How much can you improve your fitness in 6 months?

My 2013 six-month fitness check-in. With many fitness goals, I am using the bodyweight baseline workout to assess where I am at.  I did not review my previous performance before heading off to the gym – I had no idea what I was trying to beat and I did not want to psyche myself out. I just wanted to do it. I put my game face on and I went.

It is done.

It was relatively brutal.

I did not go into the workout with confidence. Honestly, I had forgotten about my assessment workout, until I looked at the calendar yesterday and realized it was July. My workouts have been on the back burner lately – lacking focus, intent, and energy. This made me nervous, but I knew that I needed to complete the assessment and know the results – the good and the bad.

The results

Exercise

Jan. 2

Apr. 1

Jun 2

Percent Improvement

Pushups

55

63

68

23.64%

Squats

206

219

233

13.11%

Pullups

11

18

20

81.82%

Burpees

25

39

36

44.00%

Traveling Lunges

98

112

122

24.49%

BB Inverted Row

42

44

59

40.48%

SB Plank

:35 sec

:55 sec

1:10

100.00%

KB Swings (20kg)

81

90

98

20.99%

Following this workout, I completed my 1-mile run in 8:53 minutes, improving from 9:18 in April (and having not completed the mile in January).

Lastly, I weighed myself for the first time in a very long time – I am up 4 pounds from April and back to the same weight I started at January 1 – still within my body’s happy range. (And unfortunately I have not had a trustworthy body fat analysis to determine any changes in body composition.)

The response

I am surprised with my improvements. I am not surprised with my decrease in burpees since April, as I have been experiencing more back pain these last few weeks (no more Insanity experiments). 

The 3 minutes of pullups were frustrating, as I was only able to perform one at a time. All I could think about was my goal to perform 10 consecutive and the fact that I have not been training for it as diligently as I should be and that is why it was so hard. Mind games!

All in all, I am pleased. 

The bottomline

I did better than I thought I would. A lesson to be kind to myself.

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Response: Mediterranean Diet not for weight loss

I read a blog post yesterday about the Mediterranean Diet. The post (specific author unknown to me and brought to me by my Facebook newsfeed) proposes that the Mediterranean Diet is not conducive to weight loss and declares that it is only good for improving heart health. This is an incredibly superficial understanding of nutrition and naive perspective. I would even go so far as to say that posting such information is professional negligence or malpractice.

I strongly believe that you should get your nutrition advice from a qualified nutrition professional. I AM NOT ONE. I feel like I have been writing more about nutrition than exercise or mental strategies lately – I only intend to make you think critically and then get the answers you need. And when I read posts like this and hear a story of a nutritionist telling a friend that a vegetable is not a carbohydrate (yes, true story), I become infuriated. It makes me angry and it makes me sad. As if individuals are not confused enough! This world is infiltrated with hogwash and I intend to do my small part to call attention to it.

Mediterranean Diet = weight loss?

Yes, a Mediterranean Diet will yield weight loss. The poorly misguided post ‘cites’ research (that focused on heart risks, bias much?) that claimed a Mediterranean diet improved heart health but did not result in weight loss. I put cites in quotes because the author claims that the New England Journal of Medicine conducted the research – really? A journal did research? More like researchers were published in the journal. But hey, it’s close and shows that the author does not understand how to accurately read and present research.

Moving on. Yes, the Mediterranean Diet is best known for its coronary benefits. Along with dietary guidelines, the diet emphasizes plenty of exercise. So, while weight loss may not have been significant in the study, fat loss probably was significant and not measured. Numerous studies have shown that a Mediterranean diet shows improved weight loss over other weight loss strategies (Mohamed, El-Swefy, Rashed, & Abd El-Latif, 2010; Razquin, Martínez, Martínez-González, Salas-Salvadó, Estruch, & Marti, 2010; Serra-Majem, Roman, & Estruch, 2006).

NOTE: Without proper citation by the author, I was unable to locate the so-called research among the thousands of articles published in the NEJM. Therefore, my argument is anecdotal but based on years of personal research and education.

Benefits of a Mediterranean Diet

Beyond heart benefits, the Mediterranean diet has been shown to increase fat loss (Serra-Majem, Roman, & Estruch, 2006). It is also known to prevent and ‘cure’ diabetes (Serra-Majem, Roman, & Estruch, 2006; Walker, O’Dea, Gomez, Girgis, & Colagiuri, 2010), decrease mental decline, reduce insulin resistance, and reduce metabolic disorders (which have a high comorbidity with overweight/obesity).

And I refer you to a nutrition professional for additional information.

Basic nutrition

This brings me back to the fact that very few weight loss “professionals” have an understanding of the basic nutrition principles and processes. It is appalling to me that any weight loss company would publish such hogwash. Seriously. A Mediterranean Diet not a weight loss diet? HOGWASH! I will over simplify this: A diet of fruits, veggies, lean meats, and healthy fats won’t yield weight loss? But a diet of Fig Newtons and graham crackers with pudding is a better solution (per the post’s publisher)?

I think it’s time to come back to the basics. I read textbooks for my information – but I realize this is too dense and time consuming for most individuals. I am beginning to put together a resource list of videos and websites to help my friends and readers increase personal understanding of nutrition!

The bottomline

I am not promoting a Mediterranean Diet. Nor am I discouraging it. I believe that the guidelines are reasonable and will work for some and will be difficult for others – as like any other change. It is not significantly different from a a low-carbohydrate diet, a low-glycemic index diet, or a Paleo diet. The most critical commonality? Eating more REAL food and less processed and packaged junk.

Further, this absurdity highlights the importance of weight loss versus fat loss. Body composition will often improve with no change in weight – with proper lifestyle improvements.

Lastly, please be a critical consumer. It is sad that I read this post on a page that I believed I could trust (at least to a certain degree). I now know otherwise.

References

Mediterranean-Style Diet Counters Metabolic Syndrome. (2011). Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter29(6), 6.

Mohamed, H. E., El-Swefy, S. E., Rashed, L. A., & Abd El-Latif, S. K. (2010). Obesity and neurodegeneration: effect of a Mediterranean dietary pattern. Nutritional Neuroscience13(5), 205-212.

Razquin, C. C., Martínez, J. A., Martínez-González, M. A., Salas-Salvadó, J. J., Estruch, R. R., & Marti, A. A. (2010). A 3-year Mediterranean-style dietary intervention may modulate the association between adiponectin gene variants and body weight change. European Journal Of Nutrition49(5), 311-319.

Serra-Majem, L., Roman, B., & Estruch, R. (2006). Scientific Evidence of Interventions Using the Mediterranean Diet: A Systematic Review. Nutrition Reviews64(2), S27-S47.

Walker, K. Z., O’Dea, K. K., Gomez, M. M., Girgis, S. S., & Colagiuri, R. R. (2010). Diet and exercise in the prevention of diabetes. Journal Of Human Nutrition & Dietetics23(4), 344-352.

Are you earning your calories?

I have another pet peeve. This idea of EARNING the amount of calories you expend – essentially rewarding yourself with food. Many of the popular food tracking applications (and even some medical weight loss programs e.g., HCG programs) motivate you by encouraging you to EARN additional calories through exercise. The more calories you expend – the more calories you can add to your day. This is deceitful. This is a trick. This is a flat out LIE.

I have discussed your body’s weight set point, which regulates alongside your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate), RMR (Resting Metabolic Rate), and other physiological functions. Eating consistent quantities – less than you have previously eaten – and regular activity is what will lower your set point. And it is changing your set point that is critical for sustainable weight loss.

The lies revealed…

I inconsistently experiment with MyFitnessPal (MFP) when I feel I am not consuming enough calories. According to yesterday’s summary, I had a 1164 calorie deficit. BULLS&*T. My logged physical activity (which by the way is completely inaccurate) EARNED me an additional 856 calories. MFP does not calculate caloric expenditure for strength training – therefore I did not EARN any additional calories for lifting heavy things and putting them down. Considering that lean muscle mass is what burns the calories, this is quite humorous to me.

NOTE: I did manipulate the default caloric and macronutrient needs to fit what I have determined for myself – the generic settings are not suitable for all, particularly not for the especially active.

MFP congratulated me and told me that if I make every day like yesterday that I would weigh 138.9 pounds in 5 weeks. Yesterday I was 153 pounds. The math from the girl who hates math:

153 – 138.9 = 14.4

14.4/5wk = 2.82 lb/wk

A one pound weight loss requires a 3500 calorie deficit.

1164 c x 7 days = 8148 c

8148 c / 3500 c = 2.3 pounds

So yes, MFP is working from the basic mathematical logic. They got the math almost correct!

Problem 1. I know my body, and I know that if I maintain a daily 1000+ calorie deficit I will gain weight as a result of my body going into starvation mode.

Problem 2. They have done the superficial math but what about macronutrient ratios? If I take in enough calories, but not sufficient protein for my muscular growth, I will gain weight. If I do not consume enough calories and still consume too little protein, I will gain weight. If my calories are on but I never eat vegetables, it could go either way. I could go on with examples, but I believe you can see my point.

With that said – what happens if I eat the calories MFP told me I EARNED? Would I lose weight? Would I gain weight? Would I maintain?

The impact…

These programs are preying on a society obsessed with food – large portions, added sugars, and more. “I can eat this cake because I went to the gym and burned it off – I EARNed it.” WRONG. Again, one of the crucial components of a lowered weight set point is a reduction in calories consumed.

Have you been eating the calories you EARN through physical exercise? How are your results? The chances are that your results are not what you would hope for, given the amount of work you are putting in. Do you feel defeated? At a loss? Like a failure? Frustrated?Sick and tired? Not worth the effort? Does an effective weight loss program elicit these feelings? Absolutely not. These lies you have been told are not setting you up for success – they are in fact setting you up for failure. (This truly saddens my heart; I wish it were illegal.)

If you have been consuming EARNED calories, STOP NOW!!! You will thank me next week.

There is a fix…

Determine your caloric and macronutrient needs. If you need to, consult with an RD – a priceless investment in yourself. The absolute best way to know how many calories you need to maintain your current weight set point is to know your lean body mass. How do you determine this? Body composition testing – NOT BMI. You see, only your muscles need energy (i.e., calories) to sustain. If you consume more than your lean mass requires, it will be stored for later (it is a bit more complicated than this, but you get the idea).

The bottomline…

Do not fall for the marketing! Do not let this world lie to you! We do not EARN food. Determine what your caloric needs are and stick with them – and do not forget to reassess this need when you have significant changes in body composition. Then, control your deficit through physical activity and expenditure.

Activity increases making you hungry? Eat more leafy greens – very few calories and they can sure fill you up!

Final thoughts –

Do you think that calorie counting alone is good strategy for weight loss?

Do you still want to count calories at all?

MYTH – If you are skinny, you are healthy

You know your friend, the one who is skinny as a twig, but lives on candy, chips, and ice cream? And to add fuel to that envious fire burning inside you, she does not exercise – unless of course carrying laundry down the stairs counts as exercise to you, but it does not in my book.

Now ask yourself, do you consider her healthy?

I have news for you: Simply being thin is not akin to being healthy. There is such a thing as being skinny-fat. Being skinny-fat is about much more than physical appearance. In fact, your dress size has absolutely nothing on the much bigger issue – YOUR HEALTH. In many cases, the skinnier you get, the more you’re actually at risk for health problems! Low body weight could mean someone has low lean muscle mass.  And low muscle mass and high body fat percentage has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke, diabetes, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome, and even cancer.

We live in a culture obsessed with weight, but there is a difference between being thin and being healthy. That difference lies in body composition.

What is body composition?

Most medical offices and health insurance companies use Body Mass Index (BMI) to measure body composition – because it is easy. Unfortunately, easy and accurate are not the same. According to BMI, most of my colleagues and I are classified as overweight to morbidly obese. So what does that have to say about health and fitness professionals? BMI does not account for lean mass!

Body composition is a measure of lean and fatty tissues. A healthy body composition is determined by the percentage of body fat versus lean muscle mass. Ideally, you want your body fat percentage low and lean muscle mass percentage high. An altered body composition arises when the percentage of body fat is too high. The ACSM recommends adult men to have between 10-22% body fat, while women should have between 20-32% body fat.

Being overweight is often used synonymously with an altered body composition; however, excess body weight is not a definitive assessment for altered body composition. Just as thin is not synonymous with fit and healthy. Extreme athletes or weight lifters can have a body weight that is considered outside of a healthy reference range (BMI), but their body compositions may be optimal due to the high amount of lean muscle. Muscle actually weighs more than fat. That’s easy to forget sometimes! This is one reason stepping on the scale can be so frustrating and why it’s important to get measurements taken every four weeks.

The best advice I can give: Judge your progress by how your clothes fit and feel, not by the number on the scale. This is how I typically do it and I tend to avoid the scale.

How can you improve your body composition?

Certain weight loss programs can actually be harmful and counterproductive to improving body composition. In some cases, weight loss programs result in excessive loss of muscle along with fat. Why? Because our energy reserves are in our muscles. An example of such a program is The Biggest Loser.

When we deprive our bodies of energy (e.g., restrictive dieting), we force our bodies to dive into those energy reserves.  It’s far more important to focus on FAT LOSS. Studies have found that the most successful way to slow the aging process is to maintain a healthy muscle mass along with eating a balanced, low-calorie diet. And unfortunately, maintaining muscle mass as we age is difficult because we naturally lose muscle—unless we work to keep it.

  1. Losing weight does not mean you have a healthy heart. On the other hand, getting fit and eating a healthy diet can dramatically improve heart health.
  2. Losing weight alone does not lower your cholesterol, but regular exercise and healthy eating will.
  3. Simply losing weight is not going to lower your risk of contracting certain types of cancers, but regular exercise and mindful eating can.
  4. Losing weight cannot prevent osteoporosis, boost your immune system, lead to healthier pregnancies and childbirth, improve your physical performance, or prevent the loss of muscle. However, by adopting a regular exercise routine and a healthy eating plan, you can!

So what does this mean? Losing weight is not the important part of getting healthy. The important things to consider are healthy eating, regular exercise, and generally taking care of yourself! Skinny-fat or fat-fat your #1 priority should be to adopt a healthy lifestyle and get fit for life!

Response: Our Imaginary Weight Problem

I have now read Paul Campos’ editorial in The New York Times, Our Imaginary Weight Problem, twice. I chose to read it a second time because I originally read it on a day that I read a series of other ridiculous articles published to begin this new year. I wanted to be sure that I didn’t misread it in a biased mental state. It frustrates me to no end. Why does the media have to lie (or distort truth)? The whole ‘problem’ would likely disappear if the media would tell the truth and publish what most qualified professionals already know! Instead of blaming the weight loss industry or pharmaceutics companies, how about bringing it back to science instead of gimmicks and fads that make the industries look bad?

Who’s to blame?

If there is anyone to blame, it would be two groups: the Nixon Era and health insurance companies. The Nixon Era is at fault for highly subsidizing the production of high fructose corn syrup and significantly increasing the availability and affordability of this ‘food’ product. The health insurance companies can be blamed for developing the Body Mass Index (BMI) which is still used in most medical and research communities to this day. BMI is not representative of health – there may be correlations, but correlation does not equate to causation. And to read the research and conclude that body composition has no relationship to medical conditions and/or mortality is a pretty bold judgement.

Who’s living longer?

Campos states himself that research doesn’t account for any other factors that may contribute to mortality. What about the fact that a great majority of America’s overweight/obese population are athletes and physically fit individuals who maintain higher levels of lean muscle mass and take considerable care of their bodies? Are these the ‘overweight/obese’ individuals who are living longer than the ‘normal’ weight individuals?

Who’s going to read NYT and jump for joy?

The unfortunate result of such an editorial is that we will now have individuals read this and tell themselves and others that they do not need to lose weight or become healthy. As a society, we have associated weight with health – we need to separate these two. But the world is ready and anxious to hear, “You don’t need to lose weight. You ARE healthy just as you are!” When health is actually comprised of so many factors.

I have trained many clients who will exercise as much as I ask them to – but will not change eating or drinking habits. They’ll use this research to try and argue with me and justify themselves. I’ve had clients who exercise, eat right, but do illicit drugs – they maintain the excess weight and now have another ‘reason’ to be complacent with the additional weight. Humans are resistant to change and want to hear that they are already doing the right thing – particularly when it relates to health and well-being.

The bottomline…

This is yet another bogus claim. Is the weight problem overinflated? The BMI problem and it’s associated labels of overweight and obese is overinflated. If we looked at the whole person, the data and associated research would be a whole lot different. Unfortunately, the science is trying to classify groups of individuals – and seen as we ARE all individuals, it makes it difficult to classify based on such a narrow set of data.

But what do I know? I’m just a girl…and I don’t know anything about Paul Campos. But I do know that I will now read his book, The Obesity Myth: Why America’s Obsession With Weight Is Hazardous to Your Health, and maybe that was his ultimate goal?

Defining: MY ideal body

 

I was perusing Facebook this morning. Lately, it seems like God is speaking to me through the news feed. He knows what has been weighing heavily on my mind. I have been trying to clearly define my  goal: I WILL be in the best shape of my life for my 30th birthday (May). I have been using images to define my goals – thus far all images of muscular woman performing some physical feat. Taking a look at the chart below, it hits me that all the images I am drawn towards look like the 10-12% body fat. Wow!…Wow! And I ask myself, which images do I think are the most attractive?

image collageThe last I tested, I was approximately 20% body fat. And the few times I have checked in below that, I didn’t FEEL well. The generally accepted ‘normal’ body fat percentage for a woman in her thirties in 23-27%. And I have been unknowingly setting my goal for 12%….is this realistic? Is this hazardous? What is the benefit? Looking at the above images, I would currently compare myself most closely to the 20-22%. Am I happy with my body? To tell you the truth, I am far from satisfied! To my defense – what woman have you met who truly is 100% satisfied with her body?

For years, I’ve battled disordered eating behaviors and exercise addiction. I even had a boyfriend end a relationship because I was ‘too obsessed with what I ate and going to the gym.’ He said it was too much pressure for him and he felt he needed to live up to the same standards. Mind you – we met at the gym. I didn’t read between the lines at the time – what I heard was that I was too much for him to handle. The reality is that I had an incredibly healthy relationship with food at that time. I often wish I could go back in time and mimic that relationship for current implementation. The real issue was my body dissatisfaction and the overall effect it had on my life and our relationship.

The cycle of undereating, overeating, and episodic binges has taken a toll – physically and emotionally. The period of overtraining has left me with injuries that I will spend my entire life fighting to overcome. I’ve been a guinea pig for insanely difficult workouts. I have tested numerous meal plans – and those most closely resembling a a bodybuilding diet (and that necessary to achieve my perceived ideal body) made me miserable. I’ve tried enough ‘diets’ to know when my mind and body are at optimal performance. A system of chosen deprivation (e.g., eliminating all carbohydrates or dairy) is not ideal for my daily functioning.

So as I continue to define my goal – I find myself DEFINING MY IDEAL BODY. I have to ask myself if that’s what I’m really striving for. What is it I’m really trying to achieve? I know what I would need to do to reach 10% body fat. The workouts don’t scare me and they in fact excite me. But the diet is another story and the diet is 90% of achieving my ideal body. So….is that truly my ideal body? Is that my goal? And what is wrong with my current appearance? My body fat is within healthy range, sometimes dipping to slightly below. And there are risks to low body fat just as there are risks to high body fat (e.g., osteoporosis, amenorrhea).

As of this morning, I’ve decided that I will step away from all vanity aspects of this goal. I WILL be in the best shape of my life for my 30th birthday! But this will be purely achievement based. And this is going to be FUN and REWARDing!

Treat your body kindly – 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 (New International Version)