Saturday, November 24, 2012
Hey there, Sparklers! Hope everyone had a fabulous Thanksgiving!
Earlier in the month I wrote that I was experimenting with calorie/carb cycling. I also engaged in 'exercise' cycling where I varied low and high intensity activities.
My results were...interesting.
On the plus side, I definitely became stronger and improved endurance. Mostly, I attribute to Jillian Michael's workout videos. "30 Day Shred" is tough as nails...and it works. I am a true believer. I consider myself to be an 'intermediate' cardio performer, and 30DS kept me plenty challenged. I saw the biggest improvements in my pushups and cardio endurance using the videos 3x per week. Pretty amazing considering the workouts are only 20 minutes long.
Calorie/carb cycling was also a success. I lost a little bodyfat and weight, and my body was responding.
But there were some downsides.
While 30DS and HIIT were effective, I started to feel signs of fatigue after a couple of weeks. It's frustrating when you want to keep pushing forward, and your body is saying 'slow down'.
So I slowed down, then holidays came around. As many of you know, I've been eating low carb for a year and a half now. With the end of year with birthdays and holidays, I've been eating more carbs, though. Cakes, cookies, breads and pies. I personally believe that when in Rome, don't be a fanatic. I would never tell my friends or family that I can't eat their bread roll or pie because of the carbs. Nor would I push gluten free bread rolls on my guests. If I was gluten intolerant or had celiac disease, that might change things slightly. I just accept that I will be eating more wheat products and sugar than I do at other times of year.
Interestingly, despite my increased carb intake, my weight has been holding remarkably stable. I attribute it to 2 things: regular walking and no store bought processed foods. Even though I have eaten more bread, pies, cookies, and cakes, they have been home baked goods made with little more than flour, sugar, milk and water. I eat one cookie - just one - and that's enough. I'm not tempted to eat more. Just one seems to be satisfying.
It hasn't exactly been entirely risk or consequence free, though. I am certain that I have some sort of wheat intolerance. I am not gluten intolerant or celiac, as those are gastrointestinal, and that is not my issue. However, since I increased my wheat consumption, I had a return of a sinus infection, and an asthmatic like cough. Problems that I haven't had since going low-carb.
This isn't coincidental or due to seasonal infections. I get an increase in mucus production in my nose and throat after eating wheat regularly. It's not a virus because no one else in my proximity is infected. This does not happen if I eat starches. It clears up within a day if I avoid wheat.
Wheat and starches have a lot of calories/carbs, and that does seem to have had an effect on my metabolism...in a positive way, which is going to sound contradictory and odd. Eating low calorie diets for a long period of time downshifts the metabolism so our bodies adapt. Eating more calories shifts the metabolism up so that it burns more calories. Eating high calorie for too long, though, increases weight gain.
So in conclusion, I do believe calorie/carb cycling high/low has merit, at least for me. Finding the balance of how long to go high and low is going to vary per person. Eating low carb makes it very difficult for me to eat more calories since it suppresses my appetite so well. Having a sweet potato on a high intensity exercise day is an easy fit. After the holidays are over, I'll continue calorie/carb cycling, though I'll opt for starches instead of wheat.
Thursday, November 01, 2012
Not so long ago in a neighborhood near you, I was an ardent believer in calorie in minus calorie out. But once I took a close look at the numbers, I noticed that my weight loss didn't follow the pattern. 500 calorie deficit a day did not lead to 1 lbs of weight loss in a week. If the theory was sound, then it should be consistent and repeatable. Or it should at least be close.
The main reason that calorie in minus calorie out derailed my weight loss goals was because of a false sense that I could 'make up' less than optimal choices with more exercise.
"I burned 300 calories on the elliptical, so I can eat ice cream today and it will cancel out."
"I shouldn't have eaten the ice cream. Maybe I'll do another workout today to cancel it out."
I got rid of the idea there are 'free' calories and I can 'cancel' out my choices with more exercise.
Exercise became a form of torture and punishment. I had to exercise to 'work off' my bad choices. It was a terribly unhealthy attitude.
Couple of months ago, I ate birthday cake because, well, it was my birthday! No regrets. I'll do it again next year.
I am now a believer that weight loss is a function of hormonal balance, rather than calorie arithmetic. Exercise we do and foods we eat cause different hormonal responses. Balance of good quality food and moderate exercise leads to good health.
I still track my food, but I don't worry about making the calorie ledger balance. I use food tracking as an accountability tool to make sure I'm eating enough of the right things. It's all too easy to have a treat food here and there, and think it's only occasional. But when I log my food, it's harder for me to have amnesia on whether I had ice cream only once or five times last week.
Monday, October 29, 2012
I think there is currently too much emphasis on high intensity exercise.
I'm definitely a practitioner of HIIT, but I don't do it to the exclusion of everything else. There's a lot going for low intensity exercise, but most people dismiss the most basic of exercise - walking - as not being a legitimate 'workout'.
I've read tons and tons of articles over the years explaining why short, intense workouts are just as good as longer exercise. There's lots of articles debunking the 'fat burning zone' myth. These articles explain it's calorie total burn that counts, and more is burned with very intense exercise.
Probably. Maybe. But I have lost 40lbs (and kept it off), and I've never done any jogging that I didn't have to do. Only running from a thunderstorm, or catching the bus.
Especially in the earliest part of my weight loss journey, my primary exercise was long distance and low intensity - hiking and cycling. My heart rate rarely exceeded 140bpm.
Once my weight came down and endurance went up, I started adding HIIT on the elliptical, not usually exceeding 30 minutes. In the early days, I did it believing in the 'calorie burn', but now I do it for another reason. As you know, I don't really pay much attention to calories anymore. "Sprinting" increases lung and heart efficiency, thus increasing oxygen efficiency.
Low intensity exercise is an unsung hero, I believe.
I read an article recently about health care costs, and one of the graphs stuck out at me. It showed the rate of obesity increase in the past 20 years. The United States had the highest rate of increase. Japan had the lowest. We already knew that. But what stands out to me is just how low Japan's rate of increase is. Just about 1% per year.
Here is the article: www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/2012/10
Here is the graph:
I spent a lot of time thinking about it, and it led me to where I currently am with my carb/intensity cycling experiment.
Many people believe that asians have low obesity rates because of their high vegetable, low protein/fat consumption. Maybe, but they don't really do this for health reasons in the same way some Americans do. Protein is highly desirable, but it is very expensive. The concept of 'vegetarianism', as in purposely avoiding meat protein, is considered weird.
They do avoid sugary sodas and treats for health reasons. Asian baked goods are far less sweet than Americans are used to. They eat far, far less sugar than Western industrialized countries.
When I was in Seoul, Korea, we walked everywhere. We took the underground metro in order to cover far distances, but we still walked from point to point. I have no idea how much we walked, but it was a lot. All day, everyday.
But it wasn't just my family and I that did all this heavy walking as tourists. It was everyone else, too. People walking to and from work, carrying briefcases and laptop bags. Groups of girlfriends shopping. They didn't take cars to the grocery store - they brought shopping bags and carried them on the metro or on the sidewalk.
We ate everywhere. I don't think there was a single stop where we didn't eat something. I was sure I would gain 10 lbs when I got home. We seemed to never stop eating. Giant bowls of thick noodles. Kimchi soup. Bulgogi and kalbi. Fish and shell fish. Lots of rice. Lots and lots of rice.
When I got home, I was shocked to discover I didn't gain weight. I lost 8lbs. Eating. Not counting a single calorie. And walking.
I didn't see a single native who was overweight.
The other thing I didn't see? People working out in gyms. Here in the US, walk down almost any street in a metro area, and you'll see a gym every other building.
I noticed the same phenomena in France. Lots of walkers. Not many fitness gyms. I walked everywhere and ate whatever I wanted. Pastries, chocolate, wine, desserts, and prix fixe dining. I didn't lose weight this time, but I didn't gain anything either, even eating some of the richest and decadent foods. The only overweight people I saw were American tourists. The locals were incredibly thin and healthy. Even the bakery owners!
While the US has a very serious obesity problem, I have seen a thinner population overall in certain US cities as well. San Francisco, Seattle and Portland. Lots of walkers and bikers. Plenty of fitness gyms, though. Especially in LA.
The fitness gyms in the US may be a necessity for us due to our high urban sprawl and less organization around city centers. Most of us have very busy lives, and just want to get in and out in the quickest amount of time.
However, I am personally coming around to believe that the tortoise may be just as important as the hare when it comes to weight loss and maintenance. Unless I am sick or injured, I am walking at least a few minutes every single day.
Saturday, October 27, 2012
I've been at 'normal' weight and bodyfat range for a few months, but I'd like to improve more. I'm still a bit more spongy than I would like. I'd like to be closer to 21-24% bodyfat. It's clear that I need to step up my routine. I kinda took inspiration from the P90X line of thought that people who are already fit need to engage more in 'muscle confusion', varying their activities daily so the body never gets comfortable with any one activity.
Week one of my carb/intensity cycling experiment is done. As with any change in routine, it's hard to say whether the first week is 'working' because there's too much noise as my body is adjusting to the change. So far so good, though. I am seeing some general positive indications.
Scale weight hasn't changed much, but that's usually to be expected. I am, however, seeing a sleeker looking line on my abs, and my clothes are fitting better!
The quality of my sleep has improved. I'm getting to bed earlier, and waking up feeling energized.
I'm varying my workouts, and adjusting the amount of carbs/calories I eat in proportion. I'm doing a different activity, intensity, and duration every day. Here's how my workouts have gone this week:
Mon: Elliptical HIIT x 30 mins
Tue: 30 Day Shred DVD x 20 mins + walk w/DH x 30 mins
Wed: Treadmill walk x 60 mins
Thu: Treadmill walk x 90 mins
Fri: Elliptical HIIT x 30 mins
Sat: 30 Day Shred DVD x 20 mins + walk w/DH x 60 mins
My high/low intensity hasn't quite staggered the way I intended, but it still seems to be working. I ended up with a couple of easy treadmill walk days while I worked out sore muscles after Tuesday because Jillian Michaels kicked my butt! I have a couple more of her DVDs on the way to mix things up.
I think my recent stall has been due to not pushing hard enough, so I pushed myself pretty hard. I haven't felt fatigue, so I'm keeping moving. I am certainly looking forward to an easy day on Sunday, though!
Tomorrow will be a very light activity day as DH and I will take an easy stroll down the beach. Hurricane Sandy is passing us by, but she is stirring up some spectacular waves for us to watch.
On lighter activity days, I stayed on the low carb/calorie end. On higher intensity days, I added fruit and mashed potatoes. It hasn't been too difficult for me to juggle, and I don't have to think about it too much.
The end of next week should be more conclusive. So far, it is looking promising.
Friday, October 26, 2012
An interesting point came up on my previous blog about rest days. What does rest day mean? Does it mean no activity, or light activity? How much time does one need for recovery after hard workout days?
I am probably someone who is overly cautious when it comes to working out. I often am guilty of undertraining, rather than overtraining.
Recovery and rest days are absolutely important. We don't build muscle and cardiovascular improvement while we are working out, but after, when we are 'resting'.
There's two types of muscle soreness. Lactic acid buildup, and delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
Lactic acid buildup is the 'burn' you feel when you lift something very heavy. This is anaerobic exercise where your muscle has burned up available oxygen.
DOMS is the soreness you feel the day after a workout. During intense workouts, microscopic tears occur in the muscle fibers. This is how you get muscle growth.
During a rest day, torn muscle is repaired, and made bigger and stronger. This is highly desirable, and how we improve our physical fitness.
But what is a rest day? Is it lounging in front of the TV? Is it a light workout?
If you experience muscle soreness to the point where you can't walk or lift your arms, then you overtrained. Being unable to move is damage, not improvement. Do light stretching and take a hot bath to ease the soreness. Wait until the soreness subsides before repeating the activity, but ease back the next time around.
A little muscle soreness is good. A walk around the block or park can actually be a good thing. Light activity stimulates blood flow, carrying more oxygen to stiff muscles. But do not engage in a 'workout'. Working out muscles undergoing DOMS will damage them. Many athletes and personal trainers alternate working out different muscle groups on different days to avoid overstressing them.
On my light activity days, I'll take a long, leisurely walk or bike ride - the long, low intensity activities. (I'll write more about the merits of low intensity workouts later). I don't worry about heart rate, or how many miles I go. I go as far as, "What's over that next bend?" or "Oh hey, look - dolphins! Where's my camera?" It's all about having fun: enjoying the sun, the sky, the wind, the sea, and quality time with the DH.
But sometimes on a rest day when I feel 'fatigue' (mind and body fogginess), I'll sit on the couch and read magazines, surf the 'net, or work on my beading projects.
My 'rest' days are usually leisurely, rather than sedentary.
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