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.

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Diet: Practice – Measurements

Sorry, sorry!  I sat down to start writing this post but I didn’t know how to begin and I panicked, hence the picture of the fucked up clown.  Sorry.

To think that there is a right or a wrong way to weigh yourself seems a little absurd – There is a scale, you step on it, try to turn away from the three digit number glaring back up at you, and then curse the man who invented the scale, or gravity, usually both . . . along with the man who invented delicious chocolate cake . . . and also that guy in the Mercedes that cut me off the other day on my way to Autozone, since we’re already cursing a bunch of people (cursing burns calories, you know).  But the scale isn’t always the best way to track your weight-loss progress.  This is because the loss of weight doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to get thinner.  To geek out for a moment, it is like what makes speed different from velocity: there are more factors involved.

Oh shit, a physics reference. We better get outta here . . .

First off, we have to expand our idea “weight”.  It’s no good to judge a person’s obesity by weight alone; sure, that main is 400 lbs, but that’s because he had that rhino grafted to his face.  And that woman is 80 lbs, but not because she exercises a lot, but because she’s dead.

“But I’m sooooo svelt!”

The actual weight of your body isn’t always directly proportional to the fat content in your body, and there are many other factors to consider – height, age, sex – which all dictate what is a healthy (or unhealthy) weight for you.  We have to stop thinking of weight being the be all and the end all in measuring weight-loss, and instead start thinking of it as only one of the factors in the shape of our bodies.

This is where we come to things like the Body Mass Index (BMI).  Created in the mid-1800’s by this guy –

“Good morrow.”

– it’s a ratio of weight and height that reveals just how fat you might be, ranging from very severely underweight (the ‘very’ is important, I guess) to Obese Class III, which sounds like a kind of starship.  By putting in your weight and height into the equation, you can find where you land on the BMI scale and get a rough idea of how much weight you need to lose.  But ‘rough’ is the key term in that last statement because the BMI index is lacking in that it does not take into account how much muscle is on your body.

I am sure I mentioned it in my muscle article, but muscle tissue is much heavier than fat.  Many bodybuilders and professional athletes technically fall into the obese category because they are far too heavy for their height, even though all of their weight comes from the large amount of muscle mass on their bodies.  It also sets one very strict standard for body sizes that isn’t practical when applied to the real world because the human body comes in so many shapes and sizes that trying to condense them all into one standard measure is impossible.  I have lost 80 lbs since the beginning of my weight-loss journey, and if you saw me on the street you would not think of me anywhere near obese.  And yet, because I am 5’5” and 180 lbs, I am still technically very obese.  To get into the normal weight class, I would need to lose 40 lbs (which I can tell you ain’t fuckin happening because I actually likefood) or grow seven inches (which I am currently working on).

No pain, no gain.

This is the same reason why judging your weight-loss success by weight alone can be deceiving; if you are putting on muscle at the same time you are burning away fat, then your weight will not change as drastically as you might think even though your body may be melting away before your eyes.  But that is not the only reason weight can be deceiving.  There is also something called water weight, which is the weight of all the water your body has retained through eating foods that have high sodium contents.  By changing to a healthier diet and starting moderate exercise, you will lose almost 20 lbs in a few weeks . . . but it’ll all be water, and your body will not look 20 lbs lighter.  And if you have a lot of weight to lose (more than 50 lbs) you’ll notice that you are losing weight and yet you still look the same.  This is because your body is most likely still storing as much fat as it can because that’s what is has been trained to do.  The more weight you have to lose, you are going to have to work longer/harder to change the way your body responds to food and it’s hard to lose weight at the same time.

A more effective way to measure your weight-loss is through actual inches.  By measuring the size of your arms, thighs, neck, chest, waist and hips with a cloth tape measure, you will get a more accurate idea of how your weight-loss is going.  It will also get you touching and feeling your body more.  This may seem like an unpleasant prospect depending on your size and confidence, but it’s important that you be able to grab your love handles with a cold and clinical observation rather than shame.  You need to start seeing your extra weight as a mere byproduct of a certain lifestyle, instead of how ugly and useless you are (because you’re not . . . unless you are . . . but then that has nothing to do with your weight), and you start that by looking at fat straight-forward.  It’s also fun to see your arms get thinner and firmer via the tape measure.

You’re still allowed to hate it, though.

But judging by the scale does have its benefits.  While measuring the actual inches can give you a better idea of how your diet is going, using a scale can be more helpful in setting goals.  As I said last week, setting goals that you can actually achieve is important to not only your morale (making it more likely for you to continue working out and eating right) but also to the overall success of your weight-loss as splitting up your overall goal into smaller objectives makes it easier to accomplish.  You can’t say that you plan to lose two inches from your arms because losing weight from one specific area (also called spot-reduction) is a filthy lie told by filthy liars, so setting your goals via inches will be difficult.  But if you set your goals through weight, you will find yourself accomplishing more often.

The best way to weigh yourself is on one of those tall scales that you find at the gym, but since those aren’t readily available (or cheap) buying a simple on for you bathroom floor is fine.  And don’t go wasting money on an advanced scale either!  Forgo scales that say they can calculate your fat content, or track your weight loss, or sing happy songs if you lose weight; none of these things help you keep track of your weight, nor do they help you lose more weight.  Just get a normal scale, either analog or digital is fine.  As for other tips:

  • Stand up straight, with both of your feet firmly planted in the middle of the scale, and put your hands to you sides.  Any other pose and you run the risk of getting an inaccurate measure.
  • Always set your scale on a hard surface.  Placing your scale on carpet means the carpet is going to absorb some of your weight and make you seem lighter than you actually are.
  • If you can manage it, be bare-ass naked when you weigh yourself.  Clothes may not weigh much, but you want to get as close to your true weight as possible.  If you can’t be naked, at least take all the shit out of your pockets (keys, cell phone, that copy of the oxford dictionary that you say is lucky but we all know it’s so you look smart).
  • Don’t weigh yourself after a big meal.  You have just put a substantial amount of food into your body, and it’s going to weigh you down.
  • While you don’t want to weigh yourself after things go in, weighing yourself after they come out is a good plan.  After using the facilities, step on the scale and record the progress.  You’d be surprised how much of a difference it makes.
  • Don’t weigh yourself right after working out.  After working out you are probably going to be dehydrated, and while water weight is something you want to get rid of, our bodies are supposed to have a certain amount of water in them.  Take a shower, let your body temperature lower, and drink a glass or two of water, then go ahead and weigh yourself.

These methods should all be used together to give you the best idea of how much weight you have lost.  Figure your BMI to get a general idea of where you stand (you can’t know where you’re going until you know where you are, said the Zen-master Nic), measure your loss with the measuring tape and set your goals with the scale.  In the end though, the best way to measure how you are doing is by how you look, and more importantly, how you feel.  Losing any amount of weight will have you feeling better, more energetic, happier, and at that point the actual weight of your body may not matter as much to you than when you started.

And since I’m big on coming full circle, I guess I better end with a pic as fucked up as that first one.

Sorry.

 

Diet: Practice – Goals

While on Wikipedia researching for the benefits of setting goals, I discovered a mnemonic device one could use when setting up objectives – specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-targeted.  If one makes sure that their objectives contain each of these criteria, they have made a S.M.A.R.T. objective.

Then I promptly smacked myself in the face with a wet towel for considering using such tripe as the basis for this article.

I have a profound distaste for any method which boils down and filters all the effort and constant diligence it takes to change your body/life into bite-sized, Dr. Phil-ish, McTaoist, “The Secret”-esque, self-help bullshit.  The road to significant weight-loss is plagued with fad diets, plastic contortionist machines that only work the muscles of your pocketbook, and an attitude that losing 50 lbs will not only be easy, but also very fast and make you look like a swimsuit model who lifts themselves out of a pool and let’s the water slowly drip down their supple, succulent body.  And then she gives you that smile that says, “Yes, I do want to share a strong cocktail or four with you over in the clothing-optional part of the spa . . .”

I’m sorry, I lost my train of thought there . . .

Can you lose a lot of weight in a single season?  Yes.  Will it be as hard as you dread?  No.  But that does not mean you will go from having lot of fat on your bones to Cosmo cover material in six weeks.  Anything that promises that you will – hell, even if it mentions that it might be possible – do not trust it.  A complete body overhaul can not be molded into a neat little package that can fit in your pocket.  I also find that whole “self-help” genre kind of twisted.  If you need help to learn how to help yourself, you need to get out of the Barnes & Noble and into a shrink’s office.

By Gary Larson

And yet, though I hate to admit it, that S.M.A.R.T. device does carry some good points.  A large part of my weight-loss journey had more to do with planning, organization and honesty than food or exercise.  Being able to set proper goals will not make the hard work any easier, but it will have you succeeding at weight-loss far sooner.

So let’s go down the S.M.A.R.T. list and cover the things to keep in mind when setting objectives.  But first I’m just going to cut off some of the fat.  The Measurable portion is very important, so much so that it’ll get its own post next week, and Achievable and Realistic are pretty much the same to me, so let’s ditch one.  Now, I’ll agree setting a S.A.T. goal doesn’t have the same ring to it, but I don’t like writing anything past a first draft and we’ve gone too far for me to change anything now.

SPECIFIC

One of my favorite daydreams is what I would do if I had a batcave.  Of course, I would have an armory, full of superhero suits and advanced weaponry.  I would also have a workshop to build exciting and dangerous sculptures, a full obstacle course with moats and ziplines, and a large, open area for me to just jump around naked.  Now, can you describe to me, in extreme detail, every facet and aspect of one of your favorite fantasies?  Of course you can!  When it comes to our desires, we get very specific because every detail matters.

That is the kind of detail you need to bring to your weight-loss objectives.  It’s not enough to be general about your ambitions because you do not create any pressure to obtain them.  If “Lose 10 lbs in three weeks” is your goal, then you know every time you do not follow your diet or exercise everyday for the next three weeks, you are going to fail.  If “Lose Weight” is your goal, then it’s more than okay to skip the gym and eat a package of oreos because you don’t realize that every day matters.

Being specific with your goals also means you will have to be specific in how you are going to obtain them.  “I want to rig my front door so that every time I open the door A Fanfare For The Common Man plays on a music box!”   By being specific with my goal, I already have a rough outline of my game plan to achieve it.  I know I’ll have to buy a music box that plays that certain song; I’ll probably need to install a shelf somewhere near the entrance; and I will be opening and closing my door a whole lot.  With a detailed plan in place, all I have to do now is go out and do it.

ACHIEVABLE

Sigh.  No one ever likes this one.

With all I have said about dieting, with as much as I want you to know how attainable effective weight-loss is, there may be a possibility that you will never look exactly the way you want to.  Sometimes it’s genetics, sometimes it’s age, and sometimes it’s because to get to that ideal body in your mind, you would have to put in a lot more work than you’re willing to.

I’m not saying that you won’t be able to get to your dream body.  I’m just telling you to be realistic about it and set your goals accordingly.  Understand that the further away from your ideal body that you are, the more work and time it’s going to take to get there. 

Yes, but you don’t realize that the more weight you lose, the harder it is to lose more weight.  For reasons I will get into in a later post, the amount of effort it takes you to lose weight grows almost exponentially the closer you get to your goal (did I just use the word I’m defining in its own definition?  Jesus . . .).  If you’re more than 250 lbs and less than 6 feet tall, you are not going to find yourself looking like Brad Pitt or Jason Statham within a year, or with a single diet plan and exercise routine.  You must set your sights on a goal that is closer, that is more feasible for thismoment.  If you are focusing more on the fantasy of weight-loss rather than the reality of it, then you are going to be failing a lot more than you are succeeding.  Human beings were not meant for that constant barrage of losing, and constant failure leads to all-out quitting.

I’m talking baby steps here, people!

TIME-TARGETED

What came up when I googled “Time-Target”

I don’t know about the rest of y’all, but I work best with a deadline. I don’t like it, but then I don’t have to if it’s effective.  Setting a time limit to your goal helps you make a plan that caters to your schedule, and can also help you divide up the labor of the task at hand.  But more importantly, setting a time limit means that some day you will get to stop, which after three months of eating nothing but salad and hard boiled eggs while working out for forty minutes every single fucking day will sound like a gift from the heavens.

You’ll look like this on that day.

CHALLENGE(So I guess it would actually be a S.C.A.T. goal . . . that’s a little better)

Sing it Ella!

Don’t set the bar too low.  Make sure that, while your next goal should be reachable, it should be just out of your reach.  This way you will have to grow to get there.  If your objectives are too easy to accomplish, then you won’t lose weight because you’re simply not working hard enough.

Set specific goals.  Set realistic goals.  Set a due date.  Don’t slack off.  And now you can take that $16 you would have spent on The Secret and go make a kite, or buy a loaf of bread to feed the birds, or get new windshield wiper fluid.  You know, something useful.

I really do hate this book.

Diet: Practice – “You know, we actually have to do these things, right?”

If you listen to my advice, Eating Right (Food) + Being Active (Exercise) = Weight-Loss.  Have we covered the food?  Check.   Have we got our exercise?  Check.  We have it all, so let the powers combine and let the weight-loss begin!

. . . . . . . . . . . Begin!

. . . come on, let’s go . . .

. . . . . . . . awww, nuts.

Unfortunately, there is an element that has been overlooked.  You can read all about nutrition and find what foods you should be eating; you can go to gyms and talk to specialists to discover what exercises to do.  None of that knowledge matters, however, unless you are able to actually do those things and keep on doing them for a lot longer than you’re probably prepared for.  A lot of that is dealt through fortitude and inner strength, things which you can’t teach on a blog, or a book, or a television, or any-fucking-where else.  But there are many practical issues to weight-loss that can make the road ahead even that much longer, and in many instances can be the difference between losing weight and torturing yourself with no physical rewards.

Unless you’re into that sort of thing.

Time management, measuring/weighing, setting goals – all of these things are essential to making the necessary changes in your life so you can achieve long-lasting weight gain, but many articles never really cover these items (at least, not for free).  Readily accessible information on dieting usually only pertains to what you should (or could) eat and what you could (and should) be doing, and yet these are only small pieces of the puzzle.  They don’t talk about how you’re supposed to create a meal plan if you’ve only ever eaten Hungry Man Microwave Dinners, or how to work in a work-out if you work three jobs.  Hell, it’s even hard saying that three times fast.

Work in a work out at work

work in a work out at work

work in a work out at work

Telling a person who is trying to lose significant weight, “Here, eat this and do that and you should lose weight,” is like giving a newborn baby a paint brush and a paint can and saying, “Here, use this with that and you should be able to paint my house.”  It may be that simple, but it’s not that easy.  It also sets the dieter (or painting baby) up for almost automatic failure, because while they have all the tools to accomplish the objective, they lack the skills, mindset (and for the baby, motor functions) to do so.

“You barely even finished one side of the house! NO DESSERT FOR YOU!”

As with all things, there is a middle step between gaining the knowledge and utilizing the knowledge, and it’s here where a lot of people give up.  Remember, weight-loss (and weight-gain) are all about habits and behavior, things that you have spent a lifetime creating and cementing.  You can’t expect to change those things just by learning and hoping; you have to actively change your life first, then the rest follows.  Barely anyone does this on willpower alone, and no one gets it on their first try.

To continue using symbolism to hide my inability to create a cohesive argument, the journey of weight-loss is full of swamps and mountains.  The diet is going to help you wade through the swamps, and the exercise will help you climb the mountains.  But you still need a map, or you’re just walking blindly and will end up going in circles over and over again.  This metaphor is working out better than I thought.  Thinking practically is your map: the more you plan, the more you prepare, the clearer will your road be.

Uh oh, I’m starting to sound like Yoda.

So let’s retool that equation from above:

Healthy Diet + Exercise + Practice = Weight-Loss

The last portion of my dieting section will focus all on these practical issues and will finish off all the things I have learned about losing weight.  They will not be as based in science and physiology as my previous posts, but more on my own personal experience and how I dealt with the obstacles.  Some I saw coming a mile away, some I should have seen coming, and others I was never prepared for.  But that’s why I started this dieting section in the first place, so you could learn from my experience and mistakes, forgo them and make brand new mistakes of your own.  And then tell those to me, so I can be on the look out for them.  We’re all here to help each other.