to eat dinner for an extra energy boost before starting, and even though it’s a contradiction to an earlier statement, nothing can make you more tired than sweat.  CONS – If you workout too close to going to sleep, you can screw up your sleep cycle.  You are also at the mercy of life and all of its fucking-plans-up glory.

Also realize that you don’t have to commit a full hour to exercise at first.  Twenty minutes three times a week is enough to start with.  You also don’t have to work out at a gym or even hit the pavement.  Some of my best workouts have been done in my bedroom in a space about 4’ wide by 10’ long with no equipment.  What you do have to commit to is planning whatever days you do exercise around the workout.  If that means you give up the weekly poker game, or miss out on some television shows (although watching tv while exercising is a good way to pass the time) then so be it.  I never said weight-loss is without sacrifice.  In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve been saying the exact opposite from the beginning.

Understand that time management is a skill.  It takes practice, and it’ll be a while before you find the time that works for you.  But once you do, you will discover that after awhile you will be scheduling your day around your weight-loss plan not because you need to, but because you want to.

Diet: Practice – Food + Exercise = FANTABULOUUUUUUUS!

We have looked at these two subjects separately, but just as you can spend a lot of time making a fire and a lot of money buying narcotics, it’s not until you put them together that the magic happens.

ABRA CADABRA

Despite all I have written, there really is one single key to weight loss: Use more calories than you consume.  A normal guy of average height and weight needs to consume about 2,000 calories a day to maintain his weight (for the ladies it’s about 1,800), so if you end your day having taken in less than that you will lose weight.  This can be done by working out or by not eating as much.  The weight-loss will be slow (which is not a bad thing) and your overall lifestyle won’t change that much considering that a doughnut is about 250 calories.  All you have to do is not eat that damn doughnut.

“Just back away from the pink box, Larry . . .”

Oh, but isn’t that easier said than done.  It’s not the one doughnut that’s the problem, it’s the entire box of them that you eat without getting up from bed because you always keep a box on your nightstand . . . . not that I ever did anything like that . . . . . . . ahem . . .

“This snooze button is delicious.”

Using the slow method above will lead to losing about one pound per week, which is absolutely fine.  But if you want to lose more than 50 lbs., going the slow route will have you completely changed in a year or more.  I know I have said you have to be in this for the long haul, but you should also feel like you’re accomplishing something without feeling like you have to give up everything you have ever loved about food for the rest of time.  Because the overweight and obese have a surplus of fat on their bodies, the only way to burn through it all effectively and feel better about yourself sooner is to work on both fronts: have a controlled, low calorie diet that provides you with the bare essentials for, like, staying alive or whatever, and a rigorous exercise regime that will start eating away at all extra body you have.

But tackling these two subjects (three when you count all of the mental stuff you’re going to have to go through) can be daunting and make the road ahead seem more like a completely vertical climb up five miles of smooth glass.  For instance, walking one mile burns about 100 calories.  One pound of fat contains about 3,500 calories.  You’d have to walk 35 miles to lose one pound of fat.  If you’re aiming for 50, that’s about two and a half months of continuous, non-stop walking.  And we haven’t even started talking about food!

It takes 50 lbs of fat to get from Los Angeles to Des Moines.

To lose a lot of weight, you must marry the two sides, combine your battles of the bulge into one fight.  I am sad to say, seriously, that one of the best ways to do this is to count your calories.  I used to rail against this practice as I thought it was too nit-picky: if you eat right and work out, you’ll be fine.  Incidentally, I was fat at the time and stayed that way until I took my head out of my butt.  This practice not only helps you keep track of everything that you consume (the importance of which I will talk about in a later post), but also starts to link your food with your actions.

Let’s take that donut that I was talking about and use it here.  A normal glazed donut comes out to around 250 calories.  On the flip side, jogging at a steady pace for a half hour burns about the same amount of calories.  One donut = 30 minute jog.  This is an important change in perception.  Start looking at all the food you eat in terms of how long it would take and how hard you would have to work to burn it off.  Once you’ve got a balanced, low-calorie diet, understand that anything you eat/drink on top of that will have to be exercised off for you to lose weight.  This is great for me as I am far more lazy than I am hungry, but it’s still hard to put into action.

Water + Exercise

Why I should have to tell anyone again, or ever, is beyond me, but you need to be drinking water before, during, and after working out.  You should be drinking water ALL GODDAMNED DAY, but it is especially important when exercising.  Staying hydrated helps your body maintain its temperature, and by “helping” I mean “entirely depends on”.

This bird has got the right idea.

Let’s use that “Your body is a car” analogy from my post way back when:  When your coolant system is completely shot, do you continue to drive your car?  No, because if you did your engine would overheat, seize, and your car would be out of commission while it’s getting fixed at the mechanic’s.  And it’s a good chance it’s ruined altogether.  That’s what will happen to you if you don’t drink water while working out.  But instead of an engine, it’s your heart.  Instead of a mechanic, it’s an EMT.  Instead of “seizing”, it’s “dead right there on the pavement with you face in some dog doo-doo”.

Drinking water before exercising insures you don’t run out of steam (steam?  Water?  Oh ho, I’m so clever) before you’re done; drinking water during will help you cool down and give you a boost of energy; and drinking it after will help you replenish all the disgusting liquids that have seeped out of you during the work out, and that way you don’t faint later.  Just make sure to not drink too much water all at once.  It’s not that it’s dangerous so much as it is uncomfortable exercising with a belly full of water.  A medium mouthful every now and then will suffice.

Carbs + Exercise

In theory, you don’t need to eat anything before you work out.  If you’re on a balanced diet, your fat and muscles contain all the glucose you need stored and ready, so eating before exercising is not necessary.  But when you exercise your blood sugar level drops tremendously within the first 15 minutes of working out, and if you are sensitive to the changes in your blood sugar (and the odds are if you’re large), that drop is going to make you feel extremely fatigued even when your body has ample enough energy to finish the job.  So to counteract this effect you can eat some carbohydrates before working out.

In general, you want to stay away from simple carbs as they turn into sugar and storable fat easily, but in this case that is exactly what we want.  We need food that is going to be digested and metabolized quickly so that it is the first thing that is burned when working out, and simple carbs fit the bill.  This doesn’t mean you get to “load up” on carbs, however.  We’ve all seen movies showing people eating huge plates of pasta before exercising, but unless you are an athlete who is going to be training vigorously for 90 minutes or more, carb-loading is doing nothing except working against yourself.

Yeah, kinda like that.

Instead, go for something light and simple: A piece of toast (but not whole grain), pretzels, or high-glycemic fruits like pineapple, bananas, and watermelon.  You want to make sure it’s no more than 200 calories, and that you eat it a half-hour to an hour before exercising.

Protein + Exercise

As I said here and here (I’m getting all meta up in this joint today), muscles are protein.  They are made of it and need more of it to stay healthy.  When you work out, you tax your muscles something fierce and they will scream out for a little rest (aka – sore muscles).  Eating protein within a half hour after working out will make your body direct all the protein consumed straight to your muscles to sate those screams.  You will still be sore, but you will recover faster and your muscles will grow stronger.

Protein bars and shakes can be a good way to do this, but beware – many protein shakes and bars have as much (and sometimes far more) calories as an actual milkshake or candy bar.  Look for protein powders that are made of whey and a bar that offers about 5 grams of protein, few carbs and very little fat.  In the end, your body doesn’t care where the protein comes from, so also consider a hard boiled egg or a salad with chicken.

Food During Exercise

In a normal routine lasting about half an hour, you won’t need to have anything more than a bottle of water.  If your routine goes on longer than an hour, you might want to consider a small snack or perhaps a sports drink (basically a mixture of water, salt and carbs) to help you reach the end of the work-out.  You should be eating even less than the pre-game snack but it should still be made of simple carbohydrates.  You can also switch from water to a sports drink if it’s a hot day or you tend to sweat more than a normal person, but the same warning with the protein shakes/bars goes here as some sports drinks contain loads of sugar.

I know it’s a lot of math and calculating and may seem somewhat complicated, but the food/exercise combination is a natural pair.  Food is energy, and energy is meant to be used.  If you want to lose weight, you’ll never think of these two as separate entities.

Diet: Exercise – Some Motivation

As of today, I have spent three months berating you, my lovely and talented reader, for three months about the use of exercise in the battle to lose weight and now we are finished.  Of course, as with the food portion, there are things I didn’t talk about and topics I did not cover –

such as that VO2 zone at the top, which is a heart rate level reserved for athletes, meth users, and people being struck by lightning -

– but you still have a good jumping off point to start crafting your own work-out routines.  But even with all this helpful non-expert knowledge that I have attempted to impart, it can still be daunting to decide what you’re going to do.  It may be even harder now, as it’s easy to pick which candy bar you want when there are only two choices, but much more difficult when you are given 14,399 choices.

"I guess I'll just take the sweet one . . ."

But remember what I said way back when (or, at least I think I remember; my memory is fuzzy, I often forget to put on pants before I leave the house) that you will need to start off with baby steps when you begin to exercise.  This is not just to give your body time to adapt to the strain you will put on it, but also allow you to try out different things until you find the one that suits you the most.  If you’re lucky, you will find that two or three choices feel good to you which will make losing weight that much easier as we tend to forget that we’re working when we are having fun.

Like when I chase after campers pretending to be bigfoot.

And yet it can still be daunting because that first step is always the hardest, and deciding on a routine is a lot different than doing that routine.  So I’ll give you a little booster that can help you get closer to becoming a work-out machine.

The Five Minute Wake-Up Exercise

When I wake up, usually the first thing I do is turn on my computer.  Unlike some of my friends and family who tend to think technology is the devil and our dependence on it is the heralding of our inevitable doom, I live off of my computer.  I’ll wake up, check my email, surf for some geeky info on the next big superhero movie, take to a friend in China and then plan my blog post for the day.  Others may go to the bathroom, or make a beeline for the coffee pot, or throw their alarm clock against, mutter something between an expletive and whatever they were dreaming about (e.g. “Fuck off, you goat monkey and put that marionette back into the bathtub”) the wall and go back to sleep.  Whatever your normal morning ritual is, what I propose is a slight addition.

Within the first five minutes of waking about, do a simple exercise.  It doesn’t have to be strenuous: jumping jacks, sit-ups, push ups, squats, running in place.  Any one of those will do.  And don’t worry about doing a full work-out either; one to five minutes will suffice.  Do it everyday, without fail, until you do it without even realizing you are.

Once again, like when I chase after campers pretending to be bigfoot. I don't even realize I do it anymore.

Not only will this really wake you up, but it can also raise your entire metabolism for the day by 5%.  I didn’t exactly pull that number out of my ass; a weight-lifting coach that I had in college told me that, and while I have not done any fact checking on it, it sounds nice and serves my purpose.  Hey, if you’re gonna BS, you should at least be transparent about it.

Like this fish, who tells nothing but lies.

Whether or not it really raises your metabolism for the rest of the day, the main function of the exercise is not to burn fat but to train yourself to start new habits.  Losing weight is not just the elimination of bad habits but the formation of good ones, and exercising is just a habit.

For shits and giggles, I wanted to see if I could form a habit at will.  I decided that whenever I was bored, I would gently bite my nails.  At first it was a chore, but after no time at all I had started to notice that I was chewing away my fingers.  I was terrified at my newly formed habit, but I was also thrilled that it had worked.  That’s what you want do with exercising, sans the terror.  Waking up and exercising just a little bit everyday will get you used to working out without having to think about it; that exercise is not something you have to do, it is just simply something you do.  Once you’re there, you’ll realize it’s not so difficult to continue the practice.  Now, I’m not suggesting you always work out in the morning, but starting everyday with a little activity will put you in the right frame of mind.

And you’ll have the added bonus of shaping your body.  Fifty push-ups everyday doesn’t seem like a lot, but after a season you will feel a difference.  Yes, major weight-loss will take time and if you have more than fifty pounds to lose you’re not going to have a model’s body within a year with five minute exercises, but every little bit helps as it all adds up and it doesn’t take that long to start seeing changes.  It’s simple mechanics: If you eat right and exercise properly, your body will have no choice but to lose weight. The real fight, as I have always said, is in your head, and a good way to win that fight is to form a good habit.  Think of it this way:

If you had been exercising a little bit every single day, or eating right, or both, during the entire time that I have been blogging about all of this, you would not recognize the person you would see in the mirror.  You wouldn’t be an Adonis, but you would be healthier, stronger, fitter, and yes, probably slimmer as well.  It may take a whole lot of time and effort to completely change everything, but it doesn’t take that much to start seeing results.

Diet: Exercise – Anaerobic Exercise

No, I didn’t misspell aerobic; YOU misread.  Maybe you need some new glasses.

If you can't tell what this is, go see your optician.

While aerobic exercise gets its energy from a mixture of glucose and oxygen, anaerobic exercise says a big, “FUCK YOU,” to oxygen and gets its energy from only the glucose in your body. This makes sense since the word anaerobic (first coined in the 1880’s) means “in the absence of oxygen”.  Now this doesn’t mean anaerobic exercises are done without breathing; that’s as silly as it is extremely lethal.  All it means is that your body is not using the oxygen you are breathing in to trigger glycosis, which is the metabolic process that converts glucose, sucrose and other chemicals from the –crose family, into energy.

Through something called anaerobic metabolism (what clever names these scientists give these things), your body accesses energy stores that are only found hiding in your muscles.  The amount of oomph anaerobic metabolism creates is enough to help you punch a charging rhino into next week.

Accurate depiction.

So if it burns more fat and creates such high amounts of energy, why don’t we just tell aerobic exercise to screw off and simply do anaerobic exercises?  Well, let’s take a look at that heartrate chart I showed way back when I still felt blogging everyday was going to be fucking easy.

See where anaerobic exercise falls on our chart?  See how it’s labeled “Hardcore Training”?  That isn’t a bullshit title, it really is hardcore.  Anaerobic metabolism is only set off when you start driving your body with more intensity than aerobic exercise requires.  Aerobic exercise is about longevity; it’s about running a marathon at a comfortable pace so that your body doesn’t give out long before the end.  Aerobics is the normal, hardworking Joe of exercise.

Anaerobic exercise, on the other hand, is the total badass of exercise; it comes in wearing a leather jacket, drop kicks a cop off of a cliff, has relations with every woman in the room, and then paints a mural of Bruce Lee by spitting Bacardi 151 on the wall and then lighting it on fire.  But if you have ever been that person at a party, you understand that unless you are fueled by some outside source (cocaine), you simply can’t live your entire life at that break-neck pace.  While the fuel that anaerobics draw from creates high-octane energy, you have a very limited supply of that fuel.  While a person can continue to do aerobic exercise long past forty minutes, the human body can only keep up anaerobic exercise for about five minutes.

This is partly because anaerobic exercise creates a build up of lactic acid.  Lactic acid is a byproduct of glycosis and other metabolic functions, and it is normally released or reprocessed by the oxygen you consume.  Anaerobic exercise doesn’t use oxygen though, and the lactic acid that is produced during these exercises just sort of hangs out in the blood stream until your body starts using oxygen normally again.  While raising the acidity of your blood seems awesome because you take one step closer to being like the xenomorph in Alien –

"Yeah, I've been working out."

– it can also lead to acidosis, which, if we all remember A Few Good Men, can lead to all sort of problems.

Problem #1 - I make Jack Nicholson angry.

Acidosis can cause a number of physical maladies: Shortness of breath, coughing, headaches, dizziness, weakness, muscle failure, seizures, vomiting and diarrhea.  While the medical studies have shown that a build up of lactic acid is not the primary cause of acidosis (link), it is a factor.  The human body was simply not designed to maintain such a high energy output for a prolonged period of time.

Having said that, anaerobic exercise is a great way to lose weight.  It burns through stored glucose (e.g. fat) faster than aerobic exercise, and recovering from a build up of lactic acid makes your muscles stronger.  What exercises are considered anaerobic?  Any intense exercise that you can only keep up for a few minutes; sprinting, biking up a steep hill, maxing out while lifting weights (lifting the heaviest weight you can without injuring yourself), climbing up a stair case at a brisk pace with 50 lbs. strapped to your back.  If there was a scale that measured how hard you work, with laying on the ground at 0% and running from a deranged, chainsaw wielding killer at 100%, anaerobic exercise would be at about an 80%. 

And the good news is that you don’t have to do just one type of exercise in a single workout!  While jogging at your normal pace (aerobic exercise), you can start sprinting (anaerobic exercise) and after 30 seconds to a minute you can return to your normal pace.  Then after five to ten minutes later you start sprinting again.  This cycle is called interval training, and if you are serious about losing weight you will want to work it into almost every exercise routine.  Doing short bursts of anaerobic activity will get your heart rate way up and your body will burn through more fat, and the aerobic exercise will give your body time to recover by letting your body process the lactic acid and returning your heart rate to normal.  Because you are only doing the anaerobic exercise for a short period of time, you won’t work yourself into exhaustion, and you’ll still be burning fat during the aerobic exercise. And because almost every exercise can be modified to be anaerobic, interval training is easy to insert into any work out.  It’s a win-win situation.

The picture at the beginning was of a goat standing on a cow, by the way.

Diet: Exercise – Weight Training, Part 1

Enough talk.  The time for you to put down that remote control (or candy bar, or baby, or whatever you happen to be holding right now) and pick up that dumbbell that you ended up kicking under your bed eight months ago and lift it up has come.

That’s right, pick it up.  Now put it down.  Now lift it up.  Now put it down.

Voila.  GOOD NIGHT EVERYBODY!  Remember to tip your server, because this cheap ass place makes us pool tips!WEIGHT TRAINING

The most well-known muscle exercise, weight training is exercise that uses – ahem ­– weights to increase your strength and muscle size.  There are other forms of strength training (resistance training, which involves what are essentially big rubber bands, and isometric training, which involves holding a weight at a fixed position) that work wonders and get results, but for the most part you are going to be using weight training for most of your exercises.  But weight training is not a small category, not by a long shot.  In fact, I’m going to have to take up a few posts on weight lifting alone so I can say all I want to on the matter without boring you into the ground.

Too late.

There are many modes of weight training, and each come with their own benefits and downfalls.

Free Weights

The highest form of weight training, and what we all envision when we think of lifting weights.  Free weights are called so because they do not include any mechanical assistance that helps you lift the weights, which consist mostly of a gripping bar (sized for either one or both hands) and “weight-discs” (more things should come in disc form; it makes me feel like I’m in the future) that can be added or subtracted to change the weight of the – oh christ – the weight.  It’ll change the weight of the weight.  I’m just banging on all cylinders over here.

I CAN WRITE ON THE BLOGGY BLOG!

The pros to free weights are vast.  Because you have no other machinery to help you keep the weight in balance, you will be working your target muscles much more, as well as using more that your target muscle just trying to keep the damn weight steady.  This may not seem like a big deal until you try to bench press something, and you find your arms shaking after a few seconds, no matter how light the weight.  This ends up giving you faster results that impact more than one area.  But it’s also versatile, allowing you to workout every part of your body with an array of positions and an adjustable bench.

The con is that it is much easier to injure yourself on free weights than with the other means of weight lifting because you are the one who has to do all the work.  I’m going to talk about form in next week’s post, but suffice it to say that it’s not good enough to just lift the weight any way you want.  There are exact and precise movements and positions that you must be able to maintain throughout the entire exercise or else you negate whatever effects you get from lifting.  But with free weights, having bad form can and usually does lead directly to injury which means that although free weights can change your body faster, you will have to go slower while you learn good form.

There’s also the risk of dropping of these things on some one’s foot/hand/neck/head, which will require at least one trip to the hospital.

"BUT THE GUY ON THE INTERNET SAID IT WAS SAFE!!!!"

Weight Machines

What I think of as “Weight Robots”, weight machines are either built-in weighted plates or weight-discs that are hooked together by a system of ropes, pulleys, bars and handles, and that by pulling or pushing on the right parts you lift the weights.  The weight is adjusted by putting on more weight-discs or by hooking up more plates in the system. These machine can look as cool as they can scary, being a mix between either being a large mech suit –– or the machine that ate that lady in Superman 3.The good side to weight machines is that they make it easy for the user.  “PULL THIS BAR!  NOW SQUEEZE THESE PLATES!  PUSH THAT THING!”  And depending on how new the machine is, it might come with nice soft pads for your arms and tuchus, as well a handy how-to guide posted on the side of the machine.  When first walking into the gym a person can get a little intimidated around the dozens, if not hundreds, of free weights, not to mention all the serious looking musclemen that usually live there.

"Sir, can I use that after you're done screaming?"

Weight machines are great for the beginner as you can just go and start without a lot of know how, and can actually help teach you good form as sometimes the machines are designed to not give you a choice in the matter.  They can also help teach you a little about anatomy as each machine is designed to work few muscle groups, which can aide in your process of sensing every part of your body.

The con is that with the loss of total control also goes the benefits of total control grants.  It may be harder to injure yourself but it is also harder to get the same kind of impact that free weights give you.    That may not seem like such a bad thing when you start off, but depending on what kind of body you want to end up with, you may not get there on a machine.  Another big downer of weight machines is that they are expensive and not very economical.  Each machine really only does one exercise, meaning you have to have a lot of machines to get a full work out.  If you find one that includes everything, odds are it’s not going to be as effective or it’ll be fucking expensive.  Amazon.com lists the cheapest machine at about $250, while the most expensive is around $2000.  I just punched myself for even looking at a piece of exercise equipment that’s worth a month’s pay for me.  In short, good for beginners but bad for the person who likes to keep their money.  And if you’re one of those, then you should try . . .

Body Weight

For the financially challenged, or the incredibly independent, or the person who likes to be able to do everything without getting out of bed (ever), there is body weight lifting.  These are exercises that, in lieu of buying weights, you push, lift and pull your own body mass to work your muscles.  This is my favorite of all the strength training exercises because it is the most practical.  What’s more useful:  Being able to lift a car, or being able to lift yourself up over something, like a tree if a bear is chasing you, or a wall if it’s a bear dressed like a cop chasing you?  I would like to be able to pick up an automobile, but even if I could I think being able to move my own body maybe more useful on a day to day basis.

Maybe.

The benefit to these exercises is that you can do them anywhere at any time.  Waiting for the elevator?  Do some push-ups.  Waiting on an elevator?  Do some squats.  Climbing out of an elevator that has been stuck in between floors for a few hours?  Do some chin-ups before climbing out.  (sorry, I’m on an elevator while I’m writing this.)  The form of these exercises are simple and easy to perfect, and it’s difficult to hurt yourself while doing them.

The down side is that you cannot escalate your work out as easily as you can with the other methods.  Once you are able to lift your body with ease, there aren’t many ways to continue growing your strength.  You may gain tone and endurance by doing more reps (which I will explain in the next post), and you can make your work out more intense by changing the angle of your body, but for the most part your overall strength will stop to increase.

Alternative Weights

This is not a technical term and I don’t have time to research what this method is actually called if I want to post this on time.  I’M ON THE CLOCK HERE, PEOPLE, CUT ME SOME SLACK!  These exercises use everyday objects to train your muscles, and by everyday objects I mean rocks, medicine balls (basketballs filled with sand), sandbags (bags . . . filled with sand), tractor tires, sledgehammers, weighted clothing and anything heavy that is in your general vicinity.  You know that part in the movie Misery where James Caan lifts the typewriter over his head to get stronger?  That’s alternative weight lifting.

An angry lady with a sledgehammer is a great work-out motivator.

The good part about this method is that it is working many muscle groups with one exercise.  Flipping a gigantic tire down the street works your entire body all at once and has the added bonus of getting you to your optimal heart rate at the same time.  These exercises are also included in what I like to call the “Fuck Gyms” attitude, as they are taking normal objects rather than normal weight lifting gear.

The bad part is that it is harder to keep track of just how much you are lifting, which is an important part of the entire process.  I’m sure that rock seems heavy, but it’s hard to tell and I’m not going to start weighing rocks because that’s just silly.  It’s also very easy to hurt yourself while performing these exercises because you are basically taking the role of a furniture mover or construction worker.  Ask any one of those guys if it’s easy to hurt yourself while moving large heavy objects, and they’ll laugh at you and try to slap you in the face once they are able to fix their slipped disc and stand up straight again.  And while some of the items may be lying around your house, I don’t know how many people have regular access to tractor tires.

Luckily, I have a tractor tire garden.

So which of these should be the one you pick?  Who said you had to choose just one?!  Frankly, the best way to avoid the negative side of each of these is to do them all.  That may sound like a lot more lifting than you were originally prepared to do, but the great thing is that these four groups can be mixed and matched to create uber-routines.  Wear a weighted vest while doing push-ups.  Match every bicep curl with a lunge.   Use a medicine ball while you do squats.  You can’t really add more exercises to the machine weights, but not all foods taste better pickled, if you know what I mean?

"Ummmmmmmmmmm . . . "

Okay, I’m a little delirious because it’s getting late, but case in point: Just as you can match a vast array of Jelli Bellies to create new flavors, you can match strength training methods to create a routine that is custom made to your body, and that is a big key to successful weight loss.