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Archive for June, 2009

June 24th, 2009: Muscle-Bound Log #8 Is Up

Check out my Muscle-Bound page (tab’s to your right) to check out my latest Muscle-Bound Log: Dieting Dangers

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June 24th, 2009: Muscle-Bound Log #8: Dieting Dangers

   We had houseguests for the last two weeks, family I haven’t seen in ages, and my diet was thrown into a bit of turmoil. I didn’t cheat, but something happened that was perhaps worse. I ended up by missing meals here or there out of the six daily meals I’m supposed to eat.

     The result? I went down from 255 last week to 251 this morning. That’s not good. That’s about four pounds in a week, and the body’s reaction to that is to hoard your fat, leading to weight loss plateaus. The body believes it’s in crisis, and it saves fat until the crisis is over. In addition, the body will cannibalize your muscles, meaning I’m in danger of undermining my efforts to be healthier, fitter. And this morning, I was feeling rundown and tired. As someone dieting, my job isn’t to shirk responsibility, but to accept more of it to ensure I lose the weight properly.

     That’s the key that diets should be stressing… the responsibility of losing weight smartly, not quickly or by “any means necessary.”

     I mentioned in the previous Muscle-Bound log how dieting and exercise were normally about the results and not the process. This is one of those times when the process is critical, because how you get from A to B is often more important than just reaching it. Unfortunately, many diets today prey on the results and not on the journey.

     I believe the Cookie Diet is one of these culprits. One of the gym trainers told me about a woman who was on a Cookie Diet; she came into the gym to train and fainted… because the diet she was on barely left her with enough to function. She had no reserves or strength to go through a work-out. The cookies only allot you a maximum of 800 calories a day, followed by a single meal of lean meat and a cup of vegetables. Your minimum is supposed to be 1200 calories a day. There’re also no exercise guidelines for cookie diets because you’re already shocking the body through deprivation. And that could lead to the ever-feared rebound effect that most of us suffer through when losing weight… gaining your pounds back plus interest.

     Diets that promise quick results may sound enticing, and me losing 4 pounds in a week may seem appealing, but it isn’t. I screwed up. It’s a short-term, short-sighted method that does more damage than good. I swore to myself that this change in my lifestyle was a change for the better. I want to hit the point where I can maintain this food program with two cheat meals a week to eat with friends or family. But the minute I swore to make this a lifetime initiative, I had to remove the need for short-term success, and weight loss on its own is a short-term goal. Even if it’s only losing a pound a week, it’s the journey that matters, not the destination.

     The current plan I’m on has worked well, but not if I undermine it. I eat six times a day, with all six including 30 grams of protein, four of them with 50 grams of carbs and two of them with 5 grams of fat. I don’t mix the fat and the carbs, but I can throw in as many vegetables as I want. Excluding, of course, high sugar veggies and fruits like tomatoes, carrots, peas and corn. I eat fruits in the morning after my work out for a quick sugar boost, but that’s it. The diet is designed to feed my lean muscle mass, to help me accelerate my metabolism so that I’m burning fat through activity. More importantly, muscles still burn calories at rest, and today my 8 pounds of added muscle burnt an additional 800 calories while I sat in front of the computer. That’s not even counting the pre-existing muscle mass I’ve strengthened.

     But this works only if I feed my body the proper fuels and combine it with exercise. If I short-change myself on either diet or exercise, I’ve effectively thrown a monkey wrench into the works. Worse, I’m in danger of having taken a step back.

     I spent today eating what I should. Turns out that cutting certain foods isn’t difficult… it’s including the six meals into my day that takes effort. But I have to do better, for my own sake, because I can’t turn back and I won’t fail. That’s all there is to it and I’m tired of starting all over again.

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June 17th, 2009: Muscle-Bound Log #7: Failure

     No, I haven’t failed. I’m actually still going strong. But as someone who believes that the journey is often more important than the goal, there’s something strange to be found in weight lifting and dieting. Often, the training and food regimen are all about the results and rarely about the journey.

     Even though I’ve tried to switch it around, with the experience being a large part of why I’m doing this, there’s still the thought of a goal to be reached and won. There’s still the thought of crossing the finish line, and that brings a smile to my face even though I know I’m doing this for life. So that brings me to the middle sister of success… failure.

     We are terrified of failure. It paralyzes us from acting in the first place sometimes, and it becomes the silent excuse, the one people never express. I experience minor surges of it when I come to my weekly weigh-in, or I do my monthly fitness assessment. I scrutinize ever inch of my progress and I doubt my gains. And I’m left believing that somewhere along the way, I backslid or that what I’m seeing isn’t accurate. Further out, the fear manifests as another failed diet and another return to my weight plus the interest I’ve accumulated. I’ve rebounded before and I’ll rebound again, my fear tells me.

     A friend called me brave for what I’m doing, but the fact is I’m not a brave person. I just try to do brave things (sometimes just to spite myself). But fear of failure remains one of my demons and I know most people share it as well. If given the choice between it and never trying in the first place, how many of us would opt for the latter? How many of us would prefer never to have tried?

     If you knew you were going to fail, would you try anyways? Is it the result or the experience that matters?

I see my 43rd birthday approaching, and I’m hit with the worry that my own novels won’t see print (so I likely drive my agent crazy with questions). I see the various pant sizes and clothes that I’ve worn over the decades, and I worry that I can’t maintain what I’ve started (I’ve been here before, will I be here again?) I worry about things that I have no right worrying about, and then I worry about the fact that I worry too much.

     What keeps the fear at bay isn’t the success, though that helps tremendously. It’s the knowledge that I’m trying, so I guess the answer to my own bolded question is: It’s the experience that matters to me. Step by step. What helps is a sense of hindsight, the ability to look back on what I’ve done and take measure of the whole.

I used this approach with my writing, to remind myself where I started and where I’ve come with it. I recently realized that I have to do the same with my weight training. This occurred to me after the results of my last fitness exam. The trainer told me I’d gained about 2.5 pounds of muscle, as opposed to five pounds the month before. Instantly, the nagging doubts raised their voice in chorus and I wondered where I’d faltered. I hadn’t failed, but was I succeeding?

     Up close, it looked like depreciable returns on my investment, but I forgot to look at the larger picture. In two months, I gained eight pounds of muscles. That’s 800 extra calories a day that I’m burning, and it took both months to get here. Without the last month, I’d still be at five pounds of muscle, not eight. Fear makes it hard to see the forest from the trees, but you can always step back and take a wider angle of the view.

     So, I approach my 43rd birthday and I remind myself that 43 isn’t the finish line any more than today was. Not as a writer and not as someone watching their health. When I hit 43, it’ll be the culmination of all the steps I took. It’ll be the sum of trying, failing, succeeding and ultimately learning because I chose experience over failure.

     And now, I’d like to share with you the results of the diet to date.

                April 6th        June 15th

Weight          282 lbs          258 lbs

Fat %           36%              27%

Lean Body Mass  180.48 lbs       188.34 lbs

Fat Body Mass   101.52 lbs       69.66 lbs

      And since pictures speak louder than words: 

Front-36% Body FatFront - 27% Body Fat

 Front Flex - 36% Body FatFront Flex - 27% Body Fat

Profile - 36% Body FatProfile - 27% Body Fat


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June 13th, 2009: Muscle-Bound Log #6

Muscle-Bound Log #6 is now up. Just click the Muscle-Bound Tab to your right to take you there.

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June 13th, 2009: Muscle-Bound Log #6: Thirty Seconds of Grace

     My muscles quit before I do and the weights come crashing down. I barely stop them from striking the other plates, thus sparing my fellow gym goers from those obnoxiously loud bangs of dropped weights.

     And I begin counting… a thirty second reprieve before I start the next set.

     05 Seconds: The ache in the muscles floods out and I breathe out my racing heart. As I sit on the chair, I study my fellow weight lifters. There’s a few clusters of conversations happening, mostly people who’ve been training together and seeing one another for years. It’s a friendly atmosphere and it isn’t hard to coax a nod or a smile out of someone. I already know a few people by name and they know me enough to bump fists. Not my greeting of choice, but when in Rome, don’t piss off the Romans.

     10 Seconds: My breath is returning to normal and I take in more of my surroundings. Kneeling on the floor is a woman I like to call Supergirl. She’s in her 50s with a decent physique… trim and muscled. She’s extraordinary in one way, though, in how she “lifts” weights. She pulls the cabled grip down to her chest and then lets it jerk her back up again. She clears the floor by at least a foot each time before her weight pulls her to the ground again. When she does seated leg lifts, her legs stay where they are (pressed against the bars), but her pelvis shoots out until her back is straight. I wonder how she manages to be in shape when her form is so poor.

     15 Seconds: My body is relaxing but I move a little to test the diminished strength in my muscles. The next set will definitely be harder, so I will my muscles to drain out the lactic toxins so I can get through my next set without grimacing and grunting like a prehistoric porn star. Meanwhile, I spy another of the gym’s unique personalities. His hair is cut and sharply parted in a style best suited for the 1930s. He’s slight, but well muscled. On the street, you’d dismiss him as a bookworm; here, at Monster’s, he lifts a mean weight and is defined enough to show it. He wipes down machines with the Kleenex from the box he carries around, and he trains with gardening gloves. I also discover he’s a Historian and I suddenly want to talk to him some time.

     20 Seconds: More familiar figures wander by. I nod at those who look up. And I smile at the gaggle of four or five guys. They’re my age or older and they’re always laughing and cracking jokes. They’re there in the morning for 2 or 3 hours, and they gravitate towards the fit women. They’re a gym drinking game in the making… take a swig if one of them is chatting up a girl. I bet their workout would be done forty minutes earlier if they focused more, but then the gym would be too grim, too business-like without their casual airs.

     25 Seconds: After glancing at the fifty-something overweight man (white) in sweats, wraparound shades and ratty, beaded dreads poking out from under his baseball cap, I check the weight on my machine. I make a mental note of how much to decrease it by on my drop set. Part of my new routine is to punch out 8 to 12 reps at a high weight and then immediately drop the weight by half and do 10 more. Dropped sets are a way of getting the most burn out of the muscle, and burn it does. I feel like a wimp when someone walks by and sees me grunting and sweating to granny weights, but I still do it. Monster Gym isn’t about measuring yourself up against other people. It’s about being there and putting in the effort. The misconceptions of elitism are mine, and I’m glad this gym has mostly dismissed them.

     30 Seconds: Time’s up. Time to get back to work… but my muscles are still starving to breathe. I cheat and start counting to 10. Ten more seconds almost seems like another lifetime….


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June 3rd, 2009: New Muscle-Bound Log

Muscle-Bound Log #5: Everyone Knows is now on the Muscle-Bound page.

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June 3rd, 2009: Muscle-Bound Log #5: Everyone Knows

It’s amazing how, when it’s time to lose weight, total strangers become experts on the matter. Everyone has their approach and pet theories; once you admit you’re following a meal plan or exercise program, people you just met feel comfortable telling you about themselves and their philosophies when they might not even say “hi” to you on the street.

I’d finished my first workout with Marshal, one of my trainers, and I received my diet plan. With it came a list of supplements to help in… well… supplementing my diet. I had a lot of shopping to do. At least 90% of the food in my fridge was no longer healthy during this phase. Goodbye tomatoes and tomato-based products… I couldn’t afford the sugar spikes. Bye-bye mayo and peanut butter, our mutual love of fats could no longer sustain us. And then there were things I had to buy like “bitter melon” and “gugulsterone,” which was either a supplement to stimulate the thyroid or a sterone to the 10100 power. So off to shopping I went, blinking at half the names and wondering what sort of wonderful side-effects I could look forward to.

It took two stores to find the supplements I needed, with my father for company. He was interested in my diet and I in his senior’s discount card. At the first store was an employee who was also a yoga-enthusiast (enthusiast meaning he felt comfortable enough criticizing my approach to health). After he heard me ask about a “fat burner,” he immediately launched into a spiel about yoga, martial arts and the growing obesity issues of current generations. That, at least, was better than this one time I asked about a product called “Creatine” and the store employee told me I didn’t need it because it retained water and that I was already “big.” Seriously? Me being overweight means you get to turn off your own internal censors?

Needless to say, I found little help at the first store, and opted for the second store where a more tactful employee discussed his body building experiences. One conversation was informative and pleasant, the other condescending.

Make no mistake… I know I’m fat. Not overweight, not pleasantly plump, not chubalicious… well, okay… chubalicious is fine, but I am fat and I refuse to treat it as an insult. And if someone treats me with disrespect over it, it’s not my failing, it’s theirs. That said, in the politics of health, you’ll find people genuinely interested in your well-being and eager to involve you in the process. And you’ll find others who treat fat as a mistake, as gross negligence on your part, and an opening to reprimand you with “friendly” advice. In some ways I can’t fault them for that attitude, not entirely. With all the noise out there, it’s hard knowing what works and why, so when someone finds something that does work, they champion it under the assumption that if they could do it, you can too.

The fact is that there are hundreds of diets from the scientifically sound to the cult approach to health (with techniques that border on psychological reprogramming and faerie dust). And yet, we are so diversified as human beings that some techniques work for some and fail for others. Nutrisystem, Jenny Craig, Atkins, the South Beach Diet, Weight Watchers, the Cookie Diet (shudder), Subways… all of them have their success stories and all of them have their failures. Kirstie Alley, who was spokeswoman for Jenny Craig for three years gained 83 pounds after leaving the program. “But she didn’t maintain it!” some of you might assert, to which I say the program was still a failure because it didn’t help her change her attitudes about (or approach to) food.

In the end, the diet shouldn’t be a burden. It has to be a responsibility, a willingness to treat it as a lifestyle change for the better. The trick, however, isn’t on following the most popular programs. It’s on finding the one that works for you. Now, if friends ask, I’ll gladly tell them my own steps and how it’s made me feel, but in the end, I’ll encourage them to take whatever combination of diet and exercise works for them. Just, please, if you are going to try something, go into it with your eyes open. Read, research and make sure there’s a sound and scientific approach to your method. Consult an expert and look at the promises. And remember that as with all things, if a diet sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.

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