How to Give Up Sugar

January 19, 2012 Leave a comment

If you don’t do anything else, the most important step for improving one’s health is ending one’s addiction to refined sugar.

I recognize that carbs and alcohol are sugars. But our cultural addiction to fructose is so severe that just starting there, I believe, has immediate health benefits.

There are many who’ve done the internal work that are ready to give everything all up at once. This usually happens after a moment of realization how important health is. But if you want to give it up gradually, its possible to do it in stages.

In 2004 I gave up all High Fructose Corn Syrup. During this process, I learned it’s everywhere. And that I needed to read the ingredients on every processed food I bought. Gone were Kit-Kat bars and 99% of all industrial bread. No more ginger ale. Even Orangina, which once was real carbonated orange juice, had gone to the dark side with HFCS. No more salad dressing. No more store bought marinades.

Granted, it wasn’t everything. I still ate meat fed with corn. I still could have high end chocolate. And I still drank diet soda, which while free of HFCS, still kept myself addicted to sweets. I used maple syrup and honey occasionally.

Next I took another step away from sugar by insisting that anything I was offered had to be made at home, and not from a box. In my profession, lots of my lovely elderly ladies love to show their appreciation by baking a cake made from a box. NOw I say, “is it from scratch?” If not, then I turn it down or offer it to one of my employees discreetly (“Father, thank you.”).

I realize I’m poisoning them, contributing to their addiction so that I can be in the good graces of my congregation. I confess this.

My next step was to only take two bites. Yep – two. Enjoy each one. I might get a whole piece of homemade cake, but even if I decided to eat it, I restricted myself. Sometimes I had three, but I think about 80% of the time I didn’t finish what I was offered. On my birthday I may have an entire piece (I refrained this year), and will be deliberate when I break the rule.

Strict Paleo means no maple syrup or honey, either. Or chocolate.

The physiological reason has to do with insulin sensitivity. It may also be inflammatory.

But now when I consume sugar, it feels like a choice rather than a habit.  I can see others have dessert and have gratitude it’s not me consuming that poison.  The next step – booze.  I’ll try that in Lent.

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The Stages Of Restraint

January 12, 2012 Leave a comment

The times I was previously successful losing weight, I didn’t give everything up at once.

I slowly eliminated candy bars and haagendaz ice cream.  Every time I went into the city, I’d buy a candy bar or some chocolate.  But now, my snack is raw cashews.

I stopped drinking sweet soda and fruit juice.  I replaced them with seltzer and fruit infused water.  Once in a while, a glass of V8.

I reduced my bread intake radically.  First, I went to whole wheat; multi grain; sprouted.  But finally I eliminated it as a habit.  That said, I occasionally cheat with a Italian Combo Sandwich or bread at a tapas bar, but no more than 3 times a month, and never alone.

I began the day with eggs, some meat and a fruit. Once a week I eat yogurt. My dinner was a meat (including fish) and vegetables

I began to order half-pints. Then I’d move to scotch or wine. Drinking less meant I enjoyed those special times more.

I walked for a half an hour every morning. Eventually, I ran a couple times a week.

My bar of choice became Larabars.

I parked far from the movie theater and grocery store.

When I learned about Paleo, I replaced pasta with spaghetti squash and potatoes with sweet potatoes.

And now?

I like raw vegetables, but if I need help, I still sautee them. I still use butter occasionally.

Prosciutto is good for you.

Sometimes I  intentionally just eat half of what was served.   Especially when going to the Cheescake factory.

I share my french fries and chicken wings.

I eat what I want, but sometimes I wait. I have a small slice of cake so I don’t offend anyone.

My current rules:

Get sleep.

I drink water.  I drink water when I drink.

Don’t need to say “never” but can say “maybe later.”

I will eat mindfully: two bites of everything is permissible.

I will eat one salad a day.

I will not eat later than 7:30pm.

At least not unless I’m cooking.

It has to be damned good cake.

I will enjoy being hungry.

I will think before I go out drinking and rehearse what I eat and drink, to choose the right dinner plan.

I want running to be its own reward; and working out to be its own joy.

I will refuse what I can’t control.

I will stay away from the buffet.

I will plan eat a salad before the buffet.

I will limit exposure.

I will eat slowly.  I will distract myself.

And when necessary I will actively resist, changing the channel.

Things to say.

If I drink this beer, I’ll feel terrible tomorrow.  I’ll have a beer another day.

If I eat this plat of rice, the joy will be temporary; it will not be a reward.  I’ll want this again.

I can break free; I will be happier.

I’ll weigh less tomorrow if I don’t eat these wings.

I can always eat or drink it tomorrow.

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Update on goals

January 10, 2012 Leave a comment

I think I can hope for the following

Lift:          Current / 6 month / 1 year

Back Squat       315 / 340 / 360
Military Press 145 / 170 / 185
Bench Press    245 / 275 / 315
Deadlift            335 / 395 / 450

Crossfit Total = 795 / 905 / 995

I think I can hit one set of ten chin ups by then.

A pistol.

Run 5k in 30 minutes.

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What I Learned from Crossfit

January 6, 2012 1 comment

I don’t do crossfit anymore, but I’m thankful I did.

I learned to lift heavy.  Once I just lifted the same weights every time.  I’d do a few sets and feel satisfied, without pushing myself.

I learned to keep a diary.  I would add a rep, a set, or pounds every single time.  I’d compete against myself.

I learned about the Tabata protocol.  It forced me to sprint and work for 20-30 seconds at a time.  It taught me to sprint when I ran.  This high intensity training is the groundwork for conditioning.

I learned to use my bodyweight. I now do plyo pushups and jump squats to end my routines.  I can now workout anywhere.

I use kettlebells to warm up, to increase flexibility and to develop my hip power.  I learned that warm ups ARE a workout.

I do burpees.  Sometimes I’ll do burpees with 20lb dumbells, finishing with split jerks.  Three sets of 10 and it’s a quick, legitimate workout combined with 4 sets of 500 meter rows or 400 meter runs.   Other times I’ll use a 25 lb weight to lift above my head.

I do think that some of the crossfit workouts are ridiculous.  I don’t do 30 powercleans in a row anymore.

I will be taking the parts of crossfit, and developing them together in a way that will prevent injury.  Next year I will do more yoga; learn powerlifting from some Olympic Coaches who train locally, and continue with developing my bodyweight conditioning.

I’d like it if my gym had sandbags and plyo boxes.  But for now, they’ve bought an awesome squat rack and quality dumbbells.  All they need is a 1.5 and 2 pood kettlebell and we’d be good to go.

Thank you, Crossfit.

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January 4, 2012 1 comment

I was asked for advice the other day.  A big fellow had been watching me do deadlifts and asked me what I thought of straight legged and Romanian deadlifts.  He’d found them online.

I do them, I said.  But they are ancilliary exercises.  I do them as lighter weights on offdays once in a while.  Wednesdays, a faster three set of eight.   But I’m still always surprised when I’m thought of as some authority.

And here is my end of year report so far.

Bench 1rm:  245.  Did this easy.  I think I can do 260.  I started off at 205 in May.  I think by the end of 2012 I should hit the magic number of 315, although I’d be happy at 270.

Military press 1rm 145.  Hard.  In May I was at 130.   175 by Dec 2012.

Back Squat 1rm 315Three plates.  With two spots it felt easy.  I think I could have gone to 325.  In May I was at 245.  I should hit 360 by the end of 2012.

Deadlift 1rm 335.  I failed at 345.  I did this about 2 months ago, but I’ve not been training the deadlift that hard.  In May I was at 265.  If I continue to improve at this rate, I may hit 450 at the end of the year if I make improvements on my hamstring and back strength.

Today I deadlifted 5×5 225; and did box squats for the first time at 5x each – 45,95,135,155,175,185.  I didn’t push myself, seeking only to ensure I could squat lower than parallel.   I’m adding box squats to my regular routine.  It was a tough workout, but I stopped easy.  I may make my box squats my easy day.

Other goals:  10 chin ups by the end of the year; run 5k straight; run/walk a half marathon.

It’s possible I may hit CF 1000 as my total.  What say ye?

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New years and radical conversions

January 2, 2012 1 comment

Can people change?

Some argue that change must be radical.   Want to lose weight?  Cut everything out.  No soda, no bread, no pasta, no alcohol.  Walk every morning for 30 minutes.    Stop smoking.  Stop watching TV.  Just stop.    It’s only your life at stake.

My father did this with smoking.  When he as 40, he gave it up.  He threw out all his cigarettes and just didn’t smoke again.

Others argue believe change happens gradually.  Just cut 100 calories a day.  Stop putting cream in your coffee and limit your helpings, but eat what you want.  Just have most of your French fries, but not all of them.  Don’t let yourself feel full.

Some call this the Kaizen approach.   Go slowly.  Don’t do anything too quickly.  Get used to the changes before your body says, “stop changing me!”

My friend Chris did this with drinking.  It took several times, but with the help of a 12 step group he stopped the sauce.   It wasn’t immediate, but a series of failures.   Likewise, It took me several years, but by now I don’t drink soda or candybars.   With paleo I stopped having milk in my coffee at once.  But I still have cheese occasionally.  I have pasta infrequently, now that I have substitutes.

One takes a high view of the will; the other a low view.    One asserts that the manipulating the will is easy.  The other tries to find the way to work around the will by making our decisions to change habitual, easy, instinctive.

In both cases, the Will is summoned like an inner spirit, a mercurial God who holds the key to a happier, disciplined life.  But it is not an easy imp to train.  It requires work.

Telling people to just stop their habits on a dime usually doesn’t accomplish its goal, without some associative games attributed to it.  It’s possible to eat less, if you practice immediately bagging your restaurant dish, and only serve on small plates and stick to single portions.

But the “will” then becomes not merely a single way of saying “no” but an attempt to change one’s entire environment.  An alcoholic does not merely say “no” to alcohol, but stops going to bars and avoids compromising situations, and hangs out with non-drinkers.  A paleo person clears out their pantry and learns to cook new foods.

In both cases, the will needs to be accommodated, tricked, managed, or else our desires react feverishly to have what they crave.  The will must say things like, “not today, but later” or “isn’t it great to be thin rather than fat?”

My rule will be like this:  I will say “no” to a few things where I can clearly change my environment.  I will make those radical changes.  But I will allow the journey on other tasks that require change.  That’s enough.

But the most important step is simply this: “I will discover who I am.”  It’s the work of journaling one’s consumption, activity and weight.  Monitoring is possibly a more important, the most important radical change one can make.  It is the way to make the incremental changes most successfully.  The most important change I made in May was that I write down every pound I lift.  I carry this book around like a bible.

Any discussion about how we are supposed to change must take into account the obstacles to making those changes.    As a muscle, the will must be given time to develop.  It cannot make all required changes at once.  This is a recipe for failure for most of us, save the hardiest, for those who know change is a matter of life and death.

But life and death are too abstract for many of us.   Take the radical step of taking the small step.  That may be enough for now.  Tomorrow is another day.

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November 22, 2011 Leave a comment

It’s slow.

I hired a trainer.  She comes over a couple times a month and forces me to exercise more rigorously than I might usually do.  She’s strong and disciplined and honed right in my nutrition.

She gave me a plan.

Of course, I tweaked it.  It had some traditional understanding of grains, but gave me some perspective.  We talked of “baby steps” – ways to trick the mind into thinking that it wasn’t giving anything up.  It’s a crucial part of a lifestyle change.

It includes not saying “no” but “maybe later.”  Of allowing a taste of a dessert.  For example, I would usually right now be finishing a bottle of wine.  But since I was already out, I’m choosing tea instead.  I had a couple glasses, but I’m done.   This morning I went out for breakfast.  When I was full, I stopped rather than finish the half omelette remaining on the plate.

Her guidelines regarding fat were a little antagonistic, but perhaps  the occasional helping of brown rice isn’t a sin.

She gave me a quick test:  how many pushups could I do in a row, without stopping.  I discovered the answer:  44.

Normally I would do five sets of 20.

We did jump ropes and dynamic stretches.

So here’s my report.

First, healthwise, I still have high cholesterol.  But also good cholesterol.  My tri/hdl ratio is 141/69.  Doctor’s orders = drink a little less, lose some weight.

I’ve hit some good records:  Backsquat 5x3x255; frontsquat 3x3x150; deadlift 5×265.  All consecutive.

Bench 4x2x205; 3x5x185. I followed it with 16 plyo pushups (to failure).

Military press 2×145.

Estimated total 285+340+155= 780

I’m going down a bit for the chest, intending to hit 5x5x195 the next time, finishing with as many dips as possible.

I’m coming to grips with the fact that improvement, at my age, is slow.  At most I can trust 10 lbs a month.

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You Make Me So Sad

November 7, 2011 1 comment

You make me so sad.

Yes you.  On the elliptical machine.

I see you reading.  You’re reading People.  Your kindle.  Or the Brothers Karamazov.  Or Nora Roberts.  But you’re gliding by, moving, thinking you’re getting a workout.

But you make me sad.

You could be going full speed.  Just for 20 seconds.  Pushing yourself to the limit.  That’s the only reason for an elliptical: to raise the heart rate without litigation.

And yet, right in front of you is a rowing machine.   Rowing is a real producer of strength and endurance.  Rowing uses the entire body, harnessing that natural chain of events that produces force.

But you on the rowing machine.  I want to come up to you and gently let your back lean back as you pull that chain.  Why are you pulling so hard with your arms?  Do you not have legs and hips?  Why is your back at a 90 degree angle?  Let the chain go; Lean forward; push with your magnificent legs; open with your hips, let your back go back, and the arms follow.  It’s a full body workout, if you let your body work out.

And you on the abductor machines.  Do you imagine that will make you more sexy and appealing?  It does not.  I was once one of those who didn’t know how kettlebells, lunges and split jerks would empower the hips so much more effectively.   Instead, I am sad because you know so little.  I am sad because it reminds me of how little I knew.  And who I am I to tell you?  Like you, I probably would have thought some dude approaching me was an arrogant musclehead who’s sense of literature was Muscle and Development magazine.

The Smith machines.  In my small YMCA I am only happy you know little because you do not take the single squat station which I monopolize for my hour.   You do presses perfectly without training your muscles to do so.  There is no weight resting on your chest or your back.   It is held by the machine.  You see yourself lifting mad weights, I am still sad.  You see me looking at you.  You probably think I’m a stalker.  But no, I am just contemplating my sadness.

Why not the barbells?  Why not the dumbells?  Why not simply any weight, lifting above your head?   There is one excellent use for the Smith Machine:  bodyweight rows or assisted pullups.

I am not a purist.  I do not begrudge the occasional leg curl or extension. I don’t dismiss the leg press to complement deep barbell squats.  Some machines help the entire body to lift.   In those cases, the use is not to replace full body exercises, but to assist in building up strength, especially for those who are beginning or injured.  Otherwise, they are merely a short liturgy of unimportant things that may be done, that allow the body a little more to lift when it should be resting, but mainly to provide psychological satisfaction.

But you make me sad.

You make me sad at the ab curl “machine.”  Why don’t you tighten your abs when you do the squat?  Or do some knee to elbows?  Lift your toes to the bar and you’ll get a great stretch, using your entire body.  Do five and you’ll feel it.   Three sets of ten good mornings. Planks as long as you can take it.

And last, you make me sad because you have no fun.  There are a wide variety of effective and demanding functional games you can play.   My warm ups are simple and enjoyable:  500 meter Row; 20 double unders; 20 kb swings.  I may include 20 lateral jumps over some hurdle, overhead squats and ten plyo pushups.  That’s my warmup.  It’s fun.

Then it’s strength and power.  My goals are clear.  I seek to improve and fine tune them, recalibrating when necessary.   Once I started, the feedback loop made them enjoyable to continue.  There’s exercise, which is preventative and useful.  We should all do that.   But then there’s training – training to reach goals that you set before yourself.   That’s where results visibly happen.  The rate is different for everyone, but you may then enter a world of joy.

Still, until then you make me sad.   But there is another world.  One where you may get real results.  Then, I will be happy.

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Dreaming about Squats

November 7, 2011 2 comments

I dream about squats.

It’s to a point that if I don’t do heavy squats twice a week, my life is a disaster.

Three weeks ago I saw a young man in his late twenties two three sets of five at 225, a set of three at 315, fail at one, and then do another set of 225.  He followed that up with leg presses and front squats at 135.   I said to him, “I love squats.  They’re awesome.”  Admittedly, I was upset he was using the sole squat station, but this was tempered by my admiration at his form.

“Squats are the best.  It makes you strong.  You have the legs of a horse.”

Since then I rock myself to sleep by counting myself doing squats.

I used to think about the trinity.  About the lottery.  My ideal woman.  But now it’s about lifting heavy.

And I just got lifting shoes.

So here’s my most recent stats:

Back Squats:  Warmups to 5x5x225, 8×135.  The next time I did a heavy three set of 245.

Front Squats:  With lifting shoes I did 3x3x95.  I need to get my forearms stretched a bit, but with the shoes I was able to go deeper than usual.  I’ll try overhead squats in a couple weeks.

Presses:  I did a heavy 2-2-2-2-2-2 reaching 145 for my last set.

Bench:  3x3x225  Although I recently couldn’t do a set of 3 at 225.  I think I’m over training here, because my biceps feel weak.

Deadlifts:  5x1x275; another day 1-1-1-1-1-1-1 to 335.   My grip has been weak so I’ve been doing some lower weights to focus on strengthening my grip.  I did 5x5x185 while my hands were the same direction rather than opposite hands (which seems to allow for a higher weight).  I’ve been also adding Romanian deadlifts, which I hope will assist my basic deadlift routine.

I’ve been starting off with a variety of warm-ups.  I always do 500 meter rows.  Sometimes I go for five minutes, which takes me to about 850 meters.  I may add kettlebells or jump rope for 2 minutes.  But I’ve started adding a set of jump squats, lateral jumps and bear crawls.  These seem to stretch out the body.  I don’t do many of them, but it’s always more than what I would normally do, which is none.

But my diet:  Sh!*.  I’ve had more sugar in the last three weeks than I’ve had for the previous two years.  It started with my friend Colin’s homemade cheesecake.  Then I ate a bag of potato chips.  The next weekend I had two desserts (one, however, was at one of Mario Batali’s restaurant in Port Chester, and it was worth it).   Then we bought cake for the bishop.

I only had one bite.

I’m not beyond redemption.

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One of the most important elements of training is sleep. And I don’t think I get enough.

As a night owl, I’ve wondered if getting to bed by ten would improve my strength. I bet I’d start adding a couple stone of weights, plus losing some on my own body, once my body was repairing rapidly.

Over the last month I’ve not done any one rep-PRs, but improved slowly on a few elements.

The most clear improvement is that I can now do four dead-hang chinups in a row.

I’m deloading a little, returning to 3 or 5 rep maxes as I steadily increase weight.

A review of PRs Ive reached in the last couple weeks:

Bench Press: up to 5 x 205 and 4 x 205. Followed by 3 sets of ten dips.
Military Press 5×95
Deadlift 3×285
Back Squats 2x5x225

I saw this young fellow do 135 lb plyo squats. Yes, he was jumping, but into a 1/4 squat position. I wasn’t sure what to make about it. It looked very difficult, and he was in awesome shape.

Now the question is: should I get weightlifting shoes? And what kind?

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