I’m a firm believer in keeping healthy – specifically in keeping fat off and having a decent level of fitness. By fitness I mean the time it takes for your heart rate to return to resting level after some strenuous exercise, your blood pressure level, and your reaction to some strenuous exercise (which ideally should not involve being curled up in a fetal position wheezing like a 96 yr old smoker!).
I have been pursuing these goals for most of my life – certainly since leaving high school – with the occasional lapse during periods where my illness really stopped me from exercising, or left me too depressed to exercise. Mostly I have pursued fitness through exercising at the gym – although when I was younger I also played some rugby. I have always had a high BMI – and just put it down to my body type (more of an endomorph for those who are interested). Gym suits me well as I spend a lot of time at work, and what is left over I prefer to spend with my family. Therefore I don’t want to spend hours practicing or playing a team sport. My gym sessions take about 45 minutes – and I do it 4 times per week (upper / lower split). This combined with healthy eating keeps me in good shape.
Now up to May last year (2010) I had never seen my abs, and also found that when I went to the doctor my blood pressure was always raised. It did piss me off a bit about the raised BP, as I would regularly take it at home (there is a history of high BP on my mother’s side), and it was always ok. So I knew it was caused by white coat syndrome, but it still was a pain in the butt. Even though I showed my doctor my home BP records I could see that they would much rather that my BP actually be low when they measured it in their office.
My weight has always been around 95kg (that’s 210 pounds for my USA friends) except for a period when my arthritis was fully active and it ballooned up to 106kg (234 pounds). That was before I started on Enbrel – and I remember clearly the nurse coming in to take my blood pressure on a regular doctor visit, looking at my stomach and asking “so how many months?”. Ha! I can laugh now. Even though it was a little mean (I did know her so she did have some license to be sarcastic – and I know that it was her way of showing concern too) that day solidified my resolve to get my weight back under control. After that visit I bought some diet control software online and began to measure everything I was eating. It worked out well – through monitoring my calorie input I managed to get my weight down from 106kg back to 95kg, and even at one point to 89kg! However I still was never able to see my abs, and I still suffered from white coat syndrome.
So what happened in May 2010? Well first I have to briefly go back to late 2008. At that time I resolved to get into such good shape that I would see my abs. I employed a personal trainer who would come over to my place 3 x per week and put me through some horrible cardio sessions. Wow – some of them were rough. I would wear a heart rate monitor, and during the high intensity sessions my heart rate would hit 170. I still shudder when I recall the sit-ups I had to do. Boy I hate sit-ups. Anyway, the result was that I never saw any abs. After about 6 months I injured my neck (unrelated to training), and ended up having microscopic surgery to remove a herniated disc at C6-7 level. It took me about 6 months after the surgery until my neck was 100% healed. Then I decided, once again, that I would see my abs. However this time I did some more research. I had tried following diet software, and I had done intensive cardio – and both had failed to get me to show abs. Was I just an unfortunate freak who would never get rid of that fat layer, or was I just doing something wrong? I decided on the second option. I began to think “who has great abs, and also a great body shape?”, and came up with one answer – bodybuilders. So this time I researched on what bodybuilders did to get into shape.
I stumbled by chance upon Tom Venuto and the more of his stuff I read, the more it made sense. He didn’t offer any quick fixes. No wonderful instant cures. Just some sensible hard work, and comprehensive planning on the right stuff to eat for my body type and goals. He talked about not losing weight, but losing fat. That losing water weight is easy to do, but useless – and in fact can be dangerous, but that lots of the fad diets rely on this. I also found that the key to seeing abs is not exercise, but what I eat. The upshot is that I decided to enter one of his fat-burning contests. I measured my fat (skin fold test with calipers) and over 90 days went from over 24% fat to 14% fat! According to the fat percentage continuum this puts me firmly in the “fitness” category. Although my weight only dropped by 1kg as I had put on a lot more lean muscle mass, my ‘size’ reduced because muscle takes up much less space than fat. I had people at work pause when passing me in the hallway, look me up and down and ask “have you been working out?”. And guess what – my blood pressure measured normal when I had it taken at the doctor’s office! None of this had happened when I had just focused on calories and cardio. They key was not just the calories but the nutrient split of carbs, proteins, and fats, and the types of carbs, proteins and fats that I consumed.
“Wow” you may rightly say, that is incredible! Now while I acknowledge that it was a great transformation, that is not what I count incredible. What I count as incredible is that more than one year later not only have I kept my body fat percentage down, I have actually decreased it further to 13%! For the first time in my life I can actually see an outline of abs coming through.
Although I started with Tom Venuto, my go-to guru now is a guy called Will Brink. Tom actually recommends him as an excellent source for data on weight loss, gaining muscle, and supplements, which is why I looked him up. Will appeals to me as he is very scientific focused, only recommending programs that have passed the gold standard of reputable scientific peer reviewed testing. He tells it like it is. He has just recently published an article about permanent weight loss, and if you want to lose weight then I would recommend if you only can read one thing – read this. He gives scientific proof that practically ALL diets work. Yes – you read that right – ALL diets work. They all will help you to lose weight. But the kicker is what Will calls “the test”:
“What is the number one reason diets fail long term; above all else? The number one reason is…drum roll…a lack of long term compliance. The numbers don’t lie; the vast majority of people who lose weight will regain it – and often exceed what they lost. You knew that already didn’t you?”
The key then is compliance. It is incredibly difficult to be compliant for the rest of your life with a diet that relies on you eating bananas and green tea only, or only 2% carbs, or some “patented meal/supplement” or other such fad.
So that is why I am so pleased with my results. I have not only lost fat – but maintained my condition for more than a year. This is because I now ‘eat healthy’. I am not ‘on a diet’.
So, back to the beginning – there is a whole lot of evidence out there that supports being healthy. It means better mobility, feeling better, better moods etc. It is much easier for me to remain healthy by following a healthy lifestyle.
So why the rant? Well today I received an email from a person who is very close to me and who I care about a lot. They emailed me, very excited because they have enrolled on a health/diet course. they have bought a “body composition machine” (which is a fancy word for some scales that measure body fat through bioelectrical impedance). Now I am incredibly happy that this person is trying to get healthy. I am only rolling my eyes because several months ago I sent her as a gift Tom Venuto’s book on losing fat – so she already (in my eyes) has one of the best tools already in her hand. However, giving the benefit of the doubt I visited the website of the course she has enrolled in. There on their home page they had testimony from one of their members that they had “lost 4kg in one week”. For my USA friends that is about 9 pounds. They had a picture displayed of the member who had this incredible 9 pound weight loss in a week, and they are not a large hugely obese person.
Now both Tom and Will provide solid scientific (peer reviewed) data that confirms that a target of 2 pounds of fat loss per week is aggressive (about 900 grams), but doable. Some incredibly obese people who have never ever exercised or dieted before, may be able to double that amount (about 1.8kg) per week in the first few weeks. But it is an exception – and they’d have to be super fat. So when I read that this not overly obese woman lost 4kg in one week – and that this is put up as a good thing – alarm bells start to ring. For sure the majority of it (if indeed she lost 4kg) would be water and muscle. Both things you want to hold on to. Any responsible trainer would be providing feedback that 4kg in one week is not a good thing, not publishing it on the home page as an advertisement!
As I get further into the site I see that they are focused on using organic foods, searching food labels to see what “chemicals” are in there (nothing about carbs, proteins, fats or calories – only ‘chemicals’), and he promotes his home made multivitamin, and spirulina as the “ultimate super food”. It is crap. I know that what will achieve long term sustainable body fat loss is a good exercise program combined with a eating healthy – in which you have tailored the amount of calories, carbs, fats and proteins for your body type.
However I will not say anything to her – as I am happy that she has been motivated to try something in order to get healthier. I only hope that after she has lost weight (and she will – Will’s article mentioned that most methods are pretty much equal at causing weight loss) but the gains don’t stay, that she’ll seek my advice before all the weight (and more) gets put back on.
Wish she’d read the book by Tom Venuto that I gave her though. Would have kept the money in her pocket rather than handing it to a charlatan.