Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Being fat is (not) your fault

Check out the series of maps starting from 1985
I love having a fit body and feeling good about how I look.  I really want other people to experience this for themselves because I know they will be happier for it.  Happiness begets happiness and I want to help inspire such a positive feedback loop in others.  Unfortunately the trend, in this case, is not our friend.  We are getting fatter not fitter.  It is my challenge to help remedy this situation.

I was a fleshy kid in my youth but I was never really all that fat.  At the time, I felt fat though because I was thicker than my friends and my family told me that I was fat. I remember being encouraged to jog with my mom before class during middle school. This was in addition to gym class during school and outside play after school.  I don't feel like I ever made a personal decision to be active and lean; that decision was made for me by my social group and societal pressures during my formative years.
Circus "Fat Man" circa 1900.  You don't have to pay money to see people this size anymore.
I write this because I am conflicted about why it is that we have so many overweight people today.  Food and activity level definitely matter, but I am fortunate to have had a good body mass set point established for/by me as a youth.  I learned good habits early and to some degree my body continues to benefit from that.  Today I'm not fat, but I am aware of my weight and body shape.  I workout, eat, and sleep with maintenance of both of these in mind.  While I may have started at a good place, I now make a conscious effort to stay on path.

While personal observations may not translate well to other people or society as a whole, the fact is that individuals in the US are fatter today than ever before.  Obesity is undesirable on a personal level because it makes you feel bad about yourself and has negative impacts on your health and mobility.  Obesity is undesirable for society because it leads to higher health care costs and requires expensive modifications to public places and transportation among other impacts. Passive acceptance of obesity is a bad idea, and we should be encouraging ourselves to get and stay in shape.

It's hard to lose weight as an adult just as it is difficult to learn a second language as an adult (I continue to struggle with Spanish).  We learn patterns that become habits which are difficult to break.  While external forces might be working against us, internal forces are what really do us in.  You have to acknowledge that personal effort is essential to achieving the body that you desire or you will never get anywhere.  Here's how I suggest that you get started:

  1. Admit that you are fat and not at your ideal body shape.
  2. Commit to a lifelong lifestyle change; you aren't going to go back to the old way ever again.
  3. Set a specific goal (clothing size, ideal weight, visible arm muscles, etc).
  4. Tell other people your goal.
  5. Take a picture of everything you eat to document it as a food journal.
  6. Drink more water.
  7. Pick a low intensity physical activity and do it everyday.
  8. Try a new activity every few weeks and strive to accomplish something physically that you've never done before.
  9. Check in periodically by weighing yourself, looking at yourself naked in the mirror, and feeling how your clothing fits.
  10. Enjoy your progress or repeat #1
We may not have chosen to get fat, but we chose to stay fat everyday that we don't make an effort to change.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

How to stay motivated to workout

Here are a couple of tried and true methods to stay motivated to workout:
  • Train with a friend
  • Get a dog to walk
  • Set a reach performance goal (marathon, 20 pullups, lose 30 pounds in 3 months, etc.)
  • Look at yourself naked in the mirror everyday (thanks Jack for this one)
  • Have a health crisis caused by lifestyle problems
  • See a friend or family member have a health crisis caused by lifestyle problems
  • Surround yourself with fit people and images of fit people
  • Surround yourself with fat people and images of fat people
Choose whichever image motivates you better to stay on track
All of these can and have helped people keep on track.  The one I find to be the most effective for me is to keep a training journal.  Having to log your workout forces you to do it, shames you when you skip one, and gives you an added sense of accomplishment when you get to enter in the details post-workout.  I've been using a Google Docs spreadsheet for the last 5 years.  I can share it with people and access it from my mobile device or any computer.  I track Date & Time (sometimes if I do 2 workouts per day or if I need to vary time of day for an event), type of workout (Run, Bike, Swim, Strength, HIIT, Skills/GPP, etc) and log the actual workout.  I count everything that I do that is physically active above my basic life and work requirements.  If you walk somewhere, log it.  If you're on your feet all day for a convention, log it. Not only does this motivate you, it becomes a record of performance that can help tune your training or weight loss plan to prevent burnout and injury.

My Training Log is a Google Docs spreadsheet
If you don't log it, it don't count.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Dying for Fashion

I love watching gymnasts do their thing.  I'm surprised we don't see more of these wunderkinds between the Olympics every four years. With all the TV coverage though, adults seem to forget that these are actually young kids for the most part.  We have major societal issues with this sort of thing across all sports but that's another topic for discussion. Gabby Douglas' amazing performance has brought up another societal issue that is equally ridiculous and even more deadly than pushing little kids too hard for adult enjoyment.  The issue is not working out at all or under-exercising just because it might make us look funny.

I'm probably one of the worst people to point this out.  I relish slinging sweat in the gym and grunting louding while throwing kettlebells & climbing ropes in public parks.  I wipe my exertion induced snot on my inappropriately tight shorts.  During runs, I belch constantly just to keep the pipes loose, and I'm sure I have such horrible grimaces on my face during my workouts that I'd give this dog a run for it's money:
Mugly loved the attention I'm sure
So I've established myself as not fashionable with respect to exercise but that's all beside the point. Many people (men and women) are way too self-conscious or concerned about their appearance to go outside and push themselves physically. The flap over Gabby Douglas' hair highlights this. Twitter was loaded with negative comments about how bad her hair looked while failing to mention how badass of a physical and mental performance she was laying down on the rest of the world. I pulled this quote from an article covering this non-issue:
"The last time I checked, when you play a sport, you sweat. I know I do. And when a Black woman who has chosen to wear her hair straight begins to sweat, her hair will (not might) begin to revert back to its natural coily, curly or kinky state," she wrote. "Some of us are sitting up right now with our hair done but suffering from high blood pressure, borderline diabetes, obesity and/or a lack of energy. Oh, but the hair is on point."
Gabby had enough judges in London

Of all the lame excuses for being out of shape, not wanting to mess up your hair has got to be one of the top 3 (fear of sidewalk cracks is up there too).  We want to look our best but do a quick google image search for diabetes ulcer and see how lovely you'll look with gangrenous extremities.  That's not even mentioning that fat is wack too.

This is hardly just a black woman issue.  I know many a former elite athlete who left their sport after university never to train consistently again.  The lassitude, bulges, and negative self-talk set in and eventually they have the body that they never wanted to have.  The common casual factor that I've seen in these cases is vanity--they can't be elite so they don't want to even show up anymore.  This all-or-none, sport-is-just-for-kids mentality kills me and is actually killing us as a society.  Don't quit on your sport because you can't win; quit with the ego and enjoy the activity for what it is--a healthy & enjoyable time that pays dividends throughout life.
You may call this a cheap shot since he is older but so was Jack Lalanne and Stallone
Health and wellness is a lifelong struggle.  Temptations to cheat, skimp, or skip are always present.  Family and friends can be huge obstacles (find some new exercise friends in this case).  Pain, fatigue, and stress mount with food and drink being a ready salve.  There are enough excuses to be fat and out-of-shape already. We don't need to add  fear of looking funny while exercising to the list.

Don't take yourself too seriously, but take your workout very seriously.