Tuesday, August 12, 2014

On the Trail

I first started running 21 years ago at the tender age of 16. In desperate need to shed some weight, running seemed like the best form of exercise to undertake. In conjunction with a couple of hours of bike riding (both stationary and 18-speed) per day, I I managed to shed 60 pounds that spring and early summer.

I've been running ever since, even as I gained back (and lost and gained and lost and gained and lost) the weight. The thing is, until about six years ago I never ran more than a few miles without stopping or walking. As a teenager I would walk the two and a half miles to the park, then start my running - one loop around the park at around 1.25 miles, plus the distance back. For most of my twenties when I ran it was usually a long combination of running and walking. It wasn't until Super Bowl Sunday, 2008 (the Giants shock the undefeated Patriots) that I finally ran more than five miles uninterrupted.

Since that day I've consistently been able to run without more than cursory walk stops, although there have been a few 90+ degree days after which I realized I shouldn't be out on the trail. By the end of 2008 I was running five times a week, and capped it off by running a half marathon length on the trail. The marathon was next.

And then kids happened. They say husbands often gain sympathy weight during pregnancy. I didn't - but did afterwards. My running became more sporadic. I was still able to run 7 or even 8 miles when I could find the time, but finding such time was becoming rarer and rarer. Finally, after the birth of our third child, I resolved to stop making excuses. I spent the winter shedding most of the weight I had gained back since the birth of our first child, and then vowed that I would get into marathon shape.

And so here I am, almost halfway through 18-weeks of semi-rigorous training. I decided to follow Hal Higdon's Novice 2 training schedule. It's geared for people like me who have never run a marathon but who have experience running. At this point in the training I am running not quite 30 miles a week, which is not stupendously rigorous. This past Saturday I ran 15 miles, which is the longest I have run at any point in my life, and there are longer runs ahead.

The only thing I have sacrificed is sleep. My alarm gets me out of bed by 5:30 most mornings, and thus far I have managed to stifle those internal voices telling me to just hit snooze and forget about working out. It hasn't been that difficult to rouse myself, as I frankly look forward to running and sort of resent my non-running days (which are three days out of the week).

Only once in the nine weeks so far have I thought to myself, "Why the hell am I doing this?" It came in the middle of a particularly 12-mile run, and I imagine it will cross my mind again as the long runs get longer. But as long as I have some good tunes and a peaceful trail at my disposal, I'm feeling good.

At any rate, nine weeks from this Saturday I will be running the Baltimore Marathon. If I finish the thing in under five hours I'd be pretty happy, and I'd be ecstatic with 4.5 hours. Then again, as long as I finish the damned thing, I think I will feel some sense of accomplishment.

Almost there.

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Basic Tenets of BBQism

Sorry for the very extended delay. I've found that once you let a blog go for a few days, it is hard to get back in the game. Hopefully now that I am fully in the middle of a marathon training (more in a future post) I will have some more things to share.

This post is a random assortment of observations and pet peeves that will hopefully serve as some kind of guidance.

1.  Enough with the no-fat nonsense.
I was corrected on Facebook for particularly focusing on yogurt as there may be some practical reasons for the existence for non-fat yogurt, but in general non-fat stuff is simply crap. Not only does non-fat food usually taste significantly worse than full-fat food, it's not any healthier. Calories are what counts, not necessarily where the calories are from, and non-fat stuff is usually loaded up with sugar. In the end, you are consuming just about the same amount of calories. What's more, fat tends to fill you up more than sugar, so you are likely to get hungrier quicker if you go with the non-fat option. Finally, who wants to taste a dry, 90% lean burger when you can have a glorious 80% or even 75% lean one?

2. Dieting isn't what you think it is.
This is connected to the first point. You might think that in order to lose weight you need to stop eating things like bacon and eggs and replace these items with "healthy" alternatives. In some cases you may have to, but that is rarely the case. People overestimate how many calories are in things like bacon and eggs and underestimate how much are in other products. Four slices of bacon add up to approximately 200-250 calories, depending on the cut. Two whole eggs are about 150 calories total, and less than half than that if you only eat the whites (which is frankly where a lot of the nutrition is). So a breakfast of bacon and eggs will be anywhere between 300-500 calories, depending on how you prepare it. That "healthy" muffin might contain as many calories if not more, and it will not fill you up or keep you as full as the alternative. Even a fruit smoothie will probably contain as many, if not more calories. Now, there are other reasons to go with the fruit smoothie (like the vitamins), but calories shouldn't be why.

Long story short, the key to dieting is keeping careful track of what you eat. If you need to write down what you eat, especially at the beginning, in order to track your calories, that's all well and good. The main thing is that you at least don't intake more calories than you burn if you're goal is weight maintenance, and to burn more calories than you consume if your goal is weight loss. It doesn't exactly matter what you eat, which brings me to point number three.

3. Fad diets will fail.
If you're on a diet that requires you to stop eating entire categories of food, it almost certainly will not work in the long run. I am sympathetic to some of the specialized diets that are out there, especially the paleo diet. There are definitely foods that do pack more nutritional punches than others, and if you are on a strict calorie count you need to economize on the foods you eat, so it is wise to avoid those sugar-laden, processed foods. But are you going to tell me that potatoes and legumes are completely out? Please. You shouldn't have to walk around with a list in order to decide whether or not you can eat something. Not only is it going to prevent you from eating relatively healthy foods, but it will eventually simply drive you mad, until you crack, eat the forbidden food, and despair that you have blown your diet.

Even worse than ditching food categories are ditching food elements, which leads me to item four . . .

4. Stop it with the gluten free stuff already.
Unless you are gluten sensitive or have celiac disease, knock it off with the gluten free madness. First of all, half the stuff that gets labelled "gluten free" couldn't possibly have gluten. Oh, you went to Whole Foods and spent an extra five bucks for that "gluten free" steak. Good for you, now here's a smack for being an idiot. More importantly, gluten is just a protein. The thing itself has no adverse impact on your diet, unless of course you are in the aforementioned categories. Maybe it's the entire loaf of bread that you ate that's causing you indigestion, not the gluten that's in it.

5. Stop listening to fraudulent experts.
This one's dangerous because here I am giving you advice, and I have no scientific or health background, but at least I'm not pretending to be an expert. But when a business major who goes around calling herself the "Food Babe" declares that certain foods are dangerous because they contain chemicals she's never heard of, somehow millions of people listen. Yeah, we better look out that dihydrogen monoxide, it sure looks suspicious.

Folks like the Food Babe have led efforts to warn people about the supposed dangers of genetically modified foods. Of course these people pose as experts despite lacking any relevant expertise, meanwhile they get rich by ripping off dupes getting people to buy their organic and "wholesome" products.

Let's settle this now - there is no credible evidence indicating that GMO products are a greater health risk than organic food. Now if you want to spend double buying organic because it soothes your conscience, that's on you, just don't manipulate people into thinking they are improving their health or frankly that the food tastes significantly better. And please don't brainwash people into thinking that something that literally feeds millions more people than traditional methods is somehow evil.

6. Don't obsess.
The worst thing you can do about food, dieting and health is to stress about it, because stress itself is bad for your health and bad for your diet. There is a lot of information out there, and a lot of different resources telling you completely contradictory things. What you need to do is find out what works for you, and stick to your program. That's it.

Now as my grandmother would say, MANGIA!

Friday, March 21, 2014

I Have Found My New Training Regimen

Memories, in the corner of my mind.
You better believe that little nine-year old Paulie was training, taking his vitamins, and saying his prayers.

Somewhere in my mother's house there is still a pair of blue, 3-pound barbells.

Say It Isn't So

I am shocked - SHOCKED! - that the results of a new study have challenged a long held health-related assumption. That so very rarely happens nowadays. At any rate, the latest news is that saturated fat may not be so bad for you after all.
Many of us have long been told that saturated fat, the type found in meat, butter and cheese, causes heart disease. But a large and exhaustive new analysis by a team of international scientists found no evidence that eating saturated fat increased heart attacks and other cardiac events.
The new findings are part of a growing body of research that has challenged the accepted wisdom that saturated fat is inherently bad for you and will continue the debate about what foods are best to eat.
Naturally this should be taken with a grain of salt (which, incidentally, has also been found to not be so deleterious to your health). Nor is the green light being given to eat cheesebugers morning, noon, and night. 
But Dr. Frank Hu, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, said the findings should not be taken as “a green light” to eat more steak, butter and other foods rich in saturated fat. He said that looking at individual fats and other nutrient groups in isolation could be misleading, because when people cut down on fats they tend to eat more bread, cold cereal and other refined carbohydrates that can also be bad for cardiovascular health.
“The single macronutrient approach is outdated,” said Dr. Hu, who was not involved in the study. “I think future dietary guidelines will put more and more emphasis on real food rather than giving an absolute upper limit or cutoff point for certain macronutrients.”
He said people should try to eat foods that are typical of the Mediterranean diet, like nuts, fish, avocado, high-fiber grains and olive oil. A large clinical trial last year,which was not included in the current analysis, found that a Mediterranean diet with more nuts and extra virgin olive oil reduced heart attacks and strokes when compared with a lower fat diet with more starches.
Here's an idea: Eat what you want, but don't eat too much of any single thing. That works pretty well for most people.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Breakfast of Champions


On Sunday I finally hit my goal weight. No, this was not my ultimate goal weight, but rather the weight at which it was now okay to once again eat donuts. So I grabbed my very excited five year old daughter* and headed to Dunkin' Donuts.

*If you want to get a child to get dressed and otherwise behave, promising donuts is the way to go. At least with my child.

So after four months I finally bit into a donut - a Vanilla Cream, followed by a Boston Cream. Hey, after four months, I was going to get my money's worth.

And I gotta sey: eh. Maybe I've lost the taste, but it now seems to me that there are better ways to spend 800 calories.

As for the John Belushi skit above, I indeed did run off all donut calories later that morning. So, at least for one day, donuts were on my training table.

Friday, February 28, 2014

It's Time to Explode Some Dieting Myths

Let's face it, we're fed a lot of bull-oney about dieting and proper nutrition. Not all of the myths perpetuated about dieting stem from malicious intent. Scientists conduct studies that seem to indicate one thing, and then later studies which are based on advances in technology and/or understanding contradict those earlier findings. What is infuriating is the refusal to let go of ways of thinking that have been proven to be wrong.

One prime example of this is the Body Mass Index, or BMI. BMI has been used for decades as a way of gauging whether or not a person is overweight or even - SHUDDER - obese. It has the advantage of being a fairly straightforward measure that makes some sense as it is arrived at by dividing a person's height in inches by their weight. A score between .18 and .25 is considered good. If you are between .25 and .30 you are considered overweight, and anything over .30 is considered obese.

Unfortunately real-life experience reveals the faults of this measurement. For instance, according to BMI I would be considered obese. I do happen to possess what is commonly referred to as a mirror, and I am fairly confident that, pudgy though I might remain even after losing 30 pounds, I am not obese. In fact I don't even think I would have qualified as obese pre-weight loss, but that might be a matter of conjecture.

Indeed BMI is just not a very useful tool when applied with people who have large frames or who are athletes. In fact, it is pretty much acknowledged to be - and I'm being charitable here - an incomplete measure of health and fitness. Just google "problems with BMI" and you'll get a ton of articles and links detailing all the faults with BMI. And yet doctors insist on relying on this fairly outdated measure when discussing your diet.

Enter Nir Krakauer who, with his father Jesse, has devised an alternative measurement called ABSI, which stands for A Body Shape Index. The background paper can be found at this link, and the actual calculator here. What they've done is tweak BMI, but in a way that intuitively makes sense, by adding waist circumference to the calculation. According to this measure I am now merely in the overweight category, and actually am above average (or I guess below avaerage, as it were) for my age group. Now I'm not promoting this just because it happens to put me in a better light, but rather because it makes intuitive sense and is backed up by reality. Now I'm sure that even this has its problems and faults, but it does seem to be an improvement over the traditional BMI.

On a slightly different note, it is clearly one of the missions of this blog to show that you don't have to just eat leafy greens in order to lose weight, and that meat is a perfectly healthy and acceptable part of any diet, granted that you eat in relative moderation. So I am pleased to link to this Business Insider article exploding 8 ridiculous myths about meat. The article is just wonderful, and this might just be the best part:

Quality meat is pretty close to being the perfect food for humans. It contains most of the nutrients we need. There is even a study in the literature where two guys ate nothing but meat and organs for a year and remained in excellent health (37).
All I can say to that is:

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Barbecuers Delight

I realize that I haven't lived up to the barbecue portion of the blog's title, so I'm gonna make up for that with a double treat: barbecued chicken and bacon.

All right, it's not bacon wrapped chicken, but rather me knocking out two glorious treats at once.

I've discussed smoked bacon before, but here is a visual to go along with it. In this particular case I rubbed sea salt, pink salt, and sugar on the pork belly a week before smoking. Then when it was time to put it in the smoker, I took it out of the fridge and rubbed a bit more salt and brown sugar on the belly. It's hard to see it in this picture, but the brown sugar becomes nicely carmelized as it smokes.

It took a little longer than usual to bring the pork belly up to the right temperature (around 150), but after two hours it was just right. And it was indeed spectacular.

The chicken recipe comes from the book Smoke and Spice. This has been my go-to guide for smoking since I began doing it a couple of years ago, and almost all of the recipes have been great. For the chicken, I applied a spice rub consisting of paprika, salt, pepper, sugar and a bunch of other spices the night before on both chickens. First, I melted some butter and Worcestershire sauce and rubbed it on the chicken, on and under the skin, and then applied the rub.

When the chicken was ready for the smoker, I re-rubbed a bit of the spice. I also cut up chunks of onions and lemon and inserted them into the cavities of each chicken. Once in the smoker, I applied a lemon-butter mop that includes melted butter, chicken stock, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, and the last bit of the rub.

After three and a half hours the chickens hadn't quite come up to temperature, so I put them in the oven to finish them off. I made some black sauce (Worcestershire sauce and vinegar) to go with them. In the end, they came out almost perfectly.

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Evolution of Running

So once upon a time, not that long ago, getting ready to go running meant putting on some old tee-shirt and elastic shorts, grabbing my walkmen, finding a mixed tape I wanted to listen to (pre-2006), and then heading out the door. These were much simpler times.

Fast forward to about six years ago when I began running with even greater frequency. It suddenly seemed like a good idea to wear shirts that were specifically designed for running. Considering that at my peak I was running 7-10 miles in the late afternoon on hot July days in the malarial swamp known as DC (and right next to the river), this was a good idea. I also got some fancy new running shorts and some socks specifically geared for running, and I was all set.

Then, after coming dehydrated after every run because all I had to drink were a few quick gulps at the water fountain, it made sense to start carrying a water bottle, and to have a fannypack (or something like it) in order to carry it. I can thank my wife for this wise investment, which did help improve my running performance.

Ah, but now in this advanced age I really want to be able to track my runs. Sure the trails I run on have mile markers, but not every step of the way is marked. I really want to know exactly how far I run, and it would also be nice to have each run recorded for posterity, tracking not only the miles but average pace and estimated calorie burn. So I downloaded the RunKeeper app, and have it set to go just as I walk out the door for my run. This does require me to have my smart thing (I've got a Galaxy Note, so calling it a phone just seems inappropriate) with me when I run now.

Ah, but this is only an estimate. Wanting a more accurate gauge of my calorie burn I decided to go out and get this. Compared to similar devices it's pretty cheap, but so far it seems to do a pretty good job of providing me an even more accurate of my calories burned not just during exercise, but throughout the day.

So I'm not really sure what's next. Perhaps having myself fully wired to measure the full metabolic impact of my runs? Maybe purchasing a drone to follow me and film my runs? The sky's the limit.

Now, does any of this crap actually help? Well, having some Gatorade on those longer runs is a good idea, or else I'd be losing 2-3 pounds of fluids per run. The shirts and socks are perhaps slightly more comfortable than what I used to wear. After that, it does all seem a bit absurd. Then again, the idea of just running miles and miles "for fun" is a bit absurd itself, isn't it?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Now Everything Hurts

I know I've linked to these guys so much that my blog should just be called "The Best of Fitness Blender." However, this workout was so grueling and intense that I just had to spread the love.

It's a pretty basic workout: ten reps of five different exercises, all done for ten rounds - so 500 reps total. It starts with burpees, followed by squat jacks, mountain climbers, agility dots, and then finally squat jumps.

I was basically exhausted after round two, but somehow found the will to complete the entire ten rounds. Granted, I didn't do this in quite the same time as Daniel here, but I did get it done. Barely.

And now that I have completed it, I see they have a video that has TEN exercises, only it's five rounds of 10 reps each instead. Hmmmm, a challenge.

Monday, February 17, 2014

And the Results are In

I mentioned previously that I had used the My Fitness Pal app to keep track of my daily caloric consumption/burn, and that it had helped me tremendously in slimming down. About a month ago I went off the app, though I haven't stopped trying to eat in relative moderation.

I used the app for 11 weeks, writing down every single bit of food and drink that I consumed, as well as all of my exercise calories burned. I lost 20 pounds in those 11 weeks, or just under 2 pounds per week. In the four weeks I have been off the app, I have lost 8 pounds, or exactly 2 pounds per week. So at least thus far I haven't derailed my progress by going by feel.

As has been my constant refrain, it really is a matter of listening to one's body. Eat when hungry, but don't stuff your face. And I also still mentally try to keep general track of roughly how many calories I've eaten, even if I am not writing down every single thing. So if I have had a breakfast or lunch high in calories, I know to eat a bit less at dinner. Or if my earlier meals have been relatively light, I might indulge a bit more at dinner time. Again, though, it's all about eating until full, but no further. Long story short, I rarely let myself get very hungry, and I have only eaten to the point where I have felt over-stuffed a few times.

And through it all, I still eat plenty of bacon. Sorry, no kale smoothies for me.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Drink the Real Stuff

I don't drink milk, but my kids sure do, and despite our pediatrician's protestations, we let them drink whole milk (delivered, by the way, straight from the farm to our doorstep). Now we have less reason to fear that we're putting our children's lives at risk because it might just turn out that whole milk helps keep us leaner.
In one paper, published by Swedish researchers in the Scandinavian Journal of Primary Health Care, middle-aged men who consumed high-fat milk, butter and cream were significantly less likely to become obese over a period of 12 years compared to men who never or rarely ate high-fat dairy. 
 Yep, that's right. The butter and whole-milk eaters did better at keeping the pounds off.
"I would say it's counter-intuitive," says Greg Miller, executive vice president of the National Dairy Council.

The second study, published in the European Journal of Nutrition, is a meta-analysis of 16 observational studies. There has been a hypothesis that high-fat dairy foods contribute to obesity and heart disease risk, but the reviewers concluded that the evidence does not support this hypothesis. In fact, the reviewers found that in most of the studies, high-fat dairy was associated with a lower risk of obesity. "We continue to see more and more data coming out [finding that] consumption of whole-milk dairy products is associated with reduced body fat," Miller says.
Time ran with a similar study, noting that the leaner milk perhaps leaves drinkers less satiated.

There's more and more evidence that "low fat" stuff is just pointless, if not outright bad for your dieting purposes. It's increasingly frustrating trying to find yogurt that isn't fat free. Give me fat - it's actually a necessary part of our diet and proper amounts of the stuff are going to fill us up a lot more than the sugar that goes into replacing the lost fat content.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Reaching for that alarm clock

Even though half of my weekday workout routines are done in my basement - two days a week of at-home cardio - and thus could presumably be done at any time, I generally prefer to do them in the morning before work. The other two weekday routines are at the gym. Considering that both times I've worked out at the gym in the evening the place was crammed like a subway station at rush hour, I've similarly preferred to get my workouts done in the morning as well.

I need to be out the door at 7:25 each morning in order to get to work, so that requires me backtracking through my morning routine in order to determine the optimal time to get up in order to either trudge downstairs with my laptop and do an hour of cardio, or get dressed and hop in the car for the ride to the gym*. In most cases I have to be up by about 5:15. Now as someone whose wife had to get up at 5:00 in the morning every day for a year in order to get to work, I probably don't earn much sympathy points, but this is kind of a pain in the ass. And yet, so far, I haven't missed a beat.

And that really strikes me as the fundamental difference between being engaged in a serious workout routine where I either lose weight or stay relatively in shape, and my normal course of business where I'm packing on the pounds. There have been numerous times over the past four years where my alarm has gone off at 6 or earlier for a potential run and I've simply decided to ignore my late-night wishes by pushing the alarm time back another hour. When you're not really serious about staying in shape, the snooze button isn't even sufficient.

I don't know if these musings have any point other than acknowledging that will power is a huge aspect of dieting, and it's not just about declining the second helping of ice cream cake (one's okay - that's pretty much my motto). If you're serious about fitness, then you just gotta answer the sound of the bell, even if it comes at the price of an extra hour sleep. It also implicitly means that the days of checking Facebook at 11:00 in the evening are over.

*For the record, it should also be noted that getting out the door this early means I don't really have time to warm up the car. Unless you happen to live in a ten square mile section of California, you've noticed that it's been pretty freaking cold this winter. So there's a nice added bonus of a freezing cold car ride where the car finally gets nice and warm just as I arrive at the gym.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Hard Truths About Obesity

This blog is a politics-free zone, but some issues might come up that have a controversial bent. So with that mini-preamble out of the way, I link to this Matt Walsh blog post titled "Obesity is not a disease and you do have free will."

As Matt wrties,
Obesity might cause diseases, and there might be illnesses that make it easier to become obese, but obesity itself — the condition of having excessive amounts of body fat — is not a disease. Calling obesity a disease is like if I stab myself in the arm and then claim my bicep wound is an “illness.” Sure, the wound might become infected and cause a disease, and there might have been some psychological disorders at work which prompted me to knife myself in the first place, but the wound itself is simply a result of my actions.
Obesity, likewise, is a result.
It’s also a cause, but first it is a result. We eat and the body converts that food into fat. That’s how it works. To call that process “diseased” is to fundamentally rewrite the laws of physics. Some people have slower metabolisms and some people have thyroid issues, and those can be diseases, or symptoms of diseases, or the results of diseases,  but ALL people gain weight by eating. This is a fact. It is not a disease.
As I wrote in the comments, it is insulting to people with real diseases to claim that my propensity to overeat is also a disease. Yes, I understand that there are rare cases involving people with disorders that make it almost impossible to lose weight (and for some, to gain it), and some people truly do have slow metabolisms. But for the overwhelming majority of us, we did this to ourselves.

Another thing that bothers me is our cultural efforts to overcompensate against anti-fat discrimination. Absolutely overweight individuals should not be made to feel embarrassed for being overweight, nor should they be insulted. And the stick-figure, size-2 model of what a "beautiful" woman is supposed to look like does not help women deal with potential weight issues (nor appeal to most men, quite frankly).

But in promoting a healthy body image I sometimes fear we go too far. I'll just use me as an example to avoid offending anyone as best as I can. It's one thing for me to be comfortable with who I am, and to have a sense of self-confidence even when I am at my fattest. But it is not okay to accept being 60 pounds overweight and to do nothing to try and lose that weight. Being that overweight puts me at increased risk of heart attack and other diseases, and I owe it to my family to shed the weight and do what I can to live longer.

Now just a few days ago I linked to a Cracked article that chastised people for making it sound like losing weight was a walk in the park, and that is still very much true. At the same time, we also have to confront harsh realities and not minimize the risks associated with being severely overweight.

Burpee Madness!

I've alluded to Fitness Blender before, and they've been a great resource for all those days where I can't run outside and when I don't have time for the gym.

This video is actually the last part in a more comprehensive workout, and is frankly quite painful. Burpees are the scourge of exercisers everywhere. I find it heartening that I can even approach doing all of the burpees in this video when not even a month ago I struggled to do about five in one workout.

Long story short, it's a double ladder exercise. You start out doing ten burpees, then one sumo squat, followed by nine burpees and two sumo squats, and so on and so forth until you finish with one burpee and ten sumo squats. When I did this I started out with ten, then did eight, then six, and then a bunch of fours until I was actually on pace with the instructor. It's exhausting, but also very rewarding when you can finish up having done about 40 or so.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Grab Those Calipers

As a high school teenanger I hated the presidential fitness test, mainly because I was terrible at all aspects of it. I could do the situps, and that was about it. I could do nary a single pullup, and my mile time was abysmal. I think I did marginally well on the stretch. But there was one thing I hated above all else, and that was when Mr. Donodeo grabbed those dreaded calipers to measure my body fat.

I was a fat kid, bordering on obese, so having some wiry, middle-aged man measure precisely how fat I was in a room full of my peers wasn't the highlight of my day.

So when the Amazon box arrived today with my calipers, it made me think about how I now willingly put myself through what I once dreaded.

As with seemingly every health and fitness-related thing, there are multiple ways to measure your body fat, and there are multiple ways within methods to take your measurements. Using the calipers, the Jackson-Pollock method (no,seriously) has you taking measurements in three areas: the chest, abs, and thighs. There's also a seven-caliper method and a four-caliper method just to make it more fun. There's even a one-caliper method just using the back of your arms, or triceps.

No matter which method I used, I fell within a fairly consistent range, just within the acceptable band. Considering that a trainer at my gym used biolectric impedence had me at over 30% just a few weeks ago, I'm guessing that it wasn't completely accurate. Either that, or I've shed about 15 pounds of body fat in three weeks. That's not implausible, but it's fairly unlikely.

Having an accurate account of your body fat will provide you with a better overall sense of how your weight loss is progressing, and what you might need to do to improve your health. The BMI indexes are, well, complete crap. You might be 60 pounds overweight according to some chart, but if you're clocking in at 20 percent body fat or lower for a man, and a bit higher for a woman, then you don't have as far to go as you might think. Of course it does work the other way and you might have much higher body fat than you would think from your body weight. Either way, at $15 at the most for some good calipers, write down those skinfold measurements.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Strength Training

As someone who tends to prefer cardio routines, I've never been completely comfortable with strength training. My great fear is that I could be inhibiting my own hopes to run a marathon by adding muscles. There's also the fact that I just don't like it as much as running or other exercises.

After spending what seemed like an eternity looking online for the right type of routine, I finally splurged and bought The Men's Health Gym Bible. Not only does it layout a bunch of gym exercises, but it also provides some guidance on the proper routines depending on whether you want to eventually look like Schwarzenegger, or if you just want to burn some fat and tone up. So I went for the fat burning, total body routine.

It basically works like this: alternating routines (A-B, A-B), done every other time I go to the gym. For example, today was my A routine. It's a series of eight exercises, all focusing on one part of the body. You have the option of one or two sets, and I usually do two sets of each. The idea is to move through the routine quickly and rest for only thirty seconds per set.

My A routine consists of dumbbell squats (lower body), one-arm rows (lower back, biceps), dumbbell lunges (lower body), dumbbell bench press (chest, triceps, shoulders), reverse crunches (lower abs), lat pulldown (upper back), russian twists with dumbbell or other weight (upper abs), and finishing off with a leg press. The book recommends going with free weights instead of machines as you work more muscle groups that way, and I have noticed that free weight exercises do seem to provide a much more complete workout.

So when next I go the gym I'll do my B routine, which is another set of eight again concentrating on the various muscle groups.

I've seen many different types of routines and tried several, and so far this has been my favorite. This lets me get in some strength training without overtaxing my muscles. What's more, the added muscle will help burn more fat, so it's all good.

"Just" Stop Doing What You've Always Done

Number five on this Cracked list hit pretty close to home.

Hopefully I can avoid that pitfall in dishing  out my sage advice. After all I've been there, and arguably still am.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Quick Hot Pastrami Recipe

I'm not one for throwing out self-made recipes, but here's a pretty good way to have a hot pastrami sandwich.

First, chop up some onions and saute them in olive oil and butter. If you've got enough time, you could caramelize them, but it's enough to just brown them and soften them up. Meanwhile, simmer the pastrami slices in a cup of beef broth. Once the onions are done, throw half your pastrami slices in the pan, then add a couple of slices of cheese (I used muenster this weekend, but use whatever you like), and then top it with the rest of the pastrami. Cook it for about a minute, and then flip it over. Cook until the cheese is melted. Put that bad boy on some bread, top with the onions, and enjoy the deliciousness.

If you're curious, this sandwich could be anywhere between 400-600 calories depending on how much of each ingredient you use - mine tipped closer the 600 mark.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Time to Throw Away the Crutch

I've praised the My Fitness Pal app, and indeed it and apps like it are great ways to start eating proper quantities of food, whether you want to lose weight or just even maintain your current weight. For those of you who have tried Weight Watchers and are familiar with the points system, it's not entirely unlike that, except here you're basing your plan on calories and not a slightly more complicated formula.

There are other cool features of the app that you might miss. Not only does it record the amount of calories you consume, it will give you a fuller nutritional breakdown of what you have consumed each day. If you're going for a 50/30/20 breakdown of calories based on carbs/fat/protein, you can pull up a graph showing you how close you are to achieving that nifty little breakdown. There's also a barcode feature, so if you're eating or drinking something that's got a barcode on the packaging, you don't have to guess how many calories you're consuming. And if you're not entirely sure how many calories you're consuming, the search feature will provide you a number of choices, and it's up to you to make a reasonable estimate. I would suggest making an accurate guess as possible. I certainly tended to overestimate, if anything, though you don't want too guess too high because then you're depriving yourself of too many calories at the end of the day.

The app also allows you to punch in your exercise calories. The calorie estimate is based on the duration and exertion of your exercise, as well as your weight. For instance, if I run 6 miles at a 10-minute mile pace, I will have burned approximately 1,100 calories. The same distance at a 9-minute mile pace will be more calories, etc.

The point of all this is to calculate your net calorie expenditure for the day. As I'm sure you've all heard by now at some point in your life, if you consume 3,500 fewer calories than you burn you will lose a pound, and if you consumer 3,500 more calories than you burn you will gain a pound. So, since I established a goal to lose 2 pounds per week, then means I have to run a deficit of 1,000 calories each day.

That sounds more daunting than it really is. A very rough estimate of how many calories you burn each day is to multiply your body weight by between 10 and 15, depending on your activity level. That is a very simplistic formula, and there are other, more accurate ways to measure how many calories you burn per day. But, as a very rough estimate, I burn over 3,000 calories per day, leaving me with the ability to eat 2,000 calories per day and still lose weight, and that's without factoring in exercise. If I have a particularly long run I can then go and eat about 3,000 calories worth of food, if not a little more, and still be on target as far as net calories burned. This is where being a larger man is a definite benefit.

Whatever the exact formula, you want to have at least some idea of your net calorie expenditure. So I do encourage using an app like My Fitness Pal or Calorie Counter.

That said, this was a big week for me as I stopped using my calorie counting app. I've been using it for nearly three months and it helped me shed over 20 pounds. But I'm of the mind that I cannot be entering every single thing I eat into an app for the rest of my life. It's kind of neat to be barcoding a beer to measure the calories consumed, but it gets old. At some point you have to learn to just listen to your body. If you've used the app or if you've been on Weight Watchers long enough, you should have a pretty good idea whether or not you've been eating too much without the app telling you exactly how much you've consumed.

It's like taking off the training wheels. You've learned to control your eating and should be in some kind of rhythm. For me anyway it was time to take off the training wheels. I've done so and I've actually lost more weight this week than I have in over a month, though it will take a few weeks to see how this really shakes out.

Now I am not ditching the app totally. I still will use it to track my weight and my measurements (another cool feature, and I should stress the importance of tracking measurements, which might be more telling than your weight). And if I see my weight starting to stall or even tick up a bit, it might make sense to get back in the habit again. But for now I'm gonna try and just get in tune with what my body is telling me and to keep making sensible dietary choices. That seems like a much healthier long-term plan.

Chicken Wings: You're Eating it Wrong

The Super Bowl is only nine days away, so this educational video couldn't have come at a better time.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Oh Five Guys, How I've Missed You

When I began my latest weight loss odyssey nearly three months ago, I devised a series of goals. There was the ultimate goal of losing about 40 pounds, but there was a somewhat more immediate goal as well: lose 20 pounds and I can eat at Five Guys again. Though I generally don't believe in giving up certain types of food for a diet, this was my way to provide myself with a little extra motivation.

And so when I stepped on both my home scale this morning and the scale at the gym, and both confirmed that I had indeed dropped over 20 pounds, my lunch plans were set.

I know you're not supposed to reward yourself with food, but as I said, this was not a reward, but rather a means to provide a little extra encouragement. It may be best to just pretend I didn't read the nutritional information about my lunch, but I'm thinking a lighter dinner is in store for the evening.

And now only seven more pounds until I can step foot in Dunkin Donuts or Krispy Kreme.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Dessert Time

Two tablespoons of Cool Whip has 25 calories. A half a cup of strawberries has about 50 calories. Combine the two and you have a bowl of yummy deliciousness that has about as many calories as half a can of Coke. 

Running Isn't a Sane Thing Anyway

I'm not this bad. Yet.

I am now getting up twice a week at five in the morning to go to the gym, but the alternative is going after work along with roughly half the population of Silver Spring.

I have run while suffering from a mild bout of planter fasciitis, though to be fair it actually hurt less to run than to just sit around.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Mmmmm, Bacon

In your fridge right now you probably have some bacon. It's got Oscar Mayer written on the package, or maybe you're real high class and you got some good stuff from Whole Foods. It's delicious because, well, all bacon is delicious. Have you ever had bad bacon? Think about it. When's the last time you had bacon and you said, "that was just awful." You haven't ever said that, because bacon by its very nature is awesome.

Well, I'm here to tell you that unless you've smoked your own bacon then you haven't had truly awesome bacon. 

I remember the first time I smoked bacon. It was a glorious day. I went to Whole Foods because there was nowhere else I could find pork belly. I followed the advice given here to a tee, rubbing salt and sugar on the belly and putting it in the fridge for a week. When the week was up, I fired up my smoker. I could smell how delicious this thing was gonna be as it was smoking. True, everything smells great on a smoker, but this was something different. Something magical.

It was ready much more quickly than I expected. Everything on the smoker seems to take days to cook, but this was ready after about an hour and a half. So I took it off the heat, brought it back in the house, and immediately sliced off a piece and fried it up. And then I had my first taste of home-smoked bacon.

Excuse me, I'll be back in a moment.

Okay, I'm back. I'm sorry, I had to go and gather myself as I thought about that first magical bite. 

There is nothing like smoked bacon. It is the food of the gods. And it's so damned easy to make.

You owe it to yourself to go out and try it. You don't have to have a smoker - a grill will get the job done so long as you cook it indirectly, but it sure helps.

As for finding pork belly, Whole Foods or a similar store should have it, though I doubt you'll find it in Krogers, Giant, Safeway or even Wegmans. You could also try a farmer's market or if you're lucky enough, head off to Amish country.

The recipe above is pretty simple. You brine it in pink salt, sugar, and regular salt, then rub it again right before it's ready for the heat. Meathead at Amazing Ribs has a great recipe as well. Of course just about all of his recipes are fantastic, and I will be making frequent reference to him. You of course are free to innovate as you like, but honestly the simple stuff works wonders. You don't need to spend an hour mixing 20 different spice ingredients. Sugar and salt is all you need. 

The tricky part is slicing it just right. Slicing the long way can be difficult, and leaves you with slightly thicker slices than you might prefer. I've actually started slicing along the width of the pork belly, at least initially, to give me slightly leaner cuts. Also, it's best to wait until after the smoked belly has been refrigerated to slice it as the cold belly is much easier to slice efficiently. 

And remember, three or four slices of bacon has far fewer calories than that "healthy" muffin. And a lot more fat, but it's best not to think about that.

Dieting without Dieting

As alluded to in my first post, in all my weight loss experiences I never attempted a fad diet. And there are plenty of fad diets. The only one that ever had any appeal to me was the Adkins diet, for obvious reasons. I mean it's a diet where you are actively encouraged to eat meat. What's not to love?

The constant through all my weight loss programs is that none of them proscribed any kind of food item. The main thrust has always been to eat within a specific calorie threshold, and I could eat anything so long as I stayed under a certain amount. Then again, sure I could eat anything, but I couldn't eat anything all the time. At my size I can eat 3,000 calories a day (with exercise) and still lose weight, and I could choose to fill those calories with nothing but pizza, but that would probably not be the wisest long-term health plan.

Nonetheless, it does mean that a healthy diet for me can include all the stuff I like to eat, but it also means I can't pig out. Now I'll grant that as a 6 foot, 2 inch man weighing over 200 pounds my diet is going to look a little bit different than a smaller-sized woman, but I think my plan is still applicable to most individuals.

One thing that frustrates me is seeing "healthy" breakfasts that feature muffins and bagels. That muffin has about twice the amount of calories as a four slices of bacon, isn't nearly as yummy, and probably won't fill you up as much. We need to realize that "healthy" can consist of any type of food so long as it is consumed in moderation.

The other week I heard a nutritionist scoff at the "all things in moderation" notion. As long as people aren't equating moderation with "eating the same amount of each food," then there shouldn't be anything wrong with applying this mantra to your diet. Yes, you need to eat a lot more veggies and fruit than steak and potatoes, but there is no reason to only eat veggies and fruit in order to successfully lose weight.

I think people are actively discouraged from getting in shape because they believe that they have to give up all the good stuff. Others are of the belief that dieting means you are necessarily going to feel starved. Not only is this mentality wrong, it's actually the complete opposite of what works. You should never feel starved, because starvation leads you to make bad diet choices. Also, when you starve yourself you slow down your metabolism as your body goes into something of a panic mode.

That's not to say that you should never feel hungry, but that's different than being starved. But if you eat at regular intervals, then there's no need to feel like you are dying of starvation. That's why I do believe in eating small snacks throughout the day in addition to your regular meals. By small snack I of course don't mean a bag of potato chips, but something that will satisfy your cravings until your next meal. This will actually help speed up your metabolism and will help you avoid making those bad food choices that derail your progress.

Long story short, the key to successfully managing your diet is to never feel starved, and to never feel completely stuffed. It's a bit of a tightrope, but learning to eat just enough without stuffing your face will help you shed the pounds without giving up all the foods you really like.

In a followup post I'll list some of the ways I've managed my diet in order to lose weight.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Your Fat Man Dieting Guru

So what is this all about? This blog serves as part diary and part advice column. So many people struggle with dieting that what's another gasbag or two offering their sage wisdom. Well, what better guides to weight loss could you find than fat(or maybe just slightly overweight) men who have spent much of their adult lives losing weight?

I am now on my fourth major effort to lose weight (I won't call it a diet - more on that later) in 20 years. When I was 16 I dropped 60 pounds largely on the strength of exercising just about all day. Well, when you're 16, you have the time and energy to do that much working out. The again after college I dropped some 40 pounds of fat and toned up for the first time in my life. Then six years ago I put Weight Watchers and a whole lot of running to good use and lost approximately 55 pounds.

Well, the fact that I am now attempting to lose weight again (20 pounds so far since November 2) should tell you that while I have been very good at losing weight, it's keeping it off that has been the problem. When I lost all that weight six years ago I had no kids and was able to run 20-30 miles per week. Well, now I have three beautiful daughters, so time is not what it once was. My place of employment no longer has a shower facility, so there went my mid-day running ability. I had joined the Y, but I often found excuses to avoid going.

I didn't quite gain back all of the weight I lost, but all those relatively skinny clothes I bought long ago ceased fitting.

As was the case with all previous diets, I pretty much decided one day that enough was enough, and got back into a routine. With the help of a great app called MyFitnessPal I began keeping track of my calories, both consumed and burned through exercise. I also re-dedicated myself to working out, finding some cardio routines to do in my basement for when the weather was bad or that I could do in the mornings or evening while the sun was down.

I'll go into details on all this later on, but this serves to let you know where I'm coming from. Through all these experiences, one thing remained constant, and that was all of my "diets" allowed me to eat a wide variety of food, and I didn't have to give up all the good stuff like bacon, steak, and even pizza. What I did when I lost the weight was keep more careful track of what I was eating. Unfortunately every time I lost the weight I'd soon be back at the Indian buffet, or returning to the pasta pot for thirds and fourths.

You see, the point of all this is that you don't have to starve yourself in order to lose weight. In fact, that's the worst thing you can do. One of the recurring themes I see on Facebook and other social media outlets are people expressing their reticence to lose weight because it means they'll be eating nothing but kale and broccoli for months. While there's nothing wrong with either of these foods - well, maybe there is with broccoli - I think this mentality prevents people from getting in shape. And it's totally misguided.

I am not advocating eating bacon and steak at every meal. That being said, you can have your bacon and shed the pounds too. It's all about eating within your caloric means every day.

I love to barbecue. I love to brew beer and drink it. I basically just love to eat. That explains why I have struggled with my weight for my entire life. Yet I also love to run, and I actually do have the ability to demonstrate will power when I am committed to it. There is no reason that getting in shape means the end of enjoying life. What it does mean is realizing what your limits are an exercising good judgment at the dinner table - and just plain old exercising.

This is a blog for all of us who like to eat but who also want to get into or stay in shape. So there will be blog posts about running 7 miles followed up by posts about great smoked bacon recipes. It's a bit eclectic, but hopefully it will benefit all of us.