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Fitness is easy when you break it down. Most people over-think it and do not know where to start. Yes, this means you too. We are bombarded everyday with images of people with the “perfect body”; women are more susceptible than men partly because we men obviously do not know how to shut up sometimes. The male species has played a major part in this because we voice our opinion on women more so than women on men (in my experience). However, I have found that women tend to take action more often than men with diet manipulation usually being the first step.
Men, I think, tend to feel more comfortable in their own skin then women do, or at least we act that way. How many times has a man said to his wife “do these jeans make me look fat?” Though we hold a sort of double standard over women (they are supposed to love us no matter how we look, but men are always “physique shopping”) men tend to do the opposite when changing their look- we tend to work out and keep the diet the same.
While both of these are noble beginnings, both sexes can get better results by changing exercise habits along with diet manipulation. But here is why both men and women suffer the same problem: we do not know where to start.
Women and food:
Blame it on pop culture, but the overall image the public has on women is one of the binge dieter. The cover of almost every woman’s magazine is littered with diets and insights on to what the female stars in Hollywood are up to. Whether it is a Maple Syrup diet or a berry cleanse, women are told to do something dramatic to get results fast. It is this promise of speed that leads people into trouble because losing 20lbs in a month is not a sustainable way to lose weight permanently. Yes, you can probably drop 2 dress sizes or more in 30 days, but it’s what happens after that 30 days that causes longer lasting issues.
Any drastic diet (remember, it’s a noun NOT a verb) change can help you lose weight, but it’s not all good weight. It’s not always the stubborn areas of fat, those love handles, or bye-bye arm flab, most often times it is water and muscle. Your (average) body is 57% water, or 40 liters. 1 liter of water is equal to 1.000028kg or 2.2 lbs. So if we take an average person of 70kg or 154lbs, we can see that 40kg of water equates to 40.0001 kg or 88 lbs. Studies have shown that obese individuals can have as little as 45% water in the body, so we can already state that they may be dehydrated already.
Water is important because it does important things such as help break down and deliver nutrients, helps eliminate waste, lubricates joints, acts as a “natural shock absorber” and regulates temperature. Without it or with lower amounts of it human beings do not operate efficiently. Too much loss of water can be deadly, yet we still don’t drink enough even though we are told to. It is this loss of life’s most precious fluid that leads to lots of nasty side effects from dehydration regardless if intended or not. Bodybuilders and figure models purposely dehydrate in order to “vacuum pack” the skin to the muscle that lies beneath it while trying to maintain some level of fluid retention in order to create a pump for the definition needed to compete on stage or model for a magazine.
During exercise, water is the first thing to go. In normal activity, the body slows down blood flow to the stomach and intestines so that it can deliver oxygen and nutrients to working muscles. If you are already starting the exercise session dehydrated, chances are you are not going to perform well. Couple that with fluid loss through breath and sweat and you can wind up doing more harm than intended. Without enough water, you overheat and tax the kidneys. With too much water, the body doesn’t know where to send the blood, back to the digestive track or to the other muscles in the body. This is the same reason why endurance racers can get cramps and diarrhea: blood is not being supplied for digestion so the body cannot use whatever you are sending there; the intestines expel it (water) as fast as it can so that it can get back to the exercise. Losing too much water without adequately being able to replace it creates a very bad cycle that feeds itself until you collapse. Treatment for this is usually an ambulance ride to the ER to get an IV. I myself have suffered severe dehydration during a triathlon. I had been having a little fun the night before with a group of people I traveled to races back in the day and I didn’t replace everything I lost. I noticed after the swim I was cramping very badly in my legs and stomach, in turn I could not get water down. The water I was able to drink went right through me, and when I started the run my legs locked up and I had to run off the course to drop trough. Not only was it messy, but my urine had turned into maple syrup; needless to say I was evac’d back to the medic tent to get an IV..
But I digress.
A diet should be well rounded and balanced. You should not eat healthy foods in unhealthy amounts just as you shouldn’t eat unhealthy food, but you do not have to avoid unhealthy food altogether. Cheat days can be huge morale boosters and are often actually beneficial to someone that is calorie/nutrient restricted. You should base the diet off of foods that give you the most bang for the buck, or in other words foods that provide enough energy for fuel and recovery with the least amount of excess caloric intake. Just because chicken is good for you doesn’t mean you should eat only chicken for every meal. Chicken alone doesn’t supply the brain with the necessary fuels to run properly; that is the job for sugar. Since the brain works on sugar, does that mean you should drink juice all day long?
But it doesn’t mean you have to avoid juice altogether.
When I talk to people about diet sometimes I get a glazed-over look about halfway through, just when we are getting off of the topic of gluconeogenesis. So in an effort to divulge enough info to understand the “principles” of weight loss vs. a “method” of weight loss I will attempt to break it down. First, let’s get back on track:
The view on men:
We, men, tend to binge workout. Men have this innate thought process that we can still eat whatever we want as long as we go from 0-60 or off the couch to training twice a day. Men tend to be meat and potatoes. We tend to be excessive in workouts and to be honest, a lot of other things too. But for some reason the word “diet” doesn’t register to most. Say diet around a group of guys and the topic of conversation will usually drift towards famous women or wives and girlfriends and the crazy things they do to lose weight. Men tend to think as long as we hit the gym everything will be ok, we will lose that weight and life will continue.
Diet: the noun and not the verb.
Everything we eat everyday is our diet. Our diet consists of foods and food groups, some good some bad. We do not “go on a diet” we are “always on a diet”. To get a grip on this, we have to start with the way energy is managed and categorically compared from food to food. The basic of this measure is the unit of heat we call a calorie. A calorie is nothing but a number that theoretically predicts how much energy (heat) something will need to be burned down to ashes; or from another perspective how much activity (heat generated) will be needed to use that last Twinkie we ate.
Men can still eat our meat and potatoes as long as we eat them in moderation and burn enough energy to access our fat stores. It sounds easy, and it is however we tend to overcomplicate things and fitness magazines don’t help much. They tend to print studies month to month that somehow contradict each other. Example, eggs are bad for you; now they are good for you as long as you don’t eat the yolk; now they are bad for you and so on….
Your brain needs sugar to operate efficiently. Your body needs sugar to signal the most anabolic hormone in the body: insulin.
There is a saying in the fitness world “fat burns in the flame of a carbohydrate” meaning that your body needs sugar to start operating aerobically. If you have enough energy to turn on the aerobic engine, you need to stay in the “zone” to let the body have enough time to access the brown adipose tissue (fat). When the body gets this fat, it goes through a process where it is broken down back into sugar. Taken from here, I cannot break it down anymore simply:
“The first line of defense in maintaining energy is to break down carbohydrates, or glycogen, into simple glucose molecules — this process is called glycogenolysis. Next, your body breaks down fats into glycerol and fatty acids in the process of lipolysis. The fatty acids can then be broken down directly to get energy, or can be used to make glucose through a multi-step process called gluconeogenesis. In gluconeogenesis, amino acids can also be used to make glucose.”
“In the fat cell, other types of lipases work to break down fats into fatty acids and glycerol. These lipases are activated by various hormones, such as glucagon, epinephrine and growth hormone. The resulting glycerol and fatty acids are released into the blood, and travel to the liver through the bloodstream. Once in the liver, the glycerol and fatty acids can be either further broken down or used to make glucose.”
Bringing them together
Even though this post was all over the place, I think the intended point I wanted to get to was that men and women both need to slow down and start slowly; doing anything faster or doing too much usually results in abandoned goals that often leads to frustration and a return to the status quo. Take a little time to understand the basics of how food works in the body, what all that stuff on the label means to you. Then….and only then…can you change things so that they work, for a sustained period of time or long enough to give results without having to worry about the yo0yo effect.
The best way to understand how foods will affect you is by understanding the label and what everything on the label means to you. Instead of recreating the wheel, here are a few excellent sources of info on how to read a label.
and of course the FDA