Still Alive…and Thriving

I’ve been meaning to write up a new post for so long, not because I feel the need to express myself on the topic of low-carb, LCHF, Paleo, or fitness anymore, but because I just went to update this site and saw that my last posts were mainly negative in terms of progress, and I didn’t want to give readers the impression that I had given up or that this wacky diet of mine doesn’t work : )

As you may have seen over the past year or so, there has been more and more research supporting lowered carbohydrate intake for health and weight loss. It seems that the message is finally out. When I started this “journey” five years ago, and particularly when I started writing this blog, I made a couple of mistakes. One of which was the tone I used in the writing. One reader wrote me to tell me to “quit mansplaining!” When I saw that I was quite ashamed and embarrassed, as I did not intend to come off as a know-it-all. But I did, so forgive my tone in many of the early posts. But, in my defense, think back just a few years ago and we were still faced with the following myths being considered conventional wisdom:

  • Butter is bad for you
  • Salt is bad for you
  • You have to drink 8+ glasses of water per day
  • Low carb diets or too much protein cause liver problems

Since that time, saturated fat has been the topic of hot debate as to whether it is healthy or not, with the research being pretty clear that it is health, or at least not unhealthy. The vegans/vegetarians are slowly losing their grip on the diet and fitness policies (yes, even fitness – they have successfully boondoggled most of America into thinking that slowly jogging around a track for X minutes a day is the ideal fitness routine….why? Because it requires no protein.). Anyways, you know where I stand on it.

Over these five years I spent the first two or three arguing with people who would, as I felt at the time, “have the gall” to question my diet when I clearly was losing weight and getting into the best health and shape of my life. Couldn’t they see/feel what I did? Hence my tone in those posts. After the first few years I stopped debating with people about diet completely. Not worth the time or frustration. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that debating diet and fitness with currently obese and/or unfit individuals is like debating the importance of going clean to a drug addict. They’ll argue you tooth and nail over it. With regards to diet and fitness, I’ve specifically found that overweight men over the age of 30 will insist they know what they’re talking about when it comes to diet and fitness. They will argue until they run out of breath (and they often do) that their approach is the best. Of course, they’re not actually following “their” approach but they apparently think about it. Nowadays, I simply avoid the subject. If I am really annoyed and don’t care for the person, then I’ll just look them up and down slowly and then reply, “How’s that diet working out for you?” Enough said.

My Current Status

Simply, I’m doing really well. I struggled for a long time with fitness – trying to dial in the right fitness program for me has been a constant and evolving struggle and will continue to be tweaked, but over the past year or so I’ve found what works and what doesn’t for me. More importantly, my weight is just about perfect. I am at 189lbs, which sounds a bit high to a lanky jogger type but I was blessed with a muscular, athletic build (large thighs, v-shaped upper body). Hypertrophy training (i.e., “bodybuilding”) is now my primary “workout” though I do sports as well, such as squash a couple of times per week, some basketball, and soon some soccer. I’m in the best shape of my life. And guess what? I eat a lot of carbs these days. My typical routine is to eat < 100g of carbs during the weekdays. Often less than that. One night per week, although I don’t plan on it, if I feel I need more carbs to fuel a more intensive workout, then I’ll indulge in something sweet or starchy. The weekends? I eat very low-carb during the day and pretty much whatever I want at night. Keep in mind that I don’t ever want bread or pasta, though I would give it a go if I desired it. But I enjoy beer and fried foods often on weekends. I’m able to do this now because I feel my body is working properly, and the weightlifting and squash really allow for this.

I’ll be turning 44 in a week. I started this way of eating back when I was 39. I somehow have been able to not only keep the ~80lbs off but continue to get in better shape. Not sure how I’ve accomplished it but I have. And I have learned a number of things through continual self-experimentation. Some quick thoughts:

  • Hypertrophy training is best for me. The “lift heavy” thing didn’t result in worthwhile change to me. What does “worthwhile” mean to me? Not adding more plates to the bar. It’s like when I talked about my now disdain for crossfit in an earlier post – I didn’t join a CrossFit box to increase my “Fran” time. I did it to lose weight and get in better shape. Neither happened as a result. So while I certainly do not regret doing CrossFit for 6 months, or my 2 years doing a heavy lifting (i.e., Starting Strength and/or StrongLifts) type routine, the bottom line is that after doing those protocols for long enough they did not result in worthwhile, positive change for me. Going to a 8-12 rep, higher-volume weight routine, coupled with some HIIT (in the form of squash primarily) has been the key for me.
  • I no longer buy into the bullshit that carbs are completely unnecessary. This is simply not the case for me. When I was obese and needed to lose weight, cutting out all carbs from non-vegetable sources was absolutely the best way to go. But once I lost the bulk of the excess weight and turned my attention to fitness goals, I unfortunately found out the hard way that our bodies were simply not meant to lift heavy things or run around at fast paces for extended periods of time without the extra fuel that carbohydrates provide. THIS DOES NOT MEAN THAT LOW CARB IS BAD. What I am saying is that, for me, low carb is the ideal weight loss approach. It is not the ideal diet for an athlete. If you are overweight, then I suggest you ditch your athletic goals and go on a very low carb diet until you lose the excess weight, then scale up your carb intake to fuel your athletic goals. There I go mansplaining again : ( …. but really, that’s what’s worked for me. And I learned this stuff the hard way. Believe me, I spent a year trying to do heavy lifting on low carb. Didn’t work.

So that’s it for now and probably for a while. I just wanted to give a quick update on my status. I’m alive, well, and thriving. I wish you all the same.

Danced with the Devil and I Got Burned

It’s supposed to be simple. Eat more calories than you “burn” and you gain weight. Eat less and you won’t. We’ve been told this so often that, no matter the evidence to the contrary, we refuse to question it. It’s like religion or politics. People mostly believe what they were raised to believe, and that’s that. Most people simply don’t question core beliefs.

You’d think I would know better. I’ve done self-experiments for years now – from caloric restriction, to high-fat/low-carb, to high-protein, etc. No exercise with diet, exercise with/without diet, 8+ hours sleep per night vs 6 hours, etc. I’ve done it. You’d think I’d know better. It pains me greatly to write that I have fucked up big time and went, in just about a month or two, from noticeably toned to a gut and flab all over. How did I do it? By falling back into the flawed approach of “I can have that small piece of cake, or that light beer with dinner, because I’ll still be eating less than X calories per day.”

2″ more of waistline and just flabzilla all over now as a result. It snuck up on me. Literally.

How It Happened

All this year I’ve been playing around with things like Carb Backloading, CarbNite, etc. Those types of carb refeeds/cycling can work for some people. I’m convinced of that. And I do see a value in a CarbNite like approach for me because I do lift heavy weights and especially now that I’m playing squash a couple of times per week.  I am pretty certain I should do a carb refeed once a week. But it can be a slipper slope. Here’s what happens, in chonological order:

1. Eat a junk food(s) or attend a happy hour and have a few beers, etc.

2. Wake up next day and notice a little extra energy. Feel more energized. Brain says, “Maybe I needed those extra calories. I workout so hard that I must not be eating enough to support it, and so this is my body telling me I need to treat myself more!”

3. Within a couple of days I add some more carbs into my diet, always replacing fat/protein calories with the carb calories, because everyone knows that it’s all about the calories! (bullshit!) Because I worked out extra hard the day before, I fall into the trap of thinking I can get away with it by ‘burning it off.’

4. After a couple of days of it I check the scale and mirror and don’t feel any fatter or weigh any more. I figure, “I got this! I can have my cake and eat it too!”

5. A week or so later I wake up to feel bloated, and notice that seemingly overnight my muscle tone is gone. Gone. I don’t feel as energetic.

That’s how it went. But this time it lasted over the course of a couple of months. Starting yesterday I went back to a pretty strict primal diet approach, limiting carbs to under 50g at least for a few days. I am more active now than ever before as I’ve started playing squash multiple times per week. That’s part of what caused the backslide – I figured I was playing such a grueling sport (and it is quite energy-intensive, trust me), that I could/should eat more to compensate. Maybe so but I now know my body and whether it’s a Snickers bar or too big of a sweet potato its the same effect – fat gain.

Next Steps

I’m on day two of a ‘detox’ (hate that word but you get the idea) from sugar/carbs. I’ll play squash twice per week, walk every day, and continue my fullbody weightlifting routine 2 or 3 times per week. I’ll be back to being pretty toned within a few weeks from now, so it’s not a big deal – it’s just so annoying.

So, as of yesterday, I weigh 198 pounds. I should be about 7 pounds less but even in my lean/toned days I wasn’t under 194. I’ll post back how I do over the next week or two.

Update – January 2014 – Happy New Year!

I guess I should start off by apologizing for not posting since October of last year, but my blog is no different than 99% of the other personal blogs out there: every post starts off with an apology for why they haven’t posted in forever, followed by a promise to post more often. : )

Regardless, let me update you on the important stuff.

My Diet

First off, let me be clear that I am using the term “diet” in the literal sense: a description of my day-to-day food consumption. I do not mean it in terms of a “Paleo” or “Atkins” or “Vegetarian” or any other type of “diet.”

I still eat a low-carb, high-fat, moderate protein diet. But the reality is, I do not track the fat or protein intake. And I only vaguely keep a mental note of the daily carb intake. I have a ‘no limit’ approach to healthy fats and protein. The latter, protein, can get overweight people in trouble as any excess is converted to glucose in the body, so I do not suggest that approach if you are trying to lose weight. Eat the protein you need, and no more. As for me, I am still weightlifting and have added one or two HIIT sessions per week using kettlebells/bodyweight exercises, so there’s no real restrictions for me regarding protein intake. I even drink a ‘protein’ shake every couple of days for fun.

I have relaxed my diet quite a bit, especially over the holiday season. With my favorite sports team having a fabulous season and 3 prime time games in a row, I treated myself to hot wings, beer, and a dessert of some sort on those nights. It was fun, I don’t regret it. The days of ‘regret’, and ‘guilt’, etc. in relation to food have been long gone for me. Food is and has been both a tool (to fuel my day) and a pleasure for me, and will likely continue to be based on my goals at any given time.

For breakfast, I often skip it these days. When I was trying to lose weight, especially in the beginning, I was eating a very large breakfast (3 or 4 eggs + bacon or sausage). Nowadays I usually am not hungry in the morning, so I don’t eat breakfast.

For lunch, most days, I eat a Big Ass Salad that is packed with tons of vegetables, along with a can of tuna. I load it with olive oil and some balsamic vinegar as well. These salads are huge – I prepare them in a big mixing bowl and am pretty stuffed after eating them!

For dinner, I make a meat and usually pair it with a vegetable but not always. I grill a lot, so throwing a package of chicken wings/thighs or a grass-fed steak on the grill is usually what I try to do, but with the recent winter freeze that isn’t as often an option lately. Also, the past couple of weekends I’ve spent Sunday afternoons preparing a mostly homemade tomato sauce/cacciatore (sp?) concoction. It is loaded with vegetables and spices, and then I pair that with either grass-fed beef meatballs or even just plain old sausages, etc. (While I try to eat the better quality meats I am not a stickler for it).

One probably bad habit of mine is nighttime snacking. I’d probably have a six-pack (abs!) if it weren’t for the nightly snack or some nuts, aged cheese, etc. Most nights I indulge in a glass of red wine as well.

My Weight

My weight has held steady for, really, the last year and a half. I’ve been between 185 and 195lbs. I’m 5’10 so that sounds heavy, but my measurements are excellent, and I have naturally large/muscular thighs (think football running back). The weightlifting has really helped in that regard. Prior to the weightlifting, I was ~188lbs and soft in the middle – kind of ‘skinny fat’ like you see on a lot of runners, with little muscle definition. Now I have pretty good definition in my upper body, and I have a “V-Shape” upper body now, where my lats/upper back/chest are wider than my waist, which is cool. I’m at 195lbs now and I estimate that I’ve put on about 5 to 7lbs of muscle in the past 6 months.

My Workouts

If you’ve read over this blog then you’ll see that when it’s come to exercise, I have struggled. Not in doing it – I have no problem with motivation. The problem is in the prescription. Like diet, I’ve found there are lots of inefficient or bad ways to achieve my goal: leaning out while building strength. Review google hits or ask 10 different personal trainers (and I estimate I have about that many over the past couple of years) and everyone has a different opinion.

I think a big problem with diet and exercise is that everyone naturally falls back to what worked for them when they were 25 (or younger). But those prescriptions did not work for me in my 40’s. Getting on a treadmill and running daily might result in 10 or 15lbs of weight loss, but won’t result in any muscle growth, and it doesn’t seem to work for long-term/large amount of weight loss. Just ask all of the fat people running marathons. The emaciated are up at the front of the pack, followed by a bunch of overweight people. Odd scene.

This past month I consulted with an excellent personal trainer who is very strength focused. He evaluated my progress with regards to my mobility, squat, etc. He basically recommended that I back off of the barbell squats and focus on kettlebell squats. So I started doing a 2 or 3x per week HIIT session that looks like this:

Repeat 5x (no rest/stopping in-between movements):

  • 15 two-handed kettlebell swings
  • 10 push-ups
  • 10 single-arm kettlebell swings (total of 20)
  • 10 kettlebell goblet squats
  • 2 minutes rest

The first two sets are fine but the remaining ones are killer : )

Doing this routine has really helped with my weightlifting. I do weightlifting routine once or twice per week now. I’ll try to post more about my thoughts on why later. I also walk daily.

So that’s it. 2013 was a good year but a horrible year in terms of injuries. I battled an achilles injury twice (I have a separate blog about that). And I was diagnosed with hearing loss in my one ear at the 4khz range. I’m told it is permanent. And I am pretty certain that it is due to listening to headphones/loud music over the years, especially the last two while walking. I’ve been warned to discontinue the headphone use or the hearing loss will get worse. Sucks.

Aside from that, all is good.

 

A Little Rant…

So yesterday started a renewed emphasis on eating clean and getting back on track. The other day I wrote a post with a title saying I was fat again….well, that’s not really true. But I have gained about 3 or 4 pounds. I’d maintained aSome diet gurus talk about a 5lb swing being fine, but I know my body and the fact is, it’s gotten soft over the past month. Mostly due to my diet slipping – it just seems like the last few months have been a constant pressure to eat shit on a daily basis. I know my family and others mean no harm, but you’d think after almost 3 years of my eating this way, and the amazing success I’ve had, that they’d let me be. Last night I got a somewhat snide comment at a friends’ house, where she asked, “You still not eating carbs?” in a somewhat negative tone.

Part of the problem is that I’ve been eating fairly stringent Primal/Paleo for a long time now, but I have been for the past year doing it in a very unorthodox, and calculated way: instead of mixing in good carbs (white rice, sweet potato, etc.) for glycogen restoration (which is necessary if you work out hard), I have been ‘carb-loading’ once a week on a junk meal. So it sends mixed signals to my family, who see me annoyed when I refuse to eat pasta but then the next night I’m sitting there eating ice cream with them. When I say I was carb-loading in a ‘calculated’ way, I know damn well it’s not optimal. But my rationale was (and, if I continue to workout hard, is) that it’s okay. Problem is, with the bad achilles, I stopped working out hard for a while, aside from the weekly soccer match.

Back to my point…What bothers me most is this:

I could care less what anyone else eats, yet everyone seems to analyze what I eat.

I get it. They’re simply waiting for me to ‘fall off the wagon’ and balloon up again. Every dieter fails. I am the first to tell people that. It’s because they start one way and then think once the weight is off they can eat differently. But how many years do I have to succeed at this, to maintain the weight loss successfully, before people will simply let me be and stop busting my balls about how I eat? Would they do it if I said I was allergic to wheat/gluten/dairy/whatever?

As I typed the above sentence it struck me that I need to give serious thought to that idea. Maybe I’ll make up a fake “went to the doctor and he tested me and I’m gluten intolerant” story…

On a positive note…I weighed in at 192.2 today, which is as heavy as I’ve been in a long time. I maintained at 188/189 for about 6 or 7 months pretty effortlessly. But with the carb-loading and especially with the achilles injury stopping all activity for a while and most recently a focus on endurance sports (running, and soccer) and not on strength or cross-training, I’m feeling an increase in body fat for sure. So time to tighten things up, both with my eating and my exercise.

With this year’s Girls On The Run 5k finished (I ran it last year and this year with my daughter, who is required to run with an adult partner), I’m through with running for exercise. I knew before-hand that it wasn’t a good idea, for a whole lot of reasons, but actually *doing it* and feeling the effects of it over the last 2 months proved it to me: running did nothing for my VO2 MAX, nor my body fat/weight, and completely sapped away my muscle tone. In fact, the only good thing it did for me was enable me to run longer distances, which is about as useful a goal to me as the whole CrossFit whiteboard/”PR” thing: I could give two shits. So running is pointless. Am I surprised at that? Of course not: look at your distance runners – they all have bodies that look like shit.

So today I started the clean-up process by writing up a shopping list of clean foods and stocking up for the week. I’m going to do some walking tonight, then tomorrow a strength/cross-training routine, then soccer Thursday, and then a ‘play’ day Friday, and then decide on a fitness approach for the next quarter. In the meantime, my focus is on cleaning up my diet. I also am committed to blogging more, even if it is just a short, stream-of-consciousness rant like this one. So watch out : )

I’m Fat Again, But At Least the Achilles is Healed

I’ve been dreading writing this post. But after a 45 minute walk at my local track, where my usual “I’ve got life by the balls!” feeling was trumped by a pity party, it’s time I step up and admit it.

I’ve let junk food kick my ass. I went from feeling lean and muscular to sloppy fat, seemingly overnight.

Not sure if this post will come across as tongue-in-cheek but I assure you I’m not feeling very witty or funny. I’m downright sad and angry at myself.

A Slow, Downward Slide

To recap (for the hundredth time, but for those of you new to my story…) – I started eating a low-carb, loose Primal diet about 2.5 years ago. A year later, I’m down ~65lbs. In total, I’m down about 71lbs. From ~260lbs down to a steady 189lbs. It was great. I never felt better. My energy level went through the roof, and mostly remains that way to do this day in spite of recent mistakes. Of course, any of you who have read my prior posts know I’ve done everything in my power to screw it up. Like beating myself to a pulp doing that stupid ass CrossFit, or overdoing the stretching to the point of ripping a hole in my achilles tendon, in hopes that I could finally someday achieve a proper depth back squat, etc.

But in spite of my idiotic and obsessive compulsion towards achieving some serious level of fitness, things have been mostly good. Still a struggle to keep eating ‘clean’ while surrounded by continuous temptation and flat out scorn/disgust by those around me it seems. Allison over at PaleoNonPaleo said it perfectly in her latest post:

“I know your family thinks you’re crazy. I know you feel completely alone. I know you feel like it’s never, ever going to work.”

I never let that other people’s attitudes about this stuff bother me before. Well, it did. But I ignored it. For a while, I was right out front telling everyone and anyone about how to lose weight and feel great through Paleo/Primal, and particularly the low carb version of it. Over the past 6 months or so I’ve given up on that. People don’t want to hear it. And it’s always the obese guys who will want to debate with me about it, so I tend to keep quiet now when people ask me about diet. Some people just don’t want to hear it.

I also started questioning things about my approach to diet. Honestly, I’m really annoyed/sickened by the money grab that is Paleo these days. So many bloggers, podcasters, presenters, etc. coming out of the woodwork and Paleo is just so commercialized now. I guess that’s a good thing but I think it will ultimately lead to its demise as another ‘fad’. Someone will come up with a new name for the same way of eating and it will be over. It’s inevitable. But, back to my downfall: So thinking I had my body hacked and this thing called diet by the balls, late last year, sometime before Thanksgiving, I started ‘treating’ myself to a weekly splurge dessert. Often a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. And as I type this, I’m thinking the same thing. As I’ve done for a long time now, I would try some new foods and then see how it impacted my weight. And, surprisingly, the weekly splurge treat didn’t have any effect. Then the holidays come around and a series of corporate happy hours/parties full of beer, then family parties full of beer and what-not, then the holiday dinners and the pressure there, because God forbid I say “no thank you” to some in-law’s shitty food and not receive a look of scorn…

Too Much of This Crap
Too Much of This Crap…and it didn’t even taste good.

All the while, I started indulging more and more. My occasional treats turned into twice a week, then more. About a month ago I even started partaking in the occasional grains, cornbread at a local BBQ place to be exact, for the first time in a long time.  All the while, I would check the scale and I wasn’t gaining weight. And I didn’t feel or look like I was getting fatter. And my waist size was no bigger and in fact, over time, was still shrinking (I’m now down to a 34). So I think I’ve got life good: I’m able to eat whatever I want, so long as I mostly avoid the grains. Mind you, I was still eating clean for breakfast (eggs, sausage, bacon) and lunch (salad). But because of the achilles issues I stopped lifting weights. And the cardio training took it’s place…..

About 6 weeks ago I got the go-ahead from my physical therapist to start running, in order to build up my legs for an eventual 5k race that I needed to run with my daughter. That race was this past Sunday and we did well. All the while during the training leading up to this race, I fell back into the mistaken mindset of, “I’m burning all these calories with all this long-distance running, so I can eat more junk!” And for a while it seemed I could. And then a couple of weeks ago I woke up one morning and went to brush my teeth and looked in the mirror and it’s man-boob city. And a gut that seemingly popped up out of nowhere. I felt fat again for the first time in a long time. And then my newly purchased Summer wardrobe of shorts and shirts in a size that was just right before, were now a bit tight.

After the 5k
After the 5k

I finished the 5k and am glad I did it. But I now know that Mark Sisson and so many others were right when they talk of how useless cardio training is when it comes to fitness and/or weight loss/maintenance. It has robbed me of the muscle tone I had, seemingly overnight. The cardio thing is complete bullshit. Will I ever run another 5k? Yeah, absolutely. I will probably start running them pretty often as a ‘fun time’. But will you ever catch me jogging distance at the track or training FOR a 5k by jogging? Hell no. And the sad part is that I knew better…

Starting now, I have to go strict on a 30 day challenge. It will be difficult. But I don’t have a choice. I’ve got to nip this thing in the bud. I’m seriously thinking about a Whole30. And back to the weight training, but this time I’m going to take it slow and focus just as much on mobility. Oh, and in case you still think I’m not completely nuts, I got a doozy for you: I recently bought a 1 month unlimited pass to a local Hot Yoga studio. LOL. I plan on going there for the first time this week and will surely blog about it. : )

The Achilles Is Healed!

On to a happy update…the achilles is healed! The physical therapy, specifically Active Release Therapy (ART), was what did the trick. Doing eccentric calf raises helped too I’m sure, but not until I found a physical therapist that understood that those like myself with insertional achilles tendonosis need to *alleviate* the stretched tendon and not stretch it out worse. A combination of some rest followed by heel inserts, along with the ART is what worked for me. But I’m not completely out of the woods – my other achilles has been sore recently, from the distance running. So I have started doing the calf raises and will be doing some serious mobility work to ward off messing that tendon up too.

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