Tuesday, February 26, 2013

New England Journal of Medicine Debunks Calories-in/Calories-out

I had a completely different post lined up for today, but, upon reading the January 31 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine, I figured this was worth pushing to the front of the line. (Fear not, the post on Joint Health is still forthcoming and you will be riveted!

The article, titled "Myths, Presumptions, and Facts About Obesity," breaks down seven myths that are pervasive in the conventional wisdom about dieting and weight loss. First among them: calories in/calories out.

According to the article:
  • "For example, whereas the 3500-kcal rule predicts that a person who increases daily energy expenditure by 100 kcal by walking 1 mile (1.6 km) per day will lose more than 50 lb (22.7 kg) over a period of 5 years, the true weight loss is only about 10 lb (4.5 kg),6 assuming no compensatory increase in caloric intake, because changes in mass concomitantly alter the energy requirements of the body."

What does this mean?
For 50 years, doctors have been prescribing calorie reduction/ control ("diets") as the only reliable method for weight loss. This has all been based on the assumption that the human body operated under the First Law of Thermodynamics, which states that energy cannot be created or destroyed, only transferred. The problem is that the human body is an adaptive machine that is bent on, above all else, maintaining balance among a score of different systems while compensating for hundreds of variable factors. And the human body is masterful at conserving energy.

That's right, metabolism is a moving target

In the 1940s, a University of Minnesota study confirmed that long-term, extremely low calorie diets did not result in a continuous linear progression of weight loss. In fact, after a couple weeks, the body completely adapted, cutting energy levels, making the participants lethargic and chronically cold, and the weight loss slowed to a crawl or halted altogether.  The subjects also became obsessed with food to the point that many had complete mental breakdowns. After the completion of the six month study, all rebounded and gained, on average 10 pounds above their pre-study starting weight.

Does this sound like the dietary woes we have all heard of and experienced?

Furthermore, many studies have confirmed that overweight or obese people don't necessarily consume more calories than those who are not.

The basic concept of needing to expend more energy than you take in still stands. BUT - it is impossible for anyone to exactly and consistently calculate their actual energy expenditure on any given day, let alone over a period of time. Those calculators on the treadmills and on websites are estimates based on models.  They are directionally correct for populations, but exactly wrong for individuals.

If not calorie counting, then what?

So if the NEJM is finally refuting the concept of sustained weight loss based on reduced calories consumed or increased calories burned, and this is supported by our own observation time and time again, what do we do about it? For starters, stop counting. It makes people crazy and it doesn't work.

The heart of our obesity problem is not total calories, but the quality of those calories we take in. Studies on metabolic syndrome have repeatedly shown that the heart of the issue is a sustained bombardment on our systems of sugars and refined carbohydrates. Our body does its best to deal with the issue, but over time, the overload takes its toll. The liver becomes fatty, your muscles become resistant to insulin, your hormone levels are impacted, and LDL cholesterol goes through the roof.

Consider this: what would it take to remove 80-90% of the refined carbohydrates and sugars from your daily consumption and replace them with foods your body can actually use? It requires a mindset change and some planning, but are baguettes, bagels, potatoes, and white rice worth the road to diabetes? All we have to do to reverse the damage is stop inflicting more damage. Once your metabolism is no longer at war with you, you might be surprised to see the weight steadily coming off.

I'm not saying to purge any and all carbohydrates from your diet. You need them. Just choose the ones that have the lowest glycemic index: vegetables, whole grains (actual whole grains, not a label on a box), and fruits in moderation.

In upcoming posts, I will be publishing a three-part series called Mastering your Macronutrients, which is aimed at equipping people to make the very best selections for their health possible.  In the meantime, keep reading, learning, and sharing what you find.  Together we can overcome this.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Ladies, lift heavy (for you) things!

Before you completely move to a different blog or go back to FB to laugh at a cute puppy photo, give me a few minutes and let me explain.  I’m not asking you to give up your fitness routine, whatever it may be, that keeps you sane.  We all have the things we do because we love them and they keep us from killing people, so I completely understand keeping your yoga class, your run or whatever it might be.  I’m asking you to give lifting weights a try as well.

I am not going to sell you on health specifics as to why lifting weight is good for you, because there is good reputable information out there to endorse it, from the Center for Disease Control to Wikipedia and everything in between.  

I’m simply going to sum it up for you.  Lifting weights will raise your basal metabolic rate (boost your metabolism), increase bone density, make you stronger to take on life, and improve range of motion and balance.  These are only a few of the physical aspects that it can affect.  I was getting heartburn 3 or 4 times a week.  I was waking up repeatedly through the night and it was taking me forever to get to sleep.  I also noticed my PMS symptoms were getting worse.  Since I started eating better and working out, all of these physical conditions have disappeared.  I sleep for 8-9 hours a night and feel great when I wake up.

One of the things that is rarely discussed is how lifting can affect you psychologically.  I feel much more capable and confident than I ever have before.  It gives you pride in your body because you made it that way.  The moment you go up in weight will make you feel like you can take on the world.  Being a strong woman is awesome. I now want to get out and try other things because of my improved confidence level. 

I am on a social networking site for fitness and health called Fitocracy and I repeatedly see women concerned about getting “bulky” from lifting weights.  This is far from the truth.  Women don’t have the hormonal make-up to layer on muscle; strength training results in a leaner physique. It will change your body substantially more, and more rapidly, than a cardio-only or cardio-based fitness plan. You will not get big, you will not get bulky.  There is one caveat to this statement:  if you don’t lose the fat sitting on top of the muscle you will “bulk up”.  You can’t out-train a bad diet. Read our previous posts, "Our Healthy Transformation (Part 4)", and "Where do we Start? (Part 1)", for nutrition planning.

I also see many women asking about getting “toned”.  Toned doesn’t mean anything.  You either lose fat or gain fat.  You can either lose muscle or gain muscle.  As you lose fat, your skin starts to get loose and jiggly (“jiggly” is my own made up word for loose skin that just jiggles around).  The tone you speak of is building muscle to make your body solid.

I also hear some of you saying, “Well, I use the machines and lift weights so I’m good right?”  Free weights are far better for you than machines.  Those machines isolate one muscle at a time, but also put you in awkward positions.  Those machines do not imitate any movement you will ever do in real life.  Lifting with free weights not only engages the primary muscles for an exercise, but also the stabilizing muscles. 

Whether you realize it or not, you have already worked out with free weights.  How many of us have bent over and picked up a small child?  If you are using the correct form, bending your knees and not your back, you are performing a deadlift. 

The next thing I commonly hear is that the gym and specifically the free weight room are intimidating.  I completely understand this feeling.  First, remember everyone starts somewhere.  You are taking control of your health, strength and appearance.  Just taking that first step can seem almost impossible, but you are doing more than people sitting on a couch.  I promise you it will get much easier and before long you will march in there like you own the place because, well, you do. 

Now that you’re committed and want to do this you’re asking well, where do I start?  I'm glad you asked!  Our "Where do we Start? (Part 2)" post gives you everything you need to set up your own starter program.

The next thing I want to discuss is how much weight to use.  When you start doing an exercise, if you can do that exercise with the weight you are using over 12 times, then you need to use more weight.  So, let’s say you’re starting to bench press and you’re using dumbbells.  You go over and pick up 2 10lb dumbbells (because we all underestimate ourselves) and you can do 20 reps.  Well, that means you need to add more weight.  You should barely be able to finish off your set of 10.  I had very little upper body strength to begin with; I started out bench pressing with 2 17.5lb dumbbells.  I’m now up to using the bar and adding weight.  I can do 70 pounds, so I have doubled the weight I can do in 6 months!  Move away from the colored weights made for women (don’t get me started on this subject) and lift heavy (for you) weight.

I know some of you really like your cardio.  Personally I don’t understand that because I hate it.  I spent 22 years in the military and if I never jog again it will be too soon.   If you must do cardio, do it after you lift weights (if it has to be on the same day).  You don’t have to do cardio to change your body and lose fat.  But if you want to do cardio, don’t exceed more than 30 minutes at a go.  I personally prefer sprint intervals and do that on the days I’m not lifting.  I understand that many people are on a time crunch and still want to do cardio (for some unknown reason).  If you do both cardio and weights on the same day, then it’s weight lifting first and then cardio.  You will be more able to handle the weight and you will be more ready to burn fat after lifting.

The last thing I want to discuss is sleep, get it!  When you lift weights you are basically damaging your muscle.  When you eat you are feeding it.  When you sleep your body is repairing your muscle.  Get 7-9 hours/night. Sleep is the best thing in the world for you, and you probably don’t get enough. Make it a priority. You will not see progress in the gym or in your body without adequate rest.

These are the basics.  I love weightlifting.  It has given me the ability to reshape my body.  I have now lost the fat I wanted to lose and I’m in the process of putting on more muscle.  This journey has helped me love my body.  I no longer nitpick it and only see the things I want to change.  When I get done lifting I see a strong, capable body.  I see a body that squats 135lbs and deadlifts 165lbs.  I see a body I have shaped and earned.  I see a strong, beautiful woman.  Isn’t that what we all want?

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Obesity Epidemic Rests on Gen X's Shoulders

Today's post lies at the heart of why we decided to launch a blog on health and fitness. It is something we are extremely passionate about, as it has impacted us personally in a number of ways. So much so, in fact, that I'm going to go out on a limb and ask our readers to consider sharing and forwarding this as widely as possible. As you know, we aren't selling or promoting anything other than getting people to take control of their health. I would be honored by your support.

Finally, Generation X is known for something

"X" became our label because the demographers didn't know what to do with us. We were a variable, a question mark. It seemed they felt we didn't stand for anything. Well - we do now.


We've all heard the statistics: over 30% of adults are obese in America. Diabetes is on the rise. And we, my fellow quadragenarians, are smack in the middle of it. We've even centered a top-rated reality television show around it!  If the trend of obesity and related metabolic and cardiovascular diseases is to be reversed, we will have to lead the way.

Not convinced? I'd like to share with you five reasons why Gen X-ers are the key.

40-somethings are in our prime earning years

This means we are paying the majority of the taxes over any demographic group, and we still have 20 or more years remaining in the active work force.  As a result, we are paying the lion's share of any current federal spending on health care, and will continue to do so for another two decades!  So even if the obesity crisis isn't currently affecting you - it still is.

Middle age means health costs and health concerns increase

Prostate exams, breast health screenings, oh yeah - we've all given them some thought. Annual checkups include earnest conversations about cholesterol levels and hypertension. And, for many, the idea of a gradual decline in general health is an accepted, inevitable outcome.  We pay for health and life insurance, and we all know that weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels are calculated directly into the rate they charge you.

As we continue to age, those "pre-conditions" are only going to exacerbate and cascade into new issues, making us less able to perform, possibly miss even more work for treatment and general sickness, and - yes - pay even more for the care we need as conditions worsen.  It's a spiral, and an expensive one.

The Affordable Care Act will redistribute costs to all of us

I'm an insurance guy. The principle on which insurance operates is statistical risk. Companies use complex models to estimate the total risk of their book of business and charge rates that balance the cost. Most use some form of tiering structure so that those who are statistically less risky pay less and those more likely to file a claim pay more. Nobody likes it, but its statistically fair and incredibly accurate. Universal care - love it or hate it - changes the risk pool to "everybody". As a result, people who were definite risks and therefore uninsurable before are now part of the book. Costs will go up to balance the equation.

Add to that the uncertainty surrounding Social Security and Medicare as we age, we just don't know what we can count on in terms of retirement support.

We started it

Before I explain, let me say that I am not commenting on the merits of the societal changes I'm pointing out.  They simply are a set of factors that lead us to present circumstances.

Our generation is where the obesity rise began.  From my observations, it seems clear that the women's liberation movements of the 60's that led to so many women turning to a career, changed us in some unexpected ways.  In a two-career home, time is a luxury.  Convenience foods at home and on the go became a staple of American eating and "just add water" became the standard in American cooking.

Our parents knew how to cook; they just didn't have time.  We - as a generation - grew up on those boxes with the foil flavor packets.  We have been raised with the innate assumption that cooking from scratch is "hard" and "time-consuming" and "inconvenient".  And, as a result, we have never had a handle on our nutrition.  Add to that the barrage of nonsense pop-culture pseudo-science that has been thrown at us our entire lives, and its no wonder we are clueless about nutrition.

Make no mistake, those processed, packaged foods, marketed as "healthy" are at the very center of the obesity issue.  I explain this position further in the post: "You are pre-diabetic - yes, you!"

We are raising the next, even fatter generation

Just as we are in our prime earning years, we are also in the middle of raising our families (some of us even have grandchildren already).  Obesity rates are projected to rise from an astounding 30% to a mind-boggling 50% over the next 15 years.  Costs associated with the continued trend are projected to be an additional $48-$66 billion a year, just in treatment alone.  

The First Lady of the United States is trying to mobilize America (literally) around the issue.  But the guidance is flimsy, conventional, and - well - wrong.  As parents, we know that our children build their lifelong habits at home.  If we can't manage our nutrition, our weight, and our health, how can we hope for them to?

We can FIX this!

The amazing thing about the entire problem is that it is entirely reversible!  There is NO secret! We don't need a wonder drug or to endure endless hours on the treadmill followed by a lettuce leaf and a cube of cheese.  You don't have to buy any program or subscribe to a plan.  Slim is simple!  By simply getting smart about how foods affect your body and thinking of food as fuel, you can transform your body, health, and vitality.  

We created 40SomethingFitness with a mission: to become the "bridge" between the athletic and results-oriented fitness communities, where these practices are put to use every day, and the mainstream world of our peers.  We want to help you learn for yourself how to take control of your body and stop feeling victimized and helpless to it.  At least twice a week, we will share with you our own learnings, experiences, and results in ways that make sense.  In ways that you can put to use in your own life every single day.

You will never have to subscribe to anything, buy our latest e-book, or purchase a plan or routine we recommend or discuss.  Just come back.  Start the conversation with your friends and loved ones.  Keep reading and keep learning.  

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Where do we start? (Part 2) - Training Program Fundamentals

We wrapped up our last post with: "you can't out-train bad nutrition." But, as critical as nutrition is, a well-formed training program is necessary to complete the circle. Or - rather - the triangle.

Nutrition, Training, and Rest - the fitness triad

Let's deal with "rest" right up front. Your training program, supported by your nutrition plan are going to be driving your body to adapt. You can only capitalize on those adaptations if you are getting sufficient amounts of quality sleep. Since six hours is the norm for many of us, this may seem a little daunting. Commit to getting a solid eight hours (or more if you can swing it) every night. That's what DVRs are for, right?

For Michelle and I, sleeping has always been an issue. We would collapse more out of mental exhaustion than anything else, and usually lie awake thinking about all the other things that needed to be taken care of. But, since we started training, we sleep like the dead. It's a different kind of tired than you may be used to, but a good one.

We have adopted the term "training" rather than "go to the gym" or "exercise." As you read more articles and forums, you'll see that's pretty common. Training implies a goal - a purpose. You've got a purpose: to get stronger, healthier, have more energy, enjoy life.

Training Principles

There are lots of good books you can buy or programs you can join online and almost infinite variations on them. If I was going to point you to one, I'd probably recommend "New Rules of Lifting", but we're going to cover some of the basics here.

Note: we will assume that you have no experience in the gym and just cover everything from scratch. Also, if you're not interested in or able to join a gym, fear not! You can do all of this at home with minimal equipment or use a body weight regime, such as "You Are Your Own Gym". The same principles apply.

Key Terms:

  • Repetition (rep): One complete cycle of an exercise. (Pickin' it up and puttin' it down).

  • Set: one full count of reps. Most routines involve "x" sets of "y" reps, so you go back to that same exercise "x" number of times. You'll see this expressed as 5x5 or 3x10 (five sets of five reps and three sets of ten reps, respectively).

  • Super Set: combining multiple sets of exercises targeting different groups one after the other, before returning to the next set of the original exercise. The workout below allows you to pair exercises into super sets for a more time-efficient workout while still resting the muscle between sets.

Scheduling/Duration: Arrange your training sessions to fit into 5-6 days a week, one hour per day. More than that and you're going to be interfering with your recovery. There's good evidence that you get diminishing returns pretty quick beyond this point anyway. If you work out for an hour and feel like you should be going longer, that just means you get to up the intensity next time. Mixed blessing, I know.

Arrangement of your routine: Each routine should have a specific purpose that is planned out in advance. For strength days, you should focus on two muscle groups, preferably in opposition to each other, like biceps/triceps, chest/back, for example. This allows you to alternate exercises and rest one muscle group while working another. Each muscle group should get no more than three exercises per day. You only have to work out a particular muscle group once every 5-7 days to see gains. For cardio days, consider doing an ab routine before hitting your cardio routine.

Choosing your weight: You want to select a weight that's heavy for you. By heavy, I mean that, somewhere around rep 8 or 9, it really starts to suck. That's the right level. When you can get to ten without it sucking, it's time to increase weight. This way you continue to build on the adaptation you've created. Your workout never really gets any easier, but it is incredibly satisfying to see the numbers steadily go up.

In the guidelines I've outlined below, I've chosen dumbbell exercises, rather than barbell. There are a couple of reasons for this, but one of them is that you could easily stock your garage or rec room with the kind of weights you'd need.

Here are a couple of examples based on this guidance. All exercises can be found, complete with animated demos, on ExRx.net:

  • 5 Day Schedule: (3 Strength/2 Cardio) All exercises are three sets of 8-10 reps.

    • Monday: (Strength) Goblet Squats, Lunges, Step-ups

    • Tuesday: (Cardio) Crunches, Russian Twists, Leg Raises, then cardio per your preference. (Read "Why I abandoned jogging for HIIT" for my personal preference here.)

    • Wednesday: (Strength) Dumbbell bench press, seated rows, dumbbell flys, reverse flys, push-ups, let-me-ups

    • Thursday: (Cardio) - same as Tuesday

    • Friday: (Strength) side shoulder raises, dumbbell curls, front shoulder raises, pull-ups, dumbbell shoulder press, dumbbell curls.

  • 6 Day Schedule (3 Strength/3 Cardio) Same as above, except add another cardio day on Saturday.

  • 6 Day Schedule (4 Strength/2 Cardio)

    • Monday: (Cardio) Crunches, Russian Twists, Leg Raises, then cardio per your preference.

    • Tuesday: (Strength) Goblet Squats, Lunges, Step-ups

    • Wednesday: (Strength) Dumbbell bench press, seated rows, dumbbell flys, reverse flys, push-ups, let-me-ups

    • Thursday: (Cardio) - same as Monday

    • Friday: (Strength) side shoulder raises, dumbbell curls, front shoulder raises, pull-ups, dumbbell shoulder press, dumbbell curls.

    • Saturday: (Strength) barbell deadlift, shrugs, leg press, dumbbell bent rows

Why this works: Each of these routines rotates muscle groups with adequate recovery time and provides a variety of exercises to work the muscles in subtly different ways. Using dumbbells as the foundation allows anyone to begin training at virtually any weight load. Just as importantly, working with dumbbells helps develop smaller supporting muscles through the control of the weights independently. This last point is often overlooked in someone starting weight training later in life with a decade or two of relatively sedentary living behind them.

Follow your routine for at least a month before considering switching. Remember, you're building specific adaptations (getting stronger) in response to specific exercises, so you need to repeat the routine enough to reinforce the adaptation before changing things up.

Keep a log. Write down your weights and reps for each day you train. It can be as simple as a spiral notebook. This lets you go back and review your progress - what worked and what didn't. Keep notes to yourself about how you felt during a particular routine as well. It will give you clues later.

If you feel you are in better shape or have some (not too distant) experience in the weight room, and you feel like you'd like to try something more challenging, then consider the "Starting Strength" program. It's very tried and true and simple to follow, but it will require access to a full set of Olympic weight equipment.

On soreness

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) is something I think we are all familiar with. After a day of overdoing it, you wake up the next morning walking like Rip Van Winkle. It can be really discouraging at first. To deal with DOMS you need to do four things:

  1. Have Motrin (or your preferred alternative) ready

  2. Drink LOTS of water

  3. Treat especially sore spots with ice packs, not heat.

  4. Keep moving! The fastest way to defeat DOMS is to keep those muscles busy to break up the lactic acid buildup.

That's it for today's post. Keep those cards and letters coming. And stay tuned for upcoming posts on motivation, women and weightlifting myths, book reviews and more.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Okay - so where do we start?

For those of you who have kept up with our journey so far, first let me offer my thanks. Being able to share what has become a true passion for us has been, in itself, hugely rewarding.

But - our goal here at 40SomethingFitness is to inspire others to achieve their own goals. Inspiration is fine and good, but we all need specifics at times. So, if we've achieved the "inspiration" part and you're ready to start taking steps, here are a few things to get you going.

Step 1: Making the commitment to a better you

Okay - this may not feel like you're actually "doing" anything, but I'm convinced that this is worth investing some real time to dealing with. What do I mean by commitment? I think it encompasses all of these things:

  • Understand why you are committed to a better you. For us, we were tired of being tired, unhappy with our bodies, and riding the roller coaster of "feed and crash." What is it for you? Be specific about what you want to change. Picture it clearly and, maybe, even write a letter to yourself.

  • Understand where this commitment fits in with your other life's priorities. Let's face it, we're all pretty busy and we have a lot of obligations to others in our life. But you're going to have to make choices in the near future. The demands on your time will not ease up. When our trainer asked us separately to rate our commitment on a scale of 1-10, we both said "eight, because life happens and things come up." So - which things will come up that you will let your priorities shift. Because, honestly, most demands on your time will adjust for you if you stand your ground.

  • Understand when you can fit your commitment into your schedule. Everyone has their preferences about the best time to train, but the truth is the best time is when YOU can train.

When you have a serious talk with yourself about your level of commitment, you have a pretty fair idea of how far you will go to make it happen. Set yourself up for success - a permanent transformation to a better you.

Step 2: Put together your nutrition plan

In Part 3 of our Healthy Transformation story, we outlined a number of nutritional approaches and our take on each of them, ending up with the guidelines we follow. If you haven't read that yet, and you don't know where to start, I recommend taking a few minutes reading the overview.

If you have any health issues, especially metabolic or cardiovascular issues, make sure your doctor is aware of changes in your diet, so you can discuss impacts to medications or other possible changes.

These are our recommendations for healthy adults who will be combining a nutrition and fitness regime for weight loss:

  • Emphasize protein first at every meal. Protein helps build muscle and keeps you full. Breakfast foods like yoghurt and eggs are great alternatives to cereal. Try and leave the breads and buns behind at lunch.

  • Get creative at adding veggies everywhere you can. Fresh spinach goes on a lot of things. Cauliflower is deeply under-appreciated. And you can make a stir-fry out of just about anything in the crisper drawer in about 10 minutes.

  • Eat some fruit - not a ton - but some. Berries are best.

  • Make any grains you eat the closest thing to the whole form possible.

  • Ditch soda and sweetened beverages in favor of water and/or unsweet tea. It's quite simply the easiest way to remove a lot of calories from your daily intake, and the sugar spikes are awful for a healthy metabolism.

  • If you can afford it, switch fresh or fresh frozen ingredients for things that come in a box. The amount of hidden sugars and other interesting chemical components make sticking to a nutrition plan much more difficult.

Step 3: Implement your nutrition plan.

  • Plan your meals. Especially as you're getting started and changing your default selections, you may not have everything on hand that you need to cook differently. A meal plan at least a couple of days into the future will help you ensure you have your macro nutrient priorities (protein, fat, carbs) in order and key ingredients in your fridge.

    • NOTE: If you're an iOS user, the free app MyFood (among others) is a handy way to check the nutritional content of fresh foods and ingredients.

  • Cook things in bulk. Having key elements in place and ready to use will make meal prep easier and take away the temptation to go back to old habits. We make the following things ahead of time to cover three or four meals' worth:

    • Chicken breast - sliced into 1" strips, seasoned and pan-grilled in olive oil. We use it in wraps, stir-fries, sandwiches (on homemade bread), and just on-the-fly.

    • Egg salad - six eggs at a time. Great for on-the-go protein in a hurry.

    • Mixed salad - we use Hefty or Debbie Meyer green bags and make up about a gallon of salad at a time. Takes minutes to throw in a bowl. Ten minutes if you boil an egg and dice up some of that pre-cooked chicken in the fridge.

    • Fresh salsa - very simple to make (we will share the recipe on a forthcoming page) and a great topping for just about anything. You'll never buy a jar again.

    • Steel cut oats (apples & cinnamon) - A cup of steel cut oats (dry) makes about six servings and it refrigerates and reheats beautifully.

    • Pot roast or carnitas - A large roast in the crock pot is about as effortless as it gets. We usually get about six servings out of a roast. Precooked, you have key ingredients for Philly cheesesteak, mexican style dishes, or just picked out of the bowl.

    • Snacks - we make roasted garbanzo beans and three-bean salad that make grazing healthy and tasty.

  • Plan for "temptation triggers". Having the right kinds of ingredients and prepared snacks readily available will keep you from wavering when you're thinking about that afternoon cookie at Starbucks. Make sure your food goes with you. Also, watch out for triggers based on routines or rituals. Where are you most likely to indulge in an impulse snack? For me, it used to be the after-work gas or grocery run. I still look extra hard at the Whatchamacallit bars at the quicky-mart.

  • Purge your pantry. You're not on a "diet". You're not in food jail, some day to be let out for good behavior. You're changing your nutrition to feed and nourish your body machine. Being respectful of your budget, get rid of any of the Hamburger Helper, Cheese Nips, chips, and other nutritional crud that doesn't fit into your plan. Donate it if you'd prefer not to waste it. But you don't need it. It's another step of a full mental commitment to turning over a new leaf.

  • Get involved, get inundated.

    We've published a series of links that we like. Most of the sites are published in blog format that allow you to subscribe to updates daily. One of the great things about these authors is that they are not shy about sharing the sites and blogs they like. Then you're running with scissors.

    Among these links, you will find access to some great recipes to help with your meal planning. As they are fitness-focused, the recipes are composed and explained in a way to make the task easier (macro nutrient breakdown, calorie count, and usually fresh ingredients). We have stolen liberally from many of them. Fun fact: eating healthy is not bland, boring, self-denial. It's delicious!

    I believe this is an important step. To change your mindset, you've got to change your context. Opening a world where people eat, sleep, and breathe fitness is a powerful way to impact how (and how much) you think about the subject.

    But what about the gym?

    You can't out-train a poor diet. No amount of work you do, no training program you can conceive will give you the kind of progress you want if your kitchen isn't in order. This is a journey; it involves some monumental changes in attitude and behavior. Taking things in steps and making incremental changes will allow you to adjust and make you more successful in the long run.

    In upcoming posts, we will break down the elements of an effective training program.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

And the Results are in!

I always love those small-font disclaimers on television ads.
"Professional driver on a closed course."  
"Wim Hoff is a professional. You are not. Do not attempt." 

But there's one that gets my hackles up:
"Results not typical."

You know the ones I'm talking about.  Every weight loss commercial out there.  They want you to buy their product, but then don't offer the results.  They show you exactly what you want to see in "before" and "after" pictures, but are quick to point out that they probably can't get you there.

As I've said in previous posts, Michelle and I are results-oriented.  So, when we made our choices on selecting a training and nutrition program, we sought out people for whom results are not only typical, but expected.  And I'm sure you feel the same way.  If you're going to continue investing your time in visiting with us, then you probably want to know "does this stuff really work?"

Us before we started.  A little painful to look at now

By the numbers:

July 2012:
  • Michael: 159 lb., 14.5% body fat, 33+" waist.
  • Michelle: 154 lb., 33% body fat, size 10
January 2013:
  • Michael: 147 lb., 6.9% body fat, 29" waist.
  • Michelle: 127 lb., 18% body fat, size 4
  • Both: increased percentage and total weight from lean muscle mass

Let me put this in perspective.  These numbers represent the best shape of our adult lives!  We haven't looked or felt this good - well - ever.

But wait, there's more!

July 2012:
  • Frequent heartburn (Michelle)
  • Chronic low back pain (Michael)
  • Trouble sleeping/staying asleep (Both)
  • General lack of energy, "roller coaster" energy, paired with "food comas" (Both)
  • Sagging self-esteem, body image (Both)

January 2013:
  • No heartburn
  • No back pain
  • Sleep like the dead! (and love it!)
  • Plenty of energy, all day, every day - no "low spots"
  • Loving posting progress pics!

This time, results are typical.

I believe that Michelle and I are pretty much dead center of the bell curve in terms of genetics.  Our parents are in marginal health, we are of average height and build, and we didn't really take that great care of our bodies throughout our twenties and thirties.  I'm a statistics guy.  The bell curve principle says that about 65% fall within the "hump" of the bell curve.  That means, as a population, they're similar to "average us".  15% should be somewhat better in performance and 15% should be somewhat worse.  At either end, 2% each comprise the top and bottom performers.  That means that 98% of people should see at least "some good" results from adopting a program like ours.  Those are pretty good odds.

The time is now.

Let's face it: we aren't getting any younger.  But that doesn't mean we have to accept the conventional mythology that we are in decline and shouldn't expect anything better.  Our health forms the foundation of every aspect of our lives: work, play, financial planning, longevity, and setting an example for the future.  No matter how busy we are, there's just no escaping the fact that health is an overriding priority.

In future posts, we will be sharing a list of motivators for you to examine and compare to your own life, as well as some very specific guidance on getting started.  

Remember: The best "you" that you can be. Period.  

Monday, February 4, 2013

Our Healthy Transformation (part 4) - Choosing a Nutrition Plan

Welcome back to the final installment of Our Healthy Transformation series.  When I first set out to write these, my driving goal was to share our story and get people thinking about what they could do to change their own bodies and lives.  I mean, if we can do it, then anybody can.  

As Michelle and I were discussing how to wrap up the series, it felt important to give you the details and tools we used to develop our own approach to nutrition and training.  Because, at the end of the day, it has to be yours if you're going to own it, nurture it, make it grow and improve over time.  If you're just following someone else's plan then there's no accountability and no permission.  If it doesn't work, then you can safely blame the source for "giving you a crappy plan."  Worse, if it "almost" works, you don't feel empowered to make the tweaks to make it really sing for you.  

So - the blame is officially on you from this point out.  Just kidding... sort of.

Our grocery store assault plan - work the perimeter!

Major Nutritional Plans:

Now let's get something out right up front.  We didn't even bother with the "Flat belly in 5 days" or "Burn your buns off" so-called diet plans out there - and I don't think you should either.  These things are fad and fluff and if there is anything in one of them that happens to be right-minded, well, even a broken clock is right twice a day.  

We also don't much care for the word "diet".  Though technically correct, it still has been sufficiently corrupted by the commercial fit/fad industry to sour about any meaningful conversation on the subject.  We have nutritional goals to support, sustain, and strengthen our bodies.  We meet those goals with a nutrition plan that gives us the ground rules to fill our fridge and our ever-hungry bellies.  

Standard American Diet (S.A.D): According to an article published in the journal Nutrition in Clinical Practice"on any given day, Americans consume an average of 265 g of carbohydrate (50% of total calories), 78.3 g of total fat (33% of total calories), and 78.1 g of protein (15% of total calories)."  This is your typical: boxed cereal for breakfast, sandwiches on processed white breads for lunch, and refined white carbohydrates as a side item with practically every meal.  Its also nominally aligned with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA). The article sums it up this way: "Americans consume far more total grains (including those from refined sources) and fewer whole grains than currently recommended."
     Our take on it: This is the nutrition plan that caused us, along with much of America, to gain weight. It is predicated on the assertion of one Ancel Keys et. al. that meats and the saturated fats that come with them are the primary contributors to heart disease in western nations. In recommending a reduction of fat consumption, something had to replace the calories. The (according to Keys) obvious choice was to increase the intake of (in their opinion, benign) carbohydrates, such as wheat-based products to prevent caloric malnutrition. When coupled with the American predilection for processed, packaged, and fast foods, this is a formula for a lot of low-nutrient, empty calories that attack your metabolism in progressively more vicious ways.

Portion/calorie control (e.g. Weight Watchers, Nutrisystem): These diets are based on a couple fundamental premises: (1) that weight loss is a matter of managing calories in vs calories out; and (2) that weight loss itself is simply a matter of pounds coming off. Essentially, these programs are telling you that you're fat because you're a glutton. These dietary plans also follow the Dietary Guidelines, as much to avoid liability as any particular nutritional belief system.
     Our take on it: These diets oversimplify the real mechanisms for weight loss and operate on the assumption that your body functions EXACTLY like everyone else's. Furthermore, they take the responsibility for understanding and defining how you fuel your body off your shoulders, and, in my opinion, you should NEVER let that happen to you.

Low Carb (e.g. Atkins, Beach Body): These diets are based on the concept that flour-based products (refined carbohydrates) are an unnecessary component of a person's diet and that weight loss results from a severe restriction of any of these in your nutrition plan.
     Our take on it: While we are on board with the concept that refined carbohydrates are unnecessary and potentially even harmful when consumed at the levels of the average American, the diet plan is still essentially a calorie restriction plan through the elimination (mostly) of a single macro nutrient. Also, the mindset up front is "you can't eat this," which is all-too-often doomed to failure. And, if you're pushing your body through physical training, you're going to need some carbohydrates to replenish your glycogen levels after a session.

Paleo/Primal: These nutrition plans are based on the idea that our bodies evolved to eat and move in a certain way and that we have strayed far from that, which is making us fat and sick. These are more than just "diets"; they are a lifestyle that propose a simpler, cleaner, more fundamental approach to life as a whole. The nutritional emphasis is on those things that anthropologists believe comprised the "hunter-gatherer" diet. Mark's Daily Apple is a great example of the paleo/primal lifestyle.
     Our take on it: There's a lot to like about the paleo approach. Foods that are based on natural, whole ingredients are more nutritionally dense, and the recipes are truly tasty. Nobody is advocating chewing tree bark. But, like I said, it's a lifestyle, and therefore driven as much by values as nutrition. It's not for everybody. And, as with most good ideas, it has been commoditized and commercialized in many forums to the point where the original principles are all but lost.

Organic: Proponents of organic diets will often (but not always) claim that organic food is inherently better for your body, due to the absence of hormones, chemicals, pesticides, and genetic modifications. Usually these claims are coupled with the idea that organic farming is "better for the environment". For the most part, there is little nutritional difference between organically and conventionally grown/raised foods. Like paleo/primal, the decision to go organic is more one of personal values rather than strictly a dietary choice.
     Our take on it: Absent compelling science that differentiates organic foods from conventional in a nutritional sense, we are content being in the middle on this issue. Environmentally, "better" is subject to interpretation, as conventional farmers work extremely hard to make their operation as efficient and productive as possible. But, it is important to note that organic does not equal healthy. An all-organic meal can be just as nutritionally devoid as one made with similar conventional ingredients. And - for the increased cost associated with organic foods - you might get more bang for your buck in a traditional produce aisle.

Carb cycling: Carb cycling is favored by many weightlifters and body builders. It is a planned placement and portioning of carbohydrates (clean, whole, complex carbs, principally) in conjunction with your workout load. Heavy lifting/full body days are planned with more carbs following training, tapering down to low/no carbs on rest days. This type of cycling is used by those that are simultaneously trying to gain muscle and either lose or maintain fat levels without depleting muscular energy for training.
     Our take on it: We have implemented some "informal" carb cycling in our nutrition plan, specifically planning healthy whole carbohydrates (steel cut oats are a staple in our house) following heavy lifting days. Our diet is generally low-carb overall, especially in comparison to the S.A.D., so further restriction was neither necessary nor pleasant for us. It is a very useful exercise to plan the placement of your macro nutrients where you need them most and to be more aware of what your body needs to get through your day.

Intermittent Fasting: IF has become increasingly popular of late and has spawned a lot of variations. The idea behind it is to intentionally create a period (which varies a lot depending on your approach) where you don't eat. This allows your body to process any excess nutrients in your system, transfer over to a mode of body fat consumption, and essentially "clear up" any metabolic effects of your diet, such as insulin levels. It's difficult to point to a single authoritative reference, but Mark's Daily Apple has a good entry-level overview.
     Our take on it:  We work out six days a week.  On those days, we have a pre-workout shake in the morning and a post-workout meal as soon as we get back from the gym.  Saturday is our rest day.  We didn't set out do intentionally include IF, but, as it turns out, we have about a 15-hour fast between Friday dinner and Saturday breakfast.  Its just a natural rhythm that we have gotten into.  We both like this "unofficial" IF, because we aren't clock-watching for the moment we can eat again.  It just works for us.

Ketogenic: Your body can pull and produce sugar to use for energy in brain and muscle tissue four different ways. If you take low-carb to its ultimate extreme, the body transitions over to a mode called ketosis. Ketones are your body's ultimate survival mechanism during lean times. In order to make sure you keep your caloric intake high enough, practitioners of ketosis increase fat and protein consumption dramatically. Dr. Peter Attia is a highly reputable advocate for and practitioner of a Ketogenic diet.
     Our take on it: Putting and keeping yourself in ketosis is a dramatic change to what most are accustomed to. A person should make sure that he/she is otherwise healthy, especially in a metabolic sense (blood sugar, cholesterol) prior to considering this approach. It also involves some pretty meticulous attention to everything you eat. For people who are engaged in strength training, the lack of readily available carbohydrates is going to be an issue. Still, there's a very strong case for people who are ready to make the commitment to this lifestyle for long-term fat loss.

Macro-nutrient Portioning (the Zone Diet): Focusing on the relative proportions of calories consumed in terms of macro nutrients (protein, fats, carbohydrates) in your diet is another common practice of weight lifters and body builders. You'll note in the description of the S.A.D., the macro nutrient breakdown was 50% carb (mostly the empty, refined kind), 33% fats, and 15% protein. Commonly, trainers recommend 40/30/30 split in different combinations, depending on needs and goals. Okay - stay with me here; there's math involved.

  • A gram of proteins or carbs has 4 calories. Fats have 9 calories per gram
  • Someone looking to gain muscle consumes (rule of thumb) about one to 1 1/2 grams per day of their target weight.
  • I'm looking for 160 lbs, so that's 640-960 calories daily from protein.
  • If that's my 40%, then I should be looking for 480 calories each for my fats and carbohydrates, for a total of 1600-1920 calories daily.
  • To round it out, that's 53 grams daily of fats and 120 grams of carbohydrates.

Or, we could make it simpler and say: compose your meal plate with principally protein, followed by fats and lastly carbohydrates in roughly 40/30/30 proportions.

     Our take on it: Your body is a machine. It needs different components supplied to different systems in order to function effectively. You wouldn't put engine oil in your gas tank would you? Why not? Petroleum products are petroleum products, right? Of course not, that's ridiculous! So why on earth would anyone assume that all calories are created equal? They aren't. Everyone should be cognizant and planful about the macro nutrient composition of their diet.

Also - pure calorie counting is technically impossible, since there are so many variations in what you eat (differences in water content in vegetables, for example, changes the weight, but doesn't impact the caloric content). And your body is wondrously adaptable, so don't count on your daily caloric burn, even with complex calculations, to be precise. So, count calories to get a directional indication of your consumption level. but if you want proof - trust your waistband above all else.

Clean eating: This is an "oldie but a goodie" in not just weight lifting, but pretty much all athletic circles. It has been refreshed by fitness coach Tosca Reno.  The clean eating principle is pretty simple: choose foods that are as close to their original, recognizable form as possible. Fresh meats and fish, fresh produce, eggs, and fresh dairy are your staples. You eliminate pretty much everything from your diet that comes out of a box or plastic bag. Anything that is packaged is in its least processed possible form (steel cut oats instead of rolled or instant, for example).
     Our take on it: We adhere to this principle as much as possible. The beauty of clean eating is that you know exactly what ingredients are in your food. Every choice you have is nutrient-dense and valuable to your body. No dimethyl sodium phosphate or other similarly unpronounceable un-food ingredients. In fact, if you eat clean, you may find that you have to be creative to reach your caloric goal, rather than struggling to find ways to reduce your intake. It makes any other dietary approach simpler, because you're in control.

How does this all add up for us?

We've tried to become informed about as many reputable nutritional approaches as possible. From them, we have made our own decisions and choices that work best for our bodies and our lifestyle. It's a combination of the best ideas from many schools of thought.

I sum it up this way: We eat with purpose. We removed just about all refined sugar, flour, and rice from our diet.  We use fresh ingredients to prepare simple and healthy food that meets our bodies' needs for training and for life. We emphasize protein with every meal (meat, cheese, eggs), get as many servings of vegetables as possible (veggies are carbohydrates - isn't that great?), use fruit sparingly, focusing on berries, and get enough additional fresh, whole grain carbohydrates to keep us going. We eat five meals a day, including a morning protein shake before workouts and a mid-afternoon snack. Nothing we eat is low-fat or non-fat, because our bodies need a certain amount of that essential macro nutrient. Some of it is organic, some of our recipes are paleo, but all of it supports the body machine and our goals.

What does it mean for YOU?

We have found our winning combination. Eating this way, we have cut each of our body fat percentages in half from a starting point just six months ago. Will our approach be exactly the same as yours? Probably not. In fact, I hope not. Finding your own answers and building your own plan will make it yours. And, when you own it, you will guard it, defend it, and make it better. That's what we all want, isn't it?