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.