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.
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.
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 . . .
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!
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”.
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.
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.
Carbs have gotten a bad wrap. The American people are always on the look-out for the bad guy when it comes to food. Being a nation that is obsessed with the quick and easy fix, we are constantly on the search for “The Master Villain”: the one thing that is the source of all of our problems and that, if eliminated, would end the pain, anguish and misery of living in the wealthiest and most food-abundant country on Earth. And once we find the culprit, we shall waste no time in pointing the mighty finger of blame from our incredibly high horses.
In the 90’s it was the evil Fat Content, spurring loads of so called “low-fat” foods that either tasted like shit, weren’t really fat-free at all, or both. People ditched the “fat-free” concept when the new millennium hit, mostly because everyone was tired of eating cardboard, and started to go after carbohydrates as the root of all weight-loss evils. This has not only caused a drastic and horrible demonization of wondrous and glorious bread (ALL HAIL THE MIGHTY BREAD! ACCEPT MY SACRIFICE OF THESE HERE EIGHTEEN VIRGINS AND BLESS MY CROPS WITH LONG LIFE!) but also created a fast-track fad diet that causes more damage than good and made it popular beyond belief. But losing a lot of weight doesn’t mean eating what other people tell you to, it means understanding what you put into your body and why. Have I said that enough in these posts yet? IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII don’t think so.
Goofus & Gallant – The Starchy Version
So, according to me a paragraph or two ago, carbohydrates are good for you. So good, in fact, that you should be eating a healthy portion everyday. But are all carbohydrates created equal? As opposed to protein, whose dietary value is measured by how many grams of protein you consume by how many calories come along with it, carbohydrates are guaranteed to bring calories because that is their job. But just as there are some people who work harder at their jobs than others, there are some carbs that do a lot more than just provide energy. You may have heard the terms “Simple” and “Complex” in relation to carbs , but to think of them as “Lazy” and “Productive” would probably be better in understanding what these two groups do.
Simple Carbohydrates (aka – Lazy Bastards, aka – Bare Minimum Achievers, aka -Me) are essentially comprised of one or two sugar molecules and their primary purpose is to get those sugar molecules into you. They are also easy (extremely easy) to digest, so not only do simple carbs get sugar into your system but they also do it very fast. Imagine hiring movers to help move your couch out of your apartment on the fourth floor of a building and instead of carefully taking it down the stairs, or even using the large and stable elevator located right near your front door, they just throw it out the window. That’s simple carbohydrates: throwing a couch of sugar straight down into your stomach so they have more time to sit around and talk about the latest episode of “House”. Food items belonging in this category: White bread, sugar, honey, rice, pasta, brown sugar, alcohol, and the list goes on.
Complex carbohydrates (aka – Hard-working, aka – Overachievers, aka – Not me) are made up of long chains of sugars linked together that take longer for our systems to digest, and sometimes our bodies can’t even digest them at all. Imagine, once again, you have hired movers to do some good old couch moving. Complex carbs won’t just take the couch down via the stairs, they will reupholster the couch, paint your apartment, fix your kitchen sink, and pay a couple months of your rent just for the hell of it. Food belonging in this group: oatmeal, bran, green vegetables, brown rice, yams and many other roots, and oh, so much more.
It not hard to tell these two classifications apart; if it’s white, fluffly and just generally delicious, it’s a simple carb. If it’s brown, dense, hard to chew, and generally not very appetizing without two or three buckets of melted cheese upended over it, then you have complex carbs. Now I’m not going to focus on complex carbs too much right now because they are usually loaded with fiber, which I am saving for later post. Instead, let’s take a closer gander at the simple carbs, which are the ones being harassed nowadays.
The reason people are hating on the simple carbs is because our bodies can easily render them into fat. The image of a fat person holding a box of donuts while they reach over to fill another mug with whipped cream, while incredibly insensitive and cruel (and a good idea), is also an accurate depiction of what can happen to your body if you load it with sugar. Another ill-effect of eating too much sugar is throwing your inner chemistry set out of whack, ruining your body’s natural insulin production and creating the truly horrible disease of diabetes. So a few people (one who had a medical degree) figured that if you stopped eating those carbs, that so easily turn into sugar that so easily turn into fat inside of our bodies, you’d lose weight. And they were right. If you are no longer eating things that your body can store as fat it will start to eat away at your reserves, which is generally what you want.
Now before we go on, I must admit that I haven’t been completely honest with you. Technically, carbohydrates are not an essential nutrient for the human body. Your body does not need carbohydrates as it can also get energy from the fat and protein already in your body.
Okay, hold on now, calm down and stop pointing that finger at me. While your body may not need it, it sure does want it. As I have mentioned in a previous post, carbohydrates (especially the simple ones) are the fuel for your body; they burn quicker and turn into energy faster and more efficiently than any other food. Glucose (which is the basic scientific term for sugar and what carbs are made of) is the largest energy source in all of biology. You can see I italicized, bolded and underlined that, so you know I ain’t fucking around. From the smallest bacteria to the largest animal, almost everything that breathes, eats and lives uses glucose because it is the most efficient source of pure biological energy. But it’s not just your body, it’s your brain, as glucose is the brain’s primary source of energy.
So, yes, cut out carbs and your body will stop storing fat for energy and burning it, thereby losing weight. But without the energy that comes from carbs and their glucose, at the same time you start burning away that fat your body is also going to start burning the protein in your body. You might think that just means a loss of some muscle mass (which is really scary in and of itself), which will also cause you to lose weight as muscle is heavier than fat. But when you realize that there are other things in your body made up of protein, like your liver, kidneys, heart, and everything else, suddenly the image of your body eating itself won’t get out of your head.
And what about your brain? Not only will your brain be starved for the wonderful glucose that the brain uses as food, but because of your carb-free diet, your body is starting to burn brain matter since your brain is basically a large lump of fatty protein. Listen, I’m dumb enough as it is, so I can’t go around doing things (or rather, doing more things) that kill off brain cells. I want to lose weight, but I also like my brain. Sure, it’s squishy and smells weird, but it helped me enjoy The Matrix without anyone explaining it to me and remembers how to make balloon animals. It’s just not fucking worth it!
Simple carbohydrates are not the bad guy. Sugar is not the bad guy. Fat and calories are not the bad guy. The bad guy here is misinformation, laziness and years of bad habits that have turned into detrimental behavior. You can not trick your body into losing weight. You can only understand what the food you’re eating gives you and start to learn how to utilize every bit of it. Anything else and you’re only hurting yourself.
So give white bread, pasta and sugar a break; they’re only trying to keep you alive.
Crispy and crunchy, salty and sweet, with a dash of spice.
In the ongoing hunt to find food that tastes good without making me look like a baby beluga, I happened upon popcorn. Understanding that a small popcorn from the movie theater holds almost as many calories as a Big Mac (making all those Big Macs I snuck into the theater redundant), and that microwave popcorn wasn’t much better, I decided to make it for myself. The healthiest choice would have been to go with a hot air popper, but because I am cheap I did not want to spend the money and because I’m lazy I did not want to leave my apartment.
So after some research I discovered it wasn’t that hard to cook popcorn on the stove. With a little bit of salt and oil (I wanted to eat a healthy snack, not packing popcorn. Trust me, that shit tastes nasty) I had something I could theoretically eat for days without waist expanding results.
It didn’t take long for me to start experimenting with different oils, seasonings and the like, and after some horrible failures that still haunt my dreams I discovered one worth perfecting.
Sesame Chili Kettlecorn
Now it’s not really kettlecorn. For that you’d need a kettle, which I don’t have, and you’d need to make it in large quantities, which I don’t want. This is more like caramel corn, but people respond better to kettlecorn so I’m just going to fucking lie.
¼ cup of popping corn
⅛ cup of sugar
⅛ cup of brown sugar
½ tbs of sesame oil
½ tbs of chili oil
1 tbs of butter (look, this recipe isn’t about health, god dammit. Stop hounding me.)
¼ tsp of popcorn salt (or you can grind it up in a food processor, the salt needs to be a fine powder.)
- Have everything measured and ready to go before you begin. Once things start to happen they will happen quickly.
- Put the oils in a medium-sized pot over a medium-high flame. Throw in a few kernels and cover with a lid. When the kernels pop, take the pot off the flame and throw in the rest of the popcorn and the salt.
- Wait while the kernels cook. You don’t want them to start popping yet, so make just keep an eye on them. You’ll see them begin to lighten in color.
- After a minute or two, throw in the butter and the sugar, and return the pot to the heat.
- Stir until the sugar and butter combine and make a thick, dark, sugary paste.
I have to interject here for a moment. If you have never worked with melted sugar before, please be careful. Have you ever burned yourself? It hurt, didn’t it? Now imagine that pain-inducing heat not only touching you, but then sticking to you. And when you go to wash it off, it only hardens into burning armor. Melted sugar is the culinary equivalent to napalm. So please, be careful.
- Cover the pot. Turn the heat down a smidgen. Shake the pot, stirring the sugar and kernels inside, constantly. Don’t stop. You’re arms will hurt, yes, but it’s better than burned sugar. Burned sugar is horrible to eat, maybe even more horrible than any other burned food because you can almost taste the good thing it was supposed to be inside it, making it a metaphysical disappointment.
- Keep the cover on and continue to stir vigorously. When the kernels begin to pop, keep your ears open. When the popping has slowed, turn off the heat.
- Place the popped corn into a bowl immediately. BUT DON’T TOUCH IT, for god’s sake.
Once it cools you can eat it right away. Or, if you like, you can take the time to add a few more ingredients. You can drizzle a little more sesame oil over it, or toss in some toasted sesame seeds. You could add some paprika to give it more pep, or perhaps a little more salt to suit your tastes. I like to do all of the above, along with sprinkling on some ginger powder to give it a distinct Asian flavor.