Lifestyles of the Fat & Unhealthy

Tomorrow I’m starting a new lifestyle, which means that today is going to be spent in large part getting ready for the new lifestyle. No, I don’t mean that I’m a latent homosexual, I mean that I’m finally going to take my health seriously.

I’m fortunate in that not too many years ago I actually was very fit. I know a lot of men say that: “you should have seen me in college – fastest running back on the reserve squad!” But I’m being honest when I say that I was slim, eating healthy, and running regularly for exercise. I was also single.

I don’t know what it is about being in a long-term relationship. For some reason, when I’m single I have no problems staying fit and active. It could be an instinctive thing, the unconscious desire to make oneself more appealing to prospective mates. More likely it’s just that when I’m single I don’t have the obligations that come along with having a significant other, all the family dinners, all the date nights, all the “do nothing but eat” events like birthdays and holidays – except all multiplied by two because now both sides of the family expect it of me.

In any event, it’s all too easy to blame getting fat and lazy on external factors, whatever they may be. The inescapable truth is that we are all responsible for ourselves, and we shouldn’t be blaming others for our eating habits any more than we should be waiting for others to kick our butts into gear in order to get any exercise.

Having said that, I do think there’s an inherent problem with our society in this regard. Isn’t it true that society frowns on people who are overweight and out of shape? We certainly idolize the very fit; looking at the covers on any magazine rack will demonstrate that. Yet despite our infatuation with slim, athletic people, our culture is fixated on eating and being sedentary. Try going to a birthday party and eating healthy, or not eating at all. Not only is it difficult to avoid the temptation of rich, fatty foods on their own, there’s also the peer pressure. Let’s be honest, when people come to your home you expect to feed them, and if they refuse your food they’ve insulted you. That’s where the real willpower of a healthy lifestyle comes in – at least for me.

And it is a lifestyle. The concept of dieting is inherently flawed. I think the problem is that most people don’t understand how their body works, and so they make a lot of bad choices. These facts are stated better elsewhere, so I won’t drag it out, but in a nutshell here’s how everything regarding a healthy lifestyle works:

  • Muscle density is incredibly important: it determines how many calories you burn, how effective exercise is, and contributes enormously to your physical well-being;
  • Dieting destroys muscle; in fact, without proper exercise your muscle density will start to erode by your mid-twenties;
  • When your body enters a state of calorie-deficiency (which is what dieting does), it compensates by reducing muscle mass to bring your calorie burn in line with your calorie intake;
  • Although dieting does work to reduce body weight in the short term, much of the weight lost isn’t fat: it’s muscle;
  • This loss of muscle damages your ability to burn calories or see much benefit from exercise, so you end up in a downward spiral of having to eat fewer and fewer calories in order to lose weight – or even to stop from gaining back weight you already lost;
  • Eventually you will get sick of eating three lettuce leafs and half a boiled chicken breast for dinner; it’s inevitable, and when that cookie calls to you you’ve already sabotaged your ability to burn off the calories it represents because you no longer have healthy muscle mass;
  • As the diet plan slowly (or quickly) falls apart, your weight will pour back on plus more, because now you have even less defense against poor eating choices.

So the answer to all of this is actually remarkably simple. “Losing weight” isn’t the goal – the goal is to be healthy, and weight loss is just a nice side effect of that. Here are the three key elements of a healthy lifestyle:

  1. Muscle building (anaerobic exercise)
  2. Cardio (aerobic exercise)
  3. Diet (not “dieting,” just diet)

In that order, I should add. The most important thing to do is muscle-building – and you can’t do that with a vigorous walk, it has to be honest-to-goodness weight training. And I don’t care if you’re a woman and you’re afraid of getting “bulky” with too much muscle; that’s an indefensible neurosis and not a legitimate excuse to not be healthy. After weight training comes the cardio component – put that muscle to work burning some calories! I should point out here that many people consider cardio and weight training to be incompatible, that cardio activity hinders your body’s ability to add muscle, but I think the benefits of engaging in a range of exercise outweigh any such drawbacks. Lastly, be honest about your diet. Are you getting enough protein to support improving muscle density, or are you filling up on empty carbs? When it comes to raw calorie-count, I’m somewhat ambivalent. I honestly think that everyone knows what they should and shouldn’t be eating. If you eat until you’re bursting every meal and have rich snacks throughout the day, no one needs to tell you it’s unhealthy, so I won’t dwell on that sort of thing here.

This post is going way longer than I intended, but in a nutshell here is my new lifestyle, which can best be summarized in the form of a schedule:

6:30 am – wake, have some water, throw on some gym clothes

to 7:30 am – half hour on the Bowflex, followed by stretching and a 1.5 mile run

to 8:30 am – breakfast (chicken breast, vegetables), get ready and leave for work

to 11:30 am – work

to 12:30 pm – lunch (chicken breast, vegetables), catch up on the news

to 4:30 pm – work and head home

to 5:30 pm – walk the dog

to 6:30 pm – second workout: half hour on the Bowflex and a 1.5 mile run

to 7:30 pm – dinner (chicken breast, vegetables) and preparing meals for the next day

to 9:30 pm – free time to blog, watch a movie, play video games, whatever

to 10:00 pm – evening meal (Life cereal in skim milk) and off to bed

to 11:00 pm – reading in bed and going to sleep

Up until about 8:00 pm my intention is to drink quite a bit of water (fat is water soluble, so lots of water helps your body process fat into energy and get rid of it, plus it keeps your muscles hydrated so they stay healthy and don’t cramp, and lastly it keeps your belly full so you won’t get so hungry).

And that’s pretty much it. I’ll be at a calorie deficiency for a while with this meal plan, but I’m compensating with lots of anaerobics to keep muscle density from falling. As my weight falls, I’ll tweak the diet to match my calorie-intake with my calorie burn so I can keep the weight off. I have no intention of turning this into a weight loss or fitness blog, so hopefully from here on I’ll be able to muse on topics less provincial.



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