Friday, October 27, 2006

My Third "Healthy Weight" Anniversary

Today, October 27th, 2006, is the third anniversary of being a healthy weight on the BMI scale.

I was going to type up something, but then found this little "gem" that I wrote and posted on, two years back.

They believed in cardio, cardio, cardio. Hence the focus of my post.

Here ya go...

October 27, 2004

Today is my 1st anniversary of being a healthy weight! One year ago, I was finally down to 199 pounds from my most recent high of 232 pounds.

Is sure seemed like a long time just getting to that point, and as many “dieters” can attest, a “healthy weight” in Body Mass Index (BMI) doesn’t mean you’re done losing weight. I knew then that I still had a ways to go... In fact, it only took me a few days to get up the nerve to go and have a body fat test done at the gym.

At the gym, I was shocked to find that I could be at a “healthy weight” yet have a body fat of over 25 percent. In fact, when I looked at my gym’s body fat chart, I could see that I needed to lose a bit more to get down to 17%, which is where the chart indicated a healthy amount of body fat for a man should be.

Since then, I’ve come a long way: down to 162 lbs (too small!) with about 12% body fat. Today, I’m up to 184 lbs and hovering about 14% body fat. The last two months have been spent actually trying to gain weight. Trying to gain muscle weight, though. I never thought I’d be in a position of trying to put on weight! Who knew?

Last week, when I saw that this anniversary was coming up, I started to think about how far I’d come and how differently I live and eat now. Obviously, I live and eat far differently than when I was fat. I was 232 lbs and I just ate a lot and was pretty sedentary.

This type of anniversary should make me happy. I’m far healthier now and I don’t miss the way I ate. Not much, anyway.

But, the anniversary made me a little sad. I’ve been up and down the scale (both weight and body fat scales). I look at my weight and body fat percentages and see that they aren’t all that close to where I thought I’d be (some of you may remember my quest for “Abs by Spring,” which never happened (I found the top two, but the bottom four were MIA)). In some ways, I feel like it was a wasted year. Knowing what I know now, I’d have done things quite a bit differently. The wasted time saddened me.

Then, yesterday, I got happy about things again. After all, when you learn to do something better (a new “trick” in a sport, a way to make your computer do something you didn’t even know about, etc.), who gets sad that they didn’t do it that way before. It’s something new. From now one, things are better.

Well, I’ve learned a lot over the past 16+ months of my “lifestyle change,” both about nutrition and exercise, in general, but also about how my own body responds to diet and exercise I haven’t hesitated to change things up when I found that something wasn’t working to my satisfaction.

Now, how my body specifically responds to diet and exercise might be interesting to me, but probably not to you. So, I’ll only write a bit about me and more about what should work for everyone.

If I could do it all over again, what would I do differently? A lot! But, I won’t look back and be sad. I’ll look back and see what I’ve learned from the past. And, I’ll be happy that I’ve actually learned.

Strength training: I believe that strength training (Strength training, resistance training, or weightlifting. Whatever you want to call it) is one of the most important things that you can do to help with your short and long term fat loss goals. Yes, diet is very important. But, we all know that if we eat less, we will lose weight. If you’re reading this, you’re probably already trying to eat better and eat less. More about food, later.

Strength training is important for two reasons: One short term and on long term. Short term, strength training raises your metabolism for many, many hours after your workout. It’s a minimum of 24 hours, but some studies have shown up to 48 or more. I’ve seen one that said up to 72 hours. 48 hours is plenty long enough, so I won’t bother to worry about longer than that.

For some reason, many studies state that no one knows exactly why your metabolism is raised by strength training. Perhaps they can’t prove why, but to me it seems clear by what we already know about weightlifting. Lifting weights causes tiny, microscopic tears in the muscles, your body then repairs these tears, growing and getting stronger in the process. This process takes energy. Calories are the energy that is used. This process produces a boost in metabolism. This repair process also takes time, just as it takes time for all injuries to heal. Unlike a ‘fridge that takes days to fix, this repair time in your body works to your advantage, as the longer and higher your metabolism is, the more calories your body burns, even at rest.

Compare this 24 to 48 hour metabolism boost to a cardio/aerobic workout. While you may initially burn more with an intense session of cardio, your metabolism will only be raised for a short period of time (2 to 3 hours) afterward. With regular ol’ cardio, your metabolism is raised to help provide the energy to keep you going while you are performing the activity. Soon, afterward, your body slows back down to normal levels and starts storing energy again. After all, it’s got to be ready, with ready energy, for tomorrow’s cardio session…

So, given the choice between the two, I’d always (and do) choose to lift weights rather than do the long cardio sessions. You may not want to give up cardio: I don’t either. I’ll talk about a “better” cardio in a few paragraphs.

So, that’s the short term reason for strength training. Many of us are the types that need immediate gratification. The long metabolism boost helps you burn more calories NOW! There’s no shorter term than now, is there? That’s bad grammar, but so be it.

So, here’s the long term. Long term, strength training helps you keep the lean mass that you have already. Unbeknownst to many, overweight people have a lot of muscle and non-fat “stuff” under the fat. Unless you’re really overweight, you don’t really want to lose weight, per se, at all; you want to lose fat. When you lose weight, you want to keep all that lean mass and only lose the flab. But, diet alone or diet and cardio alone will not help you keep this important lean mass. When you lose weight, you will lose both fat mass and lean mass. There’s pretty much nothing to stop it. Your body, in a caloric deficit, pulls calories, pretty much equally, from all readily available sources in the body. These sources are fat (fat mass) and protein (muscle mass). But, you can minimize this effect, shifting the ratio of fat loss to lean loss in your favor. Strength training is the tool to help you do this.

As I wrote before, strength training damages the muscle with tiny tears. When this happens, your body puts a priority on repairing the damage. When it repairs the damage, the muscles get stronger, change shape, and can even get bigger. But, the most important aspect of it, is that they don’t really get smaller. For some reason, the act of repairing the muscle keeps your body from using that very muscle mass for energy! This is a strange, but wonderful side effect that allows your body to shift the fat to lean loss ratio in your favor.

Why is it so important to keep as much lean mass as possible? Aside from the obvious, that no one wants to be scrawny but still have flab, there are benefits that few know about. The heavier you are, the more calories you burn at rest. You can see this effect using CK’s own software. Look ahead a few months, and change your profile to the weight you hope to be then. You’ll see that your calorie goals have gone down. Now, set your profile to where you think you’ll be when you’re at your goal. Granted, once you are at goal you get to add some calories back in, but still, it’s a lot less to eat. Now, set your profile back before you forget!

Let’s get back to not actually caring how much you weigh. Take a look at the stats of some of your favorite athletes. Odds are they are heavier than they look. That’s that lean mass weighing them down. If the athlete is in good shape, something tells me they don’t really care about weight itself. Even at rest, these athletes can eat more, just by virtue of their weight.

Heavier people burn more calories. But, also, lean mass burns more calories than fat mass. It takes more calories for your body to maintain muscle than fat. Two people of the same height, weight, and activity levels, don’t necessarily burn the same number of calories. The higher your ratio of lean mass to fat mass, the more calories you burn, even at rest. This helps you continue to lose fat and it also allows you to eat more. I don’t know which reason I like more…

There’s one more long term reason that’s important to know about. This one’s a little more esoteric, but many people do experience this little problem. At some point, you will decide to start maintaining your, then current, weight. How long it takes to get to that point and how happy you are with your body at that time is at issue here.

In a perfect world, your body can lose one to two pounds of weight per week. Let’s say you weigh 225 lbs, are around 30% body fat, and think you have 50 lbs of fat to lose, you might think you have 25 to 50 weeks of solid dieting to look forward to. But, as I wrote before, you lose both fat and lean mass when you diet. So, assuming you lose weight with diet and cardio, you will lose about the same amount of fat and lean mass. Best case, after 25 weeks of dieting, you may be 50 lbs lighter, but still be floating around 25% body fat, as you lost only about 25 lbs of fat. With strength training in your program, that same 25 weeks might produce 37 lbs of fat loss or even more, leaving you at 175 lbs and about 17% body fat. By most accounts, 17% body fat, for a man, is within the healthy, fit range. Now, imagine yourself after those 25 weeks. Which body fat percentage is more likely to give you the feeling that you’re done or close to it?

This happened to me. I jogged, biked, and dieted my way to 30 lbs of weigh loss, but still found myself at 25% body fat. If I went back in time and started with a strength training program, who knows how much more fat I’d have lost by that time? I don’t know exactly how much, but I know it would have been more.

Cardio: Cardio still has it’s place and I certainly won’t debate the many benefits of a healthy heart. But, long, long bouts of cardio probably aren’t necessary. Short, but intense bouts of cardio, or “intervals,” can provide the raise in heart rate and extra calorie burn that we’re looking for to lose fat. The bonus, you can get similar fat loss results in a much shorter period of time. Who couldn’t use a few hours a week back into their lives?

Diet: We all know that we have to eat right (Isn’t that why we’re here? Why we know each other?). What constitutes “right” is the contentious issue. In my year and a half of eating healthy, I’ve tried several different diet styles. Some worked very well, but were impractical. Others were easy to follow, but didn’t yield the best results. Somewhere in the middle is best for me.

What’s best for you? Pick a dietary lifestyle that works for you. But, don’t be afraid to change, as long as you change to another healthy nutrition plan for yourself. Always ask yourself, before the switch, if you can stick to the new plan? If it’s impractical, you’re just not going to stick with it.

We can argue the benefits of high carb vs. low carb, high vs low protein, etc. but we’re here because we are (or were) fat. Being fat isn’t healthy. Get un-fat using a healthy and realistic eating plan and worry about fine tuning your nutrition, later. By the way, six Pop Tarts a day, at 220 each, isn’t healthy, despite the fact that it fits right into your caloric allowance…

That’s about it. Obviously, by the volumes about strength training, above, you know where my priorities lie. If you can feel the passion, in what I wrote, you know I think it should be your priority, too.

Thank you for reading this far. And, thanks helping me along my path.


It was all about the BMI, back then. Ironically, today I carry less fat than I did back then, but I'm back to being overweight. 25.4 on the BMI scale, as I type this. I'd have to put on 33lbs to be back to obese. That's years away, if ever.

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Come back next year, okay?

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