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.

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Diet: Food – Fat

Oh lord.  I . . . I can barely move.  So, just so much turkey.  And mac n cheese.  And mashed potatoes.  And that . . . I don’t know what that was . . . stuffing?   I’ve never seen stuffing made with cornbread before, although it’s not completely impossible for it to be made of – in any case, it was delicious.  So much food, so much drink.  That’s what the holidays are for, to eat, drink and be merry; a time period that is a gift to us mortals so we can slip into denial and believe nothing we do will affect us for the rest of the year.  It’s the only way we can sit down to a meal that is primarily starch and butter and stuff our faces until food is, literally, coming out of our ears.  So let us take this respite between such foolish eating habits and the crash of reality that travels with the coming of the New Year to look at the last food group on our list.

Most of you are going to go running away from fat, and I understand the impulse.  Even with all the weight I have lost, I still have a negative gut reaction when facing fat and that’s mostly because after spending most of my life overweight I ended up seeing fat like this –

"I . . . TASTE . . . GOOD!"

– and while that image was very effective at making me afraid of everything I put in my mouth, it wasn’t very effective at keeping me from putting it in my mouth.  It also wasn’t very open to understanding, as every time I tried to ask that image of fat what it was about, all it said was, “BLLLEEERRRRAAA-CHHHHHHAUUUUUGHHHH-HHHHPPTPBPTPBP-TPBTPBPPFTT!”  Now I’ve looked at a lot of different dictionaries in many different languages, and there really is no translation for that statement.  Because I was too afraid of fat, too eager to ignore how much of it covered my body, I was never able to conceive of all the good things fat does for me and why it is essential to life.

One reason it’s hard to understand fat is because its function is extremely technical.  With words like eicosanoids, endocannabinoids, lipoxins, resolvins, isofurans, neurofurans, isoprostanes, hepoxilins, epoxyeicosatrienoic acids and Neuroprotectin D, trying to read up on fat can feel more like reading a manual in some alien language on how to put a stove together that runs on zero-point energy by harnessing the power of a dying star.

Step 1 - Unpack all part of the stove. Step 2 - Gain a complete understanding of astrophysics. Step 3 - Get a screwdriver.

It’s also because there are many different kinds of fat, and until you memorize the lingo it’s all going to seem like a mish-mask of scientific sounding term that you will never fully accept as being actual words.

"I think you're making this shit up." - Big Toe, to the Middle Toe

While the explanations may be a tad scientific, the implications are very real.  So perk up your ears and put on your thinkin’ caps, because we’re diving into the fat until you know it like the back of your hand.  You may also want to put on a wet suit or else your pores are going to get clogged with grease that will be very hard to wash off.  Jumping into fat is kind of disgusting.

All fats are made up of triglycerides, which are compounds that are made of glycerol (a natural alcohol derivative) and three fatty acids (the part of fat our bodies burn for energy).  Each fatty acid has a certain number of spots open for use, and they are usually taken up by hydrogen molecules.  It’s important to understand this because depending on how many spots of those three fatty acids are filled with hydrogen dictates what kind of fat you’ll end up with.

SATURATED
Saturated fats are formed when all the spots on a fatty acid are taken up by hydrogen.

MONO-UNSATURATED
Mono-unsaturated fats are formed when only one of the spaces in the fatty acid is empty.

POLY-UNSATURATED
Poly-unsaturated fats are formed when multiple spots in the fatty acid are empty.

Each one of these has different effects on the body.  I’ll start off with the healthiest:

Poly-unsaturated fats are the best kind of fats for you.  They can help lower your insulin resistance which will help your body regulate the sugar level in your blood, and can also help prevent cardiovascular disease.  Poly-unsaturated fats also include the two essential fatty acids, omega-3 and omega-6 (don’t ask me why they are called that, I’ve been reading all day and I still don’t understand.  Listen, I use all my smarts in my head to operate my car without crashing, a feat I usually succeed at  . . . most of the time.)  Benefits of consuming these two fatty acids include, but are not limited to: strengthening blood circulation, lowering blood pressure, relieving arthritis, fighting depression, preventing strokes and helping fight cancer.  It won’t cure those things as nothing you eat is the magic “end all disease forever” food, but it will aide in the struggle against them.  Poly-unsaturated fats can be found in almost all nuts, seeds, leafy greens and fish, as well as the oils that are made from those things.

Mono-unsaturated is not as healthy as its poly brethren, but it’s still pretty good stuff.  The benefits of this one are mainly in lowering your cholesterol and can also reduce your risk of heart disease.  Fats included in this one are olive oil, whole grains, red meat, milk and high fat fruits like avocados.

Saturated fats are the baddies.  They are also, unfortunately, the best tasting ones of the entire bunch.  They increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and dyslipidemia, which is a higher fat content in the blood.

On the schoolyard, being "Fat-Blooded" works just as well as being "Big-Boned".

These can be found in butter, cream, cheese, lard, coconut oil (used a LOT on your popcorn at the movies) and palm oil.

Now there are also things called trans fat and cis fats, which are even worse for you than saturated fats.  They start off as unsaturated fats, with one or more spaces on the fatty acid chain empty.  But through a process called hydrogenation, where hydrogen is intentionally stuffed into those empty spaces, the unsaturated fat loses all health benefits and becomes extremely bad for you.

Now unless you memorize the list of all of the kinds of fats and their forms, it can get hard to tell which kind of fat you are buying.  There is a good rule of thumb however: Saturated fats (as well as the trans fats) are filled with hydrogen which gives a much more stable structure to the fat, where as mono- and poly-unsaturated fats are not as stable.  This is a me-being-smart-way of saying that saturated fats are usually solid (think butter, cheese, shortening and lard) and that the unsaturated fats are usually liquids (oils).  The thicker and heavy the fat is, the more likely it has more hydrogen.  A side note: one benefit to having more hydrogen in the fat is that is will have a much longer shelf life.  When there are open spots in the fatty acid, there are more chances that an unwanted molecule (like iron oxide) will take up the empty space and make the fat go rancid.  If all spots are filled with hydrogen, the evils molecules can’t get in and the fat will last longer.

If you are trying to lose weight, you’ll want to strive to fill your fat needs with those unsaturated fats, especially the poly-unsaturated.  You can delve into the saturateds every now and again, but start thinking of those fats as rewards for being good, as an “every now and then” sort of thing.  Try to stay far away from trans fats as you possibly can since the risks outweigh what small (if any) benefits they might hold.  The important thing to know is that you shouldn’t stop eating fat altogether.  For one, it’s impossible as every food has fat, but two, your body needs fat.  I’ve said that the number one source for biological energy is carbohydrates and that it’s your brain’s main source of fuel, which is true; and yet there are parts of your body, such as connective tissue, membranes, and certain organs (like the heart, which I think I read somewhere is slightly vital) that get their energy (as well as their composition) directly from fat.

Fat is not the enemy.  Food is never the enemy.  Food is your friend.  Sure, some of your friends end up being total dicks and do nothing but rob you and kick you in the nuts, but most of the food you will encounter is only try to help you, either by providing nutrients, organic building blocks for your body, or pure energy.  No, food is not your enemy.  Bad habits are your enemy, ignorance and fear are your enemies, shame is your enemy.  Fat is not that scary monster from the beginning; fat is like . . . well . . . like a big happy fat guy –

Yeah, like this guy.

– who wants nothing but for you to be healthy and happy.  And so do I.

Now go take a shower.  You’re covered in grease and it’s dripping on my carpet.