Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Diet is a four-letter word

Excercise is boring. "Diet" is a four-letter word. If your focus is on these instead of on your goal, you've got an uphill battle ahead of you. If you don't understand why you're in the shape you're in, it makes it much harder to see significant or ongoing change. So before getting into the how-to of diet and exercise in upcoming posts, I wanted to spend some more time on motivation.

People facing weight or fitness issues tend to fall in two categories: Lifelong Struggler, or Slow Gainer. These are the terms used by Jim Karas in his book "Flip the Switch: Discover the Weight-Loss Solution and the Secret to Getting Started" (ABC News excerpt at http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/PersonalBest/story?id=124518) The Lifelong Struggler mave have always seemed overweight, and may not remember a time when they weren't fighting to stay fit. In addition to the weight issue, the may be facing serious discouragement or even depression by trying so hard while seeing little progress. The Slow Gainer, however, had a fairly healthy body and good self image at some point as an adult. But over time, they started putting on weight, slowly, until one day they wake up and realize they're 30 pounds overweight. It might be at college, or post-partum, or after taking a new desk job, but now they're facing an issue they've not had to face before. This is the situation I'm currently in, by the way, though I'm more of a serial gainer. In high school, when I stopped playing sports I gained almost fifty pounds. In Boston, I put on forty pounds over the course of several years when I got "too busy" for exercise. Most recently, small changes in eating patterns (in combination with no exercise) let to my getting seriously overweight. There may be big differences in how the two types see themselves, how they got in the situation they're in, and may need different strategies for addressing fitness issues.

A good summary of his goal is given in Karis' book at the end of the section 'Believe in the Flip':
"I want you to come to the conclusion that you will succeed at weight loss. That is infinitely more valuable than if I'd simply advise you to "eat less, exercise more," which you know and I know is the numerical basis of weight loss. If eating less and exercising more were that easy, we would all have lost weight years ago. It requires so much more than a slogan such as, "Just say No to Food." It's just not that simple. What is keeping you and others from success at weight loss is your inability to reach the point where you, you, you believe that you can succeed at eating less and exercising more. Once you've come to terms with that emotional hurdle and discipline, the physical exercises will seem easy by comparison."
Knowing why you want to make a change, understanding the benefit, and believing you can do it, are crucial to seeing lasting change.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Motivation for Fitness

There are many reasons people decide to start exercising or dieting - wanting to look better, to have more energy, for better health, or to avoid health problems, or pride. For me it was definitely a combination of these. Three things in particular hit me at once that 'flipped the switch' for me. First, it's not good to be out of breath just from climbing a single set of stairs. Second, my young kids were loving to play and wrestle with Dad, but I would get tired so quickly. Finally, I got on the scale which I had carefully avoided for the past year, and it was a shocker. Not just another ten or twenty pounds, but I was up at 290! At 6'5" I can carry a lot of weight without looking fat, but this was ridiculous. To confirm how bad the situation was, I measured my waist. Hmm, no wonder my 48 pants were so tight, I was just under 50. Two milestones I vowed never to let myself hit were 300 lbs and50 inches, so something needed to be done. Besides, I want to be around to enjoy my grandchildren someday! I could also not ignore the fact that I was not taking very good care of the temple of a body God had given me.

As a Type-A guy, and as a businessman, I found "The Business Plan for the Body" by Jim Karas to be very helpful, both in terms of motivation and practical information that makes sense to bottom-line people. He's also the author of several books with the title (and idea) "Flip the Switch". A key point repeated is that you need to make a conscious decision that leads to action, and not just "wish you were thinner." (His books should not be confused with ones with a very similar title by Robert Cooper who is plugged a metabolic thermostat idea.) The timing was perfect, finding such a book at a point where I was completely ready to flip the switch. Karas' approach and style may not fit for everyone, but it should for many - check out an excellent excerpt of his book "Flip the Switch: Discover the Weight-Loss Solution and the Secret to Getting Started" by ABC News at http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/PersonalBest/story?id=124518. (Good Housekeeping has an excerpt on his other book, "Flip the Switch: Your Year to Get Slim" at http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/health/advice/advice-get-slim-karas-0103).

There's no shortage of motivational books and tapes on diet and exercise, but no matter who you read or follow one thing is clear: becoming physically fit is a noble and extremely difficult undertaking for most of us, and finding the right motivation to get you started and keep you going is absolutely essential to success.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Analogy between Physical Health and Financial Health

I've been dieting and trying to be more healthy for the last year, and as I now sit at what seems to be a plateau I find myself wondering what makes healthy eating and exercise so difficult. Reflecting on how some friends treat food, and how others treat money, I see a strong analogy between being physically fit and financially fit.

When I go to a fast food restaurant, my eyes go straight to the value menu. The idea of ordering what you want without regard to price is foreign to me. If I see someone order something for $2.49 that is just slightly different from another item that's $0.99, I can't help but wonder what on earth they're thinking. Spend $1.79 on a soda that costs them less than dime in syrup?? Inconceivable! And yet, what do some of my friends think when they watch me order? Double cheeseburger??!? Doesn't he care about his heart? Milkshake??? Does he know how much sodium is in that? Inconceivable!

Mentally, I always see financial decisions in terms of cost and value. I know that my choices are not independent, and money I spend on something is money I can't spend on something else. I have a plan, for the short term and for the long term, to meet important goals for myself and my family - and failure to meet these goals just isn't an option. I apply my analytical skills to any key decision, and do whatever research is needed to have a basis to make a good decision. I may (and do) splurge on occasion, but it's within limits and it only happens when I've done the saving first.

Mentally, my decisions on physical fitness are completely opposite. I don't have a plan, no goals, I decide based on what I feel at the moment. I don't think in terms of caloric budget, I'll exercise solely when it's fun, and can't say no to a desert waved in front of me. While I've lost weight over the past year, I've not changed my mindset, or my eating habits. If I stop the exercise again, it will all come back. Is there anything I can learn from comparing financial fitness to physical fitness?

Rate of Savings = Income - Expenses. Total savings = sum of this over time. Period. It's really that simple. If your expenses exceed your income, you incur debt. When the interest on the debt becomes significant, you're in big trouble. Many people make dieting difficult, counting all sorts of things, all kinds of rules and theories. But it's not rocket science. Weight gained or lost = Calories eaten - Calories expended. If you eat more than you burn off, you gain weight. It doesn't matter if it's a calorie from fat or from carbs, 3500 of them will cost you a pound.

If I shop and don't consider budget, or in this case, spending allowance, I'll buy the new shiny and go into debt. If I go to a restaurant and don't consider my caloric allowance, my chance of making a good decision is not good. Even worse, the "prices" aren't on the food. I can see two similar shirts next to each other, one for $19.99 and one for $59.99, and the decision is clear - not so with calories. At McDonald's it doesn't say on the menu that super-size fries are over 600 calories while the vanilla ice cream cone is just 150, or that Hash browns are just 130 while the steak/egg bagel is 700 calories. If I say 'no mayo' on my favorite chicken sandwich, I save 25% on calories. At Taco Bell, the Mucho Grande Nachos are 1320 calories (!) while a soft chicken taco is just 190 (http://www.weightcommander.com/tacobell.html). Doing better with a Arby melt with cheese or a market fresh sandwich at Arby's? Would you believe 340 vs 810 calories, respectively? Deluxe potato? 650 calories. The Jamocha Shake I love? 470? Ouch. How about a healthy salad? The one I like is the Chicken Finger salad. Ouch! 570 calories vs 70 for a garden salad.

All-you-can-eat buffets are opposite from the perspective of finances and fitness. You pay one price, and the more you eat the better 'value', but basically you are paying for your calories bite-by-bite. That second large plate full of food adds a brief temporary satisfaction, but doubles your calories, makes you feel stuffed, and makes you want to lie down and rest.

One of my most effective changes this year was driven from a financial perspective. At most restaurants, including my favorite local chinese and mexican restaurants, the servings are enormous. I was always sleepy in the afternoon went I went there. I tried saving half my meal and taking it home in a box and felt no hint of hunger in the afternoon. Two for one special on cost of meals?? I'm all over that!! It's a side benefit that I'm not consuming nearly 2000 calories for lunches anymore.

How then do you maintain weight? You need a budget - you have to intentionally restrict your caloric intake to not exceed your caloric burn. With finances, you can adjust income or reduce expenses to meet your budget. With your body, you can reduce what you eat or increase how much you burn. If you want to lose weight, you need to burn more than you take in. Like savings, this does not happen without effort. Like savings, 10% is a great start, and up around 50% is not sustainable for the average person. In upcoming posts I'm going to say more about diet and exercise, how I've lost significant weight, the role of exercise in a fitness plan, and I'll try to encourage those of you who might be struggling with your weight.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Back from Vacation

Greetings!! I'm back from a fantastic vacation with family, feeling refreshed and feeling like a lucky husband and dad. My wrists are even thankful for the lack of internet access for quite some time. The only downside is feeling sluggish due to the outstanding food I've eaten, but I'll run around extra hard at volleyball this month to catch up!

Ok, actually, I've been back a month and a half. My perfectionistic tendencies have been warring with my desire to blog, with several ideas for series and half-written posts that have not seen light of day. Today I want to take a (minor) stand against procrastination, to try to get back in the habit of blogging. To be honest, this tendency to procrastinate has led to a lot of stuff 'slipping' that I should never have let slip, like keeping in touch with family. I've got some practical information I want to share on diet and exercise, as well as some excellent progress on that front that's got me very encouraged! Rather than back-date the posts on Blogger, or editing them, I'm going to post them essentially as-is, starting with the rest of this vacation report, which I wrote back on July 6th, 2007...

We started with a week at the pool and on the beach in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. My sister and her family live there, and we lured down my Dad and Mom for a surprise 80th birthday celebration. My other sister and her husband from New York were able to come down as well. Amazingly, it has been over 25 years since we've all been together in one place at the same time. (It better not be that long before our next gathering!) What a great time we had seeing each other. The SC crew knew the owners of a wonderful Italian restaurant, where we spent the whole evening dining and laughing and being serenaded on the accordian. Our four kids got to hang out with their cousins (who they had never met) which was very nice. My son and I enjoyed the "Lazy River" at our hotel, which is like a pool in the shape of an oval where you just float around in the shade. Dawn enjoyed walking on the beach and seeing the ocean again. My Dad was indeed quite surprised, and it was a fitting tribute to the man I love and respect so much. He even got to give us a good solid thrashing at bowling.

The next week was back in North Carolina with my parents in their log cabin on the lake. (What a great place to retire for a man who loves fishing!) Even better, Dawn's entire family was converging nearby (her middle sister also lives in North Carolina). Her younger sister and husband brought down a speedboat. The kids *loved* that! Well, two did anyway, and the other two enjoyed it with reservations. I had a great "lead by example" moment when I agreed to get dragged behind the boat in a tube at high velocity. Seeing Mom do it didn't convince the kids because, well, she'll try anything. But if Dad does it, *anybody* can. So after my ride, my daughter agreed to try the tube. With this a smiling success, first one boy, then all the rest, agreed they would try the tube. We only went about 2 knots, but this was a major achievement! With an excellent dinner at the Outback, the kids were able to see essentially *all* their aunts and uncles from both sides of the family, and all but two cousins, in one trip. I don't know if we'll ever see that happen again.

On the way back, we stopped by our alma mater, Virginia Tech, to pay our respects, visit the memorial, and generally see how the place was holding up. There was quite a bit of construction since the last time we were there. It was a touching and sober visit in the light of recent events, and we're glad we got to stop by. As an added bonus, we got to go to our favorite restaurant in the entire country - the Farmhouse in Christiansburg, Virginia. The food there is to die for, delicious, hearty, and not unreasonably priced. I tried Seafood Newburg (for the first time) and it was exquisitely good. The kids even loved their onion rings - and they hate onions!? Each time I go back there I figure it can't meet the high expectations and memories of the last visit, but each time it does.

Of course, it does feel really good to be back home. It also felt good to get back on the volleyball court after several weeks away (and about five pounds heavier). That was a real workout when I let them twist my arm into a fourth hour of play, and 3-on-3 at this point. Thoughts of this, some recent conversations, and a niece who is just about to embark on a diet program, have put me in the mindset of improving physical fitness. For my own sake (and perhaps for my niece's sake) I'm going to do several posts on diet and exercise. Pray for me as I have ten more pounds to go on my goal to lose 50 pounds. I'm getting close! :)

Today, Aug.23, is my 'target' date for reaching the 50 lb. mark. Have I made it those last ten pounds, or has procrastination (or gluttony) foiled my attempt? Stay tuned and see!