Fitness and diet, part 4 (final)

Here are some excerpts from my book Righteous Seduction, which I’m posting in serial form.  I’m presenting this to you for free, because this information is valuable to the public.  Being fit and healthy is a good thing; being better-looking is a cool side effect.

Again, the disclaimer:  This book is not intended as a substitute for the medical advice of physicians.  You should regularly consult a physician in matters relating to your health and particularly with respect to any symptoms that may require diagnosis or medical attention.

Pitfalls of diets

One thing to remember is persistence.  Rome wasn’t built in a day.  You didn’t pork out overnight, and you won’t get the body of a Greek statue overnight either.  Slow and steady wins the race here.  Not sticking to it is a big problem for a lot of people.  It goes about like this:

  1. Chubby Bubba plans a diet 1000 calories below daily maintenance
  2. At the end of the week, he weighs in and realizes he’s only lost two measly pounds
  3. He gets depressed because of the negligible progress after a week of sacrifice
  4. He says “hell with it” and eats a dozen Big Macs
  5. Now Bubba is right back where he started and decides he’d better get serious about it
  6. GOTO 1

If he had stuck to it for a year, he’d be a skinny Bubba, down 104 pounds!  Having moderate goals is a way to avoid this.  If a 1000 calorie per day deficit drives you up the wall, then pick something less ambitious if it will help you stick to it.

Here’s a negative feedback loop to avoid:

  1. You eat a donut and then feel guilty because you just ate junk food
  2. You eat another donut to shut up the guilt feelings – since you’ve already cheated your diet, one more won’t be so bad, will it?
  3. GOTO 1

So what happens if you cheat on your diet?  Don’t say “hell with it” and dive into more cheat food, thinking that it’s hopeless.  Instead, hit the gym!  If you’ve been dieting a while, you’ll be feeling a bit depleted, but this time you’ll have some extra energy for your workout to burn off.   Hit the weights hard.

Also, beware of the “tomorrow” diet.  Saint Augustine would pray, “Lord, give me chastity, just not yet.”  (I can imagine Jesus up in the clouds, groaning and doing a facepalm whenever He heard that one!)  Translated to dietary terms, this means “I’ll start my diet tomorrow.”  Nope, ain’t gonna work.  Pick a date and stick to it, because mañana won’t get there.  Better yet, start today.

One more peril is the yo-yo diet.  It goes like this:

  1. Lose 20 pounds over a few months
  2. Celebrate with a huge meal of all the goodies you couldn’t eat before
  3. Nom nom nom over a few months
  4. Oh shit, now you’re 10 pounds heavier than you started!
  5. GOTO 1

Here’s a factor that can make the yo-yo diet quite destructive.  When you’re dieting, your caloric requirements start lowering to compensate for your reduced intake.  The body is good at that; these metabolic adjustments helped us survive ancient famines.  Remember that if you cut the calories down too far, your body scavenges protein from your muscles to keep yourself running.  That lowers the number of calories you burn on a daily basis just by being alive (in scientific terms, the resting metabolic rate), as well as making you weaker.  Here’s how it can go.

  1. You notice that you’ve been putting on weight.
  2. You figure out that you’ve been eating 2800 calories a day on average.
  3. You look at a chart and determine that your normal caloric requirement is 2400 calories a day.
  4. You overreact and go on a dangerous crash diet of 800 calories a day.
  5. After being on that crash diet too long and not getting enough protein, you burn off muscle tissue and your daily caloric requirement becomes 2000 calories a day.
  6. After reaching your goal weight, you start eating 2400 calories a day
  7. You’re putting on weight again – surprise!
  8. GOTO 1

One reason people go on crazy crash diets is because they want to see results fast.  Still, the better thing to do is go with a modest caloric deficit, then transition to a maintenance level of calories, which will be lower than when you were porking out.

How to do it right

One tends to lose a little muscle on a regular diet.  Overdoing it makes it far worse, because you’re not getting enough protein.  (Hint:  Get enough protein, and don’t overdo things.)  High-protein crash diets do exist – the protein sparing modified fast – but they must be medically supervised.  Going way below one’s normal caloric intake for long periods of time also causes starvation responses to set in.  Even modest dieting eventually causes one’s metabolic rate to slow down.

There’s a way to avoid it, and best of all, and you might like this!  That is the cheat day.  Pick one day every other week where you eat normally.  By “normally”, I don’t mean go for a pile of Big Macs; I mean eat a regular amount of calories.  This allows for special occasions, and helps keep you from going too nuts with constant deprivation.  People tend to want what they can’t have, so the cheat day allows you to alleviate this urge in moderation.  Also, this helps prevent starvation responses from setting in and undoing all your hard work.

You might be curious – can you gain muscle and lose fat at the same time?  Actually, I’ve done it before, but practically speaking, that’s very difficult.  Although the drop in scale weight was aggravatingly low, I was able to fit into a pair of pants that would have required power tools to get me into before.  There’s another lesson – pay more attention to how your clothes are fitting, and how you’re looking overall, than what the scale says.  Again, gaining muscle while losing fat is pretty hard to do; also, dieting will tend to make you lose muscle, but this is less so if you do it right.  Bodybuilders have to do bulking and cutting phases to get ready for a contest.  You can adopt a similar strategy when you’re nearing your goal weight.  For now, hit the gym hard on those cheat days.  You’ll probably be a bit fatigued on the others.  Remember, a hard workout is also useful for “accidental” cheat days, so you can do something productive about it rather than pound on the carpet and weep because you goofed.

Some of you may be curious about the controversy between low fat versus low carb diets.  This is medically controversial, so that’s between you and your doctor, just as everything else here is, of course.  The rationale for low-fat diets is because fat has roughly twice the calories per weight as do carbs and protein.  Further, carbs and protein are inefficient energy sources, because half the energy is burnt up processing them.  On the other hand, fat is 98% efficient, thus a double whammy.  Yes, that cheesecake does go directly into your spare tire.  Note once again that you shouldn’t cut all fat out of your diet; you still need some of that, especially the Omega 3 variety; you’re probably not getting enough of that unless you take supplements, or eat only health food and grass-fed beef.  That being said, you’ll have to watch those calories; if you ate a bushel of cotton candy – zero fat content – it wouldn’t be good for you!

One benefit of a low-carb diet is that you experience less hunger once you get past the first two or three days of climbing the walls; exercise shortens that process.  You consume 40g of carbs or less in a day, and eventually the stores of liver glycogen run out.  (This, along with the water bound to it, results in a drop in scale weight of about 10 pounds, give or take.  That part isn’t permanent and will come back when you start eating normally.)  At this point, ketosis sets in.  Note that this is not the same as ketoacidosis, and there’s a lot of ignorance about that, confusing even to some in the medical community.  Ketoacidosis is a much deeper level, a dangerous condition typically happening to Type 1 diabetics.  As for benign dietary ketosis – the non-dangerous variety – your body converts fats to ketones as an alternate energy source since the carbs are gone.  This is an inefficient conversion, and – as I understand it – effectively you’re burning off each gram of fat as 7.5 calories rather than 9.1 calories.  One drawback is that you might feel hungry until you adjust, then maybe a bit fatigued later.  This is because the brain has to run on carbs, which must get processed out of protein.  (You are getting enough protein, aren’t you?  Living on pork rinds and sticks of butter won’t work!)  Again, you’ll still have to watch your calories, though this is likely to be easier.

Track your progress.  There will be times when the scale doesn’t move.  If you hit a plateau, that’s a time to take a good look at what you’re doing.  People often grossly underestimate how many calories they’re eating.  Try changing up something, like hitting the weights a little harder.  On the other hand, if you’re wiping yourself out at the gym on a regular basis, it’s possible that you’re overtraining.  Don’t give up, and eventually the scale should move in the right direction.  Take some “before” pictures with your shirt off, and on at least a weekly basis.  No sucking in your gut!  That should provide a good indication of your true progress.  Be sure you’re getting adequate vitamins and minerals too.

If you need some extra motivation, watch Supersize Me.  If that doesn’t get you to swear off junk food, nothing will.  Also, you can watch some of those Youtube videos about people who ate themselves to death.  Chances are you’re not quite that big, but it will put things in a different perspective.

Finally, beware of the “extinction burst”.  It’s a slightly complex subject, but generally this means that if you break a habit, your normal cravings may go into overdrive.  This is where those temptations and cravings come from.  Trust me, that burger doesn’t taste quite as good as you’re imagining it will.

Posts in this series

  1. Fitness and diet, part 1 – My journey, and why you should get the body you want
  2. Fitness and diet, part 2 – How to get started lifting weights
  3. Fitness and diet, part 3 – Nutrition 101
  4. Fitness and diet, part 4 (final) – How to avoid diet pitfalls

See also my first 50 posts and the main page

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Fitness and diet, part 4 (final)

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