It Is Done

Posted: July 29, 2012 in Uncategorized

WD12 has been conquered. In all, 8 of us from our crew ran it and survived. Pics when they come. Planning for WD13 commencing.

5 Days and Counting

Posted: October 11, 2011 in Uncategorized

5 more days until the Detroit Free Press Marathon. While not jumping whole-hog into the full or even half-marathon, this will be my second timed and official race, doing the 5K. Planning on getting downtown between 5 – 5:30 before the streets start getting closed off.

See the Intro, Part 1, and Part 2 here.

You know how many calories you typically burn on an average day.  Now comes the hard part: actually keeping track of what you consume.

There was a very succinct statement I found on another blog: “That which is measured gets improved.”  In fact, that article is so spot on that I’m just going to encourage you all to read it instead of me essentially repeating most of it.  But before I do, I’ll point at least this part out:

  • No, it’s not easy.
  • No, it’s not simple.
  • No, it’s not fast.
  • Yes, it’s tedious as hell.
  • Yes, the slow pace of progress can be discouraging.

But here’s the ultimate reason behind it all.  If it was fast and easy, we’d all be doing it, and it wouldn’t be such a big problem the way it is in reality.

This excerpt from the blog above really puts things into perspective with regard to eating:

If you’re overweight, you probably don’t realize how many calories you consume on a daily basis.  If you’re underweight and “can’t gain weight no matter what you eat,” you probably don’t realize how many calories you consume on a daily basis.  Americans have such a warped sense of reality when it comes to proper “portion size” and what constitutes a meal.  We need to be better informed.

In a nutshell, we kid ourselves quite often.  Typically, men underestimate the caloric content of what we eat while women overestimate.  Speaking from the man’s perspective, we also have a tendency to lie to ourselves about not only the foods we eat but our activity levels and body composition (some women do it too, to a degree, but I don’t know what goes on in their heads quite as readily as I do what goes on in men’s brains).  We men like to believe that when we gain weight, we’re gaining muscle mass, that we need this excess food for all of our hunting/gathering activities.

Unfortunately, hunting/gathering on X-Box doesn’t count.

Another excerpt from this article that’s quite accurate:

You CAN’T outrun your fork – 80% of your successes or failures will be a direct result of how you eat. Although the quality of your calories consumed is incredibly important, the quantity of calories you consume is the first thing that needs to be fixed.  Think of your stomach as a muscle that adapts to its surroundings.  If you continually shovel 4000 calories down your throat, your body will start to crave 4000 calories even though it doesn’t need that many.

But this doesn’t mean that if your diet currently consists of about 4,000 calories that you should drop to 2,000 and see the pounds melt right off.  That’s just unsafe.  Gradual changes are not only best, but will also ease your body into its new routine without the pangs of cravings and hunger.  Again, if your body is used to 4,000 calories, then it’s used to that amount of food.  It thinks that’s normal.  The hard part is convincing your body that it isn’t normal (and at this point, be extra cautious of excuses that creep up in your head; you may think “but athletes eat that much or more!”  Yes, but athletes already know this information.  If you’re reading this, chances are that you’re a regular, average person and that excuse doesn’t apply).

Track everything, don’t lie to yourself.  It’s a simple statement, but difficult to do unless you get into the right mindset.

This is part 2 of a multi-part topic about diets.  See the Introduction and Part 1.

In Part 1, I talked briefly about what calories are in relation to establishing the foundations of a good mentality toward nutrition.  Now I’ll bring into light the importance of taking an extra few minutes to understand what and how much you’re consuming in foods and why.

Another unfortunate aspect of diet misconceptions is that we assume “less is more.”  The fewer calories we consume, the more our bodies will rely on our storage.  And therefore, we lose weight, get skinny, sexy, muscular, or whatever vain mental image we conjure for ourselves.

While true in a very simplistic way, it’s still a gross over-simplification of what really happens.

Every human adult* requires a minimum amount of caloric intake just to survive a day.  That means just the autonomic body functions that keep running to keep us alive: breathing, heart beat, immune system, blood flow, kidneys and liver filtering the bloodstream, and so on.  For adult women, that average amount is 1,200 calories at a minimum per day.  Adult men require 1,500.  And again, this is the base amount required just to keep the machinery operating at minimal levels.  Any amount of additional activity is going to need more energy.

What we actually expend in a day can vary wildly, from person to person and even week to week.  It all depends on our natural metabolism and activity levels.  Many of us are typically on the sedentary side of the scale and thus require less calories to burn to get through an entire day.  It’s when we eat more than we burn that we gain weight, of course.

To maintain a good healthy weight or even to lose a few pounds, we therefore need to establish our base metabolic rate, or how much we typically burn on the average.  Because calories are so difficult to measure, we have to resign ourselves to calculating ballpark figures.  I’ll use myself as an example.

First, I go to any of the on-line calculators to establish my base caloric requirement.  I start with the calorie calculator, like this one.  I enter my stats (and as always, remember to be honest with yourself because in order to make changes, you have to start with the truth; fudging the numbers only hurts yourself in the long run).  The result was that my basic burn rate is about 2,300 calories per day (assuming exercising 1-3 times per week).

The average adult can expect to lose around 1-2 lbs. per week safely.  Attempting any more than that right away typical leads to problems, especially when coupled with desperation.  While this rate of loss may seem slow, it is the most effective way for that weight loss to become permanent because you’re not shocking your body into an unexpected and sudden drop in body weight.

Burning about 3,500 calories in deficit will be approximately one pound.  Thus, a calorie deficit of between 3,500 – 7,000 per week is safe.  Since my base rate is 2,300, I have to target about 500-600 calories per day in deficit between what I consume and what I expend.  Thus, my intake should be around 1,700 – 1,800 calories per day.

But all this was the easy part.  The hard part is actually calculating and tracking what I eat.  And that’ll be next week’s topic.

* “Adult” is specified here because children and teens have a different set of caloric requirements than adults.  Teens especially end up in an unfortunate and dangerous combination of 1) bodies that are still growing and 2) the unrealistic expectations and images from mainstream media that dictate degrees and standards of “attractiveness.”  Especially prevalent in teen girls, body dysmorphia is a term used to describe seeing flaws that don’t actually exist.  Girls who are actually of a healthy physical weight and proportion see themselves as fat because of the unrealistic or impractical imagery shown in media.  This not only applies to images of unhealthy weight, but also comparing with adult women who’ve already reached the end of physical development.  As such, the scope of information covered in ZRT is intended to be used by adults who’ve presumably stopped growth and development.

This is part 1 of a multi-part series about the fundamentals of proper nutrition.  See the introduction here.

What is a Calorie?

Before figuring out your caloric intake requirements, let’s talk about what a calorie actually is and why it’s important.  There are two definitions of “calorie,” only one of which is important here in the diet-n-nutrition-n-fitness realm:


1. Thermodynamics:

a. Also called gram calorie, small calorie. an amount of heat exactly equal to 4.1840 joules. Abbreviation:  cal
b. ( usually initial capital letter ) kilocalorie. Abbreviation:  Cal
2. Physiology:

a. a unit equal to the kilocalorie,  used to express the heat output of an organism and the fuel or energy value of food.
b. a quantity of food capable of producing such an amount of energy.

It’s this second part that concerns us and when we break it down into what’s actually central to the idea of diet & nutrition, even then, only a part of the definition of the “calorie” is significant to the average person.  What I’m about to describe may make scientists and nutritionists cringe because of the seeming randomness and wild suppositions I’m about to toss out, but please bear in mind that I’m writing this for an audience who has had years of misconceptions about dieting & nutrition, so I’m stating the science in as simple concepts and terms as possible in order to establish a workable set of fundamentals.

First of all, a calorie is not a substance.  We frequently say that a particular food or beverage has 100 calories or has 250 calories.  This is misleading, because it’s just simpler to say.  However, the implication is wrong, because saying “has” indicates that calories are a tangible, physical chemical or something.  This is also made worse by the frequency of advertisements for “zero calorie” foods or additives.

What a calorie really means is that a particular serving of food requires 100 calories of energy to break down or 250 calories of energy need to be expended to process that serving of food.  That energy is supplied by our bodies.  If our body does expend the 100 or 250 calories of energy to break down that food or drink we consumed, then our net gain is zero, and the body doesn’t store any balance — because there is no balance left.

On the other hand, if we consume more food than the body can expend in energy to break down, that excess is stored.  And you know where this is going, right?

Directly to your midsection, thighs, butt, neck, face, etc.!

The calorie rating of a serving of food is a combined figure.  It’s a ballpark number.  It’s the sum total of all the ingredients of the food and represents a comprehensive scale that we can understand, when it would be much more complicated to calculate the energy required to break down the fat, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, chemical additives & preservatives, etc.

Where the Calories Come From

To keep within the realm of simplicity, calories come from three major macronutrients:

  1. Protein
  2. Fats
  3. Carbohydrates

Everything food & beverage can be broken down to having some combination of these three.  Obviously, some things are lower in one category than another, but this is the basic summary.  Each gram of protein is effectively 4 calories of energy required for breakdown, as are carbohydrates.  Fats, on the other hand, require 9 calories of energy to break down per gram (and though not a nutrient, alcohol requires 7 calories of energy per gram).

Whatever you consume again requires energy to break down and if you eat more than you expend in energy, you gain weight.

Mathematically, you may be able to start seeing that eating foods high in fat and drinking a lot of alcoholic beverages therefore leads to greater weight gain or a greater requirement to increase physical activity in order to “burn off” those extra calories, right?

Right! As I noted in the introduction, it’s all a simple mathematical equation.

Next week, I’ll get into more of the theory of calorie requirements for the human body and counteracting consumption with activity.

(well, not exactly, but for illustrative purposes, we’ll run with this)

The word “diet” has many negative connotations.  It’s something nobody wants to do.  It’s associated with fads.  It’s punishment.  It’s often coupled with a whiny “I gotta get on a….”  In the immortal words of Garfield, “it’s ‘DIE’ with a T!”

It’s also implied to be temporary.  And all of these things are why the common interpretation of the word “diet” make that word completely wrong for many people.

We go “on a diet” because we’ve been conditioned to believe that’s what it takes to lose weight.  We do it because we’re overweight or obese, and therefore, we know it’s what we should do.  But of course, we don’t actually want to.  It’s another “hafta.”  We hafta diet.  We hafta reduce our food intake.  We hafta give up the stuff we love.

And because we hafta get on a diet, we fail.  The diet fails.  The reduction fails.  The elimination of food groups fails.  Why?

Because it’s something that we don’t really want to do.  We procrastinate.  We give up.  After a while of being on a boring track that feels more like punishment, we lose motivation, faith, and desire.  Then, after we stop with the dieting, we compensate for that period of torture by indulging in what we really wanted all along, whether it’s garlic bread, pizza, ice cream, or beer.

And it’s that overcompensation that leads to additional weight-gain beyond where we were before we ever got started on this extended misery known as “the diet.”  Which then leads to the guilt and shame of having lost control, which is then similarly overcompensated by more self-flagellation and denial….which leads to failure, shame, and more misery and just keeping this cycle going.

This is known as “yo-yo dieting,” and is among the most commonly observed failures of lack of information and oversaturation of fad programs and scams.

So what does work?

First, stop calling it a “diet.”  A diet implies something temporary, something that you do to yourself until you get to your goal weight, and then stop.  Unlike a race, however, weight knows no start and finish.  It’s an ongoing thing.  It’s permanent.  If you stop eating right, you will gain weight again.  It’s simple math and science, things that get glossed over in our highly commercialized society where everyone has to make a buck, no matter how ethically or unethically.  So stop calling your eating plan a “diet.”  Start calling it “nutrition” or “meal plan” or “eating habits.”  Those are more permanent concepts and the more it’s permanent in your head, the more it’ll be easier to accept than a temporary period of punishment.

Second, understand that eating properly is not a temporary thing, like with “diet.”  It’s a lifestyle.  It requires changing your habits for the rest of your life.  Once you accept that, if you backslide into bad eating habits, you will gain weight again and that it’s perpetual, it again becomes easier to ingrain into your daily routine by avoiding bad foods and oversized portions.

Third, denial never works.  This applies to all the BS diet fads from Atkins to hCG to ABC (“Ana Boot Camp”) to Cortislim to Hydroxycut and any other diet-in-a-bottle nonsense.  Any denial of food or food group is unhealthy at the very root of all things.  Pseudoscience fills the airwaves, promising miracle results for little effort.  That is a crock of lies.  The human body needs food.  The human body needs macronutrients like protein, carbohydrates, and yes, even fat.  The big trick — and it’s not even a trick at all — is moderation.  No, it’s not glamorous, it’s not sexy, it’s not exciting (which may contribute to frequent diet failure; doing it the right way is tedious and boring….but it works).  But it works.  Think of this tiny math equation:

If you eat less than you burn, you will lose weight.

Can a concept be any simpler?

You don’t have to cut out carbs, or overload on protein, or graze on grass and dandelion greens to lose weight.  Veganism isn’t the way either — at least, not for health reasons (twisted morality, perhaps, but that’s outside the scope of ZRT so I won’t even get into the philosophy of being vegan).

  1. Consume less than you burn,
  2. Consume in moderation,
  3. Watch your portions.

Again, “can it be any simpler?” I ask rhetorically.

I use the word “consume” above instead of “eat” because liquids fall into this category as well.  The greatest disservice to humankind is that of diet sodas.  Whether it’s Diet Coke, Diet Pepsi, Coke Zero, Sierra Mist Nothing, Invisible Mountain Dew, or whatever else is shoved by the mass producers into your face touting its dietyness, all of it is false.

You will not lose weight drinking diet sodas.

There is a bunch of science behind it (dealing with excess insulin production in anticipation of breaking down incoming nutrients), but the base point is this: diet drinks trick your body into thinking that sugary drinks are coming and to get ready to process it as if it was a full-sugar drink.  The body has no way to telling the difference based on what your brain says, so it prepares anyway.  When the stuff arrives in your stomach and there’s nothing to break down, the chemicals don’t just disappear into nothingness.  They, for all intents and purposes, stick around and get stored.

It throws your system off-balance, and therefore leads to being stuck in neutral or seeing no benefits whatsoever.

The best drink to have is water.  Again, not sexy, not glamorous….but it works.  And remember what I wrote before about excuses in The First Step.  The most frequent excuse I hear from people who drag their feet about drinking water is that it’s boring, that it has no flavor, etc.  That’s the point.  Water hydrates your body the way it’s supposed to, without bringing the extra nonsense and unproductive garbage that comes along with sodas, energy drinks, and so on (and yes, even alcohol, though it pains this dedicated beer drinker to have to say so).

Next week, I’ll start off with the foundations of proper nutrition, talking about calories and delving just a little bit into the science of things, so stick with me as best as you can.  As always, post questions in the comments section and I’ll do my best to answer as much as possible or direct you to more comprehensive resources.

No Such Thing as Spot Loss

Posted: August 3, 2011 in Myths

One of the most common myths is working out specific areas of the body to target the fat localized to that area:

“I need to do more sit-ups/crunches to reduce this belly fat.”

Sound familiar?  Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen that way.  Fat loss occurs all over the body at the same time as the body processes it.  The difference and the unfairness behind that is that while fat loss occurs evenly throughout, fat accumulation does not.

And that’s why it seems that the “trouble spots” like the belly seem to be the toughest to get rid of.  There was just more there to begin with.

Think of it like the snowdrifts of our Michigan winters.  When the snow falls and the wind blows, snow settles in uneven drifts, but when the weather gets warm, it all melts at the same time leaving the largest mounds for last.

So just focus on working out your whole body and not focusing on specific areas for fat loss.  Track your progress by how you perform, whether it’s lifting a few more reps than last time, or pushing another half-mile on a run or bike ride.

The fat will come off if you just keep working at it!