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 – Protein

Meat is important.  I’m not just saying that because I like (love) meat, but because it is a vital component to weight loss.  Now now, I hear all you vegetarians starting to hem and haw already, but odds are that if you’re a vegetarian you probably don’t have to worry about weight, unless you’re the vegetarian who can eat eggs, butter, cheese, fish (sometimes), chicken (when no one is looking), and pays no attention if it’s olive oil or lard that those onion rings were fried in.  In that case, I have to ask, “Who are you kidding?  Man the fuck and eat the goddamn bacon!”

EAT IT!

Will cutting meat out of your diet help you lose weight?  Yes.  Sorry, no doubt about it, it will.  But you have to understand that you will have to work twice as hard and consume (and buy) almost twice the amount of meat-substitutes to get all the protein your body is going to need once you get into the heavy stages of weight-loss.  There is no replacement for meat.  It is the most effective, more bang for your buck, and frankly the cheapest way to get protein.  Soy? Be gone!  Quinoa?  Have at you!  Lentils?  Fuck off!

Just a bunch of tiny, colorful assholes.

Actually, a cup of lentils has more protein in it than a 4 oz. chicken breast and cost a dime for 19 lbs. of the stuff, but I maintain my position.  I’ve said it before and I shall say it again until you pay me, literally PAY ME (please pay me) to stop, but successful major weight-loss has more to do with your head than anything else.  You can’t go from having three bacon, double cheese, triple patty cheeseburgers with French fries a week to having a cup of lentils and some steamed broccoli.  That is how riots start.

"I just want some tacos!"

It’s not enough to eat right, you have to change your eating habits so you enjoy eating right.  This doesn’t mean replacing your burger with some malformed vegetable puree that will only leave you hungrier for the real thing, it means understanding what you put into your body and what it is giving you.  To make such a drastic change is only going to leave you open for extreme failure, and part of what I am trying to do is help you avoid those detrimental pitfalls.

So here is the list of the protein that worked the best for me in getting my daily requirements, filling me up, and didn’t completely destroy my pocketbook.

Chicken

Chicken is THE protein in my opinion.  It was practically the only protein I ate in all of my weight-loss escapades.  A chicken breast is not only loaded with about 25 grams of protein, it is also relatively low in fat, extremely filling and it’s so cheap they might as well be giving it away.  It’s also completely versatile and lends itself to any culinary genre with minimal effort.  It cooks fast and goes well with anything; rice, pasta, salad, fruit, and vegetables (how is that different from salad? Stop asking questions).  It is even good by itself.  Seriously, stick a chicken breast on a stick and put it over a fire and you won’t be asking, “But where’s the butter?”

I was hoping to find a funny picture of a cartoon chicken over a fire with a stick up its butt, but all I found were kabobs.

On the downside, chicken needs to be prepared as it is mostly tasteless.  When people say, “Everything tastes like chicken”, well that’s because chicken doesn’t taste like anything.  You can’t steam some chicken thinking the flavor is going to astound you because all you’re going to get is a hot, steaming, juicy clump of “that cheap newspaper insert has more taste than this.”  But this isn’t such a bad thing as learning how to cook is also one of the most helpful things with losing weight (but that is for a much, much later post).

Fish

I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to put that salmon down.  And that shark.  And the lobster, shrimp and crab.  Those are all great fish, and contain wonderful omega-3 fats, but they also contain a whole lot of them.  The reason a lot of people love these fish is because of their meaty texture and buttery flavor, but if you use the word “butter” to describe a food, odds are it might not be the best for diets.  No, the fish I am talking about are the whitefish (trout, tilapia, mahi mahi, flounder, etc.).  These have a lot of protein and are filled with a lot of great stuff other meats don’t have, and are low in fat.  They cook in a snap, have tons of flavor without having to prepare them extensively, and can help with that “trapped on a deserted island” fantasy you have been having since the premiere of “Lost”.

"You know what would go great with this fish? Confusion and time travel."

The downsides are two: fish isn’t that filling.  Fish is light and flakey, and will often leave the dieter wanting not just one more piece, but like, 437 more pieces.

"I'll have all of them, thank you."

It’s mostly the price, though.  You can’t always find the right kinds of frozen fish at the market, and to buy fresh means you’re going to pay a pretty penny.  And when you get home, you’re going to have to cook that fish right away because a fish’s shelf life is very very small.  You wouldn’t think that it would matter, but how long a food will last in the fridge is going to become a very big part of your culinary decisions while losing weight.

Eggs

Eggs are a miracle food: a tiny oval containing pure protein with a little yellow orb of the perfect sauce inside.  They are extremely cheap and are easy to cook and can be prepared in a variety of ways to help keep you from getting bored with your food.  From scrambled egg whites for breakfast, to hard-boiled eggs for lunch/snack, to a lovely green pepper and feta cheese omelet for dinner, eggs can be eaten for any meal of the day.  Two hard boiled eggs contain as much protein as a chicken breast, and are a lot more fun to eat.

The downside?  Shit, I have been eating eggs for years and I find myself hard-pressed to see a downside to eggs.  If forced to (at gun point) I would say that unless you only eat hard boiled eggs, it’s going to be hard to transport them.  There is just something about reheated scrambled eggs that isn’t quite the same.  I don’t put any credence in “eggs raise your cholesterol” argument because the authorities have been going back and forth on the matter for decades.  Just make sure that in the end you are eating more of the white than the yolks (which can be saved to make custard for ‘Reward Days’). Otherwise, they are great.

Nuts

Snack food is going to have its own post, but I will tell you that if you are on a diet, nuts are important to your hunger level.  Almonds and peanuts are jam packed with protein, are easy to portion out, have a looooooooooooooong shelf life, and taste superb.  Feeling peckish?  A handful of almonds will cure what ails ya.  About to slam your boss’s head through the window if you don’t get a donut soon?  Slam down a few peanuts, that’ll fix your murderous rage.  And this includes peanut and almond butter, things that are loaded with protein and will sate that “creamy” craving of yours.

The bad part?  Well, you saw me use the words “butter” and “cream”, so what do you think?  Nuts are loaded with fat.  So much, in fact, that nuts could almost be considered a fat.  A handful of almonds will help ease your cravings while providing nutrients, but anymore than a handful and you might as well be eating butter straight from the wax paper.

Or as I like to call it, "A Shamestick".

Protein Bars/Powder

Hey, we live in an age of technology, why shouldn’t it have a representative in the food world?  Protein bars/powders have chemistry on their side, providing you with a massive amount of not just protein but also as many minerals as a multivitamin.  It requires no cooking or preparation, is easy to transport in a purse or bag, and can be saved for later without the fear of spoiling.  I ate at least one protein bar and used protein powder every day during my major dieting seasons.

The drawback is in the pocketbook.  I was lucky enough to have an employer who bought a ton of healthy snacks for the office at the time, but no matter how hard I searched I couldn’t find affordable bars/powders in the quantities that I wanted.  Sure, you could get a big tub of MUSCLESUSBTANCEDRINK for $50, but when it comes to the chemical stuff you want to pay extra close attention to the ingredient list.  Most of the time, those bars and powders are nothing but sugar which is the opposite of what we’re looking for here.

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And that’s the protein I ate.  Sure, there’s beef, which if you get the right cut and consume with modesty can be an excellent source of protein, but I found it hard to battle my cravings when beef was around so I just cut it out.  Sorry, but pork and all of its incarnations will have to go.  I have tried tofu and other soy-based products and those only made me angry, so out they went.  It’s not that I don’t like it, but tofu isn’t really my thing and I have already said that replacing the food you love with imitation food just seems straight-up sad to me.  And I don’t do beans.  Ever.  Listen, we all have the one food we can’t do that everybody thinks we are crazing for hating.  With my father, it’s onions.  With a good friend of mine, it’s tomatoes and egg yolks.  Almost every person of color I know hates mayonnaise (something about reminding them of the White-Man).  With me, it’s beans.  I hear they are a great source of protein, you just won’t find me talking about them.

GET 'EM AWAY!!!