Saturday, August 24, 2013

Walk Fasting, Not Faster

Yesterday I raced a dump truck.
More accurately, I tried to beat a dump truck, but I don't think they cared one way or another who won.

Over the past few days, I've been trying out something I stumbled upon a little while ago.
For the High Holidays this year, I'm going to be taking an extensive walk midday to where the synagogue will be holding learner's classes. Three miles each way. This is made more daunting by the fact that I'll be fasting completely on Yom Kippur. 25 hours without food. Not even water.

Naturally, I decided to look up what information I could about long walks while fasting.
Naturally, I found information on weight loss that had nothing to do with my query.
Naturally, I decided to read it.

The concept in question is the idea of "fasting walks" - light exercise performed first thing in the morning. The theory is that the body uses up most of the available glycogen overnight, so one wakes up in the morning with comparatively little "fuel," so to speak. Incidentally, that's why it's called "break-fast" and why it's important to have a good one - otherwise, you're potentially pushing your metabolism to store energy rather than burn it. Exercising before any caloric consumption supposedly forces the body to kickstart the process that converts fat to sugars.

In theory, the idea is somewhat sound, though I question whether anyone will get the results they are seeking through that little exercise. My major weight loss occurred when exercising at home for an hour every morning, and this is a lower impact version of that method. I'll try to update this with some actual research into the means and methods that are supposedly behind this.

With the sole exception of Saturday morning, I've been taking my daily brisk walk sometime around 5 AM this past week. So far, I haven't noticed any significant results that can be directly attributable to the walking, but I do find the practice rather enjoyable. It is definitely something I could maintain for a while, and taking longer walks is certainly a possibility, though I might switch over to my old workout schedule once we start unpacking from our move.

As for the dump truck? About halfway into my walk I saw the truck driving down the street toward my house, and I raced home to get the can out to the curb.
It was a tie.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Struggle: Your Most Potent Weapon

This evening, I was discussing with my wife the importance of focusing one's energies and setting goals. It occurred to me that goal setting is the most overlooked and most powerful tool for self growth. Studies have shown people who create goals and implement plans to achieve them are vastly more likely to succeed.

But the problem is that most people don't understand HOW to set their goals. Failure at this initial step undermines the whole process that follows, like a house built on quicksand - it may seem stable, but the slightest pressure will send it sinking into the swamp.

So what is a goal? It isn't an idea, or a concept, or a state. A proper goal is a measurable result of an action. "Being a good person/spouse" isn't a goal. It's certainly a nice idea and something to aspire to, but it is ultimately meaningless and undefined. Even "losing weight" isn't a proper goal because it is too nebulous. The scale went down overnight, so am I done?

The power of a goal is the creation of a psychological reality, an obligation to the self that lends itself to oriented thinking. This can only be accomplished through definition. To-do lists work because they prescribe specific actions to be taken in an immediate time frame with organization and importance. It is NOT enough to say "I want to lose weight." In order to be effective, one must say how much and by when. Conversely, saying your goal is "to finish school" doesn't work because there is no action explicitly connected to your goal, making it impossible to gage progress.

Once you have an action, clearly defined in scope and in time, it becomes natural to measure your progress against that goal. Consciousness becomes the key to your success, and the way to make awareness natural is through planning and reviewing your goals. Hopefully, being mindful of HOW we build our goals can help us move naturally in the direction of our dreams.

Friday, August 16, 2013

4 Minute Hoax

Today I accidentally stumbled across the 4 Minute Abs Hype video that has started to make its way around the internet.
In my other hat, I'm an economist and an actor. I've met with many a quizzical eyebrow to that combo so I'll explain that the unifying element is the study of choice. Both economics and character studies are about understanding HOW and WHY people act as they do - getting into their skin, so to speak. As an actor, I invest myself into living through emotions, as an economist, I study how people manipulate them.

From that angle, this video hits all the right notes.

A Little Background

I've crossed over the obesity line more than a few times in my life. At my heaviest, just before my wedding, I was almost 280, though no one believed it. Even as a child I was overweight - while I was very physically active when I was younger, riding my bike around the neighborhood for hours a day and playing pickup basketball and football games with the kids, I gradually became more sedentary. Being an overweight Jewish nerd with a funny last name earned me loads of friends in public middle school. Things may have changed for me socially when they sent me to a private high school, but my weight remained high.
It's not that I wasn't "fit" - I was one of the strongest kids in my school, threw shot put, even ran relays on the track team during our meets a couple times. During the weekends, I would walk several miles. I just loved food and couldn't loose weight. Things didn't improve in college, either. I managed to lose 15 pounds in my first semester, but that was because 1) I had an insane schedule 2) I was broke and therefore 3) subsisted on ~1000 calories a day, mainly in the form of Naked bars. My older brother, former fat kid turned personal trainer, was simultaneously concerned and angered with how I was treating my body. We arranged to start training every morning at the gym, getting there before they even opened. This lasted about 8 months until my brother moved away and I no longer had an exercise partner. Even during that time, the needle barely budged. For a full summer, I went on an archaeological dig in Israel. Manual labor from sun-up till noon carrying loads up and down the hillside meant that I ended that summer tanned and in good shape, but it didn't last.
By the time I finished college, I was the heaviest I had ever been. From the moment I got engaged, my whole family started pressuring my fiance (now wife) about my need to lose weight, and it put an enormous and ongoing strain on our new marriage. During my little sister's wedding, I had a heart scare that turned out to be nothing - nerve pain and reflux - but we spent hours in the emergency room at the local hospital in the same ward where my mother-in-law went after her heart attack. Needless to say, this spurred me harder than merely wanting to be "in shape." I started dieting. My wife had gotten a job working as a med-tech at a doctor's office that specialized in weight loss, so I started seeing him.
Dieting, B12 shots, and early morning exercise regimens; in two years I had dropped over 80 pounds. By my older brother's wedding, I was in as good shape as my fitness therapist and Israeli soldier siblings. I looked fantastic, my knees had stopped hurting, and I felt like I could do anything.
And then my wife started school full time.
As an interior designer and architect, her schooling was (and is) monstrous and difficult. She spent her days and nights working on projects, models, boards, and presentations, and I did everything I could to help her. This meant doing all the cooking and cleaning, working with her on essays, typing up study notes, helping build models, and driving her to and from school because she was often too exhausted to safely drive on her own. My routine started slipping. The stress of working a full time job, being a homemaker, and basically going back to school by proxy meant that something had to give, and I couldn't wake up early in the mornings to exercise on only three hours of sleep. Slowly, gradually, my weight crept back up.
It's not for lack of trying.
I kept my caloric intake down, even though I couldn't stick to a prescribed diet anymore. I did what I could to keep physically active at every opportunity without taking up extra time in the day. Hell, I've even taken to doing crunches in the car at stoplights - it embarrasses my wife, amuses strangers, and I actually enjoy it. But even though I'm eating half of my supposed "basal metabolic rate" and less than most people I know, nothing I do seems to be helping. To this day, in fact, the worst confrontations my wife and I have are about weight loss and exercise.
But I'm healthy. I have decent endurance and strength, normal blood pressure, and good figures for cholesterol and blood sugar.
Oddly, the thing driving me batty is that my body seems so much more "efficient" than most peoples - I thrive on less sleep and food than most people I know. That means that eating a normal amount of food makes me gain weight and even following a decent diet plan fails if there's the slightest deviation.
So here I am, on the other side of the BMI Obesity line, struggling to get back.
Why am I writing this?
I've got nothing to sell, no glowing success story, and no recruitment video.
If you're reading this, it's statistically likely that you're obese or at least significantly overweight. Like me, you feel frustrated about The Struggle and more than a little bitter at the world that tells you it's "your fault" that you don't fit into their body type ideals.
You've cried and cursed, screamed and sobbed at your scale, your mirror, your closet. It hurts. Deeply.
Many of you probably have friends or family pushing, bugging, or begging you to lose weight. It doesn't help. Resentment builds. You're feeling unloved by your partner or parents, who just don't seem to get how difficult it is for you.
So you start looking for answers.
The diet industry in America is estimated in the TENS of BILLIONS of dollars. Hardly a day goes by without some miracle drug or herbal supplement being touted on TV. If they all worked, then why are the numbers climbing?
I've always been an information junkie. As the son of doctors and the brother of a fitness therapist, I've always looked at these systems with a skeptic eye, even when my relatives haven't. Every time I see something new, I start researching, poking, and prodding to see where the seams are - what's real and what isn't. It's always bothered me that I can't find an easy, dependable source for reviewing these supposed weight loss and fitness miracles - every fad has its series of fake sites touting the power of Koala Feces for Your Metabolism!

Let's change that - let's challenge the hype.