Useful Exercise

Aside from eating right if you want to get healthy you’re going to have to exercise.  This can take different forms but I’m just going to share a little bit about the things that have worked for me.  The first time I lost some weight in 2003 the only exercise I did was run around Lake Elizabeth.  I started walking of course and built up running bit by bit until one day I made it all the way around the lake.  The next day I met Janelle and never did it again.  That time I got down to 190 but right now I weight about 190 but am way healthier than I was in 2003.  That’s because running isn’t the only thing I’m doing. 

If you just lose fat that isn’t going to necessarily make you optimally healthy.  It just means you have less fat, and are healthier than you were.  An important thing to consider is your body fat percentage.  When you lose weight you’re not always necessarily losing fat – you can also lose muscle.  I wanted to lose fat and gain muscle; I’ve succeeded so far and this is how I did it:

image First, I started running with the Couch to 5k ProgramThis is an incredibly simple program that’s designed to get you from the couch to being able to run a 5k (or 30 minutes solid) in 9 weeks by walking/jogging/running 3 days a week.  I started it when I was still above 230 pounds.  I was almost insulted by the first day – it said something like “walk for 3 minutes, jog for 1 minute, walk for 3 minutes, jog for 1 minute” up to 30 minutes.  As I stepped out my door I thought “this will be too easy, but maybe next week I’ll get some real exercise.”  I was wheezing and my heart was pounding at 30 seconds of jogging.  Sweet mother of pearl.  I stuck with the program though and improved greatly.  This really helped me lose some significant weight and get into some better cardiovascular shape.  I didn’t stick with it, though.  In July of 2008 I switched to something that is even better for losing weight.


Lifting weights.  I was surprised to learn this, but if you spend 30 minutes lifting weights or 30 minutes running, over the course of a 24 hour period you will burn more calories from the weights (provided you’re working hard).  Running does not build any muscle, but lifting weights obviously does.  Muscle tissue burns calories at a greater rate than fat; so as you build muscle your body becomes better at burning calories throughout the day.  You build your body into a more efficient machine as you build up your muscle.  You actually get stronger and feel much better. 

image It can be hard to figure out what to do when it comes to lifting weights.  The gym can be intimidating and the free weight room, full of bros working on their broceps, can be a strange and frightening land.  After looking into different routines, I decided on a modified version of the Starting Strength workout.  Follow this link for the information on that workout.  (That link is to a forum that is not for the easily offended.  If you stay just in that thread you should be okay, but venture out of there at your own risk.  There is profanity in there if that bugs you too.)  If you want to lose weight and not be skinny-fat, I really encourage you to look into lifting weights.  It is way more fun than cardio and more effective.  It will also help you look and feel better as you lose weight.

An important note: make sure you get proper form down for the exercises.  I hurt my knee in October because my squat form was bad and my knee still isn’t back to the way it should be.  You can hurt yourself if you do weights incorrectly but really it’s not that hard to get proper form down and it feels so good to get it done.  Don’t let a fear of bad form prevent you from doing weights, but don’t neglect good form either.

Women should lift weights too.  Here’s a website specifically talking to women about lifting weights, and letting you know you won’t become mannish and disgusting by lifting.  It gives good info on how to do lifts and gives you a workout plan to follow.

This doesn’t mean cardio is worthless – it’s good for building endurance.  But lifting weights has been a revelation for me and it will help you in so many ways.  Just find a legit workout plan (like the one I linked above, it’s a great beginner workout) and get going.  Do not just go in and do curls or randomly do stuff.  Get a workout plan and make your time in the gym efficient.  Few things are more discouraging than putzing around in the gym feeling like you’re wasting your time and not getting any results.  Few things are cooler than seeing yourself get stronger and feeling more vital.

Finally, read this long post here about diet, nutrition, and exerciseDon’t follow that link if you can’t handle  profanity and vulgarity (there’s a lot of it there).  But it gives some great information on a lot of topics related to what I’m talking about and has helped me tremendously.  If you are serious about getting healthy you should read and re-read that post.  It is pure gold.  Really.  I credit the information and resources in that link with my success up to this point.


Book Recommendation: Made to Stick

I just finished reading Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip & Dan Heath.image  If you’ve read Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point then you should find this interesting too.  In it the authors look at why some ideas/concepts/stories “stick” and others don’t.  They tie it to a lot of things, from urban legends (waking up in a tub of ice with your kidneys gone) to marketing campaigns (Subway’s Jared) to proverbs (a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush).  That bird proverb has been around for thousands of years – like into the thousands B.C.  Why do ideas like that work?  The authors identify a few things that make for good communication of ideas/concepts, and they boil it down to this acronym:


Yes, I know it’s spelled wrong.  But it works okay.  I remember it.  They stay that for ideas to stick they should incorporate as many of these elements as possible: Simplicity, Unexpectedness, Concreteness, Credibility, Emotion, and Stories.  Each element gets its own chapter as they authors expand on the usefulness of each of them and ways to use it. 

I’ve read a lot of books that I found interesting but not terribly practical.  This book is not like that.  The authors offer all sorts of ways to help you incorporate the ideas into your own endeavors.  As someone who does a lot of communicating I found the book intensely useful and will certainly be looking to use its ideas throughout my career.  It will seriously help you out.  Read it and consider it an investment in yourself, no matter what your career is.  It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read re: communication of ideas, and I’ve read a lot.


How to Eat Better

The most important element of your weight and health is what you eat.  This is also referred to as your diet.  I use the word diet to refer to what you eat, not some special plan you follow for three weeks and then give up.  I’ve changed my eating habits and seen some success doing so.  Most of you aren’t fat like I was, but you can still be “skinny fat,” meaning you’re skinny but your body fat percentage is high and you’re not particularly healthy.  Here are some tips/suggestions for you if you want to eat healthier:


Remember: food is fuel.  Part of the problem is how we look at food.  If you look at food as fuel for your body it can help you eat better.  In order to eat differently you must not look at food as an escape or a way to cope or a reward – you need to realize that the food you put into your mouth is used by your body to keep it running and build stuff – be it muscle or fat. 


imageEat Enough Food!  Too often when people want to lose weight they cut way down and end up with a big caloric deficit.  This can cause your body to shut down and stop working right; you may lose some weight for a bit but it’s your body cannibalizing your muscle rather than burning up your fat.  Don’t just guess at numbers.  Use these resources to figure out how much you should be eating:

Determine your Basal Metabolic Rate with this calculator.  Your BMR is the amount of calories your body would burn if you stayed in bed all day.

Next, use this very simple multiplier to figure out how many calories you need to eat to maintain your current weight.

I recommend you first get used to eating that amount of calories, because chances are you’re not.  Once you’re eating that amount try to cut down a bit, by 10% or so.  See how that works for a while and go from there.  Don’t cut down too much or you’ll shoot yourself in the foot.  Click here for a little more info on changing up the calories to lose weight.  If you want to gain weight, go here.


Eat Early and Eat Often!  Don’t skip breakfast.  Eat a couple hundred calories every 2-3 hours.  It will get your metabolism going and prevent you from overeating.  Sometimes I hear people say “wow it’s 3pm and I haven’t eaten since breakfast” as if it’s a point of pride.  It’s not going to help you lose weight.  Eating smaller portions of food more frequently will help keep your blood sugar regular and keep you from eating a bunch of crap because you got real hungry.


image Eat the right stuff!  There are a lot of different people out there saying a lot of different things about what you should eat.  I can only go by experience and what I’ve read.  I’m currently reading a book called Good Calories, Bad Calories that I’ll post on later.  But for now, aim for 40% of your calories to come from carbohydrates, 40% from protein, and 20% from fat.  This will be tough to get used to but it’s good.  The biggest problem I’ve had is reducing my carb intake.  I still don’t have this down just right but it’s a good goal to shoot for.  This is called your “macronutrient breakdown” and the 40/40/20 ratio is a good starting goal.  Most of us eat almost all carbs and fat with very little protein.  We’ve been taught to avoid fat like it’s the plague, but we load up on carbs in ridiculous amounts and get fat. 

Yesterday for breakfast I had 2 eggs, 3 strips of turkey bacon, and 2 pieces of chicken sausage.  It was delicious, and more healthy than one bagel.  A better nutrient breakdown and less calories. 

Eating the right stuff also means you will likely have to do some cooking for yourself.  You can do so very quickly and easily.  It takes less than 10 minutes to cook up the stuff I had for breakfast.  Make yourself a lunch so you don’t eat crap like fast food.  Plan what you’re going to eat ahead of time so you don’t just eat out.  If you don’t have a slow cooker, get one, because they are awesome.  Failing to plan what you’re going to eat ahead of time will almost certainly result in you being frustrated and staying unhealthy.


Track what you eat!  This was the biggest change for me.  Making the above changes is only possible if you actually pay attention to and track what you eat.  Most people horribly underestimate the amount of calories they eat in a day.  You eat more than you think you do.  My stock answer when people ask me “how are you doing it?” has been “I pay attention to what I eat.”  We eat so mindlessly, snack on little things here and there, and it all adds up.  So track what you eat.  I’ve found the easiest way to do this is on The Daily Plate.  Sign up for a free account and start tracking your food.  The site has a large database of foods and in several months I’ve only had to manually add one thing myself.  They also track your macronutrients so you can easily track the 40/40/20 with a neato pie chart right on the front page.  DO IT NOW!


image If you screw up, don’t stop.  There will be meals or days where you just totally blow it and eat like garbage.  Sometimes for sanity you just need to have a gigantic piece of cheesecake.  You want to change your view of food for the long term, and unless you are some kind of weirdo you are not going to go through life never having another cheesecake or ice cream sundae.  It also might be useful for you to not indulge in these things until you get a grip on your food situation – but whether intentionally or not, don’t stop eating right when you mess up once.  Keep going and remember you have your whole life to drop the weight and get healthy.  Think long term and you’ll be good to go.

If you have any thoughts or feedback I’d love to hear it.  Up next, I’ll write a bit about exercise and activity – another important element of being healthy.


So I lost some weight

As most of you who read this and see me have noticed, I’ve lost some weight over the past year.  The earliest I remember really being conscious of my weight was in 5th grade.  In 3rd grade my best friend was Jeff Fredrickson, and he referred to me affectionately as “lard belly.”  It didn’t bug me at all because I didn’t think I actually had a lard belly.  Perhaps he was a prophet, because I remember from 5th grade on for sure I was conscious that I was a fat kid.  Every now and then in high school I would try to do something to lose weight like eat cottage cheese and a bagel but I never really got serious about it.

2006 in tent In early 2003 I asked my friend Jesse to give me some nutritional pointers and decided to get serious about losing weight.  At that time I started somewhere around 240 and was down to 190 by June.  I ate better and started running around Lake Elizabeth.  In August of that year I met Janelle and my schedule was thrown off.  My motivation also decreased a bit since I’d found the woman of my dreams, and I began my descent (ascent?) back into fatness.  It didn’t get totally out of control until Belle was born.  She was the perfect excuse to completely let go and I got back up into the 245 range, give or take depending on the day.  I’d wear 38/40 waist jeans, and XL or XXL shirts.

I was pretty constantly unhappy about my appearance and low on Apr2007 on couch energy but didn’t do much about it.  I recall a few times resigning myself to just being the fat guy.  Most of you who know me know I have some pretty big self-confidence problems that have been improving year by year.  I used to think that once I lost weight I would feel better about myself.  And that is actually true, I feel way better about myself.  But in order to really change the time had to come when I thought of myself as someone other than “the fat guy.”  I made that change some time in early 2008.  Janelle started to lose weight in late 2007 and she inspired me to do something different with myself.  I was so low on energy, which made it very difficult to help with our crazy daughter and the house and work and school and all that.  It put an unfair amount on Janelle’s shoulders.  I don’t recall a day where I put a stake in the ground or anything but I remember in February 2008, when I got the job as a teacher at Washington, I got serious about becoming healthy, this time for the right reasons.

  I have a family history of high blood pressure, diabetes, heart thanksgiving with guysdisease, and so on.  Being so obese up to this point has generally been an embarrassment but not really a danger.  With a family and a daughter, though, I realized being fat would cut into my time with them.  It was also really impacting my quality of life.  I didn’t have the energy to be the kind of Dad to Belle I knew I should be or the kind of husband I should be.  I have enough problems being the kind of man I should be – I don’t need weight adding itself to my character flaws.  So sometime in February 2008 I decided to get serious and get healthy.  I’m now down to 188 (finally broke the 190 plateau consistently, I need a belt for 34” jeans to stay up, and wear L shirts) and am in better shape than I’ve ever been my entire life.  Not that that’s saying much.

A number of people have asked me “what’s your secret?!”  They’ve  also made comments like “hey now, don’t get anorexic on us” or “don’t lose any more weight” which, while complimentary, have a tendency to be just the kind of external praise to keep me from continuing to lose weight and thinking I’ve done enough.  (I haven’t.)

nov08I educated myself as best I could on how to eat right and get healthy, and then just started doing it.  I’m going to do a few posts on some of the things that have been most helpful to me when it came to losing weight and what I’m doing to be healthier and fitter.  I hope those of you who need some will find some practical help and information for your own health.  I also hope others of you will offer your opinion on the things I say.  I don’t proclaim to be a fount of knowledge or to know everything and welcome people who know more than me offering their thoughts and corrections.  This should also help me stay focused and not rest on my laurels.  I’m proud of the progress I’ve made so far and feel better than ever.  But it would be a shame to stop now, so I’m hoping posting a few things here will keep me in a good, healthy mindset. 

As if I don’t jump around enough topic-wise on this blog…now there are going to be health and nutrition tips.


A Monstrosity of a Shake

I love me a good milkshake.  I tend to prefer the kind with chunks of cookie or brownie or banana or whatever else you put in it to make it wonderful.  I like the contrast of the ice cream with the slightly-more-solid texture provided by the added ingredients.  This means I am also a particular fan of things like Dairy Queen Blizzards, where they thrown in chunks of peanut butter cup in very large amounts.  Because of this love I might be tempted to try something called the Baskin Robbins Large Chocolate Oreo Shake.  Just look at the picture.  Doesn’t it look delicious?  image

It has been deemed The Worst Food of 2009 by Men’s Health because of its nutritional content: 2600 calories and 136g of fat (over 1 cup of sugar!).  And if you have any experience with shakes like this you know you can suck them down pretty quick.  In case those numbers are meaningless to you, that’s more calories than you should be eating in a day (body weight x 14 is a good measure for an active person) and way more fat.

Curse you Baskin Robbins, for making something so wonderful but so monstrous.  Click this link to read up on other “worsts” of 2009, including the worst burger, salad, appetizer, etc.  They also have other lists related to food.  It’s interesting and enlightening.

ht: Lifehacker


Awesome Firefox Extension

Those of you who use Firefox might want to check out the Ubiquity extension, which received a major update today.  It’s sort of like YubNub, something I’ve been using for a while in my Firefox address bar and find incredibly useful.  They allow you to use “command line” stuff to do things which can great reduce the amount of time you spend performing tasks.  For example, if I want to do a Google search for 49ers I just type “g 49ers” into my address bar and it takes me to the search results page.  If I want to look up the book 1984 on Amazon.com, I just type “az 1984” and I’m taken to Amazon’s website as if I’d performed the search there.  There are all kinds of things you can do with it.

Ubiquity takes that concept a step further and so far has a lot of nifty commands you can perform within Firefox.  I’d like to see it integrated into the address bar (or "awesome bar” as Firefox 3 refers to it) rather than having to press ctrl+space to bring it up but it’s still pretty early in development so I’m willing to live with it.

If you use Firefox and like the idea of doing stuff faster, and/or just like trying out new things, you should go install the extension.


Wasting Education Money

image Before we increase the education budget I think we need to deal with the massive amounts of waste.  In a state as large as California I have no doubt that there will always be some degree of waste.  We’ll never have a completely efficient educational system and that’s fine.  But too often I hear people clamoring for an increased educational budget (and therefore higher taxes to pay for it).  Many in that same camp suggest that those who oppose higher education spending are somehow against education, or children, or want to abandon our public schools.  This is certainly not the case. 

A study recently came out from Stanford (hardly a hotbed of financial conservatism) and here’s some info on it:

Every study of California's school dilemma, including the 1,700-page opus produced by a Stanford University team, has pointed out the correlation between socioeconomic status and academic success.

A new monograph by the Legislature's budget analyst points out that the state has more than 45 programs spending more than $9 billion in state and federal funds to help the 3 million "ED" kids to overcome academic problems. But as the report, released Tuesday, concludes, "We believe California's existing approach for helping these students fails on virtually every score."

$9 billion wasted.  This is what happens when you throw money at a problem and think that will solve it.  Lots of ineffective programs, staggering waste, and no help for the children who need it.  What’s worse is that these programs aren’t likely to be changed or done away with.  Such is the nature of government sprawl.

This study also confirmed what many teachers “on the ground” already know: a huge part of a student’s academic success is determined by their home circumstances.  For various reasons, some legitimate and some not, many parents are completely unengaged in their kids’ education and do nothing to encourage them.  Until that problem is dealt with you can throw all the money you want down the abyss of “helping the children” but it’s never going to do anything.  Truly caring for students doesn’t mean wasting your money in order to make yourself feel better.  That’s too easy.  Truly caring for students means finding out how to fix the real problems and putting the efforts there.

I say this as someone who is going to have an incredibly difficult time finding a job this next school year.  I’m finishing my credential program this year and the district I work in is losing millions of dollars and has already instituted a hiring freeze.  It will take a small miracle for me to get a job as a full time social science teacher this next year.  But I don’t want to raise taxes to increase California’s educational budget.

The money’s already there…it’s just being flushed down the toilet.