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 And yet doctors insist on relying on this fairly outdated measure when discussing your diet.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.