Jan 17, 2013

Born to Eat - 3, Fat to Phat

A few years back, work ran a fitness campaign called "I Decide."  The gist was whatever workout a person invented in their head was good enough.  Placards interspersed throughout campus flashed large font "I Decide" quotes, employees saying things like "I Decide...to Climb Three Flights of Stairs" or "I Decide...To Get Off the Bus Two Stops Early."

A person may decide to climb a floor and walk from the bus, which burns roughly a quarter slice of bread.  But that's not a workout.

The truth is losing weight and getting in shape are HARD WORK.  

I've written here before, this one tattles on obesity being worse for health than smoking packs a day, and cutting calories is more effective at slicing blubber than exercise.  We've also done a BMI breakdown and pulled husky kids into the conversation.

Today we'll pick at both sides of the weight equation:  food and fitness.  If you wish to lose, stick with the dirty dozen below for six months.  Your pants will get baggy, I promise.

    1.  Reality check
    2.  Set specific goals with deadlines
    3.  Find a training buddy
    4.  Focus on food before fitness
    5.  Drink water, three big ones a day
    6.  Buy some clothes
    7.  Hard cardio three days a week
    8.  No excuses
    9.  Lifts weights once a week
    10. Sleep more
    11. Learn to enjoy healthy habits
    12. Celebrate

Reality Check
Peel layers down to your birthday suit.
Face the mirror.
Take a long look.
Don't shut it down early.
Do you like what you see?

Now step on the scale (make sure it's accurate) and watch the dial twist.  Are you happy with the damage?

If you want things to change, decide now is the time to do it.

Set specific goals with deadlines
It's easier to track progress when measured against specific goals.  I like to set progressive goals, start with something realistic and finish with a stretch.  For example, suppose you'd like to run a 5K for the first time this year.  A specific set of goals with a progressive stretch might look like this:

    I want to walk/jog a 5K by May 1.
    I want to jog a 5K without walking by July 1.
    I wan to run a 5K in less than 30 minutes by September 1.

This gives you something to strive for throughout the year, plus 5Ks are a lot of fun.

On the weight front, a progression could be:

    I want to lose 10 pounds the first month.
    I want to lose 20 pounds by June 1.
    I want to lose 40 pounds by the end of the year. 

Find a training buddy
I rarely run alone, it's easier to stay motivated and accountability increases when sweating with a friend.  Find one or two people with similar goals and form a team.  Plan your workouts together, hold each other to it and compete a little.

If you need to hire a trainer to get started, go for it.  Try and wean off over time and switch to working out with a friend.  It's cheaper and more realistic to maintain for the long haul.

Focus on food before fitness
I always thought workouts burned it faster than cutting calories.  Studied up and learned the opposite is true.  Especially for women, shrewdly working the plate rather than an elliptical is better at trimming fat.  Combine the two for max scale drop.

A local healthy favorite Curls and I do is an all-you-can-eat salad bar at a grocery store.  On weekends, Hy-Vee sometimes offers unlimited greens for five bucks.  The real story is their bar offers a half dozen varieties of expensive berries.  Pretty sure I've chomped $6 in blueberries in one sitting.

Remember that cutting calories is not necessarily a diet.  Start small, perhaps cut one soda a day and put the kabosh on fatty snacks.  It takes awhile adjusting to eating better, but becomes easier to stick over time.

Drink water, three big ones a day
I think we need water more than food in the morning.  Our body often confuses thirst for hunger.  Water dilutes cravings and cleans out the pipes.  I restock a tall Nalgene bottle three times a day at work.  One in the morning, two in the afternoon after running.   

Buy a Brita filter if you don't have one, keep a fresh supply of aqua in the fridge at home.  Iced filtered water is easy to drink.  Hot green tea is another win, here's how to brew a tasty pot.

You'll tinkle and stink more when on the bottle.  The latter will help the weight slough off faster.

Buy some clothes
If your workout stash consists of white Hush Puppies and thick cotton sweatpants, go ahead and make a store stop to fill up on synthetic blend shorts and tops.  Most of my running stuff is Target label.  Inexpensive, lasts years and wicks sweat as well as the expensive brands.

Spend $50 or $70 on quality shoes.  If you plan to jog or train for a race, visit a running store and let them help you pick a shoe that fits your stride and body type.  A proper shoe means you won't get blisters and your chance of injury decreases.

Hard cardio three days a week
Cardio means longer workouts that quicken your breathing and heart rate.  Running, biking, stair climbing, elliptical, group fitness classes.  You should be sweating a bunch.  If you have a lot to lose and are not used to heavy breathing, start easy with 20 minutes.  I prefer to go outdoors vs. treadmill or StairMaster, but do both depending on weather and how much time's available.  Up to you and what equipment you have.

I'm not a fan of working out at home alone.  I like the energy and kick you get from seeing others at a gym or on the roads with a group run.

After a couple weeks of 20 minute cardio three days a week, increase the time to 30 or 40 minutes.  More importantly, increase the intensity.  An intense 20 minute workout burns deeper than a 40 slog on the treadmill.  Twice a week, I do tempo workouts, short sprints of speed to shock the legs and thumper.

Try to get your heart rate above 160 beats per minute in bursts each week.  Cardio five days a week, alternating medium and hard effort every other for the full effect.

Stretch after workouts, not as important to do so before.

Walking is not a workout.  Unless knee pain, heart problems, old age or weight forces it.  I'll get flak in the comments on this one in 3...2...

No excuses
Oh yeah, the gym's bearing down, life's scooting by.  It's easy to fall off the wagon about now.

Make it work.

Schedule time, hire a sitter, turn off the TV, take an hour of vacation to keep it going.  This is where having a training buddy helps.

The body sometimes plateaus and the pounds cling.  Mix it up, try spin class or boot camp, maybe a hot sauna and a diet tweak to put some body English on the scale.

Lifts weights once a week
If you have access to a gym, try and lift iron at least once a week.  A one-two punch on the fat with cardio and weights amps metabolism.  A higher metab' means you burn more calories throughout the day, even while sitting and sleeping.

I think women sometimes are afraid to lift, lest they turn into Arnold.  But that's not really true, twice a week on the weights will add athletic tone, not bulk. 

Sleep more
It seems counter-intuitive, but getting six to eight hours of sleep helps the peel.  Extra Zs sharpen the brain and recover the body faster after hard workouts.

Learn to differentiate between muscle soreness and the onset of injury.  Soreness you can stretch and push through.  Injury needs rest and time to heal.  Listen to your body and adjust workouts accordingly to stay healthy.
I usually take Sundays off from exercise, even when training high mileage for marathons.

Learn to enjoy healthy habits
Early on, it will suck.  It must be force fed.  But give it time, the body copes until it becomes less a chore and more a habit.  It eventually lightens from burden to blessing.  I look forward to my workout each day.

Take before, during and after photos.  Track your progression of goals.  Celebrate when you hit each one.

Get on it, cheers!



  1. Just wanted to put my two cents in about women "bulking up" from lifting. As you said, it's 100% untrue. I've been doing crossfit/kettlebell for almost 4 years and, if anything, you'll gain great muscle tone that will complement your new waistline. Plus, I think it's a really empowering feeling for a woman to put up some big weights and know that she can hang with the men. I'm not saying you need to be deadlifting 800 lbs, but even if you're not very strong now, you'll be surprised how quickly you gain strength you didn't know you had. Oh and don't be scared off by the meatheads with their gallon water bottles near the free weights at the gym--you have just as much right to be there as they do ladies! :)

  2. Agreed re the lifting for women. TRX is my new fav way to lift weights.... lifting myself is so much more satisfying than iron. Also agree re clothing. I feel so much better working out in purpose made clothing. And Beard, you didn't mention this for obvious reasons... but for the ladies out there... spend some $$ on the sports bra!

    1. Amen Jennifer! Besides Target, there's also TJMaxx/Marshall's which typically carries name brand stuff that I'd never pay full price for!

    2. Right on you two.

      My favorite shop for online shoes is Running Warehouse. Last year's models are often 50% off.


  3. Great advice! I am focusing hard on the diet part since that is something I have never monitored before. I have a cookie problem...

    1. I'm a cookie monster too, my daughter's selling Girl Scout thin mints. Just trying to, you know, help her raise money and stuff.

  4. Anonymous1/18/2013

    Oh, thanks for writing this! I was pretty overweight. By that, I mean, I wanted/needed to lose around 75 pounds. I lost 40 the 7 months before getting pregnant (sheesh...) so I know I really won't lose the weight until after the pregnancy. ANYWAY, everyone always asks what I do to lose weight and I say I watch what I eat (mainly calories) and I did Insanity (pre-pregnancy). When I told them, they didn't really say much. I think they want me to give them the magical fairy dust I must be putting my my drink to lose weight. They're almost UPSET it's hard work. Sorry, but it's not easy...but gosh, to lose so much weight is SOOOOO rewarding and you're healthier too! I cannot wait to have this baby so I can get back on the weight loss train! I'm addicted :)

    1. You nailed it, the tipping point where change isn't a chore anymore and you look forward to it. Nice job and thanks for sharing!

  5. I lost 40lbs in 2012. I still have more to lose to be healthy. I am currently doing TurboFire. I am addicted to it. I have never been one to pop out of bed pre-dawn excited to workout...BUT THINGS CHANGE! I am more productive at work, I am not draggin my wagon at the end of the day and my excitement about making healthy changes has encouraged my friends to do the same. I agree with all of your points and I just jotted them down on a few Post-its to put around the house as a constant reminder as my commitment to myself. Thanks for the post!

    1. Mmmm...brownies, more brownies. Oh wait, got sidetracked, what were you saying?

  6. How do you keep off the cravings? How do you balance the love of thin mints and the need to keep calories down? This is where I lose. I am a sugar junkie and crave sweets. I feel like to have just two cookies, I've already derailed myself so why not just go all in? Always feel like an ass afterwards, but I'm wondering what the hardcore "good" people do?

    1. Keep it out of the house.

      I bought a family sized bag of Lay's potato chips on our last grocery run. One week later and the chips are gone. Hint: it wasn't Pigtails (as I wipe potato grease off my face). Moral of the story is if the junk's in the house, you will eat it.

      Treat yourself to an occasional sweet, buy maybe buy it out of the house so the temptation is not at home. So go pick up a small Dairy Queen cone rather than having a bucket of ice-cream in the freezer, for example.

      Also, we've learned to adjust to what we consider a snack. A yoghurt and apple or maybe sliced banana with peanut butter is commonplace at home. We occasionally buy a bag of chips or ice cream, but it's a "sometimes food" as daughter calls it.

    2. Anonymous1/18/2013

      Here's your comment about the walking. Walking can be a great workout especially if power-walking or climbing some serious inclines (bonus - walking uphill really engages those glutes!) I've been out power walking and I hate to say it, but I've actually passed "joggers" while walking. Also, walking is much easier on the joints for those who have a lot of weight to lose. Bottom line is keep active. What works for one person may not work for another. You have to find what works for you as that's the only way it will become a lifelong habit. And also to find a workout that you enjoy. Then it won't seem like work!

    3. I agree that walking is a great universal calorie burn nearly everyone can do. Running eats roughly 100 calories per mile, walking is similar to that. I think the post-workout burn from a run raises the metabolism higher than a walk. From what I've read, we should aim to exercise off 400+ calories per day, so a 4 mile walk or run will do it.

  7. I've yo-yo'd for years now, losing 75 and gaining 25 back, so down 50 from my highest weight. I still have a lot to lose and it's hard. Thanks for the motivation to keep going!

    1. 50 is great progress, keep on it!

  8. Thanks for this, I always find reading about the efforts of others inspiring and motivating.

    For those looking to mix it up (especially for different types of cardio) LivingSocial, Amazon Local, Groupon and other similar services CONSTANTLY have deals for different gyms. They generally consist of a month of yoga, bootcamp, Crossfit-type, etc classes for $20 to $50.

    I'd also encourage people to keep trying new things (within reason, don't change your workout every 20 days) until you can find something that fits best. I generally workout at home, to a video, in the evenings after the kids are in bed. But I only found that out through trial and error.

    Also, a big yes to diet making the biggest difference. Sadly, that's what I struggle with the most. I have been trying to kick the Dr Pepper habit for years and have only recently really cut myself off from fast food.

    Thanks again for the article though, as I said, always very motivating for me to read the fitness advice of others.

  9. Walking isn't a workout but it's not a bad thing to add to your life (not that you said that). I can't get the BF to run but I can get him to walk so it's a good option to have. I also have my Sept 28th 5k on my calendar, need to add some more! I don't have weight to lose but I'd love to get the running bug...

    1. Agree, and walking is 100% better than doing nothing. It burns about 100 calories per hour, walk an hour briskly 5 or 6 days a week and many pounds will come off. Daughter and I do strolls around the neighborhood often, because walking is relaxing, running is not.

  10. Swimming is my favorite exercise. With bad knees and having heart sugery last year, it is something I know I can do. I lost 45 pounds so far and have 40 more to go but for the first time in years, I feel like I am up to the task and can get it done this year. So right now it is hard cardio 2 days a week and swimming 3 days a week. I take the weekends off right now but I am always out doing something on the weekend even if it is just walking or working in the yard. The plan is to retire this fall and at that time I will add some additional workouts and weight lifting to the routines. Thanks for the motivation!

    1. Swimming is great exercise, since there's no impact and a double bonus of both a muscle burn and aerobic calorie workout. It sounds like you kinda like the routine you're on, which means you'll stick with it and the goal will be here by year end. Thanks for sharing, good luck!

  11. Great post, I love the 12! I am just starting out on a "get real" plan for myself. I'm starting out with awareness, it's about being aware of food,exercise and water. Just being mindful of these 3 will help me out until I get into a routine. On a different note, did I miss when/why Pigtails' goal went from $75 to $65? Is there a whole post coming on that? Tell her congratulations from me on paying that debt off.

    1. One commenter recommended grace to Pigtails after she earned $65. I agreed, so her $75 burden became $65.


Thanks for the note, check back for my response!