Thursday, January 31, 2008

Attention Ladies and Germs

Guess what day it is? That’s right, January 31st. The day that I have established as the deadline to have my diet and exercise program in place and the date I’ll begin my time-lapse series of photographs. Are you ready? Am I ready? Well, I’m mostly ready. I don’t have my gym membership yet but I think that can wait until after I start my diet. We all know what that means: its time to start counting calories.

BLEAGH! You say? If I catch your meaning then yes it is indeed a tedious, joyless endeavor. However it is a necessary requirement of any responsible diet and exercise plan.

Consider the following. Can you lose weight just through exercise and without any change in diet? The answer is a resounding ‘maybe’. It would be dependent on your already having a net-zero number of calories in your diet. In other words you would already have to consume no more calories per day than you burn. In such a case you could indeed get away with jogging 30 minutes a day and lose weight since exercise requires energy (a calorie is a unit of energy for you high school science class dropouts). BUT we all know that’s not how life works. Some days you’ll survive on coffee and cigarettes…other days you’ll eat half a strawberry cheesecake at 3am and never gain an ounce.

Some people try to justify eating that 300 calorie piece of cake by thinking, “Well I’ll just workout extra hard tomorrow to make up for it.” That’s all well and good but do you really want to live your life that way? To do that you’d need to spend 60 minutes on the treadmill just to work off the cake and break even, and then MORE exercise on top of that. Doesn’t it make more sense just to skip the cake?

Now consider this. Can you lose weight just by changing your diet alone? The answer is ‘absolutely’. This strategy works, just ask any gastric-bypass patient (a terrible procedure I would never recommend). How does it work? Remember it’s not fat that makes you fat, it’s not carbs, its not red meat and potatoes; it’s all about the calories. Eat fewer calories than the minimum your body needs to stay alive and you will eventually consume your fat reserves, thus losing weight. That sounds miserable you say? It can be, but those are the breaks. The thing that trips most people up is they think they have to starve in order to have any effect. This is NOT true. To start to lose weight you should trim approximately 500 calories from your net calorie total. Notice this is not the same thing as saying you need to trim 500 calories from your diet. 500 calories can be one whole meal so skipping out on one can be psychologically intimidating.

The objective of reducing 500 calories from your net calorie total can be accomplished several ways. You can skip a meal. *GASP* Yes it can be done that way. I don’t personally recommend it because you’ll be starving and you’ll be tempted to gorge at your next meal. Alternately you can reduce all your portion sizes across the board, thereby cutting the 500 calories. This will still allow you to eat well in most cases. Thirdly you can trim 250 calories from your diet AND exercise each day burning off 250 calories that way. That is the preferred method in my opinion.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Best Laid Plans...

Does this sound familiar to you? You finally make everything ‘just so’, got all your ducks in a row, and things seem to be going your way. Then SUDDENLY something comes out of left-field and blows your carefully laid plans to pieces. Well Friday afternoon there I was minding my own business (driving back from work) when I decided to make a short detour to McDonalds. Yes that’s right, greasy, carby, fatty McDonald’s, but that’s not important right now. I took a sharp turn on to a side street and I heard a very loud *CLUNK* from my right front wheel. Immediately after that I completely lost power. The engine was still running and the still revving but the wheels weren’t getting any power.

Yes the CV joint had finally given up the ghost. Fortunately I still had enough momentum from the turn that I was able to coast safely into a parking spot. When all was said and done it was $282 to replace the axle assembly – parts, labor, towing. It actually was not as bad as I thought it was going to be.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

New Year's Resolutions (Part Two)

So take a second and look at the little tracker that's on my blog here. It shall henceforth be called the "Fat-tracker" because it keeps track of my weight. On the 1st of January 2008 I stepped on the scale and weighed in at 212.5lbs. One week later I stepped on the scale and weighed 214lbs for a net gain of 1.5lbs. For my diet and exercise regimen I will be taking three different measurements. One of weight (or mass for you science nerds), one of dimensions (yes guys there is more than one use for a tape measure) and one visual.

Weight (aka: the Scale)

Measurements taken by stepping on the bathroom scale can be an important indicator of fat gain or loss. But it is important to read the results in context. One thing you'll notice right off the bat is that I've apparently gained 1.5lbs. In reality I probably haven't gained or lost anything since I haven't yet adjusted my regular diet. It is "normal" for your weight to fluctuate by as much as 3lbs +/- daily. When I took the first measurement it was at 9AM on the New Year's day. I of course had been celebrating the night before and as such, I was dehydrated the next morning. When I took the second measurement a week later it was later in the day when I had just eaten lunch. That's just how it goes people. Some would suggest taking the average of three readings. I am opposed to that idea.

I think people obsess too much about the numbers on the scale. What you're going to do just before you take a reading is: starve yourself and dehydrate in order to get a low average. I don't know why you would feel compelled to do this other than to psych yourself out which defeats the purpose of taking a true average anyway. What I recommend is: jump on the scale at the same time of day once a week; whatever the scale says is what you report. If you're jumping on it every other hour every day you'll drive yourself nuts. Once a week should be sufficient to track your progress over time.

Take the readings in context with the understanding that if you're also exercising you will show an apparent weight-gain accounting for any additional muscle-mass you build. If you become too dependent on the scale's readings you could get into a trap where you may actually be losing fat but you freak because you're "gaining weight". Then you'll think to yourself, "well screw this crap its not working anyway!". Then you'll proceed to eat everything in the fridge and be a bitter, defeated, fat loser. To avoid that pitfall I will be taking two other measurements which I will discuss now.

Dimensions (aka: the tape measure)

So you're sticking to your diet and exercising on the prescribed days and you lost a good bit of weight the first couple of weeks. Good for you, but now your scale says you've started to taper off and you fear the trend may be reversing. Well here's something you should try: Keep a record of the tape measurements from your waistline. Why the waist? Because its one of the few easily measureable parts of the body that consistently decreases as you lose fat and gain muscle. This is especially important for men to think about. Men tend to increase muscle-mass quicker than women (due to higher testosterone levels), and if measuring from the chest, thigh, or buttocks it will appear that men are getting "fatter" as they diet and exercise. Actually you're packing on the "beef" and that should please most men. If the idea of being more muscular does not appeal to you...then I don't know what does, though I will admit those professional body builders are DISGUSTING to look at! Speaking of being looked at I will now discuss my third measurement option.

Visual (aka: the digital camera)

Why is this important? We've all seen those pictures of people who have gone on some miracle diet. They invariably depict of shlumpy middle-aged depressed woman with a grim expression as the "before" picture and a slim 30-something manic woman with a grin five miles wide. She also inexplicably has gone from pasty white to golden brown and greasy; instead of granny-panties she now wears a black thong. This is first and foremost an advertising scheme. In otherwords "look how crappy and depressed you were before and how great and happy you look now!" That's the point of the diet of course but the pictures themselves are rediculously exagerrated sucess stories. You'll note there is often a disclaimer saying "results not typical". You can potentially look like that too but good luck.

So my advice is to dispense with the before and after shots (at least the notion) and substitute instead a series of photographs taken over time to demonstrate your progress. Why? The purpose of time-lapse photography is to bring otherwise imperceptible changes into a threshold of movement that our eye can detect and our brain can process. Losing fat and gaining muscle (when done properly) takes a looooooooong time. Actually not that long, but long enough that you'd never notice it occuring even if you stared at a mirror all day long. It can be frustrating if you don't notice the changes, and waiting 6 months to take the "after" picture is delayed gratification in my mind. Fortunately there is technology that makes taking time-lapse photos of yourself relatively easy.

I recommend a digital camera with fair-good resolution ($100-200). After you have that snap a picture every week. Snap a picture every day if you like for a more interesting progression with less jumpiness between frames. Some inexpensive software (often included with the camera) will allow you to take the individual pictures and create a slide-show from them. And yes, unlike the miracle diet success stories there are real people (average Joe's) who have utilized this technique and have posted their time-lapse videos on I'm actually going to be doing that myself but I'll be linking the video to my blog here and using youtube to host. You can go back and review the photos yourself for reassurance that its actually working. At worst you'll at least have a digital camera to play around with.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

New Year's Resolutions (Part One)

Good afternoon. Many of you are probably interested in what my final list of New Year's
Resolutions actually are. I can't say that I blame you considering that I hyped them so much in my previous entry. Well here are my New Year's Resolutions for 2008 (in no particular order)

Lose weight/exercise more. This has become such a common New Year's Resolution these days that it should more properly be called THE New Year's Mantra. I'm sure 90% of you have at one point at least attempted to lose weight and exercise. Where you failed (miserably) I intend to succeed.

The key to any successful weight loss and exercise program is: motivation. Motivation is in turn triggered by both desire and fear. For example: I desire to be pleasing to the eye
whilst wearing a bathing suit, and fear being a bloated lazy slob who votes Republican and who dines exclusively at 'All-you-can-eat" buffets. Yes, motivation is the key to weight-loss but keys only unlock doors. You still have to walk through them or there is no point.

If motivation is the key that opens the door to weight-loss and exercise, then the door you walk though is undoubtedly: your strategy. We all know that they're tons of diet programs out there. You are probably asking yourself, "What plan is right for Trevor?". The answer may surprise you: none of them are. All diet plans are just gimmicks. I'll explain why.

One diet plan says "Carbs are the enemy, cut them out", the other says, "Meat is the enemy, become a vegetarian" and still another says, "Fat is the enemy, avoid fat like the plague". Each version is simultaneously correct and utterly misguided. There is really only one enemy: calories. And each version of a diet plan accomplishes the same task, namely reducing caloric intake. In the end the only responsible diet plan that works effectively EVERY time is one which causes you to burn more calories as energy than you absorb from food.

Can you lose weight by eating low-fat/fat free? Sure...but you'll be agonizing over every pat of butter, every slice of cheese, and live in mortal fear that your turkey sandwich may have real mayonnaise on it. The same is true for each diet plan, it just remains a question of what you want to give up.

But just consider for a moment that there is a diet plan out there that allows you to eat whatever you want and still lose weight. "What is this miracle diet plan? How much for your book!?" you ask. "Surely there's some magical pill you can swallow and just poop your fat away". Well there is such a diet but the truth of it may be harder to swallow than any diarrhea-inducing horse-pill.

Eat whatever you like, but eat half of what you would normally eat. Cut your hamburger in half and divide the french fries into equal piles. If you like: give the other half to your buddy so you don't feel so bad about "wasting" food. Or you can save the rest for lunch tomorrow. Or if necessary dump it down the garbage disposal. Then eat your meal, enjoy it, savor every bite and replace that "OMG I just ate 30 grams of carbohydrates I RUINED my Atkins diet!" attitude with a smug sense of self-satisfaction.

"But but, half a hamburger that's not enough, I'll still be hungry afterwards!". Tsk tsk, that's just your fat brain talking. Fact is: even half a burger is probably too much for such a sedentary slob, be grateful you’re getting anything at all!